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Repair Shrub/Tree Winter Damage

Shrubs can take a beating in winter. The wind can break branches. Snow piled on top of them can bend branches over, even to the ground. Overly saturated soil can cause the whole shrub to lean while frequent freeze/thaw cycles can cause them to come right out of the ground. Evergreen shrubs may have brown patches from winter burn.

The time to make some repairs is as soon after the damage occurs and weather permits. Others should be held off until spring. Here is some of the common winter damage to shrubs and repairs that can be made:

• Snow bends shrub branches. Resist the temptation to knock the snow off. This can cause them to spring back and could result in internal cracking. Wait for the snow to melt. Usually, the branches will gradually return to their normal shape. Just be patient. If spring comes and they haven’t returned to their natural shape, you can try tying them together. If that doesn’t work, the sagging branches will have to be removed.

• Branches break. Broken branches need to be pruned or removed. When the weather permits, cut the broken branch just above the first live bud or leaf that’s below the break. If the branch is too badly damaged, remove it at the base. DON’T leave stubs. If in doubt whether a branch is alive, lightly scratch the bark. If the next layer is green, it’s alive. If it’s gray, it’s dead.

• Brown patches appear on needled evergreens and leaves wilt on broadleaf evergreens. These indicate winter burn due to desiccation (drying out). The wind blew water given off through the leaves/needles before the shrub could reabsorb it and reuse it in photosynthesis. The first day above 40 degrees, spray your evergreens with antidesiccant to reduce the chance of further winter burn. Broadleaf evergreens will drop their winter burned leaves and may fill in the area with new leaves. If not, prune the dead foliage and wood. Burned needles won’t regenerate, so the brown areas have to be pruned.

• Critter browsing. Branches that deer have chewed on can be pruned back to live buds. Branches low on a shrub that are chewed by rodents may recover on their own in the spring, unless they’ve girdled the branch by chewing all the way around it. In that case, the branch should be removed.

• Frost heave. This condition is caused by freezing and thawing of the ground. Shallow rooted shrubs can actually be pushed up out of the ground. Those that aren’t completely out of the ground may be able to be pushed back into place when the ground is thawed. Those that are pushed completely out of the ground or that will not go back in should be replanted when the ground thaws.

All of the do-it-yourself information above pertains only to shrubs, although much of the same winter damage applies to trees as well. Repairing trees, however, is too dangerous. The only winter damage repair to trees we recommend is contacting us to request an arborist to inspect your trees and make repair recommendations. Our arborists can also repair your shrubs if you’d rather not do it yourself.

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Check For Weeds & Mulch

As the weather improves, your green thumb may start getting itchy. The weather may not be good enough to do any planting or bed preparation yet but there are some things you can do that will get you out of the house and into the yard.

On a nice day with no snow, may I suggest that you walk your yard looking for weeds, and pull them. Weeds are dormant now but many come back to life and begin growing before your lawn does. This means that the weeds have a head start on the grass and can begin crowding it out.

While the weeds you see have a head start, there are more weed seeds lurking just under the soil surface waiting for the soil to warm up. Unless you applied pre-emergent weed killer last fall, these will germinate as soon as the thermometer reaches the right temperature.

Pulling dormant weeds in your lawn and planting beds now will keep you ahead in the annual war on weeds. Instead of being overwhelmed with both the dormant weeds and freshly germinated seeds, you’ll only have to worry about the newly germinated seeds once the busy growing season starts.

While checking for weeds, it would be wise to also check the mulch in your planting beds. If it has settled to less than 3 inches, you might want to fluff it up. If it’s doesn’t return to at least 3 inches, getting more mulch and spreading it on a snow-free weekend will protect your plant roots and discourage weed germination. If it fluffs up to 4 inches or more, remember to remove the excess in the spring so you only have 2 or 3 inches.

During your walk of the property, take a garbage bag and pick up any trash that has blown into your yard over the winter. You may be shocked to see how much you collect. It’s surprising to see how much stuff is under the snow. Collecting this trash during your winter walk(s) speeds clean up when it’s spring cleaning time.

Doing these little tasks as you limber your green thumb during the winter means that you can get right to the good stuff – caring for your lawn and landscape – when spring actually arrives.

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Winter Is For Hardscape Maintenance

Plants aren’t the only part of a landscape that needs ongoing maintenance. Hardscapes can also suffer wear and tear at the hands of Mother Nature. Since most hardscape items are put away or covered up for the winter, they are out of sight, out of mind until you open them up for the season, only to find that you have to take precious fair weather time to make repairs.

Take a tip from the professionals and use winter wisely to do needed maintenance so you can get a running start in spring as soon as the last frost melts. Sure, it’s only the middle of February but that famous rodent didn’t see his shadow, which means spring could come early. If the weather runs true to form, we’ll start seeing more good days than bad. Not enough to go out and buy new flowering plants but enough for you to start preparing your non-growing items.

