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Preparing Your Landscape For Fall & Winter

After spending time enjoying the summer beauty of your landscape, it will soon be time to begin preparing it for fall and winter. I recommend taking time during these last few weeks of garden leisure to write down all the tasks you will have to do before winter sets in. That way, you can prioritize your work and go about it in an efficient manner, rather than frantically trying to remember what you have to do each weekend.

Here is a check list of preparations that I’ve identified. I’ll cover some in more detail in later posts.

  • Plant spring bulbs. Garden stores now have their stock of spring-flowering bulbs. That’s because you need to plant them this fall for them to bloom next spring.
  • Plant trees & shrubs. Fall is for planting. Give trees and shrubs a head start; plant now so they’ll get established before going dormant.
  • Plan your strategy for overwintering container plants. Tender plants and those planted in terra cotta containers need to be taken inside for the winter. Others may have to be moved to a sheltered location or into a cold frame.
  • Divide perennials. You can do this now. If you’ve never done it, I’ll tell you how next week.
  • Add winter mulch. An extra layer of mulch will help moderate soil temperatures and protect plant roots. You can add enough to bring the depth to four inches, but plan to remove the top two inches in spring.
  • Kill perennial weeds. Do this before weeds go to seed to reduce the number that will germinate in the spring.
  • Animal proof your plants. We’ll post a blog on this subject in two weeks.
  • Fall & winter pruning. We’re coming into the best season to prune deciduous trees. Call now so we can schedule your pruning.
  • Keep watering, if necessary, until the ground freezes.

Fortunately, we have a couple of months before we need to really batten down the hatches. But here are some additional late season tasks to put on the schedule:

  • Rake Leaves. If possible, wait until they all fall and then you’ll only have to rake once. If your community doesn’t vacuum them up from the curb, compost them.
  • Apply Anti-Desiccant. This wax-like material will protect evergreens from drying out or suffering wind burn. There’s a short application window so I’ll remind you closer to the time this has to be applied.
  • Wrap tender trees. I’ll also remind you of this when we get closer to the time that it needs to be done.
  • Drain garden hoses and turn off outside water connections. Do this when the first hard freeze is predicted.

I hope you heeded my advice to sit back and enjoy the result of your gardening labors during the dog days of summer because, as you can see here, a significant amount of work awaits you as summer melts into autumn.


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Preparing Your Lawn For Fall

Good news! Barring any sudden, severe drought at this late point in the summer, preparing your lawn for fall will be a bit easier than it would in a normal year.

We’ve had no dry spell this summer. Consequently, the grass didn’t go dormant, brown up, crunch under foot and create good conditions for weeds to take up residence. This means that we shouldn’t have to cross our fingers and hope that our lawns will green up with the return of cooler temperatures and regular rainfall.

This fall, your major lawn care tasks will be to renovate any bare spots caused by grubs – after treating for them of course – and applying weed control to broadleaf weeds before they go to seed. This will reduce the chance of seeds germinating first thing in spring.

Grass will continue to grow and make food through photosynthesis until the ground freezes. The turfgrass plants are trying to store as much food in their roots as possible before going dormant so they have sufficient energy to break dormancy in the spring. To be successful, your lawn needs that important inch of water a week and soil nutrients. Although nature usually cooperates in the fall by providing enough rain, you should be prepared to water if nature doesn’t come through.

Fertilizing in the fall replenishes the soil nutrients that the grass plants used during the summer. Lack of summer dormancy means that your turfgrass extracted more minerals and nutrients from the soil to support its ongoing photosynthesis. These nutrients need to be replenished to assure that the grass plants will be able to manufacture sufficient food to sustain themselves through the winter and into early spring.

Remember, fertilizer is not plant food. Plants make their own food through photosynthesis. For that reaction to take place, however, the plants need minerals and nutrients present in the soil. If your soil is deficient in any of these nutrients, they need to be replenished through fertilization. You could look at fertilizer as vitamin supplements for plants.

