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How Did Your Trees Fare The Winter?

The winter of 2014-15 was far from benign, but trees fared quite well. That’s because we didn’t have any really heavy wind or ice storms, which can wreak havoc with trees.

Also, we didn’t have constant temperature fluctuations. Rather it got cold and stayed that way, which is good for trees. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the extreme cold that causes tree damage. It’s the changes from cold to warm and back. Extended warm spells are especially bad for trees. They think that the warmth is here to stay and may begin to break dormancy. Then the weather turns cold again and they’re “confused.” The only way continual cold weather all through the winter will harm your trees is if they aren’t hardy in our zone 5-6 climate, or if you’ve planted them on the windward side of your house and they don’t like wind, of if they’re in the shade and they like full sun. In these cases, they were stressed before winter ever started.

Have you checked around the base of trees for girdling by rabbits, mice and other animals? This would’ve been the ideal winter for this to happen. Mice like to eat in private and the amount and duration of snow cover afforded them the opportunity to do just that. Rabbits, on the other hand, dine out in the open above the snow. As a result, trees can suffer from both of these varmints.

It’s bad any time animals feast on your valuable trees. When they eat all the way around a tree, however, the tree is usually doomed. The rodents eat the bark and the tender, tasty layers beneath the bark. These are also the layers that contain most of the tree’s vascular system for transporting water and nutrients up the tree and for transporting food back down to the roots. There is an expensive surgical procedure, called a bridge graft, in which small twigs are grafted all the way around the tree’s circumference to bridge the girdle. Your tree has to be extremely valuable to justify this investment.

Anything I tell you now is like closing the barn door after the horse escapes. But, you can tuck these ideas away for fall when you’re getting ready for next winter. First, be sure you don’t have mulch volcanoes or any mulch right up against the trunk. Be sure there’s no high grass growing close to the trunk. Finally, wrap the trunk in screening or hardware cloth from the base to about a foot above the typical high point of the snow. In summer, be sure to remove this protection to allow the trunk to grow.

Some other problems, which I’ve written about before, include frost cracks caused by temperature fluctuations, winter burn on evergreens caused by desiccation, and salt damage affecting trees planted too close to salt treated roadways, driveways and walkways. Another problem is sunscald, which is actually a canker caused by temperature fluctuations and affecting the trunk. Spring freezes can cause a similar problem that affects the new foliage, and freezing can also damage the roots of some species.

As winter wanes and spring returns, inspecting your woody plants can be one of your first “green thumb” tasks for the new season. If you find any of the problems described above, or any not described above, please call us for a professional evaluation with recommendations for remedying the situation.

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Color Should Appear Soon

Spring will soon wake up from its winter slumber, and with it will come the rainbow of color that we all look forward to. Some call it a rebirth, but it is really a reawakening.

This color arrives relatively quietly. First the crocus peeks its colorful petals out of the ground, even if it’s covered with snow. Satisfied with its surroundings and that spring is on its way, more crocus appear. Depending on how many crocus you’ve planted, you may be swimming in a sea of color.

As the crocus begins to fade, it’s replaced by daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, but these early bloomers are just the leaders of a whole parade of spring color. Trees and shrubs (woody plants), as well as herbaceous plants, bloom in spring.

Forsythia is the first shrub to bloom, showing off its bright yellow flowers. Azaleas and rhododendrons follow. Here in our area, all of this is just a prelude to Rochester’s favorite flower, the lilac.

Unlike annuals and perennials, there’s no need to pinch off spent flowers from woody plants. They set their flower buds way back in the fall, so enjoy them while they’re here because, when they’re gone, they’re gone until next year.

If your flowering trees and shrubs need pruning, resist the temptation to prune them now. These plants should be pruned after they bloom. Otherwise, you may cut off the flower buds. It’s difficult to distinguish between flower buds and leaf buds. Our professionals learn the difference in their horticulture classes, but for the untrained eye, the two buds can be indistinguishable.

Following the initial burst of color, the rainbow will begin fading to green. Flowers and their stems will turn brown on your spring bulb plants. Go ahead and cut off the spent flowers right at the base of the stem. However, don’t cut off the green leaves. They’re hard at work making food through photosynthesis and storing it in the bulb to give them the energy to flower and leaf out next year. Many herbaceous perennials will continue to bloom if you pinch off spent flowers once they’ve withered but before they drop their seeds.

After woody plants have finished flowering and leafed out, they can be pruned. Remember to cut branches back to a branch big enough to be able to take over the removed branches’ function. Also, never climb a tree or even a ladder. It’s dangerous. Instead, give us a call and let our well trained, equipped, insured professional arborists do your pruning.

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Spring Lawn Care

As you plan your spring cleanup chores, be sure to include your lawn in those plans. Lawns take a real beating in winter, yet they spring back with very little assistance. But, that’s not to say that you can just leave your lawn to its own devices.