Removable fabric furniture covers like cushion or pillow coverings should be removed in the fall, regardless of whether you store the furniture inside or outside. These fabrics should be laundered sometime during the winter. After a season outside, they are sure to have picked up dust and dirt, and if they’ve gotten wet, they may have mold or mildew that needs to be taken care of.

The best way to begin your hardscape maintenance is to make a plan. Jot down all the hardscape maintenance tasks that await you. Then prioritize them. Which ones can you do in the garage or shed? Which need good weather because they have to be done outside?

Jobs that can be done in the garage or shed may include cleaning and servicing the gas grill. Painting, upholstering or repairing furniture may also be done inside. This should be work for rainy or snowy weekends. Save the outside jobs like masonry repairs or fixing the water feature for better weather. By gathering all the material and tools you’ll need before starting any project, you can decide on each weekend’s work at the last minute. If something has to dry or cure, be sure to check the weather forecast for the few days following the weekend to be sure you have enough time.

If your patio pavers need leveling, try to hold that off until March or even early April when you’re pretty confident that the frost threat has passed., Heaving caused by frost may be one of the reasons why the patio needs leveling.

All during the winter, it’s a good idea to keep your deck or patio free of ice and snow. This can reduce the need for repairs. Minor snowfalls are best removed with a broom, rather than a shovel. For heavier snowfalls in which shoveling is needed, use a plastic, rather than metal, shovel. This will reduce the chance of scratching the deck or patio surface.

Avoid chemical deicers like salt that can leave stains and pit the surface. If you really need to melt ice, try cat litter. It’s much less abrasive.

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Vertical Gardens A New Landscaping Trend

People will place plants anywhere they’ll grow. First containers gained popularity. Then raised beds became all the rage. Today, it’s vertical gardens.

Vertical gardens aren’t new. Several decades ago, a local company manufactured modular, plastic vertical gardens that they marketed to grow food in areas like deserts that are difficult to farm. The Longwood Gardens green wall, pictured in my January 1 post, was built in 2010. The vertical garden photo shown here was taken at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in 2012.

Vertical gardens and green walls are becoming trendy now because more people are opting for smaller properties, which means they need planting beds with smaller footprints. So, they are doing the same with gardens as develop[ers have done with buildings. When there’s no more ground to build on, they start building upward.

Vertical gardens aren’t limited to space-challenged folks. Some are accents in larger landscapes. Others are used instead of hedges or other plants to define spaces within a landscape. Still others are being installed just to be trendy.

There are a number of ways that plants can be held in place in vertical gardens. If interested, make mounting systems part of your research when designing a vertical garden. Keep in mind that they are containerized plants so they’ll need the same special attention as traditional containerized plants. Most notably, they’ll likely have to be watered more often than in-ground plants. However, there are a number of self watering systems available. I’ve seen one that waters plants at the top and lets the water drip down, watering the lower plants as it drops. Any water that makes it all the way to the bottom is collected and recycled.

Overwintering is another consideration you’ll have to deal with. When buying plants, discuss overwintering with a horticulturist at your garden center. They may recommend perennials that are hardy to a zone or two colder than where you live. Or, you can plant annuals and throw them on the compost pile in the winter. Then replant in the spring.

If you are interested in joining the vertical garden evolution, you have a number of ways to do it. You can go to a home store to buy the frame and mounting material and to your local garden center to buy the plants and build your vertical garden from scratch. Garden centers also sell kits so you can go the “some assembly required” route. If you just want to enjoy the beauty of a vertical garden in your landscape, our designers can design one to compliment your current landscape or integrate it into a new or renovated landscape. And our installation professionals can handle all the fabrication details.

Vertical gardens aren’t limited to the outside. They are also available for indoor use. Some are mounted on the wall instead of art or photos. Other configurations make nice room dividers. Indoor vertical gardens are also available in kit form.

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Make Sustainability Your Landscaping Mantra In 2020

Sustainability has become the mantra for the new decade. However, everyone seems to have their own definition of sustainability. As with any such thing, there are extremes and most of us fall right in the middle.

Here are some things you can do to make your landscape more sustainable this spring. None of these suggestions is extreme. They are all done easily and will likely be an aesthetic as well as environmental improvement for your landscape. Each will contribute to your property’s sustainability and reduce your maintenance needs.

Plant native plants. As I’ve written before, the strict definition of native plants is next to impossible to apply since we’ve been hybridizing plants and trading seeds with other countries since colonial times. My definition is a plant with its roots in our area that has been planted successfully here for many years. That includes nativars – cultivars

These two river birches we are pruning are native trees. The arbor vitae behind them are also native. Non Native Asian arbor vitae are available in some areas of the country.

of native plants. (Cultivars are plants bred by horticulturists for specific characteristics) I also use many introduced plants that have been grown here for many years and behave themselves.

