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The Importance Of Soil

As if the word soil doesn’t have enough of a negative connotation, our slang term is dirt. What could be more negative? Yet, soil is the supporter of all life. It’s the medium in which plants grow. Animals eat the plants and wind up on our dinner table. And, the circle of life goes on thanks to soil.

How does soil, or dirt, sustain life? It holds the nutrients and minerals that all flora and fauna need to live. Many of the minerals plants need are tied to the atoms of other minerals to support them in a form that can be absorbed by plants.

When we think of soil, we usually think of it first as the anchoring medium for plants. That’s because we dig a hole in the soil, put the plant in and backfill. The ecosystem beneath the soil surface is unknown to us because we can’t see that subsurface life going on, other than digging up worms for a fishing trip.

If we could see what’s going on beneath the soil surface, we’d see billions of creatures, including fungi, bacteria, worms and more, all working together to break down fallen leaves, dead plants and other organic matter.

Most of these subsurface life forms are in the top few inches of soil – the layer we call top soil. When we remove that layer and don’t replace it with soil of equal quality, the balance of nature is disturbed. The plants that we install to make a landscape can’t absorb minerals that aren’t there or aren’t available to plants because there are no microbes to convert them into a form useable by plants. Fertilizer is one of the ways in which we reintroduce essential elements to soil. We also replenish microbes in the soil by adding mycorrhyzae.

Some people refer to fertilization as feeding plants. The late plant physiologist, Dr. Alex Shigo, said that plants make their own food through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the complex chemical reaction in which carbon dioxide, water and essential elements are converted by sunlight into carbohydrates in green plants. So fertilization is actually soil conditioning rather than plant feeding.

Summer will soon morph into fall, and you’ll be faced with the decision of whether to fertilize your landscape plants. One way to make that decision easier is to have your soil analyzed. Our Plant Health Care professionals gather soil samples and send them to a lab where the soil is analyzed, and we receive a report showing the level of all essential elements in your soil. From that we can determine whether your soil needs fertilization and the amount of each essential element that you need.

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EAB Exposure Risk Increases In Summer

eabAs the summer tourism season gets into full swing, don’t be an unwitting spreader of the “Green Menace” known as the emerald ash borer (EAB).

This pest is now in 21 states and two Canadian provinces. This means you have an excellent chance of encountering EAB, especially if you’re camping or doing something near forests or parks. You may bring this tiny insect home without even knowing it until it attacks the ash trees in your yard and your neighbors’ yards.

Here are a few precautions you can take as you travel this summer:

  • Don’t move firewood –Be sure to buy firewood near your campsite or from a firewood vendor who is certified, and don’t bring any back unless it’s certified. There’s a quarantine against bringing uncertified wood into New York State, so burn it where you bought it.
  • Recognize the signs of infestation –The EAB adult is green, skinny and about as long as a penny. Even if you don’t see these adults, examine firewood. Remove some or all of the bark. If it’s infested, you’ll see the galleries the larvae carve just under the bark as seen in photo.
  • Pre-treatment programs – There are ways to protect ash trees with a preventive treatment before they become infested with EAB. Call our office for more information.

Scientists say those ash trees destroyed by EAB create a damaging effect on the eco-system and can even impact your property value. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) says that EAB destruction has already cost municipalities, property owners and the green industry tens of millions of dollars.

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Congratulations To Jorge Obando

Jorge Obanda Wions State TitleI am pleased to announce that Certified Arborist Jorge Obando is the top tree climber in New York State. On June 18, Jorge was crowned New York State Tree Climbing Champion by the New York State Arborists, ISA Chapter. This is Jorge’s fourth win and the twelfth for a Birchcrest arborist.

Jorge didn’t actually receive a crown. Rather, he won climbing equipment worth more than $1,000 and a chance to match his skills against the top climbers from all over the world. In August, Jorge will represent the state ISA chapter at the Stihl International Tree Climbing Championship at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. The international event will be held in conjunction with the International Society of Arboricluture (ISA) annual conference in the nation’s capital.

The daylong state championship was held on Long Island at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay. Jorge and the 24 other entrants had to compete in five events. Each involved one or more skills that climbers use every day in their work. At the end of the qualifying round, Jorge had one of the top three scores, which qualified him for the Masters Challenge.

The Masters Challenge combines all of the skills from the individual events in the qualifying round into a single climb. The person who scores the highest in the Masters Challenge is the champ. I’m so pleased that Jorge won for our region of the state. His two Masters Challenge competitors were from Albany and Carmel.

