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Time To Schedule Your Anti Desiccation Application

In my humble opinion, anti desiccant is the most economical protection against winter burn that you can provide for your evergreen trees and shrubs. That’s why I remind you of it every fall and encourage you to plan ahead for its application.

Anti desiccant’s application is very weather dependent. It can’t be applied when the temperature is too high or too low. It’s a wax-like liquid. Consequently, it can freeze when it’s cold and melt when it’s warm. We apply anti desiccant on days when the temperature is below 50ºF and above 32ºF (freezing). If we get sustained warm spells during the winter, additional applications may be necessary. Nothing needs to be done in spring, though. The anti desiccant just melts when the weather warms up.

Why apply anti desiccant? Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs that go dormant in winter, evergreens just slow down their life functions. This applies to both needled conifers like pines and broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons.

Evergreens’ leaves or needles continue to manufacture food through the energy trapping process of photosynthesis. That process requires water, which is normally absorbed by the roots and transported to the leaves by the plant’s xylem. Water, also a byproduct of the process, is given off through the leaves. This is called transpiration.

When the ground is frozen, the roots can’t absorb water, so the plant reabsorbs transpired water and recycles it during photosynthesis. This is fine until the wind blows. Wind picks up transpired water droplets and carries them away before they can be reabsorbed. When this occurs, photosynthesis shuts down and the affected leaves, needles and branches die.

Desiccated leaves and branches turn brown but the whole plant rarely dies. It just has ugly brown patches, and the only remedy is to cut out the deadwood. This affects the aesthetics of an otherwise graceful, beautiful evergreen.

Evergreens provide winter interest to your landscape. The various textures and shades of green break up the otherwise desolate sea of white that greets you when you go out the door or look out the window. It’s also a much more interesting view than that of tan shrouds where your evergreens stand in summer. Before anti desiccant, it was common to wrap all evergreens in burlap. Today, only plants affected by salty road spray, young trees and shrubs that are still getting established, or tender plants that may be near the limit of their hardiness zone benefit from wrapping. The others are sufficiently protected by anti desiccant.

Garden centers and home stores sell anti desiccant in spray bottles. The most familiar brand is Wilt Pruf, and it’s in easily recognized green bottles. Buying one or two of these bottles to apply to a couple of evergreen shrubs is a good DIY project. Any more and your hand will let you know how hard it is to squeeze those spray triggers.

For properties with many or large evergreens like towering conifer trees, it’s more economical and efficient for one of our Plant Health Care professionals to apply anti desiccant. We buy it in bulk, which is considerably less than buying those consumer-size containers at retail, and you don’t have to worry about properly disposing of the empty containers. Our PHC pros apply anti desiccant with backpack sprayers that have enough pressure to reach the tops of tall trees.

You planted evergreens to enhance your landscape 12 months a year, and anti desiccant is the most economical insurance policy you can buy to protect them during our severe winters.

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A Basic Guide To Leaf Peeping

It’s almost time for many residents and visitors to the Finger Lakes region to take their annual “Leaf Peeping” treks to the beautifully hued hills that rise from the lakes. Soon these hills will be ablaze with yellows, reds and oranges. Have you ever wondered why this phenomenon occurs and what determines which trees’ leaves will turn what color? Well, read on and I’ll explain it.

Nature equipped most broadleaf trees and shrubs with a defense mechanism to protect them from breaking under the added weight of snow falling and ice forming on the surface of their many leaves. These plants, called “deciduous” plants, lose their leaves and go dormant every fall. As a result, the surface available to snow and ice is reduced substantially. In the process of defoliating, the leaves undergo chemical transformations before falling to the ground.

As temperatures begin to cool and daylight hours get shorter, these conditions are nature’s signals to prepare for winter. First the plants go on a binge, producing food through photosynthesis to be stored in the roots to sustain the plant through the winter. When this is finished, the green chlorophyll drains from the leaves, revealing their true color – yellow.

