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Firewood Precautions

As you begin planning for winter’s cold and the cozy fires you’ll enjoy in your wood stove, fireplace or even your fire pit, I want to remind you of the restrictions on the movement of firewood and the consequences of ignoring those restrictions.

The federal government and many states have quarantines in place to restrict the movement of firewood in and out. Plus, there’s a law that prohibits the movement of any wood 50 miles or more from its origin without a permit. Permits are granted only when a wood dealer or transporter has taken the necessary steps to guarantee that the wood is free from contamination by insects and diseases.

There are any number of dangerous insects and diseases that can be imported in wood. That’s how they came to our shores in the first place. They include the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, gypsy moth, spotted lanternfly, Dutch elm disease, and the list goes on.

These pests successfully hitchhike here in or on firewood because they are often invisible to the untrained eye. They may be living inside the wood like the emerald ash borer. Or they may be in egg form like gypsy moth and spotted lanternfly. Once the wood is in your yard, these pests emerge or hatch and go looking for new food sources– i.e. your valuable trees and shrubs and your neighbors’.

Any savings that you realized by buying illegal firewood, and a lot more besides, will be lost in having your infested trees and shrubs either treated or removed and replaced. So that perceived saving is only false economy.

The answer to the dilemma is simple. Buy firewood only from a reputable dealer. Ask the right questions like where they acquired their firewood. If it’s from the guy down the road with a woodlot, you can either trust that he’s telling the truth. If you don’t trust him or believe he bought it from someone more than 50 miles from his lot, ask to see the paperwork showing that his source had the proper permit to bring firewood into your area.

You may consider this attention to detail unnecessary. You may not realize the importance even if I told you how many thousands of trees are lost each year to invasive pests. I certainly hope it doesn’t take a hitchhiking, invasive pest destroying one or more of your valuable, mature trees to drive the seriousness of this problem home.

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Why Kill Weeds In Fall?

Many people ask why weeds should be killed in the fall. Some would answer that weeds should be killed anytime they appear. Actually, weeds are starting to disappear in the fall, as do many annual plants. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Not so fast. They may not be seen but these devious characters may have dropped seeds that are lurking in the soil waiting to strike in the spring.

Applying a pre-emergent broadleaf weed killer this fall will prevent those latent seeds from germinating next spring. You may ask why this preventive action should be taken now instead of waiting for them to begin growing in the spring and then treat them. For one, pre-emergents are more effective than post-emergents. Secondly, many overwintering weed seeds germinate before the grass breaks dormancy, giving them a head start in the race for soil space and nutrients.

Have you noticed that dandelions appear before the lawn needs its first mowing? By the time you mow for the first time, the dandelions’ first flush of flowers has gone to seed and the wind has distributed them all over your yard. To control them, you’ll need to apply a broadleaf weed killer, or dig them out by hand. Isn’t it better to get them before they even have a chance to germinate?

Ideally, spreading a pre and post emergent broadleaf weed killer will rid you of the weeds in your lawn now and those seeds that they dropped to overwinter. The best timing is between flushes of flowers so they don’t drop any more seeds after you’ve made the application.

This method is intended for your lawn, not your flower beds. Broadleaf weed killers can’t differentiate between those plants you consider weeds and your beautiful flower plants. The definition of a weed that I use most often is a plant growing where you didn’t plant it and where you don’t want it.

For weed infested flower beds,, pulling weeds by hand is the safest control method. The alternative is to spot treat, spraying only each individual weed. This might be a moot point if your flower beds are planted only with annuals. However, some annuals drop seed that lies latent through the winter and germinates in the spring, and you’ll want to protect them. Some people like to retain their spent annuals as foliage plants for as long as they can. You’ll have to use the control measures that are best for your situation.

If your flower beds include herbaceous perennials, it’s important that you protect them. Pulling weeds by hand or spot treating are your only options. A helpful hint: Pull weeds when the soil is moist. They are easier to pull and more of the root may comes out.

If you don’t have time to weed, our landscape and lawn care professionals would be happy to do it for you.

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Be Sure To Plant Your Spring Blooming Bulbs This Fall

Few things can lift us from the final weeks of the winter doldrums quite like the first crocus peeking up above the snow. Crocus’s are the opening act for the yellow and white show put on by daffodils. Finally, the featured act takes the stage – the cacophony of color put forth by mass plantings of tulips.

