Leave a comment

Work Outside During January Thaws

As winter progresses, the walls of the house seem to be closing in on you. It’s just an illusion because you miss being outdoors. My suggestion: make the best of any January thaw(s). Get outside and work on your landscape. Even if it appears to be puttering to you, your plants will appreciate your attention.

January thaws aren’t limited to January. It’s a term that applies to any time the temperature goes above freezing. The temperature will still be crisp but the sun will likely be out, making conditions very pleasant. It won’t be shorts and flip flop weather but you also won’t need a heavy parka.

The first thing to do is take a walk around the yard. Check all the plants for broken branches and stems. Take a pair of pruners with you to cut off any broken branches on shrubs. Don’t just cut them off at the break. If possible, make the cut at ground level or where the broken branch is attached to a larger branch, being careful to leave any collar (appears as swollen tissue at attachment point). The third alternative is to cut just above a leaf or bud. The main thing is to not leave any stubs.

If you see any broken branches up in trees, reach for you phone instead of your pruners. Removing branches from trees is too dangerous for the untrained. Many a property owner has found that out the hard way. Leave tree repairs to our arborists who have the training, equipment and experience to avoid falling or getting struck by a falling branch. And, if something goes wrong, they’re covered by insurance.

If conifer branches are still snow laden, resist the temptation to remove the snow. They can spring back and leave you with pine needle injuries. Nature equipped conifers with the resilience to spring back by themselves as the snow melts.

Pay special attention to plants near the road. Check them for damage from road salt spray. You may have to wrap them with burlap. Check any trees or shrubs wrapped in burlap to be sure they aren’t stressed, and be sure the tops are open so sunlight and water can reach them.

While you’re checking trees and shrubs, be on the lookout for critter damage. Deer damage will be anywhere from eye level to 12 feet. Look down at the base for bite marks by rabbits, mice and moles. Even this late in the season you may have to protect them by wrapping the trunks in hardware cloth or tree wrap.

Containerized plants overwintering in a cold frame would appreciate some fresh air and water. Just prop the cover open while you’re outside, after you’ve watered them. Containerized plants spending the winter on the deck or patio just need watering.

When you finish all the tasks suggested above, you’ll realize that you’ve expended a lot of energy while enjoying the January thaw, whether it comes in January, February or March. A takeaway might be that a gym membership is in order to prepare you for upcoming landscape season.

Leave a comment

Time To Plan For Spring Landscaping

Winter is barely underway. Why am I already writing about spring landscaping? Because your landscape is constantly changing, evolving; it’s always a work-In-progress.

Plants grow, sometimes exceeding their allocated space and blocking your view of other plants. Plants may become infested with insects or a disease, and some may even die. As your landscape evolves, certain plants no longer appear to “fit” in the place that used to be just right. After a while, you may get bored looking at the same old scenery every day. The end result is some degree of renovation.

On cold, blustery, winter days when only a polar bear would venture out, why not use that time indoors to plan the renovations you’d like to start in spring? Then you’ll be able to hit the ground running when spring finally arrives. Waiting for spring to begin the planting process will only put you behind. Instead of enjoying the results of early season planting and construction, a later start will drag the process into summer.

Your goal should be to have new plant material or transplants well established before subjecting them to summer heat. This will result in less watering, saving you time and money. Instead, you can spend the summer enjoying your renovated landscape.

Hopefully, you took pictures and made notes or kept a journal to jog your memory of modifications that came to mind during the last growing season. This will become a good starting point to begin your planning. Nothing beats looking out the window at the blank canvas of your snow covered yard and comparing what you see with the photos showing the same scene in all its splendor. 

As you consider changes to your landscape, also consider alternatives for completing the job. Are you able, or do you want to do it yourself? Have you decided exactly what your renovated landscape should look like? If your answer to one or both of those questions is no, this is the perfect time to begin working with one of our designers to help commit your ideas to paper so our landscape professionals can begin the installation process as soon as spring arrives.

