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Aerate & Dethatch

Lawns, especially in areas like ours with dense, clay soil, need aeration on a regular basis. Lawns everywhere need dethatching occasionally. The one thing lawns don’t need is rolling.

Homeowners who believe rolling is necessary definitely need to follow up rolling with aeration. Rolling presses down on the soil, causing it to compact even more than it does naturally. Notice that landscape and lawn care professionals don’t own rollers and they don’t offer rolling service. That’s because they know the harm rolling can do.

Aeration is one of the best things for your lawn. An aerator is a machine with spoon-like tines that penetrate the soil, pull out plugs of sod and drop them on top of the lawn. These holes give the soil particles space to spread out, leaving wider gaps between particles for retention of the water and oxygen that the plant roots need. Leaving the soil plugs on the surface allows them to break up and return organic matter to the soil to nourish the plants.

Dethatching removes dead grass plants that accumulate on the soil surface. These dead plants form a mat that restricts the amount of water that can penetrate the soil surface. Contrary to popular belief, thatch is not grass clippings left on the lawn surface after mowing. Clippings are good for your lawn. They decompose quickly and return organic matter to the soil. Thatch is actually dead grass plants that don’t decompose fast. A special dethatching machine is used to pull the matted material up from the surface and deposit it into a receptacle attached to the machine.

Aeration and dethatching machines can be rented at equipment rental outlets. However, they are big, heavy, cumbersome machines that can really test your strength when operating them. You also need a truck or tailer to transport them to and from the rental store. When you add up the rental cost, the transportation cost, your time and the wear and tear on your body, you’ll most certainly be further ahead leaving either or both jobs to our lawn care professionals.

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A Practical Reason To Relax & Enjoy Your Landscape

Summers are so short here that it behooves us to make the most of the season. That includes doing what you really like to do – camping, boating, swimming, sitting in the shade reading – but not landscape maintenance. About the only landscape maintenance that should even be considered in summer is watering if it’s dry and mowing if it isn’t. And hiring our arborists if your tree(s) need pruning or repair.

Plants actually rest in summer. So you should, too. If the weather is dry, turfgrass goes dormant and turns brown. You can either water it or just stay off it and it will green up again when the weather moderates and the rains return in the fall. If the summer is rainy and the grass continues to grow, you’ll need to continue mowing.

Like turfgrass, annuals, perennials and new trees and shrubs need at least an inch of water a week. If that water doesn’t come in the form of rain, then it’s up to you. Other plants don’t go dormant like turfgrass; they just slow down. Plants prefer to get their inch of water allotment all at once, rather than a little spritz every day. Short of an automatic irrigation system, the most economical way to water is with soaker hoses. They are made of porous rubber from recycled tires.

Soaker hoses should be snaked through the root zone of your plants, covered with mulch and connected to an outdoor spigot. Turn the spigot only a quarter turn. Too much pressure will blow holes in the porous rubber. Soaker hoses should be left on for a half hour to an hour, depending on how dry the soil is around the plants. The water should ooze out of the rubber, mimicking a drip irrigation system.

Sprinkling is not recommended. When water is sprayed on a hot day, much of it evaporates before reaching the ground, resulting in a lot of wasted, expensive water. Watering your lawn is an exception. The only way to cover large areas is with a sprinkler. The oscillating type sprinkler works best.

With plants resting, there should be nothing for you to do, unless you are one of those rare people who enjoys pulling weeds. Forcing maintenance on your landscape plants in summer is like waking up a sleeping child or pet to feed them or give them water. If your green thumb is getting itchy, why not visit one of the fine public gardens in our area like Highland Park, Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua or Cornell Botanical Gardens in Ithaca?

Rest now; fall will be here soon, and with it will be plenty of opportunity to flex your green thumb then.

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Horticulture In Colonial Times And Its Effect On Our Landscapes

A lot of people are buying into the “use native plants exclusively” movement. However, like our human DNA, that of many plants we consider native may not be as native as we think.

Have you had a DNA analysis done on yourself? Were you surprised? Most people I’ve spoken to who’ve done it are surprised at the results. Remember the television commercial with the guy who thought he was German but found out he was Scottish? Well, it can be the same with plants.

If you go back to the beginning of European settlement in North America, the first settlers brought plants with them. They were familiar with these plants and what to expect. Then Native Americans introduced the new arrivals to their plants and the ways they prepared them for eating, and the settlers included them in their gardens. At the same time, Englishmen returning to England began taking plants and seeds from the colonies back with them, and the Brits couldn’t get enough of them. This led to a brisk transatlantic seed and plant trade.

