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Please Have A Happy, Safe Thanksgiving

This has certainly been a unique year, like no other in our lifetime. As you weathered this challenging time, I hope you were able to embrace the bright spots like the flowers that bloom after a long winter.

As we head into the heart of the holiday season, I wish you and your family a happy and safe Thanksgiving from all of us here at the Birchcrest family.

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Consider Your Landscape In Your Snow Removal Plans

Snow removal can be dangerous to the health of your landscape plants. Certainly the safety of your family and visitors is the first priority when planning your attack on Ol’ Man Winter but risks to the landscape plants should also be taken into consideration.

Here are just a few of the hazards that can befall your valuable landscape plants after a snowfall:

• Salt Spray. When the snowplow clears your street, it deposits a spray of snow and salt spray. The snow is thrown up by the plow on the front of the truck and it’s, possibly, saturated with salt water from previous plow runs. And, pure salt water is thrown out the back of the truck as part of the deicing operation. Salt can kill grass and damage trees and shrubs, especially young ones, in the path of the spray.

The only remedy for salt damaged grass is reseeding in the spring. Trees and shrubs can be protected by wrapping them in burlap like you would to protect them from the wind or sunscald. Wood A-frame tents are also effective protectors.

• Snow Piles. Trees and shrubs, planted near the driveway, can be damaged by snow being piled up against them. Damage can be caused by snow being
thrown from a shovel or a snow blower or pushed by a plow. A plow is the most powerful and can exert enough pressure to topple a small tree.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer you can take care to throw or blow the snow on the other side of the drive or in such a way as to avoid hitting the tree. If you hire a plowing service direct them not to pile snow against the tree but to pile it on the other side of the driveway.

• Avoid Divots. Perhaps the most common snow removal problem is the appearance of divots in the grass. These usually are from a blade extending beyond
the pavement and digging up pieces of sod along the edge of the lawn. Some may be found in the middle of the lawn.

Of the three most common snow removal methods – shoveling, blowing and plowing – shoveling is the gentlest. You can see and feel the edge of the pavement and seldom venture into the lawn. Blowing is also relatively gentle on the lawn. You should be able to see the snow blower well enough to guide it away from the lawn. Plows most frequently violate that line between the pavement and the grass.

A truck with a plow can’t aim as accurately as a shoveler or a snow blower operator. They put fiberglass poles on the plow so they can locate it and at the edge of the driveway to help their aim but still miss occasionally. Dealing with divots is a price you pay for having someone plow your drive. In spring you can usually replace the divots. If they are missing or mangled, you can reseed very easily.

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Still Time For Anti-Desiccant

I’m a big fan of anti-desiccant. That’s why I post a reminder every fall. It’s clean, easy to apply and protects evergreens very well. Best of all you don’t have to wrap burlap around most trees and shrubs protected by anti-desiccant.

Although it’s November already, you can still apply anti-desiccant. Just don’t pick a day that’s too hot (over 50ºF) or too cold (below freezing). It’s a wax like material that becomes too runny in the heat and too firm in the cold.

Protect your evergreens to prevent dieback.

If anti-desiccant is new to you, let me introduce you to it. Anti-desiccant is sold in garden centers in pump bottles. The best known brand is Wilt-Pruf. Landscape and Plant Health Care professionals buy in bulk and apply it with truck-mounted or backpack sprayers.

Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs that go dormant in winter, conifers and broadleaf evergreens’ life functions continue through the winter, although at a slower pace. Normally, water and nutrients are absorbed by the roots, and are taken up the tree where they become part of the photosynthetic reaction. Water is then given off through the leaves or needles to remove heat from the tree. This is called transpiration.

When the ground is frozen in winter, the roots can’t absorb water, so the plant reabsorbs the water given off in transpiration and reuses it. However, the wind often blows the drops of water off the leaves before they can be reabsorbed. Anti-desiccant keeps the wind from blowing the transpired water away.

Unprotected evergreens branches can develop brown spots, or even turn entirely brown and die when they can’t reabsorb enough transpired water. The only treatment is to cut out the brown foliage and dead branches.

