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Reminder: Fall Is For Planting

This is my annual reminder that fall is the best time for planting many varieties of trees and shrubs. I said “many” because evergreens are best planted in spring.

Trees and shrubs like fall’s warm days and cooler nights. Also, we get more moisture in the fall, although water hasn’t been a problem this summer. All of these factors combine to help your new plants adapt to their new environment.

By the time they defoliate and go dormant for winter, they’ll be nicely established and have a head start over trees and shrubs planted next spring.

The “right plant, right place” mantra applies in the fall as well as spring. Before going to the garden center, check on whether your planting site is in sun or shade and how much moisture and wind the site receives. Read the nursery tag on the plant and/or consult with a horticulturist at your garden store to be sure you’re buying a plant that will thrive with minimal maintenance. Also, be sure the plant will grow in our hardiness zone, which is zone 5 or 6, depending on where you live.

Finally, be sure the tree looks good. Before you go to the garden store, check the Internet for photos of the tree or shrub you want to buy. You may even want to print out a photo and take it with you. At the nursery, examine a number of trees or shrubs of that variety. Select the one that best resembles the photo. The branches should have good structure, not crossing or interfering with each other. They also should be attached to the trunk at an angle, not straight out. Those growing straight out are weakly attached water sprouts – not good. Check the roots, especially where the trunk begins to flare out to form the roots. This should be visible, not covered with soil. If you aren’t happy with any of the plants you see, go to another store. One personal rule that I have is to buy plants only from local garden centers, not big box stores.

Some garden centers may have sales to get rid of spring plants that have been in the nursery all season. Others may have ordered new stock for the fall planting season. Whether to save money or buy new is your choice.

The planting technique doesn’t change in fall. Dig the planting hole two to three times wider than the rootball, but only as deep. If potted, remove the plant from its pot. If balled and burlapped, remove the wire basket or rope but leave the burlap around the ball.

Set the plant in the hole and backfill, stopping occasionally to press the backfill to fill in any air pockets. Do not pile soil up against the trunk. Finally, water well and mulch. Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch, but do not pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Before winter, add another inch of mulch, but be prepared to remove that extra inch in spring.

If your tree is a tender variety or you planted it in the direct path of the prevailing wind, you may have to build a wood or burlap shelter around it to protect it against winter winds. Stake it only if necessary, and be sure you don’t use wire or anything that will “bite” into the bark.

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It’s Lawn Grub Season

photo credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

photo credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Grubs have plagued area lawns since long before I entered the tree and landscape business. However, they are now better controlled thanks to more people taking a keen interest in their lawns.

Like most bugs, grubs are adventitious creatures. They go for the easiest meal, and that’s usually the weakest lawns. Good, thick, healthy turfgrass is more than a single crop of grubs can devour. That being said, it’s still imperative that everyone check their lawns for grub larvae, beginning in late August. If one property owner in a neighborhood is lax, control for the whole neighborhood is compromised.

What are grubs? Remember those big, brown, beetle-like insects that were flying around in June and early July, hitting windows and screens? Those were adult European chafer and Japanese beetles. Grubs are the immature stage of those two pests.

After mating, the chafer or beetle lays its eggs in sod. When the grubs hatch, they start migrating down into the soil while feasting on tender turfgrass roots. Needless to say, this kills the turfgrass plants and they turn brown. This is the best time to control grubs. They are still small, living and feeding near the surface, and are more susceptible to control material.

To determine if you have grubs, and how many, cut several one square foot pieces of green sod and roll it back. Count the number of grubs. If there are six or fewer, they are not present in sufficient concentrations to really harm your lawn. If there are seven or more, you should either spread grub killer on the lawn or call us to do it.

As the temperatures fall, the white, crescent-shaped grubs burrow deeper into the soil until spring. When they return to just below the surface in spring, they’re about double the size and ready for one last feast before pupating and morphing into adults. We don’t recommend treating in spring, unless your yard is overrun by grubs.

If you have brown grass that doesn’t re-green after grub treatment, rake out the dead grass. If the area is small, the healthy grass will fill in the open space over time. If it’s larger, you’ll have to re-seed. Be judicious with fertilization, provide sufficient water and mow high.

