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Beware Of 5G Small-Cell-Sites

Every positive thing comes with some negatives, including 5G communications. Why would we want to talk about this subject in a landscape blog? Because it’s affecting our professionals and could affect you as well.

Certain 5G transmitting hardware has caused discomfort to arborists close to it. Earlier cell phone transmission depended on those ubiquitous cell towers that dot the landscape. We all know their shortcomings – flat spots where there was no service. One advantage of 5G is that this problem has been pretty much solved.

The way cell phone companies solved the problem is to install signal boosters all over the place. Called Small-Cell-Sites, most are installed on utility poles. Last month, a tree care trade magazine ran a story that featured two arborists who discovered this problem the hard way. They were working with cranes near Small-Cell-Sites, which were also near radio station transmission towers. The cell equipment and the towers were hidden by the surrounding trees, so they didn’t see them or the warning signs. The combination of both the Small-Cell-Site and the radio towers gave the arborists significant injuries.

Yes, Small-Cell-Sites have warning signs that include the name and contact information for the provider that owns the installation. Further research by tree care industry leaders found that arborists and landscape professionals who need to work near a Small-Cell-Site need only contact the provider a couple days before the work is scheduled and they’ll reroute the calls temporarily. It’s like calling the authorities to locate underground utilities before you dig. I don’t know whether the cell phone providers will extend the same courtesy to individuals as they do to professionals.

The takeaway is: If you see a can like object attached to a utility pole with a sign on the pole, read the sign before you start working. Then either contact the Small-Cell-Site owner or call us to do the work for you, and we’ll work with the cell provider. The one bright spot in this story is that the author contacted the American Cancer Society to see if these radio waves cause cancer. They were told that they do not. They were the same type of waves emitted by your cell phone or microwave oven.

Whenever I write or talk about tree work, I warn against the dangers of leaving the ground or being struck by a falling branch. To that, we add RF(Radiofrequency) radiation from a Small-Cell-Site. While you aren’t about to get cancer from exposure, appreciable discomfort is possible.

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Staff Encouraged To Pursue Certification

Many industries confer certifications on professionals who have met certain criteria. These credentials, usually sponsored by trade associations or professional societies, require candidates to successfully complete an examination and have a certain amount of experience in the field. Some require a specific degree as well. The tree and landscape industries have a number of voluntary certifications available to professionals in those fields. Here at Birchcrest, we encourage our people to become certified.

Once a person has met all the requirements for certification and the designation has been conferred on them, they aren’t set for life. They need to maintain that certification by earning a specified number of continuing education credits over a certain time period. Most are every two or three years.

Here at Birchcrest, nine members of our tree care team are Certified Arborists (CA) and one has gone one step beyond and earned the Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA) designation. These certifications are administered by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

Nine members of our landscape team are Certified Nursery & Landscape Professionals (CNLP). This credential is administered by the New York State Nursery & Landscape Association. The CNLP is administered by state associations because of the dramatic differences in landscape designs and plant materials in every region of the country. If a landscape professional were to move here from the desert southwest, or vice versa, they’d have to become familiar with an entirely new plant palette and design style.

A dozen team members are Certified Pesticide Applicators. This stringent designation is a state license rather than an association certification. Becoming association certified is completely voluntary but anyone who gets paid to apply pesticides in New York State must be a Certified Pesticide Applicator or face hefty fines.

Certified professionals are encouraged to display their accomplishments by using the certification initials after their names. Some associations offer their certified professionals shirt/jacket patches and hard hat logos, as well as artwork they can print on their business cards. Additionally, the associations actively police unauthorized use of these identification items.

Our professionals are too modest to wear their accomplishments on their sleeves. That’s why I’m posting this blog – to share our staff members achievements and assure you of the highest standards of professionalism when you depend on Birchcrest Tree & Landscape.

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Why Winter Pruning Is Healthy For Most Trees

Our arborists don’t take the winter off. In fact, winter is one of our busiest seasons for tree pruning. That’s because deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves) are dormant in the winter.

