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Mum’s The Word But Not The Last Word In Fall Color

If the annuals in your flower beds and containers are looking rather tired, you have a decision to make. Do you replace them with more summer annuals or change them out for fall annuals? I think hesitation at fall annuals right now is the false notion that chrysanthemums, or mums, are the only choice. The truth is that there’s a great selection of annuals that bloom in the fall.

Some flowers that may have been providing color all season will continue blooming well into fall. These include violas like pansies and violets. Snap dragons and marigolds will also bloom well into the fall, as will petunias. If you didn’t have any of these in your landscape, check with your garden center. It’s not too late to plant them and enjoy their fall flowers.

If you did enjoy these flowers all spring and summer, you may have to refresh or replace them now, especially if they didn’t get enough water or do enough deadheading during the summer. Next spring, add these to your list of annuals, keep them happy and they’ll continue to keep you happy in the fall.

If you started the season with crocuses, you may want to end the season with the plant we call fall crocus. This bulb isn’t a rebloom of the spring crocus. It just looks like it. Actually, the spring crocus is a member of the same family as the iris while the fall crocus is a member of the lily family. Another common name for the fall crocus is meadow saffron but don’t get excited about the saffron name. In fact, you won’t want to confuse it with the very expensive spice. The meadow saffron, or fall crocus, is actually poisonous. The fall crocus photo was taken in October at Chanticleer, a public garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Asters also are fall bloomers. In fact, they’re the most common companion to mums. That’s because they both have similar growing requirements and blooming schedules. The list of fall blooming plants also includes Black Eyed Susans, Autumn sedum, Cranesbill (hardy) geraniums, sweet alyssum and heuchera, which is also called coral bells. Daylilies can also bloom into the fall, as can sunflowers.  Bleeding hearts, another early spring bloomer, also adds another dimension to your fall plant palette.

Mums are beautiful flowers for fall but they’re overused, resulting in a monoculture in many landscapes. Monoculture (limiting your plantings to one species) is never a good idea. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket. You drop it and they all break. That’s why it’s better to diversify your plant palette for any season.

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Lawn Grubs – They’re Back

As summer begins to evolve into fall, it leaves behind a voracious creature with an insatiable appetite for grass roots. I’m referring to lawn grubs.

Grubs are the larvae of Japanese beetles and European chafer beetles. Many of you have already been introduced to the parents of the grubs that will be feasting on your lawn this fall. They’re last year’s grubs in their adult stage – the big brown beetles that have been flying around. They make a nuisance of themselves by flying into the glass of your windows. Because they started this aggravating ritual a couple months ago, both species of beetles are commonly called June bugs.

Aside from their unpredictable flight patterns, June bugs are harmless to humans. Their navigation instinct may have been short circuited by their mating instinct. Once successful, the females lay their eggs in turf. When the eggs hatch, the small grubs burrow down into the sod and begin feasting on the grass roots.

As the weather gets colder, the well-fed grubs burrow further down in the ground where they overwinter. When the ground warms up in the spring, they’ll come back up and continue feasting until it’s time to pupate and morph into adult June bugs.

Don’t be lulled into complacency because you didn’t experience June bugs smacking into your windows. They aren’t restricted to laying eggs in any one spot. You may still have their progeny in your lawn. There’s an easy DIY check to see if you have grubs. Cut a one foot by one foot square of sod from several areas of your lawn. Fold back the sod. Look for any white, crescent-shaped creatures like in the photo. Check both the bottom of the section of sod and the hole from which you took it. If there are six or fewer grubs per test area, treatment is optional. There are too few to do any damage. Seven or more call for control measures.

Grubs have been destroying area lawns for decades so there are several effective grub control products available at garden and home centers, including one that’s manufactured locally. The products are granular and spread with the same spreader that you use for fertilizer.

The product label may say that it can be applied in spring or fall but a fall application is more effective. The grubs will have just hatched so they’ll be small and weak. By next spring, they’ll be well fed, strong and several times bigger than they are now. As a result, you may have to make more than one application in spring but only one in fall.