What a let down it can be if that show of spring color fails to appear. But that’s a very real probability if you don’t plant the bulbs this fall. Bulbs have to overwinter in the soil if we want to see flowers next spring. I find that rather interesting because we associate tulips with The Netherlands when they are actually native to Turkey. Daffodils are native to southern Europe, the middle east and North Africa

These plants may have come from temperate regions of the world but they have adapted well to the cool, northern climate where we live. These perennials have “naturalized,” so we can look forward to them reappearing every year.

Garden centers and big box stores are receiving shipments of fresh bulbs. Check their advertising for availability. Some mail order companies are already shipping orders. Bulbs are sold in boxes, bags and bulk. The boxes and bags may have an assortment of colors or a single color. The bulk bulbs will be in bins, each of which contain a specific variety and color bulb.

If this is the first time you’ve planted bulbs, some planning is recommended before investing in bulbs. Draw a sketch of the beds in which you’re planning to plant the bulbs. Add dots where you want them to be. Decide whether you want a rainbow of colors, mass planting of a single color or any combination in between. Spacing should be roughly 4 to 6 inches. The spacing depends on the size of the flowers and how tightly you want them to be spaced.

The depth at which you plant bulbs depends on the size of the bulb. The rule of thumb is two to three times deeper than the length of the bulb. For tulips that usually means 6 to 8 inches, 3 or 4 inches for daffodils.

If you’ve never planted bulbs before, take a good look at them before you start the planting process. There is a top and bottom. The pointy side is the top and the flat, hairy side is the bottom. It’s important that they be oriented correctly when planted.

The planting process is quite simple. Thrust a trowel into the spot where you want to plant. Be sure it’s at the correct depth for the bulb you’re planting. Pull the trowel toward yourself to create the hole. Carefully place the bulb in the hole root side (bottom) down. Pull the trowel out and let the soil backfill. Smooth the soil and then water. Don’t fertilize when you plant. Bulbs contain plenty of food to sustain them over the winter and through their spring growth. You can spread some fertilizer, formulated for bulbs, around the surface of existing bulb beds this fall.

Selecting and planting spring flowering bulbs can be a fun, family project. Enjoy.

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Repairing Lawns Damaged By Summer Heat

This has been quite a summer. Some people in our area have had healthy, green lawns all summer long while others are parched and dormant from lack of rain. If yours is among the latter, consider giving it a good inspection when it greens up in the next few weeks to see if there’s any damage from summer dormancy.

The most obvious areas that need attention are brown patches where the grass failed to green up. This doesn’t indicate any diseases; it just means the grass in those patches wasn’t as hardy as the rest.

Closer inspection may reveal that the turf in other sections of the lawn is thin. You can actually see soil around the grass plants. This is an open invitation for weeds to move in and fill that space.

The best fix is to rake out the dead grass with an iron rake. Be careful to get it all out or your next problem could be a build up of thatch. Gather up the dead grass and throw it on the compost pile, where it will decompose quickly.

Using your metal rake, rough up the soil. That includes those spots with thin turf. Next, spread fertilizer or compost, followed by seed. Then work the seed into the soil with your rake and finish the task by watering the areas you’ve reseeded. Finally, be sure it receives that important inch of water a week by rain, irrigation or a combination of both.

Repairing your lawn now, in the late summer or early fall, will give it plenty of time to become established before winter. Not repairing your lawn in fall opens the door for weeds to make the most of the opportunity you provided. Many of their seeds are lying latent in your soil, and they germinate early in the spring and begin growing before your grass breaks winter dormancy. They will quickly fill in any spaces you left bare. You’ll then have to get rid of the weeds before you can repair the grass in the spring.

If this work needs to be done this fall but you can’t fit it into your schedule, we have lawn care professionals who would be more than happy to take the whole job off your shoulders.

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Choosing Shade Loving Plants

Some people say there is no such thing as shade loving plants, only shade tolerant. I beg to differ. If you’ve ever tried to grow hostas or rhododendrons in full sun, you know what I mean. But if you haven’t tried… they don’t grow in full sun. Planting them in full sun is a great example of wrong plant, wrong place.

Many landscapes would be very uninteresting without shade loving plants. There would be no understory plants (those that grow under the canopy of large trees), plants for areas around houses and other buildings that are always in shadow, and even containerized plants that live on a deck or patio under an awning or roof.

