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Making Your Landscape Pollinator Friendly

Plants can make plenty of pollen but many plants have no pollen transportation system. They have no way to get the pollen to female flowers so seeds and, ultimately, new plants can be produced. That’s where pollinators come in.

Insects, especially bees and butterflies, and birds, especially hummingbirds, are the major transporters of pollen between plants. I know that, in springtime, some people find their houses and cars covered in yellow pollen. These plants, which depend on the wind to spread their pollen, are few and far between. Most plants depend on the birds and the bees, and the plants reward these pollinators with nice, sweet nectar.

The plummeting number of pollinators is a very real concern today, and property owners are being asked to give nature some help by increasing the pollinator population. This can best be done by providing them with a welcoming environment.

Start by watching for pollinators visiting your flowering plants. As they land on flowers in search of nectar, pollen sticks to their feet. They then fly to another plant searching for more nectar and deposit the pollen. If there aren’t plenty of honey bees, butterflies or hummingbirds visiting your plants, it’s time to start shopping for pollinator-attracting plants, beginning with fall blooming plants. Select good varieties of native, flowering plants, and plant them in clumps. Many will have a notation on the nursery tag that they attract pollinators.

Native plants are recommended because pollinators aren’t connoisseurs. They have their preferred flowers and don’t deviate or experiment with new food sources. They also don’t like pesticides, so eliminate them wherever possible.

It’s also important to include plants preferred by butterfly larvae. These plants may not enhance your flower bed, however. For example, milkweed is the only food monarch butterfly larvae will eat. Not only are the plants unsightly but the larvae eat the leaves and the chewed up leaves will also add to the plants’ unsightliness. So, plant them somewhere inconspicuous. The butterflies will find them.

Butterflies and hummingbirds have some additional needs. They need water to drink and bathe in. A birdbath is fine for hummingbirds but it’s too deep for butterflies. They prefer a saucer of water placed on the ground or near to the ground. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service suggests lightly salting the water.

There may not be enough nectar to completely satisfy the whole pollinator population. In that case, put out another saucer of rotting fruit for the butterflies and a hummingbird feeder for the hummingbirds. Garden centers and online garden supply sites have special butterfly plates so you don’t have to use your good china. They also have butterfly houses that you can hang in trees. Don’t worry about shelter for bees. They come from nearby hives.

Establishing a pollinator garden will enhance your current landscape while helping to provide habitat for this important group of wildlife. If you prefer our professional expertise, our landscape pros can help you with any aspect or with the entire project.

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Ticks & Mosquitoes Expected To Be Out In Force

Entomologists predict that we’ll have a bumper crop of dangerous insects this summer. They are referring specifically to ticks and mosquitoes. Both of these insects carry diseases that are dangerous to people.

Photo Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks. While they are called deer ticks, they actually are carried by a number of animals, especially field mice, dogs and cats, who can then transfer the ticks to us. A tick bite looks like a red bulls eye, and usually occurs on the lower body, especially the legs. Lyme disease symptoms begin with fatigue, achy muscles and joints, headaches and swollen lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, symptoms include hearing, vision and memory problems, arthritis and numbness or tingling in your extremities.

Ticks tend to hang out in brushy and wooded areas. Many are found along borders with lawns and landscaping. When venturing into those areas, it’s recommended that you wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks that are long enough to tuck your pant legs into or boots into which you can tuck your pant legs. Repellents containing DEET are also effective at keeping them away from you. Ticks can’t fly but they are great hitchhikers, and they often eat while riding.

You should check your pets when they come in from outside. If you see any ticks, remove them. Whether removing ticks from your pets or your own skin, don’t squeeze them or try to pull them off by hand. Instead, using a pair of tweezers, grip them as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly upward. Ticks pierce the skin and suck blood. Their mouth parts are barbed so they aren’t easy to pull off. Do it very slowly and carefully.

In addition to being pesky, mosquitoes carry a variety of diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus and others. If you see mosquitoes flying around or landing on you or your loved ones, dress as you would to repel ticks and use a mosquito repellent.

Mosquitoes need standing, or stagnant, water in which to lay their eggs. Remove that and you will be less likely to have a mosquito problem. Stagnant water that attracts mosquitoes ranges from ponds to low spots in your yard that hold water after a rain. Even birdbaths are fair game for breeding mosquitoes. Emptying your birdbath frequently, cleaning it and filling it with fresh water will go a long way toward reducing the mosquito population on your property.

Ticks and mosquitoes can ruin your summer, and even your life. But only if you let them. You may have to sacrifice a little comfort by wearing more clothes than you’d like but that’s a small price to pay for your life and health.

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Lawn Care Before the Dog Days Of Summer

There are some things to do now to keep your lawn healthy during the long, hot summer. The temperatures are beginning to rise but we don’t know how much rain to expect in July. If we don’t get at least an inch of rain per week, or if you don’t irrigate your lawn, it will turn brown and appear dead.

Summer dormancy is nature’s way of protecting your lawn. When the rains return and the temperature moderates in late August and early September, your grass will green up again. How much it greens up depends on how healthy the turf was before going dormant.

