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Get Ready To Greet A Green Lawn

As spring makes its return, your lawn should be greening up as your other plants begin to flower and leaf out. Assuring that your lawn greens-up and stays green may require more resources than the rest of your landscape combined.

Everyone…and everything…loves a lush green lawn. That includes weeds, insects, moles and even fungi. Keeping them at bay can be like working a second job. That job starts right after the snow exposes grass. That’s when you can check the lawn to see if it was wet enough to attract any winter fungal diseases. These will show up as discolored patches, with gray being the most common.

Just take an iron rake to these patches. Rake out the dead grass and throw it in the trash, not on the compost pile. Healthy grass will fill in small, bare spots. Larger spots should be reseeded.

Rough up the area with the rake. Spread fertilizer and seed, rake it in and water it. If the grass appears thin, and bare soil peeks up between the blades of grass, it would be a good idea to overseed the whole lawn. Thick grass discourages weeds.

Applying pre-emergent crabgrass killer should be your next task. Crabgrass is, possibly, the peskiest weed in your lawn, and the only one that can be treated effectively only with a pre-emergent product. Pre-emergent prevents latent seeds from germinating.

Soon your lawn will turn yellow as dandelions bloom. I recommend treating the lawn with a pre-emergent broadleaf weed killer at the same time you apply the crabgrass pre-emergent. The broadleaf pre-emergent will prevent latent dandelion seeds and other broadleaf weed seeds that overwintered in your lawn from germinating.

It’s also going to need several fertilizer applications. The first can be applied at the same time as the pre-emergents to help the grass break dormancy and green up. The fertilizer package should tell you when subsequent applications should be made.

Don’t be surprised if a few dandelions and other broadleaf weeds pop up even if you applied pre-emergent. Their seeds may have been strong enough to germinate despite your treatment. Or, they may have blown in from neighboring yards. You can spot treat these, spraying broadleaf weed killer directly on each weed. Be sure you treat with BROADLEAF weed killer. This is a selective material that won’t harm your grass. Non-selective materials like Roundup will kill any plant it touches.

If you treated for grubs last fall, you probably don’t need to treat again this spring. The best way to be sure is to cut several one square foot pieces of sod in different parts of the lawn. Pull the sod back and check for grubs. They’re white and crescent shaped. If there are six or fewer in each square foot, they won’t do enough damage to warrant treatment. Seven or more calls for treatment. Be sure to check for grubs again in the fall. That’s when the next generation is just beginning to feed on your grass roots. Treating in the fall is better than treating in spring. The new hatch is smaller and weaker than those that overwintered beneath your lawn. As a result, the fall treatment is more effective.

Mowing is a weekly job from spring to fall, and the healthiest thing you can do for your lawn is to mow high. Set your mower deck height to 3.5 to four inches. Mowing high encourages deep, healthy roots and thick turf. Weeds like to grow where there’s open space, but your lush, thick turf won’t leave them any room.

This may seem like a lot of work, and you’d be right. It’s much easier to hire our lawn care professionals. They’ll make the necessary treatments at the most effective time. You won’t have to keep watching the calendar and the weather conditions and make everything fit into your schedule. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy your nice, green lawn, although you’ll be sitting on your mower at least once a week.

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Watch Nature Wake Up Your Plants This Spring

You don’t have to wait any later to begin enjoying your landscape.  Watching nature wake up from its long winter nap can be a brand new experience for the whole family, and not one anyone will soon forget.  Signs are all over your yard as your plants begin to break their winter dormancy. Often, however, you must look carefully to see them because they make their presence known with a whisper rather than a grand flourish.

Right now, you can check your trees and shrub for buds. They’ve been on the branches all winter. Leaf buds and flower buds were set before last year’s leaves fell. Keep watch and you’ll see nature unfold before your very eyes. In spring, buds swell before they open up to reveal their green or colored contents, and many spring flowering trees and shrubs will dazzle you with their colorful displays before the green leaves emerge and begin their task of making food. This year, watch them wake up by being up close, carefully examining their buds as they prepare to break open and bring forth their bounty of beauty.

