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The Winds Are Gone… Now What?

The recent wind beat up many of the trees in our region. Some handled it better than others. If your trees survived, you’re lucky. But that doesn’t mean your trees are invincible. It means that you shouldn’t press your luck. This wasn’t the first storm and it won’t be the last. In fact if you haven’t been outside there is snow accumulating in the trees right now.

After the stressful couple of weeks that your trees have just experienced you should have your trees inspected by one of our Certified Arborists. Although your trees may still be standing, there could be damage up in the crown, in the root zone and inside the branches. If your yard is littered with broken branches they may have left jagged stubs, which are unhealthy. The jagged ends won’t allow the remaining stub to heal (callus) properly, becoming an entry point for insects and disease organisms. Not all broken branches may be in the yard. Some may still be hanging precariously up in the tree, where they could fall on somebody.

During the inspection, our arborists will also determine whether the crown should be pruned to lessen wind resistance and uneven weight distribution. Most of the trees that fell in the last storm were uprooted. This is because tree roots spread outward rather than downward. Water pockets form below the roots and, as the water freezes and thaws, it can loosen the soil around the roots. Add to that hurricane-force winds and a heavy crown and the tree cannot help but fail.

Some trees that suffered damage can still be saved with creative, professional pruning. I cannot emphasize enough that pruning and tree work is not a do-it-yourself job. It’s the most dangerous profession in the United States. Professionals are trained to work on toppled trees and those near power lines. Local hospitals treated many chain saw and other tree related injuries resulting from property owners trying to do their own tree clean up after the latest wind storm.

When we inspect, we’ll check for rot that reduces the tree’s ability to withstand high winds. Mushroom-like growths, especially around the root zone, are the most obvious sign of rot. However, we also use instruments to measure the amount of internal rot and to calculate the tree’s chance of survival. We can then advise you on whether it should be removed and just monitored.

We also look for radial cracking, especially in smaller branches. High winds or heavy loads on branches can cause them to break inside. The only obvious sign is droopy branches. If you cut a cross section, it will look like a sliced pie with cracks radiating out from the center but not quite reaching the edge of the branch. This cracking weakens the branch.

An inspection and any repair work now can result in substantial savings after the next wind storm.

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Help Your Trees Welcome Spring

Your deciduous trees’ leaf buds are swelling and getting ready to burst forth into a crown of green. Will the branches be able to carry the extra weight of all those leaves? One way to be sure is to have your trees inspected by one of our Certified Arborists and pruned, if needed, before they leaf out.

It’s March and winter isn’t over yet. Besides having to protect tree branches from the weight of leaves, you may also have to protect them from the added weight of ice and snow, as well as the buffeting of high winds. This winter has been so unpredictable that I can only recommend preparing your trees for the worst case scenario.

Pruning can be done anytime a tree needs it. However, late winter and early spring are excellent times to have it done. The tree’s skeletal structure is visible so the arborists can see which limbs might be prone to break under the weight of ice, snow or a bumper crop of leaves. The visible leaf buds will also let the arborists estimate the amount of weight leaves will add to the branches and determine which cannot handle the load and should be removed.

One caution, though: Don’t prune trees like dogwoods that flower in the spring. The flower buds, as well as the leaf buds, are on the branches. It’s difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish between the two types of buds. As a result, you may prune off the reason you planted the tree in the first place – the flowers.

If you pruned, or had us prune, your trees during the fall or winter, they probably don’t need pruning this spring, unless you discover a potentially hazardous situation. Then you should call immediately. Always remember that tree pruning is not a do-it-yourself job, especially if you have to leave the ground or stand under the tree to cut big limbs above you.

Trees are the backbones of all landscapes. Losing one during a storm will leave a hole in your landscape that could be impossible to replace in your lifetime. That’s why it’s so important to keep your trees healthy. Besides, keeping your current trees healthy is much less expensive than removing and replacing them.

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Caring For Spring Flowering Bulbs

First signs of Spring.

First signs of Spring.

Bulbs are, arguably, the most carefree, low maintenance flowers you can plant in your landscape. However, there’s no such thing as a maintenance-free plant, just low maintenance.

