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Caring For Spring Flowering Shrubs & Trees

Spring flowering trees and shrubs are nearing the end of their bloom cycles. Forsythia, one of the earliest bloomers, has completed its cycle and most of the yellow flowers have fallen. Many rhododendrons and azaleas are done, or soon will be. Lilacs are nearing the end of their blooming period, except for a few late blooming varieties.

I recommend removing any limp flowers that remain so the shrubs can direct their energy to foliage growth and next year’s blooms, rather than wasting that energy producing seeds.

Since last fall, I’ve been advising you not to prune spring flowering shrubs and trees until after they’ve bloomed. It’s OK to prune now, as soon as the flowers fall. This will give the plants plenty of time to begin the process of setting next spring’s flower buds.

All the rules for pruning trees and shrubs apply now, just as they did last fall. Don’t top. Prune back to a junction rather than leaving stubs. Leave the swollen branch collar, which contain the chemicals that help pruning cuts heal. Don’t paint cuts. Don’t climb ladders. Call our arborists to prune your trees.

Now is a good time to fertilize your spring blooming shrubs and trees to replenish the soil nutrients. Be sure you buy the right fertilizer for the plant. Rhododendrons and azaleas, for example, are ericaceous (erəˈkāSHəs),  which means they like acid soil. Since most of our soil is neutral, select a fertilizer blend formulated specifically for ericaceous plants.

Hydrangeas bloom later in the season but you can start having some fun with them now by controlling whether they bloom pink or blue. It depends on the soil pH. Hydrangeas bloom blue in acid soil and pink in alkaline soil. You can actually control the color by controlling the pH. If you prefer pink flowers, work lime into the soil around a hydrangea. For blue flowers, work aluminum sulfate into the soil. You can purchase both at garden centers and home stores.

Plant growth is an annual cycle. You’ve enjoyed the spring color your shrubs and trees presented. Now it’s time to provide the care they need to prepare for next spring’s show. If you’d rather enjoy the show but leave the work to someone else, call us.

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Bumper Crop Of Mosquitoes And Other Pests Expected

This year’s April showers left plenty of puddles in their wake. Perhaps puddle is an understatement. Rather, we had extensive flooding, which left a lot of standing water, and standing water is mosquitoes’ favorite breeding grounds. Besides being plentiful, entomologists expect an early hatch of these disease carrying insects. They carry everything from malaria to the zika virus.

As mosquitoes suck human blood, they also transmit to their human hosts diseases they are carrying. You can actively help reduce the number of mosquitoes by getting rid of all standing, stagnant water. Clean and change the water in bird baths frequently. Keep swimming pools treated and circulating. Pump out puddles and stagnant ponds. When outdoors, especially in the evening, be sure everyone’s exposed skin is treated with mosquito repellent.

Ticks also are expected to be bad this year. I urge you to take precautions now to protect you, your family, your pets and your home. Ticks carry serious diseases.

Deer ticks carry lyme disease but they don’t live only on deer. The field mouse is one of its favorite hosts. Lyme disease doesn’t affect the animal hosts, but it does debilitate humans who may receive the disease organism when infected ticks bite them.

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.

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.

For the peace of mind of knowing that you’ve done everything possible to protect your family, call our Plant Health Care professionals. They’ll 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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Is Spring Fertilization Really Necessary?

Plants made food right up until they went dormant, and lived on that stored food all winter. Now that spring has sprung, their new leaves will again begin making food. To do that, however, they need nutrients from the soil, as well as water and sunlight.

The macronutrients plants need are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). They also need calcium (C) and magnesium (Mg), as well as several other trace elements or micronutrients. If any of these minerals are deficient or unavailable in your soil, then fertilization is necessary

While these minerals occur naturally in good, rich topsoil, many builders scrape away topsoil when building homes. They may, or may not, replace it. Or, they may bring in less nutrient-rich topsoil from another location.

A soil test is the best way to know whether your soil has the minerals your trees, shrubs, lawn and other plants need. Not just a pH test, but a mineral content test as well. This test will tell you whether you need to fertilize or not. Our plant health professionals can conduct these tests.