Some leaves remain yellow while others turn orange or red. These colors are displayed when other chemicals are present. The presence of carotenoids gives leaves their yellow or orange color but aren’t seen during the growing season because of the chlorophyll. Carotenoids, which give carrots their orange color, are present to some extent in all leaves. The more carotenoid, the more intense the color.

Red leaves indicate the presence of anthocyanins, which are produced only in autumn. According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), these complex, water soluble compounds in leaf cells react with excess, stored plant sugars and exposure to sunlight, creating vivid pink, red and purple leaves. A mixture of red anthocyanin pigment and yellow carotene often results in the bright orange color seen in some leaves. The photo provides an excellent example of brilliant orange color. It’s near the entrance to the Seneca Waterways Council Boy Scouts of America’s J. Warren Cutler Scout Reservation in the Bristol Hills near Naples.

Colors most affected by weather are the red tones created by anthocyanin. On warm sunny days, lots of sugar is produced in the leaves. Trees exposed to brighter sunlight generate the reaction between the anthocyanin and the excess sugar, creating the bright red hue. Cooler temperatures cause the veins in the leaves to gradually close, preventing the sugars from moving out, which preserves the red tones. Thus, a succession of warm sunny days and cool crisp nights can paint the most spectacular display of color.

As the trees’ show of color comes to an end, the buds for next year’s leaves, growing at the base of this year’s leaves, force the colorful leaves to disconnect and fall to the ground before the curtain of winter descends.

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Bulk Up Your Mulch For Winter

With autumn officially beginning, winter can’t be far behind. With it comes snow, ice, cold and swirling Arctic winds. While we retreat into our nice, warm homes, our landscape plants have to stay put. The least we can do is put a coat around their cold-sensitive roots.

That coat should consist of an extra layer of organic mulch like wood chips. Sensitive roots can be compared to human nerves. Both like the status quo and react adversely to radical changes. Mulch reduces those radical changes in several ways.

Mulch moderates soil temperatures, reducing the impact of their frequent swings on plant roots. These swings are year-round considerations. In spring, summer and fall, however, temperature swings aren’t as significant as they are in winter. They fluctuate only a few degrees in a 24-hour period. In winter, that fluctuation can be much greater and plant roots don’t like these wide temperature changes, especially those that drop from warm to below freezing and vice versa.

Mulch will minimize the effect of temperature extremes on your plants. During the spring, summer and fall, two to a maximum of three inches of mulch are sufficient. Any more is too much. In winter, however, three or four inches are preferable. Be sure to remove any mulch over three inches in the spring.

As you prepare your yard for winter, start by fluffing up the mulch already in place. Using a leaf rake, fluff it up similar to the way you would mashed potatoes or rice. Once the existing mulch is fluffed, you can measure its depth with a yardstick. Add enough new mulch to bring the depth to four inches; no more. Moisture still needs to soak through the mulch to reach the plant roots. And, remember – don’t pile the mulch up against the tree trunk. Mulch volcanoes trap moisture between the bark and the mulch, providing a good breeding ground for microbes. It also helps camouflage small mammals that may want to dine on the bark.

Organic mulch does double duty. Besides protecting your roots in the cold weather, wood chips and other organic mulches will decompose and return nutrients to the soil. Decorative mulches like stone won’t do that. It doesn’t decompose. Besides, stone mulch is cold to the touch, so it won’t moderate the soil temperature as effectively as wood.

If you don’t care for shoveling, hauling and spreading mulch, we have landscape professionals who would be happy to do these jobs for you before winter settles in.

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Keep On Weeding

Maybe Labor Day marked the unofficial beginning of the fall season, but nobody told weeds that. These strong, adventitious plants seize upon the shoulder season to thrive and make sure they’ve provided ample opportunity for the next generation to do the same.

As adventitious plants, weeds make sure they fill up any bare spot in your lawn or planting beds. If you fell behind in your weeding during the spring and summer season, weeds may already have a foothold. This makes your job tougher in the fall. Besides having to rid your landscape of these unwanted plants, you also must rid your yard of the seeds they’ve dropped in preparation for winter.