Don’t confine your moments of awe to just looking up at tree buds or looking straight ahead at budding shrubs; look down at the ground, too. Be careful where you step, though. Perennials and spring bulbs are poking up, checking out whether it’s time for them to get up and begin their spring show of color. Be careful not to step on them. In a few weeks, or even days, bulbs like crocus will be the advance party to let us know that spring is right around the corner. They are probably more reliable than the groundhog, too.

Crocus can be anywhere. Besides the early risers in your spring bulb beds, these colorful little plants may also grow in your lawn. If you didn’t plant them there, try it in the fall so your lawn will come alive with color before greening up. Crocus is the only spring bulb that you can safely plant in the lawn. It’s the lowest growing, as well as the first bloomer. So, its leaves will not go through the lawnmower. In fact, the show will probably be over and the crocuses will be back to bed before you have to get out your lawnmower.

Soon after the crocuses take their final bow, daffodils will take the stage, followed by tulips and hyacinths. Meanwhile shrubs like forsythia will begin their show. Rhododendrons, lilacs and other spring flowering shrubs will take their turn in the spotlight. If this year’s show didn’t provide the spectacle you’d like, add more plants and different plants to your landscape. If you plan well, you can enjoy a visual show of nature’s beauty all year long.

If I’ve presented some good ideas that you’d like to incorporate into your landscape but you just don’t know how to start, may I suggest that you start by meeting with one of our creative landscape designers? They can take your wishes and incorporate them into a design that you can install. Or, our landscape professionals can do the work, and let you just enjoy the results.

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Time To Schedule Dormant Oil Spray

Dormant oil spray is one of the most effective insect control materials, and best of all, its environmental impact is low. It’s just highly refined, very dilute petroleum jelly. If that sounds like a medication you put on burns and other injuries, that’s because it is. Dormant oil is one formulation in a class of insecticides known as horticultural oils.

The use of horticultural oils in our battle to keep insects from destroying our valuable trees and shrubs isn’t new. Arborists have been using it for decades, maybe even centuries. As more and more property owners are concerned with the environment when making plant health decisions, dormant oil has risen to the top.

Dormant oil spray is particularly effective against aphids, mites and scale. These insects hibernate for the winter in the deciduous trees or shrubs whose leaves provide them with food in season. Spraying the trees/shrubs with dormant oil in early spring, while they’re dormant, kills the insects while they’re still asleep. Dormant oil can also coat gypsy moth and spotted lanternfly egg masses to prevent the eggs from hatching.

I’m urging you to sign up for this treatment because we have a very small window of opportunity to apply dormant oil. It needs to be applied after the temperature rises above 40 degrees and before the plants leaf out. Dormant oil coats the insects, smothering them. But plants transpire water through their leaves. Consequently, applying this material to foliated plants can interfere with photosynthesis.

The dormant oil target insects that are very small, scarcely visible to the naked eye. Aphids are small (adults are no more than an inch long), soft body insects that suck nutrients from the leaves. Mites pierce leaves and suck out the chlorophyl. Mite damage is easier to see than the mites themselves. Mites are black specs the size of a grain of pepper. Sucking the chlorophyl out of leaves results in yellow spots that are clearly visible. The best way to check for mites is to hold a piece of white paper under a branch and shake it. The mites will fall onto the paper just like shaking pepper on food. Scale insects also pierce and suck the chlorophyl, leaving yellow spots.

A dormant oil application is part of our Plant Health Care (PHC) program. If you’re on a PHC program, you don’t have to do anything. We’ll apply it at the proper time. But we also offer it as a single application for those who aren’t on a PHC program. Time’s running short for you to arrange for an application. Act now if you want this environmentally sound protection for your valuable trees and shrubs.

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Inspect Your Trees Before Leaves Hide Hazards

We still have plenty of winter left and using sunny, relatively warm days to walk your property and inspect your trees can be very therapeutic for any cabin fever. It could also save your valuable trees from an untimely death.

Trees respond to environmental stimuli so the frequent weather changes we experience in our corner of the world may be causing problems for your trees. When you inspect them, check their entire height from ground to crown.

Just above ground level, make sure you don’t have mulch volcanoes (mulch piled against the trunk) or snow piled against the trunk. Snow is nothing but water and mulch holds water, releasing it over time. If there are any injuries, even small injuries, excess water provides the perfect media for diseases, including rot.

