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Still Time To Protect Your Ash Tree(s)

Even though we’re past the mid-point in September, there’s still time to protect your valuable ash trees. Our battle against the emerald ash borer (EAB) doesn’t stop just because we’ve passed the unofficial end of summer. Although trees can be treated until the ground freezes, it’s best if you have them taken care of as soon as possible.

Photo: Howard Russell, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

EAB control is systemic, which means it’s injected directly into the tree’s vascular system. That’s because these insidious insects live most of their lives inside the tree, where they disrupt the phloem – the vessels that distribute food throughout the tree. Trees continue to take up water until the ground freezes but they stop making food when the leaves start turning color. Since we don’t know when that will happen, it’s best to have them treated early rather than wait until the last minute.

If your ash trees are starting to turn color or have already begun dropping their leaves, they should be inspected by one of our arborists. You may already have EAB. If between 50 and 70 percent of the leaves are still green, it may be worth treating them. If less than 50 percent are green, its chance of survival is quite slim.

If your ash trees look green and healthy, don’t pat yourself on the back for having dodged a bullet. Any untreated tree is fair game for EAB. That’s why it’s important to have a preventive treatment applied.

EAB treatment isn’t a DIY task. The formulations labeled for consumer application just aren’t potent enough to knock out this strong, invasive insect. The formulations for licensed pesticide applicators are much stronger. Plus, it takes finesse and experience to know exactly where to inject it into a tree.

The material we use needs to be applied every two years as a preventive and every year as a treatment for trees already hosting EAB.

Ash trees are beautiful, stately specimens. They are also commercially valuable for products like baseball bats. It would be a shame if these trees go the way of the chestnut and American elm. Prevention and treatment are investments in both the present and the future. The cost of removing and replacing a dead ash tree could pay for many years of treatment.

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Keep Mowing Until Grass Goes Dormant

After Labor Day, we begin thinking that it’s fall already. But, the calendar says autumn doesn’t officially arrive until later in the month. Even after that, summer-like weather can linger, so don’t put the lawn mower away too quickly.

Your grass is enjoying our typical fall weather with its warm days and cool nights. At the same time, weeds are also enjoying this ideal weather, and would like nothing better than to take over your lawn. During this time, your lawn should continue to be mowed at a height of 3 to 4 inches. The longer, thicker grass will discourage weeds. Weeds are lazy or, more appropriately, adventitious plants. They want to grow without putting in any effort. So they look for sunny breaks in the lawn cover. That’s easier than fighting the grass plants for sunlight, water and space.

As we get further into fall, the daytime temperatures begin to drop, the days get shorter and the grass slows down its growth. As that happens, fewer and fewer clippings will come out of the chute. For the last few mowings of the season, lower the mower deck down to 2 ½ to 3 inches.

Over the winter, the snow pack can cause long grass to mat down, and this makes it easier for winter fungal diseases to attack your lawn. The shorter blades of grass stay more upright under the snow, and this doesn’t provide optimum conditions for fungal diseases. That’s not to say that you won’t have any fungal disease problems next spring. It simply means that the risk will be less.

When the grass stops growing for the season, you may not need the mower any more. But you can repurpose it as a leaf mulcher. How well that works depends on how many leaves you have. If you have big piles of leaves, or they are spread over your lawn so densely that you can’t see green grass showing through, it would be better if you rake or blow. If there are fewer leaves, you can save time and energy by setting the mower deck in its mulch position and driving over the grass. The mower will chop up the leaves very finely and drop them on to the lawn. As the leaves decompose, they’ll become compost, returning nutrients to the soil. This will give your lawn a head start next spring as the grass plants work to green up.

Maintaining your lawn is, arguably, the most labor-intensive task that faces you each growing season. I can’t blame you for wanting to get that mower into storage. But, giving your lawn those final, lower cuts and mulching leaves in place will save you a lot of work in the end.

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Why Fertilize In Fall?

This is a question I get asked quite often. Fertilizing in spring seems logical. After all, plants need energy to flower, leaf out and sustain themselves all through the summer. In the fall, however, they are getting ready for winter dormancy. So, why do they need energy if they’re “going to sleep”?

Confusion may have been created by some garden communicators and manufacturers who refer to fertilizer as plant food. It’s not. Fertilizer aids in the food making process much like vitamin supplements aid in our metabolic process.

