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Keep on Mowing

Keep On Mowing

Just because autumn has arrived, it doesn’t mean you can put the mower away until next spring. We could have a month or more of mowing ahead of us, and this is the most critical time for mowing.

Hopefully, you’ve been mowing with the deck height set between 3.5 and 4 inches. Continue that until the first frost and then lower the deck to 2.5 to three inches for the rest of the season. The rest of the season is until the grass stops growing and goes dormant for the winter.

The high deck height during the growing season allows the grass to grow nice and thick, reducing the area available for weeds to germinate. The reason for the lowered deck height at the end of the season is to give winter fungal diseases less leaf surface to infect. Fungal diseases thrive in wet environments, including under the snowpack. These diseases will appear as discolored patches in the lawn after the snow melts.

When the lawn dries up in the spring, the fungi won’t spread but you’ll be faced with cleaning out the dead grass and rejuvenating the lawn. It’s much easier to lower the mower for what you hope to be your last few mowings of the season than having to care for the aftermath. Besides, shorter cut lawns will also look better when the snow melts next spring because they won’t have that matted look.

In addition to mowing, fall lawn care tasks may include renovating any bare spots caused by grubs – after treating for them of course – and applying weed control to broadleaf weeds before they go to seed. This will reduce the chance of seeds germinating first thing in spring.

Grass will continue to grow and make food through photosynthesis until the ground freezes. The turfgrass plants are trying to store as much food in their roots as possible before going dormant so they have sufficient energy to break dormancy in the spring.

Fertilizing in the fall replenishes the soil nutrients that the grass plants used during the summer and assure that the grass plants will be able to manufacture sufficient food to sustain themselves through the winter and into early spring.

Remember, fertilizer is not plant food. Plants make their own food through photosynthesis. For that reaction to take place, however, the plants need minerals and nutrients present in the soil. If your soil is deficient in any of these nutrients, they need to be replenished through fertilization. You could look at fertilizer as vitamin supplements for plants.

If you want a lush lawn without the work involved, our lawn care professionals can apply fertilizer and weed control, and overseed if necessary. Then all you’ll have to do is wait for spring to enjoy your renewed lawn.

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Vacation Is Almost Over For Houseplants

   Vacation’s Almost Over For Houseplants

If you have houseplants on the deck or patio, it’s time to keep an eye on the thermometer and an ear to weather reports. Nighttime temps will soon begin to plummet and frost will be in the forecast. That means summer vacation is over for your fair weather plants and you’ll have to bring them indoors.

The sooner you start planning for this migration, the easier it’ll be. You first decision will be where to put the plants you’ll be bringing back into the house. Are their old homes still waiting for them? Or are they occupied by new plants you acquired over the summer? If their old homes await their return, great! If their spots have new occupants, then begin the transition by shuffling plants around to make room.

Your houseplant transition doesn’t have to take place all at once. Move each plant inside as the forecast overnight low nears its cold tolerance level. They should all be back indoors when the first hard frost warning is issued.

Be sure the plants are clean before moving them inside. Remove weeds that may have taken up residence in their container. Also guard against taking insects indoors where they can infest your healthy plants. If you can see insect activity, such as eggs, chewed leaves or the insects themselves, pick off what’s visible and hose off others. If no insects or insect activity’s visible, take the precautionary step of shaking the plant and then submerging the container in water to drown any insects in the soil or on the soil surface.

Quarantining the plants for a day or two before taking them into the house would be a good idea if you’re able to. You need a place in which they can get sufficient sunlight during the day and not freeze at night. Suggestions include a garage or outbuilding with enough windows to let photosynthesis continue, or a glassed in, unheated sunroom. This quarantine will allow the plants to adjust to an inside environment gradually. It’ll also give soil an opportunity to dry out from dunking, and you can check for any lingering insects.

Don’t forget to water the quarantined plants if they need it. When you take the plants indoors, use a moisture meter or base your watering regimen on the humidity in the house and the feel of the soil.

