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Let Your Lawn Mower Do Your Raking

Raking or blowing fallen leaves each autumn is a tough, tiring job. That’s why I’ve always recommended waiting until all the leaves have fallen before putting the effort into clearing them. Otherwise, you’ll have to do it more than once. This year, I’m suggesting that you let your lawn mower do the work.

Most mowers today are mulching mowers. Make the most of that feature and use it for mulching leaves as well as grass, unless you have many, large trees that drop mountains of leaves. That way, you can kill two birds with one stone.

Mulching mowers have a chute for bagging or for side discharge when the grass is too long for proper mulching. When the chute is closed, the grass will be thrown around under the deck. This action causes the grass to be cut when it’s thrown up into the specially shaped mulching blade several times, resulting in finely chopped grass that simply falls to the ground.

The machine doesn’t discriminate between grass and leaves. If leaves have fallen, the mower will mulch them right along with the grass. Since the mower is doing the work, you don’t have to worry about how many times you are going over the yard. Every time you mow, you’ll chop and drop any leaves that accumulated since the last mowing. In fact, if the grass goes dormant before the leaves stop falling, keep mowing. Don’t worry about what the neighbors think.

This leaf management method has several advantages over the rake or blow method:

• The mower won’t mulch efficiently if you try to drive the mower into a big pile of leaves. However, you don’t have to worry about that when you mow them weekly.

• The leaf clippings will decompose right where they drop and add organic matter to your lawn.

• Adding leaf mulch weekly instead of all at once will allow it to decompose and begin adding organic matter to the lawn faster.

• You won’t have to handle the leaves several times – raking, loading into a compost bin, waiting months for it to decompose, shoveling it into a wheel barrow and spreading it.

Labor saving devices don’t have to be electronic and have a screen. Mowing your fallen leaves is just asking your mower to do double duty.

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Solving The Mystery Of Autumn

The curtain is rising on an annual show – one that’s particularly brilliant in our part of the world. It’s deciduous trees’ annual show of color. Mother Nature gets the credit for producing this show, but did you ever wonder what really makes it happen?

The answer is quite simple yet quite complex. A combination of leaf pigments, light, weather conditions, plant species and geography all work together to create fall color.

Leaves’ natural color is yellow, a pigment in the (ka’rotn-oid) family, and it’s always present. However, green chlorophyll, which is necessary for the manufacture of food during photosynthesis, masks the yellow.

The sun provides the energy for photosynthesis. So, photosynthesis slows down and then ceases as the amount of daylight dwindles and temperatures plummet. As this happens, less and less chlorophyll is produced until the leaves’ natural color becomes visible.

Some leaves turn red in the fall. This is caused by anthocyanins (an-tho-cy-a-nins), a pigment produced only during the autumn months. These complex, water soluable compounds in leaf cells react with excess stored plant sugars and exposure to sunlight, resulting in brilliant pink, red and purple leaves. A mixture of red anthocyanin pigment and yellow carotenoids often results in the bright orange color we see in some leaves. There appears to be more orange leaves this year than usual.

Weather conditions that occur before and during the decline of chlorophyll production can affect the color that leaves display. Carotenoids are always present so the yellow and gold colors are the least affected by weather. The red tones, created by anthocyanin, are most affected by weather.

Lots of sugar is produced in leaves on warm, sunny days. Trees exposed to brighter sunlight generate the reaction between anthocyanins and the excess sugar, creating the bright red hue. Sharp changes in climate can paint the most spectacular display of color. Cooler temperatures cause the veins in the leaves to gradually close, preventing sugars from moving out, which preserves the red tones. The lush tones of fall we see all around us are caused by warm, sunny days followed by crisp, cool nights.

Soil moisture can also affect autumn color. A particularly dry summer can delay the onset of color change by weeks. A warm, wet spring, favorable summer weather, and sunny fall days with cooler temperatures at night are ideal conditions for producing the most radiant colors.

Tree genetics and species determine what color leaves will turn. Color also depends on the levels of iron, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium in the tree and the acidity of the chemicals in the leaves.

When the show of color is over, the curtain of leaves falls. As photosynthesis ceases, the base of the leaf, known as the petiole, closes up since no food is leaving. No water and nutrients flows in, either. Meanwhile, next year’s leaf bud, positioned below the petiole, has formed and grows until it pushes the leaf, disconnecting the tissue that holds it to the branch, and the old leaf falls.