Removing branches during pruning wounds the tree, and winter dormancy acts as nature’s anesthesia. Pruning wounds have the rest of the winter to heal (actually callous) before the sap begins flowing again in spring. Tree wounds don’t heal like wounds to you and me. Rather, they form very hard callous tissue around the edge of the wound to prevent insects and disease organisms from gaining access to the tree. The cold temperatures also speed up the tree’s recovery process.

With no leaves to obscure our view, our arborists are able to see the tree’s “skeleton.” It’s almost like looking at an x-ray without any radiation. Examining bare limbs is like examining bare bones. We’re able to see the tree’s shape and determine where pruning is needed. Dead, broken, crossing, rubbing and hanging branches are visible from the ground, as are other hazards like cavities and rot.

Making diagnoses from the ground is always safer than having to climb into a leafed-out tree canopy before we know what awaits us. It is not only safer, it’s also more efficient. Pruning a defoliated tree results in less debris to be cleaned up. And pruning when the ground is frozen lets us get our equipment closer to the tree, further increasing efficiency.

Some trees shouldn’t be pruned in winter, except in emergency or hazardous situations. Then any time’s the right time. Ideally, conifers should be pruned in summer, specifically June or July. You should wait until flowering trees are through blooming to prune. These trees set both their flower and leaf buds in the fall, just after they lose their leaves. The untrained eye can’t differentiate between the two, so you may cut off this spring’s flowers.

I don’t recommend that you prune any of your trees, especially if you have to leave the ground. It’s definitely too dangerous, especially if you use a ladder. We read every about property owners falling off ladders while trimming trees. Often in the same column there’s at least one report of a property owner being injured or worse by a falling limb they cut overhead. Our arborists have the proper training, equipment and experience to do the job safely. Many of them have so much experience that they can tell the difference between a flower bud and a leaf bud on a defoliated tree. Therefore leave a dangerous job like pruning trees to the pros.

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This Winter, Prepare Your Spring Landscape Tools & Tasks

Winter can be the doldrums for the person who likes to work outside maintaining their landscape. But it doesn’t have to be. You can work inside during the worst blizzard preparing for spring.

Starting to prepare for spring in the winter means you don’t have to hurry. You can spread the job out over several months, rather than rushing it in the spring because the grass is already growing around your ankles.

Begin by planning out the tasks that need your attention this spring. Then you will know what you need to get ready this winter. Here are some ideas:

• Are all your tools in good working order? Check your power tools to be sure the oil is changed, blades sharpened and power tools have new spark plugs. Are your hand tools old and heavy? This would be a good time to replace them with new, lightweight tools.

• Do your plans include any hardscape items like window boxes? You can buy the materials now and build window boxes in the basement. If your plans include larger hardscape material, you may be able to prefabricate parts and then assemble them outdoors in the spring.

• Does your landscape include a vegetable garden? You can save money and have some off- season gardening enjoyment by starting your early season crops from seed. You can buy seeds and starter kits at garden centers.

• If your plans include a major renovation, the winter would be the ideal time to begin drawing sketches, checking local nurseries or those on the the internet to get plant ideas. Better yet, meet with one of our professional landscape designers. Share your sketches, ideas and vision with them and then turn them loose to translate your thoughts into a design. During the winter our designers can work closely with you to have a design finished and approved before spring arrives. Then our installation professionals can source all the material and be ready to go to work as soon as the robins return in spring.

With our short growing seasons, it doesn’t make sense to start all these tasks when you see the first crocus. The season will be half over before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Waiting to do your planning will put construction into the hottest period of the year when you should be lounging in the shade and letting nature take its course.

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Take A Walk In Your Yard On Mild Winter Days

La Nina is giving you an opportunity that you don’t have every winter. That’s a chance to get out and check on the condition of your landscape during the breaks from snow and bitter cold.

When your landscape is buried under snow and the temperature’s freezing or below, I bet you look out the window and wonder what’s going on under that blanket of white. This year, nature is giving you the opportunity to know what’s going on and to repair anything that needs fixing. Just bundle up and go out for a stroll around the yard. Here’s some of the things to look for:

• Debris that has blown in from the neighborhood. Take a trash bag with you so you can easily scoop it up and dispose of it.