You may want to sit back and assume that the winter will kill the weeds, no matter how strong they look. You’d be right. Before succumbing to winter’s blasts, though, those strong weeds dropped strong seeds that’ll lie dormant in the soil until next spring. Then they’ll pop up early in spring when other plants are still enjoying their winter dormancy. They’ll be able to flower and get established without competition from other plants.

These ideal conditions will allow the weeds to grow strong before the good plants wake up. Some even flower early and drop their seeds before anything else. As a result, strong, hardy weeds produce several generations a year. A weed may just be a plant growing where it wasn’t planted but where they grow seems to be to their liking because the do tend to thrive.

The best way I’ve found to fight weeds is to use everything in your arsenal. Start by spot treating the weeds with a broadleaf weed killer with both pre-emergent and post-emergent compounds. The post-emergent will kill the weeds that you see while the pre-emergent will prevent the seeds they’ve dropped from germinating.

The method I just described isn’t a one-and-done. You’ll have to keep after it. Weeds are persistent. If you want to take some aggression out, you might consider applying a pre-emergent to prevent seeds from germinating and pulling the weeds by hand.

The herbicide you select should be labeled for broadleaf weeds. A non-selective herbicide will kill all plants. Your lawn should be safe if you apply a broadleaf weed killer, but you will have to be extra careful applying it to weeds in a planting bed. The material can’t tell the difference between a weed and a desirable plant.

If you would like to leave the whole process to the pros, our lawn care professionals would be happy to make the application for you. Weed control is part of our lawn care programs but we can also provide a la carte service.

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Preparing Your Lawn For Winter

Yes, it’s only September and too early to think about winter. But the reality is that winter isn’t that far off and some of the winterizing tasks for your lawn need to be done at least a month before the first frost.

Your lawn may need more than just lowering your mower. It could need aerating, fertilizing and overseeding. Start with aerifying, which removes plugs of sod from the lawn. The purpose is to let compacted soil expand and fill the areas created by removing the plugs. The expanded soil then has more area, known as pores, for the water and air grass roots need to be healthy.

Aerifying machines can be rented from tool rental stores if you feel really ambitious. My prediction is that, if you do it once, you’ll leave it to our lawn care professionals the next time. So, save yourself the not-so-pleasant experience and let us do it. When you compare our cost with what you pay to rent the machine and transport it back and forth from the rental store, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

When aerifying, the plugs of sod are left on the top of the ground to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. But this usually doesn’t provide the full amount of nutrients the soil needs to support a lawn. Consequently, your lawn will need a fall fertilization. Wait until the aerification process is completed so that there will be more pore space for the fertilizer.

Lawns whose turf is thin or suffered damage during the dry summer should be overseeded. Otherwise, you’re opening the door for weeds to take over. Weeds are stronger plants than grass, so their seeds germinate anywhere the grass is thin or dead.

After you’ve aerified and fertilized and given the fertilizer sufficient time to sink into the soil, rake the area to be overseeded. You’ll probably be surprised at the amount of thatch and grass clippings you’ll rake up. If you have a compost pile, that would be a good place to put the organic debris that you rake up. It should be noted that thatch is dead grass plants that accumulate in the turf, not grass clipping, as many believe.

The next step is to spread the grass seed at the rate indicated on the package label. The seed can be spread by hand when overseeding small areas. However, a wheeled spreader is better for large areas or entire lawns. After you’ve spread the seed, lightly rake the area to be sure the seeds are in contact with the soil. That’s the only way they’ll germinate. Finally, water well to maximize the seed/soil contact. This should be completed a month to six weeks before the date of the typical first frost.

If you want a lush lawn without the work involved, our lawn care professionals can do the complete overseeding as well as the aerifying. Then all you’ll have to do is wait for spring to enjoy your renewed lawn.