When the snow melts and the ground firms up, it’s time to take a walk in the grass. Look for anything that’s different from when you put your lawn to bed last fall.

The first thing you’ll spot is debris. The wind may have blown twigs and even tree branches from your yard or the neighbors’. You may also find trash the wind has blown into your yard. It needs to be picked up or raked up and thrown back in the trash or recycling.

While big items like jars and cans can be picked up easily, it’s best to rake the other debris, like fallen twigs and branches. A rake will move more of the small debris. You’ll even be surprised to see litter in the pile that you didn’t see in the lawn. This includes such things as dead grass and small items that were down in the thatch so you missed them during your walk through.

If winter descended on us before you were able to rake all of your fall leaves, go ahead and rake them up and dispose of them now.

During your walk through, look for diseases and bare spots. Look for this also while raking leaves. There are several fungal diseases that attack turfgrass in winter. Fungus thrives in damp, dark, wet conditions. Some diseases cause the grass to turn brown or gray in patches. Others leave circles of dead grass.

These diseases are caused by freezing and thawing during the winter. Snow falls and stays on the ground. As the temperature rises, the snow melts from the bottom, depositing water on the lawn. This water is still covered by snow, providing ideal conditions for fungus. By the time all the snow has melted, the disease has done visible damage.

To repair your lawn, rake out all the dead grass and throw it away. Don’t compost it since it’s probably loaded with fungal spores. Use an iron rake for this task. That will rough up the soil as you rake out the dead grass, saving you an operation.

If you have only small bare spots, they’ll probably fill in through the spread of adjacent grass. For larger spots, you’ll have to overseed. It’s best to do that before adventitious weed seeds germinate in that space.

Before overseeding, add organic matter or compost to the bare areas. Then spread the seed and, using your iron rake, rake the seed and compost into the soil. Be sure your new seeds receive at least an inch of water a week either from rain or irrigation. Remember, it’s best to apply the whole inch at once rather than just sprinkling the surface. Sprinkling encourages weak, shallow roots. You want deep, strong roots.

As always, call us if you’d rather have our professionals do this job than tackling it yourself.

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Spring In The Garden

We’ve had enough winter. If you’re like most gardeners and lawnophiles, you’re getting antsy to get out and get your hands dirty. That’s fine, but don’t push it. Don’t try to work in mud.

After the snow melts, wait for the soil to firm up enough to support you when you step on it. Take a small handful of soil, roll it into a ball and squeeze it. If water comes out of it like a wrung-out sponge, go back into the house and enjoy looking out the window at your landscape.

Don’t be in a hurry to remove the extra mulch you spread at the beginning of winter. Wait for the soil to rise above freezing and stay there. Then start removing it gradually to let plants acclimate to the spring temperatures without that extra “coat.” Most of us don’t just remove our winter coat and jump into tee shirts and shorts. We change clothing gradually to acclimate to the changing seasons. Plants like to do the same. It’s better to remove mulch late than early.

If you see plants in your planting beds whose roots have heaved out of the soil, push them back into the soil. Don’t be rough with them. If they resist being pushed, take a trowel and pull the soil around the roots back, reset the plant and backfill.

This is also a good time to divide and transplant summer blooming perennials. Either spread them around your yard or share them with a friend. There’s enough color for everyone’s enjoyment. Just dig up a perennial, split the root into four sections. Put one section back into the hole from which it came and plant the other three elsewhere.

Arguably, weeding is the most unpleasant spring task, but one that has to be done. Weeding while dormant reduces the number of weeds that will spring to life, flower and overrun your landscape. Pulling weeds is considered the most effective control. So, start the season with clean beds.

Spring is also the time to cut back your ornamental grasses. You enjoyed their tan color and fuzzy seedheads sticking up above the snow and swaying in the wind. Now they have done their job and its time to cut them back so they can grow anew and provide the same pleasure next winter.

Springtime is also a good time to prune your roses.

Finally, when your spring flowers have finished blooming, it’s OK to cut off the spent flowers but not the green leaves. These have to make food through photosynthesis. This food is stored in the roots so the plants will bloom next year. The leaves will let you know when they are through making food by turning yellow. Then you can cut them back.

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Your Plants May Need A Second Anti-Desiccant Application

Nobody who lives in our area needs to be reminded that this has been a brutal winter. However, you may need a reminder about what this weather is doing to your valuable trees and shrubs. It’s drying out the leaves, needles or even trunk and stem tissue (i.e. desiccating them). Even our dormant deciduous plants may be subject to desiccation according to a consumer horticulture bulletin from Purdue University.