Before animals like bears hibernate, they binge eat to store the energy they need to sustain them through their hibernation period. Grass plants also need to store energy in their roots to sustain them through their dormancy. If you haven’t fertilized your lawn yet this year, it should be done very soon to give the plants enough time to absorb the nutrients from the soil and make the food they need.

Weeds, insects and diseases are adventitious organisms. That means they take advantage of weak plants and attack them, rather than get rebuffed by healthy plants. You can reduce the risk of weeds taking advantage of summer dormancy to claim the space now occupied by your weak turfgrass. A broadleaf weed treatment, in combination with fertilization, will reduce this risk.

And then there are the grubs that seem to enjoy our climate. If you are experiencing big, brown insects flying around and banging into your windows, European chafer or Japanese beetle adult grubs (many call these June bugs) are flying around looking for mates. Once they lay their eggs in your turf, the next generation of grubs will begin eating the roots, unless the roots are tough and strong.

I’ll remind you in a couple of months when it’s time to check your turf for grubs. Now it’s prevention time, which can be done by making sure your turf is tough.

You don’t have to worry about turfgrass diseases at this time, unless we have a summer of torrential downpours, which is unlikely.

If you don’t want to be bothered with the responsibility of making sure your turfgrass is healthy all year long, you can still sign up for a Birchcrest lawn care program. We’ll start treating immediately, before summer dormancy sets in. And, we’ll adjust the cost to reflect those early season treatments that were missed.

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Check New Growth Before Pruning Evergreens

June and July are the best months in which to prune evergreens. That’s when new growth forms. However, like everything in nature, there are no absolutes, no definitive dates to start pruning.

New growth forms at the ends of branches. When the new needles or leaves first appear, they are a lighter green than the branches’ mature needles or leaves (See Photo). When the new growth is complete, it darkens to the tree or shrub’s normal color. This transformation isn’t instantaneous. It happens over time.

Pruning is easiest when the new growth is finished elongating but before the color turns. Waiting for the new growth to elongate means you won’t have to prune a second time, as you may with early pruning. Pruning before the new growth completely darkens in color will ease the amount of effort you’ll have to exert to make each cut.

Before you begin pruning, run your fingers over the light green needles and bend the branch. The needles should be nice and soft and the wood soft and pliable. Then check out the mature part of a branch. See how stiff and sharp the needles are and how firm the wood is? Which is the most tiring to cut?

As with deciduous trees and shrubs, evergreens also should be pruned to meet pre-identified objectives. Do you want to:

• Shape the plant?
• Lower its height?
• Raise the crown?
• Open a vista?

The objectives listed above are the same as those for deciduous plants. Use the same approach to pruning evergreen trees as deciduous trees. Turn the job over to our professional arborists. Conifers (cone bearers) can be even more dangerous than deciduous trees for the untrained climber. Their needles are sharper than leaves and their branches are more flexible than a deciduous tree. They also ooze a lot of sap, messing up clothes, skin and tools. The sharp needles can make reaching for the junction of a branch with the trunk very scratchy.

Shrubs, on the other hand, are less dangerous but you need to take some of the same precautions as trees. I recommend wearing long sleeves and long pants if you have to reach into the sharp foliage to remove a branch. Be careful removing whole branches so you don’t scratch yourself when removing them. Be careful when removing front facing branches that you don’t leave a hole in the foliage. Needles don’t go all the way in to the main stem(s). Don’t leave branch stubs. On the plus side, shrub branch diameters tend to be smaller than tree branches so you can often use loppers and just reach in there and cut.

Don’t forget that our professional arborists can prune shrubs as well as trees, so you can turn the whole job over to them and not worry about whether you’re doing the job safely or correctly.

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Pruning Spring Flowering Trees & Shrubs

Spring’s spectacular display of color is coming to an end. Granted, later blooming plants will continue to show color to some extent but the green curtain will close on trees and shrubs like dogwoods, cherries, rhododendrons and lilacs. They will now be attractive foliage plants until next spring,.

Throughout the winter and spring, I’ve been advising you to hold off pruning these plants until after they’ve finished blooming. Otherwise, you could inadvertently remove flower buds. Now it’s OK to prune them. But don’t prune just because it’s OK to do so. Prune for a reason. Professional arborists always approach a pruning job with an objective in mind, and they communicate that objective to their whole crew.

Are your trees and shrubs too thick? Then your pruning objective would be to thin them. Does their height need to be reduced? If that’s the case, DON’T top or let anybody else top a tree. The result will be a weak, misshapen tree. Professional arborists have techniques for reducing tree height without distorting their shape.

Other reasons for pruning may be because the tree or shrub is blocking a view. Shrubs planted in front of a house or too close to a house may grow too tall or spread out too much and block the curbside view of your house. In that case, the size of shrubs can be reduced. We can prune a tree obstructing the view of a house or oncoming traffic near the end of a driveway by removing the lower branches, also known as raising the crown.

Pruning broken, hanging, dead, dying or rubbing branches can be done at any time. These branches are creating a hazard for people or property.