John Bartram (AKA Kirk R. Brown) looks out over his nursery. Photo by Sara Brown.

John Bartram is credited with starting the first commercial nursery in the colonies. His restored nursery and home in Philadelphia are now owned and maintained by the Parks Department, and is open to visitors. At first, Bartram’s nursery activities were very limited due to his modest means and the need to grow food for his family. However, he struck up a friendship, and then a business relationship, with Peter Collinson. Collinson was a rich English merchant and amateur botanist with an insatiable desire for American plants.

Collinson financed Bartram’s plant finding expeditions and kept him supplied with English plants and Bartram kept Collinson supplied with American plants. I’m sure Bartram didn’t discriminate between his American and English plants. If they thrived in Pennsylvania, he sold them.

Thomas Jefferson, renowned for his extensive gardens at Monticello in Virginia, was a frequent visitor to Bartram’s nursery in Philadelphia. As a result, some of Bartram’s “neonative” plants must certainly be quite common in Virginia now and, probably throughout the south.

John Bartram’s story is fascinating but he wasn’t the only one growing native and imported plants side-by-side in nurseries and selling them to colonial farmers. So, just as has been the case from the beginning of time, little is as pure as it seems on the surface. That’s why I select plants based on their hardiness, ability to stay within bounds, attractiveness and resistance to insects and diseases instead of purely on their country of origin.

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Does Your Foundation Planting Show Your House In Its Best Light?

The original purpose of foundation plantings were to hide the gray concrete foundation that was thought to distract from the beauty of the house. Today, foundation plantings have evolved into much more. They range from a few flowers to hide the foundation to elaborate gardens at the front of the house. Meanwhile, some landscape designers argue that foundation plantings are unnecessary. They say that we all know houses rest on foundations, so why hide them with foliage and flowers?

No matter which camp you reside in, the bottom line is to enhance your house, not hide it. The first thing to remember is that the front door should be the focal point of the house. To be welcoming, it has to be visible from the street, as well as close up. This means choosing plants that will keep the door visible and welcoming.

To be sure your front door is visible, choose your front yard plants wisely. That includes the giant tree in the front yard as well as the tall foundation shrubs. Smaller growing ornamentals are more appropriate for the front yard than large shade or conifer trees.

The best path to satisfaction is to learn how each plant you buy grows. For example, a shrub that may be the ideal plant for your foundation planting may also be available in tree form that could grow too big for the space, and even block the view from your front windows. Actually, some shrubs can also grow so tall that they block the windows and require constant pruning, So if less maintenance is one of your goals, be sure you plant shrubs that don’t grow up to window level.

If you find you, or the previous owner, chose plants that grew too large for the space or don’t fit the image you’re trying to create, don’t be afraid to pull them out and replace them with plants that do meet your requirements. If the plants you remove can be transplanted, don’t compost them. Try finding an appropriate spot for them in your landscape or give them away to neighbors or friends…or donate them to a non-profit plant exchange.

If you are renovating your front yard to enhance the foundation planting, this might also be an excellent opportunity to get rid of some of your lawn and replace it with plants like groundcover. Besides making your house the focal point of your yard, you will also reduce your lawn maintenance time and expenses.

Law enforcement officials also give us a good reason to minimize foundation and other plantings near the house. Thick foliage provides burglars with good cover behind which to do their nefarious deeds..

If you think this advice makes sense but you don’t know where to begin, our landscape professionals can work with you to create the landscape that best fits your taste and lifestyle.

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Why Consider A Water Feature?

A water feature completes a landscape. Water is part of nature, just like plants and birds. Its sound is soothing, and watching it flow or fall is relaxing, almost Zen like.

All water features are variations on three basic designs – ponds, streams and fountains. Space is one of the primary considerations when selecting a style of water feature. If you have a very small space, you may prefer a fountain. If you want to raise koi, you’ll want a pond. And, for the natural look, consider a stream. Regardless of the type of water feature you select, the water should be circulated through a pump and, in some cases, a filter. All water features should recirculate the water in order to be environmentally sound and sustainable.

Ponds with fish swimming in them are the most popular water features in our area. They are followed by streams. Either a pond or stream is built by digging out the water feature area. The space is then lined with a flexible, rubber liner. The liner is hidden with rocks and plants. A place also has to be made to hide the pump and filter. This is often behind a waterfall, which can be incorporated into both ponds and streams.

