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Protect Your Evergreens From Winter Winds

We plant evergreens for their graceful beauty and magnificent color that breaks up winter’s white and drab brown. This beauty and color come with a price. In winter, evergreens are exposed to winds that can dry them out and cause branch dieback. The dieback appears as brown patches on an otherwise green tree or shrub.


Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs that go dormant in winter, evergreens continue their bodily functions, although at a much slower pace. This includes photosynthesis, which depends on water and nutrients from the soil reacting with the sun’s energy to make food that’s stored in the plant’s root system until it’s needed elsewhere in the plant.


Water and oxygen are byproducts of photosynthesis. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere for us to breathe and water is released through the plant’s leaves or needles. This release of water is called transpiration.


When the ground freezes in winter, roots can’t absorb water from the soil. The plant then depends on reabsorbing transpired water back in through the leaves or needles. High winds, however, blow the water off the leaves or needles before it can be reabsorbed, causing the leaves or needles to dry out. This is called desiccation.


Desiccation can be minimized by spraying a wax like substance, called anti-desiccant, on your evergreens. The most popular brand name is Wilt-Pruf. You can buy it in spray bottles at garden centers if you have only a few evergreens to spray. We use a backpack sprayer to apply antidesiccant to properties with greater needs, such as large evergreen trees or many evergreen shrubs.


When deciding on how many evergreens need spraying on your property, include broadleaf evergreens, such a boxwoods and rhododendrons, as well as conifers. With more leaf area, broadleaf evergreens tend to transpire more water than conifers.


Tender trees, especially young trees that you just planted this year, may need a burlap coat, as well as anti-desiccant. Just drive poles into the ground around the perimeter of the tree, wrap with burlap and staple it to the poles. Be sure to keep the top open to moisture and sunlight. Wrapping may also be needed for trees planted close to the road to protect them from road salt spray.


Anti-desiccant is one of the most economical insurance policies you can buy to increase the survival rate of evergreen trees and shrubs. You should plan ahead, however, since there is a relatively short application opportunity. It has to be applied when the temperature falls below 40ºF but after the chance of warm days passes since warm days can melt the material. You can buy anti-desiccant at the garden store now and hold on to it until needed. If you want us to apply it, you should call now so we can schedule the application.

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Animal Proof Your Plants For Winter

Remember last winter when the snow and cold weather turned your valuable landscape into a buffet for deer, rabbits, mice and other mammals? We don’t know what this winter will bring, but it’s best to follow the Boy Scout motto – Be Prepared.

This is the right time of year to begin planning your strategy for dealing with hungry animals. Depending on what method you decide upon, some pre-emptive action may have to be taken now, while the weather is still warm and the ground isn’t frozen.

The three peskiest mammals that we have to be concerned about are the whitetail deer, cottontail rabbit and field mouse. Each requires a different tactic to “discourage” them from destroying your valuable trees and shrubs. Regardless of what deterrent you select, it won’t prevent a starving animal from feeding on your plants. These animals that we like to see on our property in the summer become nuisances in winter because the snow covers their preferred food sources.

People express the most concern about deer feeding on their trees and shrubs in winter. That’s because they’re so big and eat higher up in the tree than the smaller pests. As a result, it’s easier to see the damage

The biggest danger actually comes from the smallest of the big three – the field mouse. These pests prefer to eat under cover of snow or mulch; it protects them from cats, birds of prey and other predators. They burrow down and eat the tender bark around the base of young trees and shrubs. If they’re hungry enough, or have enough companions, they can eat all the way around the trunk or stem, girdling and killing the tree.

The two best mouse deterrents are to be sure you don’t have any mulch volcanoes around your trees or shrubs and to keep the snow shoveled away from the base of trees. Like mice, rabbits also like tree bark. However, they don’t try to hide. Brazen rabbits will stand right on the snow and eat bark off your young trees. While deer will eat trunk bark, they prefer twigs. Pruning off any branches below six feet will discourage animals from browsing there.

Wrapping the trunks of young trees with hardware cloth and building a fence around shrubs will make it difficult for animals to eat the bark. Wrap the cloth as high as six feet above the ground, or above the anticipated snow height, and you have a deterrent for all the pests. Be sure to remove the hardware cloth in the spring to accommodate the trunk’s new growth.

While the hardware cloth is, arguably, the most effective method, some others include commercial preparations, fox urine, bloodmeal, domestic rabbit pellets, human hair and even a shower radio and a string of noisy cans. There isn’t much evidence that any of these tactics work well but anything is worth a try.

Black deer fencing is becoming popular, but fencing in a whole landscape can be expensive and there may be some liability factors associated with that. I recommend checking with your town and insurance agent before installing it.

Some plants are unpalatable to certain animals. I’m certainly not recommending that you rip out your current landscape and replace it with these plants. It would be a very boring landscape, but planting a few plants on the list near an especially prized tree or shrub will make animals think twice before coming near.

Our landscape designers have a list of animal-resistant plants and they would be happy to share it with you if you contact us.

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Why Fertilize?

Fertilizer companies advertise their product as plant food. Who would want to starve a plant by withholding food? So, people buy the product. According to the late tree biologist, Dr. Alex Shigo, however, plants make their own food so fertilizer is not plant food.

Good soil is full of minerals, beneficial fungi and bacteria, and chemical elements that are essential for good plant growth. These nutrients and minerals also contribute to the photosynthesis process by which plants make food.