We’ve had a lot of snow, but we’ve also had a lot of wind, and it’s the wind that causes desiccation. Woody plants, especially evergreens, continue to function through the winter, giving off water through transpiration. This is part of the photosynthesis process. With the little bit of sun we’ve had, you wouldn’t think plants would be able to photosynthesize, but they do.

During transpiration, water is given off through the leaves or needles. The wind then blows the droplets away, and there is no way the roots can absorb more water through the frozen soil. Broadleaf evergreens’ leaves may turn brown at the edges or they may turn red or purple and curl. Needled evergreens will have tan spots where the needles were just too dry to sustain themselves.

According to the Purdue bulletin, severely desiccated deciduous trees will have dead twigs and buds. Some twigs will leaf out but die in the summer, especially if it’s a dry summer.

If you had anti-desiccant applied in the fall, you may need a second application. If you didn’t take this cost effective measure to protect your trees and shrubs, call for an application now. As soon as the snow melts sufficiently that we have access to the plants, we’ll begin scheduling anti-desiccant applications.

If you aren’t familiar with this product, it’s a clear, wax like material that coats the plant. Sunlight can get through it for photosynthesis. However, when the leaves transpire, the anti-desiccant prevents the wind from blowing the droplets of water away. Instead, they’re reabsorbed into the leaf and keep it from drying out.

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February Tree & Shrub Tasks

We’ve discussed pruning trees in winter while they are defoliated and their skeletons are visible. If you haven’t had your trees pruned yet, please call so we can schedule you. Remember, tree pruning isn’t a do-it-yourself project.

Our crews will continue pruning most trees even after they leaf out, but they know how to do it safely for both the tree and themselves. We will begin putting off pruning several trees for awhile in the spring, especially those that “bleed.” Maple is the most common. Their “blood,” of course, is maple sap.

This is also a good time to prune deciduous shrubs. Like trees, they are dormant and their structure is visible, allowing you to see deeply inside their thicket of branches. We don’t recommend that you prune spring flowering shrubs (and trees) like lilacs now, however. To the untrained eye, buds often look the same, and there’s a real danger that you’ll prune off this spring’s flowers – the very reason why you planted the shrub or tree. Our professionals are trained to differentiate flower and leaf buds.

Suppose one of your favorite shrubs is planted in the wrong place? Or you find that a tree you planted several years ago is not doing well because it’s the wrong tree in the wrong place? A good time to move it would be soon after the snow melts and the ground thaws. The ground will be soft, making the job of digging the plant out of its current site easier. If you re not among the faint of heart and are willing to tackle this heavy, dirty job yourself, here are a few tips:

  • Dig all the way around the plant. In the case of shrubs, dig out to the dripline. Dig trees either three feet for every inch of trunk diameter or to the dripline if that’s practical.
  • Take as much root mass as you can. If you have to cut roots, do so with sharp pruning shears or pruning saw rather than the shovel blade.
  • Replant the same way that you would a nursery-fresh shrub or tree. Dig the hole two to three times wider than the rootball but only as deep. Place the plant in the hole and backfill, lightly tamping down the soil as you go to eliminate air pockets.
  • Don’t stake trees unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to stake, use an elastic material rather than wire and don’t leave the stakes and guys in place for more than a year.
  • Be sure your transplanted plant gets plenty of water, just like a new nursery plant.
  • Use the remaining soil from the transplant holes to fill in the hole where the tree or shrub was planted.

If you are among the faint of heart, one of our landscape crews would be happy to transplant your shrub or tree for you.

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February Time To Have Your PHC Strategy In Place

If you’re taking a wait and see attitude about Plant Health Care, the results could be very costly. We recommend that you have a professional Plant Health Care strategy in place before your plants show symptoms of any insect infestations or diseases this spring.

Waiting gives pests an opportunity to gain a foothold. Active planning will allow us to take early, pre-emptive action. Soon, our Plant Health Care professionals will be applying dormant oil to trees. This very thin petroleum product, much like an extremely diluted form of the petroleum jelly we put on burns, coats the tree surface and the dormant, overwintering target insects. This coating smothers insects like aphids, scale and spider mites while they sleep.

As good as dormant oil is, it has a very small window of opportunity. It must be applied after temperatures rise above freezing and into the 40s but before the insects wake up or the tree’s flower and leaf buds break. The required paperwork will have to be in place before we can apply this, or any treatment.

A number of other insects overwinter in the egg stage and hatch in spring. Gypsy moth is one of them. Treatment is most effective if applied while the larvae are still small, young and weak. At that time, treatment can also be less aggressive than when the larvae are older and stronger.

If you didn’t have your ash trees treated for emerald ash borer in the fall, you should have them treated in the early spring. That’s when the adults emerge, mate and lay their eggs.

It appears that the list of pests eyeing your valuable trees is endless and continually changing. That’s why a professional Plant Health Care program is much more cost effective than calling for treatment when you see a pest on your trees.

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