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What Insects Will We Be Fighting This Season?

Plant Health Care (PHC) professionals are our industry’s doctors. It’s their job to examine plants, diagnose any insect or disease problems and treat the plant in the most environmentally friendly way. This is a pretty tall order, and I thank them for taking on this task.

Like doctors who treat humans, PHC professionals have to diagnose accurately and treat safely. It would be an easy job if there were only a few pests but that’s not the case. There are hundreds of pests that could be causing your plants to decline. Most insects are adventitious creatures. This means they like to attack plants that have already been weakened by disease, environmental factors or by human activity, such as planting the wrong plant in the wrong place. Our PHC professional has to diagnose and take care of the cause of decline, while also controlling the insect.

How many insects are there? Below, I’ve listed just some of the insects our PHC professionals are working to control in the Rochester, NY area.

• Emerald ash borer is still at the top of the list. This native of Asia has killed millions of ash trees east of the Mississippi (including in our area), and is now working its way west. If you have ash trees in your yard, you should have us treat with a preventive. This pest is not adventitious. It will attack any ash tree, regardless of whether it’s healthy or stressed.

• Gypsy moth, one the scourges of the whole northeast, including Rochester and Monroe County, is pretty well under control here. Over the past 30 years, entomologists have discovered natural enemies, as well as chemical controls and even adhesive tree bands. However, the gypsy moth does make an occasional appearance in our area, usually when a reckless camper brings firewood home from an infested area or the gypsy moth hitches a ride on a vehicle coming to Rochester.

• Hemlock wooley adelgid (Pictured) is attacking some of the many hemlocks in our area. They are easily identified by their cotton ball appearing egg masses. They are harder to control than to see, though.

• There are a lot of less dangerous pests that we continue to search out and control. They include aphids, mites, scale, tent caterpillas, fall webworms, bagworms and Japanese beetles. The Japanese beetle attacks trees, shrubs AND lawns.

• Our eyes are constantly on the look out for species-specific pests like boxelder bug, bronze birch borer, birch leaf miner and Cooley spruce gall aphid.

• We also keep an eye out for new insects that are decimating trees in other parts of the state. The Asian longhorned beetle is active downstate and the spotted lanternfly was found in nearby Yates County.

As you can see PHC professionals have to know the biology of all these insects, as well as those not mentioned here, and how to best control them. When an insect’s signs begin to appear to the lay person, the pest may already have such a foothold that it can’t be controlled. That’s why a PHC program is such inexpensive insurance for your valuable landscape plants.

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How To Make The Most Of Nice January Days

Mother Nature usually gives us one or more respites from winter in the form of nice January days. The temperatures warm a bit, the sun comes out and you itch to get outdoors and do something, Might I suggest a couple of landscaping ideas?

What you can do during a “January thaw” depends on how much snow is on the ground, how high the temperature climbs and how much effort you want to put forth.

I recommend that you begin by inspecting your trees and shrubs to see if the winter winds, snow and ice have broken or weakened any branches. Weakened tree branches will sag. And, these weak and broken branches can be dangerous for people and property underneath.

If you see broken branches hanging up in trees or sagging precariously, remember that our arborists work all winter. Also remember that the most dangerous job in the United States is that of an arborist. It is exponentially more dangerous for untrained people climbing ladders. So if you have a tree that needs pruning give us a call and we’ll send out a team of professionals.

Shrubs are a different story. If you feel a shrub needs pruning, it isn’t nearly as dangerous as pruning trees. Like trees, shrub branches should be pruned back to a fork or to the ground. Don’t leave stubs.

I suggest that you limit your shrub pruning to removing broken branches, especially if it’s a flowering shrub. Otherwise you take a chance of cutting off flower buds, reducing the shrub’s attractiveness at bloom time in the spring. Most shrub branches are more flexible than tree branches. So, don’t be too quick to remove shrub branches that might be bent over to the ground, especially if the ends are covered with snow or ice. Chances are good that they’ll spring back when the weight melts off them or they have time to dry out a bit.

If the lawn is free of snow and firm enough to support your weight, you can pick up twigs and other debris as you walk the yard. If there are big patches of leaves on the grass, raking them out and disposing of them will lessen your chance of winter lawn diseases. Hopefully, you can get the leaves out before disease fungi get a foothold.

Should we be lucky enough that spring-like days are plentiful, your perennials may appreciate your fluffing up the mulch around them and adding additional mulch if necessary. If the ground isn’t frozen, they’d like a watering, too.