If you decide to do it yourself, committing your ideas to paper now will give you plenty of time to shop for plant material, hardscape and associated material, and be ready to “dig in” as soon as the weather breaks. With today’s supply chain issues, it’s never too early. Such problems even extend to nursery stock.

Leave a comment

Give Your Indoor Garden TLC This Winter

Your landscape may extend indoors and you don’t even realize it. Even people who don’t have an outdoor landscape probably have an indoor garden consisting of houseplants. We know that because houseplants have topped the list of plant material grown by nurseries for the past several years, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.  

Winter, when you aren’t distracted by outside landscape chores, would be a good time to give your houseplants some tender loving care. In most households they tend to be overshadowed by the demands of our outside plants, especially our lawns. If you don’t have houseplants, this winter would be an opportune time to turn to indoor gardening. Join the trend and garden for 12 months a year.

Many people move their houseplants outdoors for the spring, summer and fall, and then bring them back indoors for the winter. Surely, you care for them when they’re outside. You water them when nature turns off the rain. You deadhead them to encourage new flower growth. They may need a bit of fertilizer and, possibly, some insect and disease control when they’re outside for their summer vacation. And those tasks must be worked in among your seasonal outdoor landscape care.

In winter, you may be seeking ways to keep your green thumb from fading. Some care your houseplants would appreciate in addition to watering, deadheading, fertilizing and controlling pests include…

• Cleaning the leaves. Dust tends to settle on plant leaves. Outdoors, wind and rain remove most of the dust. Inside, however, air movement is not fast enough to remove dust. The easiest way to keep your houseplants dust-free is to spritz the leaves and then wipe them gently with a soft cloth.

• Repot when necessary. Check the roots periodically to be sure they’re not pot bound. Gently remove the plant from the pot and examine the roots. If they’re growing around the plant instead of downward, you have two choices. If you want them to keep growing, repot them into a larger container. Choose a new pot that’s only a size or two bigger than the current container. Check it in a year to see if it needs to be repotted into a bigger container. Plants prefer repotting in increments to being planted into a much larger pot. And they won’t look like a person dressed in clothes that are too big. If you want a pot bound plant to continue living in the same container, root prune it. Shorten the long roots that are circling the plant so that they grow downward.

• Prune and remove dead leaves. Houseplants that grow too full for light to penetrate the interior or show stress even though their foliage is full may have to be thinned by pruning. Using scissors, cut out stems that won’t affect the plant’s shape. The pruning shears that you use to prune your shrubs may be too big to get into houseplants’ tight spaces. Some indoor gardeners simply use kitchen scissors. Bonsai pruning shears really work well. They have big handles, but the blades are small for tight work. You can also use your shears to remove unsightly dead leaves.

• Propagate your houseplants. If you’re looking for an interesting, garden-related activity this winter, try your hand at propagating more houseplants. It’s easy. Take a trip to your favorite garden center for a supply of small terra cotta pots, a bag of soilless potting mix and container of rooting hormone. Take a cutting, or cuttings, from the plant(s) you want to propagate. Cut a piece of stem with two or three sets of leaves.  Dip the stem in potting hormone and plant in a pot of potting mix. Keep the new plants moist and keep them in the light and soon you’ll see new leaves appear as they take root and begin growing. If you don’t need or want any more plants for your indoor garden, give the new plants to a charity plant sale, confident in the knowledge that you propagated it.

Athletes train during the off season and conscientious students read when school is out to keep their skills sharp. The same thinking can extend to gardeners and folks who enjoy tending to their landscapes. Spending time helping your houseplants look their best this winter will keep your thumb green and ready for spring.

Leave a comment

Is It Safe To Spread Fresh Wood Chips?

Our tree crews and I get asked the title question quite often. The short answer is that it’s safe to spread them on the surface but not if you rake them into the soil.  

Some years back, an arboriculture professor at Clemson University in South Carolina conducted an experiment to answer the question. He planted three groups of trees. Around the base of one group, he spread fresh wood chips. He mixed fresh wood chips into the backfill soil for another group. He didn’t apply any mulch to the third group, which was a “control” group.