• Leaves matted on the lawn. Even if you cleaned up your fallen leaves, the wind might have brought you some more. Lift the leaves up and put them in your trash bag. Check to see if the grass is all matted and discolored. If it is, you probably have one of the winter fungal diseases. Using a flexible lawn rake, rough up the area. The dry period will be long enough to kill the fungus if you’re lucky.

• Tree branches on the ground. The wind may have deposited some broken branches or they may be from your trees. Clean the branches up then look up into the crowns to see if there are any uneven branch stubs or broken branches still hanging in the tree. Any of these conditions indicate that we should prune the tree(s) this winter. Don’t be macho and attempt this job yourself. Tree pruning is best left to our professional arborists.

• Look for signs of deer browsing activity. Look for deer tracks in the soft ground, deer droppings or chewed ends on tender young branches. You may be able to remove lower branches to let the deer know they’re unwelcome. Or you may want to try one of the spray repellents.

• Check the base of your trees for rodent activity. If mice, rabbits and other rodents have begun chewing on the bark at the base of trunks you hadn’t wrapped in hardware cloth or plastic tree guards, take a trip to your local hardware store or home center to get some wrap. Hardware cloth is steel mesh that lets air get to the trunk but not rodents’ sharp teeth. If you don’t protect the trunk(s), the rodent can chew all the way around. Girdling the trunk will sever the vessels trees use to get water and nutrients from the roots to the crown, and this will kill the tree.

• Check your evergreens for any brown spots. Brown spots will indicate that the leaves or needles are losing water. If you didn’t apply anti-desiccant in the fall, we can do it now to protect the plants from further desiccation. If you did apply anti-desiccant, temperatures may have been mild enough to melt some of the material, indicating that you need a touch-up.

• Check plants for heaving. In the case of perennials and other herbaceous plants, you can right them and then tamp the soil down. Be sure to mulch around each plant or, better yet, mulch the whole bed. Fixing heaving trees is best left to our professional arborists.

Walking your property during a winter thaw is good for you and your plants. You get out in the fresh air and take in some exercise. Your plants will receive maintenance in winter when they need it rather than having to wait until spring. Letting some problems go until spring can require more aggressive, expensive work. Last but not least, you’ll have a good head start on spring clean-up, so you can begin enjoying your landscape earlier this spring.

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Be Landscape Trendy In 2021

What is the new normal? After a topsy turvy year, I referred to Garden Media’s annual Garden Trends report for the answer. I wanted to find out what our customers might be asking for this spring. As in the past few years, this year’s report had a lot of social, as well as landscape and garden trends. I chose to concentrate on the landscape and gardening trends.

Last year, I reported on the growth in demand for houseplants by young professionals who were opting for urban apartment and loft living. This year, houseplants continue to be a major growth factor but for a different reason. People who are working from home are interiorscaping their offices. Also, families are creating garden rooms bringing the outdoors into their living space.

The road to urban living is two-way. While young people are flocking to the cities, families are fleeing them for safety reasons. They believe that they’ll be safer from the corona virus in less populated areas. With so many working remotely, they don’t have to worry about the time and expense of commuting, either.

Avoiding the commute, remote workers now have more time to devote to their families and property. Many of these newbies are trying their hand at both ornamental and edible gardening. The majority are 35 to 44 years old and have more discretionary, spendable income than any other age group. They aren’t spending that money on their lawns, either. They’re actually removing some of those lawns and replacing them with pools and patios, as well as vegetable, pollinator, bulb and cutting gardens.

This group of new gardeners still want some lawn but they also want a bigger variety of other plants. Due to perceived food scarcities, many want to grow their own food, and many will be doing so in raised beds. The report mentions interest in the full range of plant sizes from tiny plants to large shade trees.

One fallout from the pandemic that may temper your enthusiasm is that retailers are reducing the number of products they’re offering. If the big box stores are doing this, your local garden center is apt to also. Don’t let this discourage you, though. Work with one of our professional landscape designers.

