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The What & Why Of Deadheading

Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers before they go to seed. Some people refer to deadheading as pinching. The reason for doing it varies with the plant but, in any case, it conserves energy that the plant can direct elsewhere.

Removing spent flowers from most annuals will often result in a new flush of flowers. Keep doing it as long as the plants keep pushing new flowers and you may be able to enjoy blooms from the same plants all season long.  Annuals live for only one season so the main reason for their being is to flower, drop seed to continue the species and then die. Deadheading may extend their life by encouraging them to reflower over and over until their flowers successfully go to seed.

Bulbs are different. Removing the flowers when they begin to wilt but before they go to seed won’t result in a new flush of flowers. They’re one and done for the year. However, they need energy to produce next year’s beautiful floral display. Removing spent flowers will let the plants direct food being made by the green leaves to the roots, rather than to the seed making process. That’s why it’s important to keep the leaves in place for as long as they’re green. The food being made through the process of photosynthesis will be stored in the roots (bulbs) until next spring when it will direct its energy to once again welcome spring with beautiful flowers.

When the leaves turn yellow or brown, that’s the time to remove them. It’s a good idea to identify where your bulbs are planted with tags stuck in the ground. The more information you can put on the tag the better. At least identify what the plant is and the color of the blooms. This will reduce the chance that you’ll inadvertently dig them up while working in the garden. It’ll also keep you from mistakenly mixing up colors if you plant more bulbs in the same bed this fall.

What about flowering shrubs? You can deadhead these, too, but don’t expect a second flush of flowers. Most shrubs only bloom once a year. A few, such as Buddleia (butterfly bush), have a long blooming period so they’re in flower continuously from spring to fall. Deadheading flowering shrubs will keep them looking tidy and encourage them to direct the energy that would be used in the seeding process to other life-enhancing purposes.

Some gardeners interpret the term “pinching” as the only way to remove spent flowers. However, some plants have very thick stems, making pinching difficult, resulting in a ragged stub. Using pruning shears, or even kitchen shears is perfectly acceptable. Scissors will give you a nice, clean cut rather than looking like a leftover from a critter’s dinner.

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Protect Our Trees This Memorial Day

Memorial Day is upon us. In addition to remembering those who paid the ultimate price for our country, it signals the start of summer fun. Many will use this occasion to kick off the camping season. Others will stay home and fire up the grill for some backyard fun. Both traditionally end with a rip-roaring campfire. First let me wish you a happy and fun weekend. But, let me also caution you, on behalf of all trees, to obey the laws governing sourcing and transporting firewood.

For several years, insects and plant diseases have been sneaking into the country and infesting our forests. They include the emerald ash borer (EAB), Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), Dutch elm disease, winter moth, spongy (gypsy) moth and the latest – spotted lanternfly. Most arrived on our shores in wood packing material and have spread through hitchhiking rides as the cargo is transported to its destinations.

These “foreign” pests can attack our trees, especially native trees, with virtually no resistance. Our native trees haven’t built defenses like they have to fight our home-grown pests. The foreign pests also have no predators to feed on them.

The federal and state governments have quarantined areas of high pest concentration. They also have a nationwide ban on moving wood or wood products (unless certified pest-free) more than 50 miles from their source. That means don’t take wood from home to camp. Buy it at your destination. Sure, you might pay a bit more for it but think of the costs that will result from a wood shortage. You shouldn’t bring any leftover firewood home either. You could be bringing pests into your yard to attack and kill your trees. If you are buying wood for your backyard fire pit, be sure it was cut locally and not brought in by some unscrupulous dealer.

The easiest way to obey the law, be kind trees and still have unforgettable fun around the campfire is to buy your wood where you’re going to burn it. Besides obeying the law, burning only local wood can save thousands of trees. That includes those shading your favorite campsite and those shading your backyard.