January thaw days come with little warning and depart just as quickly. To be prepared for these days, why not take some time to map out a strategy and make a “To-do” list in descending order of priority? Then you can make it a productive, as well as an enjoyable, day when it arrives.

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Think Low Maintenance When Planning Spring Landscape Renovations

It may seem a bit early to think about next spring’s landscape renovations, but I assure you it’s not. Planning a beautiful landscape takes time, and you don’t typically have landscaping chores in the winter, so using that time to plan will allow you to hit the ground running, come spring.

All good plans begin with objectives, and your landscape renovation plan is no exception. One objective that many property owners put right at the top of the list is lower maintenance. People today are so busy they have to budget their time, and landscapes often don’t get the TLC they need and deserve.

There are a number of design considerations that can lead to reduced maintenance. Planting the right plant in the right place should be number one. This may seem basic, and it appears in every garden story but people often forget this axiom when visiting a nursery. You may find a plant that you absolutely fall in love with. If it’s not suitable for the site you have planned, I recommend resisting the temptation to buy it and plant it in that spot anyway.

If you just must have it, consider whether you have a more suitable site on your property for your newfound botanic love. If you don’t, ask one of the horticulturists at your garden center if there is a similar plant that’s better suited for the site you have in mind. Planting the wrong plant in the wrong place will, inevitably, sour your love affair with that plant very quickly, and it will cost you more to keep it alive. Since stressed plants are more attractive targets for pests, you’ll spend more on pest control. The plant’s dissatisfaction with its new home will increase its need for fertilizer. If it grows too big for the site, you’ll have to pay for frequent pruning. And the list goes on.

Selecting native plants or nativars (cultivars of native plants) can also decrease maintenance requirements. Native plants have grown here for many years so they have adapted to our growing conditions. There are also many introduced plants that have adapted well to our environment. Making sure you buy only plants that have adapted successfully requires a little research.

Some of the negative factors you’ll experience from planting non-natives or introduced plants that haven’t adapted well is that they may become invasive. This will require them to be cut back constantly. Plants that haven’t adapted well are also preferred targets for many insects and diseases, increasing the need for pest control.

Starting on your design now will give you plenty of time to do your due diligence to be sure you are doing everything humanly possible to assure that the plants you choose will live a long, healthy life with minimal care.

If you aren’t into plant research, or are concerned about the accuracy of your data, you can turn to one of our landscape designers. They already have the answers to those questions that you’ll spend time researching. And, they spend their winters designing landscapes and landscape renovations for early spring installation.

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Be A Landscape Trend Setter In 2019

If you’re planning to renovate your landscape in 2019, a must read is the “Annual Garden Trends Report,” published by the Garden Media Group. This report is used by landscape designers and other green industry professionals to create the most modern landscapes for their clients. Here are a few ideas that you may want to incorporate into your design for a truly trendy landscape.

This year’s report leads off with the statement: “The Future of Gardening Looks Joyful.” And, that’s what landscaping and gardening is all about – giving us joy and making us feel good. And, one of the ways that’s being done is to bring Mother Nature back to her rightful place.

The 2019 report is as philosophical as it is specific. Interestingly, landscaping set sales records in 2018. In previous years, Millenials said they didn’t have time or interest in working in the garden, although they liked plants and nice landscaping, as long as someone else maintained it. Now, 29% of millenials consider themselves gardeners. Of course gardens can mean anything from a single houseplant to a complete landscape.

A great deal of interest in the environment was expressed. This included…

• Sustainable designs using native plants. This is the hottest trend, according to 83% of landscape architects.

• Zero Waste. Composting has been around for years but zero waste gives people a goal of directing their organic waste to the compost heap and recyclables to the recycle bin. Composting can reduce household waste by nearly 40%., according to the report

• Pollinators. People are concerned, and rightly so, by the reduced number of flying insects. The report says the UN warns that 40% of pollinators – especially bees and butterflies – risk global extinction. You can help turn this troublesome statistic around by including a pollinator garden in your landscape

• Invasives. People are concerned about the rapid spread of invasive plants and insects. Species like the emerald ash borer and spotted lanternfly have no natural predators here so they spread fast. Then there are invasive plants like the poisonous giant hogweed.

