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Slow Down, It’s Summer

Sometimes, it seems that our plants are smarter than we are. They take it easy on these hot, summer days while some people spend their summers making landscape work. If there’s nothing to do in the yard, these people pace around, mow the parched, straw-like grass twice a week and still aren’t satisfied.

They are lost because there isn’t anything to do for the beloved plants in their landscape. Many plants, like turfgrass, go dormant. Others just slow down their life processes. Your plants would prefer that you do the same, rather than forcing care on them that they don’t need or want. Instead, why not make a nice, cool drink and go sit on your porch, deck or patio and just enjoy your beautiful landscape? This is better for your health and the health of your plants.

If you must do something, keep a diary of weekly rainfall. If it doesn’t total an inch or more, a week, give your plants the supplemental water they need. Today, watering doesn’t have to lead to heat stroke. You can weave a network of soaker hoses through your planting beds to water annuals, perennials, shrubs and even small trees. These porous rubber hoses are made from recycled automobile tires. The water is turned on only a quarter turn, otherwise the pressure can blow the hose apart. Consequently, it takes a considerable amount of time to provide an inch of water. All you need to do, though, is sit in the shade and watch the water ooze out of the hoses.

Mature trees seldom need supplemental water. Their extensive root systems find water on their own, even in a drought. Turfgrass watering is your call. Grass has the ability to go dormant when thirsty and then bound back when the rains return. Lawn watering is tiring work and will raise your water bill as high as the temperature.

If you must keep busy during the dog days of summer, you can deadhead flowers so the plants will redirect their energy away from making seeds to either making new flowers or energy to store in the roots for winter survival.

Mulch may also need your attention. If it looks matted down or depleted, pick a “cool” day and fluff it up using an iron rake. If that doesn’t do it, add some more mulch to bring it up to two or three inches.

There’s a good reason why the slow gardening movement had its start in the south. Summers are too hot to be going a mile a minute. Summers are too hot for that here, too. That’s why the best landscaping task you can do in July and early August is nothing.

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Summer Care For Spring Flowering Bulbs

How did your tulips and daffodils grow this spring? Did they come up the way you planted them or were they more crowded than in previous years? If they were too crowded, you can easily dig the bulbs up, divide them and replant them.

Although less attractive, these leaves shouldn’t be cut off until they turn brown.

After the plants have completely died back, remove the brown leaves and stems and dig up the bulbs. If you don’t want a random color pattern, it’s best to put each color bulb in a separate container.

The bulbs that you dug up may have grown new segments, which are causing the crowding. They will look similar to onions that have grown baby onions off the main bulb or like some houseplants that grow offshoots, aka pups.

Rinse the soil off the bulbs and carefully remove the new segments, or offshoots, from the bulbs. They are then ready to replant. Since the new segment will probably produce shorter, smaller flowers than the parent, give some thought to how you want to replant them. Remember, the objective of this exercise is to relieve crowding so they won’t all go back in the same space they came out of.

Some points to consider:

• Do you care whether the plants are a variety of heights when they grow next spring? If you don’t care, mix some the pups with some parent bulbs when replanting. Otherwise, replant the parents in the original bed and the pups in a new bed.

• The parent plant may be a hybrid, which means that the offshoot may look like the parent from which you removed it, or it could look like the other parent, or it could look completely different. Consequently, it could be a completely different color and even a different shape. If you are fine with that possibility, go ahead and plant a mixture of parents and pups in both the old bed and the new bed. If not, plant them in separate beds and see what comes up in the offshoot bed next season.

If the summer is hot when you divide the bulbs, label the container(s) with type of plants and their colors and store them in a cool, dry place until the weather cools down. If your weather is consistently cooler than a normal summer where you live, it’s OK to replant now.

Plant both the parents and the pups the same way you would plant a new bulb. Plunge a trowel or bulb planter into the soil. Pull the trowel to you or lift up the planter with its plug of soil. Place one bulb in the hole with the hairy, root side down and the pointy side up. Carefully backfill. It’s OK to spread some bulb fertilizer on the ground around the bulb and water it in. Then wait until next spring and see what pops up.

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Making Your Landscape Pollinator Friendly

Plants can make plenty of pollen but many plants have no pollen transportation system. They have no way to get the pollen to female flowers so seeds and, ultimately, new plants can be produced. That’s where pollinators come in.

Insects, especially bees and butterflies, and birds, especially hummingbirds, are the major transporters of pollen between plants. I know that, in springtime, some people find their houses and cars covered in yellow pollen. These plants, which depend on the wind to spread their pollen, are few and far between. Most plants depend on the birds and the bees, and the plants reward these pollinators with nice, sweet nectar.

The plummeting number of pollinators is a very real concern today, and property owners are being asked to give nature some help by increasing the pollinator population. This can best be done by providing them with a welcoming environment.

Start by watching for pollinators visiting your flowering plants. As they land on flowers in search of nectar, pollen sticks to their feet. They then fly to another plant searching for more nectar and deposit the pollen. If there aren’t plenty of honey bees, butterflies or hummingbirds visiting your plants, it’s time to start shopping for pollinator-attracting plants, beginning with fall blooming plants. Select good varieties of native, flowering plants, and plant them in clumps. Many will have a notation on the nursery tag that they attract pollinators.

Native plants are recommended because pollinators aren’t connoisseurs. They have their preferred flowers and don’t deviate or experiment with new food sources. They also don’t like pesticides, so eliminate them wherever possible.

It’s also important to include plants preferred by butterfly larvae. These plants may not enhance your flower bed, however. For example, milkweed is the only food monarch butterfly larvae will eat. Not only are the plants unsightly but the larvae eat the leaves and the chewed up leaves will also add to the plants’ unsightliness. So, plant them somewhere inconspicuous. The butterflies will find them.

Butterflies and hummingbirds have some additional needs. They need water to drink and bathe in. A birdbath is fine for hummingbirds but it’s too deep for butterflies. They prefer a saucer of water placed on the ground or near to the ground. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service suggests lightly salting the water.

There may not be enough nectar to completely satisfy the whole pollinator population. In that case, put out another saucer of rotting fruit for the butterflies and a hummingbird feeder for the hummingbirds. Garden centers and online garden supply sites have special butterfly plates so you don’t have to use your good china. They also have butterfly houses that you can hang in trees. Don’t worry about shelter for bees. They come from nearby hives.

Establishing a pollinator garden will enhance your current landscape while helping to provide habitat for this important group of wildlife. If you prefer our professional expertise, our landscape pros can help you with any aspect or with the entire project.

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Ticks & Mosquitoes Expected To Be Out In Force

Entomologists predict that we’ll have a bumper crop of dangerous insects this summer. They are referring specifically to ticks and mosquitoes. Both of these insects carry diseases that are dangerous to people.

Photo Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks. While they are called deer ticks, they actually are carried by a number of animals, especially field mice, dogs and cats, who can then transfer the ticks to us. A tick bite looks like a red bulls eye, and usually occurs on the lower body, especially the legs. Lyme disease symptoms begin with fatigue, achy muscles and joints, headaches and swollen lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, symptoms include hearing, vision and memory problems, arthritis and numbness or tingling in your extremities.

Ticks tend to hang out in brushy and wooded areas. Many are found along borders with lawns and landscaping. When venturing into those areas, it’s recommended that you wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks that are long enough to tuck your pant legs into or boots into which you can tuck your pant legs. Repellents containing DEET are also effective at keeping them away from you. Ticks can’t fly but they are great hitchhikers, and they often eat while riding.

You should check your pets when they come in from outside. If you see any ticks, remove them. Whether removing ticks from your pets or your own skin, don’t squeeze them or try to pull them off by hand. Instead, using a pair of tweezers, grip them as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly upward. Ticks pierce the skin and suck blood. Their mouth parts are barbed so they aren’t easy to pull off. Do it very slowly and carefully.

In addition to being pesky, mosquitoes carry a variety of diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus and others. If you see mosquitoes flying around or landing on you or your loved ones, dress as you would to repel ticks and use a mosquito repellent.

Mosquitoes need standing, or stagnant, water in which to lay their eggs. Remove that and you will be less likely to have a mosquito problem. Stagnant water that attracts mosquitoes ranges from ponds to low spots in your yard that hold water after a rain. Even birdbaths are fair game for breeding mosquitoes. Emptying your birdbath frequently, cleaning it and filling it with fresh water will go a long way toward reducing the mosquito population on your property.

Ticks and mosquitoes can ruin your summer, and even your life. But only if you let them. You may have to sacrifice a little comfort by wearing more clothes than you’d like but that’s a small price to pay for your life and health.

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Lawn Care Before the Dog Days Of Summer

There are some things to do now to keep your lawn healthy during the long, hot summer. The temperatures are beginning to rise but we don’t know how much rain to expect in July. If we don’t get at least an inch of rain per week, or if you don’t irrigate your lawn, it will turn brown and appear dead.

Summer dormancy is nature’s way of protecting your lawn. When the rains return and the temperature moderates in late August and early September, your grass will green up again. How much it greens up depends on how healthy the turf was before going dormant.

Before animals like bears hibernate, they binge eat to store the energy they need to sustain them through their hibernation period. Grass plants also need to store energy in their roots to sustain them through their dormancy. If you haven’t fertilized your lawn yet this year, it should be done very soon to give the plants enough time to absorb the nutrients from the soil and make the food they need.

Weeds, insects and diseases are adventitious organisms. That means they take advantage of weak plants and attack them, rather than get rebuffed by healthy plants. You can reduce the risk of weeds taking advantage of summer dormancy to claim the space now occupied by your weak turfgrass. A broadleaf weed treatment, in combination with fertilization, will reduce this risk.

And then there are the grubs that seem to enjoy our climate. If you are experiencing big, brown insects flying around and banging into your windows, European chafer or Japanese beetle adult grubs (many call these June bugs) are flying around looking for mates. Once they lay their eggs in your turf, the next generation of grubs will begin eating the roots, unless the roots are tough and strong.

I’ll remind you in a couple of months when it’s time to check your turf for grubs. Now it’s prevention time, which can be done by making sure your turf is tough.

You don’t have to worry about turfgrass diseases at this time, unless we have a summer of torrential downpours, which is unlikely.

If you don’t want to be bothered with the responsibility of making sure your turfgrass is healthy all year long, you can still sign up for a Birchcrest lawn care program. We’ll start treating immediately, before summer dormancy sets in. And, we’ll adjust the cost to reflect those early season treatments that were missed.

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Check New Growth Before Pruning Evergreens

June and July are the best months in which to prune evergreens. That’s when new growth forms. However, like everything in nature, there are no absolutes, no definitive dates to start pruning.

New growth forms at the ends of branches. When the new needles or leaves first appear, they are a lighter green than the branches’ mature needles or leaves (See Photo). When the new growth is complete, it darkens to the tree or shrub’s normal color. This transformation isn’t instantaneous. It happens over time.

Pruning is easiest when the new growth is finished elongating but before the color turns. Waiting for the new growth to elongate means you won’t have to prune a second time, as you may with early pruning. Pruning before the new growth completely darkens in color will ease the amount of effort you’ll have to exert to make each cut.

Before you begin pruning, run your fingers over the light green needles and bend the branch. The needles should be nice and soft and the wood soft and pliable. Then check out the mature part of a branch. See how stiff and sharp the needles are and how firm the wood is? Which is the most tiring to cut?

As with deciduous trees and shrubs, evergreens also should be pruned to meet pre-identified objectives. Do you want to:

• Shape the plant?
• Lower its height?
• Raise the crown?
• Open a vista?

The objectives listed above are the same as those for deciduous plants. Use the same approach to pruning evergreen trees as deciduous trees. Turn the job over to our professional arborists. Conifers (cone bearers) can be even more dangerous than deciduous trees for the untrained climber. Their needles are sharper than leaves and their branches are more flexible than a deciduous tree. They also ooze a lot of sap, messing up clothes, skin and tools. The sharp needles can make reaching for the junction of a branch with the trunk very scratchy.

Shrubs, on the other hand, are less dangerous but you need to take some of the same precautions as trees. I recommend wearing long sleeves and long pants if you have to reach into the sharp foliage to remove a branch. Be careful removing whole branches so you don’t scratch yourself when removing them. Be careful when removing front facing branches that you don’t leave a hole in the foliage. Needles don’t go all the way in to the main stem(s). Don’t leave branch stubs. On the plus side, shrub branch diameters tend to be smaller than tree branches so you can often use loppers and just reach in there and cut.

Don’t forget that our professional arborists can prune shrubs as well as trees, so you can turn the whole job over to them and not worry about whether you’re doing the job safely or correctly.

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Pruning Spring Flowering Trees & Shrubs

Spring’s spectacular display of color is coming to an end. Granted, later blooming plants will continue to show color to some extent but the green curtain will close on trees and shrubs like dogwoods, cherries, rhododendrons and lilacs. They will now be attractive foliage plants until next spring,.

Throughout the winter and spring, I’ve been advising you to hold off pruning these plants until after they’ve finished blooming. Otherwise, you could inadvertently remove flower buds. Now it’s OK to prune them. But don’t prune just because it’s OK to do so. Prune for a reason. Professional arborists always approach a pruning job with an objective in mind, and they communicate that objective to their whole crew.

Are your trees and shrubs too thick? Then your pruning objective would be to thin them. Does their height need to be reduced? If that’s the case, DON’T top or let anybody else top a tree. The result will be a weak, misshapen tree. Professional arborists have techniques for reducing tree height without distorting their shape.

Other reasons for pruning may be because the tree or shrub is blocking a view. Shrubs planted in front of a house or too close to a house may grow too tall or spread out too much and block the curbside view of your house. In that case, the size of shrubs can be reduced. We can prune a tree obstructing the view of a house or oncoming traffic near the end of a driveway by removing the lower branches, also known as raising the crown.

Pruning broken, hanging, dead, dying or rubbing branches can be done at any time. These branches are creating a hazard for people or property.

In many situations, do-it-yourselfers can safely prune shrubs. The same standards apply to pruning shrubs as apply to trees. Don’t remove more than a quarter of the foliage at one time. Make cuts only at branch forks or just above leaves. Don’t leave stubs. Where feasible, cut branches at the base. Wear long sleeves and long pants. You can get very scratched up reaching into a thick shrub.

Tree pruning isn’t a do-it-yourself job, especially if you have to leave the ground. Never try to prune from a ladder. Tree limbs are heavier than you think and many of the injuries and deaths resulting from tree pruning are caused by falling branches, so never work above your head.

Whether you have shrubs or trees to be pruned, professional arborists have the training, specialized equipment and experience to assess a situation and approach it from the safest perspective.