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Best Mower Settings For Fall

The coming of fall doesn’t signal a change in deck height for your mower. Not yet anyway. There’s still plenty of mowing left until your lawn goes dormant.

Hopefully, you’ve been mowing with the deck height at three to four inches all summer. If so, keep it at that height until the last mowing. If you’ve been mowing any lower, raise the deck up until your last mowing. For the last mowing, lower the deck to two inches.

Mowing high encourages stronger, thicker grass. Higher grass is healthier, and the longer blades of grass are able to make more food through photosynthesis. More food in the roots results in stronger roots, and thicker roots discourage weeds. Another advantage to mowing high is that you may be able mow less often. It’s like your hair; people with long hair can go longer between cuts than those with short hair. Grass blades and hair follicles grow at different rates, and the longer ones are more noticeable when the rest is short.

Long grass holds more moisture, creating an ideal environment for the fungal diseases that lawns are susceptible to in our area. That’s the reason for the last mowing being short. To know when to lower the mower, watch the weather forecasts. When the first hard frost is predicted, that’s the time to lower the mower. The mowing after the frost is the time to mow short. If that frost doesn’t drive the grass into dormancy, keep mowing low until the grass goes dormant.

Save some time and energy by combining two tasks into one – mowing and leaf mulching. Unless you have mountains of leaves on the grass surface, you can use the mulching feature on the mower to chop leaves up finely and let them fall on to the lawn. There, they’ll decompose over the winter and fertilize the lawn. If more leaves fall, there’s no reason why you can’t run the mulching mower over the lawn again, unless it has been unusually rainy, in which case you’ll have to rake or blow.

Whatever you do, though, don’t let the leaves stay on the lawn. Like long grass, leaves will retain the water from melting snow and provide the perfect climate for fungal diseases to infect your valuable lawn.,

A little preventive maintenance in the fall can go a long way toward assuring a lush, green lawn in the spring.

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A Reminder: Fall Is For Planting

Fall Is For Planting has been a nursery industry slogan for decades, and it’s based on sound horticultural science. It’s all about giving plants a head start on getting established in their new home. For you, it means less maintenance work than planting in the spring requires.

Granted, fall doesn’t officially start until later in September, but Labor Day is its unofficial beginning. The beginnIng of September is also when the weather starts becoming more autumn-like. Nighttime temperatures moderate while daytime temperatures stay warm. Cool nights and warm days help plants get used to cold temperatures gradually. When winter arrives, they’ll be established and ready for dormancy.

The nursery industry recommends planting most deciduous trees and shrubs in fall. Deciduous plants are those that lose their leaves in winter. Fall is also the best time to plant or split  herbaceous perennials. And spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips need to be planted this fall if you want them to bloom next spring.

In spring, trees and shrubs planted in the fall will break dormancy and begin growing several weeks before spring planting can get underway. Because of their earlier start, last fall’s plants require less care during the summer than spring plants. That means less watering and, possibly, less fertilizing, saving you both time and money.

Evergreens are a different story. Wait until spring to plant these trees and shrubs. Evergreens retain their leaves or needles and don’t go completely dormant. Thus, the name – evergreen. If planted in fall, they can be subject to unsightly winter burn, unless you apply anti desiccant. Also, wait until spring to plant perennials that flower on new wood like butterfly bush and big leaf hydrangeas. Otherwise, you’ll have to prune the old wood away in the spring to allow new wood, and flowers, to grow.

Contrary to the belief of some cynics, Fall is for Planting isn’t just a way for garden centers to get rid of their leftover nursery stock. Most buy fresh stock for the fall. If plants look like they are leftovers, don’t buy them. If they look fresh, go ahead. Nurseries aren’t going to invest in stock that they’ll have to overwinter.

Homeowners who want to enjoy the results of fall planted trees and shrubs without the work, turn the whole job over to our landscape professionals. Then they can be sure they have winter hardy plants and that the right plants are planted in the right places. Then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy their new plants this fall, next spring and for years to come.

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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.