Following the standards under which professionals like us work, fertilizer should only be applied to meet a stated objective. This means that, if you had a soil test and it showed that your soil has all the necessary minerals for your lawn and landscape, you probably don’t need to fertilize this spring. If it showed a mineral deficiency, you should fertilize. Minerals are finite. If they are deficient when a soil test is taken, they will always be deficient, and the only way to replenish them is through fertilization. It can be compared to humans taking a vitamin supplement to replenish minerals deficient in our diet.

The soil test will tell you exactly what nutrients are needed. That way, you can avoid the waste and environmental effects of buying one size fits all fertilizer. When a soil test indicates special needs, we are able to formulate fertilizer just for your application, and we apply it to trees and shrubs in liquid form injected right into the root zone.

Often we also add beneficial fungi and bacteria, called mycorrhizae, to help roots find and absorb the minerals they need for good health.

Fertilization, if you need it, is part of our lawn care and Plant Health Care programs.

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Spring Lawn Care Dos & Don’ts

For most of us, that weekly lawn mowing ritual has begun again. There are also other spring tasks that should be done now, and a few that shouldn’t.

First the “Don’ts.” There are still people who pay good money to have their lawns rolled each spring. Most of our soil is heavy clay, and rolling only compacts the soil so there’s no space for water and air between the particles. The antidote is aerifying – pulling plugs of soil out to create spaces for water and air. A better investment would be to skip the rolling and go directly to aerifying.

Another “Don’t”: applying lime. Lime is applied to acid soil to increase the pH, but most of our soil is neutral or alkaline already. Grass grows best in neutral soil. So, lime should only be applied if a soil test indicates that your soil is acidic.

A soil test is actually a good idea for several reasons. Besides telling you the pH, a soil test will also tell you whether your lawn needs fertilization, and if so, which nutrients need replenishing. This can result in a substantial saving of both time and money.

You probably don’t need to apply grub control, or have it applied, if your lawn was treated for grubs last fall. This results in an environmental saving, as well as a cost saving. By spring, grubs have grown big and strong, so more aggressive applications are needed to control them. In fall, they are newly hatched, so they are small and weak, requiring less material to control them.

Now for some of the “Dos”. Be sure your mower blade is always sharp for a nice, clean cut, rather than a ragged cut. Sharpness should also be checked periodically during the mowing season.

Set your mower height at 2.5” to 3”. Taller grass discourages weed growth, retains water better and is healthier.

Last but not least, let your grass clippings fall to the ground, decompose and return nutrients to the soil. This practice is called Grasscycling.

If you don’t want the cares and worries of maintaining your lawn’s health, talk to us about a lawn care program this season and let our professionals take the guesswork out of your lawn care.

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Celebrate Arbor Day

Arbor Day is this Friday, April 28. Why not begin a family tradition that will brighten the lives of future generations?

If you have to work on Friday and kids are in school that day, fear not. Observe Arbor Day on Saturday, Sunday or even the following weekend. It’s all about the trees, and they don’t care when they’re planted.

The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska in 1872, thanks to journalist J. Sterling Morton. The prairie transplant looked out across the treeless plains and sought to change that bleak landscape. Other states soon began holding their own Arbor Days on dates that best suited their growing seasons. In 1970, President Richard Nixon declared the last Friday in April to be National Arbor Day. So, you see, Arbor Day isn’t bound hard and fast to a particular date.

Regardless of the date your family observes Arbor Day, just make sure you do it as a family and that you get the kids into the act by letting them help, and explaining the significance of the observance and the proper way to plant.

Proper planting begins with selecting the right tree for the spot you want to plant it. Be sure the growing conditions where you plan to plant correspond to the tree’s needs listed on the nursery tag. If in doubt, talk to one of the horticulturists at your garden center. Be sure there’s plenty of space for the tree to grow to its full height and width. Don’t plant a sun loving tree in the shade or a shade tolerant tree in the sun. If it likes acid soil, don’t plant it in basic soil.