Native plants attract pollinators, birds and wildlife. Of course, you may not want to attract wildlife. If you plant their favorite food source, they could leave you with a mess. So, that’s a decision you’ll have to make. Attracting pollinators, however, is important, and takes some planning so you have plants that butterflies and beneficial insects need to survive.

Native plants also save water, even though we seldom have to irrigate here in Western New York. They should also need less fertilizer and little or no pesticides. That statement doesn’t take into consideration exotic pests that come to our shores from other countries.

Reduce your lawn area. This also contributes to sustainability, as well as reducing the time you spend mowing. And when you spend less time mowing, you are using less gas and you spend less time maintaining your lawn. Convert lawn area to planting beds or meadowland, or add a patio or outdoor living area. Less water, fertilizer and pesticide is also good for the environment.

Besides reducing your workload, a meadowland will attract wildlife, support pollinators and clean the air. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), running a gas powered mower for an hour emits as much pollution as taking a 20 mile road trip in your car.

Implementing these tips takes planning, which you can do at your leisure during the winter downtime. If you would rather have a professional touch, one of our landscape designers can help you to any extent you want. They also have time over the winter to help you define sustainability from their perspective.

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What Landscape Care & Tennis Have In Common

Both landscape care and tennis are strenuously physical. Whether mowing your lawn with a walk-behind mower, spreading mulch or compost, weeding planting beds, or playing a game of tennis, you use muscles that you don’t normally use. To prepare for such activities, experts recommend doing warm up exercises before starting and cool down exercises at the end.

Experts in both gardening and physical fitness urge exercise before and after starting your main activity. They point to Olympians and athletes in other televised sports going through an exercise routine before taking to the field, ice or court? They must be on to something.

When working on your landscape, you use muscles that you may not use in any other activity, especially if you’re sedentary in your day job. That’s why it’s good to stretch those muscles and limber them up with light exercise before starting the real exertion. It’s the same reason why athletes warm up before their performances. Often, you’ll see our professionals, especially our tree climbers, go through an exercise routine before starting a job.

Some of the exercises need to stretch shoulder, arm, neck and leg muscles. Others should help your breathing, especially if you have shortness of breath when mowing, stooping or even kneeling.

If you belong to a gym or have a personal trainer, you may have warm up and cool down exercises that are part of your routine. Ask if they are right for your landscape activities, too. If not, the gym or trainer may be able to give you a routine. Or, you can always check the internet.

I Googled “Exercises before gardening” and got more than 42 million results, including some YouTube videos. If you want to go even further and make gardening part of your fitness program, Google “Gardening exercise” and get even more results. As always, we can’t vouch for the accuracy of all that information on the internet. But, if you find exercises that interest you, discuss them with a trusted professional to see if they are right for you.

Researching and developing a pre and post landscape or gardening exercise routine is a good winter activity. Use your downtime to do your research and practice the exercises in the warm comfort of your home before the season starts and you’ll be all ready for a fit start to the 2020 growing season.

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Start The New Year With Nicely Pruned Trees

Weather conditions control tree growth. They react to temperature and light, and cold temperatures, short days, as well as winter dormancy provide ideal pruning conditions. You could say, if fall is for planting then winter is for pruning.

That doesn’t mean going out with your chainsaw and starting to cut just because it’s winter. It means inspecting your trees to determine if they really need pruning. Pruning shouldn’t be guided only by the calendar. It should be guided by the calendar and the tree(s). Arboricultural best practices direct us to prune with a purpose. First, inspect your tree(s) to determine if they…

• Have broken, hanging, crossing or rubbing branches.
• Suffer from an insect or disease attack.
• Overhang structures.
• Block a vista.
• Block traffic visibility.
• Need thinning.
• Need to be reduced in size.

If any of these conditions exist, the tree(s) should be pruned. If none of these conditions exist, you’re lucky and don’t need to worry about pruning. If you are on the fence, one of our professional arborists can inspect your trees and make recommendations.

If your trees do need pruning, please get any thoughts of doing it yourself out of your mind quickly. There are good reasons why our arborists use personal protective equipment (PPE). Our work is dangerous, even for professionals. It’s even more dangerous for amateurs.

Our arborists always wear eye and ear protection. The reason for that is obvious. They also wear helmets because “struck by” (being struck by a falling or swinging limb) is one of the major causes of injury and death in tree care operations. You’ll never see a professional arborist pruning while standing on a ladder. It’s too easy to slip and fall. They always secure themselves in the tree with ropes or work from an aerial bucket.

Winter is a good season to prune because, with no leaves, we can see the tree’s skeletal structure, and the cutting wounds will be well calloused (healed) before insects and diseases become active again in spring. Frozen ground will support our heavy equipment and clean-up is easier when we don’t lose leaves as we drag cuttings to the chipper.

All the while we are pruning, you can stay in the nice, warm house and watch. And when we’re finished, you’ll be safe and happy and your trees will be safe and happy.