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Return Your Plant Health Care Contract For Discount

Our Plant Health Care and lawn care customers have received their contract renewals for 2020. If you are one of those recipients, I urge you to read it carefully, sign it and send it back.

Note the paragraph that describes the early bird discount. If you choose to pay for the season in advance, we discount you an amount that covers our costs for preparing individual invoices and processing each payment. This can amount to a significant saving, Maybe even enough to buy a loved one a holiday gift. However the offer is good only through the expiration date printed on the contract.

You’ll still receive a document in a plastic bag, hung on your front door knob, after each application. It tells you what services we performed that day but there will be no “amount due.” And you won’t have to write a check after each service call.

If you’d like to place the care of your valuable trees, shrubs and lawn in the hands of our trained professionals, there is still time to sign up for a Plant Health Care and/or lawn care program in 2020 and enjoy the early bird discount. One of our tree and landscape consultants will be happy to visit you, check the size of your yard and the plant material that you have. We will then make recommendations for an all inclusive program to meet your needs and the needs of your plants.

After that, there’s nothing left for you to do, except enjoy your carefree landscape. Our professionals arrive at the proper time and perform the services for that visit. You don’t even have to be home. What a great holiday gift for your landscape.

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Happy Thanksgiving

This Thursday, we Americans will take a pause from our daily routine to gather with family and friends to observe a day of Thanksgiving. Early in our education, we all learned about the history of the holiday, beginning with the Pilgrims feasting with a New England tribe of Native Americans, who taught them how to survive in this unfamiliar land. After our feast, we will adjourn to a nearby television set to take part in a much more modern tradition – watching football.

I can’t help reflecting on a bit of horticulture history that has come full circle. It’s believed that the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow what they called the “three sisters.” The three sisters are three late season vegetables that are easily preserved through the winter. The three are corn (maize), winter squash and beans.

Corn grows tall, providing the beans with stalks to climb. Beans are legumes that return nitrogen to the soil to keep it fertile. Squash leaves creep along the ground, providing cover so the soil doesn’t erode away. The rough surface of the leaves and stems discourage foraging animals from harvesting the beans before the people can. And all of the produce can be preserved without refrigeration.

The modern twist on the three sisters? Today’s sustainable gardeners are planting corn, beans, and squash, except that they call it companion planting.

At their Thanksgiving dinners, many families serve corn (often the only vegetable young children will eat), beans (the ubiquitous green bean casserole) and squash. What a teaching moment!

On behalf of the Birchcrest Tree & Landscape family, I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

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Protect Your Landscape From Snowplows

Snowplows are a necessary evil in our corner of the world. After a snowfall, the sounds of snowplows are welcome to those who want to travel, but not for landscapes.

The snowplow operator’s job is to clear the road or driveway, piling the snow wherever there is room. Unfortunately, that is often on top of landscape beds or against trees. Knowing that snow removal is a fact of life in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area, your best recourse begins at the planning stage when you can avoid putting landscaping in areas where snow is thrown.

My observation is that most suburbanites refrain from placing a lot of landscaping in the tree lawn between the road and sidewalk. Most landscaping in the municipal right of way (usually about 35 feet from the center of the road) is limited to replaceable annuals planted around the mailbox or hardy plants around underground utility transformers. The trees in the tree lawn belong to the municipality and they are usually very hardy.

Occasionally, a less hardy tree or clump of shrubs will be planted too close to the road. But the more prevalent problem is when plantings are too close to driveways.

Plows can damage plants in a number of ways. The highway department plows can pile snow against trees that are too close to the road. Occasionally, they can hit a tree but that’s rare. The worst hazard for plants, even if they are further back from the road, is salt or other deicer that can be toxic to plants. These problems, except for deicer spray, also apply to driveway plowing.

Snow piled against a tree places a significant amount of pressure against one side of the trunk. Over time, this practice could cause lean. It could even topple a tree with weak roots. Snow piled up against the trunk can also provide a hiding place for critters who want to dine on your tree bark. If you have trees only on one side of the driveway, you can ask the plow operator to pile as much snow as possible on the other side. That may work or it may not.

