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Attracting Wildlife….Or Not

Wildlife, birds and pollinators should all be considered when planning a new landscape or changes to your present landscape. Do you want to attract wildlife? Would you prefer that the furry creatures not visit but birds are welcome? Surely you want pollinators, unless you or someone in your family is allergic to bees. 

The wild guests you’ll welcome will influence the plant material you specify. All wildlife need food, water, shelter and a place to bear and raise their young. If you want to attract mammals, investigate what mammals live in your area and specify the plants they like to eat. Keep in mind that wild animals have a mind of their own, as evidenced by the damage that’s done to woody plants every winter by deer and rodents. Remember, too, that they can bite and scratch if you try to be too friendly, and some carry diseases like rabies. 

Perhaps it would be wiser to keep them close enough that you can enjoy their antics but far enough from your living area that they’re less apt to do any damage. Then plant their food sources near the edge of your property. Research what kind of shelter they need and put that further out, too. A water feature in your outback would provide them with their hydration needs. If you don’t want to attract wildlife, discourage them by not providing any of their necessities.

Birds have the same four basic needs as mammals. Getting birds to visit is as easy as providing for those needs. Putting out bird feeders is sure to bring them to your yard. Before you buy bird seed, make a list of the birds that visit your yard so you can buy a seed mix they like. Be sure to buy, or build, bird feeders that are difficult for squirrels to access. They’ll scare the birds away and make a mess of the seed. To provide water for birds to drink and bathe in only requires a birdbath that can be purchased at any garden or home center.

Most birds are very particular about their shelter. Robins will nest almost anywhere – in trees, in birdhouses, in the eaves of your house. Wrens like birdhouses. They are the birds that settle into homemade birdhouses the most. When making birdhouses, be sure the entry hole is the right size for the bird you want to attract. If it’s too big, a lazy bird you don’t want may take over the house. 

Bluebirds will use birdhouses for winter shelter, as well as a nesting shelter to raise their young. Cardinals also like birdhouses but they and blue jays will also roost in thick evergreens. If you have a mosquito problem, you may want to attract purple martins. These birds like to live in special apartment houses, which are sold at specialty bird supply stores and online. The employees at a specialty bird store can give you advice on attracting the various birds that call your area home.

Attracting pollinators is all the rage these days because the bee population is dying off and monarch butterflies are in decline. If you have annuals or perennials with bright colored flowers then you’ll attract pollinators. If bees visit your yard, you don’t have to worry about providing shelter. Their apiary may be miles away but they’ll find their way home. Hummingbirds, also good pollinators, roost in their nests or in tree branches, often sleeping upside down.

Butterflies need the most help. The adults suck nectar from flowers, and in the process pick up pollen on their feet. They deposit the pollen on another flower when they stop for another drink. However, one of the best things you can do to attract butterflies is to plant food for their young. Monarchs, for example, will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants because their caterpillars will only eat milkweed leaves. Milkweeds aren’t the most attractive plant so you might want to plant them in a less prominent place in your yard. The butterflies will find them.

You can help these beautiful workers by investing in a butterfly house, also known as a butterfly box, and a puddler, which is a shallow vessel butterflies use to drink and bathe from. You can find these online or at specialty bird stores. The staff at the bird store can also provide you with information on what species live in your area and their caterpillars’ food needs.

If you want to attract wildlife, birds and/or pollinators without doing the necessary work and research, our landscape designers are fauna experts as well as flora experts. All you have to do is share your desires with them and they will take it from there.

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Water Wise Plantings

Water isn’t scarce here. We have the Finger Lakes to the south and Lake Ontario to the north. But that’s no reason to waste water. After all, most of us have to pay for each gallon we use. Luckily, we seldom have to irrigate our established landscapes.

New plants do need supplemental water if they don’t receive at least an inch a week from precipitation. Once they’re established, they will also like at least the inch a week. However, the roots of many established plants find a reliable water source, except when we experience a drought. You may have to irrigate some of your plants this season because rainfall for the year is well below last year’s level. Keep an eye on your plants and irrigate any that begin to look droopy and stressed.

