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The Importance of Fall Fertilization

If you fertilized your trees, shrubs and perennials in the spring, it should probably be done again now.

The best rationale for fall fertilization is explained in the process a plant uses to convert the nutrients it consumes into food. Although you place fertilizer around the base of your plants, you aren’t “feeding” the plants. You’re actually replenishing soil nutrients. Before arbitrarily applying fertilizer, we test the soil to determine if nutrients are depleted. If they are the soil cannot replenish them by itself. The only way to replenish them is with fertilizer and organic matter.

The nutrients that a plant receives from the soil aid in 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 easily understood is comparing fertilizer to the vitamin supplements that many of us take. Plants require three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as, trace nutrients zinc, copper, selenium, chromium, cobalt, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. If you check these against the label on your multi vitamins, you’ll see that many are the same.


The plants that you fertilized in the spring have probably used most of the nutrients that were replenished during fertilization. They were needed for the plants’ intense spring and summer food making process. Although it’s October already, the plants 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 feed so they have enough stored to sustain them through the winter and provide enough energy to break their buds to flower and leaf out next spring. Even after the leaves fall, the roots remain active until the ground freezes.

The fertilizer you would apply would 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. No additional watering is needed 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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Have Your Trees Inspected This Fall

We have to have our vehicles inspected every year to be sure they’re mechanically sound and many of us have an annual physical to make sure our body is working the way it should. The trees in your yard combine both biology and mechanics to stay healthy and sound. So, for the same reason you and your car need an annual check up, I recommend an annual check of your trees – a thorough biomechanical inspection by a professional arborist to be sure they don’t present a hazard to people or property.

Like us, trees have many natural enemies. They are being attacked by insects and diseases, many of which are invasive pests from other countries. Fungi attack them, causing them to rot. Often, you don’t even know rot is destroying your tree from the inside out until fruiting bodies that look like mushrooms appear on the trunk or the tree fails and limbs begin breaking off.

One tree enemy that is often overlooked is the wind. We realize the wind is a hazard only when a storm causes branches and whole trees to break and uproot. It doesn’t take a strong wind to break a rotted tree, though.

The most positive way to identify any hazards and to be sure your trees are healthy is with an annual tree inspection. Our arborists examine your tree from the crown to the roots, checking for insect activity, diseases, cracks in the trunk and major limbs, significant lean, narrow forks and signs of internal decay.

Many of these conditions can be repaired. Narrow forks, for example, indicate a weakness in which one of the limbs can break. We fix this condition by a process called cabling and bracing. We put a threaded rod through the two limbs near the fork, then secure it with big washers and nuts. The tree grows around the hardware. Up in the crown, we install a network of cables to reduce flexing in the wind.

Several devices are available for us to identify the presence and extent of internal rot. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the tree has to be taken down right away. The tree’s future depends on the location and amount of rot present. Trees can live for decades before rot becomes so extensive that they should be removed.

Some conditions that may need immediate action include the removal of limbs hanging over your house, pool, power lines or any other place where they can cause expensive damage. We would also recommend removal of any dead, diseased, crossing, rubbing broken/hanging branches.

Trees add value to your property. Like anything of value, your trees need care to retain that value. Unfortunately, when a problem is visible to you, it may be too late. That’s why an annual inspection is inexpensive insurance for keeping your trees growing in value.

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Preparing The Patio For Winter

As winter approaches, plants and tools aren’t the only things that need your attention before the snow flies. Don’t forget the appliances and furniture on your deck or patio.

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to winterizing your deck or patio. I’m sure winterizing instructions came with your appliances and furniture. If that’s the case, follow them to the letter to protect your substantial investment. If not, let common sense dictate. Some materials can survive freezing temperatures by merely wrapping them in sheets of plastic or similar material while others should be taken inside.