Another reason for a fall application is that the fully grown grubs will damage your lawn. You’ll see brown spots where they’ve eaten the roots. In the fall, the young grubs are eating less, causing less surface damage.

Lawns on our lawn care program receive grub control in the fall if they need it. We can also apply grub control for those not on our program if you don’t want to bother checking for grubs and applying control yourselves.

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Let’s Start Thinking Spring Blooming Bulbs

Bulb planter

Summer’s not even over and I’m already writing about spring blooming bulbs like crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Soon you’ll be seeing garden centers advertising bulbs. That’s because these bulbs have to be planted this fall in order to have blooms next spring.

Bulbs are among the very first plants to bloom as spring approaches. I think you’ll agree that they’re a welcome sight after a long, harsh winter. If you really enjoy this annual flourish of color, start thinking of where you’d like your bulb garden to be. Do you want all one color? Or a mix of colors? Do you want big splashes of color? Or a random array of color like a kaleidoscope? It’s a good idea to measure the space in which you plan to plant your bulb garden and then plot it out on paper.

Bulbs should be spaced two to three inches apart for a big splash of color. Planting them four to five inches will give your bulb garden a looser look. These numbers will help you calculate how many bulbs you’ll need for the space you’ve allocated.

Garden centers sell bulbs in bulk and pre-packaged. Package labels should contain the number of bulbs, color(s) and planting instructions. Those sold in bulk are usually in bulk containers with a tag on the container indicating the color. Be wary, though, of other customers handling the bulk bulbs and inadvertently returning them to the wrong tray. There should be no doubt about the colors in sealed packages.

 When you get the bulbs home, keep them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant them. There’s no hurry; they can be planted anytime before the ground freezes. Depending on how many bulbs you’re planting, you can either dig a row and plant them as you would vegetables in a garden, or you can plant them individually. Either way, the holes should be twice as deep as the length of the bulb. For instance, bulbs two inches long should be planted four inches deep.

If you’re planting in rows, dig the row to the proper depth. Stretch out a string with knots tied at the planting intervals, or use another measuring device to assure proper spacing. Place bulbs root end (the flat, hairy end) down in the row at the proper intervals. Be sure the pointed end is facing up and push the bulb into the loose soil at the bottom of the hole to keep it from tipping when you backfill. Backfill the row before digging the next row. When finished, give the whole planting bed a good watering.

To plant individual bulbs, use your measuring device to determine the spacing. Lay the bulbs on the ground next to where you’re going to plant them. Using either a trowel or a bulb planter, dig a hole to the proper depth, place the bulb in root end down and backfill. If you’re using a trowel, you just have to plunge it into the soil and pull it toward you, place the bulb in the hole, remove the trowel and smooth out the soil. Water the whole bed when you finish.

You don’t need to fertilize when you plant bulbs. They have plenty of food stored in the bulbs. However, they’d probably appreciate it if you spread some fertilizer around the bed in subsequent autumns.

I recommend that you take photos of your bulb gardens when they bloom each spring. As time goes on, bulbs can fail to bloom for various reasons. The photos can help you pinpoint where you have to replace bulbs in the fall.

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How To Save Money Now On Next Spring’s Annuals

Summer’s not even over and I’m offering you advice for saving money next spring. It’s really quite simple. Just take cuttings from this year’s annuals and propagate them yourself. It’s really easy to do, and you might find that you’ve begun a most enjoyable gardening hobby.

Begin by deadheading your annuals. That’s the practice of removing spent flowers before they can go to seed. Keep the leaves and stem intact. Obtain a supply of small pots (4” max.) and a container of rooting hormone. It’s a powder that helps the stems sprout roots. You can find it at any garden center.

Cut three-to-four inch sections of green stem from the plants you’re planning to propagate. Dip the bottom end of each stem into the rooting hormone, the same way many people dip scallions in salt before eating them. If you don’t want to use rooting hormone, or don’t have any, go directly to the next step. Your plants should still develop roots but it may take a bit longer.

