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Summer Shrub Care

The dog days of summer are upon us. I’ve never taken the time to research where that term came from, but I suspect that it refers to the way our furry friends find a cool, shady place to lie down and rest on these hot, humid days. We humans could take a page from the canine playbook and do the same.

Even the most ambitious, conscientious gardeners should take some time and step back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Nothing would be happier if you did than your ornamental shrubs. This is because when there’s nothing better to do, many gardeners seem to gravitate to the pruners and start cutting back the shrubs.

If you feel the need to do something for your shrubs in the summer, might I suggest picking up the hose instead of the pruners. Shrubs can always use a drink of water especially in the heat we’ve been experiencing. But they would prefer to not be pruned in this weather. The exception is dead or broken branches. They should be removed anytime you see them.

You see only what’s going on to the outside of the shrub but there’s serious, life sustaining functions taking place beneath the surface. For example, next year’s buds (flower and leaf) are forming in the live tissue beneath the bark. They’ll appear in the fall, overwinter in a dormant state and break in spring. We caution you not to prune flowering shrubs until after they bloom in spring but that caution really begins now.

If you didn’t get a chance to rein in the unrestrained growth of spreading shrubs in the spring, resist the urge to do it now. When you remove a significant amount of foliage from a heat stressed shrub, it goes into survival mode. This condition will be noticed by insects and diseases looking for easy prey and a shrub in survival mode won’t offer much resistance. Not only is the shrub weakened from the heat and, possibly, dehydration but you’ve left the door open for pests to walk right in the open wounds caused by pruning.

Painting pruning cuts won’t help either. That was proven, decades ago, to exacerbate the problem. The pests can get there before the paint brush.

The bottom line is that everything in nature has its season and summer is not the season for pruning shrubs.

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Best Summer Cut For Your Lawn – Long or Short?

If you get your hair cut short during the summer to beat the heat, don’t assume your lawn wants to be cut short too. Lawns actually fare the heat of the summer better when they are mowed no shorter than 3-4 inches. To many, seeing it that long is a culture shock, but the lawn will be healthier, and in the long run, it will save you time and money.

Having longer leaves provides more photosynthetic surface, allowing increased food production. In addition, longer leaves result in more robust clippings which will decompose and provide a natural fertilizer. This will reduce the need to apply chemical fertilizer, thus eliminating the expense of buying it and saving you time having to apply it.

Longer grass also encourages thicker turf, which discourages weeds. Weeds are lazy, opportunistic plants. If the grass is thin or there’s a bare spot, weeds will pick those areas to take root. That means you’ll have to take the time and/or spend the money to remove them. This may take the form of physically removing the weeds by pulling them, buying weed killer and applying it, or retaining our lawn care professionals to rid your lawn of weeds.

Thin turf or lawns with bare spots also attract insects like grubs and sod webworms. They know the thin grass won’t resist their attack as well as thick, healthy grass. When this occurs, more time and money is needed to control the insects and repair the damage.

Finally, going back to the hair analogy, it’s easier to keep longer grass looking nice than it is shorter grass. If you wear your hair short (in a brush, crew or buzz cut), for instance, you know that you have to go to the barber or stylist more often than if you wear it longer. With a shorter cut it is much more noticeable, when a few hairs grow faster than the rest. With longer hair you hardly notice. Likewise, when a lawn is mowed putting green short, all it takes is a couple of fast-growing blades of grass to make things looks raggedy and in need of another cut. In a lawn allowed to grow to 3 or 4 inches you won’t even notice those errant blades. If you don’t get a chance to mow it on time, nobody will know but you.

If you take my advice and mow long during the growing season, be sure to lower the mower to 2 or 2 ½ inches the last few times you mow it for the season. This will decrease the amount of leaf surface susceptible to the fungal diseases that attack lawns in winter.

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Plan To Water Your Valuable Plants This Summer

Meteorologists aren’t saying yet that we’ll see a drought in the Rochester and Finger Lakes area this summer, but they have pointed out frequently that June was a very dry month. If you really love your landscape and want to protect it, I suggest that you develop a watering plan now, before you need it.

A watering plan doesn’t have to be a formal document. However, you and your family should agree which plants get watered first, second, etc., otherwise the cost to provide the necessary inch of water per week to all plants in your landscape could be prohibitive.

Plants’ value and their ability to find water or otherwise survive should be the determining factors. Your trees and lawn are, arguably, your most valuable plants. But mature trees and even some shrubs are able find sufficient water. If they can’t, they’ll let you know with early onset defoliation. If trees or shrubs do start to turn color and drop their leaves, you may be able to stop it by watering. Mature woody plants won’t die after only one year of premature defoliation, but it might be worth a visit by one of our Plant Health Care professionals to make sure there isn’t an underlying condition contributing to the condition.