Vinyl covers can be purchased for most gas or charcoal grills, if one didn’t come with the grill. Before covering it, however, you should make sure it’s clean. Clean it just as you would between uses but clean all parts of it, not just the cooking grill. Using a grill cleaning brush, remove all dirt and surface rust. Then, hold a piece of paper towel in a pair of tongs, dip it in vegetable oil and apply it to each piece. This is the same procedure used to “season” cast iron cookware. Some disassembly and reassembly may be required.

More and more people are grilling year-round so you may need to clean and oil it each time you’re planning to leave it for a period between uses. Also check for signs of mice living in your grill before each use. If you find signs that the grill is now a rodent residence, I’d thoroughly clean the inside with bleach or the disinfectant you use in your house to sanitize against the coronavirus and other viruses.

The material dictates the winterizing requirements for patio furniture. Stuffed furniture and cushions should be taken inside. Wicker furniture also would fare better under shelter. Most metal or plastic furniture can stay outside, unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise. It’s best to position them in a way that snow can slide off large, flat surfaces. Lightweight pieces like those made of plastic, need sheltering from the wind. If your patio has a sheltered area, you can gather everything there. Covering them will provide even more protection. If you can tie rope or netting around them and secure them to a railing or some other stationary object so much the better.

Winter storage location depends on where you can find space. Your garage or shed is the ideal place, if you have the room. You can just carry the pieces to their winter home. Lacking space at home, one of the many mini storage facilities would fill the bill. Granted you will need a truck or trailer to transport them back and forth, but you only need to make two trips a year and the storage cost is minimal.

Now that you have all the hardgoods secured or stored away, all that’s left are the containerized plants but that’s a job for another day.

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Expanding Your Spring Bulb Garden

The earliest spring colors to emerge in your landscape are supplied by your bulb garden – crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are some of the more popular. If you thought, last spring, that you’d like more of these flowers, either in your present bulb garden or in another garden, now’s the time to take action for next spring.

You may have noted bare spots when your spring flowers came up last year. Bare spots could mean that some of your present bulbs died. Hopefully, you took pictures so you know where new bulbs should be planted and what color(s) you should plant. Many think all spring bulbs are perennials but they aren’t. Tulips, for example, are perennials in their native Turkey but much hybridization has taken place over the years. Today, most tulips still come back year after year, but others are treated as annuals. Be sure to read the package when you buy your bulbs or talk to one of the garden center horticulturists if you have questions about the bulbs you’re considering.

Daffodils are perennials, as are crocuses and hyacinths. One reason some of your bulbs didn’t appear last spring could be that they were dinner for a critter. An animal may have smelled the bulbs below the surface on a day when the ground wasn’t frozen. Another reason may be that the bulbs didn’t have enough fertilizer or they had too much water and didn’t have enough energy to bloom. You don’t have to place fertilizer in the hole when you first plant a bulb. It has plenty of food stored in the bulbs to flower and foliate the first year. After that, they may need to be fertilized. Bulbs that get too wet from a build-up of snow may become water- logged and not return the next year.

Before going out to buy new bulbs this fall, dig up where you think the failed bulbs should be or where photos show them to be. If the soil is disturbed and the bulbs are gone, you’ll know wildlife got to them. If the bulb is still in the hole, first check to make sure it’s positioned correctly. The pointed end should be facing up and the root end that looks like the base of an onion should be facing down. It may have tipped over when you backfilled or an animal rejected it and put it back upside down.

To inspect them, take any non-blooming bulbs from the hole and either rub or wash the soil off. Bulbs that are smaller than healthy bulbs may be malnourished. Soft or spongy bulbs may have drowned. In both cases, they should be replaced. If the bulb is in the hole wrong, it’s up to you whether to replace it or give it a second chance.

When picking colors at the garden center, try to remember the colors already in that bed. It’s easy to choose a color that doesn’t go well with those already in place, and that might make the bed less attractive. Also, don’t scimp on bulbs. They look better in mass plantings than just a few scattered plants. My final suggestion is to take pictures when your bulbs are in bloom each year in case you have to fill in with new bulbs six months later.

