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Plant Health Care – What It Is & What It Can Do For Your Landscape?

Plant Health Care (PHC) is a holistic approach to maintaining your trees, shrubs and even your perennials. PHC begins when you first select a plant and continues throughout its lifetime. Here are some of the ways in which PHC can play a role in your plant’s health and longevity:

• To begin with, it’s important to select the right plant for the location. This will go a long way towards assuring the health of your plant for years to come. It will be happy and grow the way it’s supposed to, reducing the need for ongoing maintenance.

• Provide good cultural care throughout their lifetime. That means having them pruned when they need pruning, providing any protection they need like guarding against animals feeding on them in winter and fertilizing if needed.

• Practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Some people believe IPM is PHC but it is only one aspect of it. IPM is the process of monitoring plants regularly for insect and disease activity and taking the action that’s most effective at controlling the pest with the least impact on the environment. Regular monitoring detects pest activity in its early stages when less aggressive treatment is still possible.

• A key aspect of PHC is preventive care. It’s said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For example, preventive treatment for emerald ash borer (EAB) can save your ash trees from sure destruction. An already infested ash tree must be treated every year. Preventive treatments only have to be made every two years. Saving both time and trauma to the tree. The same is true for Dutch elm disease.

• Changes to the landscape can also affect the surroundings. If, for example, a large tree is removed, it could affect understory plants – those planted in the shade of that tree. Plants that would thrive under a canopy would likely be shade tolerant. Removing the source of their shade exposes them to more sunlight than they are able to tolerate, resulting in very stressed plants.

• If a plant is dead or dying, our Plant Health Care professional will recommend its removal. In addition to safety concerns, they consider such factors as the health of other plants whose roots are intermingled with the affected plant and the overall appearance of the landscape.

PHC is a specialty within the arboriculture profession. Our PHC professionals are specially trained to diagnose and treat any tree and shrub problems early before they get a foothold. They employ the most effective, cost efficient and environmentally sensitive practices available. However, you are always in charge of the program. Our PHC pro makes recommendations. You make the final decision on how to proceed.

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Let’s Get Ready For Lawn Season

There’s an old saying that pre-emergent crabgrass control should be applied when forsythia bloom. Although other factors enter the picture, the appearance of these prolific yellow flowers serves as a good reminder. And, they will soon make their appearance for 2019.

Crabgrass is, possibly, the peskiest weed in our lawn, and the only one that can be treated effectively only with a pre-emergent product. Pre-emergent prevents latent seeds from germinating; other weeds are best killed after they appear.

The ubiquitous crabgrass pre-emergent application is just the first step in a season long relationship with your lawn. It’s also going to need several fertilizer applications. The first can be applied at the same time as the pre-emergent to help the grass break dormancy and begin greening up.

When dandelions and other broadleaf weeds appear, they’ll need to be dealt with, possibly two or three times during the season.

There is one bright spot. If you treated for grubs last fall, you probably don’t need to treat again this spring. The best way to be sure is to cut several one square foot pieces of sod in different parts of the lawn. Pull the sod back and check for grubs. They are white and crescent shaped. If there are six or fewer in each square foot, they won’t do enough damage to warrant treatment. Seven or more calls for treatment.

The healthiest thing you can do for your lawn is to mow high. Set your mower deck height to 3.5 to four inches. Mowing high encourages deep, healthy roots and thick turf. Weeds like to grow where there is open space but your lush, thick turf won’t leave them any room.

This may seem like an awful lot of work, and you’ll be right. It’s much easier to hire our lawn care professionals. They’ll make the necessary treatments at the most effective time. You won’t have to keep watching the calendar and the weather conditions and make everything fit into your schedule. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy your nice, green lawn.

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Divide Perennials This Spring

If dividing your perennials is one of the fall landscape tasks that you just didn’t get to before winter descended upon us, fear not. It’s ok to do it in the spring.

However, you don’t want to run right out and begin dividing perennials now. Right now, the soil is either frozen or muddy, neither of which is workable. I suggest you put it on your to-do list for when spring actually arrives. You will have better success when the soil is plantable. You’ll be able to tell its ready when you can take a handful of soil, squeeze it and little or no water drains from your hand.

Dividing or splitting is one of the best methods to propagate perennials. Each perennial you divide yields three new plants, and all it costs you is a few minutes of work. The process also keeps perennials from taking over your whole yard and maintains the original look of your beds. Here’s how it’s done:

• Lay a tarp or piece of plastic on the ground next to your perennial bed.
• Select those perennials that have grown too large and spread out too much for the space.
• With a sharp spade, dig up the whole perennial(s) you plan to split and lay it on the tarp.
• Using your sharp spade, pruners, a saw or any sharp tool that you feel comfortable with, cut the rootball in half. Then cut each half in half so you have four individual plants.
• Return one section to the hole. Backfill, tamping about halfway through the process to remove any air pockets. Finish backfilling, tamp, water and mulch.
• Plant the other three plants elsewhere or find them a new home.

You may have places in your own yard that would make a good home for the remaining perennials from your splitting operation. If not, they make nice gifts for your gardening friends. One or more of your local non-profit organizations that sponsor spring plant sales would also appreciate your donating the split perennials to the sale.

You may find that you prefer splitting perennials in spring, rather than fall. That way you, or the recipients of the extra plants, don’t have to overwinter them. They can plant them, or sell them, as soon as they are received. You may prefer not to split perennials at all, in which case, we have landscape professionals who would be happy to do it for you.

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Trees & Utility Lines Aren’t Good Companions

Tree trimming is one of an electric utility’s highest maintenance expenses, and you, the ratepayers, foot the bill. There is something homeowners and municipalities can do to rein in those costs. Plant lower growing trees near power lines.

Safely providing consistent power is the utilities’ number one priority. So, trees that interfere with utility wires are going to be pruned to maintain state-mandated distances from wires. Besides looking less attractive, excessively pruned trees’ lives may be shortened. They will be under stress, which can lead to insect and disease attacks.

Most property owners, both private and public, believe there is nothing they can do except lament the aggressive pruning required by the New York State Public Service Commission. But there is something you can do. If you have a tree interfering with power lines in your yard, have it removed and replaced with a lower growing tree.

With the high winds that we experienced in Western New York recently, I felt it important to share a factor our designers take into consideration when deciding on tree placement. That is the location of utilities. I hope you’ll also keep it in mind as you plan the addition of trees to your landscape. It’s important to look up as well as down. Electric, telephone and cable wires can be either above ground or under ground. Gas, water and sewer are always underground and if you have a septic system it is critical to avoid interfering with that. The final height and spread of the tree have to be considered when planning where to plant. Below ground, the spread of the root system comes into play. Roots often grow great distances beyond the dripline (edge of the leaf canopy),

Underground, roots can be growing near or around utilities. If it’s necessary for the utilities to dig down and repair their infrastructure, roots may be severed in the process, increasing the tree’s stress. Before digging the hole to plant a tree, it’s necessary to call the local utility locator service. A representative will come to your property, locate the utilities and put little flags in the ground. If you don’t have utilities flagged and cause damage, you may be responsible for the repair. To schedule flagging, you can phone 811 or contact your utility or town hall for the number of the service they use. To contact a utility locator service online, google utility locators and your Zip code.

Proper tree selection and placement can reduce danger, reduce power outages, improve your landscape appearance and reduce costs for utilities and their customers. Trees that grow 60 feet or taller should be planted a minimum of 35 feet from a structure like a house or electric lines. Those that grow up to 40 feet should be planted at least 15 feet from structures or wires. Only trees growing 20 feet or less should be planted within 15 feet of wires.

Local governments and utilities have been given an “easement” to enter your property to maintain their infrastructure. However, you are responsible for any necessary pruning of trees interfering with service lines coming from the pole to your home. That’s why it behooves you to plant only low growing plants around utility wires.

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Selecting The Perfect Tree

Winter is a good time to do a little research before the landscape season is upon us, especially if new trees or shrubs are in your plans. When spring arrives and you go to your garden center with your plant list, you’ll be better prepared.

The internet is a good place to begin. The site I recommend for good, professional information is http://www.treesaregood.com. It’s the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA’s) consumer information site. A selection of consumer flyers can be downloaded free from the Tree Owner Information heading. The Arbor Day Foundation (arborday.org) is another worthwhile site. One caution, though: the foundation sells trees at what appears to be a very low price. These are bare root saplings. My advice is to obtain the information you need from their list to help you select a tree you like but to purchase it at a local nursery or garden center where you can examine the tree before you buy.

Your first step should be to select a site on your property where a tree or shrub is needed. Determine the amount of space that you have available. Are there any obstacles like driveways, walkways, overhead or underground utilities or even pool or patio that could be adversely impacted by planting on that site? How much sunlight does the site receive? How is the drainage? What type of soil is there? You may have to wait until spring to determine the drainage and soil conditions but the answers to all of these questions affect your plant selection. If the site and the plant aren’t compatible, you’ll have nothing but headaches ranging from extra maintenance to the plant dying. Remember…right plant, right place.

Your second step should be to decide why you want a plant in that space. The German Bauhaus art school’s “form follows function” design philosophy should apply. Knowing why you want a plant in that space will also influence your selection. Are you planting it as a windbreak, to provide cooling, for privacy, to fill an empty space in your landscape design, for its fruit or to clean the air or prevent erosion?

When you select a plant variety that you would like, check for any problems before getting attached to it. Is it hardy in our zone 5/6 climate? Does it have any potential pest problems? (You wouldn’t want to plant an ash tree today, for example.) Is the growth pattern right for the site?

You’ll have to wait a couple of months before garden centers begin receiving their fresh plants from the nurseries but when you go, with your research fresh in your mind, seek additional advice from one of their staff horticulturists. It’s a good bet that the tree you buy this spring will outlive you so you’ll have to care for it a good long time – good reason to get it right.

Carefully look over the plant you’re considering. Be sure the trunk is straight and solid with no wounds and good branching structure with no crossing or rubbing branches and no co-dominant stems. When a trunk branches into two or more “Y” shaped trunks that appear to be of near equal size, those are co-dominant stems. Even though they appear equal, one is always weaker and prone to breakage and other major problems that you don’t need.

Have the horticulturist pull it out of the pot or pull the burlap back so you can check for girdling root. That’s a root that’s encircling the root ball. If everything else checks out, it’s OK to have the horticulturist cut the girdling root out.

When you get the plant home, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball but only the depth of the root ball. Remove the tree from its pot and stand it in the hole. If it’s balled and burlapped, cut the wire or twine and pull the burlap down from the sides. Backfill the hole, stopping about halfway to gently tamp the soil to eliminate any air pockets. Finish backfilling, tamp again, water and mulch. Don’t stake unless you are planting in a very windy location.

For expert assistance, you can select the site, define your reason for planting, have some varieties in mind and turn the rest over to one of our professional landscape designers. Our professional designers know plants so be open minded if they advise against planting in a certain location. You’ll thank the designer for saving you a lot of work in the future.

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Be Prepared… For Spring

With winter in full swing and the recent snow melt, you may be starting to get that itch to be out working in the yard. Punxsutawney Phil said we have about six more weeks of winter so there will most like be more snow shoveling but I don’t think that’s the kind of outdoor work you are hoping for. While I can’t make spring get here any faster, I can offer some suggestions for staying occupied – you can make sure your outdoor tools are in good working order.

If you have a heated work area, you can get a head start on spring by servicing the tools that weren’t serviced in the fall before you put them away for the winter. Some of the projects you could do while waiting for spring include:

• Servicing your lawnmower according to the owner’s manual. At the very least the oil, spark plug and air filter should be changed.

• Cleaning the underside of the mowing deck.

• Sharpening the blade.

• Servicing your handheld power equipment like blowers and string trimmers according to the owner’s manual. What service is required depends on the type of engine the tool is equipped with. All internal combustion engines require changing the spark plug and air filter. If equipped with a 4 cycle engine you should also change the oil. A 2 cycle engine uses an oil gas mix so it doesn’t require an oil change.

• Making sure the fuel is fresh

• Making an appointment now if you prefer to take your power equipment to a dealer for service. They get very busy closer to spring.

• Sharpening shovels, iron rakes, pruning shears and other tools that are used to cut or penetrate.

• Starting to shop for new hand tools if yours are getting worn out. Newer models are being made with lighter weight material and stronger, sharper blades.

• If replacing outdoor power equipment is planned for this season. Be sure to be an educated consumer. Start by researching now and be sure to keep an eye out for sales. There are both commercial and consumer grade equipment. Commercial grade is typically heavier duty and sold through power equipment dealers. Consumer grade machines are designed for homeowner use and are available through power equipment dealers but can also be found at big box stores.

Here in our area, spring doesn’t creep up on us. It tends to arrive rather suddenly. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready when it arrives, rather than having to scurry around doing maintenance when you should be out mowing.

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Dormant Oil – Insects’ Worst Nightmare

It may be the middle of winter but that doesn’t mean your trees and shrubs are free from insects. You may not see them at this time because both the insects and the plant are dormant. Come spring, though, the insects will be active again, feasting on the leaves of your trees and shrubs. And, after their long winter nap, they are going to be mighty hungry.

This would be a good time to schedule an early spring dormant oil treatment to destroy overwintering insects in their sleep. Many insects “breathe” through their skin. Coating them with dormant oil while they sleep will clog their air intakes and smother them. Dormant oil is a highly refined oil, much like the petroleum jelly we put on wounds. However, dormant oil is diluted so that it flows through a hose and spray nozzle.

Aphids, mites and scale are the leading targets for dormant oil treatment. Although they can hardly be seen, it’s a safe bet that they are fast asleep in your trees and shrubs. Since properly applied dormant oil won’t harm the plant, this treatment lets you get a leg up on the most common spring and summer pests. Dormant oil will also destroy overwintering egg masses, including gypsy moth and hemlock woolly adelgid (pictured). The oil coats the buff colored gypsy moth egg masses and the white, cotton like hemlock woolly adelgid egg masses by preventing air from penetrating.

The window of opportunity to apply dormant oil is very small. We can’t apply it until the temperature rises above 40º and stays there. Otherwise the oil will become too viscous (thick) to spread properly and coat the whole plant and the insects. However, it also has to be applied while the tree is still dormant, before the leaf buds break. Applying dormant oil after a plant leafs out can damage the leaves.