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Memorial Day – Time To Plant Annuals

There’s a reason why Memorial Day is considered the start of the spring growing season. That reason was quite apparent this spring. Even when days felt like spring, nighttime temperatures dipped down into the 30s, sometimes even below freezing. Tender annuals, even those rated for our hardiness zone 5, have a difficult time acclimating to these wide temperature swings.

Memorial Day is this Monday (May 28), and garden centers will surely be open that day. So, if you can’t get out to buy annuals this week, you can always do it between the parade and cook-out. Before you go to the garden center, note where you’re going to plant annuals. How big are the planting beds? If you plot out and measure where you’re going to plant each variety, you’ll know how many plants to buy? Then buy a few more. If you can’t use them all in your planting beds, you can always plant the extras in containers. They’ll bring a nice spring freshness into your house.

Speaking of containers, you can do your knees a favor by planting annuals in decorative containers and then placing them in strategic spots in the planting beds. Besides looking nice and complementing the other plants in the beds, this planting method makes deadheading (pinching or cutting off spent blooms to encourage reblooming) and replacement easy. You can use a stool to sit down and deadhead. Most annuals need to be changed out during the season or as seasons change. You can sit on your stool to do that, also.

If you really want your annuals in the ground, buy individual plants like geraniums and begonias and sink the nursery pot into the ground. If you buy annuals by the six pack, you can stand at your potting bench and transplant them into old nursery pots and sink them into the ground. An even easier shortcut is to sink one size bigger nursery pots than the ones you’re using for the annuals. Then you only have to slip the transplant pot into the sunken pot when you “plant” them initially and when you change them out. Can’t be much simpler than that.

If you aren’t able to plant your purchases right away, keep them outside on the deck or patio during nice warm days. But if the nighttime temps are forecast to dip down below 40 or 45 degrees, bring the plants inside for the night.

Annuals are like the frosting on your landscaping cake. Regardless of whether you embrace the tried and true traditional planting method or one of the labor (and knee) saving ideas presented here, the weekend to plant annuals is coming up. Why not put it on your calendar?

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Dividing Perennials This Spring

If you didn’t divide your spreading perennials last fall, you might want to make that an early task this spring. Just letting them go may result in their squeezing out other plants that share the same bed. If your spreading perennials are near a sidewalk, they may impede you or guests using the walk. If the bed is next to the lawn, these spreading plants may overflow the bed and kill the grass. Dividing is the method used to keep these spreaders in check. It’s also an inexpensive propagation method.

you’ve never divided perennials, it’s an easy DIY job. Just dig up the whole plant and lay it on a tarp. Then cut the root in half from the foliage to the bottom of the root. Finally, cut each section in half again, so that you’ve quartered it. The cutting method depends on the thickness of the roots and your strength. While many of our landscape professionals can cut sizeable roots with one blow from their sharp shovel, you may be more comfortable using a pruning saw or loppers. Your tool choice depends on the size of the job.

Once cut, return one quarter to the original planting hole. Backfill just as you would when planting a new plant. Finish by thoroughly watering it in.

What you do with the other three sections is up to you. I suggest you plant them in other beds on your property, give them to friends or contribute them to a charity plant sale.

Dividing perennials has a similar effect on them as pruning has on trees and woody shrubs. It makes them grow stronger and healthier.

If you’d rather not divide your own perennials, our landscape professionals will be happy to do it for you. And, the next time you buy perennials, check the nursery tags and ask one of the garden center horticulturists about their behavior pattern and if the plants you’re considering need dividing.

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It’s Safe To Start Spring Clean-Up

A few weeks ago, I recommended that you not venture into the garden due to soggy conditions. Well, the snow has melted, the sun has warmed the ground, and it’s now safe to walk on your grass and into most of your planting beds without fear of sinking in or leaving footprints.

Winter can leave even the most beautiful landscape somewhat messy. The wind blows debris from the neighborhood that ends up in your yard. Twigs and branches break off and dot your lawn. Your plow guy leaves big divots of grass from beside the driveway in the center of your yard.

You should pick up the debris, including twigs and branches. Let the twigs and branches remind you to look up into your trees. There may still be broken branches up there that are still partially attached. We call them hangers. They should be removed by our arborists as soon as possible to prevent them from falling on people or property.

To replace divots from your driveway edge, carefully lift them from their resting place on your lawn and piece them together along the edge. You can cut the pieces to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Rough up the soil before laying divots in place. Then walk on the replaced sod so the grass roots make contact with the soil underneath. Finally, water well. This is the way we lay sod.