It would be best if you do your homework to decide what plants you like and sketch the design before going to your garden center. Most people aren’t as familiar with shade loving plants as they are with sun loving plants. So you may need some help when you get to the store.

At the garden center, Be sure to:
• Check out all the plant material that’s available.
• Read the tags for each plant you’re considering. Plant tags always list
sunlight requirements on them.
• Talk to one of the knowledgeable horticulturists. Share your plans, discuss
the plants that you’ve seen in the store that you like, and ask their advice on what plants they would recommend for the location(s) you have in mind. It wouldn’t hurt to take some photos of the locations to give the horticulturist an idea of the conditions. That could influence their recommendations.

The photos may also save you another trip to the garden center. If you feel comfortable with your own research and the horticulturist’s recommendations, you can buy the plants, take them home and plant them. If you need more time to think and consider before making a decision, take photos of the plants you’re considering in the store. They’ll help you make your decisions after you get home. If you still can’t decide on the course of action in this unfamiliar territory, turn it over to the pros. Our landscape designers and installation professionals are as experienced at creating shade gardens as they are at full sunlight gardens and anything in between.

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Plant Low Maintenance Shrubs This Fall

Fall is for planting, and fall will soon be upon us. I don’t mean to rush summer away but fall planting conditions actually begin to appear in late August.

When making your fall planting plans, may I suggest low maintenance shrubs? After all, your landscape’s main reason for being is to provide you with enjoyment, not work. There aren’t any no-maintenance plants but plenty are low maintenance.

The first step to assuring that a shrub will be low maintenance is to plant the right plant in the right place. Even shrubs sold as low maintenance will be high maintenance if planted in the wrong place. Some of the care needs for low maintenance shrubs include:

• Watering. If they don’t get the inch of water a week that they need from rain, they’ll need supplemental watering.
• Fertilization, at least when they are young and just getting established.
• Annual mulching.

When buying your low maintenance shrubs, be sure to read the tag for care instructions. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask one of the garden center horticulturists. They are plant people trained to be sure you are satisfied when you leave the store, and after the plants you bought have matured. Some of the low maintenance characteristics you should look for include…

• Disease and insect resistance. You don’t want to constantly be treating them to control insects and diseases.
• Making sure they are hardy to our USDA zone 5 climate and that they can tolerate the big swings in weather conditions that we experience.
• When fully grown, the shrub has to fit the space allotted for it and it shouldn’t spread beyond its borders so that you have to prune it back every year. Selecting compact varieties of the species you want will reduce the need for frequent pruning. The dwarf blue spruce pictured is a good example.

If your idea of low maintenance includes going to work one morning with an empty space in your yard and coming back to a nice, new shrub, our landscape installation professionals can make that happen. They can also advise you on plant selection – which ones are good choices and which trendy new introductions are destined to be in vogue only for a short time. Planting trendy shrubs could make your house look dated when they go out of style in a few years.

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Grubs Are Returning

After a summer absence, grubs are beginning to feast on the grass roots of our lawns again. But these aren’t the same grubs that dined on your lawn this spring. It’s their children.

Photo Credit: Bruce Watt, University of Maine, Bugwood.org.

After their spring feast, the grubs pupated, similar to what happens when caterpillars become moths or butterflies. They emerged from the pupa stage as adults in late May and early June, and began flying around looking to mate. You may have seen them. They were big, brown, beetle-like insects, commonly known as June bugs, that may have flown into your windows and patio doors.

After mating, the female lays her eggs on the turf. When the grubs hatch, they burrow into the soil and begin eating the grass roots. To check if you have grubs, you can cut 12 inch squares of sod from several locations. Fold it back and see if there are any grubs. They are small, white and crescent shaped.

Count the grubs in each test plot. If there are six or fewer, they won’t do enough damage to warrant treatment. If there are more than six, treatment should be considered. Late summer and early fall are the best times to treat for grubs. They are small and weak, and treatment will be more effective. As they gorge themselves with food – your grass roots – they grow bigger and bigger. They will then burrow deeper into the soil to overwinter where it’s warm.

When the grubs come back up to the grass root zone in spring to begin feasting again, they will be double or triple the size they were in the fall, and much stronger. They will be better able to resist the control material in the spring.

If you don’t want to cut and roll back the sod samples or spread the grub treatment, we have lawn care professionals who will handle the whole task for you.