It may not be possible to eradicate grubs, but you can win the battle in your own yard. If you have healthy turfgrass, you can keep them under control by following the steps presented above. Next season, you may want to consider a Birchcrest lawncare program and leave the diagnosis and treatment up to our professionals.

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Landscaping Projects For The Waning Days Of Summer

Due to its late start, summer seems to be speeding by at breakneck speed. If the season is passing faster than you can get your summer projects done, fear not, there is still plenty of time. Just choose your projects carefully.

Select projects that won’t be affected by the forthcoming winter. Plant only late season annuals like chrysanthemums. Don’t plant tender plants that need the whole growing season to acclimate or you’ll have more work protecting them from the cold and wind.

Some of the projects that you can still get done this season include planting trees and shrubs, planting bulbs, renovating the lawn, dividing perennials, and building or installing hardscapes. This is plenty for most homeowners.

This summer season has actually been quite pleasant for working outdoors. The heat hasn’t been oppressive and the rain hasn’t been excessive. If procrastination is the reason for not getting your projects done, may I suggest help from our tree, lawn and landscape professionals?

Whatever the scope of your project from planting a perennial to designing and installing a whole new landscape, we can do it for you. Designing and installing a whole new landscape may seem like an insurmountable job for an individual, but for a crew that does this type of work day in and day out, it’s a slam dunk.

So don’t fret the thought of having to wait until next summer for that new or renovated landscape. Just give us a call.

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How Aggressive Are You In Your War On Weeds?

Experimental Dandelion FarmWeeds have always been the gardener’s nemesis. But, what is a weed? The most common definition is that a weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it. The late J. C. Raulston, for whom the arboretum at North Carolina State University is named, defined weeds as any plant having to deal with unhappy humans.

The bottom line is that we all dislike weeds, but how far will you go to make your yard weed-free? Chemical methods work best on weeds in your lawn. This is because there are herbicides that will kill broadleaf weeds without affecting the grass. Most herbicides for use against weeds in planting beds are “nonselective,” which means that they kill everything green, even your prized plants. Pulling weeds is still your most effective control.

One of our customers bought a sign while on vacation that has a prominent place in his garden. It reads, “Experimental dandelion farm. Don’t disturb the weeds.” Although he is very conscientious about keeping weeds out of the garden, the sign makes him feel better when the weeds get ahead of his weeding effort.

I knew Felder Rushing would have some words of wisdom in his Slow Gardening book, so I went to the section on weeds and, sure enough, he quoted his mother. She shares a philosophy on weeds with her horticulturist grandmother who found, in Rushing’s words, the best philosophy of all. That is, “Whenever I find a weed I simply cannot get rid of, I just plant something taller or weedier than it, and let ‘em fight it out on their own.”

The bottom line is that your garden, or yard, is a reflection of you. So, the task of deciding how aggressively to wage your war on weeds is up to you. My only advice is:

  • If you opt for a chemical control, be careful to protect your prized garden plants.
  • If you decide to pull weeds be sure to have a sharp tool to dig the stubborn ones.
  • When you go on vacation, check out the souvenir shops for an experimental dandelion farm sign, just in case.
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Ever Hear Of Domesticating Plants?

When talking to people about trees and plants, some will make the comment that trees live quite well on their own in the forest, so why spend money on caring for the trees in our yards. My answer is always a comparison with the family dog. The trees in our yards are about as far away from forest trees genetically as our dogs are from wolves.

Very few landscape trees that were planted are pure species. Nearly all of them are hybrids or cultivars. They’re usually bred for certain aesthetic traits, and there’s always a trade-off. Some may compromise certain health characteristics while others may actually improve their resistance to certain pests. I think of some of the new, disease-resistant American elm cultivars available today.

Recently, when I explained why landscape plants need care, the person responded with, “You mean we’ve domesticated trees?” “Yeah, I guess you could call it that,” I responded, “but we refer to it as cultivating them.”

Besides the genetic modifications that have occurred with both our trees and our dogs, there are also environmental differences between the wild and your yard. Our dogs know to come to their bowl for dinner, rather than having to hunt in the wild. They know to go out when they have to, and they are loyal and friendly to their masters.