The professor tested the soil periodically to see if there was any change in the amount of nitrogen in the soil from the pre-planting and mulching. He also monitored the trees’ health and vitality. He took on this project to determine the truth to the old theory that fresh wood chips draw nitrogen from the soil. After a year, he found no difference in the soil nitrogen between the surface mulched area and the control trees and only a slight decline in the amount of nitrogen where he had mixed the fresh chips into the soil. They were perfectly safe.

If you are concerned about using fresh chips in your own landscape, just mix in some fertilizer before spreading them. Better yet buy wood chips in bulk. We double grind and age them until they’re a dark black in color.

I don’t recommend colored mulch. Mulch sold for its color has dye in it and some dyes are harmful to plants. Our mulch is black, its natural color. As tan wood chips age, they take on a gray color which then darkens to black. Naturally black mulch will do the most good in your landscape.

Ground wood chips are better for the environment and your landscape than inorganic mulches like stones. Inorganic mulches are purely decorative. Organic mulches decompose and return organic matter to the soil. Also, it’s made from chipping and grinding debris from tree pruning operations. Mulching saves this material from already stressed landfills.

The professor’s conclusion was in an article that appeared in two trade magazines several years ago. This professor was one of three prominent research arborists the author spoke to when researching the article. All three of them said that fresh chips would not deplete soil nutrients, and that fertilizer could be mixed in if you doubted these conclusions. I know the author and the three research arborists and respect their opinion.

It’ll cost less to buy ground wood chip mulch in bulk rather than by the bag. We’ll deliver it and dump it in the driveway for you to spread. Or our landscape professionals can spread it for you.

1 Comment

How To Be Landscape Trendy In 2023

Landscape trends are being driven by societal trends. That’s abundantly apparent in the Garden Media Group’s Garden Trends Report for 2023. The report is intended to help garden centers and landscape professionals plan for what customers will be requesting. I present some of the highlights here to help your creative juices begin to flow.

The report starts out with the statement that the two driving forces of the moment are the individual and access – summed up as self-reliance. Personal empowerment includes things like growing our own food. It’s estimated that 8.5 million people turned to gardening during the pandemic and 75 percent intend to continue as pandemic restrictions ease.

As housing prices soar, cities are accommodating accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs are self-contained living units that can be attached or detached from single family homes. The report refers to this as the Backyard Revolution. As a result, containers continue to be a significant gardening trend, especially with 35–45-year-olds. Roses, bred to live in containers, are trending, as are miniature vegetables – even lettuce. And green walls are coming of age to provide privacy.

The report refers to Baby Boomers as “Super Agers” whose brains function as if they were 30 years younger, noting that they are making their landscapes accessible as mobility limitations and other health problems begin to challenge them. It mentions raising planting height (raised or elevated beds) for those who can no longer kneel and making landscapes accessible to those with wheelchairs and walkers.

The report goes on to indicate that aging boomers are purchasing midcentury modern products like retro metal lawn chairs, pagoda umbrellas and plants with a tropical flair.

A section indicates that ancient Greece is inspiring garden design with everything from columns, statuary, stone walls and archways to boxwood hedges and roses. It went on to say that Gen Z is embracing this.

Two pages are devoted to the proliferation of battery powered tools. Depending on where you live, a robot mower might be a good investment. The report also mentions a new companion to the robot mower – a robot weeder. Speaking of technology, the report even devotes a page to phone apps, including one that “allows you to shop, log plants, calculate planting and harvesting dates, and find recipes.”

The report also has a section on climate change. Needless to say, it indicates that the earth is getting warmer than the zones on the current hardiness map. Other trends are whimsical and eclectic gardens, filled with bold colors, texture and art. Finally, the color of the year is terra cotta.

Leave a comment

May Your Holiday Season Be Merry & Bright

The holiday season is upon us. Hanukkah began last Sunday night (December 18) and Christmas is this Sunday (December 25). Whether from the twinkling LED lights on a tree or the traditional candles on a Menorah, these festive holidays shine brightly on the shortest days of the year.