The little crocus will soon make its appearance as the harbinger of spring. Even if there’s snow on the ground, the flowers will pop right up through the snow. The crocus will be followed by daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. After giving us our first splash of spring color, these beautiful flowers will fade. Later in the season, their leaves will turn brown.

As soon as the flowers fade, some enthusiastic gardeners cut these plants right back to the ground. Others just leave them and let nature take its course. The right thing to do is to meet those two extremes right in the middle. When the flowers die, remove them but leave the green foliage in place. The green leaves continue making food through photosynthesis. The food is stored in the bulb to sustain the plant through next winter. When the leaves and stem die and turn brown, it’s then time to remove them. The bulbs will lie dormant through the summer and will begin growing new roots in the fall.

It’s not necessary to fertilize for the summer, but a light coating of mulch will help moderate soil temperatures. Check the mulch again in the fall to be sure it’s at least three inches deep. In fall, your bulbs might also like a balanced fertilizer, depending on how fertile your soil is naturally. Most bulb experts recommend mixing bone meal with fertilizer but I’ve found that bone meal is a magnet for hungry wildlife who eat the bulbs as well as the bone meal.

With fertilization and mulching complete, you can relax and wait until color bursts on to the scene next spring to signal that your landscape is waking up from another drab winter.

The only other thing you have to do in the fall is to plant more bulbs so your spring awakening will be even more spectacular. You can never have too many bulbs. These early risers provide you with plenty of spring color at a time when most of your other plants are still sleeping. Yet they ask so little in return.

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What Right Plant/Right Place Really Means

Green industry professionals have been throwing the mantra “Right Plant/Right Place” around quite liberally for the last few years. Ever wonder what it really means? When so many different people, all with different agendas, have jumped on the bandwagon, the true meaning can become rather clouded.

The original meaning, and the one to which Birchcrest subscribes, is to analyze the growing conditions of the space in which you would like to install a plant and to select a plant that will grow happily in those conditions. The plant can be changed but the site can’t.

Native plant advocates believe the only right plants in these parts are those native to our area. Others define the term to mean any plant that is suited to the growing conditions the site provides. That gives you the choice of native, exotic, introduced, nativar, even volunteer, as long as they are suited to the growing conditions. Remember, you can change the plant you select but you can’t change the growing conditions without a lot of work and dubious success.

Plants at a garden center have tags on the plants or stuck in the container. They list the growing conditions that the plants require, including the amount and duration of light each day, the amount of water it needs and the amount of wind it can tolerate.

Tags also list the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) hardiness zone for the coldest temperature the plants can tolerate. Knowing the temperature extreme is important because of microclimates. Although the Rochester, New York area is generally Zone 5 (-20 to -10), there are pockets that are Zone 5B (-15 to -10), Zone 6A (-10 to -5) and even Zone 6 (-10 to 0). Your yard may have microclimates caused by your house’s shape, positioning on the property or other factors.

A major consideration when buying a tree is its ultimate height and width. These, too, are on the tag. If you want to plant the tree under electric wires, its maximum height, when fully grown, shouldn’t be more than 20 feet. If you’re planting near structures or the edge of your yard, the tree should be placed so that the crown doesn’t overhang a right-of-way or a neighbor’s property when fully grown.

You’ll also need to contact a utility locating service before you begin digging the hole for a tree. They will come out and place flags where underground utilities are located so you can avoid them. Be sure the service also flags water and sewer pipes, especially if you’re on septic tanks. Tree roots can interfere with these pipes.

You should also be aware of insects and diseases that are active in the area where you want to plant. For example, it’s not wise to plant an ash tree since the emerald ash borer is active in our area.

What if you plant a wrong plant in a wrong place? The results can range from failure to extra maintenance work. Some plants, especially those exposed to light, water and wind conditions they don’t like, will not thrive and may die. Trees and shrubs that are too big for the site will require constant pruning to keep them in check.

If you have our professionals design and plant your landscape, you won’t have to worry about the right plant being in the right place. This is a mantra for professionals as well property owners.

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Use Winter Thaws Wisely

This winter has been typical for a La Nina winter, according to the TV meteorologist I like to watch. He said that we would have our share of ups and downs – periods of cold and snow followed by periods of mild weather. If this weather pattern continues, it will, you can use the mild thaws to get outside and improve the look of your landscape.

