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Winter Prep For Perennials

Perennials are, arguably, the most popular landscape plants. One reason for their popularity is that they don’t have to be replanted every season like annuals do. Even if they are cut back to the ground, they’ll reappear in the spring. Another reason for perennials’ popularity is the number of varieties available in the nursery trade. There are both woody and herbaceous perennials and they are hybridized extensively. However, perennials are NOT known for is being low maintenance.

As we transition from fall into winter, there are still some perennial maintenance tasks that you should do before winter really sets in. Doing these jobs now, instead of waiting until spring, is good for the plants, as well as your time management.

Many herbaceous perennials should be cut back in the fall. Wait until the leaves turn color and then cut the plants back to within a couple of inches of the ground. If you leave shoot stubs sticking up above the ground, you’ll always know where the perennials are in your landscape, as long as that bed is snow-free. The old shoot stubs will also help protect fresh shoots from animal damage in the spring.

Leaving ornamental grass standing until spring will provide winter interest. It will also break up the drab of snow we are apt to experience. You can do the same thing with taller perennials like coneflowers or goldenrod. Besides adding interest in the bleak winter snow, spent flowers and seed heads above the snow provide hard-to-find food for birds.

The second fall maintenance task for perennials is splitting them. This applies to both herbaceous and woody plants. Many perennials tend to spread and, if left unchecked, can take over a planting bed and smother the other plants. The way to keep them in check is to divide them. This is done by digging up the whole plant. Cut the root in half and each half in half again. Return one section to the hole from which you just took the plant, backfill and water. Plant the other three sections in other beds in your yard, give them to friends or “heel” them in (temporary planting method) until spring and then donate them to one of the many charity plant sales.

Cutting back perennials and dividing them are relatively easy DIY tasks. However, if you don’t want to do it yourself, our landscape crews are available to do it for you. With snow threatening, the time to act is now.

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Thank You!

The confidence you place in our staff has, once again, earned us the honor of being named one of Rochester’s Top 100 fastest growing, privately owned companies. I thank each of you who placed your valuable landscape in the hands of the more than 130 professionals who are part of the Birchcrest family. We also thank Rochester Business Alliance and KPMG, LLP for sponsoring this recognition.

We have enjoyed steady growth through our 37 years. Qualifying for the Top 100 list three times reminds me of the old adage: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Much of the credit for the company’s success can be attributed to the dedication, education and creativity of our staff. Birchcrest employs 13 ISA Certified Arborists, an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, eight New York State Certified Pesticide Applicators and nine NYS Certified Nursery & Landscape Professionals.

On behalf of the whole Birchcrest family, thank you for your business, and we look forward to serving even more of you in 2019.

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Time For The Burlap Coat

We live in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and have some Zone 6 pockets. This means that, although we aren’t in the coldest zone, many of our trees and shrubs need extra protection from winter’s extremes.

Tender trees and shrubs, especially young trees that you just planted this year, may need a burlap coat. Wrappings are easy to install. Just drive poles into the ground around the perimeter of the tree or shrub, wrap with burlap and staple it to the poles. Be sure to keep the top open to moisture and sunlight. Wrapping may also be needed for evergreens planted close to the road to protect them from road salt spray.

Besides protecting your trees and shrubs from desiccation and salt spray, wrapping can reduce the chance of deer damage since deer will have a tough time getting to the tree.

Deciduous trees with thin, smooth bark can be damaged by sunscald and frost cracking in the winter. Sunscald is caused by the winter sun heating the trunks to the point that the sap begins to flow. When the sun disappears and the temperature plummets, the sap freezes quickly, killing the surrounding tissue, or causing long vertical cracks in the bark. The bark can be kept at a more constant temperature by installing tree wrap or plastic tree guards that you can buy at your garden center or home store.

As long as you are wrapping trees, you might consider wrapping tree trunks with hardware cloth to cut down on critter damage. While deer like to browse on tender branches, mice, rabbits and voles prefer to chew the bark on the lower parts of the trunk. Hardware cloth is a flexible screening that you can buy at hardware stores and home centers. It can be attached to the same posts as burlap or to its own posts. It works best if it isn’t touching the tree bark.


Weed, Mulch & Remove Debris

With fall upon us, you may think that your landscaping work is done for the season. Sorry; there are still some jobs left that we lump under “Fall Clean-Up.” They include weeding, mulching and removing any debris.

Weeding needs to continue until the plants go dormant. It behooves you to keep up with it because weeds are dropping seeds now. If you don’t remove the plants before they drop their seeds, pulling weeds will be your first job next spring. Not only will you have to remove the dead weeds from this season, you’ll have to remove new weeds that overwintered in the ground and germinated first thing in spring. Weeds appear before most of your desired plants.

After weeding, your next task should be mulching. Mulch provides a number of benefits. It suppresses weed growth and moderates the soil temperature and moisture. A winter layer of 3 or 4 inches will smother many weed seeds. Mulch also insulates the soil, reducing the amount of cold air reaching plant roots. And, it holds moisture, releasing it over time so your soil doesn’t become saturated in a heavy rainstorm or fast snow melt.

If you add mulch for winter, don’t forget to remove an inch or so in spring to bring the depth to 2 or 3 inches. That’s all you need for the spring and summer.