Congratulations, Jorge (second from the right in the photo) and good luck in Washington.

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Cool Your Roots With Mulch

mulchMulch provides your landscape plants with many benefits. The most obvious is the finished look it gives your landscape. Its most important benefits, however, occur below ground.

Mulch retains moisture and releases it over time, and it also moderates soil temperatures. These are important considerations this summer. Remember the prediction that this will be a hot, dry summer. That prediction began to play out even before summer officially started. We had a 90º day in May and two in June right before the Summer Solstice. We’ve also had very little rainfall in June.

Wood mulch acts like insulation or a heat sink. By spreading it loosely on the soil surface, the many voids between the wood chips and fibers trap heat before it can be absorbed by the soil. The mulch then releases the heat back into the atmosphere and into the soil much slower than the soil would absorb it without mulch.

When it does rain or you irrigate, mulch will absorb water and then release it into the soil over time. This is important in heavy rains. Much of the rain falling directly on bare, dry soil in hot weather will either evaporate or run off before it can be absorbed by the soil and benefit plant roots.

I recommend wood mulch for several reasons. First, it’s biodegradable; as it decomposes over time, essential nutrients are returned to the soil. Non organic mulches don’t degrade. Second, it benefits the environment. The raw material is wood we prune from trees. That waste would go into a landfill if we didn’t recycle it.

Mulch should be spread 2 to 3 inches thick and level. Don’t let the mulch touch the plant stem; pull it back an inch or two from plants. Resist the temptation to pile it up against tree trunks into mulch volcanoes. This practice can kill the trees.

I don’t recommend colored mulch. The color is simply a dye that’s added. The color of the mulch doesn’t affect its decomposition rate or the return of nutrients to the soil. However, you can get the dye on your shoes and it can leach on to sidewalks, patios and driveways. That’s why we use only natural brown hardwood mulch.

We can bring bulk mulch to your home and dump it in the driveway for you to spread, or one of our landscape crews will be happy to spread it for you. Either way, do consider keeping your plant roots cool this summer because it’s apt to be a hot one.

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Be On Guard For Ticks, Mosquitoes And Other Pests

Your landscape may be home to insects that don’t attack your plants but do attack you, your family and your guests. Mosquitoes and ticks come to mind because they’ve been in the news lately.

Mosquitoes are carriers of numerous diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus and, most recently, the Zika virus. As they suck human blood, these pests also transmit to their human hosts diseases they are carrying. You can actively help prevent mosquitoes by getting rid of all standing, stagnant water. This is where they breed. Clean and change the water in bird baths and fountains frequently. Keep swimming pools treated and circulating. When outdoors, especially in the evening, be sure everyone’s exposed skin is treated with mosquito repellent.

Ticks carry some nasty, serious, human diseases like lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These pests are carried by various mammals. Deer ticks, for example, carry lyme disease but don’t only live on deer. The field mouse is one of its favorite hosts. This disease doesn’t affect the animal hosts, but it does debilitate humans who may receive the disease organism when infected ticks bite them.

Fleas can also be of concern, especially if you have pets. Fleas carry animal diseases like tapeworm. Pets can carry fleas into the house and these flightless insects can get into carpeting and furniture and then bite us.

Take precautions when outdoors. Protect yourself by wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts. Tuck pants into boots. Check children, pets and yourself frequently. Remove ticks as soon as possible using tweezers.

For the peace of mind of knowing that you’ve done everything possible to protect your family, call our Plant Health Care professionals. They can inspect your property for signs of these pests and take appropriate action if you have them. We can also take preventive measures like spraying the perimeter of your property for ticks and fleas.

Also, be sure your pets are treated for these pests by a vet or with one of the home applied medications.

Your landscape is a sanctuary for you to relax, enjoy the natural surroundings and the fresh air of outdoor living. Don’t let uninvited “guests” ruin your enjoyment and compromise your family’s health. Most of all, don’t let them turn your tranquil retreat into a stressful environment. Take the offensive and get rid of these pests and keep them away.

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Be Prepared To Irrigate This Summer

Watering lawn

Remember last summer? It was rainy enough that Mother Nature took care of our irrigation for us. From the long range forecasts I’ve heard, that will probably not be the case this summer. The forecast is for excessive heat and little rain, although you wouldn’t know it from the weather over the past week.