Place each cutting, root end down, in one your pots filled with potting mix. Don’t use soil because it’s too dense and heavy. Soilless potting mix is made up of lightweight, water retaining materials like peat, Perlite and vermiculite.

From now until next spring, your plants should live in shaded spots indoors. They like to be kept moist but not soaked, so don’t overwater. Soon little leaves should begin to appear, and you may even have a flush of winter flowers.

Depending on the flower(s) you choose for this experiment, and the size of your pots, you may have to transplant them partway through the winter. Larger plants may outgrow small pots rather quickly. Warning: Newly propagated plants may need more care than your other houseplants.

In spring, when the last frost threat has passed, your propagated plants should be ready to live outside. To prepare them for their new lives, move them outside onto the deck or patio and let them get used to their new environment. This is called “hardening off.” If a late frost is predicted during this time, take the plants indoors at night.

After your new plants have hardened off sufficiently, transplant them in the ground, in decorative containers, raised beds or elevated beds – anywhere you’d plant the annuals you buy at a garden center. You’ll be using the same process at home as commercial growers use in their greenhouses.

When friends and neighbors find out that you propagated your annuals rather than buying them, they’ll be envious and you can beam with pride over this accomplishment. And, you can use the money you saved to buy more plants. Maybe you’ll save enough to buy a tree or shrub.

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Mid-Summer Spruce-Up For Your Yard

Can you believe this is nearly the middle of summer? That means that all the spring landscape work’s done and it’s too early to begin fall work. Does that mean you’re getting bored just sitting on the deck or patio enjoying the results of your labor? Here are some maintenance tasks you can still do now to spruce up your yard before the dog day of summer that roll around in August.

• Change out faded annuals. Annuals are only temporary plants. They grow, they go to seed and then they die. Thus, the name – annuals. If weather conditions in your area have caused your annuals to begin fading already, now would be a good time to replace them. It’s too early for fall plants like mums so more spring/summer flowers would be appropriate.

• Continue to deadhead. Deadheading is the practice of removing spent flowers before they can go to seed. This encourages the plants to direct their energy to another flush of flowers rather than dropping seeds. Hopefully, you have been deadheading since you first planted your annuals. Continue this practice on all that are still flowering, and you may not have to change out the plants until closer to fall. Then you can save at least one changeout this year. Deadheading is also known as pinching. Although some people insist on pinching the stem just below the flower, it’s often easier to use scissors or pruners.

• Fluff mulch and replace if necessary. A good, organic mulch like ground wood chips can moderate the soil temperature when the heat gets oppressive. (It also holds heat in the soil when the air gets cold.) Mulch also holds water, either from rain or irrigation, and releases it into the soil over time, which is better for the plants than to deluge them with water, as in an intense rain shower, only to have a substantial amount run off before the soil can absorb it. Over time, mulch gets matted down, decomposes and sinks into the soil. This is good because it’s returning organic matter to the soil. In summer, two or three inches of mulch is sufficient. If you appear to have that depth of mulch but it’s matted down, fluff it up with an iron rake so there are plenty of air pockets. For beds with less than two inches, add the necessary much. Raking it out should fluff it sufficiently.

• Be ready to water. If meteorologists are calling for a dry August, be sure your irrigation system is ready. Drip irrigation is more effective than sprinkling. Less water evaporates before reaching the soil. Drip irrigation for most consists of soaker hoses, those porous black hoses made from recycled tires. Be sure your soaker hoses are positioned correctly and working properly before they’re needed.

With these tasks finished, you can truly relax, confident that your landscape is ready to take on whatever summer dishes out. As for you, you shouldn’t feel guilty about staying in the air conditioning on really oppressive days.

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Visit Other Gardens For Inspiration

Going to see parks and other public and private gardens is one of the best ways to get ideas for improvements to your own landscape. It’s also a way to have fun during these hot summer weekends when there’s not much to do in your own landscape. Here in the Rochester area there are plenty of opportunities.