It’s easy for plows to pull up grass that is unseen under the snow. Municipalities and private plow operators may come in the spring and plant new grass seed where they ripped it up. If not, you can either seed those areas yourself or collect the pieces of sod that appear after the snow melts and piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

The take away from this post is to keep your most valuable and vulnerable plants as far away from the direct or indirect path of snowplows as possible. If you have repeated damage to a tree, wrap it with burlap as you would a tender new tree or put a snow fence around it. For damaged planting beds, move the bed and plant grass there, and plan on reseeding the grass targets every year. It’s a small price to pay for cleared roads and driveways.

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Leave Some Perennials For Winter Interest

When herbaceous perennials finish flowering for the season, we naturally want to cut them back, often to the ground. This year you may want to leave some intact for winter interest. Sure, they may be brown but brown contrasts with white snow.

Herbaceous plants are those with leaves and non-woody stems. Herbaceous perennials are those that die back to the ground every year but grow back the next spring. Their roots stay alive, though dormant. Hostas are good examples. Other perennials are woody shrubs like lilacs and viburnums.

Some perennials grow so low that they won’t be seen above the snow. Others, however, grow taller so they will protrude out of the snow banks. Before the snow flies herbaceous perennials that have died back may not be particularly attractive. , After a snow fall, these plants can provide a nice break from the endless sea of white outside our windows. As the photo shows, even brown plants can add nice texture to a winter scene.

Before cutting back perennials, I suggest that you look at them not as dead pants but rather whether they can add winter interest to your otherwise monochromatic (white) yard. Leave those that will show above the snow and cut and compost the rest.

There are a few winter blooming perennials that will grow in the northeast. Pansies are perhaps the best known but hellebores, snowdrops and some varieties of phlox will also add color to your landscape on those drab days of winter.

Woody perennials (trees and shrubs) won’t die back to the ground but the deciduous plants lose their leaves and go dormant in winter. Only a few, witch hazel for example, may flower in winter. Others add winter interest in other ways. Dogwood shrubs show off their red branches in winter while holly shrubs display their red berries. Holly plants are dioecious, which means male and female flowers are on separate plants. So you need a male holly plant nearby to have red berries on the female plants. Monoecious plants have both flowers on a single plant.

Don’t prune flowering shrubs like lilacs in the fall. They’ve already set their flower buds for next spring, and you may cut them off when pruning. Most shrubs do flower in spring but a few flower later in the season on new branches. Buddleia (butterfly bush) is an example. The rule of thumb is to wait to prune all woody plants until after they are finished flowering.

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Don’t Forget The Anti-Desiccant

When checking your fall to-do list, be sure anti-desiccant is on it. This wax-like spray-on material is the most economical, effective protection for winter vulnerable evergreens.

If you’re not familiar with anti-desiccant and the way it protects your evergreen trees and shrubs, here’s a quick introduction. Deciduous trees and shrubs (those that drop their leaves in winter) go dormant but evergreens (both broadleaf and needled) simply slow down their life functions. This means the leaves continue to produce food through photosynthesis all winter long.

In the process of photosynthesis, plant roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil and transport them to the leaves or needles. The leaves/needles also absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), much of which we exhale when we breathe. In a complex reaction with the sun and green chlorophyll in the leaves/needles, water and CO2 are converted to sugar (glucose) that feeds the plant.

Water and oxygen (which we breathe), the waste product of photosynthesis, are given off through the leaves/needles in a process called transpiration.. In the winter, however, the ground is frozen so the roots can’t absorb water. Instead, the leaves/needles, reabsorb the transpired water and recycle it. The problem is that winter winds can blow the water droplets off the leaves before it can be reabsorbed. Anti-desiccant forms a protective barrier that reduces the chance of transpired water being blown from leaves and needles.

As temperatures rise in the spring, they thaw the frozen soil so roots can again absorb water. At the same time, the warm sun melts the anti-desiccant so the leaves/needles can again transpire water normally. If we have an especially mild winter, the warm sun may melt the anti-desiccant prematurely, in which case you’ll need a second application.

Several brands of anti-desiccant are sold in spay bottles at garden centers. The best known brand is Wilt-Pruf. Applying anti-desiccant to one or two evergreen shrubs is easy. If you have a number of evergreen trees and shrubs, however, applying it yourself can be exhausting, especially for the hand you are using to pump the sprayer. Buying a number of small spay bottles can also get expensive. In that case, it’s easier and more economical to have one of our Plant Health Care professionals apply it using a powerful backpack sprayer that can reach even the treetops.