A design professional can help the first time gardener make sure the right plant is in the right place, and that the plant and the placement enhance the overall aesthetics of the property. They can help you blend the ornamentals and edibles into a beautifully integrated landscape. After all, even edible plants bear flowers before they bear veggies. The edibles become part of the overall design rather than being stuck in the outback where nobody sees them. Imagine just stepping outside your kitchen door and picking your homegrown tomatoes for dinner. And picking fresh herbs from the containers on the step as you return to the kitchen.

Here’s another way our designer may be able to help. Let’s say your heart’s set on a specific variety of plant. You can’t find it because it’s one of the casualties of the garden centers’ shortened inventory. Our designer may be able to find the plant at one of the countless wholesale nurseries we work with. The designer will also check to make sure your plant will be happy in the site you’ve selected and, if necessary, make any modifications to make it, and you, happy.

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How This Winter May Affect Your Landscape

Winter recently began. What kind of winter can we expect in this unpredictable year? Knowing the answer to that will give us insight into what kind of tree and shrub damage we can expect. It will also help us to plan our winter work.

It has already been reported that this will be a La Nina year. NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) defines La Nina as a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean. It results in strong winds that blow warm water at the ocean’s surface from South America to Indonesia. La Nina, which is the opposite of El Nino, is a weather pattern that can occur in the Pacific Ocean every few years.

These patterns, though thousands of miles west of us, influence our weather and our landscape plants especially our trees. Although La Nina generally means that we can expect a cold, wet winter, at least one Rochester meteorologist has been indicating that we’ll have short term cold snaps, frequent spells of mild weather and episodes of snow to rain and back to snow. It’s also predicted to be windy.

For most of us, a partially mild winter is a good thing. For our plants it may not be so good. Plants don’t like weather that oscillates back and forth from cold to mild. Those freeze/thaw cycles that we take in stride may result in trauma for some trees.

Frequent freezing and thawing can cause the fluids inside a tree to contract when they get cold and expand when they get warm. When these cycles become extreme, the expanding fluids can cause the bark to crack vertically. This is especially true for trees with smooth, thin bark. Frost cracks can become entry points for insects, diseases and rot-causing fungi.

There is no treatment for frost cracking. Healthy trees will form a callous around the wound as a defense against insects, diseases and other pathogens entering the wound. A customer owns the pictured ginkgo tree that he rescued from the trash heap. The tree developed the frost crack in the nursery. It has survived for about 25 years, including one move, 20 years ago, from the customer’s former home to his new yard. We deep root fertilize it once a year and prune it periodically and it’s very healthy.

Freeze/thaw cycles may also result in soil heaving as water in the soil contracts and expands. Damage may be mild heaving of the soil around the tree or shrub’s root zone. More often, however, the heaving will be sufficient to break roots, causing the tree or shrub to lean. In the most severe case, the tree will topple, especially if it’s shallow rooted.

We can often repair soil heaving damage if the tree is just leaning. On a warm day, we will examine the roots and then stand the plant upright and stake it. In the spring, we’ll determine whether the plant is able to regenerate enough roots during the growing season to stabilize itself after being staked for a year. We may opt for removing and replanting it or it may have to be removed. Toppled trees almost never can be righted and have to be removed

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Let Hardscape Add Winter Interest

Nothing’s as boring to look at as piles and piles of white snow. It doesn’t have to be so boring. Many landscape designs include ornamental grasses, hollies with their red berries, and trees. But the deck or patio still looks bland. Why not use hardscape to add winter interest?

I know you don’t want to expose your good patio furniture to the elements but it won’t hurt to leave unupholstered furniture in place or even set up a winter patio using furniture made of wood or steel. Metal or wood chairs that have cushions on them in summer will look just fine without the cushions when they are covered in snow.

You can pick up some pieces if you don’t have such furniture. Check ads in the local shopping news or an online marketplace. Garage sales may also yield results, as may cruising around the neighborhood on garbage day. I’m sure you can find someone who has what you need and would be happy to see it repurposed. Your winter patio set doesn’t have to be comfortable, just rugged.

Durable garden art, such as certain statues, can be left in place. Wind chimes or garden bells tickle your auditory as well as your visual interests, unless the snow gets too deep for them to work.