Plants are hard at work over the growing season making food through photosynthesis. The food they make in the fall will be stored in their roots and distributed to other parts of the plant that need nourishment all through the winter.

Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as the micronutrients plants need to make food, are all found in good topsoil naturally. The problem is that many residential soils aren’t that good. The topsoil is often removed during excavation and not returned when the house is finished. I even saw one case in which the contractor raised the grade in a back yard by spreading three layers of subsoil on top of the original topsoil. Subsoil is almost always deficient in one or more nutrients and the only way to replenish them is with fertilizer.

If you fertilized in the spring, the plants used those nutrients all spring and summer to make the food they needed during the growing season. Now, as they are in the midst of a full court press to make enough food for the winter, they need more nutrients. In addition to winter sustenance, the plants need to have enough energy in reserve to break their flower and leaf buds in the spring. Fertilizer is the source of those nutrients.

Granulated fertilizer is fine for lawns and perennial beds but trees and shrubs need accessibility to the nutrients quickly so we apply balanced fertilizer in a liquid form. A giant needle is placed in the soil right at the root zone and liquid fertilizer is pumped directly into the area where the roots can immediately begin absorbing the nutrients. It should be noted that all fertilizers must be in liquid form for plant roots to absorb them. That’s why you should apply granular fertilizer within 24 hours of impending rain or be prepared to water it into the soil by irrigation.

Sometimes, roots need some help finding water and nutrients in the soil. In that case, we’ll mix mycorrhizae with the liquid fertilizer. These beneficial microbes (bacteria and fungi) attach themselves to the roots and extend their reach. The mycorrhizae pass the nutrients on to the plant and the plant shares its food with the mycorrhizae. It’s called a symbiotic relationship

The answer to the title question is that plants need extra nutrients in the fall to “bulk up” for winter dormancy, much as bears and other hibernating animals need to binge eat before they lie down for their long winter nap.

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Fall Is For Planting

The unofficial start of autumn will soon be upon us. If you’ve been thinking about planting any new trees and shrubs in your landscape, this is when you should finalize your design decisions. This will give you plenty of time to shop the nurseries and garden centers for your plant material.

Fall planting has a number of benefits for the plants and for you. They include:

• With more moisture, you won’t have to irrigate as often as you do in spring and summer. You may not have to irrigate at all.

• Warm days and cool nights are ideal growing conditions.

• Planting in fall gives the plants time to get established before winter. Spring plants don’t really have this establishment time before they have to battle summer heat and drought.

• Moist soil is easier to work than dry soil. This makes planting easier on your back.

Many nurseries and garden centers order new plants for fall planting. If you are looking for a bargain, you may be able to negotiate deep discounts on those that survived the summer. Personally, I’d rather pay list price and get new stock.

Planting in fall is no different from planting in spring. Select a planting site whose conditions are right for the plant you select. Remember – right plant, right place. Dig the planting hole two to three times bigger than the rootball, but only as deep. If potted, remove the plant from its pot. If balled and burlapped, remove the wire basket or rope but leave the burlap around the ball.

Set the plant in the hole and backfill, stopping occasionally to press the backfill to fill in any air pockets. Do not pile soil up against the trunk. Finally, mulch and water well.

Remember the mantra, Fall is for Planting. Your new plants will appreciate the temperate thermometer readings, more bearable humidity and the return of rain.

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Mum’s The Word But Not The Only One

How are your summer annuals holding up? Are they ready to be refreshed? At this point in the year, it may be more economical and easier to switch to fall blooming flowers. The workhorse of these flowers is, of course, the chrysanthemum, or mum.

Certainly mums are the most popular and available fall flowers but they aren’t the only fall flowers. There are a number of other popular annuals and perennials that bloom in fall. They include pansies, certain sedum varieties, and asters, to name just a few.

Pansies can be annuals or perennials, depending on the hardiness zone. As might be expected, they are annuals here in our Zone 5 climate. However, they may grow back each year like several other plants that die off each fall and grow back each spring.

The other plants listed above – sedum and asters – are perennials. You can plant them and give them the same care you’d give any other perennial. Then you don’t have to worry about the best time to plant each one for fall color.

Mums are usually sold in pots. If you plant them in the ground, they can be planted as single clumps directly from the pots or split apart and planted in separate, smaller groupings. Some property owners prefer to plant mums in containers. You can remove them from the nursery pot and replant them in your decorative container. This allows you to divide the mums so they fit your container. The alternative is to buy them in nursery pots that can just slip into your decorative containers.