It is the fervent wish of the 200 + members of the Birchcrest Tree & Landscape family that each member of your family be touched by the warm glow of the lights and the twinkle in the eyes of the youngest members of your family as they take part in your annual traditions.

May your holidays meet or exceed your expectations. May you be safe and, if you have a real Christmas tree, please return it to nature by recycling it.

Happy Holidays one and all!  

Leave a comment

Winter Watering

The title may appear to be an oxymoron. Why would plants need water in the winter? It’s cold and snowy most of the time. Most being the key word. Everything may be frozen much of the time but when we do have occasional thaws, your plants, especially trees and shrubs would appreciate a drink of water.

Evergreens in particular need water during the winter. Even if you’ve applied anti desiccant, they still need watering on warm winter days. The amount of water the plants reabsorb from transpiration may not meet their needs. They’ll really be able to use any supplemental water you apply.

Don’t forget deciduous plants. They may be dormant, but they aren’t dead. It won’t be practical to water large shade trees. But these trees have survived all these years without your help. However, young, tender trees and shrubs could use a drink. This is especially true for those just planted this last spring or fall.

Plants that overwinter anywhere except in the ground need even more attention. Containerized plants are particularly prone to desiccation. They don’t have as much soil around their roots as in-ground plants, and it’s the soil that holds the water. In addition to watering during thaws, applying anti desiccant and mulching your containerized plants that live outside during the winter will provide an extra layer of water retention protection.

Cold frames do a good job of protecting certain plants from winter winds, but they don’t let natural moisture in. When you put your plants into the cold frame, be sure that they’re well hydrated. The closed cold frame should then act as a terrarium. The water is circulated as the plant roots absorb it from the soil, use it in the process of photosynthesis and then transpire it through the leaves. The cold frame is a closed environment, so the water doesn’t escape into the outside atmosphere. Rather, it’s reabsorbed by the soil and recycled. However, this recycling isn’t 100 percent.

Watering the plants in a cold frame on warm winter days will replenish the water inside the cold frame to assure that the plants will continue to make sufficient food. It’s also recommended that you open the cold frame on warm winter days to give the plants some nice fresh air. I recommend checking the soil moisture when you open the cold frame and add water as necessary and then do the same when you close it up for the night. Be sure to close the cold frame each night to protect the plants from falling temperatures after dark.

Climate changeiscontributing to our more frequent freeze/thaw cycles. Here in our area, we could expect a January thaw and the rest of the winter was bleak and frozen. Today, many winters are becoming milder with just a few real cold spells and even fewer snowstorms. We humans can deal with these changes much easier than our plants can. So, it behooves us to protect our investment by staying vigilant and keeping our young and tender plants sufficiently hydrated to help them cope with their changing environment.

Leave a comment

Making Plant Health Care & Lawn Care Decisions Now Can Save You Money

You may have received a thick envelope from Birchcrest Tree & Landscape or may receive one soon. I urge you to open it and act now to save a significant amount of money. Sent to all our Plant Health Care and Lawn Care customers, it’s their 2023 contract renewal. And it contains a time-sensitive financial incentive. If your valuable landscape isn’t currently protected by this service, one of our consultants would be happy to inventory your property and make a proposal.

Some people have told us that this mailing looks so intimidating that they just set it aside. If this includes you, please accept our apologies, but every paper in the packet is mandated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

We must provide you with all kinds of technical information on every material we are apt to apply, and we need your signature on the contract that is also in the packet before we can provide any Plant Health Care or lawn care services.

Returning the contract with payment for the full year before the date on the contract can save you a significant amount of money. The saving is often more than that money will earn in a bank account.

Why do we offer this incentive? Because it results in savings for us, and we are sharing those savings with you. For example, knowing how many customers need each product allows us to more accurately determine how much to buy and get our orders in early. It also reduces accounting costs for you and for us. You don’t have to write and mail a check after each visit, and we don’t have to process it. Offering this discount is our way of saying Thank You.