When planning new landscape, or changes to your present landscape, here are some water conservation techniques to consider:

• Check the nursery tags of the plants you’re planning to buy. They should have a section on water requirements. Look for those that say, “Drought Tolerant.” No plant is drought loving, except possibly some succulents that won’t grow here anyway. But there are plenty of drought tolerant plants at area garden centers.

• A landscape of all drought tolerant plants might not satisfy your aesthetic desire. In your design, you can group your plants according to water needs to conserve water. If you do have to irrigate, you’ll be able to snake soaker hoses around the group and water them all for the same amount of time.

• Use the terrain in your yard for water conservation. Plant those that need the most water in the lowest area of your yard and those that need less water on higher ground. Then, when it rains, the plants on the higher ground will receive the water they need and the excess will flow downhill to supplement the rain falling on the thirstier plants. You can see that principal at work in nature. You seldom see trees like willows or cottonwoods growing on a hill. They’ll be in the lowest, soggiest place. On top of the hill, you’ll find plants that aren’t fussy and need only minimal moisture.

• Use mulch liberally. Organic mulch, such as wood chips, is one of the best water conservation measures. The mulch absorbs water and then releases it slowly. It prevents a belly gushing rain storm from flooding the site. Lots of rain all at once runs off before it can soak into the soil. Mulch holds the water and releases it gradually. As the mulch decomposes, it returns organic matter to the soil to nourish the plants. Spreading one or two inches of mulch in every planting bed and two or three inches under every tree is one of the healthiest ways to a beautiful landscape. You can buy mulch in bags at your garden center for small properties. For the average suburban landscape, however, it’s less expensive to buy in bulk. We can deliver it by the cubic yard and dump in your driveway for you to spread, or we can spread it for you.

If you incorporate these suggestions into your landscape, you’ll spend less time tending to your landscape and more time enjoying it. You can sit on the deck or patio sipping a nice, cool drink of the water you didn’t have to use to irrigate your plants.
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Gypsy Moths Destroying Trees & Harassing People

The gypsy moths are back in greater numbers than last year. It’s only the beginning of June and all of the tan egg cases haven’t even hatched.  Yet, we’re seeing all kinds of destruction.

There are so many gypsy moth caterpillars that they’re eating any tree they can find. Although their preferred diet is oaks and maples, they’re even eating conifers this year like white pines and blue spruces. While deciduous trees can survive a year or two of a gypsy moth infestation before succumbing to this pest, I don’t believe conifers have that resilience, and expect that we’ll see an unusually high number of fatalities among evergreens.

As if the destruction they wreak on our trees isn’t bad enough, gypsy moth caterpillars make a mess of the properties on which infested trees are located. When a tree canopy becomes overloaded with caterpillars, the weaker ones either fall out of the tree or are pushed out by their stronger relatives. As a result, back yard toys, outdoor furniture, cars and walkways are covered with these hairy caterpillars, identified by parallel rows of red and blue dots on their backs. Some choose to change trees. They spin silk threads to take them down to the ground and land on passerby’s clothes and get tangled in the hair. Those that land on walkways also create a slipping hazard for pedestrians.

Our plant health professionals are spraying smaller trees with a fast-acting insecticide and are injecting material directly into the trunks of large trees. Upon request, they can also apply Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a bacteria that only attacks caterpillars. However, this organic treatment requires a couple of weeks to begin working and often requires multiple applications for control. Most property owners prefer a single treatment that begins eliminating this pest in days.

Its best to treat your trees now, while the gypsy moth caterpillars are small and weak. They’ll continue to grow all summer, reaching up to two inches. Then they’ll come down the tree, pupate in the soil, emerge as adults, mate, climb up the tree, lay their eggs, and the cycle of destruction will start all over again.

The gypsy moth is an invasive species but not in the sense of some of the more recent invaders who came here undetected in packing material. In the 1860s, gypsy moths were imported from Europe in an effort to establish a silk industry in the United States. Some of the caterpillars escaped and, as they say, the rest is history.