Just like the theater, it’s now time to clean up the litter with your leaf rake or blower.

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Prepare Your Trees & Shrubs For Winter

With October upon us, winter can’t be far off. While we take shelter in our nice, warm homes, all our trees can do is drop their leaves to lighten the weight on their branches. Before the snow flies, however, you can do your part to protect your valuable investment.

Here’s a list of ways you can improve the chances of your trees and shrubs having a good winter:

• Have your trees inspected for hazards by one of our professional arborists.

• Heed the recommendations our arborist makes as a result of the inspection. These recommendations may include pruning to remove broken, weak, dead or dying branches. Cabling and bracing may be recommended to strengthen weak forks and reduce the chance of limb breakage in a wind, snow or ice storm.

• Apply anti-desiccant to both needled and broadleaf evergreens. This simple procedure can reduce the chance of winter burn. It is a wax-like substance that helps the plant retain moisture. Anti-desiccant, sold in spray bottles at garden stores, can easily be applied to one or two plants. Professional application from a backpack sprayer is more economical if you have a number of evergreens, especially tall trees.

• Wrap young, tender trees and shrubs with burlap to reduce wind and road salt damage.

• Apply trunk guard, such as hardware cloth, around trees and shrubs to discourage wildlife browsing. When deer, rabbits, mice and other wildlife don’t have access to their regular food supplies, they eat anything that’s available. And, that’s often the tender bark and sapwood of your landscape trees and shrubs.

• Mulch around the base of your trees but don’t pile the mulch up against the trunks or stems. This can trap moisture and result in a microbe-caused disease. Mulch piled against a trunk is also camouflage for mice dining on your plants. Be sure there are several inches between the mulch and the tree.

Trees are too valuable to leave to the elements. They deserve all the help and protection we can give them. With the care outlined above, your trees can continue to bring you beauty and pleasure for years to come.

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Now Is A Great Time To Protect Your Ash Trees

Last week I explained how the emerald ash borer (EAB) made its way to our area and how you can keep more from arriving. Today, I’m going to tell you how to

Photo: Howard Russell
Michigan State University
Bugwood.org

protect your own trees from attack and how to treat them if they’re already hosting this insidious pest.

We can apply a preventive or treatment to your ash trees right up until the ground freezes. The product we use is injected directly into the tree where the new hatch of EAB larvae is just beginning to feed. If your tree has already been infested with this pest, the larvae are small, weak and vulnerable, making this an ideal time to treat.

Our plant health care professionals have tested all of the materials labeled for EAB and have found that one is most effective. It only has to be applied every two years to prevent EAB from attacking a healthy tree. If your tree has already been attacked, annual treatments are required to control the EAB.

I write and talk about preventive treatment whenever the opportunity arises. Because although prevention and treatment can be costly, Ash trees are beautiful shade trees. It would be a shame if they went the way of the chestnut and the American elm. Besides their beauty and grace, what would happen to baseball if ash trees were to become extinct? Wooden bats are made almost exclusively of ash. Would we have to listen to the ping of aluminum in the big leagues instead of the solid crack of wood?

Seriously, when you crunch the numbers, you’ll find that it will take many years of preventive or treatment applicatioions to equal the cost to remove and replace a dead ash tree. Most of the ash trees around here are large and stately. This means our arborists have to call on their knowledge, skills and specialized equipment to take down a dead tree. It isn’t as simple as just felling it.

If you own an ash tree, decide now to make the investment to save it. Our plant health care professionals will inspect your tree to determine if it needs treatment or preventive care and share their findings with you. If you wait until spring, the larvae will be large, strong and more resistant. In fact, they’ll be preparing to pupate and morph into tiny, metallic green adults. The adults will chew a “D” shaped hole to the outside and begin looking for a mate so they can continue destroying this beautiful, valuable tree.

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Be Careful When You Buy Firewood For Winter

A wood-burning stove or fireplace can keep you cozy and warm. But if you aren’t careful where you buy your firewood, that coziness could come at a tremendous cost – the death of your valuable trees.

The fastest way to spread tree insects and diseases is by moving firewood from one place to another. It can be infested with gypsy moth, cankerworms, aphids, winter moth, Asian longhorned beetle, the insidious emerald ash borer and a host of other pests. New York State has taken action by quarantining the moving of all wood products beyond a 50 mile radius of its source without a certificate that guarantees it’s free from pests.