While breaking down camp check your vehicles, especially the underside to be sure you don’t have any unwanted passengers. They may appear as insects or caterpillars or as egg masses. They like to hide so pay special attention to the undercarriage. Some egg cases are tan or gray masses that look like mud, others look like balls of cotton. The best action is to remove anything that looks like it could be an insect or its eggs, put them in a sealed zipper bag and leave it in the trash.

A lot of money is being spent trying to control these voracious pests. That includes tax dollars; money the destruction is causing on farm, orchard and woodlot owners; and money homeowners have to pay for treatment or removal of infested trees. The simple task of buying your firewood where you burn it can contribute to managing these pests.

Have a great, safe and flaming good time this Memorial Day weekend!

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Time To Plant Annuals

Monday, May 29 is Memorial Day. When this holiday, begun in nearby Waterloo, was first celebrated, it was called Decoration Day. It’s purpose? To decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers. The end of May was selected because it was a sure bet that we Upstate New Yorkers wouldn’t wake up to any more spring frosts. So, it was safe to plant flowers.

Today, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of the growing season in the Finger Lakes region. If you got a head start, don’t worry;  the spring has been too mild for frosts. If you haven’t added spring color to your yard, this three day weekend would be an excellent opportunity to do so.

If you visit your local garden center, you’ll find their greenhouses awash with a rainbow of color. They’re well stocked with the many species and cultivars of annuals that are hardy in this region. They’ll also have an excellent selection of containers in which to plant them, as well as potting soil and the tools you’ll need.

Back when Decoration Day was first celebrated, most annuals were planted in the ground in people’s yards and gardens, as well as around the graves of fallen soldiers. This isn’t the case today. You may see annuals hanging from porch eaves in hanging plastic pots or baskets lined with peat moss. Flowers in decorative containers of any material you can imagine grace porches, stoops, patios, decks and even planting beds. Some are planted in window boxes so they can be enjoyed both inside and outside. Repurposed items are even popular for displaying flowers.

Raised and elevated beds, once thought of only for growing edible plants are now home to ornamental plants as well. Raised beds are available at home centers, large garden centers and online in all different shapes, sizes and colors in wood, metal and plastic. If you’ve never heard the term elevated beds, they’re raised beds on legs that can be tended from a standing position. Some are even on wheels so they can be rolled around.

What can be done creatively with annuals is limited only by your imagination. In addition to those planted in the ways discussed above, you may want to plant a cutting garden dedicated to providing bouquets of flowers for decorating the inside of your house. Wildflower and cottage gardens are also popular today.

I’ve presented you with an endless variety of flower gardens ideas here. Although many families enjoy designing annual beds and planting them, others would prefer to leave the work to the professionals. Our landscape designers would be happy to work with you to create all the landscape color you want. Then our landscape professionals can do the planting to make the plan a reality. All you’ll have to do is keep the plants watered and enjoy them

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Plant A Lilac For Mom

This Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day. Many moms receive bouquets of flowers or potted plants. This year, consider a personal twist on an old, and probably long forgotten, Rochester tradition – planting one of the hundreds of varieties of our beloved lilac in her honor.

Lilacs in Rochester dates back to 1898, but the first Lilac Festival wasn’t held until 1978. Before that, beginning in 1905, Lilac Sunday was popular. It was later expanded to Lilac Week and evolved into today’s Lilac Festival. Lilac Sunday often fell on Mother’s Day, and it didn’t take long for a tradition to emerge – taking mom to visit the Highland Park lilacs on her special day.

This year, I’m suggesting that you bring Lilac Sunday on Mother’s Day to your own landscape. It’s easy. Select a spot in your landscape that could be further beautified with a colorful, fragrant lilac shrub. Hundreds of cultivars of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) are sold in the nursery trade. Lilacs like full sun and well drained soil. As an added benefit, they attract butterflies and hummingbirds, classifying them as pollinators.

Be sure you have enough room for a lilac. Most grow 8-15 feet tall and 6-12 feet wide, although there are some medium and dwarf varieties that are smaller. As always, read the plant tag to know what you’re buying – the mature size, flower color, blooming information, maintenance needs and other pertinent information. Some lilacs, such as Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri), bloom later than S. vulgaris cultivars and produce smaller flowers that aren’t in the familiar panicular clusters. If the tag doesn’t answer your questions, seek out one of the garden center’s or nursery’s horticulturists and get answers from them.