Even if you’ve kept your yard clear of debris all summer, there could be an accumulation during the fall. The wind begins picking up as the weather declines, and it often brings debris with it. Debris from the street and neighborhood may end up in your yard. If you don’t pick it up and dispose of it now, it will still be there when the snow melts in spring.

While you’re in the fall cleanup spirit, you might as well do the other tasks to prepare for winter, including getting rid of fallen leaves, putting your deck or patio furniture in storage, and critter-proofing trees and shrubs.

With all of these task behind you, the arrival of winter weather won’t have you fretting about all the work left to do.

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Dormancy Signals Pruning Time

With their bright hues, tree leaves let us know that they will soon go dormant for the winter. That also tells us it’s a good time to have your deciduous trees and shrubs pruned.

The plants have stored all the food they’ll need to sustain them trough the winter. The chlorophyll has disappeared from the leaves so that they show their true colors. Nature is now blocking the flow of nutrients and water into the leaves, causing them to fall to the ground. This lightens the weight of the branches to better protect against ice, snow and winter wind damage.

Pruning can further lighten the weight on limbs and open up the tree canopies so that the wind resistance is less. But don’t prune just because the leaves dropped. Prune with a purpose – an objective. That objective may be to…

• Remove dead, dying, crossing or rubbing branches and thin out the crown.
• Raise the crown by removing the lower limbs to open a view or for aesthetic or safety reasons.
• Repair or rehabilitate a tree that has been compromised by topping or other bad practices.
• Reduce the size of the tree using industry acceptable practices.
• Reduce limb weight to reduce hazards from winter winds.

Shrubs need pruning most often to remove dead or dying branches or to reduce their height, spread or both. Evergreens should not be pruned in fall, except in emergency situations. They are best pruned in June, after they’ve set new growth.

The most important pruning advice I can give is to keep your feet on the ground. If you can prune from the ground, go for it if you want. But don’t leave the ground, even on a ladder. It’s unsafe. Leave the job to our arborists. They know woody plant biology and are trained to climb and use sharp equipment safely. Even so, their work is still dangerous. So, leave the high spots to the pros.

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Protect Your Evergreens from Winter Winds

Colder weather and higher winds keep reminding us that Ol’ Man Winter is just around the corner. Winter winds can cause your evergreen leaves and needles to dry out and die. You don’t have to experience this reality every season. Make this the year that you protect your evergreens.

Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs that go dormant in the winter, evergreens’ bodily functions simply slow down. Photosynthesis continues, just at a slower rate. However, water is necessary for photosynthesis to take place. During the growing season, plant roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil. In winter, when the ground is frozen, the plant roots can’t absorb water. But transpiration – the loss of water through the leaves/needles – continues. Losing too much water through transpiration causes affected branches to die and turn brown.

Under normal winter conditions, the leaves/needles reabsorb the transpired water and reuse it. Wind across leaves/needles, blows the transpired water off, leaving them high and dry. With no water for the photosynthetic reaction, the leaves dry out and die. In spring, you’ll see brown patches on your plants.

My favorite protection is to spray evergreens with an antidesiccant. This is a harmless, wax-like material that coats the leaves/needles, holding the water on them so the plants can reabsorb it and reuse it for photosynthesis.

I’ve used the term leaves/needles throughout to emphasize the need to apply antidesiccant to broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons, as well as needled conifers. In fact, broadleaf evergreens may need antidesiccant even more than conifers. Leaves have more surface area than needles, and conifers have adapted better to the effects of winter winds.

Antidesiccant is available at garden centers in spray bottles. The leading brand is Wilt-Pruf. Hand spraying works fine for a couple of small shrubs but your hand gets tired quickly. An easier, more economical way to apply antidesiccant to a number of plants, especially tall conifers, is to have one of our Plant Health Care professionals apply it. They use a powerful backpack sprayer that reaches the top of most trees.

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Beware Of The Enemy Above

An enemy may lurk high in your beautiful trees, undetected until it comes crashing down on you. No, it’s not a wild animal. It’s the tree itself.

When people reach a certain age, health care professionals advise having a physical each year. Early detection of problems can result in more positive outcomes with less aggressive treatment.

Arborists recommend the same for your mature trees, except that we call it a tree hazard inspection instead of a physical exam. The purpose is the same – to diagnose any problems early so they can be taken care of before they cause any injury or damage.

Some of the problems we encounter include…
• Broken branches that are just hanging and could break and fall any minute;
• Weak branches that could break from just a little wind;
• Insects like emerald ash borer, mites, aphids and hemlock woolley adelgid;
• Fungus, disease and rot;
• Girdling roots that are strangling and killing the tree.

Hazard tree inspections aren’t DIY diagnoses. Many problems occur high up in the tree. Our arborists need to climb up or go up in a bucket to see them. They’re trained to identify such problems as weak branches. When diagnosing girdling root, they have to excavate the soil around the base. Digging through the tangle of roots manually can be backbreaking work. Our arborists use an “air spade” that removes the soil without disturbing the roots. They then use great care to surgically remove the offending root.

An annual tree hazard inspection is an investment, not an expense. Your trees are valuable living organisms that add monetary, as well as aesthetic, value to your property. Letting problems progress to the point that the tree dies results in a costly removal plus another expense to buy a new tree and have it planted. The bottom line is that an annual inspection is very inexpensive insurance.