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Inspect Your Trees For Hazards

If you want to do something for your landscape, even on a hot summer day, consider leisurely walking your property. The purpose: to inspect your trees for hazards. This should be done periodically throughout the year because tree needs, and hazards, change with the season. Summer is a good time to start. 

Trees are much like pets. They provide you with great pleasure, but they can also be a liability for which you are responsible. Knowing the possible hazards that can turn your trees from a source of enjoyment to a source of concern can make tree ownership less worrisome and more enjoyable. Here are some hazards to keep an eye on. They were compiled by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). 

• Trees growing too close to electric wires. Tree parts that touch an energized wire can cause an outage, fire, surge or other damage. A tree in contact with a live wire can conduct electricity to the ground, causing injury to anyone who touches it. Keeping wires and trees separated is essential.

 Large, dead branches in a tree. 

• Detached branches hanging in trees.

• Cavities or rotten wood along the trunk or in major branches. 

• Mushrooms at the base of a tree.

• Cracks or splits in the trunk or where branches are attached. 

• Branches that have fallen from the tree. 

• Adjacent trees that have fallen over or died. 

• A trunk that has developed a strong lean.

• Major branches arising from one point on the trunk.

• Roots that have been broken off, injured or damaged by lowering the soil level, installing pavement, repairing sidewalks or digging trenches. 

• Recent site changes due to construction, raising the soil level or installing lawns. 

• Leaves that have prematurely developed an unusual color or size. 

• Tree removals from adjacent wooded areas

• Topping or heavy pruning of trees.

• Forked trunk with branches and stems equal in size.

Trees may appear strong and majestic, and they are. But they are also very complex organisms. These two factors are why tree care isn’t a DIY activity. As you inspect your trees, the only task for you to do is pick up any fallen branches. Everything else is a job for our professional arborists. If a tree on your property has any of the conditions in the checklist, there’s the danger of branches falling on you, and believe me, they’re heavy. People have been killed by falling branches. If rot is present, there’s a chance that portions of the tree will break when you put weight on them. Or the whole tree could topple injuring you and any bystanders and damaging property.

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Why Deadheading Gives Flowering Plants New Life

Landscaping and gardening have a language of their own. For example, one term that some would consider an oxymoron is deadheading. You would think that deadheading would have something to do with killing a plant but it’s actually a procedure that extends a plant’s life.

Deadheading is the practice of removing spent flowers from a plant before they can go to seed. Every life process requires that energy be expended. Removing flowers when they begin looking as though they’re dying prevents them from expending energy to finish the flowering process and setting seed heads. Instead, they’ll direct that energy to blooming again to finish the reproduction process that you short circuited.

Some gardeners refer to the process of deadheading as “pinching off” the flowers. On many annuals, you can pinch the stem just below the bloom you’re removing. Some gardeners believe that pinching’s the only way to remove fading flowers. Others, me included, have no problem using tools when that will help. The stems of some annuals are just too thick to be pinched. A pair of ordinary kitchen scissors will do the trick for most annuals and many herbaceous perennials. Woody perennials are a different story.

Most flowering shrubs will only bloom once a year but it’s a good idea to deadhead them anyway just to keep them tidy. Who wants to see limp, brown, dead flowers hanging from their shrubs? Pruning shears work best for this job. You can dull kitchen scissors quickly by cutting wood with them. There’s debate over whether deadheading flowering shrubs will yield more flowers next season, but it will keep them from misdirecting energy.

Deadheading shrubs will provide you with a low impact landscaping activity on summer days when your green thumb gets itchy. Be careful when removing spent flowers, though. Look for buds and avoid them. The buds are next year’s flowers. Removing them with this year’s spent flowers will result in no blooms next year.

There’s a difference between deadheading and pruning. To deadhead, you just remove the blooms at their base. Don’t remove any wood. Pruning is for removing dead, dying, broken or rubbing branches or shoots. Pruning is also used to shape shrubs by removing or trimming back branches to maintain a particular form. This procedure is more than a simple cut at the base of a flower. Pruning cuts should be made all the way to the base of the shrub or, at least to a junction with another branch or a leaf. You don’t want to leave stubs.
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Prepare Your Landscape For The Dog Days Of Summer

July and August are called the dog days of summer for a reason. Many people like to lie down and sleep on a hot afternoon, just like a dog does. Kind of lazy like. Well if you and your dog feel lazy and just want to be left alone, what makes you think your landscape plants want to be pampered on hot days?