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Winter Landscape Prep Checklist

As the days get shorter and temperatures creep downward, it’s not the time to retreat into the house and begin our winter hibernation, especially this year when we’ve already spent a lot of time inside. There’s still plenty to do outside to prepare our landscapes for winter.

Here is a checklist of recommended projects to ensure your landscape has a good winter and is ready in the spring. This is nearly as complete of a list as possible. I realize that some items may not apply to you and some items that apply to you may not apply to your neighbors. Some items may remind you of things you have to do that aren’t on the list.

  • Clean up all trash that has blown on to your property.
  • Remove dead stems and leaves from perennials. Toss them onto the compost pile.
  • Divide perennials.
  • Rake, blow or mow fallen leaves for mulch or compost.
  • Apply grub control if your lawn needs it.
  • Lower your mower blade to 2”-2 ½” and mow your lawn for one last time.
  • Prepare your lawn mower and other power tools for winter storage, following the manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Put your deck or patio furniture in storage.
  • Take your containerized plants indoors or place them in a cold frame for the winter.
  • Finish harvesting veggies from your vegetable garden.
  • Apply anti-desiccant to evergreens.
  • Wrap tender young trees.
  • Critter proof trees and shrubs.
  • Mulch trees, shrubs and planting beds.
  • Fertilize as necessary

Have us inspect your trees and remove any hazards.

Just in case you’re tempted to wait until spring to do some or all items on the list, let me remind you that there will be another list of projects in the spring to prepare your landscape for the growing season. You may not want to add the work you put off now to that list. Postponing things like putting your deck or patio furniture in storage, winterizing your outdoor power equipment or removing fallen leaves may lead to performing repairs in the spring. So, now that you’ve read the list, check off those that apply to you and schedule them. According to the calendar, fall has begun so there’s no time to waste.

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Protecting Water Features From Leaf Fall

Water features add so much to the ambiance of a landscape but whenever we try to tame nature there is work associated with the process. Keeping leaves from falling into your pond or fountain may be a year round task that intensifies as fall approaches.

Water features that have few trees between the path of the prevailing wind and the pond may get only a stray leaf blowing in. You may be able to remove these leaves by hand or with a pool skimmer. In the fall when leaves are falling and blowing, you’ll probably have to skim the pond surface more often.

Property owners with more trees may have to take more aggressive action. First, try to determine where the leaves are coming from. See if tree limbs hanging over the pond are the major cause of the problem. If they are the biggest contributor, our arborists can naturally prune the offending trees so they will no longer hang over the pond, while still retaining their natural shape.

On a heavily wooded property, the offending leaves are, no doubt, blowing in from all the trees on the property, especially in the fall. In this case, a better tactic might be to invest in a pond net. Nets are on the market in many sizes and styles. Depending on the size and shape of the pond. You may be able to use a surface net that you stretch across the pond surface and stake to the banks. This works similar to a pool cover. Net tents are also available. These hold the netting above the pond surface.

When using a pool skimmer to remove leaves from the water surface, you’ll probably have to remove leaves from rocks and the pump filter using a leaf blower, vacuum or your gloved hand.

Regardless of whether or not you have fish in your pond, you should keep it free of leaves. Leaves that accumulate on the surface block sunlight and oxygen, creating an unhealthy environment for aquatic flora and fauna. When the leaves start to decay and fall to the bottom, they create a slippery mat on the bottom that is unhealthy as well as messy looking. Sinking leaves can be carried to the pump where they can clog the filter, causing the pump to burn out. Then you have a stagnant pond that attracts mosquitoes, algae and aquatic weeds. Stagnant water is unhealthy for fish and humans.

The place for falling leaves is in your compost pile, not in your pond. Whether you use a skimmer, pond net, blower or vacuum to keep them out of your water feature, place them in a wheelbarrow or other garden conveyance and get them in the compost pile where they can help return organic matter to your landscape next spring.

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Time To Divide Herbaceous Perennials

One reason perennials are popular is because they flower every year so you don’t have to plant new ones like you do with annuals. Herbaceous perennials are those that die down to the ground each year but whose roots remain alive and send up new top growth each year.