Applying anti-desiccant to one or two evergreen shrubs yourself can be a good DIY project. But I recommend professional application for properties with a number of evergreens, especially large conifer trees. You’ll actually save money over buying all those small bottles. And your hand will feel better than it would squeezing the trigger on all of those bottles.

While there’s still time apply anti-desiccant, you never know when the weather will turn cold, drop below freezing and stay there. Conversely, if we get a January thaw and the temperature rises above 50ºF and stays there, your plants may need a touch up. But it’s a good investment.

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Distance Wildlife From Your Landscape Plants

Each year at this time, property owners ask for advice for keeping deer from eating their valuable landscape plants. There are no foolproof methods. When a deer is hungry enough, it will eat anything.

Each year, one of our customers puts a container of flowering annuals on loved ones’ graves in three different sections of a cemetery. The only plant he has tried that has any deterrent effect is wax leaf begonias. Up until now, they have lasted all season. This last August, he reported that the two pots of the begonias whose flowers were red were just fine, and they were adjacent to the woods where the deer live. The pot with white flowers in the middle of the cemetery were all chewed off. The moral of the story is that although deer are color blind they are also unpredictable.

The most effective deterrent is planting plants that deer don’t like. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County’s website has the most complete list of deer resistant plants I’ve seen. To review the Cornell list visit
http://warren.cce.cornell.edu/gardening-landscape/deer-resistant-plants.
There are also commercial repellants available for spraying the plants. These ideas may work or they may not.

Wrapping shrubs, evergreens and young trees with burlap, will not only protect them from becoming deer food but will also protect them from wind damage. Wrapping is a rather easy process. Begin by driving three long stakes or poles into the ground to serve as a frame. Then attach the burlap to the poles. Keep the top open so light and water can still get to the plant. Because deer can reach nearly eight feet when they stand on their hind legs, the burlap should be eight feet tall or a little taller than the plant. Hopefully, when the deer encounter the burlap, they will go elsewhere rather than trying to remove the burlap.

Deer will eat the tender branch tips on deciduous trees. Bucks will also rub their antlers on the trunk to remove the velvet that covers new antlers. The result is unsightly on any tree but rubbing thin bark trees also results in bark removal, which can kill the tree. The most effective deterrent is plastic trunk guards.

When they’re done rubbing their antlers, the deer may reach up and eat the tender branch tips. For this, you need our arborists to raise the crown by removing the lower branches so none is below eight feet. Don’t compromise your safety and the tree’s health. Let our arborist use their specialized equipment so you don’t have to use a dangerous ladder or work overhead. The arborist will also advise you whether removing the lower limbs will compromise the tree in any way.

While you’re protecting your plant against a big nucience – deer – don’t let the little guys – rodents – swoop in and help themselves. Extend plastic trunk guards all the way down to the base of the tree or wrap the trunk in hardware cloth. Finally, be sure the mulch is an inch or two from the trunk.

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Overwintering Containerized Plants

When preparing your patio or deck for winter, don’t forget your containerized plants. Plants that have required common care during the warm growing season will need specialized care for the winter.

Plants that are hardy to USDA zone 3 or 4 should be able to survive the winter outside. As a precaution, though, I would move them to a location that is sheltered from the wind but gets a good amount of sun. You can do the same with plants hardy to our zone 5 or 6 but, as an extra layer of protection, wrap the containers in an insulating material like bubble wrap or Styrofoam insulation and place a layer of mulch around the container. Only the container stands between the plants’ roots and the freezing cold, and most container materials aren’t very good insulators.

Speaking of container material, many do not fare well in bitter cold weather. Terra cotta is one material that will break in freezing temperatures. Some ceramic and concrete materials will also break. These containers are usually manufactured in places where cold weather isn’t a problem. My personal preference is faux terra cotta made of heavy gauge plastic. Besides being weather safe, they are lighter to move around than the real stuff.

Inexpensive, portable, folding cold frame for overwinterting containerized plants.