There’s an old saying, “Dig a $50 hole for a $5 tree.” This means the hole should be two to three times bigger in diameter than the rootball but only as deep. Place the tree in the hole and, while one of the children holds the tree plumb to the ground, backfill. Tamp the soil gently to eliminate air pockets and then soak the backfilled area.

You’ll enjoy your new tree more if you follow these guidelines, and it will require less maintenance than an improperly planted tree. You won’t have to constantly have it pruned to fit the allotted space. As a strong, healthy tree, it shouldn’t need fertilization and will have fewer insect and disease problems.

Arbor Day should be a fun holiday with memories that last a lifetime for the whole family…regardless of which day you plant your Arbor Day tree.

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New Disease Attacking Western New York Oak Trees

Last fall, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that an oak tree in the town of Canandaigua had been infected with oak wilt disease, and an update was published recently in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The DEC has established a “Protective Zone” (quarantine) around the infected tree. This severely restricts the movement of fresh wood into or out of the zone. Obeying this, and other quarantines, is important. This disease, like most fungal diseases cannot be controlled easily with a fungicide. Propiconazole, a fungicide that, if applied on a regular basis, will keep this fungus under control. Once use of the fungicide is started, it must be continued or the fungus will become active again, making diseases like this much more serious in the long term than insects. Off hand, I can’t think of an insect for which an effective chemical or natural predator was not found eventually.

The fungus that causes oak wilt is Ceratocystis fagacearum, which develops in an oak tree’s water-carrying cells, called xylem. The water carried by the xylem contains life sustaining nutrients. These nutrients are essential to photosynthesis. Lacking water and nutrients, the leaves wilt and fall. Oak wilt kills red oaks in six month or less, while it takes much longer, often years, for the disease to claim white oaks.

Insect carriers and root contact are the most common natural ways for oak wilt to spread, but the movement of wood and wood products like firewood have become become an increasing concern. This is why quarantines carry stiff penalties. It is believed that bringing infected wood into Canandaigua caused this outbreak.

If you see oak trees with wilting and falling leaves or the top branches are defoliated, report them to the local DEC office so that action can be taken to keep the disease from spreading. Let’s not let it get a foothold in our area. Remember what fungal diseases did to the American chestnut and the American elm.

Birchcrest arborists are working with the DEC to contain and eradicate the oak wilt in Canandaigua. Believe me, it’s painful to take down a majestic oak tree that has been growing so long that it witnessed much of the rich history of the Finger Lakes.

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Save Those Beautiful Ash Trees

The warmer weather tells the emerald ash borer (EAB) that it’s almost time to crawl out of the tree they’re in and greet the big world outside. Since they hatched, these voracious pests have lived inside the trees where their mothers deposited their eggs, never seeing the light of day.

It’s now time for them to morph into tiny, metallic green adults and dig “D” shaped holes to crawl out into the daylight. This generation of EAB is through eating. The adults’ sole task is to mate, scoop out indentations in ash tree bark and lay eggs so the scourge can start all over again.

Some homeowners have just given up, certain that their valuable ash trees are destined to die from the emerald ash borer’s feast. Others are fighting back, determined to save their valuable trees.

There is an effective preventive and treatment available to arborists. Before applying either, one of our plant health care professionals will inspect your ash tree(s) to see if the EAB has infested them yet and, if so, the amount of damage.

A preventive should be applied every two years to trees that have, thus far, escaped the EAB. Trees hosting the EAB should be treated every year, as long 70 percent or more of the tree is alive. This material, as formulated, is only available to licensed, trained professionals, and we inject it directly into the tree trunk using special equipment..

These treatments may appear to be a major investment at first. When you crunch the numbers, however, they represent a very cost effective insurance policy. Do-it-yourself products are not concentrated enough to be effective against this stubborn pest, so you would be wasting money to invest in them. Furthermore, professional treatments can be made for a good, long time for the cost of removing and replacing a stately ash tree. Doesn’t that look like a really good investment now?