Plants whose crowns are substantially larger than when you put them outside can be pruned before going into the house. Otherwise, they may not fit the space you have allocated for them. Using pruning shears or sharp kitchen scissors remove one third or up to half the foliage. If you can identify new growth, pruning off only that foliage will return the plant to its size when you took it outside. When pruning, always try to maintain the plant’s natural shape.

Your houseplants added an attractive touch to your deck or patio all season. But now it’s time to bring them back to their natural environment. There’s a reason why they’re called houseplants; the house is their natural habitat. These easy steps will make the transition good for the plants and for you.

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Plant Bulbs Now For Spring Blooms

When the first crocuses appear in spring, some people proclaim it to be a miracle. Spring’s arrival may be a miracle, but the crocuses announced their arrival because someone planted the bulbs last fall, or a previous fall. Fall planting is necessary so that the roots can get established before the ground freezes.

Crocuses aren’t the only bulbs that have to be planted in fall if you want spring flowers. All spring flowering bulbs need to overwinter in the ground. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are the most popular. That’s why garden centers are stocking up on these bulbs now.

The bulbs we grow originated in different parts of the world. Crocuses come from the Alpine region of southern Europe. Daffodils are from the Mediterranean area. Tulips originally came from Turkey. Hyacinths got their start in the Middle East as well. Today, Holland has become the epicenter for bulb production, and this is where most of those you’ll find in garden centers were grown.

If you’ve grown bulb flowers before, you know that they naturalize and become perennials. However, a lot can happen from the time they bloomed last spring until they bloom again next spring. Some may die of old age. Others may become a critter’s dinner. Still others may succumb to weather extremes, such as torrential rain that drowned them. Critters are the only “enemy” that leaves tell tale signs. The soil will be disturbed around the area where they dug up the bulbs.

Did you notice any open spaces in your bulb garden(s) when they bloomed last year? If so you know where you have to fill in with new bulbs this fall. Next spring, be sure to check for any other spaces that need filling in next fall.

A good way to manage your bulbs garden is to draw a sketch of the plot, indicating the type of plant and color of flower. Then you’ll easily be able to buy replacement bulbs of the same or contrasting color. Large areas of same color bulbs result in a spectacular, colorful show to welcome spring. Even if you prefer a mix of colors, planting many bulbs in a large bed is a more attractive display than scattering them so that they grow singly or in small groupings.  

Most garden centers sell bulbs both prepackaged and loose. If you’re planting a new bulb garden this fall, packages may be more convenient. If you’re buying bulbs for fill in, those sold in bulk may be better. You can buy only as many as you need, although it might be a good idea to have a few extra on hand. Be sure you separate the colors when buying in bulk.

Bulbs are easy to plant and maintain. When you plant them, dig the hole twice as deep as the length of the bulb. Bulb planters are nice, but you don’t really need one. Just plunge a trowel into the soil to the proper depth and pull it to you. Place the bulb in the hole root end down, pointy end up. Then remove the trowel and make sure the hole seals up. Bulbs have plenty of nutrition in them, so they don’t need fertilizer.

After your bulbs finish blooming next spring, it’s OK to cut off the spent flowers. This isn’t deadheading. A new flush won’t grow this season. Be sure to keep the green foliage intact to make food through photosynthesis. This food will be stored in the bulb to sustain the plant through the winter and next spring’s reawakening. Leaves can be removed when they turn yellow, and the bulbs would appreciate fertilizer being scattered around the bed next fall. Mulching the bed’s, a good idea, too.

Planting bulbs in fall provides you with a beautiful display to anticipate next spring. These colorful plants are relatively inexpensive, enabling you to plant sufficient flowers for a spectacular view. Best of all, they’re easy to plant and low maintenance. What can be better!