With the definition of fertilization in mind, I feel safe in writing that not all lawns need fertilization. If all the essential nutrients are present in your soil, replenishing them is like taking excess vitamin supplements. It doesn’t do any good and may do harm. A good rule of thumb is that, if you needed to fertilize in the spring, you need to fertilize in the fall. If you use a granular fertilizer, you either have to time the application right before it rains or be prepared to water it into the soil.

Fall is a good season to aerate your lawn, especially if the grass is thick and the soil heavy, as in clay. Aerating takes many forms. The urban legend that you only have to mow the lawn wearing golf shoes is just that – an urban legend. Aerification is done to loosen the soil. The holes have to penetrate deeper than the roots, and an actual soil plug has to be removed to give the remaining soil space in which to expand.

Perhaps the most difficult task is anticipating when your last mowing will be so you can drop your mower down to two or two-and-a-half inches for that final cut of the season. Overwintering with a crew cut will reduce your lawn’s susceptibility to winter fungal diseases. The lawn will also look better when the snow melts next spring because it won’t have that matted look.

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The Easy Way To Enjoy Mums Or Any Other Containerized Plant

pot-in-potIf you’re one of those people who’s not gardening due to time constraints, I just found some time for you. Try “pot-in-pot” gardening. There’s nothing to it.

Although developed for nursery production applications, this process is now finding favor among time-strapped home gardeners. The traditional way of planting containerized plants is to buy nursery stock and transplant it into decorative pots. Pot-in-pot involves just slipping plants, still in their nursery pots, into decorative containers.

Recently, a friend used this pot-in-pot technique for flowers he traditionally places on graves of loved ones for the summer. In past years, he bought flats of flowers and transplanted them into decorative pots. This year, he bought hanging baskets the same size as the decorative containers. All he had to do was lower the hanging baskets into the decorative pots using the hangers and then remove the hangers.

I tried that at home as well, except that I opted for nursery pots instead of hanging baskets. As the photo shows, I placed nursery pots of flowers into three matching, decorative containers. One had yellow marigolds, another red geraniums and the third had a small blue and white flower. That plant was near the end of life when planted, so I replaced it with chenille firetail. I’ve since changed out the marigolds, as well, replacing them with yellow mums.

Plan to water these plants more often than you would plants transplanted into containers. The nursery pots are just that much smaller than the nursery pots that water has to be replenished more often. That’s in a normal year. We had enough rain in July that I only had to water once or twice. If there’s no rain for a couple of days, I check them with a moisture meter and water if necessary.

At summer’s end, when these flowers need to be changed out, I’ll just pull the nursery pots out, put the plants in the compost heap and recycle the pots. Then I’ll get appropriately sized nursery pots of chrysanthemums (mums) and plant them the same way – pot-in-pot.

If you want to plant annuals in the ground for quick change out, you can bury nursery pots in the planting bed right up to the rim. Then buy plants in same size nursery pots and slip them into the buried containers. When they have completed their lifecycle, just lift the inner pots out and replace them with fall flowers.

I wrote in the opening paragraph that this technique was developed in the nursery industry. Nursery managers plant row after row of sapling trees using the pot-in-pot method. This way, they can just lift the trees out of their liner pots to ship to landscapers and garden stores.

We in the tree and landscape business are just as time challenged as you, so I was happy to learn that home gardeners have embraced this pot-in-pot technique.

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What The Heck Is Bed-Head Gardening?

When I come across a new gardening term or fad, I like to share it with you. New for 2015 is Bed-Head Gardening.

The term got its name from the way many of us look when we get up in the morning. When you look in the mirror and see that mussed up hair, it’s called a bed-head. A Bed-Head garden is defined as one that emphasizes natural beauty rather than a labor intensive formal style. Like a whimsical garden, a Bed-Head garden is an extension of the gardener’s personality.

