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Selecting The Perfect Tree

Winter is a good time to do a little research before the landscape season is upon us, especially if new trees or shrubs are in your plans. When spring arrives and you go to your garden center with your plant list, you’ll be better prepared.

The internet is a good place to begin. The site I recommend for good, professional information is http://www.treesaregood.com. It’s the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA’s) consumer information site. A selection of consumer flyers can be downloaded free from the Tree Owner Information heading. The Arbor Day Foundation (arborday.org) is another worthwhile site. One caution, though: the foundation sells trees at what appears to be a very low price. These are bare root saplings. My advice is to obtain the information you need from their list to help you select a tree you like but to purchase it at a local nursery or garden center where you can examine the tree before you buy.

Your first step should be to select a site on your property where a tree or shrub is needed. Determine the amount of space that you have available. Are there any obstacles like driveways, walkways, overhead or underground utilities or even pool or patio that could be adversely impacted by planting on that site? How much sunlight does the site receive? How is the drainage? What type of soil is there? You may have to wait until spring to determine the drainage and soil conditions but the answers to all of these questions affect your plant selection. If the site and the plant aren’t compatible, you’ll have nothing but headaches ranging from extra maintenance to the plant dying. Remember…right plant, right place.

Your second step should be to decide why you want a plant in that space. The German Bauhaus art school’s “form follows function” design philosophy should apply. Knowing why you want a plant in that space will also influence your selection. Are you planting it as a windbreak, to provide cooling, for privacy, to fill an empty space in your landscape design, for its fruit or to clean the air or prevent erosion?

When you select a plant variety that you would like, check for any problems before getting attached to it. Is it hardy in our zone 5/6 climate? Does it have any potential pest problems? (You wouldn’t want to plant an ash tree today, for example.) Is the growth pattern right for the site?

You’ll have to wait a couple of months before garden centers begin receiving their fresh plants from the nurseries but when you go, with your research fresh in your mind, seek additional advice from one of their staff horticulturists. It’s a good bet that the tree you buy this spring will outlive you so you’ll have to care for it a good long time – good reason to get it right.

Carefully look over the plant you’re considering. Be sure the trunk is straight and solid with no wounds and good branching structure with no crossing or rubbing branches and no co-dominant stems. When a trunk branches into two or more “Y” shaped trunks that appear to be of near equal size, those are co-dominant stems. Even though they appear equal, one is always weaker and prone to breakage and other major problems that you don’t need.

Have the horticulturist pull it out of the pot or pull the burlap back so you can check for girdling root. That’s a root that’s encircling the root ball. If everything else checks out, it’s OK to have the horticulturist cut the girdling root out.

When you get the plant home, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball but only the depth of the root ball. Remove the tree from its pot and stand it in the hole. If it’s balled and burlapped, cut the wire or twine and pull the burlap down from the sides. Backfill the hole, stopping about halfway to gently tamp the soil to eliminate any air pockets. Finish backfilling, tamp again, water and mulch. Don’t stake unless you are planting in a very windy location.

For expert assistance, you can select the site, define your reason for planting, have some varieties in mind and turn the rest over to one of our professional landscape designers. Our professional designers know plants so be open minded if they advise against planting in a certain location. You’ll thank the designer for saving you a lot of work in the future.

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Be Prepared… For Spring

With winter in full swing and the recent snow melt, you may be starting to get that itch to be out working in the yard. Punxsutawney Phil said we have about six more weeks of winter so there will most like be more snow shoveling but I don’t think that’s the kind of outdoor work you are hoping for. While I can’t make spring get here any faster, I can offer some suggestions for staying occupied – you can make sure your outdoor tools are in good working order.

If you have a heated work area, you can get a head start on spring by servicing the tools that weren’t serviced in the fall before you put them away for the winter. Some of the projects you could do while waiting for spring include:

• Servicing your lawnmower according to the owner’s manual. At the very least the oil, spark plug and air filter should be changed.

• Cleaning the underside of the mowing deck.

• Sharpening the blade.

• Servicing your handheld power equipment like blowers and string trimmers according to the owner’s manual. What service is required depends on the type of engine the tool is equipped with. All internal combustion engines require changing the spark plug and air filter. If equipped with a 4 cycle engine you should also change the oil. A 2 cycle engine uses an oil gas mix so it doesn’t require an oil change.

• Making sure the fuel is fresh

• Making an appointment now if you prefer to take your power equipment to a dealer for service. They get very busy closer to spring.

• Sharpening shovels, iron rakes, pruning shears and other tools that are used to cut or penetrate.

• Starting to shop for new hand tools if yours are getting worn out. Newer models are being made with lighter weight material and stronger, sharper blades.