Ponds and streams are usually more rustic and natural than most fountains. Fountains blend in with the hardscape more than the plantscape, and may be of any design that fits your landscape. They range from classic fountains reminiscent of formal European gardens to more modern designs. Bubbler fountains are quite popular because of their unique, soothing sound. Some are at ground level; they look like water bubbling out of a stone or a hole in a paving piece. Regardless of the design, the water bubbling from them is nice and relaxing.

Other unique water features include water walls like that pictured. This one was at Minter Gardens, a public garden (now closed) near Vancouver, British Columbia. Creative, cascading fountains know no limits. They are only limited by the designer’s imagination.

If the thought of designing and building a water feature is overwhelming, our designers are experienced at integrating water features into all styles of landscape designs. And, we have the skilled installation professionals who can bring it all to reality without you ever having to lift a finger.

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Pruning Flowering Shrubs

Now that most spring flowering shrubs have finished blooming, it’s OK to prune them. An arborist’s best practice, however, is to prune only to meet specific objectives, not just because they’ve finished blooming.

Objectives may include reducing the height or girth or removing interfering shoots. Shoots may be cascading over a sidewalk or driveway. This doesn’t mean that you should cut back the whole shrub. Just remove the offending shoots.

Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs back to the ground like you do with later blooming shrubs like butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii). These plants bloom on new wood. Early blooming shrubs like forsythia and lilacs bloom on last year’s wood. If you prune that wood as far back as you would a butterfly bush, you could kill the shrub since you’ve removed most or all of the leaf buds, as well.

Early blooming shrubs set their flower buds in the fall. If you prune before they bloom, there’s a good chance you’ll cut off these flower buds. This could result in a spring with no flowers on the pruned shrub.

When pruning early spring bloomers, use good, sharp, bypass pruners. These work like scissors; the blades cut cleanly as they bypass each other. The other style pruning shears are anvil style. As you apply pressure, a sharp blade on one half goes into a shallow groove on the other half. As the blade dulls, the cuts become more ragged. For pruning in hard to reach places, use loppers. (Loppers are always bypass style.)

Ideally, you should make your shrub pruning cuts at ground level and remove whole shoots. If you are just reducing the height rather than thinning, make your cuts at branch joints if possible. Absent any joints, cut just above a leaf.

It’s not a good idea to use hedge clippers on woody shrubs. The wood is usually too dense to make a clean cut with hedge clippers. Wood can also jam in the teeth of electric clippers and removing the wood can be dangerous.

Wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves when pruning shrubs. When you reach inside a shrub, the surrounding branches can be very sharp.

DIY shrub pruning is not as dangerous as pruning trees but it isn’t accident-free. Our arborists have the training, experience and equipment to prune shrubs safely, and they would be happy to do the job for you.

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June Is The Time To Prune Evergreens

June is the time when many evergreens have finished their new growth, which means you can prune them without worrying about additional new growth. The best way to be sure they are ready to prune is to watch the needle or leaf color at the end of the branches. New conifer needles are lighter green and feel softer than older needles. New broad leaf evergreen leaves are smaller and lighter green. When the new growth is finished, the needles and leaves will begin to darken. This is the time to prune because the wood is still soft. Pruning too early results in additional new growth and the need to reprune.

Shrub pruning may be a relatively safe do-it-yourself job, but we don’t recommend that you attempt major tree pruning. Pruning a large pine or spruce tree can be very dangerous for several reasons.

• Leaving the ground to reach the upper branches can result in serious injury or even death if you fall from high up in the tree.
• Those needles are sharp, especially if they fall on you or whip around and hit you. If this happens up in the tree, you can fall, adding to the injuries caused by the branch.
• Each cut lets more messy sap ooze out to get all over you.

Please wear eye protection when pruning any size evergreen. If you are pruning over head, wear a hard hat. And, if you are using power tools, wear ear protection, too.

When pruning broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods, follow the same procedures as pruning deciduous trees. In the case of tight plants like boxwood, cuts can be made just above a leaf’s attachment to the branch. Cuts on looser plants like rhododendrons should be made at a branch joint or at the base of the branch you want to remove.

Our arborists would be happy to take pruning of both shrubs and trees off your to do list. Since our late spring has caused you to postpone many spring landscaping tasks, I’m sure you’d be happy to share the work, so why not turn this one over to our professionals?