It’s a casual style for the person who enjoys natural beauty and has an “anything goes” attitude.  It has been described as “purposefully un-styled.” Many gardeners embracing this style are those with a great appreciation for nature and a better than average environmental consciousness.

Some of the elements that define a Bed-Head garden are natural contours rather than flatness, curvy paths, native and low-maintenance plants, little or no hardscape, lots of color, and plants arranged to look as though they grew in that space naturally – chaotically rather than in ordered rows.

The intentionally messy look needs much less maintenance than a more formal look. You’re going for an overgrown appearance, which means much less pruning and weeding.

Some Bed-Head gardeners even go so far as to include veggies in their gardens and raise livestock like chickens. I think many of our towns would frown on that approach.

For some, the anything goes attitude is just the opposite from all they’ve been taught, but something they would like to strive for. If you’d like to have it but don’t, you could work with one of our designers to create a Bed-Head garden. Who knows, it might grow on you and you’ll find that the more laid back style is something you’d like to incorporate into other aspects of your life.

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Time To Check For Lawn Grubs

Lawn grubs have long been a scourge for area property owners. These white, crescent-shaped insects eat turfgrass from the roots upward. Consequently, you don’t know you have a problem until it’s too late, unless you are on the lookout for grubs.

The best method for determining if you have grubs, and the method our lawn care professionals use, is to cut one foot square sections of sod at different locations around your lawn. Fold the sod back to expose the underside of your sod, as well as the soil just below the sod. Count the number of grubs in each section. Six or fewer per section are not cause for concern; your lawn should be able to successfully fight them off. Action should be taken if seven or more are present.

Big, brown beetles flying around in June, slamming into your house’s doors, windows and siding were the adult grubs. They may have been European chafer beetles, Japanese beetles or even the Bluegrass billbug. The beetles are lawn grub adults. If you saw or heard them flying around your yard, you probably have grubs in your lawn right now.

As with many insects, the adults’ lifespan is very short. Their only task is to reproduce. Once they do that, they die. These pests lay their eggs in sod. When the tiny grubs hatch, they immediately burrow into the sod, below the surface, and begin feasting on your tasty turf roots. As the temperatures cool and lawns go into winter dormancy, the grubs burrow further down into the soil to overwinter.

This is the best time to treat for grubs. They are young, small and weak, so treatment doesn’t have to be as aggressive as it does in the spring when the two-inch, nearly full-grown grubs return to the surface to begin eating your lawn once again.

There is another pest that likes our lawns, but its larvae aren’t grubs. It’s called the sod webworm and its larvae live in the thatch instead of burrowing into the ground.

Gray moths flying around just above your lawn earlier in the summers was a good sign that your turfgrass is now hosting the sod webworm. Their flights were reconnaissance flights looking for a suitable place to lay eggs.

Like tree and shrub insects, each lawn insect has its own lifecycle and food preference. Treating for them within the window of opportunity can be a challenge. This is why it makes sense to hire a lawn service. For one modest fee, one of our lawn care professionals will visit your home, check for the presence of pests and take appropriate action. He’ll leave a door hanger explaining the action he took. The only other way you’ll know that we’ve been there is by the little yellow signs that the state requires us to post.

Even though the growing season is winding down, you can still use our lawn care service. Just call to schedule a meeting with one of our representatives.

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Time To Take It Easy & Enjoy Your Landscape

Do you fidget, walk around your property, and feel guilty about not having any gardening tasks to do in the middle of summer? There’s no reason to; you should be doing nothing right now. It’s summer; you’ve done all you can to give your landscape tender, loving care. Now it’s time to enjoy it.

Take a page from southern gardeners. Slow down and smell the roses, or any other flower that’s in bloom right now. Summer is the time to sit outside with a cool lemonade and just enjoy the results of your work.