• If replacing outdoor power equipment is planned for this season. Be sure to be an educated consumer. Start by researching now and be sure to keep an eye out for sales. There are both commercial and consumer grade equipment. Commercial grade is typically heavier duty and sold through power equipment dealers. Consumer grade machines are designed for homeowner use and are available through power equipment dealers but can also be found at big box stores.

Here in our area, spring doesn’t creep up on us. It tends to arrive rather suddenly. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready when it arrives, rather than having to scurry around doing maintenance when you should be out mowing.

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Dormant Oil – Insects’ Worst Nightmare

It may be the middle of winter but that doesn’t mean your trees and shrubs are free from insects. You may not see them at this time because both the insects and the plant are dormant. Come spring, though, the insects will be active again, feasting on the leaves of your trees and shrubs. And, after their long winter nap, they are going to be mighty hungry.

This would be a good time to schedule an early spring dormant oil treatment to destroy overwintering insects in their sleep. Many insects “breathe” through their skin. Coating them with dormant oil while they sleep will clog their air intakes and smother them. Dormant oil is a highly refined oil, much like the petroleum jelly we put on wounds. However, dormant oil is diluted so that it flows through a hose and spray nozzle.

Aphids, mites and scale are the leading targets for dormant oil treatment. Although they can hardly be seen, it’s a safe bet that they are fast asleep in your trees and shrubs. Since properly applied dormant oil won’t harm the plant, this treatment lets you get a leg up on the most common spring and summer pests. Dormant oil will also destroy overwintering egg masses, including gypsy moth and hemlock woolly adelgid (pictured). The oil coats the buff colored gypsy moth egg masses and the white, cotton like hemlock woolly adelgid egg masses by preventing air from penetrating.

The window of opportunity to apply dormant oil is very small. We can’t apply it until the temperature rises above 40º and stays there. Otherwise the oil will become too viscous (thick) to spread properly and coat the whole plant and the insects. However, it also has to be applied while the tree is still dormant, before the leaf buds break. Applying dormant oil after a plant leafs out can damage the leaves.

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Keeping Evergreens Green

We’ve been having a classic Great Lakes/Finger Lakes winter so far. Fluctuating temperatures, frequent freeze/thaw cycles, days with plowable snow and days with bare ground are typical of a Great Lakes winter. They’re also the perfect combination of conditions that cause winter burn on evergreens.

I hope you had us spray your evergreens with antidesiccant. This wax like material keeps transpired water from photosynthesis from being blown from leaves and needles before it can be reabsorbed by the leaves and used again in the process. It’s the most economical protections against winter burn that you can provide for these valuable trees and shrubs.

If you did have antidesiccant applied, it may need to be reapplied. Normally, the waxy material melts in spring when the weather warms up. If the weather warms up during the winter, the antidesiccant can melt early, in which case, it should be “touched-up.”

If you didn’t have us protect your evergreens before winter arrived, there’s plenty of winter left, and we can still apply antidesiccant for the first time. Our professionals will also inspect your plants and , if any are already suffering from winter burn, we’ll advise you of that. The only treatment is pruning out the dead branches.

In addition to preventjng winter burn, antidesiccant is also good for the smooth bark of some deciduous trees like sycamore or cherry. Freeze/thaw cycles can cause frost cracks – cracks in the bark that run up and down the tree. They occur when water in the trunk thaws and begins flowing during a thaw, only to freeze again and expand, cracking the bark.

Antidesiccant can be applied only when the temperatures are above freezing. For best results, we try to wait until the mercury soars above 40º F. The sooner you call the earlier we can get you on our schedule for when the weather breaks again.

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Planting To Save Energy

How you plan your landscape can actually reduce your utility bill. Follow the tips below when planning spring planting and let Mother Nature help you save energy. Strategic placement of trees and shrubs can save you a substantial amount year round.

If you plant conifers like spruce and pine to the north and west of your home, they can help block, or more accurately deflect, cold winter winds, since north and west are the directions of our prevailing winds. For maximum savings, plant evergreens a distance from the house. They will then deflect the wind, sending it up and over the roof, rather than just trying to stop the wind. It’s the same concept as the airfoils you see on the roofs of tractor-trailer cabs. They deflect air over the trailer, which is higher than the cab.

Planting deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves) to the south and east of the house works in your favor year round. In the winter, sunlight can reach your house through the barren branches and provide some warmth. In summer, when the sun is hotter, the trees’ leaves can block the rays and help to keep it cool.

Landscaping is a blend of science and art. The trees’ biology, the physics affecting heat and wind flow and aesthetics all have to be considered. You won’t be happy if the evergreen and deciduous trees don’t balance each other visually and the design makes your yard look off kilter. And, the trees won’t be happy if you don’t plant the right tree in the right place.

If you want the energy saving results but don’t want to balance all the design elements with scientific reality, one of our professional designers will be happy to work with you to assure that all criteria are met. Starting the process now, in winter, can result in early spring installation, so you can begin enjoying your new landscape soon after winter departs.