Although herbaceous perennials rebloom every year, they are not completely maintenance-free. One task that’s required every few years is dividing. Perennials like to keep growing. Some spread out and may try to take over the whole planting bed. Others grow new shoots within their original crowns, making them very dense or thick. And still others grow new shoots around the outer edge of the original crown, stressing the original crown.

I recommend dividing perennials after they flower. So, those that flowered in spring and summer should be divided now. Those that are still in bloom shouldn’t be divided until spring. Although the best time to divide is right after they finish blooming, it can be done any time before the ground freezes. The ideal conditions are when the weather is cool, overcast and damp.

It’s best for the plants if you water the ground around them the day before and that you prepare the holes for each section of transplanted perennial before you start removing the parent plant. The holes should be twice as wide as the plant section and just as deep. For best results you should plant all of the sections right after dividing them. If you have to store them, they should be wrapped in moist burlap or covered with mulch.

When digging the parent plant, dig the circle wide enough to keep the root intact. When you get it out of the hole, lay it on a sheet of plastic and remove just enough soil to make the roots visible. If the root system is the spreading type, such as asters, bee balm, Black-eyed Susan, it can often be pulled apart by hand. If you can’t split the roots by hand, use a shovel or garden fork. If the plant has clumping roots, such as Hosta, Lily of the Nile, a sharp shovel, axe or saw will be required to split them. A third type of root, rhizomes, such as Bearded iris, are very fleshy and may be able to be cut with a sharp knife.

To plant the sections, return one to the hole in which you removed the parent plant and plant the others in the new holes you prepared. Backfill, lightly tamping the backfill, water and then mulch.

Dividing does more than prevent your perennials from taking over your planting bed. It also promotes healthy growth, more flowers and makes them more insect and disease resistant. It’s good for perennial growth in the same way that pruning is good for trees and shrubs. As a bonus, divided perennials provide you with free plants for your yard or to share with friends.

If you would rather leave dividing perennials to somebody else, we have just the professionals who are up for the task.

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Preparing Recently Planted Trees & Shrubs For Winter

Let’s face it, winters in Rochester and the Finger Lakes can be brutal. That’s why we take special care to bundle up our children when they go outside. We need to do the same thing with our young trees and shrubs, especially those that we planted this year.

Start with the roots. Make sure your young trees and shrubs get plenty of water right up until the ground freezes. Moist soil holds more heat than dry soil so trees and shrubs have more time to stay active until frost and freeze force them into dormancy.

Spreading three or four inches of good, organic mulch over the root zone will provide additional insulation for these new plants that are still getting acclimated to their new home. Don’t pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Rather, leave a couple of inches gap between the trunk and the mulch. If you see cracks in the backfill, fill them up with soil.

Moving up the tree, wrap thin bark, deciduous tree trunks with paper tree wrap or plastic tree guards, available at garden centers or home stores. This protects the trunks from sun scald. Sun scald can result in frost cracks, which are vertical cracks in the bark.

Apply anti desiccant to the foliage of evergreen trees and shrubs to prevent winter burn. Anti desiccant is a wax like material that reduces the amount of water that the wind can blow from their leaves or needles, causing them to turn brown.

Really tender evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs should be wrapped in burlap to further protect them from the wind and road spray. Use poles to hold the burlap several inches from the tree branches. Keep the top open so the tree or shrub will get sunlight and moisture.

If you use a plastic tree guard to protect against sun scald, it will also protect against hungry rodents who eat the outer and inner bark when they can’t find food in winter. If you don’t use plastic guards, I recommend wrapping the trunk in a material called hardware cloth. Hardware cloth is a flexible steel mesh. Wrap it around a young tree trunk to about a foot above the height of the highest average snowfall. Be sure you don’t wrap it too tightly.

