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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.

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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.

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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.

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Schedule Tree Pruning

Ever wonder what arborists do in the winter? Practical wisdom might lead you to answer that they go skiing, ice climbing or go to Florida. The truth is, though, that they stay here and continue working.

Arborists dress for the weather and take extra precautions on slippery surfaces. They’re used to it and trained to avoid hazards because they know winter is the ideal time to work on deciduous trees. The trees are dormant and that’s like nature’s anesthesia. Pruning, cabling & bracing and most other repairs are invasive procedures. Performing them now is far less traumatic than when sap is flowing, and the tree is foliated. Then the leaves are actively making food through photosynthesis.

Pruning cuts provide pests and pathogens with easy access to the interior of trees but many insects and disease organisms are dormant for the winter. Pruning now will give the wounds plenty of time to callous over before the insects and disease organisms become active again.

Defoliation allows our arborists to see the tree’s skeletal structure. With the leaves gone, our arborists can stand back and inspect the tree’s architecture and determine which branches need to be removed for health and aesthetic reasons. When in leaf, the leaves cover up problems and may present a different shape.

Frozen ground lets us better position equipment. A tree in the middle of your front or back yard may be difficult to reach with our bucket trucks. In spring, summer and fall, we’d have to physically climb such trees. In winter, though, when the ground’s frozen, we can often maneuver closer to the tree and prune it faster and safer.

Clean-up is also faster and easier in winter. This saves money because less debris falls by the wayside as we drag it across a snow-covered lawn. (Less friction)

It’s best to schedule your winter tree pruning now. As the winter progresses, we’re bound to have some days when the weather is just so bad that even we can’t work. Early scheduling better assures you of a time that’s most convenient for you and gives both of us plenty of options should we have to postpone.

As always, I urge you not to attempt to prune your own trees. It’s dangerous in the best weather and even worse in inclement weather. If the tree’s a flowering tree, you may unwittingly remove flower buds. Most spring flowering trees and shrubs bloom on old wood, which means this spring’s flower buds are already on the branches. To the untrained eye, they’re indistinguishable from the new leaf buds. However, our arborists are trained to identify both types of buds.

Trees with broken, hanging, crossed or rubbing branches should be professionally pruned at any time of the year. These are hazardous and should be removed before they can do any damage to people or property.

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Plan Snow Removal With Your Landscape In Mind

When the snow begins falling in your driveway and on your sidewalks, your only thoughts are how to get rid of it. The last thing on your mind is the landscape under the snow. However, where you throw or pile up snow this winter can have a significant impact on the plants hunkering down under that snow, and also on your wallet.

You can make life so much easier for yourself next spring if you plan your snow management strategy now, while your landscape is in full view. You wouldn’t just throw seed or mulch or fertilizer willy-nilly around your land. It costs money so you make sure it reaches your target area. Snow management requires the same thought process. Your objective should be to pile or blow snow to areas of your yard where it won’t damage plants or hardscape.

Each snow removal method requires a different plan. Shoveling, of course, is the most strenuous. Blowing is time consuming. Under pavement heating is expensive. Plowing is costly.

Even if you blow or plow your driveway, you’ll need to shovel snow from steps, porches and other small areas. Many landscapes have foundation plantings close to steps and porches so you have to find a different trajectory to throw the snow to avoid piling it on top of your plants. Maybe the best idea is to shovel it off the steps and porch onto the sidewalk and then blow it out onto the lawn. Or you may be able to push it off the steps with the shovel and then just lift it off the sidewalk onto the lawn.

You should also shovel snow from around the base of trees to deter small rodents from burrowing under the snow and feasting on your trees. I’ve seen mice actually girdle trees, compromising the tree’s vascular system and killing it.

Blowing gives you the most control over where the snow ends up. As you blow, you can turn the chute to avoid plants. If necessary, you can blow the snow straight ahead until you’ve cleared the planted area and the turn the chute to blow that snow onto the lawn. Blowing also lets you scatter the snow so you’re not moving a large amount of it, which you’re concentrating as you push it.

A good plow operator can manipulate snow to some extent, pulling or pushing it clear of plants before pushing it off to the side. A downside of plowing is that the plow can cut off edges of the grass if the operator doesn’t aim correctly, and it can be difficult to aim a plow and truck and keep it on course, especially if your driveway bends or curves.

Even if they aim properly and don’t cut sod from the edges of the driveway, they may cut it during another common move. Plow operators have to pile snow somewhere, so they often push it into the front yard. The snow pile is usually peppered with small pieces of sod from the edge of the driveway. Worse yet, if you have a tree in the front yard, the plow operator may pile snow up against the trunk, which is my greatest fear. It has all the downsides of a mulch volcano plus it’s usually piled only on one side of the trunk exerting pressure on that side of the tree, which can cause lean or even failure.

Blowing allows you to cut nicely defined edges, and you’ll know immediately if you’re off the pavement. Rows formed by blown snow are not as high as piles left by plows and are much lighter and less dense.