Young, recently planted trees and shrubs, should be high on your watering list. They need regular watering to assure that they get well established. Perennials (both woody and herbaceous) should be your next priority. Annuals and turf should be at the bottom. Annuals last only one season and are inexpensive enough that they can be replaced during the season. Grass has the ability to go dormant when it’s dry and green up again when the rain return.

We are fortunate that we have plenty of water available to us but that’s not a reason to waste it. Besides water isn’t free. You get billed for it regardless of whether it reaches the plants or evaporates in the air. The way to conserve water is to get it as close to the plant roots as possible. That’s best done by using drip emitters with your irrigation system or soaker hoses if you don’t have an irrigation system.

Soaker hoses are porous hoses made from recycled tires. You can thread them through a planting bed with the hose passing close to each plant. You only turn the water on a quarter turn so watering takes about the same amount of time as drip irrigation. The pressure from opening the spigot any more than a quarter turn can blow the hoses apart. For automatic watering with soaker hoses, timers that attach to the spigot are available.

If you choose to water your lawn, sprinkling is your only option. I’m reluctant to recommend this because the sun evaporates much of the water leaving the sprinkler
before it reaches the ground.

Whether sprinkling, using drip emitters, or soaker hoses, it’s best to apply the whole inch at once rather than a little bit each day. The water will penetrate deeper and encourage stronger roots this way. When sprinkling, an age old measuring method is to place a container like a coffee can in the stream and time how long it takes an inch to accumulate. Then each time you move the sprinkler you can determine how long it takes to apply an inch by looking at the clock. Soaker hoses take about an hour to deposit an inch of water.

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Keep Your Landscape Green – Remove Yellow Foliage

Yellow leaves detract from a landscape even though yellow is a leaf’s natural color. When they’re alive and making food, chlorophyll masks the yellow pigment.
Many people ask me what to do about yellow leaves. It’s one of those questions in which the answer is, “It depends.”

If the plant is a spring flowering bulb like a tulip or daffodil, yellow leaves have done what they’re supposed to for the season and should be removed. Removing these dead leaves will cause the plant to direct nutrients to any remaining green leaves so they can continue making food to be sent to the bulb for storage until it’s needed next spring.

As annuals get close to their life end, leaves may start turning yellow. This also happens when plants don’t get enough water. Removing yellow leaves when you deadhead the flowers will cause the plant to redirect nutrients to the green leaves where they will create, through photosynthesis, the energy the plant needs to create new flowers and, possibly, new leaves as well. Of course, they will need that all important inch of water per week to stay healthy. If yellowing continues, the plant has reached the end of its life and will have to be replaced.

Yellowing leaves on perennials and woody plants like trees and shrubs could indicate insufficient moisture, insects, or disease attack. Begin by making sure the plants are getting enough water. If leaves continue to yellow, I recommend an inspection by one of our Plant Health Care (PHC) professionals. Don’t remove yellow leaves from these plants. Leave them on the plant or on the ground where they fell to help our PHC professional make an accurate diagnosis. If the plant is suffering from a pest infestation, you don’t want to throw these leaves in the compost heap. Bag them and put them out with the trash, and then disinfect your tools before using them again.

You won’t see yellow needles on conifers like juniper or yews, but you may see brown. It could be winter burn if you didn’t apply antidesiccant or it may be a fungus. Our PHC professionals will be able to tell you which. Whichever the cause, the action is the same – remove the affected branches. But be careful that you don’t disfigure the plant.

I won’t get into a discussion of yellow or brown turf at this time, except to say it may be caused by a pest. But more likely, it’s the grass’ natural protective reaction to go dormant in excessive heat and drought.

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Are There Really Deer Proof Plants?

We’re frequently asked if there are really any deer proof plants. The answer is no. When a deer is really hungry, it will eat any plant that’s available. However, deer are no different from other animals. They have their favorites, others that are OK and those that will do in a pinch. So, there are deer resistant plants.

Our landscape designers have lists of plants that deer favor and those they aren’t so fond of. There are also lists on the internet for the DIYer. Be careful of the one you select. There are deer in all areas of the country and their preferred diet varies with area.
One public list I found that is very complete was published by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Warren County. The site lists woody ornamental, annual/biennial and perennial plants as rarely, occasionally, seldom and frequently damaged by deer.

Only one woody ornamental is listed under rarely damaged. That is spruce. No doubt the sharp needles scratch on the way down. Twenty-three annuals/biennials are listed and include such favorites as marigold, dalia and wax begonia. There are 81 perennials on the list. Including bleeding hearts, daffodils, hellebores and purple coneflowers.