Since gaining their freedom more than 150 years ago, the gypsy moth decimated trees in New England, where the “experiments” were being conducted. They then spread into adjacent states and to the Midwest. Much of the spread has been aided by unwittingly motorists. Gypsy moths lay their eggs in places other than trees, including the undersides of vehicles like campers.

Upon its arrival here, the gypsy moth had no natural enemies. Today, they are subject to attack by some other insects, pathogens, birds and mammals. However, when gypsy moth caterpillars are devouring your valuable trees and raining down on your family and possessions, I doubt if you want to wait for nature to take its course. Our professionally applied control treatment will help you get back to enjoying life again quickly.

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Make Memorial Day A Weekend To Remember

Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the gardening season in New York’s Rochester and Finger Lakes region. That day was selected for both edible and ornamental gardens and landscapes because we can be pretty sure there won’t be any more frosts or freezes this spring.

With Covid still on people’s minds, this three-day holiday weekend will find many families staying at home. That doesn’t mean you have to stay in the house. You can have a fun filled staycation outdoors planting a garden. Make it a family affair.

Planting annuals and vegetables affords you an opportunity for the whole family to get involved. As a family, walk your property to see where annuals and veggies should be planted. If you’re familiar with flowering annuals, you can make a list of the number of each variety you need to fill your spaces. Estimate on the high side so you can plant them close together and discourage weeds. If you aren’t that familiar with the various plants, measure your beds and then rely on the nursery tag information and advice from the garden center horticulturists to guide you in making your choices. Also let the garden center horticulturists guide you as to which plants to buy as seeds and which to buy in pots and six packs.

Include in your plan an area just for the children to plant and take care of. While it’s up to you whether you plant veggies in rows or mix them in with the flowers, I suggest that the kids’ garden be a mix of both. It will show them the difference between ornamentals and edibles as they grow side by side. They will also get great satisfaction from being able to pick and eat the fruits of their labor. Can’t you see the smiles on their faces as they pick juicy red tomatoes fresh from the vine, bite into them as the juice runs down their chin? I hope you have your phone with you to take a photo you can cherish forever. Last but not least, combination gardens are very trendy today. As long as you’re teaching them to garden, you might as well teach them the most modern way. Who knows, you might want to plant the grown-up gardens the same way.

If you take the whole family to the garden center, everyone can have a say in what will be purchased. There’s no sense in buying annuals that don’t appeal to other members of the family or veggies that won’t get eaten. When you get home, you might want to begin by helping the kids get their garden planted first, especially if they’re excited about getting started. You have a three-day weekend and, hopefully, more patience than the young ones.

A Memorial Day weekend like this, modified in the face of a pandemic, can become a family tradition for many Memorial Days ahead.
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Light Your Landscape For Safety & Evening Enjoyment

You have a substantial investment in your landscape. It shouldn’t be abandoned every night when the sun disappears over the horizon. But that’s exactly what happens to many landscapes. You can change all that with garden lighting. The mission of garden, or landscape, lighting should be twofold – for safety and enjoyment.

LightingNothing beats a summer evening outdoors, unless lighting is inadequate or nonexistent. Garden lighting should be part of every design so you can enjoy grilling and dinner on the patio. It also allows you to garden even after the sun, and temperature, goes down. You’ll want a variety of lights on the patio to illuminate your various activities in that outdoor room. This may be a series of strategically placed floods attached to the house and hardwired to switches. Or they may be lower intensity lamps placed where needed. For example, you’ll need to light the grill or outdoor kitchen, the dining area and the sitting areas where you relax and read or even watch television.

It’s not a good idea to just start hanging lights and hope they do what they’re supposed to. It’ll save time and money to try various portable lights in different positions, to be sure they can be aimed correctly, than to go right to the permanent installation. Be sure all outlets are GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) units. These have built-in circuit breakers that will shut them off, rather than shocking you, if they get wet.