In many situations, do-it-yourselfers can safely prune shrubs. The same standards apply to pruning shrubs as apply to trees. Don’t remove more than a quarter of the foliage at one time. Make cuts only at branch forks or just above leaves. Don’t leave stubs. Where feasible, cut branches at the base. Wear long sleeves and long pants. You can get very scratched up reaching into a thick shrub.

Tree pruning isn’t a do-it-yourself job, especially if you have to leave the ground. Never try to prune from a ladder. Tree limbs are heavier than you think and many of the injuries and deaths resulting from tree pruning are caused by falling branches, so never work above your head.

Whether you have shrubs or trees to be pruned, professional arborists have the training, specialized equipment and experience to assess a situation and approach it from the safest perspective.

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An Outdoor Survival Kit

As we start spending more and more time outdoors, please consider using these items that I call, collectively, an outdoor survival kit.

• Wide brimmed hat. I know baseball caps are fashionable and more comfortable than wide brim hats but baseball caps leave your ears and the back of your neck unprotected from the sun’s rays. Dermatologists point out that the skin cancer and precancerous lesions they remove now have been a long time in the making. They may have gotten their start when you were a sun worshipping teenager or even younger. Wearing a hat now may stunt their development.

• Sunscreen. There’s not much that I can add to the media stories and ads about the importance of sunscreen. Going out in the sun, even overcast sun, without slathering up is tempting fate.

• Sunglasses. Besides sun glare being uncomfortable, it also may be contributing to another significant, deferred health problem. Ophthalmologists will tell you that the sun’s rays can exacerbate cataracts and macular degeneration. This may not show symptoms until your later years.

• Cell phone. You never know when you may need to call for help, regardless of age or physical condition. If you are at an age and in physical condition that you use a medical alert device, take that with you, too.

• Long pants and long sleeve shirt. This is predicted to be a banner year for ticks and mosquitoes. The best protection is to wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt when doing yard work. Tuck the pant legs into socks or boots because ticks are ground insects. They don’t fly but they can crawl up your pant legs and bite your skin. It’s also a good idea to apply a repellant containing the chemical DEET. Covering up will also protect you from the sun.

• Water. Hydration is most important when working outdoors. Hydration is a major key to good health. Dehydration can affect your kidneys and your balance. Identify a nice, cool spot in your landscape where you can take frequent rest breaks. Be sure there’s plenty of water there so you can rehydrate every time you take a break.

Working in our yard should be fun but it can be sheer drudgery if you haven’t taken the precautions listed above to protect yourself from the elements – in this case, the sun and harmful insects. The worst part of not protecting yourself from the sun is that problems may not show up for decades.

The amount of enjoyment you’ll have outdoors this summer will depend on how you approach it. Using everything in your survival kit will help it to be more enjoyable, despite summer heat and humidity.

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Planting Annuals

Planting annuals is a time-honored rite of spring. It might be the final transition from winter into the growing season.

Before embarking on this annual tradition, be sure winter has actually taken its leave. Check long range weather forecasts to be sure no frosts or freezes are expected in May. There’s a reason why Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of the planting season in the Rochester, NY area.

Once satisfied that we’re done with freezing temperatures, it’s time for a trip to your garden center. Before you go, make a planting plan so you don’t over buy or under buy. With a plan, you can begin planting as soon as you get home, and you can involve the whole family with everyone following a single plan.

Prepare the planting beds by tilling or turning the soil and raking it smooth. Then mix in compost or fertilizer. This can be done before you go to buy the plants.

When you bring the plants home, lay them out in the bed according to your plan. This will allow you to move them around if you want to make changes after seeing them in place. When satisfied, dig holes twice as big around as the root ball but only as deep as the root ball. Remove the plants from the pots or six packs and stand them up in the holes, backfill, mulch and water. Since these plants are small, you will probably not need more than two inches of mulch.

If we have a dry summer, you’ll have to water your annuals. They should receive at least an inch of water a week. You will also want to deadhead as needed. Deadheading is removing dead flowers before they go to seed. That way, energy will be directed to growing new flowers instead of dropping seeds. When your annuals have stopped growing flowers, it’s time to change them out. Hopefully, the flowers will keep coming until the end of summer. Then you can change them out for fall flowers like mums.

All annuals don’t have to be planted in the ground. Some can be planted in decorative containers. The containerized plants can be placed around your deck or patio to supplement the colorful flowers that you planted in the ground. If you have physical limitations that keep you from kneeling, you can place containerized annuals in your planting beds instead of planting annuals in the ground.

You can buy the plants in nursery pots, rather than little six packs, and slip the nursery pot into your decorative container. If you want to reduce the amount of weight you have to carry, you can first place the decorative container where you want to display the flowers and then slip the nursery pot into it. You can also plant annuals from a six pack into repurposed nursery pots and place them into decorative containers. When planting annuals in containers, be sure to use potting mix, not native soil from your garden.

The benefits of containerized annuals include not having to kneel, easy handling and the ability to move your annuals around during the growing season. The biggest downside is that they may have to be watered more often and they are more vulnerable to the elements because the roots are more exposed than those planted in the ground.

If you’d like to enjoy the color and fragrance that beds of flowering annuals provide but don’t want to select and plant them, we have landscape professionals who would be happy to perform those tasks.