The site lists 19 woody ornamentals that deer seldom damage and171 that they occasionally damage and another 19 that they frequently damage. Among herbaceous plants, they occasionally damage parsley and sunflowers and frequently damage impatiens and hollyhocks. Seven species made the list of occasionally damaged perennials and nine the frequently damaged list.

There are folk remedies like putting human hair on a plant to repel deer. Fences may be a deterrent but you need one at least eight feet tall. That’s why plants that deer don’t like are my most effective enticement for them to go elsewhere for dinner.

Click Here If you’d like to check out the complete list on the Warren County Cooperative Extension website.

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June Is For Pruning Conifers

June is usually when conifer (cone bearing) trees and shrubs are ready to be pruned. This year may be an exception, however. Our cold, wintery May has delayed many plants’ growth and flowering. And it is growth that determines whether conifers need to be pruned at all.

This year, let the tree or shrub tell you when it should be pruned rather than relying on the calendar. The appearance of soft, light green needles at the ends of the branches is the first clue that your tree or shrub is almost ready for pruning. They look like extensions of the branches because that’s what they are. They are the plants’ new growth.

Don’t be in a hurry to reach for the pruners. It takes a few weeks for the new growth to reach its full length. You’ll know the new growth is through elongating when it begins darkening to the color of the other needles on the plant and the new foliage loses its softness. Then it’s time to prune. If you prune any earlier, you’ll only have to do it again because the new growth will keep right on growing.

Never prune just to prune. Prune with a purpose. If you want to just keep the plant at its present size, remove only the new growth. This is easily done with scissor-type pruning shears or loppers. If your objective is to reduce the height or girth, to shape the plant or to raise the crown by removing the lower branches, a saw may be needed in addition to your shears and loppers.

As with all tree pruning, you should leave the job to our professional arborists.
They have the training, experience and special equipment to do the job safely. Stick to pruning shrubs, or you can leave that to our arborists, too.

When pruning coniferous shrubs, I recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt, long pants, leather shoes and gloves. The needles may be sharp, especially if you have to reach into the interior of the shrub to remove a branch. Conifer shrubs are pruned the same way as deciduous shrubs. Don’t leave stubs and remove branches at junctions even if that means cutting at ground level. Know where each branch you cut terminates or you may have a big hole in the foliage, and that won’t look very attractive if it’s in front.

The same guidelines apply to broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods. Their new growth is light colored leaves that turn a darker green as the new growth matures. Be sure flowering shrubs like rhododendrons are done blooming before you prune them.

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Birchcrest Is Open And Providing All Services

As the 2020 landscaping/gardening season gets into full swing, I want to remind you that Birchcrest had been deemed an essential business throughout this pandemic and remains open for business. All services are being performed and our service personnel are in full compliance with CDC guidelines as well as state and local regulations.

Because our maintenance departments were deemed essential, the tree, Plant Health Care (PHC) and lawn care departments never closed. Our designers continued to work at home and now our landscape construction department is back to work.

All of our employees are wearing masks and practicing social distancing when they are with other people. Wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is second nature to our maintenance staff. Our tree and PHC professionals wear special PPE to protect them when working in trees or applying material to protect plants.

If you’re planning a “staycation” this year, you may want to update your landscape with a new or expanded patio, deck and fresh plantings. Our landscape designers can meet with you, in person, or meet with you virtually for input, and to present their designs before we begin construction.

We’re all staying home more these days, and staying home is more pleasant in a new, fresh environment.

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Keep Landscape Color Vibrant Until Fall

Spring bulbs are starting to fade, even though many of them bloomed late. Spring flowering shrubs, like lilacs, also were delayed by the weather but will soon lose their colorful flowers. Then they will spend the rest of the season as attractive foliage plants. How can you extend the bloom of these plants?

The answer is that you can’t extend the bloom periods of the plants mentioned above, but you can supplement them with plants that bloom later and/or whose flowering life can be extended by deadheading*. The two categories of plants to consider are herbaceous perennials and annuals.

Mixing different types of flowering plants in the same bed can assure you of season long color. For example: Plant annuals among the spring flowering bulbs after the bulbs have finished their colorful show. That way the annuals won’t interfere with your enjoyment of the tulips, daffodils, etc. But by planting them at this time, their flowers will draw the eyes away from the yellowing bulb foliage. You should leave bulb foliage until it’s totally dead before cutting it away. The chlorophyll is busy making food to be stored in the bulb to provide the energy it needs to flower next spring.

No matter where you plant annuals, deadheading extends their flowering season. Then when they finally finish flowering, it’s inexpensive and easy enough to change them out for fresh plants. If your annuals are hardy enough to continue flowering until September, you can replace them with chrysanthemums (mums) for fall color almost until the snow flies.