With the pros and cons of each removal method, you can decide which method best meets your needs. If you have a plowing service, be sure the operator knows where you want snow piled and places to avoid. If you have a written contract, insert these instructions into the contract.

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Why Mulch Planting Beds For Winter?

Your deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and the perennials are standing but brown. So, here’s the answer to the title question. Mulch is a regulator. It moderates the temperature of the soil beneath it and regulates the rate at which moisture seeps into the soil. Organic mulch like wood chips provide the bonus benefit of returning essential nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Inorganic mulches like stone chips are only decorative and don’t provide any environmental benefits.

While the above ground portions of your trees, shrubs and perennials may appear to be dead, they’re not. They’re dormant and the roots are still alive. I compare plant dormancy with animal hibernation. In each case, the organism is alive but functioning at a significantly slower pace. As a result, plant roots continue to benefit from the regulation that mulch supplies.

It could be argued that plants need winter mulch more than summer mulch. We recommend four inches of mulch in winter but only two, and under certain conditions three, inches during the growing season.

Mulch regulates the amount of water reaching your plant roots by absorbing some of the moisture from rain and melting snow and then releasing it into the soil over time. It moderates temperature by acting as insulation, protecting the roots from the freeze/thaw cycles that we experience every winter.

When spreading mulch, don’t pile it up the trunk in a mulch volcano. Mulch provides the perfect cover for small rodents like mice as they dine on tree and shrub bark. Also, mulch touching trunks releases its water on to the trunk, rather than into the soil. Any crack, cut or break in the bark can create a perfect environment for rot and other microbes.

I recommend double ground hardwood mulch because it’s made from recycled debris from tree trimming operations. Recycling this material contributes to plant health while reducing the stream of waste going to landfills.

If you spread four inches of mulch for the winter, don’t forget to remove an inch or two in the spring. Four inches is too thick for the growing season. Measure the mulch depth before removing any in spring. Some may have already decomposed.

You can buy bags of mulch at garden centers and home stores but that’s expensive, especially for large areas. We can deliver it in bulk much less expensively. We can either dump it in your driveway for you to spread or one of our professional landscape crews can spread it for you.

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Still Time To Protect Valuable Plants From Hungry Wildlife

Your landscape trees and shrubs are worth a lot of money, and, as they grow, they increase the value of your property. To the wild animals living nearby, however, they just represent a tasty meal when the winter pickings are slim.

Dining in the wide open may not be their idea of a great experience. They may not even consider your trees and shrubs gourmet fare but when their favorite food is inaccessible, they’ll turn to whatever’s available.

Persistent as these critters are, you can take steps to discourage them from dining on your growing green investment. Deer are the most difficult to discourage. They’ve become so bold that they’ll rise up on their hind legs if necessary to reach a tender tree branch. When they’re hungry enough in winter, they aren’t fussy about their diet. They’ll even eat plants you wouldn’t think they could swallow – plants like holly and barberries.

People try all kinds of deterrents but there’s no one technique or product that’s foolproof. Fencing may be the most effective but it has to be at least eight feet tall. Netting is said to work on shrubs and small trees. Tenting can also discourage deer. Drive poles into the ground around the trees and wrap burlap around the poles and attach it with staples. These tents have to be at least 12 feet tall and should be left open at the top to allow sunlight and water to reach the trees.

One deer deterrent may work for your neighbor but not for you. You’ll just have to experiment. There are repellents, which can be purchased or made using household items, and deer resistant plants like herbs. Deer love tulip bulbs but not daffodils. Mixing the two types of spring flowering bulbs in a single bed may discourage them. Hopefully, it’ll be like one food on our plate making the entire meal distasteful. If the ground hasn’t frozen, there’s still time to plant such a bed.

Don’t concentrate all your effort on discouraging deer and forget the mice, rabbits and voles. These animals are smaller and sneakier, and they can kill a tree or shrub while deer usually only disfigure it. That’s because mice and voles eat tender bark around the base of trees and shrubs. Rabbits eat bark and twigs further up the tree or shrub. They’re attracted to smaller, younger plants because they’re most tender. Mice have been known to kill plants by girdling all the way around the trunk or stem.

Mice and voles don’t like dining in public. They burrow under the snow when possible. When that’s not possible, they often dine at night. Rabbits, on the other hand, aren’t quite as paranoid. They’ll stand on top of the snow and eat. While they, too, tend to be nocturnal, they can also be seen dining by daylight at times.

There are a number of ways to discourage mice, voles and rabbits. The most basic deterrent is to keep mulch and snow away from the trunk and stems. This open space will eliminate a hiding place so the animals (mice in particular) feel vulnerable. Barriers are also effective. The easiest barrier can be made by wrapping the trunk with hardware cloth, plastic pipe or tree wrap. Some barrier directions say to offset the hardware cloth out from the trunk with wooden or PVC frames. Installing barriers can be done now before winter arrives with its full fury. However, you’ll have to keep pulling snow away from the base of your plants after every snowfall.

There’s still time this season to take any of the actions presented here. But I wouldn’t wait too long. Any measure that involves pounding poles into the ground or digging has to be completed before the ground freezes.