As if the danger of mulch volcanoes and snow piled against the trunk, putting your trees at risk from water born diseases, isn’t enough, they also provide rodents with the perfect place to hide while they girdle the trunk, a problem that can be fatal or very expensive to repair. The expensive surgical procedure, called bridge grafting, involves small twigs being grafted all the way around the tree’s circumference to bridge the girdle. Your tree has to be extremely valuable to justify this investment.

As your eyes move up a tree, look for signs of deer browsing on the lower twigs. They’ll look like a ragged cut, as with very dull pruning shears. The best way to discourage the deer is to have the lower branches removed, if the tree is tall enough. Since deer can stand on their hind legs and reach 12 feet, I recommend turning the job over to our professional arborists, rather than risking life and limb trying to reach that height from a ladder.

Further up the tree, look for broken or weak branches. Broken branches that are just hanging up there present an imminent hazard. You never know when a good gust of wind will snap the broken portion free from the main part of the branch and come crashing to the ground. The results can be disastrous if people or property are beneath it. This job, too, is best left to the professionals.

While scanning the tree, mushroom like protrusions on the trunk may signal the presence of rot fungi inside the tree. What you see on the outside isn’t what’s damaging the tree. They’re fruiting bodies whose job is to spread spores around to infect other trees. The microscopic fungi inside the tree are eating away at the wood. Using electronic equipment, our arborists can examine the tree to determine the extent of the rot. Rot isn’t necessarily a death sentence. There are ways to clean it out, or at least slow its spread.

Some other problems to be on the lookout for include frost cracks (vertical cracks in the bark) caused by temperature fluctuations, winter burn on evergreens caused by desiccation, and salt damage affecting trees planted too close to salt treated roadways, driveways and walkways. If any of these conditions exist, it’s best to have a professional evaluation, resulting in  recommendations for remedying the situation.

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Pruning Shrubs In Winter

If winter’s the best time to prune deciduous trees it should be the best time to prune deciduous shrubs as well. Right? That’s one of those questions that I have to answer, “It depends.” It depends on whether the shrub flowers in early spring or in late spring or summer.

Early flowering shrubs like forsythia or lilacs shouldn’t be pruned until after they flower. These plants flower on old wood, specifically, last year’s growth. The buds that will burst forth into colorful flowers this spring were set last fall. Pruning may remove all or some of the flowers, so you won’t get to enjoy the beautiful blooms this spring. Wait until after they’ve finished blooming to prune these shrubs.

Late flowering shrubs like hydrangeas or butterfly bushes bloom on new wood – on growth that’s new this spring. You can prune these plants now without affecting their floral display this season.  Look closely at the branches before grabbing the pruning shears. Shrubs that bloom on new wood won’t have buds on the old branches. If you prune these shrubs later in the winter or in early spring be sure you just prune old wood. It’s easily identified, usually by its gray, weathered color. New growth will look fresh and have buds on it.

Some shrubs flower but their flowers aren’t showy. They’re planted primarily for their foliage. They’re best pruned before new growth appears and before they leaf out. These shrubs are ideal candidates for winter pruning. Like trees, deciduous shrubs bare their skeletons in winter, so you can see the structure.

Begin by removing any broken or cracked branches. Next remove any branches that are crossing or interfering with others. With all the errant branches out of the way, you can begin shaping the shrub. If you don’t remember what an overgrown shrub should look like, you’ll surely be able to find photos on the internet.

As you prune, keep in mind that woody shrubs are the same material as trees. The roots take up water and nutrients and distribute food the same way trees do. When removing branches, avoid leaving stubs. Ground level is the best place to make cuts. If that’s impossible, the next best place is at a junction of two branches or just above a leaf bud. If the shrub is big enough to have branch collars (swollen tissue where a branch is joined to a larger branch), leave the collar rather than making a flush cut. Don’t paint or treat cuts; let nature take its course.

Evergreens shouldn’t be pruned in winter, except to remove broken branches or in other emergency situations. Then any shrub should be pruned immediately. The best time to prune evergreens is right after they’re finished pushing new growth but before the new growth has set. New growth will be lighter green and softer to the touch than old growth.

