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Spring Lawn Care Dos & Don’ts

For most of us, that weekly lawn mowing ritual has begun again. There are also other spring tasks that should be done now, and a few that shouldn’t.

First the “Don’ts.” There are still people who pay good money to have their lawns rolled each spring. Most of our soil is heavy clay, and rolling only compacts the soil so there’s no space for water and air between the particles. The antidote is aerifying – pulling plugs of soil out to create spaces for water and air. A better investment would be to skip the rolling and go directly to aerifying.

Another “Don’t”: applying lime. Lime is applied to acid soil to increase the pH, but most of our soil is neutral or alkaline already. Grass grows best in neutral soil. So, lime should only be applied if a soil test indicates that your soil is acidic.

A soil test is actually a good idea for several reasons. Besides telling you the pH, a soil test will also tell you whether your lawn needs fertilization, and if so, which nutrients need replenishing. This can result in a substantial saving of both time and money.

You probably don’t need to apply grub control, or have it applied, if your lawn was treated for grubs last fall. This results in an environmental saving, as well as a cost saving. By spring, grubs have grown big and strong, so more aggressive applications are needed to control them. In fall, they are newly hatched, so they are small and weak, requiring less material to control them.

Now for some of the “Dos”. Be sure your mower blade is always sharp for a nice, clean cut, rather than a ragged cut. Sharpness should also be checked periodically during the mowing season.

Set your mower height at 2.5” to 3”. Taller grass discourages weed growth, retains water better and is healthier.

Last but not least, let your grass clippings fall to the ground, decompose and return nutrients to the soil. This practice is called Grasscycling.

If you don’t want the cares and worries of maintaining your lawn’s health, talk to us about a lawn care program this season and let our professionals take the guesswork out of your lawn care.

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Celebrate Arbor Day

Arbor Day is this Friday, April 28. Why not begin a family tradition that will brighten the lives of future generations?

If you have to work on Friday and kids are in school that day, fear not. Observe Arbor Day on Saturday, Sunday or even the following weekend. It’s all about the trees, and they don’t care when they’re planted.

The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska in 1872, thanks to journalist J. Sterling Morton. The prairie transplant looked out across the treeless plains and sought to change that bleak landscape. Other states soon began holding their own Arbor Days on dates that best suited their growing seasons. In 1970, President Richard Nixon declared the last Friday in April to be National Arbor Day. So, you see, Arbor Day isn’t bound hard and fast to a particular date.

Regardless of the date your family observes Arbor Day, just make sure you do it as a family and that you get the kids into the act by letting them help, and explaining the significance of the observance and the proper way to plant.

Proper planting begins with selecting the right tree for the spot you want to plant it. Be sure the growing conditions where you plan to plant correspond to the tree’s needs listed on the nursery tag. If in doubt, talk to one of the horticulturists at your garden center. Be sure there’s plenty of space for the tree to grow to its full height and width. Don’t plant a sun loving tree in the shade or a shade tolerant tree in the sun. If it likes acid soil, don’t plant it in basic soil.

There’s an old saying, “Dig a $50 hole for a $5 tree.” This means the hole should be two to three times bigger in diameter than the rootball but only as deep. Place the tree in the hole and, while one of the children holds the tree plumb to the ground, backfill. Tamp the soil gently to eliminate air pockets and then soak the backfilled area.

You’ll enjoy your new tree more if you follow these guidelines, and it will require less maintenance than an improperly planted tree. You won’t have to constantly have it pruned to fit the allotted space. As a strong, healthy tree, it shouldn’t need fertilization and will have fewer insect and disease problems.

Arbor Day should be a fun holiday with memories that last a lifetime for the whole family…regardless of which day you plant your Arbor Day tree.

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New Disease Attacking Western New York Oak Trees

Last fall, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that an oak tree in the town of Canandaigua had been infected with oak wilt disease, and an update was published recently in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The DEC has established a “Protective Zone” (quarantine) around the infected tree. This severely restricts the movement of fresh wood into or out of the zone. Obeying this, and other quarantines, is important. This disease, like most fungal diseases cannot be controlled easily with a fungicide. Propiconazole, a fungicide that, if applied on a regular basis, will keep this fungus under control. Once use of the fungicide is started, it must be continued or the fungus will become active again, making diseases like this much more serious in the long term than insects. Off hand, I can’t think of an insect for which an effective chemical or natural predator was not found eventually.