In a year like this, with a great deal of freezing and thawing, you may suffer significant heaving. This is when the soil movement causes plants and pavers to rise up or sink. See my March 20 post for repair tips for hardscapes like pavers. Plants that have heaved or sunk need to be replanted. Dig them up and replant them if the soil is dry enough. If the soil is too wet, but roots are showing, stake them up until you can replant. Cover the exposed roots with soil. Leaning plants whose roots aren’t showing may be staked into an upright position. Don’t leave the stakes or lines on the plants for more than a year. Keep an eye on them to see if they decline or appear stressed. If so, you’ll have to replant tem. Sunken plants have to be dug up; soil has to be added to the hole and the plant replanted so it is higher in the hole..

Also rake up any leaves that you didn’t get to last fall and check trees and shrubs for animal damage. Remove any extra mulch you spread on beds and fluff up the remaining mulch. If you didn’t add mulch, just fluff up the mulch that you do have. Finally, make an appointment for our Plant Health Care professionals to apply dormant oil to your trees and shrubs. This diluted petroleum jelly will smother a lot of overwintering insects while they are dormant. Also ask us to check any plants that suffered animal damage and we’ll make repair recommendations.

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A Tribute To A Majestic Tree

A tree’s days like those of all life are finite. The loss of a tree can evoke many of the same emotions as the death of a human and a beloved pet. Just last week, our

Birchcrest tree crew removes Pittsford copper beech.

arborists had to remove one of the most majestic trees in the Rochester, New York region.

Surely you heard about the copper beech tree in Pittsford. News of its impending removal reached the four corners of the globe, thanks to the Associated Press. I even read the story in the New York Times.

That majestic tree had stood in the same spot since the early part of the 19th century. Its graceful branches spread out over the village as if protecting it. Its beautiful copper-colored leaves gave a unique hue to the park that the village built around the tree

Imagine what that tree witnessed over its lifetime of more than 200 years. The settlement, the growth and the development of the village and the town that surround it. But alas, all good things must come to an end. In this case, the copper beech’s decline was caused by a microscopic fungus.

The cooper beech was so beloved by Pittsford residents that it was incorporated into the town logo. And, the night before our crew was scheduled to take the tree down, the town invited resident to join in a ceremony to say good-bye to it.

While the rot fungus, Kretzschmaria deusta, ate away at the tree from the inside out like a cancer, the forward thinking town leaders had healthy cuttings taken from high up in the tree. These have been rooted and are now about a year from sapling size. Once they reach sapling size, these clones, which will have the same exact genetic footprint as the parent tree, will be ready for planting at various locations around town. One place they can’t be planted, however, is in Copper Beach Park where the original tree stood. That soil is contaminated with the fungus.

It is my hope that the story of the copper beech and how Copper Beech Park got its name is written into any local history curriculum taught in Pittsford schools. Then, hopefully, some local official won’t come along years from now and question why the park is named Copper Beech Park when there’s no copper beech there…and move, with no opposition, to change the name. That would prove the truth to what Spanish poet and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Arbor Day This Friday

This Friday, April 27, we observe a holiday that could be considered “Gift of Life” day. It’s Arbor Day. Although Arbor Day is set aside to plant trees, it’s also a day on which we should consider the tremendous gifts trees give us.

Sure, trees are beautiful and they provide shade in the summer and protection from wind and snow in winter, but they also provide us with the very oxygen we breathe. Trees also take in the harmful carbon dioxide we exhale.

Plant one or more trees this Friday. If you make it a family affair, you can turn it into a learning experience for your children. Have everyone take a deep breath when you’ve finished planting and then thank your new tree and all the rest of the trees in your yard for their contribution to your life and health.

If you can’t celebrate Arbor Day on Friday, fear not. Saturday or Sunday will be just fine. Trees don’t know the difference.

Arbor Day can be a great family outing. Decide where you’re going to plant your new tree before you go to the garden center to buy it. Take note of the conditions in that location. Is it full sun, partial sun or shade? Are there power lines nearby? Is it in the path of the wind? Is it at the top or bottom of a hill or grade? When grown, will the tree hang over your house, pool or other structures? All of these conditions determine the species of tree you should plant in that location. All of the tree’s preferences should be listed on the nursery tag attached to the tree. If you have any questions about the information on the tag, talk to one of the horticulturists at your nursery or garden center. That way, you’ll be sure that you’ll be planting the right tree in the right place.

