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Why Don’t Trees Freeze & Break?

The answer to the title question is that they often do freeze and break. Have you ever seen cracks running up and down the trunk of a tree? This is caused by the freezing and thawing of water in the outer portions of the trunk. In the tree care industry, these are referred to as frost cracks.

Some have compared trees freezing and breaking with plumbing pipes bursting. However, it isn’t the same phenomenon at all. Pipes burst when they are filled with water, which then freezes, expands and causes a weak spot in the pipe to burst. In the case of trees, there are thousands of liquid-carrying “pipes” – the phloem and xylem – and they are more elastic than plastic or metal pipe. Besides, there is less liquid flowing through these vessels when the tree is dormant.

Trees are most apt to freeze and break when the temperature plummets before the tree goes completely dormant. Even then, in our area, it is usually only the vessels near the perimeter of the tree, closest to the bark, that are apt to freeze enough to break. Thick bark trees can often prevent the trunk from breaking but thin bark trees don’t have that protection. Consequently, they are the trees that most often split and form frost cracks.

Although frost cracked trunks on thin bark trees are most common, weak xylem and phloem vessels anywhere inside a tree can break. But these interior broken vessels don’t affect the bark, and there are so many of these vessels running up and down the trunk that these breaks won’t affect the tree’s health. Also, the sugar in the phloem reduces water’s freezing point.

There are a few ways to protect thin bark trees from frost cracks. One is to wrap the trunk with burlap or tree wrap. If you do this, be sure to remove the wrap in the spring. You can also build a wood structure around the trunk. When planting a thin bark tree, it’s a good idea to keep it out of the path of the prevailing wind. Also, a good layer of mulch will help keep the roots warm and, as a result, the liquid that flows in the vessels will be warmer.

On the plus side, a frost cracked tree is not in imminent danger of dying. As I said above, there are so many fluid transport vessels that they can take over for those that broke and caused the frost crack.

If you have any questions about protecting your trees this winter, we will be happy to answer them.

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Plan For Next Winter This Winter

I’ve written about how to create winter interest in your landscape and, hopefully, you’ve done some of these things. Now that winter is upon us, here are a few more ways in which you can use this winter to plan for next winter.

In the spring, add some plants to your garden that have winter interest. Our designers have a whole list of plants that have features that are visible in winter. These features include bark, twigs, berries or even late flowers like witch hazel or early bloomers like hellebores.

Some parts of our area are in USDA zone 6 while others are in the colder zone 5. If you live in zone 6, consider planting winter jasmine or heavenly bamboo. This bamboo is non-invasive, so you don’t have to worry about it getting out of hand.

Don’t just make a winter garden. Intersperse these plants with your other plants for four season interest. In a new landscape, include plants with winter interest as part of your plant palette.

Do you have hydrangeas in your landscape now? Did you cut them back or are the flowers still visible? If you did cut them back, make a note to leave them next year. The flowers will stick up above the snow like oversize snowflakes. If you didn’t get around to cutting them back, you already know how attractive the blooms can be.

There you have it. A few ways in which you can add winter interest to your landscape and enjoy a truly four season experience. Every time I see landscape features for every season, I jot them down so I can share them with you when I have enough to fill a page. I hope you enjoy them.

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Mulching With Christmas Trees

We have received a number of inquiries asking whether chipped up Christmas trees can be used for mulch, and whether the chips can be spread now or whether they have to be aged.

The answer to the first question is that they can be used now, as long as the tree was healthy. If you take your tree to a public chipping station, the bag of chips you receive may not be from your tree. However, nearly all Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms where they are well cared for and are not likely to carry insects and diseases. Most municipalities will use chips that residents don’t take to mulch around public trees. A few may use them only for trails.

In answer to the second question, you can use the green chips if you just spread them on top of the soil. If you mix them into the soil, they could pull nutrients from the soil.

This conclusion is the result of research by a prominent arboriculture professor who planted a dozen trees. He left four unmulched as a control. He spread fresh chips on the soil surface around another four trees and mixed chips into the soil around the last four. After a year, he found no difference in the soil nitrogen between the surface mulched area and the control trees and only a slight decline in the amount of nitrogen where he had mixed the fresh chips into the soil.

If you are concerned about using fresh chips in your own landscape, just mix in some fertilizer before spreading them. This holds true for chips from trees you have had pruned as well as your chipped Christmas tree.

The professor’s conclusion was in an article that appeared in two trade magazines several years ago. This professor was one of three prominent research arborists the author spoke to when researching the article. All three of them said that fresh chips would not deplete soil nutrients, and that fertilizer could be mixed in if you doubted these conclusions.

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There’s Hope For EAB Eradication

EABResearch on ways to eradicate the emerald ash borer (EAB) is beginning to yield some interesting results. We already have effective chemical controls, such as the Tree-Age that we inject into trees. This product is most effective when applied as a preventive before a tree is infected. However, it can also be used as an insecticide with satisfactory results after the EAB has attacked a tree.

A recent posting on Entomology Today’s website tell of research into why Asian ash trees are able to fend off attacks while North American trees cannot. Researchers found that the Asian species have a set of genes that are not present in the North American species. Scientists at The Ohio State University have launched a crowd funded project to identify the genes that allow Asian ash trees to resist EAB attacks.

Meanwhile, researchers are working on ways to cross breed our North American ash trees with the resistant Asian ash trees. This will give the landscape industry ash trees that are resistant to this pest.

This cross breeding technique is also being used among elm tree breeders. They are crossing American elm with foreign species that are resistant to Dutch elm disease (DED). The desired result is a tree that has the unique form of an American elm but is resistant to DED. These breeding programs are yielding mixed results.