I recommend that you get everything done now and then just sit back and take in the beauty. One thing you can do is make sure your plants have sufficient water. They like an inch a week. If you don’t have an irrigation system, you could set up a network of soaker hoses. Then you’ll be ready to water them, if need be. All you’ll have to do is turn the spigot(s) on a quarter turn. Turning them on any further can cause the soaker hoses to burst.

You may have to prioritize to keep your water bill from going through the roof. I recommend placing young and newly planted trees and shrubs at the top of the list, followed by perennials. Losing these plants will result in the greatest financial loss. Watering annuals depends on your budget and ambition. If they should be changed out soon, don’t bother. Let them run their natural course and then change them out and keep the fresh plants watered.

Watering your lawn is costly and time consuming. Nature has equipped turf with a defense mechanism. Lawns go dormant when it’s hot and dry. That’s why the grass turns brown. When the temperatures cool and the rain returns, it will green up again. Caution 1: Avoid walking on the brown grass. You’ll break the blades and leave unsightly footprints. And, if you shouldn’t walk on dormant grass, you certainly shouldn’t mow. Caution 2: Be sure you fertilize now if your lawn needs a late spring fertilization. Fertilizing during the dog days can burn the grass when it’s dormant.

One task you can do all summer is deadhead your flowers. Deadheading is removing spent flowers before they go to seed. This enables the plant to redirect its energy to producing another flush of flowers, rather than dropping seeds. Also, make sure all your plants are well mulched. Mulch moderates soil temperatures, cooling it in summer and warming it in winter.If you really feel ambitious, you might consider building paths, if you don’t already have them, so you can walk through your landscape without having to walk through your planting beds or across your lawn. 

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Divide Your Landscape Into Special Garden “Rooms”

A lot of emphasis is being placed on landscaping for small spaces because more and more busy people are opting for smaller yards. If that’s the trend, where does that leave the owners of big landscapes? It can leave the creative person with the best of several worlds. You could divide your large garden into several small, themed gardens, or outdoor rooms.

Some of the theme gardens to consider include…

• Cottage Garden. Quite common in the United Kingdom, where properties tend to be small, cottage gardens are full of colorful plants, spaced close together to discourage weeds. The gardens often look as though seeds were scattered in the garden and they grew randomly. Actually, they’re carefully planned and planted, and they’re meticulously cared for.
• Wildflower Garden. At first blush, a wildflower garden may seem like the American equivalent of a cottage garden. However, the seeds for these gardens are purchased as mixtures and scattered, much like planting a lawn. Also called meadow gardens, wildflowers are often planted on hillsides and other large, hard to manage pieces of property. They usually have to be mowed only in the fall so that the seeds that fell on the ground can grow next spring. Buy only branded seed mixes. Bargain mixes may contain weed seeds and others that you don’t want.
• Cutting Garden. This is a utilitarian garden of flowers you’ll cut and display in vases in your home. You can plant either in rows or any creative shape you want.
• Pollinator Garden. A pollinator garden can be free standing or simply bright colored, deep flowers and plants caterpillars like mixed into another garden. You should have a butterfly house and water puddler nearby, too. Don’t worry about bees; they can find your garden from their hives miles away.
• Edible Garden. This is just another word for a vegetable garden. It, too, can be free standing planted either in traditional rows or as you’d plant an ornamental garden. Or you can be trendy and mix edibles and ornamentals in a single garden.
• Secret/Meditation Garden. This should be a completely enclosed space planted mostly with foliage plants and, possibly, a few flowering plants. The mood should be tranquil and relaxing – a place where you can retreat to and shut the world out.
• Japanese Garden. More often than not, your garden would be a Japanese style garden rather than an authentic Japanese garden. If you’re going to design your own, I recommend researching Japanese gardens online or at the library. There are very definite rules for plants and their placement, as well as hardscape features like statuary and rocks. Japanese gardens usually require more space than the other styles discussed above.

Ideas are endless. The mix of styles is limited only by your imagination. The number and size of each garden depends on the size of your property, as well as the ambiance you want to create. If you need help with the design and installation, we have a staff of creative landscape designers who can take the stress out of evolving an idea into a cohesive plan that you or our installation professionals can bring to reality.

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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.