The problem is that much of our soil is not that good. Developers scrape away good top soil at the start of a building project. Some may store it and return it when landscaping the finished site. Others sell it and then truck in soil from somewhere else. As a result, the soil in your yard may not be as nutritious to plants as it should be. Fertilizer replenishes nutrients depleted or missing from the soil.

Plants need three macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. They also need all or some of these 8 micronutrients in varying amounts: boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Nl) and zinc (Zn).

The percentages by weight of each of the three macronutrients are represented by the three numbers on the front of the package. They are always in the same order – N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium).

Micronutrients do not get their name from their importance but, rather, from the amount needed. Plants only need tiny amounts of micronutrients. The specific micronutrients and the amount they need vary by plant.

With that explanation, the answer to the title question is that you need to fertilize to replenish soil nutrients. The exact amount and formulation can be determined by a soil test. However, a good rule of thumb is that your lawn needs several fertilizations in spring and at least one in fall. Perennials and shrubs may need fertilization in spring and fall. We usually only fertilize trees in the fall to aid in their final push to manufacture enough food to sustain them through the winter and next spring’s leaf flush.

We apply fertilizer to trees and shrubs in liquid form, using a probe to inject it right into the soil at the root zone. Fertilizer has to be in liquid form for plants to absorb it, and this method places it where the plant can begin absorbing it immediately.

If you have questions about fertilization and your property’s needs, call us to schedule an appointment. One of our plant health professionals will look over your property and give you recommendations specific to your landscape.

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Fall Is For Planting

Horticulture has two mantras that we always remind you of when talking or writing about planting. One is “right plant, right place,” which we’ll discuss later. The other is “Fall is for Planting.”

Fall is the ideal time to plant almost everything from lawns to trees. There are a few plants, however, that should be planted in the spring. Annuals are chief among them. The Morton Arboretum in Chicago also recommends waiting until spring to plant some slow to establish tree species, such as bald cypress, American hornbeam, ginkgo, larch, magnolia, hemlock, sweetgum, tuliptree, and willow. Also, broadleaved evergreens, such as rhododendrons, and narrow-leafed evergreens, such as yews, prefer spring planting. In general, plants with shallow, fibrous root systems can be planted easier in the fall than those with fewer, larger roots, according to the Morton Arboretum scientists.

The most generally accepted fall planting time is August through October, although I shy away from planting in August unless the owner is prepared to water frequently. August is often very dry and hot around here. Then someone throws a switch right after Labor Day and days continue to be warm but nights cool off.  When air temperatures are cooler than soil temperature, plants add root growth rather than top growth, resulting in better developed root systems in spring.

I have one caution. Conifers should be planted earlier than hardwoods. So, I recommend planting conifers in September and hardwoods in either September or October. You can plant hardwoods right up until the ground freezes but there won’t be time for the roots to get as well established as they would if planted in September or October.

Many nurseries and garden centers order new plants for fall planting. You’ll be able to tell which are new and which survived the summer drought. If you’re looking for a bargain, you may be able to negotiate deep discounts on the survivors. Personally, I don’t like to do that. I rather pay list price and get new stock.

Plant the same way in fall as you do in spring. Select a planting site whose conditions are right for the plant you select. Remember – right plant, right place. Dig the planting hole two to three times bigger around 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. Don’t pile soil up against the trunk. Finally, water well.

It’s good to mulch any new planting, but it’s especially important in fall. The mulch will help moderate the temperature shifts during the winter. Spread 2 to 3 inches, but don’t pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Before winter, add another inch of mulch, but be prepared to remove that in spring.

This year has been a year of extremes, from record cold to record heat, from record rainfall to near drought. I won’t even try to predict what kind of fall and early winter we are in for, so I suggest that you do your fall planting early so that your new acquisitions can become well established while weather conditions remain seasonal. That way, they’ll be better able to withstand nature’s winter assaults.

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Divide A Perennial – Be A Friend To Your Garden & Other Gardeners

You can make three gardening friends happy and your garden happy with just a few minutes of work. All you have to do is divide an overgrown perennial. A few more minutes to split another perennial and you can please three more friends and your garden will be even happier. Fall is the best season for all this happiness to take place.

If you’re new to gardening, you surely have seen those small perennials you planted grow and grow and grow over the last year or two or more. Gardens don’t like crowding and, despite the temptation to rip out those unruly perennials, the proper procedure is to split them.

Fall is a good time to split perennials because fall is for planting. You’ll give each new perennial that you create an opportunity to become well established before winter sets in.

Perennial splitting can be good exercise and a stress reliever. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Dig up the whole plant with as much root as possible.
  • Shake the soil from around the root on to a tarp.
  • Lay the plant on its side on the ground and, with a sharp tool, cut it in half and then quarters. The tool you use is a personal preference. The root thickness also influences your choice of tools. Some use a shovel, some a hoe, others an axe and a few a saw. The two most important considerations are that you are comfortable using the tool and that the blade is sharp.
  • Replant one quarter in the hole from which the plant was dug. Backfill and water the same way you would a nursery-fresh plant.
  • Plant the other three quarters in nursery pots and give them to friends for their gardens, plant them in different gardens on your property, donate them to a plant exchange or give them to your community parks department for planting in a public garden.
  • If you have more than one perennial in the overgrown garden, repeat the procedure and spread even more happiness.

Perennials give gardens their lasting beauty, beauty that it behooves us to share with others. When you split overgrown perennials, you extend your gardening season, or someone else’s, without spending a penny. I call that a good deal, and it’s fun.

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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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