Highland Park is open year-round, not just during the annual Lilac Festival. Now, after the festival you can take in the scenery of this Frederick Law Olmstead designed park without the crowds that visit the park during the festival. If you want to see more of Olmstead’s work, visit Genesee Valley, Seneca and Maplewood Parks, too. Olmstead referred to these magnificent local gems as the Emerald Necklace.

If you want a break from looking at all the labeled plants, you can visit the Lambert Conservatory at Highland Park and the zoo at Seneca Park. The conservatory has a variety of year-round displays of plants from other climate zones, including a desert and a tropical plant display.

You can visit formal gardens at the George Eastman Museum on East Avenue in Rochester or Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion in nearby Canandaigua. The latter was the summer home of Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson. Besides the beautiful, formal gardens, the restored mansion is an excellent example of opulence in the gilded age.

If smaller gardens are more your style, you might shuffle off to Buffalo the weekend of July 30 and 31 for Garden Walk Buffalo. Owners of more than 400 urban gardens open their beautiful backyards to the public. These gardens can offer you great ideas for your own landscape, especially if yours is small. The owners have done creative, amazing things with their limited space. Best of all, this self-guided tour is free. To find out where to pick up a map for Garden Walk Buffalo, visit gardensbuffaloniagara.com.

If your interest is trees, one of the newest public gardens is Draves Arboretum in Darien Center. It was established by my friend and fellow arborist Tom Draves, and has many unusual specimens, including one named for Tom. Draves Arboretum, which hosts individuals and garden clubs, as well as weddings, parties and colleges, is open by appointment only. For individual tours, the arboretum asks for at least a day’s notice before you plan to visit. You can phone them at 585.547.3341 or email dravesarboretum@rochester.rr.com.

Our area is a horticultural and landscape design wonderland. You can get plenty of ideas that you can adapt to your own property without spending a lot of money simply by day tripping.

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Trees Are The Bones Of Your Landscape

Trees form the skeleton of any landscape. Their size and stature are what define your landscape. When designing a landscape, the trees are selected and put in place first. The selection and placement of the other plants are governed by the mature size, aesthetics and placement of these trees. As a result, the loss of a tree, especially a large shade tree, would create an obvious void in your landscape.

The loss of a large shade tree would affect more than visual balance and composition of your landscape. It could lead to the decline and eventual loss of other plants that depend on the tree(s) to create an environment in which they can thrive. If understory or nearby plants prefer shade to full sun, removal of the tree that’s been providing the shade that they need completely changes their environment, and not for the better.

Trees also contribute to the value of your property, increasing as they grow. One way to protect this valuable investment and the integrity of your landscape is to have your trees inspected at least once a year by a professional arborist. An arborist knows what signs point to problems and the action to take to make necessary repairs.

A tree inspection is like a physical for people. Our arborist will check the trunk for cracks and signs of decay, including conks or mushroom, which are the fruiting bodies of the fungi that cause decay. The presence of certain insects, birds and even small mammals indicate that they’ve found a home in the hollow of decaying trees. Our arborists also have instruments that help determine if there’s rot inside the trunk. From the inspection results, the arborists can determine if the tree can be saved or whether it’s hazardous and should be taken down.

Trees that are leaning indicate root rot and those that are healthy only on one side indicate the presence of girdling root. We have a tool that uses air to gently remove the soil around the roots so we can examine them close up. Removing a girdling root is a relatively easy procedure for a professional arborist. We can also easily determine whether the rotted roots can safely be removed without compromising the tree’s stability. The soil can then be replaced after the inspection is finished.

The arborists will also be on the alert for dead, dying, broken, crossing or rubbing branches, which they can remove. They will pay special attention to branches hanging over your house or close to electric wires. These should be pruned to provide clearance. Don’t try this yourself, though! Leave pruning to the professionals. They have the knowledge, training and specialized equipment to do the job safely, and we have arborists with the special training necessary to work near energized wires.

A landscape without trees has no real structure and no height. Even with the most beautiful, colorful flowers, treeless landscapes can be rather bland. Trees are large, complex, living organisms that need regular attention, beginning with an inspection by our professional arborists.