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To Fertilize Or Not This Fall

Every autumn, tree and shrub owners are faced with the title decision. Some “experts” advise not fertilizing and others advise fertilizing. The reason most often cited for not fertilizing is that it may cause the plant to put on new growth that won’t have an opportunity to harden off in preparation for winter. That doesn’t apply to woody plants, at least not in our area. Winter preparation is also the reason others recommend fall fertilization, and I belong to that group.  Here’s why.

Fertilizer is spread around the base of plants, but its purpose isn’t to feed plants. Its purpose is to replenish soil nutrients. If you’re one of the few residential property owners whose soil is rich in organic matter and teaming with microbes, you probably don’t have to worry about fertilizing. Otherwise, the only way to replenish depleted soil nutrients is with fertilizer and organic matter. The soil cannot replenish nutrients by itself.

If you’re not sure whether you need fertilizer, we can test the soil. Your plants have probably used most of the nutrients replenished during spring fertilization. They were needed for the plants’ intense spring and summer food making process. Although it’s autumn already, the plans still need to make a lot of food before all the leaves fall. Like animals that hibernate for the winter, deciduous plants have to binge, so they have enough energy stored to sustain them through the winter and to break their buds to flower and leaf out next spring. Even after the leaves fall, the roots remain active until the ground freezes.

In the fall, the plant is working extra hard to make enough food to sustain itself now and pack enough away in the roots to keep it alive through the winter and get the food-making and reproduction system going again in the spring.

Nutrients from the soil aid in the process of photosynthesis, which is the plant’s food-making process that takes place in the leaves. The comparison between plant and animal needs that I find most easy to understand is comparing fertilizer to the vitamin supplements that many of us take. Some of the minerals (nutrients) that plants need is the same as those that we need.

Plants need three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – and trace nutrients zinc, copper, selenium, chromium, cobalt, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Check these against the label on your multi vitamins and you’ll see that many are the same.

If you apply fertilizer, it’ll, no doubt, be granular, in which case, you’ll have to water the area thoroughly. Fertilizer only works when it’s dissolved or suspended in water. The roots then absorb the fertilizer laced water and send it up the plant. After the photosynthetic process has taken place, the food is distributed throughout the plant. Any food that’s left is stored in the roots until needed. If we fertilize your plants, we place it directly in the ground, near the roots, in liquid form. You don’t have to water the area and the roots can begin absorbing it and putting it to work right away. Fall fertilizer can be applied until the ground freezes but the sooner it’s applied, the sooner it can go to work helping your plants get ready for winter.

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Fall Is For Planting

The Labor Day holiday is the unofficial start of autumn. I’m sure the kids returning to school has something to do with that. For landscape professionals and do it yourselfers, however, it’s the start of a busy season. Fall is for Planting is more than a clever marketing slogan. It’s a clever slogan to remind you that some of the best weather for planting deciduous trees and shrubs, perennials and spring flowering bulbs is yet to come.

As the dog days of summer give way to the warm days and cool nights of autumn, the rain also returns. The result is perfect growing weather for deciduous trees and shrubs to get established in their new home before winter descends upon them. Spring plants don’t really have this establishment time before they start to battle summer heat and drought.

Next spring, fall plants will break dormancy and begin growing several weeks before spring planting can get underway. Because of their earlier start, last fall’s plants require less care during the summer than spring plants. That means less watering and, possibly, less fertilizing, saving you both time and money.

Herbaceous perennials can also be planted or dug up and split in fall. And spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips must be planted this fall if you want them to bloom next spring.

Wait until late spring, however, to plant evergreens. They retain their leaves or needles and don’t go completely dormant. Fall planting can result in unsightly winter burn, unless you apply anti desiccant. Also, wait until spring to plant perennials like butterfly bush and big leaf hydrangeas that flower on new wood. Otherwise, you’ll have to prune the old wood away in the spring to allow new wood to grow.