There are several question you need to ask yourself as you plan for your landscape’s survival.

  • How much am I prepared to spend on an irrigation system?
  • How much am I prepared to spend on higher than normal water bills?
  • How much effort am I prepared to expend on keeping my landscape watered?

Out west and in some parts of the south, an automatic irrigation system is essential to the survival of any landscape. Here, it’s a luxury that can make life easier but is not essential to the survival of your landscape. There are much less expensive ways to irrigate.

Certainly the most basic irrigation system is a garden hose. To be effective, however, the hose should be attached to some sort of irrigation device – a sprinkler for lawns or soaker hoses for trees, shrubs and perennials. Hand holding a hose is a waste of time. Most people don’t have the patience to hold a hose long enough to apply an inch of water and that’s what your landscape needs. Spraying for a few minute a day barely wets the surface, encouraging weak, shallow roots. You want nice, deep roots. That requires that the inch of water be applied all at once or in no more than two applications.

If you don’t want to go into debt to the water authority, you need to prioritize the plants you water based on their importance to the landscape, drought tolerance and value. Trees are the most valuable plants in your landscape. Newly planted trees and those still establishing themselves should be your top priority. Established trees have a root system that can seek out and find water. Shrubs are the next most valuable plants. If they start looking stressed, they should be watered. Perennials should be next and annuals last. Annuals are the least expensive plants and you may change them out several times during the season anyway.

Some of you might argue that your lawn represents a bigger investment than your trees and shrubs. However, nature has given turfgrass a defense mechanism. When dry, turfgrass goes dormant and turns brown. When the rains return, it greens up again.

If you use your grass a great deal, then you may want to irrigate it. If your family seldom plays on it, your irrigation budget would be best allocated to those plants that are valuable and may not bounce back after the rain returns. If you opt not to irrigate your lawn, it’s best to stay off it during a drought. When you step on brown grass, you’ll hear it crunch under your feet. That’s the sound of crispy blades of grass breaking.

In answer to the third question above, I recommend soaker hoses for irrigating your trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. These are porous hoses made of recycled tires, so the water oozes out.

Soaker hoses can be laid on the surface or buried in the mulch close to the plants you want to water. You only open the faucet about a quarter turn, otherwise the water pressure will cause the soaker hoses to burst. Because the water flows slowly, you have to leave soaker hoses on for several hours. I refer to soaker hoses as drip irrigation on a budget.

If you opt to irrigate your lawn with hoses and sprinklers, here’s an easy way to determine how long you need to sprinkle to apply an inch of water. Put a low, wide-mouth container in the spray stream and time how long it takes to fill the container to an inch. Each time you move the hose and sprinkler to irrigate another section, you only have to watch the clock.

They say you can’t fool Mother Nature, but she can fool us. Maybe she will be giving us enough moisture so that we don’t have to irrigate. However, it would be best for you to protect your landscaping investment by preparing for a hot, dry summer, and then be pleasantly surprised if you don’t need to water.

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Deadhead To Extend Your Plants Blooms

You invested money and effort in a colorful landscape. For maximum return on your investment, deadhead.

In this context, deadheading has nothing to do with a 60s rock band. It has to do with removing spent flowers from your plants before they can go to seed. The practice is also called pinching. Some gardeners believe that you have to pinch the flowers off in order to encourage more blooms, but I use a pair of bonsai pruning shears and it works just fine.

Deadheading works on both your house plants and those in your outdoor beds. After flower buds break, they display their color to attract pollinators. When they are pollinated, the bloom begins to fade and start to shrivel up. This means that it’s developing its seeds. That’s the time to remove the spent flowers. The plant can then direct its energy to producing new blossoms rather than seeds.

Annuals are especially good candidates for deadheading. These plants’ main role in life is to reproduce. When the flower seeds are scattered, their job is done. They may stick around as foliage plants, but they also may die right away. Deadheading encourages them to make more flowers instead. You can then enjoy color longer before you have to change those annuals out for fresh plants.

Perennials don’t die after blooming. They just become foliage plants until next year. Deadheading many perennials will result in new blooms, thus extending their colorful season. Some may be encouraged to bloom for nearly the whole growing season.

The lifecycle of a plant is dictated by such stimuli as light and temperature. Removing flowers before they can go to seed is another stimulus that tells the plant that its effort to reproduce wasn’t successful and to try again. Besides extending the plant’s bloom time, this practice also gets you out in the garden, enjoying your plants close up and personal.

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