You may also want motion detector activated lights in key locations in your landscape. Spot or floodlights may be needed for security or to light the area when you want to work out there in the evening. Some lights may be located in trees and angled down to the area you want lit.

Poorly lit garden paths are dangerous. It’s so easy to misstep on a poorly lit path. If your garden paths are lined with solar powered stake lights, consider replacing them with low voltage stake lights. They’re brighter. They can be controlled, and they turn on even when the sun wasn’t out that day. Low voltage lights are connected by wires to a transformer box plugged into an outlet rated for outdoor use. You can buy boxes with on/off timers that will allow you to control what time they turn on and off, rather keeping them on from dusk to dawn.

If you have a water feature, consider lighting it, especially if it’s a pond. A pond should be lighted for safety, but it can also be lit for effect with LED lights that change color and reflect off the water. Fountains aren’t as hazardous as ponds so safety is less of a concern but picture the view of lights playing off the rising and cascading plumes of water.

Actually, I place lighting installation in the same category as tree work. For your health and safety, it’s best left to the pros. You can locate where you need lights and then hire a licensed electrician to install them. Or you can work with our landscape professionals to design and install all the outdoor lighting where in will be the most beneficial…and beautiful.

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Making Your Landscape Low Maintenance Without It Looking That Way

Low maintenance landscapes don’t have to look unkempt. The amount of care your landscape requires depends on both the design and the particular plants you select. Keep in mind, though, there’s no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape. Here are some ways in which you can substantially reduce the time it takes to make, and keep, your landscape picture perfect:

• Plant Evergreen Shrubs. Boxwoods, taxus (yews), some junipers, euonymus and dwarf evergreens require little or no pruning and they are green the year around. Besides looking nice during the growing season, they add color, other than white or brown, during the winter. The branches on evergreens are very flexible. Snow can bend them to the point that you want to go out and knock the snow off. Yet, if you resist the temptation, they’ll return to their normal position when the snow melts.

• Select Native Plants. Plants that are native to an area have adapted to the environment. As a result, they’re able to live in the native soil and survive on nature’s precipitation. Of course, they may need some fertilizer or compost if you have very bad soil with virtually no nutrients in it. And they may need water when your area is hit with a drought. Native plants also attract birds, wildlife and pollinators. Check with one of our landscape designers or a garden center horticulturist to be sure your plant selections are native. Many maples, for example, are from other places, and there are many cultivars of native maples.

• Plant A Cottage Garden. Small yards lend themselves to cottage gardens, but you can also set aside an area in a larger lot to plant a cottage garden. Cottage gardens are a staple in England and they’re catching on here as well. These informal gardens, composed of herbaceous perennials, give the impression that the plants just grew where the seeds were dropped but they are really very carefully designed. Here’s another place where native plants will be your best choice. Be sure you’re selecting the right plant for the right place. Add topsoil or compost if your soil is less than the best. Position the plants close together to discourage weeds and mulch between them. Then sit back and enjoy a sea of color all season long and for many seasons to come.

• Replace Some Turf With Groundcover. Your lawn is, arguably, the most labor-intensive portion of your landscape but few people around here want to part with it. An increasing number are willing let go of some grass and replace it with groundcover. Lawns require weekly mowing, multiple fertilizations and weed control applications during the season. Groundcover requires none of that.

These ideas should be viewed as thought starters. Bringing your low maintenance landscape to fruition will require research online, as well as visits to garden centers to read plant tags and consult with staff horticulturists. Or you could just work with one of our landscape designers. After you discuss with them what you have in mind, they will have already done much of the research and are able to make recommendations, which will save you a lot of time. The designer can then present you with a plan that has all the right plants in the right place, and our installation professionals can build your landscape so all you have to do is enjoy it.

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Spring Cleanup – Preparing For The Growing Season

The growing season is almost upon us. It officially begins on Memorial Day, which is just over a month away. Many people are outside working on their landscapes much earlier.