You’ll have to make other arrangements for more tender plants. Those that are indoor plants just enjoying a summer vacation in the fresh outdoors, should be returned to their indoor home. Plants that can’t stand the extra cold that the winds bring should spend the winter under glass or transparent plastic sheeting. A greenhouse would be a perfect place for them but most suburban properties are too small for another structure. Instead, invest in a cold frame. Cold frames are available at garden centers, home centers and online in many different sizes and shapes using a variety of materials.

Wood and glass cold frames may be purchased in kit form or fully built. You can also build one from scrap lumber you have around the house and using an old storm door or windows to let the sunlight in. You can also purchase temporary, folding cold frames like the one pictured. If you have an annual bed that’s not being used for the winter, you can erect a temporary hoop house.

Super tender plants have to go inside for the winter. This doesn’t mean the garage, either. Most garages aren’t insulated or heated so they’re too cold for the plants. Few garages have enough windows to let in sufficient sunlight, and if the plants are sharing space with vehicles, they will be subjected to carbon monoxide and other pollutants.

If you have a three season room, also called a Florida room, that would likely work as a winter home for these plants. You might have to place a space heater out there to bring the temperature up to their liking. Be sure to follow the published safety precautions if you use a space heater.

No matter where you overwinter your containerized plants, they’re going to need some care. Outdoor plants would appreciate a drink of water whenever the temperature rises above freezing. Those stored inside should be watered on a regular schedule when they get dry, just as you do with houseplants. On a sunny day when the temperature is above freezing, it would be nice to open the cold frame and let them get some nice, fresh air.

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The Importance of Fall Fertilization

If you fertilized your trees, shrubs and perennials in the spring, it should probably be done again now.

The best rationale for fall fertilization is explained in the process a plant uses to convert the nutrients it consumes into food. Although you place fertilizer around the base of your plants, you aren’t “feeding” the plants. You’re actually replenishing soil nutrients. Before arbitrarily applying fertilizer, we test the soil to determine if nutrients are depleted. If they are the soil cannot replenish them by itself. The only way to replenish them is with fertilizer and organic matter.

The nutrients that a plant receives from the soil aid in photosynthesis, which is the plant’s food making process that takes place in the leaves. The comparison between plant and animal needs that I find most easily understood is comparing fertilizer to the vitamin supplements that many of us take. Plants require three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as, trace nutrients zinc, copper, selenium, chromium, cobalt, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. If you check these against the label on your multi vitamins, you’ll see that many are the same.


The plants that you fertilized in the spring have probably used most of the nutrients that were replenished during fertilization. They were needed for the plants’ intense spring and summer food making process. Although it’s October already, the plants still need to make a lot of food before all the leaves fall. Like animals that hibernate for the winter, deciduous plants have to binge feed so they have enough stored to sustain them through the winter and provide enough energy to break their buds to flower and leaf out next spring. Even after the leaves fall, the roots remain active until the ground freezes.

The fertilizer you would apply would no doubt, be granular, in which case, you’ll have to water the area thoroughly. Fertilizer only works when it’s dissolved or suspended in water. The roots then absorb the fertilizer laced water and send it up the plant. After the photosynthetic process has taken place, the food is distributed throughout the plant. Any food that’s left is stored in the roots until needed.

If we fertilize your plants, we place it directly in the ground, near the roots, in liquid form. No additional watering is needed and the roots can begin absorbing it and putting it to work right away.

Fall fertilizer can be applied until the ground freezes but the sooner it’s applied, the sooner it can go to work helping your plants get ready for winter.

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Have Your Trees Inspected This Fall

We have to have our vehicles inspected every year to be sure they’re mechanically sound and many of us have an annual physical to make sure our body is working the way it should. The trees in your yard combine both biology and mechanics to stay healthy and sound. So, for the same reason you and your car need an annual check up, I recommend an annual check of your trees – a thorough biomechanical inspection by a professional arborist to be sure they don’t present a hazard to people or property.