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Wait Until Spring For These Landscape Tasks

It won’t be long before winter descends upon us. If you’ve lived in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area for any length of time, you know that winter scenery can range from a few flurries now and then to months of snow covering your entire landscape. How boring!

The best way to break up the visual monotony is to include winter color in your landscape design. You’re probably not going to invest in winter interest plants at this late date but there are several things to do, or not do, now to add interest to a plain vanilla winterscape.

Ornamental grass is one of the most popular winter interest groups of plants. By now, they’ve turned brown, tan or gray and have seedheads that blow and rustle in the wind. Hopefully, you resist the temptation to cut them back in the fall. If you’re one of those in the minority that does cut ornamental grass back in the fall, wait until spring this year and let nature take its course. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see those fuzzy tan, brown or gray whisps swaying in the breeze after the first good snowfall.

You’ll still have to cut ornamental grass back but you will have deferred the job until spring. It’s important that you do cut it back in spring to make room for next year’s growth. As soon as you can get out in spring, probably in April, grab your favorite cutting tool – usually hedge clippers work best – and cut each clump of grass back as close to the ground as possible. You’ll soon see new, green shoots growing among the stubble. If you see the new shoots when you begin cutting, adjust and cut above the new growth.

Ornamental grass isn’t the only “dead” plants that can add winter interest to your landscape. Leave the stems and flowers on tall perennials for the winter, too. Perennials like Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and Cone Flowers (Echinacea) come to mind because they’re tall and add color and dimension to your landscape when they’re in bloom. Keeping the stems and the last spent flowers in the fall contributes to winter interest. What more could you ask from such a plant?

Use your judgement when deciding whether to cut other perennials or let them stay until spring. For example, keep tall hostas that will peek up through the snow. Cut the shorter varieties to keep the planting bed looking clean and neat on those days when you have little or no snow.

If you like the contrast these dead plants add to your landscape this winter, plan on augmenting them next spring with plants with specific winter features. Their familiar red berries make hollies good winter interest shrubs. Most holly varieties have separate male and female plants. Be sure there’s a male in the mix to enable the female plants to bear the red berries that provide the winter interest.

A few other plants that provide winter color include red stemmed dogwood, witch hazel and hellebores. A good winter activity would be to work with one of our professional landscape designers to expand your landscape to one with four season color, rather than the three season color that’s so common here. Do this during the winter so you can be all set for our landscape professionals to install first thing in the spring and you can enjoy winter color next year.

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Autumn Landscape Checklist

If you haven’t battened down the hatches and prepared your landscape for the onslaught of Ol’ Man Winter, here are a few tasks that you should surely make time to complete before the snow flies:

• Clean up debris. If any debris has blown in from the neighborhood and is laying on your lawn or under your shrubs, it would by wise to remove it. Debris on your lawn can mat the grass, trap water under it and create an environment for winter fungal diseases. Debris under shrubs can limit water and air getting to the roots before the ground freezes. Besides they make your shrubs look unkempt.

• Take in ceramic & terra cotta containers. Terra cotta and many types of ceramic containers will break when frozen. Even empty containers made of these materials will break.

• Check tree crowns from the ground & arrange for professional inspection if necessary. Walk your property and check the trees. Look up in the crowns to see if you have any broken, drooping or hanging branches. Check the trunk from the ground up for damage to the bark or the presence of mushroom-like fungal fruiting bodies. If you see anything out of the ordinary, contact us for a professional inspection so any necessary repairs can be made before winter storms cause disastrous damage to people or property.

• Compost fallen leaves. Unless your home is in the middle of a forest, leaves shouldn’t be left right where they fall. Like other debris, they can mat, trap water and you’ll have to deal with renovating your lawn because of winter fungal diseases. An easy way to compost those leaves that fall on the lawn is to mulch them in your mower as you mow the grass short at the end of fall. You’ll have to rake or blow those that fall in your beds and then throw them on your compost pile.

• Winterize tools. Winterize your gardening tools before you put them away for the winter. Then you won’t have to remember to do it during the winter or get caught with servicing undone when you need them next spring. At the very least, clean both hand and power tools before putting them away for the winter. Also, drain the gas from the power equipment tanks. Gas can become contaminated if left in the tank for long periods. If you sharpen cutting surfaces, change oil, air filters and spark plugs now, you won’t have to do it in the spring. You’ll be all ready to mow when the grass is ready.

• Don’t Forget The Garden Hoses. If you watered your landscape this past summer, be sure to disconnect the hoses, drain and store them in your garage, shed or basement. Those left out for the winter can crack or break when frozen, especially if they have water in them. If you have no space inside to store them, disconnect them, drain them, coil them and store them in a sheltered place in your yard.

Spring is aptly named here in upstate New York. It often tends to spring forth on us unexpectedly. Unless you’re an avid gardener eagerly awaiting spring’s arrival, it may be here before you’re ready. However, you’ll be a step ahead if you take care of the details recommended here before winter arrives. Then you’ll be prepared when it leaves.

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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.