I don’t mean to imply that you should go out and start major renovations or upgrades. However, there are routine maintenance tasks you can perform that will keep your yard looking nice and clean. Checking on your landscape from the outside will also afford you the opportunity to identify potential hazards early and have them taken care of before they injure people or damage property.

When you take these strolls around your property, inspect your overwintering plants, especially those you planted last fall. Be sure they’re still healthy, secure in the place you planted them and not under stress. If the weather is well above freezing and no cold spell is predicted for a few days, give your fall plants a good watering.

Frequent freezing and thawing causes frost cracks. These are vertical cracks in the bark of trees, especially smooth bark trees. Be sure to also check the base of trees and shrubs – both young and old – for rodent damage. While looking at trees, look up, too. Check for broken branches. We’ve had some high wind this winter, so there may be some branches that are broken and hanging.

If your trees and shrubs appear to have any problems, call us. Remember, our arborists work year round. You don’t have to wait until spring to have that broken branch removed or steps taken to discourage rodents.

As you walk around your property, pick up any leaves and trash that blew in. Not only will your property look nice for the rest of the winter, it will also reduce the chance of lawn diseases. Best of all, you won’t have as much clean up work in the spring.

Finally, use these opportunities to take note of where you need new plants or some need to be replaced. You can also sketch out the projects that you budgeted for after last week’s blog. Then you’ll be prepared to start these projects as soon as the lawn is firm enough to walk on. Speaking of firm lawns, be sure yours is dry enough to support you during your walks around the property. If it’s not firm enough, limit your walking to the perimeter.

This winter is certainly a gift, unless you’re a winter activity person. Make the most of it. While you are able to keep a closer eye on your landscaping, you’ll also get outside in the fresh air. And that sure beats sitting inside staring at your landscape out the window.

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Early Planning For Spring Landscaping

Winter is the perfect time to prepare for spring landscaping and to make your wish list of updates you’d like this season. You aren’t rushing like you would be once the season starts, and our landscape designers have more time to spend with you.

Last week, I wrote about budgeting for this season’s landscaping. Once you have a budget, your wish list and your reality list, the next step is to meet with one of our designers. Our expert designers will take the information from your discussion and put your dreams on paper. This will allow you to see what it will look like and to make easy alterations to fit your preference and budget. Before meeting with our designer you should review nursery catalogs (either paper or online) to gather ideas.

During the winter, our designers are only concentrating on creating plans for the growing season. Once the season starts, in addition to creating plans, they have to visit job sites to supervise installations. So during the winter, they are able to work closely with you to share ideas and design just what you have in mind.

Once you finalize the design and sign off on it, your designer can order plants and hardscape items for delivery early in the spring. This will allow for installation as soon as the snow melts and the ground thaws. If you’ve ever experienced previous springtime crunches, I know you’ll be pleased with the lower stress levels that result from early planning.


Landscaping On A Budget

Time to shed those winter blues and start thinking about the landscaping projects you want to complete when the weather breaks and the joy of working in the yard begins. Start by establishing a budget in order to ensure that you can complete those projects you really need to get done. How much do you want to spend and how much can you afford to spend on your landscape this season?

If you have no idea where to start, begin with your 2016 receipts. You’re probably pulling your records together for your income tax return, so put landscaping receipts aside as you come upon them. After you’re finished with your taxes, look over the landscaping receipts to determine how much you spent last year and what you spent it on.

This can serve as your baseline for 2017. Then, list the projects that are definitely required this year and those that you’d like to do this year, and estimate the cost of each project. You can price out do-it-yourself plants and other materials on the internet. We’d be happy to give you estimates on the projects you prefer that a professional complete.

After assigning costs to the items on each list, you can make informed decisions. Can you afford everything on both lists? If not, subtract the total of the must-do projects from the total amount that you have budgeted for landscaping. This will give you the amount you have available for the projects you’d like to do. Then prioritize the projects on your wish list. Plan to do as many as possible this year and schedule the rest for future years.

Once you know how much money you can spend and the projects on which you’ll spend it, you can begin preparing for the start of the spring landscaping season. Next week, I’ll offer some tips on how you can prepare early for spring to get the most value for your dollar.