Planting in fall is no different from planting in spring. Select a planting site whose conditions are right for the plant you select. Remember – right plant, right place. Dig the planting hole two to three times bigger than the rootball, but only as deep. If potted, remove the plant from its pot. If balled and burlapped, remove the wire basket or rope but leave the burlap around the ball.

Set the plant in the hole and backfill, stopping occasionally to press the backfill to fill in any air pockets. Do not pile soil up against the trunk. Finally, mulch and water well. Only trees planted in a windy area may need staking. Try to avoid this practice.

If you want to be sure you have winter hardy plants and the right plant is planted in the right place, you can turn to our landscape professionals. Then all you need to do is sit back and enjoy your new plants this fall, next spring and for years to come.

Most nurseries and garden centers order fresh, new plants for fall planting. They are probably arriving now. If plants look like they’re left overs, don’t buy them. Or, if you are looking for a bargain, you may be able to negotiate deep discounts on those that survived for last spring and summer. Personally, I’d rather pay full price and get new stock.

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Color Your Landscape For Fall

Many people look forward to nature’s display of fall color, namely the turning of the leaves. But that’s several months off. Yet, the summer annuals are fading. You don’t have to wait for the leaves. Plant fall flowering plants now, beginning with your annuals.

Garden centers are beginning to take delivery of their fall annuals. You may think your only choice is chrysanthemums, but you have a wider choice for immediate fall color.  Certainly, mums are the most popular and the harbinger of fall in the same way crocuses are the harbinger of spring. But you have more choices, including pansies, petunias, dianthus and ornamental cabbage to name just a few. Many will continue to bloom well after leaves fall, making them a very good investment.

Pansies can be annuals or perennials, depending on the hardiness zone. As might be expected, they are annuals here in our Zone 5 climate. However, they may grow back each year like several other plants that die off each fall and grow back each spring.

Fall flowering perennials include asters, fall crocuses, Joe Pye weed and some sedums. You can plant them and give them the same care you’d give any other perennial. Then you don’t have to worry about the best time to plant each one for fall color.

Mums are usually sold in pots. If you plant them in the ground, they can be planted as single clumps directly from the pots or split apart and planted in separate, smaller groupings. Some property owners prefer to plant mums in containers. You can remove them from the nursery pot and replant them in your decorative container. This allows you to divide the mums, so they fit your container. The alternative is to buy them in nursery pots that can just slip into your decorative containers.

If you prefer woody plants, there are also some shrubs that flower into the fall season in our Zone 5. They include panicle hydrangeas, viburnum and caryopteris. These and all the plants I’ve mentioned here are just a sampling. There are others as well. To find out what’s popular, and available, locally, visit your local garden center and talk to one of their horticulturists.

There’s still another alternative. Turn the design and installation of your fall flowering plant bed(s) over to our landscape professionals. Then all you need to do is enjoy your new planting beds right up until the snow flies. No trips to the garden center. No research. All you do is approve the design. If you have a favorite, we can incorporate that, too. Remember, landscapes are to enjoy, not to take all of your time maintaining.

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Mulch Never Goes Out Of Style

There’s never a season to mulch. You can even mulch, add mulch or fluff up mulch now, in the middle of summer. Mulch is nature’s filter and insulator. In a forest, nature provides the mulch in the form of fallen leaves and branches. As they decompose, they become nutrient-rich humus and return essential nutrients to the soil for the living plants to absorb.

Cultivated landscapes don’t have the same luxury as natural landscapes. Mother Nature leaves it up to cultivated landscapes’ owners to provide the necessary soil amendments. That’s why it’s so important to learn all about the various types of mulches available and their benefits.

Mulch can be divided into two main categories – organic and inorganic. Inorganic mulches include such materials as various size stone and ground-up, recycled rubber. Stone is purely decorative. Recycled rubber is used on playgrounds as a cushioning material to protect the children. Inorganic mulches have no environmental benefit.