Like us, trees have many natural enemies. They are being attacked by insects and diseases, many of which are invasive pests from other countries. Fungi attack them, causing them to rot. Often, you don’t even know rot is destroying your tree from the inside out until fruiting bodies that look like mushrooms appear on the trunk or the tree fails and limbs begin breaking off.

One tree enemy that is often overlooked is the wind. We realize the wind is a hazard only when a storm causes branches and whole trees to break and uproot. It doesn’t take a strong wind to break a rotted tree, though.

The most positive way to identify any hazards and to be sure your trees are healthy is with an annual tree inspection. Our arborists examine your tree from the crown to the roots, checking for insect activity, diseases, cracks in the trunk and major limbs, significant lean, narrow forks and signs of internal decay.

Many of these conditions can be repaired. Narrow forks, for example, indicate a weakness in which one of the limbs can break. We fix this condition by a process called cabling and bracing. We put a threaded rod through the two limbs near the fork, then secure it with big washers and nuts. The tree grows around the hardware. Up in the crown, we install a network of cables to reduce flexing in the wind.

Several devices are available for us to identify the presence and extent of internal rot. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the tree has to be taken down right away. The tree’s future depends on the location and amount of rot present. Trees can live for decades before rot becomes so extensive that they should be removed.

Some conditions that may need immediate action include the removal of limbs hanging over your house, pool, power lines or any other place where they can cause expensive damage. We would also recommend removal of any dead, diseased, crossing, rubbing broken/hanging branches.

Trees add value to your property. Like anything of value, your trees need care to retain that value. Unfortunately, when a problem is visible to you, it may be too late. That’s why an annual inspection is inexpensive insurance for keeping your trees growing in value.

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Preparing The Patio For Winter

As winter approaches, plants and tools aren’t the only things that need your attention before the snow flies. Don’t forget the appliances and furniture on your deck or patio.

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to winterizing your deck or patio. I’m sure winterizing instructions came with your appliances and furniture. If that’s the case, follow them to the letter to protect your substantial investment. If not, let common sense dictate. Some materials can survive freezing temperatures by merely wrapping them in sheets of plastic or similar material while others should be taken inside.

Vinyl covers can be purchased for most gas or charcoal grills, if one didn’t come with the grill. Before covering it, however, you should make sure it’s clean. Clean it just as you would between uses but clean all parts of it, not just the cooking grill. Using a grill cleaning brush, remove all dirt and surface rust. Then, hold a piece of paper towel in a pair of tongs, dip it in vegetable oil and apply it to each piece. This is the same procedure used to “season” cast iron cookware. Some disassembly and reassembly may be required.

More and more people are grilling year-round so you may need to clean and oil it each time you’re planning to leave it for a period between uses. Also check for signs of mice living in your grill before each use. If you find signs that the grill is now a rodent residence, I’d thoroughly clean the inside with bleach or the disinfectant you use in your house to sanitize against the coronavirus and other viruses.

The material dictates the winterizing requirements for patio furniture. Stuffed furniture and cushions should be taken inside. Wicker furniture also would fare better under shelter. Most metal or plastic furniture can stay outside, unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise. It’s best to position them in a way that snow can slide off large, flat surfaces. Lightweight pieces like those made of plastic, need sheltering from the wind. If your patio has a sheltered area, you can gather everything there. Covering them will provide even more protection. If you can tie rope or netting around them and secure them to a railing or some other stationary object so much the better.

Winter storage location depends on where you can find space. Your garage or shed is the ideal place, if you have the room. You can just carry the pieces to their winter home. Lacking space at home, one of the many mini storage facilities would fill the bill. Granted you will need a truck or trailer to transport them back and forth, but you only need to make two trips a year and the storage cost is minimal.

Now that you have all the hardgoods secured or stored away, all that’s left are the containerized plants but that’s a job for another day.

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Expanding Your Spring Bulb Garden

The earliest spring colors to emerge in your landscape are supplied by your bulb garden – crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are some of the more popular. If you thought, last spring, that you’d like more of these flowers, either in your present bulb garden or in another garden, now’s the time to take action for next spring.