Around the perimeter of your flowering shrubs, you could plant more annuals or herbaceous perennials like hosta or Echinacea (coneflower). The height of the spring flowering plant may influence what else you plant with it. Annuals tend to grow low to the ground and might get lost when paired with a tall shrub. Echinacea are tall and long blooming. They will flower from early summer until well into fall.

Hydrangeas are also popular summer and fall color plants. A popular variety is called “Endless Summer.” It is a moptop that can flower pink or blue. The color of the flowers can actually be changed by changing the soil pH. Acid soil (low pH) yields blue flowers; alkaline soil (high pH) yields pink flowers.

The possibilities for enjoying color in your landscape from early spring to late fall are endless. You just have to think creatively and do a little research into what’s best for your landscape. If you want the color without the work, our landscar designers and plant professionals are available to help to any extent that you want.

* Deadheading is the term for pinching or cutting fading flowers off the plant before they go to seed. Deadheading encourages the plant to direct energy to making more flowers rather than seeds

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Memorial Day Official Start Of Growing Season

Any experienced farmer or gardener in western or central New York knows that Memorial Day is the time to plant. I’m sure that’s why the folks in Waterloo, who began the tradition that turned into the holiday, picked the end of May to put flowers on the graves of Civil War veterans.

We can plant early some years and get away with it but I hope you didn’t try it this year. The last hard frost was less than a week ago. Meteorologists are assuring us that those were the last of the season, so planting on Memorial Day this Monday should pose no problem.

This Memorial Day will be like no other. Most of the parades and other public ceremonies have been canceled. So a day of beautifying your yard would be an appropriate family activity before topping the three day weekend off with a cook-out.

Garden stores are among the businesses that are now open so you can shop for plants. Just remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing. If you still aren’t ready to go to stores yet, check with your favorite garden centers to see if you can order by phone or online for curbside pick-up.

You can get a lot planted in the three day weekend if you work together, even while observing social distancing. One person can plant flowers while another plants veggies. You can do this in the same bed and still maintain the proper social distance.

Mark out your bed on paper before you go to the garden center. You’ll then know how many of each plant to buy and exactly where they’ll go in the garden. Make one planter responsible for flowers and the other for veggies. Each starts at opposite ends and works toward the center. As you close the gap at the center, one of you can take a water break until the other is finished. Then switch and finish the bed.

I mention mixing flowers and edibles in the same bed because it’s a new movement. As long as we’re all doing things differently these days, why not give it a try? And what are the kids doing while you are planting beds? Buy extra plants and they can plant them in containers. Maybe you could hold a friendly competition to see who can design and plant the most creative container garden.

All in all, that sounds like a great way to spend quality family time in this year of challenges and restrictions. As for the results – the holiday was originally called Decoration Day. This year you can use the occasion to decorate your yard.

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Time For Emerald Ash Borer Treatment

Spring is the best time to protect your valuable, majestic ash trees from the insidious emerald ash borer (EAB). It’s this invasive pest that’s to blame for all the dead and dying ash trees that we see around town. If you have an ash tree, it’s a sure bet that it will become a target for the EAB sooner or later.

Here is an example of the damage caused by the Emerald Ash Borer.

In May, the adult borers emerge from pupation inside the tree and begin eating the leaves while looking for a mate. With the courtship successful by the end of the month, females will deposit their eggs in indentations they make in the bark. As soon as the larvae hatch, they start boring their way into the interior of the tree, where they carry out their destructive task for nearly a year.

We are starting our spring treatment with a very effective product called TreeAge. The application requires special training and equipment to place the product
into the tree trunk. Consequently, it can only be applied by a state licensed/certified pesticide applicator. TreeAge is placed directly into the tree’s vascular system where it can be carried to where the EAB larvae are feeding. The borers are small, weak and more vulnerable in spring. So, spring treatments are more effective.

Trees that have not been attacked yet need to be treated only every two years. Those that have been attacked need to be treated every year. Not all attacked trees can be effectively treated, however. Those in which the EAB has killed more than a third of the tree are not good candidates for treatment.

When advising tree owners on whether or not to treat, we look at the aesthetics as well as the percentage of the tree that’s still alive. EAB destroys trees from the top down so we determine if we can prune the tree so it still has the distinctive ash tree shape or whether it will look like a topped tree no matter what we do. For trees that are completely dead or have more than a third of their crown destroyed by the EAB, we will provide an estimate for our trained, experienced, fully insured arborists to safely remove it.

With eight NYS Certified Pesticide Applicators and 13 Certified Arborists on staff, we can respond in a very timely fashion.