Organic mulch includes such materials as ground wood chips, various types of bark, pine straw and compost. You can buy bags of bark in garden centers and you can make your own compost. Pine straw is bagged pine needles. It’s popular in the south but is not used much in our area. Tree care services sell ground wood chips in bulk, by the cubic yard.

My preferred mulch is ground wood chips. This form of mulch is made from debris from tree pruning and removals. This keeps thousands of cubic yards out of landfills and puts them to work protecting landscapes. To convert chip to mulch we double or triple grind them and let them age until they take on a blackish color. Some companies add dye to give the chips the red or other color you see in some yards. Dyes, however, may contain chemicals that can damage plants.

Organic mulch insulates, or moderates, the soil, cooling it down in summer and allowing it to retain heat in winter. Plant roots don’t like wide temperature fluctuations. Organic mulch also holds water and releases it over time. More water from rain or melting snow is available for plants to absorb. Without organic mulch, much of the water from a heavy rain would leach away before plants could absorb it.

If you have organic mulch and it looks as though it’s disappearing over time, that’s because it decomposes, returning essential nutrients to the soil. As it decomposes, just add more mulch. It should be two to three inches in summer, spring and fall and three to four inches in winter. Wait until the leaves drop in the fall and they’re cleaned up before spreading the winter mulch. And make a note to remove any excess in spring.

When spreading mulch, resist the temptation to form mulch volcanoes by piling it up against the trunks of your trees. Although popular, mulch volcanoes are bad for the tree. The mulch volcano is full of water, which is an excellent environment for fungi, including rot fungus. If there’s even the slightest crack in the bark, water can carry the microscopic rot fungi into the tree. Mulch volcanoes are also good places for rodents to hide while they dine on your valuable trees.

Applying organic mulch to your landscape is replicating a natural process that takes place in the wild. That’s why mulch never goes out of style.

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Divide Perennials Or Consider The Alternatives

As you enjoy the great outdoors on these beautiful days, do you stop short when your eyes fall on those overgrown perennials? You suddenly come back to reality and jot down the need to take care of them this fall.

Overgrown perennials are reduced in size by dividing them. Dig up the whole plant, including as much root as possible. Place it on a tarp and cut the root in half and then into quarters. How you cut it depends on the size of the root and your strength. Some people are able to divide them with a very sharp shovel. Others may use an axe or even a saw.

When finished, you’ll have four plants instead of one. Now you have to decide what to do with them. You can put one back in the hole from which you removed the original plant and the other three in new locations in your yard. This means that you’ll have to divide four plants when these outgrow their spaces. You could return one quarter to the original hole and give the other three to family, friends or even to a community plant sale.

If you’ve divided your perennials before and it seems as though the plant root is larger each time and it’s getting harder for you to wield the cutting tool, both reactions are accurate. As the plant grows, its roots grow in size and strength. As you age your strength and endurance begins to wane.

If this is the position you find yourself in, why not find new homes for all four pieces this fall? In the perennial’s spot, plant a shrub or a dwarf conifer. Neither of those plants need to be dug up and divided. A shrub may have to be pruned once every year or two. Dwarf conifers need even less care. Some never need pruning, others every few years. The pictured dwarf blue spruce is one of two that a customer has had  since 2009 and they’ve never required pruning.

A common argument against replacing perennials with shrubs is that the perennials were planted for their flowers. Many shrubs flower just as beautifully. Our city’s signature plant, the lilac, is just one example. Shrubs may flower earlier in the spring, and the blooms may not last as long as those on the perennials. But think of the progressively more difficult work you’ll be saving.

If you want flowers in a particular spot where you’re considering replacing perennials, mix early blooming plants like lilac or rhododendron with later blooming plants like hydrangeas. Another alternative would be to place decorative containers of annuals in the bed when your spring blooming shrub has finished its annual display of color.

Mixing several sizes of dwarf conifers with various foliage colors and textures can provide an outstanding display. Best of all, it needs little or no maintenance. Dwarf conifer gardens are among the fastest growing segments of the landscape industry.

