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Plan Next Winter’s Landscape Now

What do you see when you look out your windows these wintery days? Piles of white snow with a few bare, brown/gray trees sticking out or colorful plants piercing through the snow banks? Even if you have the stark example now, you can have the colorful option at this time next year. But now’s the time to begin planning the transformation.

Ornamental grass (to the right behind the wind chimes in the photo) is the most common plant to consider for winter color and motion. It turns a tan color in the fall and stands tall above the snow. Many varieties have seedheads at the top that blow in the wind to add captivating movement to your landscape.

Conifers are also popular. The conical shape and dark green color of pines, spruces and firs evoke images of a country forest scene, even in the suburbs. However, one conifer, the eastern larch (Larix laricinia), loses its needles in the winter. It’s the only native deciduous conifer, yet it provides year round interest from spring green to autumn gold to a beautiful winter silhouette.

In winter, female hollies (Ilex sp.) show off their red berries just in time to be a symbol of the winter holidays. Be sure there’s a male plant nearby, in your yard or your neighbor’s, to provide the pollen needed to produce the berries. There are other plants that also produce berries in winter.

Trees like dogwood (Cornus florida) have textured bark and red twigs that rise out of the snow to brightly dance in the wind against a backdrop of glistening white. Birch trees have interesting, exfoliating bark whose rough texture is in stark contrast to the smooth mounds of snow all around it. While white, or paper, birch (Betula papyrifera) has beautiful white bark, it also attracts deadly pests. River birch (Betula nigra) (to the left behind the wind chimes in the photo) is a good alternative. Its exfoliating yellow-brown bark may not be as spectacular as the paper birch but it doesn’t attract insects.

Take lots of pictures of your yard now, especially the areas that could use some winter color and texture to make the cold, white snow more attractive. Use the images to see where new trees, shrubs or ornamentals would provide more winter interest. Then meet with one of our landscape designers to discuss your ideas. When we have a clear day with no snow, the designer may visit your property to see if the spots you’ve chosen are good places for your plant choices and if there are plants already growing there that were hidden by the snow.

With all this information, our designer can then design your renovations and present them to you for approval. Once approved, the designer can start the wheels turning to schedule installation first thing in spring.

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Companion Plants

We don’t usually think of plants as forming friendships but scientists tell us that they do, indeed. These friendships aren’t like those we humans make. Rather, the plants share mutually beneficial traits.

Scientists call these relationships symbiotic. We landscape professionals call them companion plants. The companion plant phenomenon isn’t a recent discovery. Native Americans here in the northeast realized that planting certain plants together resulted in greater yield from all of them. They planted beans, corn and squash together and called it them Three Sisters.

The three sisters supported each other in several ways. Corn needs a lot of nutrients from the soil and beans enrich the soil with nitrogen. Beans grow on vines and corn provides the support for these vines while the squash, which lays on the ground, suppresses weeds between rows.

There are many flower combinations that can be planted together for various reasons. Research shows there’s a chemical interaction between some. Others may keep weeds down or protect against insect attacks. Edibles, including onions and garlic, planted among your flowers can help control insects. (We don’t have a photo of onions and garlic growing in a flower garden but the photo with this post shows tomatoes.) Still other companion plants help fertilize soil and protect each other from rain, snow and sun.

Some plants actually repel companionship. Black walnut trees, for example, have a substance, called juglone, that’s toxic to many other plants. This gives the trees a clear area around theirroot zones to assure that they’ll have enough nutrients and uninhibited space for themselves.

If you’ve ever tried to grow grass under willow trees, you know that the trees protect their space by growing such a thick canopy that grass can’t get enough light.

When selecting companion plants, first determine what you expect from the relationship. Then research the plants that meet the criteria you’ve established. If you don’t want to do all the research, turn the task over to our designers and horticulturists who are very familiar with the companion plants to select to meet all objectives. Our installation crews can take care of the planting for you, as well.

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Winter Pruning Is Good For Trees

While the cold and snow mean more time inside for many of us, our arborists are hard at work outside because winter is the best time to prune trees. Here’s why:

• While we add layers of warm clothes to go outside, deciduous trees shed their leaves and spend the winter standing outside naked. This allows our arborists to see their skeletal structure and any defects that need correcting and repair.

• Dormancy is like nature’s anesthesia. Pruning wounds begin “healing” while the trees’ bodily functions have slowed. When the pruned trees break dormancy in the spring, they’ll be healthy.

• Insects are usually inactive during the colder weather, allowing the pruning wounds to heal without concern of insect damage.

• The frozen ground enables us to get our heavy equipment into places we wouldn’t be able to when the ground is thawed.

• With no leaves, there’s less debris, which keeps your property looking clean and is good for the environment.

We prune to meet specific objectives. It may be to clean out or thin the crown by removing dead, dying, crossing, rubbing, broken or weak branches. Removing these branches will reduce the tree’s chance of sustaining damage during wind, snow or ice storms.

Other pruning objectives include repairing trees that have been damaged by storms, reshaping those that have suffered such travesties as topping, opening a view, removing a hazard or reducing the size without topping.

As I warn in all my posts on pruning, it’s NOT a do-it-yourself task, especially in the winter. On a warm dry day there are more ways to be injured or die while pruning trees than we have room to cover here. Add into the mix icy weather and frozen and brittle limbs and the danger level sky rockets. Our arborists are trained to check for all of the hidden dangers before leaving the ground. If the tree’s not safe to climb, they’ll choose to work only from an aerial bucket.