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Weeds May Be Robbing From Your Desirable Plants

spring-bulb-maintenance-1

Have you noticed that weeds flourish in July heat? You haven’t noticed? Well take a look outside. Many of your desirable plants are showing stress from the summer heat. Leaves are shriveling, the grass is going dormant and turning brown, and flowers are drooping (unless you’ve kept everything watered). Yet the weeds look green and healthy.

Weeds may be the greenest thing in your lawn. And they are very healthy in your flower beds and vegetable garden as well. The first challenge is to define a weed. Weeds have been described as plants that grow in places you didn’t plant them and don’t want them.

Plants coveted as beautiful or delicious by some people are scorned by others as weeds. Consider the hated dandelion. While most of us labor to eradicate them, others harvest them to make wine or use as salad greens. Pulling out those tall Queen Anne’s lace with their big, doily like blooms is stress relief for most of us but florists actually buy Queen Anne’s lace to use in floral arrangements.

Getting rid of weeds as soon as you see them can reduce the number of seeds they drop, thus potentially reducing the number of weeds that will replace those you’ve just eliminated. There are only two ways to control weeds – pull them out or apply an herbicide. In summer, pulling out is the safer method. You’ll avoid collateral damage to your desirable plants.

The best time to pull weeds is right after a rain while the soil’s still damp. If it hasn’t rained lately and rain isn’t in the forecast, you can water the area around the weeds. Let the water soak in for a few minutes, then tug at the weed. Chances are it’ll be reluctant to come out without a fight. Insert a weed extracting tool or a sharp trowel into the soil at an angle to the root. Use the tool to cut the root at as deep a point as the tool can reach. At that point, you’ve won the battle. Just pull the weed out and go on to the next one.

If you decide to use an herbicide, be careful. If you choose a non- selective product, any overspray that gets on nearby plants will kill them as well. Use a selective product labeled just for the target weeds. Even though the product is selective, be careful to avoid overspray; it can still damage surrounding plants.

Protect yourself by wearing personal protective equipment to shield you from the sun and from any chemical that you’re using. That includes gloves, long sleeve shirt, long pants, eye protection, and a wide brimmed hat.

Weeds are the bane of most people but there actually are people who enjoy and find relaxation pulling weeds. Try it. You may find you’ll be one of them, especially during the summer if you aren’t finding relaxation mowing the lawn.

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Prune Evergreens Now

This is the time of year when it’s best to prune your evergreen trees and shrubs. I’m not suggesting that you must prune them just because it’s June/July. Prune them only if they need it. As with any pruning, evergreen pruning, whether needled conifers or broadleaf plants, should be undertaken for a specific purpose. That may be to shape or thin the plant, to remove broken branches, to reduce its size or raise its crown by removing the lower limbs.

This timeframe is when the new growth is finishing its maturation process. New growth is the lighter green foliage at the ends of the branches. That new growth is also softer to the touch and the new wood has yet to harden. Soon, the new growth will darken and be indistinguishable from previous years’ growth. The buds for next year’s new growth will begin forming in late summer or early fall so it’s best to do any pruning before those buds appear.

Shaping taxus (yew) borders or foundation plantings is probably an annual ritual. If you’re just removing the new growth, don’t wait until the it matures. It’s much easier to prune when the new growth has finished growing but before it matures (turns color). The soft wood cuts easily and cleanly, and the color differentiation is a good guide for shaping. Don’t prune too early, though, or the new growth will grow right back, and you’ll have to repeat the job.

Broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods should also be pruned now. They, too, put on new growth in early spring and are ready for pruning right now. Pruning broadleaf evergreens should follow the same procedures as pruning deciduous shrubs. Prune only at a fork. In the case of tight plants like boxwood, cuts can be made just above a leaf’s attachment to the branch. Cuts on looser plants like rhododendrons should be made at a branch fork or at the base of the offending branch. If you can see a branch collar, leave it rather than cutting flush to the stem or bigger branch. Don’t leave stubs.