If replacing your high maintenance perennials with low maintenance shrubs and/or dwarf conifers interests you but you don’t know where to start or are unable to visualize the change, we’d be happy to help. Our landscape designers can create your beautiful new area and our landscape professionals can do the planting. Then all you have to do is enjoy the new look to your yard.

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Weed Before Seeds Drop

Fighting weeds in your landscape is a never-ending battle. However, you may be able to get ahead of it a bit by keeping a constant eye out for these undesirable plants. This would be a good time to start your vigilance.

The ideal time to pull or spot treat weeds is any time in their growth until after they’ve flowered but before they drop seeds. Using the ubiquitous dandelion as an example, they can be pulled or treated now, even if they’re displaying their familiar yellow flowers.

You can still get rid of the plants in your landscape after the yellow flowers have turned into the round, white seedheads but it then may be akin to closing the barn door after the animals have escaped. You’ll get rid of one plant but not until it has released all those seeds into the atmosphere to frustrate you even more.

From now until it’s cold enough for killing frosts, weeds are particularly insidious. Their seeds may not germinate now. Instead, they may overwinter in the ground in a latent state until spring. Then they’ll dramatically show how the season got its name when they all spring up and cover your lawn or planting bed.

One way to crimp their style is to treat them with a selective herbicide that contains both pre and post emergent material. The pre-emergent will prevent any seeds they dropped from germinating while the post emergent will kill the existing weeds.

This weed control method isn’t foolproof. Don’t blame the material or your application if a few weeds appear in the spring. You could only take care of those seeds present when you made the application. You have no control over those blown in by the wind or dropped by birds after you finished.

When you buy herbicide for weeds, be sure to buy a selective herbicide, as in broadleaf weed killer. It you apply a non-selective, it will kill your lawn and anything green that it touches. You have to be particularly careful using broadleaf weed killer in your planting beds. Shield the good plants during the application because the material can’t differentiate between a weed and your prize hostas.

While broadleaf weed killers are effective on lawns with no damage to the grass, I recommend hand pulling weeds in your planting beds. After all, weeds are just herbaceous plants that are growing where you don’t want them. Weeds may be stronger and more aggressive than your landscape plants but genetically, they’re the same.

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It’s Time To Check For Lawn Grubs

The sound of June bugs colliding with your windows has probably faded now but they’re on the verge of causing real trouble in your yard. These big beetles were no match for the windows that got in their way, but their kids could destroy your lawn.

Those pesky beetles we call June bugs are adult Japanese beetles and European chafers, and they were just looking for love. In their adult form, their only job was to reproduce. With that accomplished, the females lay their eggs in the turf of nearby lawns.

Upon hatching, the little grubs immediately burrow into the ground and begin dining on turfgrass roots. They continue their feast until the ground begins to cool in preparation for winter. As the soil cools, the grubs burrow deeper into the ground, where they’ll overwinter.

When the ground begins to warm next spring, the grubs will again make their way up to the lawn’s root zone and continue the feast they began last fall. They’ll continue eating and growing until it’s time for them to pupate and morph into a new generation of June bugs.

The best time to check your lawn for grubs is now through the end of September. This is when they’re smaller and weaker and will require less aggressive treatment to control them. Waiting until spring may require a more aggressive approach to knock out the larger, stronger grubs.

To check for grubs, cut several 12-inch squares of sod in different parts of your yard and fold them back. Grubs are white, crescent-shaped, soft bodied creatures. If there are six or less in each hole, they don’t pose a threat to your lawn. Seven or more warrant an application of grub control.

Garden stores and home centers sell grub control material for the do-it-yourselfer. One brand is even manufactured locally. Or you can leave grub control to our lawn care professionals, even if you aren’t on a lawn care program. One final caution: don’t assume you have no grubs just because you didn’t see any June bugs. They fly significant distances before depositing their eggs.