Right tree – right place is the landscaper’s mantra. If the tree isn’t happy where it’s planted, it will be very high maintenance. I guess it’s just like people who aren’t happy where they are. In the case of trees, however, high maintenance can mean frequent pruning and annual or twice annual fertilization. If the tree isn’t happy, it will show stress and its health will decline. This attracts insects and diseases. All this can be avoided if you do a little research and plant the right tree in the right place.

Join families all over the country who will make their trip to the garden center and tree planting experience a fun family outing to celebrate a holiday that dates back to 1872. Happy Arbor Day…and remember the mantra, Right Tree – Right Place.

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The Future of Your Ash Tree

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

Soon the tiny, metallic green emerald ash borers (EAB) will make their annual appearance. Seeing these tiny insects is rare because of their size. Their sole purpose is to mate so a new generation of larvae can continue the damage the adults began last year. And, they do this dastardly deed high up in the tree.

Does this mean your ash tree is doomed? Yes, if you don’t have us treat it. Even then, it’s an ongoing process with no guarantees. However, the cost to have your tree treated for a considerable period of time is less than the cost of having a mature tree removed and replaced.

Ash trees with a half or more of their foliage remaining are good candidates for treatment. They have a good chance of surviving. Those with less than 50 percent are doomed.

EAB can be prevented. If your ash tree shows no EAB symptoms, we can apply a preventive every two years. It’s the same material that we apply to infested trees. However, infested trees have to be treated annually.

Applications, whether for treatment or prevention, have to be made systemically. This means injecting the material directly into the tree because the EAB spends most of its life inside the tree. It literally destroys the tree from the inside out.

Systemic materials strong enough to control the EAB are sold only to trained, licensed professionals. A diluted, consumer version of several products are sold in garden stores but I don’t recommend them. They’re just not strong enough to do the job, and doubling up on the amount you apply won’t make up for the reduced strength.

Anytime is a good time for us to apply preventive but shortly after the adults emerge from an infested tree is the best time for us to apply a treatment. That’s because newly hatched larvae are smaller, weaker and more vulnerable, increasing the ability of the product to control this insidious pest.

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Did Your Lawn Suffer From Winter Damage?

When your lawn has greened up for the season, you will be able to see any damage that it suffered over the winter. That’s the time to determine the cause and make any repairs. All lawn damage is mechanical, chemical or disease damage.

Mechanical damage is usually confined to the edge of your driveway or the road, and it’s usually caused by a snow plow. When the grass is firm enough to support you without leaving footprints, you can replace divots just as you would lay a new sod lawn. It’s done by roughing up the bare soil with a rake, cutting the divots so they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, placing them on the bare spots, walking on them to make contact with the soil and, finally, watering them in.

If the divots are damaged and unusable or you can’t find them, seeding is the most economical alternative. Begin by roughing up the soil. Then, spread compost or fertilizer, followed by seed. I suggest taking a small sample of your sod to the garden center so you can match up the seed composition with the rest of the lawn. After you’ve seeded, rake in the seed, and water your new planting. Keep watering until the new grass has become established.

Most chemical damage is caused by road salt. Sodium chloride melts snow and ice and mixes with the resulting water. This is very toxic to plants. Passing vehicles then splash it on to your lawn. Chemical damage is usually confined to the grass in your tree lawn (the area between the curb and sidewalk), although splash can cause damage further into your front yard. This repair is made the same way as the seeding repair from mechanical damage. I recommend a hardy seed mixture that can withstand salt water for your tree lawn. It would be a good idea to overseed the whole tree lawn with the hardy mix as a preventive measure.

Several fungal diseases attack lawns in winter, leaving patches of dead grass. Some have interesting shapes and colors. The thing they all have in common, though, is that they kill patches of grass. The most common reaction is to apply a fungicide. Resist the temptation. Fungicides won’t help. Instead, rake the dead grass out and throw it away. If the dead area is small, the healthy grass will fill in the area. If it’s larger, you’ll have to reseed, using the same method as you would for chemical damage. If mushrooms are present, manually remove them, especially if you have pets or small children, since these fungi may be poisonous. When reseeding, use a fungus-resistant seed variety. Overseeding the whole lawn with fungus resistant seed will help keep your whole lawn fungus-free next winter..

If you need help nursing your lawn back to health, talk to of our lawn care professionals.