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Let’s Plan Your Lawn Care & Plant Health Programs Now

Why would you want to plan for your lawn care and plant health now, when your more immediate need is snow and ice control? Because spring will be here before you know it and you’ll want your lawn, trees and shrubs to get off to a healthy start.

Our lawn care and Plant Health Care (PHC) renewals have been mailed to our customers. I urge you to send yours back as soon as possible to take advantage of any pre-pay discounts. More importantly, New York State law prohibits us from performing any of the recommended services until we have your signed contract. A signed contract renewal is required every year, even if you’re a longtime customer.

Lawn care begins with an early fertilization soon after the last snow melts. We consider this application to be an essential jumpstart for your lawn as soon as it breaks dormancy. Pre-emergent crabgrass killer is also an early application.

Plant Health Care programs start even earlier than lawn care. As soon as the temperature rises above 40° F, we begin applying dormant oil to trees and shrubs. Many insects overwinter in your plants. Dormant oil coats the pests while they’re dormant, smothering them. Some insects like gypsy moth overwinter as eggs and dormant oil coats the egg cases to prevent a whole new generation of this voracious pest from defoliating your valuable trees.

Our dormant oil applications have to be completed before your plants leaf out. If applied to a foliated plant, the oil can interfere with the leaves’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide and transpire water.

The timing for controlling weeds, insects and diseases in your landscape requires academic knowledge and local experience. Our trained, knowledgeable professionals relieve you of the need to identify the pests in your landscape and take the right action at the right time. This leaves you with less worry and more time to enjoy your landscape.

If you’ve never had the peace of mind and the additional free time you’ll have when our professionals are responsible for your landscape’s health, there’s still time to begin a lawn care and Plant Health Care program for 2018.

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Have A Wonderful Holiday

As we enter the final days of holiday planning, I’d like to share with you the Birchcrest Tree & Landscape family’s sincere wish that you and your family enjoy the most wonderful holiday ever. And may 2018 be healthy, safe and prosperous and, together, may we keep our world green.

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Christmas Tree Tips

Time is running out to buy a real Christmas tree. Your timing is good for the tree, however, because, by Christmas Day, a tree that has stood out in the cold for awhile will be better preserved than one in your warm house since Thanksgiving.

When you go shopping for a cut Christmas tree, here are a few ways to be sure you get the freshest, most attractive tree possible:

• Check the shape from all directions. Be sure there are no bare spots and that the tree is conical in shape. Flat spots indicate that they were planted too close together in the field.

• Run your hand across some of the branches. A handful of needles will indicate that the tree was cut too early and you are apt to have a Charlie Brown tree by Christmas.

• If running your hand across the needles is too rough on your skin, bend a few needles. They should bounce back. If they break, the tree was cut too early.

• Tap the base of the tree on the ground. A “puddle” of needles on the ground indicates an old tree.

When you get the perfect tree home, cut a quarter inch off the bottom and immediately put it in a bucket of water. Use a hand saw not a chain saw. The heat generated by the chain saw will “cauterize” the vessels that take up water, defeating the purpose of cutting a piece off the base.

Keep the tree in the garage at least overnight so it gets acclimated to warmer temperatures. Don’t take it inside until you are ready to put it up. It’ll do better in the cooler temperature of the garage.

When you do take the tree inside and put it up, be sure there’s always plenty of water in the stand tray. If your tree is already set up, check the water level and keep the tray full for as long as the tree is inside.

If you have a live, potted tree, 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 the hole. 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.

Here’s to a safe and happy holiday season!

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Sustainability. It’s more than a buzzword

The search for sustainability is creeping into all corners of our lives, not the least of which is our landscaping. That’s because living plants lend themselves to sustainability better than inanimate environments.

The Cambridge dictionary defines sustainability as the ability to continue at a particular level for a period of time. Applied to landscapes, sustainability is the ability of an environment to remain diverse and productive indefinitely.

Creating a sustainable landscape begins with you deciding to work with Mother Nature rather than trying to have your own way. She always wins out in the end.

Ground cover is a good, sustainable alternative to turfgrass.

Start your cooperative venture by selecting the right plants for the right places. If the plants are happy with their locations, they’ll grow with minimum maintenance.

Nursery tags on plants communicate their site requirements. Also do some research and avoid those prone to insects and diseases. Often, that means selecting native plants or introduced plants that have adapted well to our area. These plants have also adapted to the water that nature provides, except in times of extreme weather conditions, such as drought.

Turfgrass is, arguably, the most thirsty plant in any landscape. It requires the most maintenance as well. That’s quite the opposite from sustainable, and it’s why an increasing number of people nationwide are replacing all or part of their lawns with beds of less thirsty plants that require less maintenance. Some western states, where water is scarce, have actually paid residents to replace their lawn with more sustainable plants.

When planting new beds or refurbishing existing beds, install plants closer together. This will cut down on weed growth and reduce the need for pruning and the need to constantly replenish mulch. Remember, though, that plants grow so be careful not to plant them too close together.

Be cognizant of companion plants when designing your sustainable landscape. Certain plants grow well together while others are mortal enemies. Check with a horticulturist at your garden store when buying plants to be sure they’re compatible.

Finally, don’t forget the hardscape. Sustainability includes recycling or repurposing hardscape items, such as fountains, benches, bistro sets and statuary. They may need a coat of paint and a new home in a different part of the landscape but that’s better than tossing these items into a landfill and buying new.

Sustainability is quite complex. If you want to modify your landscape with no work on your part, one of our professional designers would be happy to create a plan for the sustainable landscape of your dreams. Do it now, during the “off season” and we can then be ready to install it early in the spring so you’ll have the whole season to enjoy it.