The fungus that causes oak wilt is Ceratocystis fagacearum, which develops in an oak tree’s water-carrying cells, called xylem. The water carried by the xylem contains life sustaining nutrients. These nutrients are essential to photosynthesis. Lacking water and nutrients, the leaves wilt and fall. Oak wilt kills red oaks in six month or less, while it takes much longer, often years, for the disease to claim white oaks.

Insect carriers and root contact are the most common natural ways for oak wilt to spread, but the movement of wood and wood products like firewood have become become an increasing concern. This is why quarantines carry stiff penalties. It is believed that bringing infected wood into Canandaigua caused this outbreak.

If you see oak trees with wilting and falling leaves or the top branches are defoliated, report them to the local DEC office so that action can be taken to keep the disease from spreading. Let’s not let it get a foothold in our area. Remember what fungal diseases did to the American chestnut and the American elm.

Birchcrest arborists are working with the DEC to contain and eradicate the oak wilt in Canandaigua. Believe me, it’s painful to take down a majestic oak tree that has been growing so long that it witnessed much of the rich history of the Finger Lakes.

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Save Those Beautiful Ash Trees

The warmer weather tells the emerald ash borer (EAB) that it’s almost time to crawl out of the tree they’re in and greet the big world outside. Since they hatched, these voracious pests have lived inside the trees where their mothers deposited their eggs, never seeing the light of day.

It’s now time for them to morph into tiny, metallic green adults and dig “D” shaped holes to crawl out into the daylight. This generation of EAB is through eating. The adults’ sole task is to mate, scoop out indentations in ash tree bark and lay eggs so the scourge can start all over again.

Some homeowners have just given up, certain that their valuable ash trees are destined to die from the emerald ash borer’s feast. Others are fighting back, determined to save their valuable trees.

There is an effective preventive and treatment available to arborists. Before applying either, one of our plant health care professionals will inspect your ash tree(s) to see if the EAB has infested them yet and, if so, the amount of damage.

A preventive should be applied every two years to trees that have, thus far, escaped the EAB. Trees hosting the EAB should be treated every year, as long 70 percent or more of the tree is alive. This material, as formulated, is only available to licensed, trained professionals, and we inject it directly into the tree trunk using special equipment..

These treatments may appear to be a major investment at first. When you crunch the numbers, however, they represent a very cost effective insurance policy. Do-it-yourself products are not concentrated enough to be effective against this stubborn pest, so you would be wasting money to invest in them. Furthermore, professional treatments can be made for a good, long time for the cost of removing and replacing a stately ash tree. Doesn’t that look like a really good investment now?

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Time To Spring Into Action

As March exits like a lamb and April steps up to usher in spring, the time has finally come for you to, once again, step outside and begin waking up your landscape from its winter nap.

April is when you should cut back your ornamental grasses and remove that extra inch or two of mulch you spread to protect plants from winter cold.

This also a good time to cross a couple of the leftover fall tasks from your list. If you didn’t get around to dividing perennials, you can do it as soon as they appear above ground. If you split perennials now, you won’t have to contend with a lot of foliage. They are easier to handle when you only have the root and a little emerging foliage.

This is also the time to arrange for a dormant oil application to your trees and shrubs. This is, arguably, the best all round insect control material with the least amount of environmental impact. Dormant oil can best be described as dilute petroleum jelly. Yes, like the stuff we put on wounds like burns.

Many insects overwinter in trees. Some make tent-like structures and live inside all winter long. Others just hide in branch forks and other places on the tree as they hibernate for the winter. Dormant oil covers these insects and smothers them in their sleep.

If you have only a few shrubs, you can buy dormant oil at your garden store and apply it yourself. If you have lots of plants, especially big trees, it’ll be more economical to call us. Our Plant Health Care professionals have the training and experience to know where the insects are overwintering and the high pressure equipment to reach the tops of tall trees.