Anti-desiccant’s one restriction is that, regardless of whether you are applying it yourself or professionally, it has to be applied before temperature drops below freezing.

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Last Minute Winter Landscape Preparations

As fall descends into winter, there are a number of last minute ways to protect your valuable landscape from the damaging effects of snow, ice and cold temperatures.

Inexpensive, portable, folding cold frame for overwinterting containerized plants.

Recently planted trees or shrubs should not be forgotten when preparing your landscape for winter. They may need to be wrapped in burlap for the winter. This is especially true for those planted close to the road where they can be damaged by spray from road salt. The wrappings can be made from easily obtained materials, specifically wood poles and burlap. Be sure to keep the top of the “tents open and don’t let the burlap touch the plant.

Add extra mulch around trees and in planting beds so it’s 3 to 4 inches deep but don’t let it touch tree trunks or shrub stems. And, make a note to remove the extra mulch in the spring.

Recently planted trees and shrubs may also need fertilization in the fall so soil has the nutrients needed to sustain them through the winter and when blooming and foliating in spring.

If you have containerized plants on your deck, patio or elsewhere in your yard, remember that only the very hardy can survive the winter outdoors. To be safe, it’s a good idea to wrap insulation around the containers left outsode or put them in a planting bed and pile much around them.

Containerized plants that are cold hardy but can’t survive wind can be overwintered in a cold frame. You can build one from scratch or buy kits or pre-fabricated cold frames from some home or garden centers or from garden supply websites. Your more tender containerized pants should be taken inside for the winter.

Finally, there’s still time to apply anti-desiccant to your evergreens and both pre and post emergent weed killer to your weeds. This year, fall has arrived later than usual. Some deciduous trees haven’t even turned color yet. Trees that have turned color are still hanging on to their leaves. Most lawns still need mowing. However, I wouldn’t wait too long to get this work done. When the weather decides to turn cold, it’s apt to do it very quickly.

If these are jobs you’d rather not do, we have the Plant Health Care professionals who can help you with any or all of these tasks.

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Fallen Leaves Make Great Compost

Who rakes fallen leaves in a forest? The answer: Nobody. They just fall to the forest floor and decompose. This decomposing organic material is called humus or duff. As they decompose, the fallen leaves return organic matter to the soil to be used by the plants. This is nature’s compost.

Letting leaves decompose naturally in the landscape isn’t practical. They fall on the lawn, in planting beds and even swimming pools and gutters.. Instead, most people rake them up, or blow them into piles. And they get rid of them by the most expedient means. Depending on the laws of the jurisdiction in which you live, you may bag leaves and put them at the curb or you may be able to just rake or blow them to the curb and the town will pick them up.

When the town comes around with a giant vacuum and sucks leaves into a truck, chances are they will be taken to a municipal composting facility and piled into windrows. Windrows are long piles of leaves left out in the weather to decompose. Because the windrows generate heat, they are turned periodically. This not only keeps them from catching fire but also evens out the decomposition process.

When the leaves are completely composted, the municipality uses the material to add organic matter to the soil in parks and other public gardens. If there is any left over, it may be offered to residents. Some municipalities give compost free while others charge a nominal fee. But you have to go to the composting facility and get it. This means your leaves are handled by numerous people before they are returned to you. That hardly fits the definition of sustainability.

I suppose that’s OK if you don’t want to be bothered with the turning and other work involved in making compost. However, if you want to really be sustainable, you’ll make your own compost. Cordon off a far corner of your yard, one that isn’t too visible, and build your compost facility there.

A compost bin can be built with a little work and some lumber and nails or wire. Just build big boxes to hold the leaves. You’ll be able to work the compost easier if you leave the front off the boxes. You can also buy kits for wood or wire compost bins at home stores or online at garden supply sites. They even have various size plastic bins that you can turn simply by turning a crank.

Leaves will compost faster is they’re crushed into small pieces. The most efficient method of crushing them I’ve ever seen was when the host of a TV garden show filled a garbage totter with leaves, donned safety glasses and plunged a string trimmer into the totter like an immersion blender that’s used in the kitchen.

When making your own mulch, you’ll need to check the temperature in the middle of the pile and turn it when it gets hot. Turning also allows the leaves to compost evenly so you’ll have nice, dark, finished compost by spring. If you don’t have a composter with a crank tumbler, just use an iron rake.