When you get your new plant home, plant it as soon as possible. Dig a hole that’s at least twice the diameter of the root ball but only as deep. Remove the nursery pot from the root ball. If it’s balled and burlap, cut the twine or remove the wire and pull the burlap away from the stem. Place the plant in the hole and get your assistant to hold it up straight while you backfill. Stop several times and tamp the soil lightly. It should be firm but not compacted. Finally, water the soil thoroughly.

One last thing, be patient. It may take several years for mom’s new lilac to bloom but it’s worth the wait.

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Tending Your Landscaping Should Be Simple & Fun

“Tending” is the key word in the title. I’ve seen garden writers advise their readers to tend to their gardens rather than toil in them. This is what I advocate, too. Although there is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape, you can strive for a low maintenance landscape.

Steps to a low maintenance landscape include…

Selecting plants that are resistant to insects and diseases. Do your homework before you buy plants, and cross those that are favored by persistent pests off your list. Two examples that come to mind are ash and hemlock trees. Ash trees are being decimated by emerald ash borer and hemlocks by the hemlock wooly adelgid. These two examples also put to rest the assertion that native plants are more resistant to pests. We are being invaded by foreign pests, and our native plants have no defense against them, and the pests have no natural enemies to keep them in check. This is leveling the playing field between native and introduced plants. Just make sure any introduced plant you select will behave itself. Many become invasives that are difficult to control.

• Buy only low maintenance plants. If you have high maintenance plants in your landscape now, consider removing them and replacing them with something that’s less work. Many perennials, for example, are high maintenance. They spread to the point that they must be dug up and divided periodically. Some require dividing every year. Replace them with shrubs that only need to be pruned once a year or even less. Even better, consider including dwarf conifers in your plant palette. Many of them can go years without even having to be pruned.

• Reduce the size of your lawn. Turfgrass is, arguably, the most high maintenance plant in your landscape. A lush, green lawn requires multiple fertilizer and weed control applications every year, as well as applications of grub control and other lawn insecticides. This doesn’t include the time required to mow once or twice a week during the growing season. Ground covers, and even moss, are the most popular alternatives. Some designers are replacing large grass areas with planting beds. Cottage gardens and wildflower gardens also make attractive lawn alternatives in the back yard.

• Plant annuals in containers. Planting annuals in containers is becoming increasingly popular among gardeners. By container, I’m not just talking about plain old terra cotta pots on the patio. Containers include window boxes, raised beds, and even elevated beds. Elevated beds look like big window boxes on legs. Some are even on wheels. Raised beds are available in all shapes, sizes and colors. You have your choice of materials, also – wood, metal, plastic and even a combination of several materials. Garden centers have huge selections of decorative containers in all shapes, sizes and materials. Why plant annuals in containers? It’s easier on the knees. You’ll be able to raise the containers up to you rather than you having to get down to them. You can sit or stand, possibly putting off the onset of knee problems – an occupational hazard of gardeners. Containerizing annuals also makes it easier to change them out during the season or as summer fades into fall. You can make planting even easier by planting the flowers in nursery pots and just slipping them into the decorative containers. You won’t even have to wash and disinfect the decorative container when changing out plants.

These are just a few ways in which you can work smarter, rather than harder, on your landscape. Adopting these practices now, regardless of your age, may put off being forced to adopt them as joints begin wearing out as you age. For professional help, you can call on our landscape design professionals.

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Lawn Care Season’s Upon Us

Most lawns have dried up from winter and the April showers that followed. This means it’s safe to walk on it and begin your annual lawn care schedule.