There’s still another alternative. Turn the design and installation of a your fall flowering plant bed(s) over to our landscape professionals. Then all you have to do is enjoy your new planting beds right up until the snow flies. No trips to the garden center. No research. All you have to do is approve the design. If you have a favorite, we can incorporate that, too. Remember, landscapes are to enjoy, not to take all of our time maintaining.

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Selecting & Planting Spring Flowering Bulbs

What an impressive sight each spring. Crocuses peer up through the snow and add color to that drab sea of white. The snow melts and great expanses of bright yellow daffodils appear. They are then followed by the iconic tulip – Mother Nature’s way of saying that spring has finally arrived.

If you wait until spring to decide to share in this colorful show, it’s too late. Such a spectacular show isn’t spontaneous. It takes planning. Planning that starts about now for next spring. That’s because spring flowering bulbs have to be planted the previous fall in order to bloom in spring.

Shipments of bulbs are arriving at garden centers now and the stores are advertising all kinds of deals. So, now is the time to make your bulb selections while there are many to choose from. But wait until the temperatures cool down and the rain returns before planting them.

Stores have bulbs in bulk and in packages. They are best planted as mass plantings rather than just one or two. It’s all that color that makes the big impression, and that can’t be achieved with one or two lonely plants.

Bulbs are packaged in assorted colors or all one color. Which you choose is simply a matter of your taste. Each bin of bulk bulbs usually contains a single color so you can create your own assorted or monochrome bulb garden.

To plant your bulbs, clear the area that you’re going to plant. Lay out the bulbs in the pattern you want them to grow. Using a trowel, dig as deeply as you want to plant the bulb (should be twice as deep as the length of the bulb). Pull the trowel toward you to open up the hole. Place the bulb in the hole root end down. The root end is the flat end with root hairs emerging from the bulb. Pull out the trowel and smooth the backfill. When finished with the bed, spread mulch over it and water.

If you’re planting crocuses in your lawn, don’t clear the area and don’t mulch. Just dig the hole, place the bulb in the hole, backfill and water. Crocuses are the only bulbs that should be planted in the lawn. They grow low enough to the ground that you can mow the lawn over them if necessary. Daffodils and tulips are too tall. You probably won’t have to mow over the top of crocuses, however. They’ll likely be finished blooming before you have to mow.

Don’t fertilize when you plant bulbs. Some people insist that you have to put a scoop of fertilizer in the hole but you don’t. The bulbs are almost entirely food made by the leaves and stored in the bulb. Next fall, it’s OK to spread a bit of fertilizer around the plants.

When your bulbs finish blooming next spring, it’s OK to cut off the spent flowers. Don’t cut off the leaves, however. They’ll continue to manufacture food throughout the summer. It’s OK to cut off the leaves after they turn yellow or tan. By then, they’ll have made all the food they’re going to make.

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Survey Your Domain

With the fall planting season just around the corner, this would be a good time to take stock of your landscape. An inventory will help you determine if there are any bare spots in your landscape that should be taken care of this fall.

Check your landscape from every angle possible to see where new plants are needed; existing trees and shrubs need pruning, maintenance or repair; or plants can be moved to a better spot in your landscape. Take photos so you can share the images and your thoughts for the future with your landscape designer.

How did your lawn survive the summer? Mother Nature can fill in small bare spots but you’re on your own if the sun damaged big sections. They’ll need repair, which includes raking out the dead grass, roughing the soil, seeding and watering.

If your family marked one or more special occasion(s) this year, planting a tree would be an appropriate way to remember the event. Your family will continue to enjoy the tree’s benefits long after you’re gone.

After looking over your domain, you may be dissatisfied with the whole thing. Our designers can present you with a master plan for updating or renovating that fits your style and budget. You can choose to have the whole transformation done this fall or spread it out over several years.

Landscapes that are phased in will be designed and installed in such a way that neighbors and passersby won’t realize that you are amortizing the job over several seasons. The existing landscape will remain in place until you give us the green light to begin that phase.

Remain the monarch of your realm and bring your landscape into the 21st century. We have just the professionals to help you do it.

Photo Caption: Upon surveying his domain, this homeowner found that this holly needed pruning.