One finding that’s particularly disturbing is that indoors is the new outdoors. People are spending so much time indoors with their electronic devices that they are bringing their plants indoors, rather than putting their devices aside and going outdoors. The report says, “In the last few years, Millenials were responsible for 31% of houseplant sales, according to Garden Research. Com.” They are even referring to themselves as “plant parents.”

Technology has led to “robogardening “ – planning, planting, watering and even weeding remotely. And, this is just the beginning. You can already buy a robotic mower and landscape professionals are making greater use of drones.

I hope this information gives you food for thought as you think about the future of your landscape. Click this link if you would like to read to complete Garden Trends Report and click on the report at the top right.

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Holiday Greetings

The twinkling lights and sound of jingling bells signal the arrival of the holiday season. The most festive time of the year is here. A time of joy, smiles, sounds, and holiday smells.

On behalf of the 145 members of the Birchcrest family, I urge you to make the most of the season. Emblazon those sights, sounds and aromas in your mind so you can remember them long after the lights come down, the songs are put away for another year and the fragrant tree is recycled for mulch.

It is our fervent wish that 2019 be a wonderful year for you and your loved ones. For our part, we pledge to help make your corner of the world your very own slice of paradise.

Have a joyous holiday season…and a happy, prosperous new year.

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Last Minute Gifts For The Gardener On Your List

As the holidays get closer and the shopping days fade away, I have some ideas for the gardeners on your list.

• A book on gardening from one of the online or brick and mortar booksellers. Of course, buying online relieves you of having to go to one more store.

• A subscription to one of the gardening magazines. Just Google gardening magazines and you can order online.

• You can also go shopping at the recipient’s favorite garden center. Consider a piece of statuary or some other hardscape item. You could also buy a gardening tool or a garden clothing item. If the person raises houseplants, they would surely appreciate a nice houseplant in a decorative container. And, when all else fails, there’s always a gift card from the garden center.

• A Birchcrest Tree & Landscape gift certificate that can be redeemed for any of our services is always a favorite. Whether the recipient’s yard needs tree, shrub or lawn maintenance, mulch, a new tree or shrub or a whole new landscape, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you had a hand in making their dream a reality.

Besides the practicality of one of the suggested gifts to a gardener, this gesture also shows that you are aware of their passion and thoughtful enough to give a gift they can really use. It can also take some of the stress off you as you rush around to tie-up those last minute loose ends.

All of us here at Birchcrest wish you, your family and everyone on your gift list the happiest of holidays.

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Selecting Just The Right Christmas Tree

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are both behind us, and Christmas tree lots have popped up all around. Friends and neighbors often ask me which variety is best. That’s difficult to answer because they’re all good, hardy species. It all depends on your taste, which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I can share with you information on each species of tree sold in our area, as well as how to test a tree for freshness and how to keep it fresh once you get it home. Then it’s up to you and your family to choose what’s best for you.

The most common species in our area are:

• Firs: Douglas, Fraser, Balsam. (All have soft, flat needles with rounded tips).
• Spruces: White, Norway, Blue. (All have short, sharp needles that grow thickly on the branches.)
• Pines: White (Long, soft needles that grow five to a cluster), Scotch or Scots (Stiff, short needles that grow two to a cluster).

The best way to be sure you buy the freshest tree possible is to go to a local Christmas tree farm and either cut it yourself or accompany a staff member out to select the “perfect” tree and watch it being cut.

Even pre-cut trees at a local Christmas tree farm are usually fresher than those sold on street corners or vacant lots. Those vendors buy their trees from growers who may be miles away and cut their trees months ago.

Before finalizing the sale of any tree, do these three, easy field freshness tests:

• Bend a few needles. Fresh firs snap, pines don’t.
• Pull on a branch to be sure the needles are secure.
• Rap the trunk butt on the ground to see if the needles fall.

Even the freshest tree will be a sorry sight if it isn’t straight, so hold the butt flat on the ground and check the trunk to be sure it’s straight up and down. Otherwise, you’ll have to invest in a special tree stand that swivels to make the tree appear straight.

Even a freshly cut tree can dry out if you don’t care for it properly between the time you get it home and Christmas. As soon as you get your tree home, cut a half-inch off the bottom and place the tree in a bucket of water. Keep it in a cool, sheltered place until you’re ready to take it indoors. Then put it in the garage a few days before you’re planning to take it inside so it can acclimate to the warmer interior environment. Don’t be too hasty to take the tree indoors. The warmer temperature could shorten its life.