If the ash cross breeding programs yield good results, we will have ash trees that have the stately appearance of a native species but are resistant to this devastating insect.

If the specific Asian gene set can be isolated, it is conceivable that cross breeding could then by replaced by introducing the Asian genes into the native species in the laboratory or nursery where trees are propagated.

Successful cross breeding is a number of years off. The first cross bred trees have just been planted. So, there will be a lengthy trial process before they can be released to the nursery industry. I believe isolating the gene set and inoculating these genes into seeds or tissue culture in the laboratory is a really long way off.

This means that we still need to be vigilant about continuing to treat the ash trees we already to have to minimize the number attacked by the emerald ash borer, and those that succumb to this pest.

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What To Do With All That Plant Health Care Information

If you are one of our Plant Health Care and/or lawn care customers, you probably received a thick envelope full of all sorts of papers recently. This is your 2015 contract renewal packet.

Some people have told us that this looks so intimidating that they just set it aside. If this includes you, please accept our apologies, but every paper in the packet is mandated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

We have to provide you with all kinds of technical information on every material we are apt to apply, and we need your signature on the contract that is also in the packet before we can provide any Plant Health Care or lawn care services.

The benefits of being on a Plant Health Care and/or lawn care program far outweigh the hassle of having to deal with the renewal packet. First and foremost, we have diagnostic responsibility rather than saddling you with it. Our professionals can diagnose problems when they are in their early stages, so we can often treat with less aggressive materials and methods. Second, our service is automatic. You don’t have to call; we visit at the optimum time to take care of each problem.

Don’t be intimidated and leave the health of your valuable trees, shrubs, lawn and other plants to your own untrained eye. Take a few minutes and return your signed contract to be sure you don’t miss any essential treatments.

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How To Make Your Winter Landscape More Interesting

I just looked out the window at my landscape. There’s no doubt about it. Winter is here. As I write this, there’s no snow, although some is in the short term forecast.

There’s not a leaf to be seen, except those Mother Nature piled up in a corner of the patio to await my disposal. Sure, there’s tall, tan ornamental grass blowing in the wind. There are plenty of evergreens and even a couple of river birch with exfoliating bark, but what else can I do to make my landscape more interesting this winter?

Let’s start with the material at hand. I’m actually a leg up on many landscapes. Ornamental grass is probably the number one material used in local landscapes to add winter interest. It turns brown, is often tufted with seedheads and is tall enough to peer above most snowbanks to vary the color from white. The evergreens are a nice touch, but I don’t recommend planting a whole yard of evergreens or that will be as boring as a sea of snow.

Interesting bark on deciduous trees is another nice touch. I chose river birch because it’s not prone to the pests that feast on white and paper birches. You lose some of the color and brightness of the bark (it’s more of a brown color) but it tends to exfoliate more. Other trees with interesting bark include paperbark maple, cherry, sycamore, European hornbeam and shagbark hickory. The bark on these trees is so interesting that you may look forward to fall defoliation so you can enjoy the bark.

Oh yes, I have one big holly with its red berries. Hollies are a symbol of Christmas and the winter holidays. Remember, you need separate male and female hollies to produce berries.

Putting out squirrel-proof bird feeders will also add color and activity to your winter landscape. Placing holiday lights and other winter interest things on your deck and patio can beat the drabness of winter. Select weather-resistant furniture or garden art for your patio. It may have to be a different set from the summer set you just put away. Perhaps an old set that you didn’t get around to throwing away will work.

Finally, containerized winter hardy plants may also add color and interest to your landscape. If some are in terra cotta pots, remember that these pots can break in winter, so wrap them in bubble wrap and pack them in mulch. This is one time when a mulch volcano is OK.

See, when you shed the defeatist attitude and replace it with a little creative thinking, you can really make your landscape look quite nice for winter. Granted, it may not be the grand summer garden that you’re used to, but it will be far from winter drab.

A number of the ideas proposed above can be done now. Those involving plant materials may have to wait for next season. If so, put your ideas in your garden journal now so you can just look them up in spring rather than racking your brain to remember what you were thinking of six months ago.

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How Much Does A Landscape Design Cost?

The answer to the title question is that old standby: It depends. At Birchcrest, the fee varies by the size and complexity of the project, and there are several ways to determine a fair amount. Most residential customers pay a design fee that will be applied to the cost of installation. Occasionally, we have billed the design fee as a percentage of the total job or commission on the products and services purchased on your behalf. For the customer who wants to do all or part of the work, we may charge a straight design fee.

There are times when customers ask why we charge for our designs when some of our competitors don’t. It’s because we provide finished designs prepared by a professional landscape designer. Those who don’t charge give you a quick sketch on a piece of notepaper or lock you into a contract to use their company for planting and construction.

It should be noted that professional designs are copyrighted and that the company that created the design owns the copyright. A landscape designer is the “author” of these creative works, many of which can take a substantial amount of time to complete.

Professional companies like Birchcrest never mail a landscape design to a customer. We always make an appointment and present it in person. Our designer will review the plan with you, get your feedback, and then take your comments back to the office and make any modifications.

We never leave plans with customers until the design fee has been paid. That’s when we exercise our copyright privilege to assign rights to use the design. It also protects us from those few unscrupulous people who would take our plans and shop them around for the lowest bid. In such cases, inferior plant materials and installation can reflect badly on our company when the customer tells friends that they have a landscape by Birchcrest.

If you retain our well trained installation staff, you can proudly, and accurately proclaim that your new landscape is by Birchcrest. You will also have the Peace of Mind of knowing that you have only top quality materials installed by people who are experts at what they do. Best of all, we guarantee the plant material that we install for a full year.


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