Tree are often planted in inhospitable environments that are totally wrong for them. Instead of letting dropped leaves decompose at the base of our landscape trees so the organic material in them will be recycled back into the soil, we rake the leaves and dispose of them. We don’t leave any dead understory plants at the base of trees to decompose either. In other words, our landscape environment is very sterile compared to that of a forest. Our landscape soils are not teaming with the microbes and legions of living organisms that live in the soil and assist plants for their mutual benefit.

Because we’ve snatched trees from the forest, rebred them into new varieties of trees and planted them into sterile, often inhospitable environments, we have to supply their needs that are missing from the environments we created.

Domesticated or cultivated. They both mean the same, and that’s why we need to care for our trees.

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Still Dealing With Winter Dieback

Winter DiebackHere it is well into July and we’re still dealing with winter dieback. This year, it has been the worst I’ve ever seen. Usually, we get calls for small evergreens that weren’t protected with an anti-desiccant and have some brown needles. This year, we’re seeing whole trees and shrubs that turned brown.

Taxus (yews) are usually indestructible, yet, we’ve received several calls from customers who have lost mature Taxus to winter dieback. One customer has a row of junipers about midway up the hill in back of the house. They’ve been growing fine for 12 years, but this spring, he noticed dieback, mostly from the bottom. There were also a few top branches that died. One branch began turning brown in May.

At a social event, I was asked why a large blue spruce was losing its blue color on the bottom branches while the upper branches were just fine. Checking the tree when leaving the event, I noticed that these branches had not just lost their blue color, they were turning brown.

Many hydrangeas leafed out beautifully at the bottom, but the tops were dead. The dead tissue began right about at the snow line. That’s because the bottom branches were protected while the branches that protruded above the snow weren’t protected. so they were unable to survive the bitter cold.

Pruning out the dead wood is the only remedy. If you prune shrubs yourself, remember to not leave stubs. Prune branches all the way back to a junction with live wood. Don’t be afraid to prune out extra wood if it will help the shrub to look more natural. This can be dirty, scratchy, unpleasant work, so you can call us to do it for you.

If you have trees that are winter burned, don’t even think about pruning them yourself. It’s too dangerous. Call our trained, insured, equipped arborists to do the job professionally and safely.

As for lawn damage, we haven’t seen as much fungal disease as we do in most spring seasons. I think that’s because we had below freezing temperatures and snow cover most of the winter, and this protected the turfgrass.

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Mow High & Other Summer Lawn Tips

At what height is your lawnmower set? As the temperature rises, so should the height of your lawnmower. If it is set lower than 3 inches, raise it up to at least 3 inches; 3.5 or 4 is even better.

Mowing high retains more leaf surface and results in less burning. The longer grass leaves and thicker turf also increase your lawn’s ability to resist weed infestations. Shorter leaves burn faster and the thinner turf leaves open up areas that weeds move into because weeds are more hardy than tender turfgrass.

Besides the horticultural reasons for mowing high, there are also aesthetic reasons. Higher, thicker turf just looks better than short, skived surfaces. Some people set their mowers low on the misguided belief that they won’t have to mow as often. When it’s set too low, the blade takes off all the grass when you come to high spots, and you are left with no grass at all.

I like to compare turfgrass length to men’s hairstyles. The guy with a crew cut or flat top has to go to the barber more often than the guy with longer hair. That’s because some clumps of hair grow faster than the rest. The same thing happens with turfgrass.

Here are some other tips for a lush, green lawn this summer:

  •  Be sure your lawn receives at least an inch of water per week. If that doesn’t come in the form of rain, it needs to come in the form of irrigation. The best way to irrigate is to put down the whole inch of water at once, or no more than two watering sessions. Just sprinkling a little bit each day encourages shallow, unhealthy roots. Besides, sprinkling is too time consuming.
  • If it get so hot that your lawn burns, refrain from mowing and try not to walk on the grass or you’ll break the blades of grass.
  • Summer browning is your lawn’s defense mechanism. Turfgrass hibernates by going dormant. When the rain returns, the grass will green up again.
  • If some patches of grass do not green up when the lawn breaks summer dormancy, rake out the dead grass. Small areas will fill in with rhizomes from the surrounding, healthy grass, but you may have to reseed larger areas.
  • Don’t fertilize or apply pesticides during summer dormancy. These can do more damage than goods during this period of time.

Follow these tips and you should have a nice green lawn while others may be looking at nothing but brown.


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