Newly Planted Tree 2Now is a good time to begin planting trees and shrubs, but I recommend waiting until Memorial Day to plant temperature sensitive plants. We could have a late frost or freeze that will wipe out all of your hard work. That doesn’t mean you can’t get everything ready during the next month, though.

As soon as the soil is firm enough in your beds, you can remove any extra mulch you added for the winter. If the beds are slow to dry out, rake the mulch to the edges of the beds to let the soil beneath it dry. Then rake back just the summer thickness of mulch. Don’t be alarmed if you only have enough mulch for the summer depth. Some mulch may have decomposed over the winter or it may have simply sunk into the wet soil.

When your lawn’s soil is dry enough to hold your weight, so you won’t leave footprints in the grass, then it’s safe to walk on and to prepare for the season. It may not be firm enough, or long enough, to mow yet. You can, however, fertilize, spread pre-emergent weed killer, overseed and pull weeds.

You can save time by dragging a garbage bag or other container along as you do these tasks and pick up any trash you find along the way. That way, you won’t have to go on a walk around the yard just to pick up trash. If you picked up trash on nice winter days, you shouldn’t have much to pick up now.

I don’t think spring cleanup ranks at the top of anyone’s list of favorite landscape jobs. Combining it with more pleasant jobs, as I’ve proposed above can make it more tolerable. If you’d rather just enjoy your landscape without doing any of the jobs above, we have landscape professionals who can do these and any other landscape maintenance job you’d like them to do.

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Arbor Day 2021

One of the oldest environmental observances will take place all over America on Friday, April 30. That’s when we observe the 149th Arbor Day. The first was held in Nebraska in 1872, and soon, each state scheduled Arbor Day during the best time to plant trees in that state. Since 1970, the last Friday in April has been recognized as National Arbor Day.

J. Sterling Morton is credited with the birth of Arbor Day. When Morton, a newspaper editor and politician, moved from Illinois to Nebraska City in the Nebraska territory, he was surprised by the lack of trees, and set out to change that. One million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872.

Arbor Day can be a real teaching moment for families. Sometimes schools observe the day by sending a tree seedling in a styrofoam cup home with each student. Some get planted and some don’t. Some get planted in the back yard with no protection around them and fall victim to the lawn mower. This year, hybrid and remote learning programs may cause cancellation of this tradition.

If your child brings home a seedling, I suggest planting it in a container to give it a better chance of surviving. Find a container that’s big enough to hold all the roots. Don’t pick one that’s too big or weeds will grow in it and use up all the nutrients you want for the tree. Some seedlings may be small enough for a 4” nursery pot. Other seedlings may need a bigger container but I doubt if any will need one larger than one gallon.

To plant the tree, put some potting mix in the bottom of the pot. Then have someone hold the tree up in the pot so the roots are just below the top of the pot. Fill with potting mix all around the tree roots. Then push down on the soil until the tree stands up on its own. Be careful not to compact the potting mix and don’t plant the tree too deep. Finally, water well.

Trees aren’t houseplants. They have to live outside, so place it on the deck or patio, or in one of your planting beds. Keep it watered. For the winter, find a spot that’s sheltered from the wind but still gets sunlight. Wrap the pot in bubble wrap or other insulating material and put plenty of mulch around the pot. Each spring, transplant it to a bigger pot until it’s big enough to join the other trees in your yard and still survive.

If you don’t get a seedling, you can schedule a family outing to your local garden center to buy a sapling or larger tree and plant it in the yard together as a family. Dig a hole two or three times wider than the root diameter but only as deep as the rootball. Remove the tree from its pot before placing it in the hole and backfilling. If it’s balled and in burlap, put the tree in the hole and cut the string or wire holding the burlap in place but leave the burlap. It’ll rot away. Backfill being careful not to plant the tree below grade level. Tamp down the backfill and water well. Don’t stake unless it is in a windy area.

When selecting your tree, be sure it’s the right tree for the place you’re planning to plant it.

Regardless of how you observe it, have a happy Arbor Day.