The state can’t do it alone. They need your help, and the best way to help is to not buy imported firewood. After all, the trees you save may be your own. The importers dump their wood and leave. You stack it in the back yard near your trees and it’s just a short distance for the insects to travel to your live, healthy trees, While the firewood will be burned in coming months, your tree can provide multiple generations of insects with plenty of food until the tree dies.

Emerald ash borer is the current scourge that we’re dealing with. In just over 10 years, this pest has spread from a single outbreak in Michigan to multiple outbreaks and has destroyed millions of trees throughout the midwest and northeastern United States, as well as two Canadian provinces. They didn’t spread by themselves. Although the adults can fly, they seldom fly far from the tree in which they hatched and spent their larval lives. They are brought into new areas by unwitting campers and unscrupulous firewood dealers.

If you’re a camper, buy firewood at your destination; don’t take it from our area. When you’re ready to come home, burn all your wood or give it to one of your neighboring campers. Don’t bring it home. Loss of beautiful, majestic ash trees is certainly not worth the saving from bringing home a few sticks of infested firewood.

New York State has a slogan – Buy it where you burn it. That’s good advice for slowing the spread of emerald ash borers. Next week, I’ll tell you how to keep them from attacking your trees or how to treat them if they have already attacked them.

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Fall Is For Planting

For some reason, it’s not common knowledge yet. Fall IS for planting. That’s why I remind you of it every year about this time.

As the seasons change, days remain warm while the nighttime temperatures dip. Although we don’t have to worry about sufficient moisture this year, in most years we wait for the rain to return in fall so we don’t have to irrigate. All of these conditions come together to give us excellent planting weather. Nurseries and garden centers respond by stocking up on fresh trees, shrubs and perennials, and marking down those plants that had to bear the summer heat.

Planting in early fall gives plants plenty of time to get established in their new environment under natural conditions before going dormant as winter sets in. Spring plants don’t have that luxury. The weather heats up and dries out soon after they are able to be planted.

Fall planting is done the same way as spring planting. Dig a hole two to three times wider than the root ball but only as deep. Remove the container or the rope holding the burlap in place and place the plant in the hole making sure it is perpendicular to the ground. Backfill and water well.

Our landscape professionals advocate fall planting as well. They’re ready, willing and able to plant your fall trees, shrubs and perennials. And, they’ll provide any necessary aftercare your plants may need.

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Do You Need To Fertilize This Fall?

The simple answer is yes if you had to fertilize last fall and/or this spring. If you don’t have to fertilize on a regular basis, you probably won’t have to this fall, either.

The job of fertilizing is, arguably, one of the most misunderstood aspects of horticulture, and it isn’t helped by those who refer to fertilization as plant feeding. The late plant physiologist, Dr. Alex Shigo, explained in his writing and during his speaking engagements that plants don’t have to be fed. They make their own food through photosynthesis.

Why fertilize then? Fertilization actually “feeds” the soil. It replenishes nutrients that occur naturally in good soil. Fertilization can be compared more accurately to taking vitamin supplements than eating food.

Soil is moved around and mixed with subsoil during residential construction, resulting in inferior soil. When topsoil is removed, the nutritional elements available for plants are only those present in the subsoil. When topsoil is mixed with subsoil, this, too, greatly reduces the nutrients available to plants.

Once nutrient-bearing soil is removed from a piece of property, it’s gone forever. This means it has to be replenished constantly to grow healthy plants. Plants need a number of nutrients for good health, just as we do. The main elements plants require are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Also necessary but in lesser quantities, is a group of secondary nutrients that includes calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S), and a group of micronutrients that includes boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chlorine (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Z). Non-mineral elements hydrogen (H), oxygen (O) and carbon (C) are also needed but they come from the air and water rather than the soil.

Besides their presence in soil, essential nutrients have to be in a form that will dissolve in water, which is how plants absorb them. The best way to know if your soil is deficient in any of the essential nutrients is with a soil test. You can buy very basic soil test kits at garden stores but a more comprehensive, reliable test is best left to our plant health care professionals. They’ll take soil samples from your yard and send them to a lab for analysis. When they get the results, they’ll present you with recommendations specifically for the soil conditions in your landscape.

We follow industry standards that advise us to fertilize only to meet specific objectives. The most common objective is to replenish specific nutrients. In some cases, objectives may be more exotic, such as acidifying basic soil to grow acid loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons.