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Get Tools Ready for Spring — It’s Good for You and Your Property

In the midst of today’s scary health crisis, there is gardening and landscaping, which reconnect people with the Earth and provide a wide range of benefits, both physical and mental/emotional. The emotional or mental aspect benefits involve relaxation, communing with nature, working off stress and focusing on creating beauty. The physical work of gardening builds strength and fitness, and burns off or reduces stress as well.

Giving your landscaping or gardening tools a good checking, cleaning, sharpening and lubricating will get you in the “spirit of the season” and ready to spring into action as soon as the weather lives up to the calendar.

We hope all of our readers, suppliers and customers are safe and healthy, and offer these tips for getting your gardening tools ready for spring so we can all enjoy the benefits of a beautiful home or business environment.

A dull blade is a bad blade. Not only will it do a lousy job of cutting back plants and branches, but it could cause injury. It might not cut you as deeply and dangerously as a sharper blade, but the extra amount of pressure you would need to exert could cause muscle strain and even a dull blade can still cause wounds to hands and limbs.

Take a good (but careful — we don’t want any injuries) look at any of your tools with blades, from pruning knives to lawnmowers. If their edges aren’t as sharp as possible, prepare them for spring use by sharpening them. Replace any removable blades, or entire tools, that are too far gone to be sharpened safely or effectively.

Many landscaping tools require lubrication to work their best and prevent injury to the user or the garden. This is the time to give everything a good dose of elbow grease and real grease or oil, so every tool runs or moves smoothly and functions at its best.

Check with our landscape professional or a garden center for the best product to use on various tools. WD-40 is the go-to lubricant for many of us, and it’s often already in your toolshed, but other products might be better for different items.

Look for signs of rust, which can often be polished away while leaving some tools still usable.

Don’t forget to check four-cycle tools or equipment like lawn mowers, which are likely to need oil changes before you crank them up and put them to work in your spring landscape.

Be sure to do this work in an open or well-ventilated space, especially if you use any spray products. Especially at this time, with an international health crisis underway, a respiratory condition or attack caused by inhaling a lubricant is the last thing any of us needs.

Trade old for new
Ergonomic tools are relatively new to the world of landscaping and gardening, but there are a lot of them and they are well worth investing in. Your old tools might be in great condition and still usable, but they might be contributing to backaches, muscle pain, poor posture and related reactions to using things that were designed for productivity or specific functions, but not for health and fitness.

Many of today’s gardening tools have been “retooled” to be easier and safer to use for your wrists, shoulders, back, knees and legs. Older gardeners are especially prone to such problems, and experiencing them could make you avoid the landscaping work you’ve always loved doing.

You can find pruners with rotating handles, weeders with grips made of natural materials, padded kneelers, long-lasting “bionic” gloves, handle extenders, shovels designed specifically for women, wheeled garden caddies, extended and telescoping tools, lightweight bulb planters … the options appear endless. Your landscape contractor, garden center or favorite gardening magazines can provide product names and sources, as well as tips for doing gardening chores in ways that are ergonomically correct.

Welcome to spring, and our hopes for a safe and successful season.

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Testing One-Two-Three: It May Be Time for a Soil Test

You probably thought you were done with tests once you finished school, but nooo — lawns, gardens and other landscaping areas need soil tests every so often! Luckily, these are easily managed projects with important benefits for the long-term health, vigor, growth and beauty of your landscape.

The why of it
Soil in any landscape, whether it’s a small flower garden or a huge commercial property, can develop a wide range of issues. Either naturally because of your setting or region, or over time due to changing weather conditions, new plantings, fertilizer use, pesticide use, chemical runoff from neighboring properties, organic matter breaking down, etc., the soil in your landscape can lack nutrients that trees, shrubs and flowers need to thrive and look their best. It takes a professional soil test to know if your plants need more or different types of nutrients.

What to look for
The soil in your landscape or garden has to provide a certain level of nutrients and quality for everything living in it to do well. That means an ideal pH — a balance of acidic and alkaline levels in the soil leading to a neutral environment. If the soil in your landscape has issues, your plants will let you know. You might see browning or dying leaves, stunted growth, wilting, foliage turning yellow, and other symptoms of soil that is too acidic.

How it works
Soil testing is pretty straightforward. Our landscape professional will take samples to measure the pH level in various locations throughout your landscape — how acidic or alkaline the soil might be.

While garden and home centers do offer a wide range of tools for doing this yourself, the results will depend on how well the soil sample is taken and assessed, so you might want to use a professional for this process. Even if you perform a soil test on your own, it’s smart to turn to the pros for your next steps.

If the soil in your landscape is too acidic or alkaline, don’t despair: Our landscape professionals can help with remediation. We will look for the ideal soil quality for your area and plantings. With that information in hand, it might be suggested that new planting choices that will be happier in your soil environment should be considered. But often we provide advice about ways to improve the soil quality so your existing plants can thrive as well as performing the treatment.

Passing the test
Once the soil testing is done, you can sit back and let your garden grow. Enjoy knowing that your landscape is healthy and ready to carry you through the next few seasons with your mind at peace.

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Have Some Fun with Landscape Planning for Spring

As we approach the halfway point of winter and encounter some warmer-than-usual weather, you might start thinking about getting back out in the yard. But I warn you, the ground is most likely still a bit too soft to walk on, much less work on, not to mention that the return of snow is inevitable, which suggests holding off for a little longer. However, now might be a good time to take inventory. By this, I mean taking a look around your landscape to see if it’s still “doing it” for you. Do you feel the same excitement you did when you first saw it? If not, a good use of this time and your desire to work in the yard is to start putting a plan together for when spring finally arrives for good.

If you’re looking for a source of ideas, we have a great one for you — in fact, it looks like it has you in mind: “Passport to Spring,” this year’s GardenScape, right around the corner from March 12–15 at the Dome Center in Rochester (check it out at https://rochesterflowershow.com/). Several hundred exhibitors will present new products, creative treatments, expert advice, seminars and much more at this event. It’s a great opportunity to find ways to express yourself through your landscape.

Even though your plants are not in bloom yet, you can still assess other aspects of your landscape to determine if it is time to update. For instance, is the edging around the beds cracked, broken or faded? What condition are the walkways and patio in? Is the deck rotting or are screws popping up, and is it still large enough to accommodate the entertaining you do? Do you have enough lighting around your yard to navigate your property safely and illuminate the features you like most about your home and landscaping? Are there any gaps or overgrown areas?

Beyond these aspects, now is a great time to start thinking about new plants to add to your landscape. This might be the year that you bring in new colors and arrangements that enhance your property — and raise your spirits!

If you have questions about what to consider doing for your landscape as spring approaches, let’s talk. Many homeowners around the Rochester area work with our design team to bring a fresh perspective to their gardens and overall landscaping. If you’re ready to “spring into spring,” we recommend contacting us to ask an arborist to inspect your landscape and make suggestions for ways to brighten it up. Our arborists can also let you know which GardenScape ideas will work in your landscape

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Repair Shrub/Tree Winter Damage

Shrubs can take a beating in winter. The wind can break branches. Snow piled on top of them can bend branches over, even to the ground. Overly saturated soil can cause the whole shrub to lean while frequent freeze/thaw cycles can cause them to come right out of the ground. Evergreen shrubs may have brown patches from winter burn.

The time to make some repairs is as soon after the damage occurs and weather permits. Others should be held off until spring. Here is some of the common winter damage to shrubs and repairs that can be made:

• Snow bends shrub branches. Resist the temptation to knock the snow off. This can cause them to spring back and could result in internal cracking. Wait for the snow to melt. Usually, the branches will gradually return to their normal shape. Just be patient. If spring comes and they haven’t returned to their natural shape, you can try tying them together. If that doesn’t work, the sagging branches will have to be removed.

• Branches break. Broken branches need to be pruned or removed. When the weather permits, cut the broken branch just above the first live bud or leaf that’s below the break. If the branch is too badly damaged, remove it at the base. DON’T leave stubs. If in doubt whether a branch is alive, lightly scratch the bark. If the next layer is green, it’s alive. If it’s gray, it’s dead.

• Brown patches appear on needled evergreens and leaves wilt on broadleaf evergreens. These indicate winter burn due to desiccation (drying out). The wind blew water given off through the leaves/needles before the shrub could reabsorb it and reuse it in photosynthesis. The first day above 40 degrees, spray your evergreens with antidesiccant to reduce the chance of further winter burn. Broadleaf evergreens will drop their winter burned leaves and may fill in the area with new leaves. If not, prune the dead foliage and wood. Burned needles won’t regenerate, so the brown areas have to be pruned.

• Critter browsing. Branches that deer have chewed on can be pruned back to live buds. Branches low on a shrub that are chewed by rodents may recover on their own in the spring, unless they’ve girdled the branch by chewing all the way around it. In that case, the branch should be removed.

• Frost heave. This condition is caused by freezing and thawing of the ground. Shallow rooted shrubs can actually be pushed up out of the ground. Those that aren’t completely out of the ground may be able to be pushed back into place when the ground is thawed. Those that are pushed completely out of the ground or that will not go back in should be replanted when the ground thaws.

All of the do-it-yourself information above pertains only to shrubs, although much of the same winter damage applies to trees as well. Repairing trees, however, is too dangerous. The only winter damage repair to trees we recommend is contacting us to request an arborist to inspect your trees and make repair recommendations. Our arborists can also repair your shrubs if you’d rather not do it yourself.


Check For Weeds & Mulch

As the weather improves, your green thumb may start getting itchy. The weather may not be good enough to do any planting or bed preparation yet but there are some things you can do that will get you out of the house and into the yard.

On a nice day with no snow, may I suggest that you walk your yard looking for weeds, and pull them. Weeds are dormant now but many come back to life and begin growing before your lawn does. This means that the weeds have a head start on the grass and can begin crowding it out.

While the weeds you see have a head start, there are more weed seeds lurking just under the soil surface waiting for the soil to warm up. Unless you applied pre-emergent weed killer last fall, these will germinate as soon as the thermometer reaches the right temperature.

Pulling dormant weeds in your lawn and planting beds now will keep you ahead in the annual war on weeds. Instead of being overwhelmed with both the dormant weeds and freshly germinated seeds, you’ll only have to worry about the newly germinated seeds once the busy growing season starts.

While checking for weeds, it would be wise to also check the mulch in your planting beds. If it has settled to less than 3 inches, you might want to fluff it up. If it’s doesn’t return to at least 3 inches, getting more mulch and spreading it on a snow-free weekend will protect your plant roots and discourage weed germination. If it fluffs up to 4 inches or more, remember to remove the excess in the spring so you only have 2 or 3 inches.

During your walk of the property, take a garbage bag and pick up any trash that has blown into your yard over the winter. You may be shocked to see how much you collect. It’s surprising to see how much stuff is under the snow. Collecting this trash during your winter walk(s) speeds clean up when it’s spring cleaning time.

Doing these little tasks as you limber your green thumb during the winter means that you can get right to the good stuff – caring for your lawn and landscape – when spring actually arrives.

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Winter Is For Hardscape Maintenance

Plants aren’t the only part of a landscape that needs ongoing maintenance. Hardscapes can also suffer wear and tear at the hands of Mother Nature. Since most hardscape items are put away or covered up for the winter, they are out of sight, out of mind until you open them up for the season, only to find that you have to take precious fair weather time to make repairs.

Take a tip from the professionals and use winter wisely to do needed maintenance so you can get a running start in spring as soon as the last frost melts. Sure, it’s only the middle of February but that famous rodent didn’t see his shadow, which means spring could come early. If the weather runs true to form, we’ll start seeing more good days than bad. Not enough to go out and buy new flowering plants but enough for you to start preparing your non-growing items.

Removable fabric furniture covers like cushion or pillow coverings should be removed in the fall, regardless of whether you store the furniture inside or outside. These fabrics should be laundered sometime during the winter. After a season outside, they are sure to have picked up dust and dirt, and if they’ve gotten wet, they may have mold or mildew that needs to be taken care of.

The best way to begin your hardscape maintenance is to make a plan. Jot down all the hardscape maintenance tasks that await you. Then prioritize them. Which ones can you do in the garage or shed? Which need good weather because they have to be done outside?

Jobs that can be done in the garage or shed may include cleaning and servicing the gas grill. Painting, upholstering or repairing furniture may also be done inside. This should be work for rainy or snowy weekends. Save the outside jobs like masonry repairs or fixing the water feature for better weather. By gathering all the material and tools you’ll need before starting any project, you can decide on each weekend’s work at the last minute. If something has to dry or cure, be sure to check the weather forecast for the few days following the weekend to be sure you have enough time.

If your patio pavers need leveling, try to hold that off until March or even early April when you’re pretty confident that the frost threat has passed., Heaving caused by frost may be one of the reasons why the patio needs leveling.

All during the winter, it’s a good idea to keep your deck or patio free of ice and snow. This can reduce the need for repairs. Minor snowfalls are best removed with a broom, rather than a shovel. For heavier snowfalls in which shoveling is needed, use a plastic, rather than metal, shovel. This will reduce the chance of scratching the deck or patio surface.

Avoid chemical deicers like salt that can leave stains and pit the surface. If you really need to melt ice, try cat litter. It’s much less abrasive.

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Vertical Gardens A New Landscaping Trend

People will place plants anywhere they’ll grow. First containers gained popularity. Then raised beds became all the rage. Today, it’s vertical gardens.

Vertical gardens aren’t new. Several decades ago, a local company manufactured modular, plastic vertical gardens that they marketed to grow food in areas like deserts that are difficult to farm. The Longwood Gardens green wall, pictured in my January 1 post, was built in 2010. The vertical garden photo shown here was taken at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in 2012.

Vertical gardens and green walls are becoming trendy now because more people are opting for smaller properties, which means they need planting beds with smaller footprints. So, they are doing the same with gardens as develop[ers have done with buildings. When there’s no more ground to build on, they start building upward.

Vertical gardens aren’t limited to space-challenged folks. Some are accents in larger landscapes. Others are used instead of hedges or other plants to define spaces within a landscape. Still others are being installed just to be trendy.

There are a number of ways that plants can be held in place in vertical gardens. If interested, make mounting systems part of your research when designing a vertical garden. Keep in mind that they are containerized plants so they’ll need the same special attention as traditional containerized plants. Most notably, they’ll likely have to be watered more often than in-ground plants. However, there are a number of self watering systems available. I’ve seen one that waters plants at the top and lets the water drip down, watering the lower plants as it drops. Any water that makes it all the way to the bottom is collected and recycled.

Overwintering is another consideration you’ll have to deal with. When buying plants, discuss overwintering with a horticulturist at your garden center. They may recommend perennials that are hardy to a zone or two colder than where you live. Or, you can plant annuals and throw them on the compost pile in the winter. Then replant in the spring.

If you are interested in joining the vertical garden evolution, you have a number of ways to do it. You can go to a home store to buy the frame and mounting material and to your local garden center to buy the plants and build your vertical garden from scratch. Garden centers also sell kits so you can go the “some assembly required” route. If you just want to enjoy the beauty of a vertical garden in your landscape, our designers can design one to compliment your current landscape or integrate it into a new or renovated landscape. And our installation professionals can handle all the fabrication details.

Vertical gardens aren’t limited to the outside. They are also available for indoor use. Some are mounted on the wall instead of art or photos. Other configurations make nice room dividers. Indoor vertical gardens are also available in kit form.