You may have noted bare spots when your spring flowers came up last year. Bare spots could mean that some of your present bulbs died. Hopefully, you took pictures so you know where new bulbs should be planted and what color(s) you should plant. Many think all spring bulbs are perennials but they aren’t. Tulips, for example, are perennials in their native Turkey but much hybridization has taken place over the years. Today, most tulips still come back year after year, but others are treated as annuals. Be sure to read the package when you buy your bulbs or talk to one of the garden center horticulturists if you have questions about the bulbs you’re considering.

Daffodils are perennials, as are crocuses and hyacinths. One reason some of your bulbs didn’t appear last spring could be that they were dinner for a critter. An animal may have smelled the bulbs below the surface on a day when the ground wasn’t frozen. Another reason may be that the bulbs didn’t have enough fertilizer or they had too much water and didn’t have enough energy to bloom. You don’t have to place fertilizer in the hole when you first plant a bulb. It has plenty of food stored in the bulbs to flower and foliate the first year. After that, they may need to be fertilized. Bulbs that get too wet from a build-up of snow may become water- logged and not return the next year.

Before going out to buy new bulbs this fall, dig up where you think the failed bulbs should be or where photos show them to be. If the soil is disturbed and the bulbs are gone, you’ll know wildlife got to them. If the bulb is still in the hole, first check to make sure it’s positioned correctly. The pointed end should be facing up and the root end that looks like the base of an onion should be facing down. It may have tipped over when you backfilled or an animal rejected it and put it back upside down.

To inspect them, take any non-blooming bulbs from the hole and either rub or wash the soil off. Bulbs that are smaller than healthy bulbs may be malnourished. Soft or spongy bulbs may have drowned. In both cases, they should be replaced. If the bulb is in the hole wrong, it’s up to you whether to replace it or give it a second chance.

When picking colors at the garden center, try to remember the colors already in that bed. It’s easy to choose a color that doesn’t go well with those already in place, and that might make the bed less attractive. Also, don’t scimp on bulbs. They look better in mass plantings than just a few scattered plants. My final suggestion is to take pictures when your bulbs are in bloom each year in case you have to fill in with new bulbs six months later.

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Winter Landscape Prep Checklist

As the days get shorter and temperatures creep downward, it’s not the time to retreat into the house and begin our winter hibernation, especially this year when we’ve already spent a lot of time inside. There’s still plenty to do outside to prepare our landscapes for winter.

Here is a checklist of recommended projects to ensure your landscape has a good winter and is ready in the spring. This is nearly as complete of a list as possible. I realize that some items may not apply to you and some items that apply to you may not apply to your neighbors. Some items may remind you of things you have to do that aren’t on the list.

  • Clean up all trash that has blown on to your property.
  • Remove dead stems and leaves from perennials. Toss them onto the compost pile.
  • Divide perennials.
  • Rake, blow or mow fallen leaves for mulch or compost.
  • Apply grub control if your lawn needs it.
  • Lower your mower blade to 2”-2 ½” and mow your lawn for one last time.
  • Prepare your lawn mower and other power tools for winter storage, following the manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Put your deck or patio furniture in storage.
  • Take your containerized plants indoors or place them in a cold frame for the winter.
  • Finish harvesting veggies from your vegetable garden.
  • Apply anti-desiccant to evergreens.
  • Wrap tender young trees.
  • Critter proof trees and shrubs.
  • Mulch trees, shrubs and planting beds.
  • Fertilize as necessary

Have us inspect your trees and remove any hazards.

Just in case you’re tempted to wait until spring to do some or all items on the list, let me remind you that there will be another list of projects in the spring to prepare your landscape for the growing season. You may not want to add the work you put off now to that list. Postponing things like putting your deck or patio furniture in storage, winterizing your outdoor power equipment or removing fallen leaves may lead to performing repairs in the spring. So, now that you’ve read the list, check off those that apply to you and schedule them. According to the calendar, fall has begun so there’s no time to waste.