Hopefully you won’t be greeted by a carpet of yellow. While the grass greens up over time, dandelions seem to just spring up. That’s because they’re adventitious plants that take every opportunity to benefit from their environment. Even if you only have a few dandelions, it’s a good idea to treat your lawn with both a pre-emergent and a post-emergent broadleaf weed killer. Be sure you use a product labeled specifically for broadleaf weeds. Otherwise, you could be applying a nonselective product that will kill any green plant, including the grass.

Dandelions are prolific weeds. You can tell that by the number of seeds that result from each flower. These seeds are so light that they are easily spread far and wide by the wind. The post emergent will only kill those weeds that it encounters, not the next flush. The next flush is still in the ground as seeds. Thus, the need for pre-emergent. It’ll keep the latent seeds from germinating. Speaking of pre-emergents, it would be a good idea to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass killer as well. Crabgrass is a weed that can only be controlled by a pre-emergent, or by manually digging out each weed.

May is also the best time to start your annual fertilization program. Grass plants must grow new leaves continuously all season because we mow off a good portion of their leaves every week. The best way to schedule your fertilizer applications is to buy the whole season’s product at your local garden center now. They sell several brands, including one made locally, in seasonal packages with application instructions. Your lawn will probably need three or four applications. The best way to know for sure is to have your soil tested to determine what nutrient deficiencies it has. A reminder – fertilizer doesn’t feed the plant; it replenishes depleted nutrients in the soil.

Before you mow your lawn for the first time this season, check the deck height. If you lowered it to two inches for the last cutting before putting it into winter storage, you should reset it to three or four inches for the growing season. This exposes longer leaves to energy trapping photosynthesis. The result is thicker, healthier grass, increasing its ability to fight off weeds and insects. Longer grass also doesn’t look unkempt if you put off mowing for a couple of days the way short grass does.

We have two insect pests that attack area lawns. One is grubs. They may be the larval stage Japanese beetles or European chafers. Grubs are best treated in the fall when they’re young and weak. Right now, they’re near the end of their larval, or grub, cycle. They’ll soon pupate below the soil surface and emerge as big, brown beetles, commonly called June bugs. They annoy us most when they splat against windows and screens as they fly around looking for a mate. The other pest is the sod webworm. The gray adults can be seen flying low over the top of the grass at dusk. Garden stores sell products to control these pests.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the care lawns require in addition to weekly mowing, consider a professional lawn care program. Although our programs are usually contracted for the whole season, we can start treating your lawn whenever you’re ready to turn the task over to the pros and just enjoy your lawn.

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A New Focus This Arbor Day

Be sure to avoid mulch volcanoes this Arbor Day!

Friday, April 29 is a holiday. It doesn’t come with a day off and you won’t see any parades but it has been celebrated for more than 150 years. I’m talking about Arbor Day. Arbor Day was first set aside to plant trees on the virtually treeless plains of Nebraska. Today, it’s a national holiday.

Arbor Day is marked in communities across the country with tree plantings in public places. Grade school classes learn about the importance of planting trees, and service clubs often donate seedlings that the students can take home and plant in their yards. I’ve recommended that families take an Arbor Day outing to a garden center, buy a tree and plant it in their yard.

Some of the Arbor Day trees families have planted over the years have reached maturity and, just like us, need some care. If this describes your situation, I’d like to suggest that you celebrate this Arbor Day with some TLC for the stately giants on your property.

You can begin by touching your trees. I’m not suggesting that everyone become a tree hugger. However, the late tree pathologist, Dr. Alex Shigo admonished everyone to touch trees in order to commune with nature, and he should know.  Dr. Shigo, was a renowned researcher whose writings revolutionized arborists’ thinking and the way we approach tree care today.

One easy way you can help the trees in your yard this Arbor Day is to protect them from lawn mower or string trimmer damage. Do that by removing any sod at the base of your trees and replacing it with two or three inches of organic mulch. I recommend ground wood chip in their natural color. Besides protecting the tree’s bark, the mulch will also moderate water and air so the roots don’t get too much or too little. Wood chip mulch also returns organic material and nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

Ideally, the mulch should reach from the trunk all the way to the dripline (the outer edge of the crown). If that’s not possible or practical, spread it at least a foot from the trunk for every inch of trunk diameter, measured at 4.5 feet in height. Spread it flat; don’t pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Mulch volcanoes can kill a tree. Pull the mulch out from the trunk a couple of inches. Otherwise rodents can hide in the mulch as they feed on the bark at the base of the tree. Dining rodents can eat all the way around the trunk, girdling and killing it.