Many put off lawn repair from last summer’s drought until spring. You can begin that as soon as the soil is dry enough to walk on without leaving footprints. It’s a good idea to give your lawn a good raking even if you didn’t suffer damage last year. You’ll pull out any grass that may have died over the winter. Overseeding early will give the new seed a head start on spring while nature is still irrigating. Your lawn will be well established before Mother Nature turns her faucet down or shuts it off.

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Spring Flowering Woody Plants

An early lesson in gardening is that we shouldn’t prune spring flowering trees or shrubs until after they’ve bloomed. The reason is simple. These shrubs bloom on last year’s wood, which means that the flower buds formed last year. If you prune them before they flower, you can easily prune off these buds and you won’t have flowers this year.

Spring pruning won’t hurt the shrub itself, only the flowers. If, during the spring, your shrubs develop stray shoots and branches that make them look unkempt, go ahead and prune out those untidy shoots and branches. Nobody will be the wiser, unless you leave unsightly stubs. Besides, there will be enough flowers on the remaining branches to still put on a spectacular show of color.

Be sure to cut these errant branches at ground level if possible. If you can’t reach where the cut should be made with your hand pruners, use loppers. If ground level is absolutely out of reach when pruning shrubs, make your cuts at the fork between the branch you’re pruning and one growing out from it.. That way you won’t be leaving a stub, which becomes an entryway for insects and diseases.

Like trees, shrubs should be pruned according to their needs, not because someone said they should be pruned at a certain time of the year. Some may not need an annual pruning. They may only need a snip here and a cut there. However, if you let them go for several years, they can become overgrown and need radical pruning to get them back into shape. This can lead to very unattractive shrubs until new shoots grow to fill the empty spaces.

Unlike trees, shrub pruning can be a do-it-yourself job, but I don’t know why you’d want to. When pruning shrubs, it’s a good idea to wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants. Eye protection is essential, too. Shrub branches can scratch, poke and even spring and hurt you. Our professionals are trained on how to prune shrubs for shape, as well as health and safety – the shrubs’ safety as well as their own.

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The Winds Are Gone… Now What?

The recent wind beat up many of the trees in our region. Some handled it better than others. If your trees survived, you’re lucky. But that doesn’t mean your trees are invincible. It means that you shouldn’t press your luck. This wasn’t the first storm and it won’t be the last. In fact if you haven’t been outside there is snow accumulating in the trees right now.

After the stressful couple of weeks that your trees have just experienced you should have your trees inspected by one of our Certified Arborists. Although your trees may still be standing, there could be damage up in the crown, in the root zone and inside the branches. If your yard is littered with broken branches they may have left jagged stubs, which are unhealthy. The jagged ends won’t allow the remaining stub to heal (callus) properly, becoming an entry point for insects and disease organisms. Not all broken branches may be in the yard. Some may still be hanging precariously up in the tree, where they could fall on somebody.

During the inspection, our arborists will also determine whether the crown should be pruned to lessen wind resistance and uneven weight distribution. Most of the trees that fell in the last storm were uprooted. This is because tree roots spread outward rather than downward. Water pockets form below the roots and, as the water freezes and thaws, it can loosen the soil around the roots. Add to that hurricane-force winds and a heavy crown and the tree cannot help but fail.

Some trees that suffered damage can still be saved with creative, professional pruning. I cannot emphasize enough that pruning and tree work is not a do-it-yourself job. It’s the most dangerous profession in the United States. Professionals are trained to work on toppled trees and those near power lines. Local hospitals treated many chain saw and other tree related injuries resulting from property owners trying to do their own tree clean up after the latest wind storm.

When we inspect, we’ll check for rot that reduces the tree’s ability to withstand high winds. Mushroom-like growths, especially around the root zone, are the most obvious sign of rot. However, we also use instruments to measure the amount of internal rot and to calculate the tree’s chance of survival. We can then advise you on whether it should be removed and just monitored.

We also look for radial cracking, especially in smaller branches. High winds or heavy loads on branches can cause them to break inside. The only obvious sign is droopy branches. If you cut a cross section, it will look like a sliced pie with cracks radiating out from the center but not quite reaching the edge of the branch. This cracking weakens the branch.

An inspection and any repair work now can result in substantial savings after the next wind storm.