Finally, rake up fallen leaves from beneath deciduous trees, otherwise they can mat up, hold water and block sunlight. Also, check the branch structure after the leaves fall to be sure all the branches are sound. Look for branches that are crossing, rubbing or broken and remove the weakest or the broken branches if you can reach them without a ladder. Leave climbing to our professional arborists. If you want, you can leave all of the winter preparation of your young trees and shrubs to our professionals.

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Fall Is For Planting

Can you believe it? Summer is almost over! In two weeks, we’ll celebrate Labor Day, which marks the unofficial beginning of fall. Officially, fall doesn’t arrive until Tuesday, September 22, and hopefully there’s plenty of good weather in store until then and beyond.

For some, all planting takes place in the spring. I’m not sure why but suspect that it has to do with agriculture and vegetable gardens where crops are planted in spring and harvested in late summer and fall. This mindset is not the same for ornamental plants.

Except for fruit trees, shrubs and vines, most crop plants are annuals. Most ornamental plants are perennials. The nursery industry recommends planting most trees and shrubs in fall. Even herbaceous perennials can be planted or dug up and split in fall. And spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips need to be planted this fall if you want them to bloom next spring.

The reason for this apparent break with conventional wisdom has to do with weather. Fall planting gives plants a considerable period to get established while the days are warm, the nights cool and the soil just the right growing temperature. The cool nights are ideal in helping plants get used to cold temperatures gradually. When winter arrives, they’ll be ready for dormancy.

In 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.

Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty to do outside in spring. Evergreens should be planted in late spring. They retain their leaves or needles and don’t go completely dormant. If planted in fall, this can result in unsightly winter burn, unless you apply anti desiccant. Also, wait until spring to plant perennials that flower on new wood like butterfly bush and big leaf hydrangeas. Otherwise, you’ll have to prune the old wood away in the spring to allow new wood to grow.

Fall is for Planting isn’t just a way for garden centers to get rid of their remaining nursery stock. Most buy fresh stock for the fall. If plants look like they are leftovers, don’t buy them. If they look fresh, go ahead. Nurseries aren’t going to invest in stock that they’ll have to overwinter.

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

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Continue Summer Color Straight Through Fall

How are your annuals looking? If they made it this far into the season, consider yourself lucky. If they’re starting to look tired, it’s late enough in the season that, rather than spend money on replacing summer plants, you can change them out for fall annuals.

Chrysanthemums, undoubtedly, pop into your mind when you think of fall flowers. Mums are nice, especially in the striking fall hues that are available today. In mid-August, however, you might consider mixing some bright colored mums in with the more muted fall colors. After all, they will probably be with you for quite a while. If you give mums plenty of sun and water, but not too much of either, you can expect up to six weeks of blooms.

You can have the longest flower display if you select plants with the buds just starting to open. You want to see a bit of color peeking out but not fully developed flowers. You can expect better performance if you select hardy or fall mums. But hardy doesn’t mean that they will last through the winter in our climate. Further south they will but not here.

Many people who buy mums for containerized display repot them as soon as they get them home. Nurseries plant them to present a striking display in the store but as they grow they get crowded. For best performance, repot them into a container that’s twice as big around as the original pot.

While chrysanthemums are certainly the most popular fall flowering annuals, they aren’t the only ones. Pansies and violas rank right up there, too. Fall pansies and violas can be planted in September and continue through October. They can survive fall frosts and even hard freezes. Further south than zone 6, they can survive all winter and bloom into April and May. Here in our zones 5 and 6 it becomes a little tricky because they won’t survive sustained temperatures below 25ºF.

There are several perennials that also provide fall color and grow back every year. They include asters, purple coneflower, yellow daisies and Autumn Joy sedum. These are easy to grow, don’t have to be replanted every year and don’t require much maintenance during the season. Unlike mums, pansies and violas, these fall perennials grow quite tall.

You don’t have to depend on turning leaves to provide fall color in your landscape. As you can see, you have a good choice of fall blooming annuals and perennials. You don’t have to put your green thumb away the day after Labor Day; trips to the garden store can be as exciting and fun in the fall as they are in spring.