Some families like to grill outside the year around. If you closed up and winterized your outdoor kitchen, don’t compromise that serious investment. Instead, buy a charcoal or an inexpensive gas grill for the winter patio. It won’t have all the bells and whistles of the winterized grill but it will give you a taste of summer on a cold winter night. Be sure and get a cover for it. Keeping it clean and covered will help it last for years.

The photo is a customer’s patio in winter. He used to put everything away but as pieces developed a pantina, he began leaving them in place. He protects another bistro set and love seat by placing them in a sheltered corner of the patio out of the picture. They are made of cast aluminum and the wind can blow them away easily. When this picture was taken, he was still putting two concrete statues away for the winter. Now they stay in place.

The table, chairs and firepit are all steel and mosaic tiles. The chiminea is concrete on a steel base. They withstand the weather well and the patina improves every year. Now, instead of looking out over a barren patio of snow, these residents have an interesting view of a southwest style bistro set and firepit, along with a Mexican chiminea and weathered park bench peeking out of the drifted snow. An interesting juxtaposition, don’t you think?

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Insulate Your Plant Roots With Mulch

This is a time of uncertainty….for the weather as well as everything else in our lives. However, the early predictions I’ve seen indicate that this may be a mild winter with less than the usual amount of snow. The map I saw showed major snow events taking place north of Lake Ontario.

If this long term forecast is accurate, you’ll enjoy the mild weather but your landscape plants won’t. They’ll be subject to ongoing freezing and thawing cycles. Among other possible problems, the roots could heave, destabilizing the plant. In a cold winter, a near constant snowpack insulates the roots , protecting them. In a constantly changing winter, your plants need your help.

Organic mulch is a smart insulation choice for many reasons. Mulch moderates soil temperature and regulates the amount of water that the soil absorbs. While insulating the root zone, the mulch begins decomposing, returning organic matter to the soil. Organic mulch made from chipped and ground wood chips is good for the environment, too. It’s made from waste from our tree care operations. When pruning or removing trees, our arborists chip the brush in the field and bring it back to our facility where it is further ground into pieces of nearly equal size. It is then left to age and begin decomposing before it’s ready to be spread as mulch.

Although it’s December already, mulch can still be spread since the ground hasn’t frozen yet. If the area beneath trees and shrubs, as well as your perennial beds, already have a layer of organic mulch, you only need a top coat for the winter. It wouldn’t hurt to mulch your annual beds, too. As the mulch decomposes, it’ll fertilize the soil so it’ll be all ready for spring planting.

Ideally, your mulched areas should have a layer two or three inches deep. Before calculating how much mulch you need, it would be a good idea to measure how much is left. Dig down into the mulch with a garden trowel until you reach only the native soil. Measure it with a ruler. If the mulch is less than three inches deep, you should consider adding enough to bring it up to four inches.

Be prepared to remove the top inch or two in the spring. During the growing season, mulch should be no deeper than two or three inches. When preparing for the growing season, use the same method to measure the depth as you did to determine how much winter mulch to add. If you have to remove mulch in the spring, either use it in beds with less than two inches or add it to your compost pile.

Mulch is sold by the cubic yard. To calculate the amount you need, measure the length and width of the bed and multiply the two figures together to determine the area and multiply that by the number of inches you have to add to get the volume. It may be best if you calculate the length, width and depth in inches and divide by 46656 (the number of cubic inches in a cubic yard). If you can convert the depth to feet, measure the length and width in feet and then you’ll only have to divide by 27 (the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard). The area around the base of a tree or free-standing shrub will be round, so you’ll have to use the formula radius squared times 3.14 (Pi) for the area and then multiply it by the depth to calculate the volume.

Depending on how much mulch you need, it may be more economical to buy in bulk than in bags. We can dump bulk mulch in the driveway for you to spread, or we can spread it for you. If you spread it, don’t pile it against tree trunks or shrub stems. Leave a couple of inches exposed to discourage rodents from dining there.

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Please Have A Happy, Safe Thanksgiving

This has certainly been a unique year, like no other in our lifetime. As you weathered this challenging time, I hope you were able to embrace the bright spots like the flowers that bloom after a long winter.

As we head into the heart of the holiday season, I wish you and your family a happy and safe Thanksgiving from all of us here at the Birchcrest family.