Plants shouldn’t be fertilized in the summer, so you can’t do that. The only thing we recommend at this time is to deadhead spent flowers and help Mother Nature provide sufficient water for your plants. If we have more than a week without rain, your plants may need water. They need an inch a week, and it’s best for them to get it all at once. You may also need to weed your planting beds.

With the cost of water these days, you may want to prioritize. Water those plants with droopy, curled leaves that look like they need watering first. Then prioritize according to value. Young trees may need water but most mature trees don’t. Their root structure is sufficient to find water. Shrubs are valuable so they should be second on your priority list, followed by perennials.

Annuals should be low priority since they’re inexpensive and may be changed out several times a year anyway. Turfgrass turns brown because it has the ability to go dormant under extremely hot, dry conditions and then green up again in the fall when cooler weather and rain return. It doesn’t appear that we have to worry about that this year.

Trees, shrubs and perennials are best watered with drip irrigation, rather than spraying. A significant amount of sprayed water evaporates before it reaches the plants. If you have an irrigation system, ask your irrigation contractor to install drip emitters for your trees, shrubs and perennials. If you use a hose, invest in soaker hoses and snake them around the plants you want to water. Soaker hoses are made from recycled tires, so you’ll be helping the environment as well as your plants. You will also be saving on water since you only open the tap a quarter turn.

While sitting on the deck or patio enjoying your landscape, you may want to read a book on how you can enjoy more time like this and less maintaining the garden. I’ve written about Slow Gardening by Mississippi garden writer Felder Rushing, and I just heard about a new book, entitled Gardening from a Hammock by Canadian garden writer Dan Cooper. I haven’t read the latter book yet, so I can’t vouch for it.

Take my advice and enjoy your garden without fretting. It’ll show your kids or grandkids that gardening really isn’t as much work as they’ve been led to believe. Sometimes you can just relax and survey your work.

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Pruning Evergreens

Summer is the ideal time to prune most evergreens. This includes both conifers like pine and spruce and broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods. The reasons are twofold.

First, the buds that produce new growth formed last fall on the old wood of many evergreens. New growth is the light green needles that appear at the ends of branches. If you prune while the new growth is still light green, it will grow back and you’ll have to prune again. If you wait until the new growth turns its natural shade of green, you’ll only have to prune once.

Second, pruning now gives the wounds sufficient time to heal before it’s time for next year’s new growth buds to form.

Most evergreen trees do not need as much pruning as deciduous trees. Evergreen trees are usually pruned to control size and to remove dead, dying or broken branches. Pruning evergreen trees is not a do-it-yourself job. Besides evergreen trees’ height, their branches are very “springy.” They can break easily if you try stepping on them. Leave pruning to our professionals. We value you as a customer and don’t want you to become a statistic.

Confine your pruning to evergreen shrubs. If you have coniferous shrubs like yews (taxus) or junipers, I recommend that you selectively prune, removing one branch at a time rather than shearing. When selectively pruning shrubs, follow the same rules as you would for a tree. Don’t leave stubs. Cut branches all the way back to a fork. If you can see a branch collar, leave it rather than cutting flush to the trunk or bigger branch.

Selectively pruned shrubs look better when they have a natural shape, rather than the tight geometrical shapes that result from shearing. Shearing also may leave ragged cuts because branches are too big around for shears to make a clean cut.

Save your shearing for such broadleaf evergreens as boxwoods. Boxwood branches are smaller so shears will leave cleaner cuts. I do caution, however, that shearing can become more difficult to maintain as the plant increases in size.

You don’t have to prune your own shrubs. Our professionals can care for them, just as they do your trees. By turning it over to the pros, you don’t have to make decisions like whether to shear or selectively prune. You also won’t have to dress in a long sleeve shirt, long pants and gloves on a hot summer day to keep from getting scratched by the needles and branches.

Evergreens look nice and add color to your yard, even in the dead of winter. However, their biology is very different from deciduous trees and require different care. To be sure they receive the proper care, leave the work to our professional arborists.


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