While you’re touching your trees, look up into the crown and down at the root area. Be on the look-out for insect activity and signs of diseases. Leaf damage – holes in the leaves or chewed edges indicate insect feeding. Shriveled leaves or premature leaf fall indicates that the tree is hosting either an insect like the emerald ash borer that lives inside the tree or a disease. Fungal diseases can be identified by fruiting bodies on the outside. Mushroom-like fruiting bodies aren’t doing any damage. The damage causing fungi are inside the tree.

While examining your tree(s), also check for broken, weak or hanging branches. These are hazards that can be disastrous if they fall on people or property. Removing dangerous branches and treating for insects or diseases is best left to our professionals – arborists for the broken branches and Plant Health Care professionals for the insect and diseases.

The Arbor Day objective of planting more trees is admirable. However, many properties in our area have plenty of trees. These large trees can give back to you more benefits than smaller, younger trees. Benefits like the oxygen we need to breathe and sequestering carbon from the CO2 in the atmosphere. Don’t trees deserve to receive some pampering on this day that’s all about them?

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Make This The Year You Plant An Edible Landscape

There must be some unwritten law that says vegetable gardens have to be planted in straight rows in the far corner of the back yard. Why? Do we think edible plants are ugly? We shouldn’t. They flower just the same as those we plant to beautify our yard. Our ornamental plants require just as much care as our edibles. Maybe more.

Relegating the edible plants to the back corner only means more work for you. When the planting bed needs weeding, you must haul your tools out and back. And, on the return trip, you also need to bring the weeds back for disposal. If we have a dry summer, you’ll have to haul the hoses out to the garden and back. Having to do all that extra work may make you feel like an urban, or suburban, farmer but know that farmers constantly look for ways to work more efficiently.

Another argument against planting your edible landscape in the back corner is wildlife that are too shy to help themselves to your produce may not hesitate if the food source is far from the house. Boldness is also the reason why you should consider carefully before planting your edible garden in the front yard. Some people who have done this have reported that passers-by have harvested where they have not sown.

So, what am I suggesting? This year, try planting edibles among ornamentals in back yard planting beds close to the house. You can mix annual vegetable plants among perennials and/or among annuals.

Don’t just plant vegetables and ornamentals willy-nilly with no thought to how they’ll look when fully grown. Design your planting beds so the edibles and ornamentals are compatible and complement each other. For example, plant corn among sunflowers and carrots among marigold, rather than the reverse.

I like the photo, taken back in 2008, when the concept of mixing edibles and ornamentals in the same planting beds was just done by a few idealists. But look at the photo and think of how nice it would be to walk out your back door and inhale the fragrance of the ornamental plants as you pick fresh tomatoes for tonight’s salad. Doesn’t that sound better than having to walk a distance just to pick a couple tomatoes?

You can also plant berry bushes like raspberries among ornamental shrubs or use blueberry plants to define planting bed borders. In this way, the edibles become integral elements in the overall landscape design, rather than an eyesore outback.

Do we plant vegetables in straight rows because that’s the way farmers plant? Farmers use that layout for efficiency. They have to be able to easily maneuver their large equipment to maximize productivity. You don’t have to worry about productivity. Your concern is more with aesthetics.

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The Living World Below Ground

Plants are vibrant living organisms that add beauty, color, food, medicine, oxygen and so much more to our lives. However, most depend on a thriving ecosystem below ground to help them live. That soil they’re anchored in is more than just dirt. Soil depends on many different species of living organisms, and may need human help to supply them.

The soil’s fertility determines how well it can support plant life. Many different organisms live in the soil, depending on a number of different factors. These organisms range from earthworms to microscopic bacteria, fungi, and even insects. Each has a role to play in the circle of life.