Shrubs look better when they have a natural shape, rather than the tight geometrical shapes that result from shearing. Also, shearing may leave ragged cuts because branches may be too big around for hedge shears to make a clean cut. Save your shearing for such broadleaf evergreens as boxwoods. Boxwood branches are smaller so hedge shears will leave cleaner cuts.

Please wear eye protection, no matter what size evergreen you’re pruning. If you’re pruning overhead, wear a hard hat. And, if you are using power tools, wear ear protection, too.

Notice that I’ve only advised pruning evergreen shrubs. Pruning a large pine, spruce or other conifer tree can be dangerous in several ways. You’ll, most likely, need to leave the ground to reach the upper branches. The tight, springy branching adds to the difficulty of working in and around these trees. The needles are sharp, especially if they fall on you, or whip around and hit you. And each cut lets more messy sap ooze out and get all over you. That’s why the pruning of conifers is best left to our professional arborists who have the knowledge, experience and specialized equipment to do the job safely and efficiently.

Our arborists don’t just lend their expertise to pruning trees. They’d be happy to prune your shrubs as well, so all you have to do is enjoy your nicely manicured landscape.

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Diagnosing Abiotic Plant Damage

Not all plant deaths are caused by insect or diseases. Many are caused by humans and the environment. These causes are called abiotic and those attributed to insects and diseases are called biotic.

While biotic plant damage is often obvious, diagnosing abiotic damage is usually more difficult. Some common contributors include…

• Planting too deep. Trees and shrubs are often subjected to deep planting. The hole should be no deeper than the root collar (The point at which the trunk/stem joins the root). It’s better if the root collar is above rather than below grade. Planting too deep makes it difficult for water and air to penetrate down to the feeder roots.

• Planting in too small a hole. While the planting hole should be only as deep as the rootball, it should be two or three times bigger in diameter. Spread the roots out and make sure none are crossing each other before backfilling.

• Girdling roots. When one root crosses another, it chokes the root it’s crossing, causing that side of the tree to die back. If there are crossing roots all around a plant, they can kill the whole plant. Crossing, or girdling, roots are most common in plants that come from the nursery in pots. So be sure to spread out the roots and cut the offending root on either side of the root it’s crossing.

• Mulch volcanoes. Piling mulch up against a tree trunk can cause stress, and even death, to a tree. Mulch volcanoes can trap moisture between the mulch and the trunk. Trees don’t like this, and if there’s even the tiniest crack in the bark, that moisture can carry life threatening rot fungi into the tree. Also, rodents like field mice hide in the mulch while they chew on the bark, eventually girdling the trunk.

• Planting the wrong plant in the wrong place. Some plants like full sun while others prefer shade. Some like lots of water while others hate “wet feet.” Some will only flourish in acid soil while others will do just fine in our basic soil. You don’t have to be a plant expert to determine which plants go where. Just read the nursery tags or ask one of the horticulturists at your garden centers.

• Disturbing the roots. Raising or lowering the grade around the root zone of a tree will put it in imminent danger. Try to avoid this practice but if it’s unavoidable, plan to build a retaining wall if the grade must be lowered or a tree well if the grade needs to be raised. Avoid cutting the roots. If you must excavate near tree roots, hire an arborist with an air gun. It’s friendlier than a shovel or backhoe.

• Soil compaction. I’ve seen people park vehicles under shade trees to keep them cool in the summer. This added weight compacts the soil and deprives the roots of water and oxygen.

Often one or more of the abiotic conditions cited above stresses a plant and the decline makes it a good target for insects or disease organisms. When the plant dies, the owner blames it on the biotic cause rather than the abiotic problems that made the plant so attractive to pests or pathogens.

Our Plant Health Care (PHC) professionals can diagnose abiotic as well as biotic causes of plant decline. The prognosis will probably be more positive if you have your plants inspected as soon as you notice signs of stress, rather than taking a wait and see attitude. Left to the plants natural defenses, it’ll get worse before it gets better.