You’ll still receive a form in a plastic bag hung on your front door each time we perform a service. The form will contain information on the services performed and the care you need to take to assure that any treatments will be effective. The payment section will include the cost for that visit but the balance due will be zero.

When you trust the health of your valuable lawn and landscape plants to us, you can be sure that the work will be done by one of the 12 New York State Certified Pesticide Applicators on our staff. To obtain this mandatory state license, a person must successfully complete a rigorous examination. To maintain their license, they are required to take continuing education throughout the year. The chances are good that the professional visiting your home will also be one of the nine people who have earned the voluntary Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional and/or one of the nine who have earned the voluntary Certified Arborist credential.

The benefits of being on a Plant Health Care and/or lawn care program far outweigh the hassle of having to deal with the renewal packet. First and foremost, we have diagnostic responsibility rather than saddling you with it. Our professionals can diagnose problems when they are in their early stages, so we can often treat with less aggressive materials and methods. Second, our service is automatic. You don’t have to call; we visit at the optimum time to take care of each problem.

1 Comment

Live Versus Artificial Christmas Trees

At this time every year, many are faced with a big decision. Do we want a live or artificial Christmas tree? There are many factors in play when making that decision. Some involve family traditions, others social concerns and still others involve environmental issues. I’m not qual

ified to offer advice on keeping family traditions or social concerns, but I am qualified to advise you on environmental issues.

There are some Grinches out there who would like us to believe that we’re upsetting the balance of nature if we have a real Christmas tree. They want us to believe that cutting a real tree is a waste of natural resources. Christmas trees are grown by tree farmers as a crop to be harvested, just as wheat, corn and other crops are planted to be harvested.

Christmas tree farmers must wait longer than other farmers to harvest their crop. They don’t plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. All the while Christmas trees are growing, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it as they grow. They also return oxygen to the atmosphere – the oxygen we breathe.

Christmas tree farmers don’t just sit back and wait a decade or so for their trees to grow to a salable size. They must tend to their crops just as other farmers do. They need to control insects and diseases. They also have to prune them to maintain their desired shape. They may have to fertilize them as well. Then when it’s time to harvest the trees, they cut them, package them in nets and ship them to tree dealers.

If you opt for a fresh cut Christmas tree, cut about an inch off the base diagonally as soon as you get it home. Then place it in a bucket of water and leave it in the garage at least overnight. This will reduce the shock of going from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors.

When you set up the tree indoors, be sure that it’s kept watered throughout its stay. Keep candles and other open flames away from it. But most of all, enjoy it without feeling any guilt about the environmental impact. Remember, Christmas trees are renewable resources. Christmas tree growers are farmers who use sustainable techniques, usually planting three or more seedlings for each tree cut to assure that we have plenty of trees each Christmas.

Finally, recycle your tree after Christmas. Take it to one of the many recycling stations around the area to have it ground into mulch to either be used in municipal parks or returned to you for mulching your landscape.

For the ultimate in environmental consciousness, consider a live, potted tree. If you think this is a great idea, dig a hole for it now, before the ground is frozen and cover the backfill with a tarp to keep it from freezing. Cover the hole with a piece of plywood or other protection to keep people from falling in it. Keeping a live tree in the house for more than a week isn’t recommended. And, you should plant it as soon as you remove it from the house. It’s also a good idea to spray the tree with an anti-desiccant after planting.

Leave a comment

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again when families gather to give thanks for all that has been good this year. This gathering centers around food, the universal symbol of hospitality.

Our Birchcrest family will be gathered with their families, secure in the knowledge that we have done our best to serve every customer with the same consideration and professionalism that we would the people gathered around our dining room tables.

On behalf of our Birchcrest family, I thank you for the confidence you’ve placed in us, and pledge to continue serving you with the most knowledgeable, professional tree, landscape and tree services. Happy Thanksgiving from our Birchcrest family to all of your families.