In its basic form, soil is composed of granules of weathered rock. It isn’t alive and can’t support life on its own. It’s the organisms that live in the soil pores and attach themselves to the plant roots or soil granules that support life. Earthworms, arguably the largest subterranean creature, are more than fish food. Their waste material, known as castings, are rich in nutrients plants need. In fact, worm castings have become so popular among gardeners that they launched an industry. There are businesses ranging in size from individuals to large corporations that grow worms in containers. They harvest, package and sell the castings to organic gardeners.

We’ve heard a great deal in recent years about mycorrhizae. Landscape and Plant Health Care professionals inject these microorganisms into the ground either mixed with liquid fertilizer or alone. Colonies of mycorrhizae affix themselves to plant roots to extend the roots’ reach as they search for water and nutrients. The mycorrhizae consume some of the water and nutrients they find to sustain themselves.

Mycorrhizae aren’t a single species. They’re a group of bacteria and fungi that form a symbiotic (cooperative) relationship to benefit themselves and the plants they attach themselves to. Mycorrhizae aren’t the only microorganisms, or microbes, that populate the soil. Soil literally teams with microbes.

We hear a lot about adding compost and other organic matter to soil. When we add organic matter, it’s the microbes that break it down so that its elements are available for plant roots to absorb.

Undeveloped land is self-sustaining. Plants shed leaves annually. Plants and animals die. Microbes immediately go to work breaking down those larger organisms. It’s called decomposition and its elements are returned to the soil as nature’s fertilizer, which we call organic matter. This rich soil remains near the top.

When land is developed, the rich layer is often scraped away. Occasionally, it’s stored and returned to its rightful place after construction is complete. More often, however, topsoil is trucked away and either sold or used for another of the builder’s developments. Sometimes, the bulldozers just move the soil around to form the site’s final contour. When finished, the topsoil may be several layers down from the top or just mixed in with the subsoil. Humans messed up the soil profile so humans have to fix it to sustain plant life. That when property owners call in landscape professionals.

If your plants are looking stressed and appear to be declining, conventional wisdom may indicate that they have a disease, insect infestation, animal damage or other above ground environmental issue. The actual cause may be below ground and require professional help.

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Protect Your Valuable Ash Trees

You can protect your valuable ash trees. Sure, the emerald ash borer (EAB) is an insidious scourge among these beautiful shade trees, and some owners have given up and just written them off.  However, you don’t have to!

Ash is a tree that has graced many a city and suburban street. Ash has been the wood of choice for baseball bats. They deserve a better fate than a chain saw when they suffer from an EAB attack. And those trees the EAB hasn’t found yet can continue giving you pleasure and increasing the value of your property if they receive preventive treatments.

If you have an ash tree, I urge you to take preventive action by having us apply a systemic treatment now. This is when the treatment is most effective, and it will last for two years. If you wait until after the emerald ash borer strikes, you’ll need an annual application to control the pest. Emerald ash borer control is not a do-it-yourself job. The most effective control material is restricted to state licensed pesticide applicators, and using anything else is a waste of money.

EAB larvae have been boring “galleries” inside the tree. The galleries disrupt the tree’s vascular system, causing the tree to decline until it dies. Soon the larvae will pupate and the little, metallic green adults will chew “D” shaped holes to the outside. The adults have only one purpose. That’s to mate and start the next generation on its road to destruction. After the female has made indentations in the bark of an ash tree and deposited an egg in each indentation, she will die. The male dies right after mating. As soon as the eggs hatch, the new larvae begin boring into the tree and take over where the last generation left off.

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. One of our Plant Health Care professionals can inspect your ash tree(s) and make treatment recommendations. From a purely financial standpoint, preventive treatments can be made for a good, long time for the same amount that it costs to remove a dead ash tree and replace it.

Remember, too, if you enjoy wood fires in your firepit, buy your firewood only where you’ll burn it. Not only does it reduce the spread of this insidious pest; it’s the law.