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What Insects Will We Be Fighting This Season?

Plant Health Care (PHC) professionals are our industry’s doctors. It’s their job to examine plants, diagnose any insect or disease problems and treat the plant in the most environmentally friendly way. This is a pretty tall order, and I thank them for taking on this task.

Like doctors who treat humans, PHC professionals have to diagnose accurately and treat safely. It would be an easy job if there were only a few pests but that’s not the case. There are hundreds of pests that could be causing your plants to decline. Most insects are adventitious creatures. This means they like to attack plants that have already been weakened by disease, environmental factors or by human activity, such as planting the wrong plant in the wrong place. Our PHC professional has to diagnose and take care of the cause of decline, while also controlling the insect.

How many insects are there? Below, I’ve listed just some of the insects our PHC professionals are working to control in the Rochester, NY area.

• Emerald ash borer is still at the top of the list. This native of Asia has killed millions of ash trees east of the Mississippi (including in our area), and is now working its way west. If you have ash trees in your yard, you should have us treat with a preventive. This pest is not adventitious. It will attack any ash tree, regardless of whether it’s healthy or stressed.

• Gypsy moth, one the scourges of the whole northeast, including Rochester and Monroe County, is pretty well under control here. Over the past 30 years, entomologists have discovered natural enemies, as well as chemical controls and even adhesive tree bands. However, the gypsy moth does make an occasional appearance in our area, usually when a reckless camper brings firewood home from an infested area or the gypsy moth hitches a ride on a vehicle coming to Rochester.

• Hemlock wooley adelgid (Pictured) is attacking some of the many hemlocks in our area. They are easily identified by their cotton ball appearing egg masses. They are harder to control than to see, though.

• There are a lot of less dangerous pests that we continue to search out and control. They include aphids, mites, scale, tent caterpillas, fall webworms, bagworms and Japanese beetles. The Japanese beetle attacks trees, shrubs AND lawns.

• Our eyes are constantly on the look out for species-specific pests like boxelder bug, bronze birch borer, birch leaf miner and Cooley spruce gall aphid.

• We also keep an eye out for new insects that are decimating trees in other parts of the state. The Asian longhorned beetle is active downstate and the spotted lanternfly was found in nearby Yates County.

As you can see PHC professionals have to know the biology of all these insects, as well as those not mentioned here, and how to best control them. When an insect’s signs begin to appear to the lay person, the pest may already have such a foothold that it can’t be controlled. That’s why a PHC program is such inexpensive insurance for your valuable landscape plants.

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How To Make The Most Of Nice January Days

Mother Nature usually gives us one or more respites from winter in the form of nice January days. The temperatures warm a bit, the sun comes out and you itch to get outdoors and do something, Might I suggest a couple of landscaping ideas?

What you can do during a “January thaw” depends on how much snow is on the ground, how high the temperature climbs and how much effort you want to put forth.

I recommend that you begin by inspecting your trees and shrubs to see if the winter winds, snow and ice have broken or weakened any branches. Weakened tree branches will sag. And, these weak and broken branches can be dangerous for people and property underneath.

If you see broken branches hanging up in trees or sagging precariously, remember that our arborists work all winter. Also remember that the most dangerous job in the United States is that of an arborist. It is exponentially more dangerous for untrained people climbing ladders. So if you have a tree that needs pruning give us a call and we’ll send out a team of professionals.

Shrubs are a different story. If you feel a shrub needs pruning, it isn’t nearly as dangerous as pruning trees. Like trees, shrub branches should be pruned back to a fork or to the ground. Don’t leave stubs.

I suggest that you limit your shrub pruning to removing broken branches, especially if it’s a flowering shrub. Otherwise you take a chance of cutting off flower buds, reducing the shrub’s attractiveness at bloom time in the spring. Most shrub branches are more flexible than tree branches. So, don’t be too quick to remove shrub branches that might be bent over to the ground, especially if the ends are covered with snow or ice. Chances are good that they’ll spring back when the weight melts off them or they have time to dry out a bit.

If the lawn is free of snow and firm enough to support your weight, you can pick up twigs and other debris as you walk the yard. If there are big patches of leaves on the grass, raking them out and disposing of them will lessen your chance of winter lawn diseases. Hopefully, you can get the leaves out before disease fungi get a foothold.

Should we be lucky enough that spring-like days are plentiful, your perennials may appreciate your fluffing up the mulch around them and adding additional mulch if necessary. If the ground isn’t frozen, they’d like a watering, too.

January thaw days come with little warning and depart just as quickly. To be prepared for these days, why not take some time to map out a strategy and make a “To-do” list in descending order of priority? Then you can make it a productive, as well as an enjoyable, day when it arrives.