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Emerald Ash Borer Still Killing Trees

You might call the emerald ash borer (EAB) the invisible killer. That’s because they spend most of their life inside your stately ash trees. When the adults finally do emerge, they ‘re smaller than a penny and only live long enough to mate and start the next generation on its path of destruction.

EAB On Penny (LR)

Photo: Howard Russell, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

High up in the tree the females carve out indentations in the bark of the tree and deposit one egg in each. Each female can deposit 60 to 100 eggs. They hatch in about a week and the youngsters immediately begin boring galleries into the tree’s phloem, where they eat the food the tree has made through photosynthesis. The EAB starts its destruction at the top of the tree, which is why trees die from the top down.

With treatment, that beautiful ash tree growing in your yard can fend off this tiny attacker. Without treatment, it’s doomed. Unlike some insects, the EAB isn’t drawn to weak or distressed trees. They like them all, as long as they’re ash trees. Granted, it would be cost prohibitive to treat a forest of ash trees but it’s a very good investment to treat that specimen in your yard, and you can have it treated for decades for the cost of removing and replacing it after it succumbs to the EAB.

We have looked into all of the control products on the market and have found only one that we consider to be truly effective. This product is injected directly into the tree trunk near the base. Trees that haven’t been attacked by the EAB only need one treatment every two years. Control may be achieved on trees that have been attacked but only if the destruction is limited to a quarter to one third of the tree. These trees have to be treated annually.

The product we use can only be applied by New York State Certified Pesticide Applicators. I wouldn’t apply anything else to my own trees. It’s just not strong enough. Ash trees are beautiful trees that deserve all the help we can give them to survive.

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Spring Color After Bulbs

Flowering bulbs are the first to announce the pending arrival of spring. The crocuses are the first to peek out, often through the snow. They’re followed by daffodils, then tulips and hyacinths. Then what? Many people go back to late winter drab until shrubs like lilacs and forsythia flower. It’s too early for most annuals.

It may be too early for most annuals but not all of them. There’s a group of cool weather annuals that can take up the slack. Around here, the most popular of that group is, arguably, the pansy. Even at the southeast entrance to Highland Park, at the corner of South Goodman Street and Highland Avenue, visitors are greeted by a sea of color from the pansy bed. When Mother Nature delays the lilac bloom, the pansies still come through.

Containers on Stoop (NJ)Pansies are in the viola genus, as are violets, which also are cool weather species. Marigolds and snapdragons are popular early spring flowers, too. Additionally, the 70 species in the Nemesia genus can be planted locally. So, you have a wide choice of plants to provide post bulb color to your landscape.

It’s recommended that you plant these cool weather annuals in containers. You don’t know what kind of weather we’ll have this spring so it’s not a good idea to work in your planting beds until you can squeeze a handful of soil that will be damp, but no water will run down your arm. The containers will look nice on your patio, deck or porch. Or even in your planting beds.

If you do place containers in your beds, place them near the edge so you don’t have to disturb the wet soil in the bed. They may not want to stand up in the wet soil. They could sink or tip, so put them on a platform of flagstone, bluestone or wood. In addition to keeping the containers upright, a platform will also keep them cleaner than standing them in soil.

Most gardeners have their own potting technique. The most common potting method is to place potting mix directly in the decorative container and plant the flowering plants in the mix. The drawback to this method comes if you plan to change the plants out for warm weather annuals later in the season. You’ll then have to empty the container, wash out the inside and sanitize it with bleach before refilling it with potting mix and planting the new plants.

An easier method is to buy your cool weather annuals in nursery pots that will slide right into your decorative container. When you’re ready to change them out, buy your warm weather annuals the same way and make the swap. If your garden center sells the flowers you want only in six packs, ask them if they’ll pot them for you in nursery pots. Some will and some won’t. Shop around until you find one that will.

If you can’t find a garden center that will pot up your plants, it’s still easier to pot your purchases in nursery pots than decorative containers. If you don’t have a collection of different size nursery pots at home, shop the garden centers and landscape companies. You’re sure to find someone who will give them to you or sell them to you for a half a buck or less