Unlike tree pruning, shrubs pruning can be a do-it-yourself job. If you’d rather leave it to the professionals, though, our arborists would be happy to prune your shrubs.

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What To Do About Frost Heaving

Any plants in your landscape that appear to be protruding from the ground are probably suffering from frost heaving. Frost heaving usually affects perennials but can also uproot shrubs and small, recently planted or shallow rooted trees. It’s caused by the freezing and thawing cycles in winter. The higher the frequency of these cycles, the greater the risk of frost heaving.

Freeze cycles cause soil, especially poorly drained soil, to swell. The soil can only go in one direction – up. This action causes plant roots to lift up with enough force to literally heave them out of the soil. Roots can be torn so that they are not anchored in their hole but exposed to cold temperatures and drying winds. The extent of torn roots depends on their thickness and how firmly they were anchored. I’ve seen shallow rooted trees uprooted and leaning against houses.

Planting or dividing perennials too late in the fall or not mulching them sufficiently is the most common causes of frost heave. To repair frost heaved plants, try to stand them back upright, backfill soil around the roots, tamp it down and mulch. It may also need supplemental support, such as staking.

If the plant is completely out of the ground or leaning in such a way that it can’t be stood back upright, cover the exposed roots with plenty of soil and a three- or four-inch layer of mulch. Seasoned wood chips are the best mulch for this. Some recommend using straw, but I prefer wood chips. They weigh more than straw so they can hold the soil in place better than straw. Wood chip mulch also moderates soil temperature, reducing the chance of a reoccurrence. As they decompose, wood chips add organic matter to the soil. Improving the soil also can reduce the chances of frost heaving happening again.

The repairs recommended here are probably only temporary. Plants that you were able to stand upright may grow new roots and be fine. Watch them for a growing season, making sure they’re firmly in place next fall. Remove any staking as soon as they’re firm enough to stand on their own. Plants whose exposed roots you just covered when they heaved must be replanted in the spring. If one you stood up doesn’t look as though it’s returning to health, dig it up and replant it.

If this is a job you’d rather not tackle, our landscape professionals can assess the damage caused by the frost heaving and give a prognosis of each plant’s chance of surviving. We can then make temporary repairs to those that can be saved. In spring, we can come back and make permanent repairs to the survivors or replace those that didn’t survive.

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Treat Your Trees Like They’re Your Pets

The reason for the title: you have the same responsibility for your trees as you have for your pets. This means that you must keep them under your control at all times and you’re responsible for any damage they cause.

If you have pets, I’m sure you’re aware of the need to keep them on a leash when out in public and clean up after them. If your pet bites, or otherwise injures another person or causes property damage, you’re responsible.

Perhaps less well known are how tree owners are responsible for the “behavior” of their trees. One of the most frequently litigated matters involves trees infringing on neighboring property and the neighbor’s rights to take action.

According to lawyers Victor Merullo and Michael J. Valentine, authors of Arboriculture & The Law, property ownership extends to space above and below ground level. Therefore, if your tree’s branches extend over a neighbor’s yard, they have the right to remove the offending branches. They can cut the branches off at the lot line. The same holds true for roots that extend into neighboring property and cause damage.

A more practical, and neighborly, approach is for the adjoining property owner to discuss the problem with the owner of the offending tree. The whole tree probably needs pruning or root work and, hopefully, the owner will use the opportunity to do the right thing. Tree branches and roots may be putting the owner’s home in jeopardy, too. If things can’t be worked out and you need to take unilateral action against the neighbor’s tree, you can’t trespass onto the tree owner’s property and you can’t do anything that will put the tree in jeopardy.

Merullo and Valentine make it clear in the book that trees planted right on the lot line, or those that grow so they’re straddling the lot line, are owned jointly by both property owners. This means that you and your neighbor must agree before any work is done on border trees. Property owners whose trees grow across the lot line may have an unwelcome co-owner they have to consult on every tree-related issue. And, that neighbor, who has become the co-owner of trees they may not want, will be just as dissatisfied.

When planting trees near the border of your property, it’s best to plant them far enough into your yard that they’ll never grow across the lot line. If you’re the neighbor who becomes the unwitting co-owner of your neighbor’s tree(s), don’t prune or remove them without the other owner’s agreement or you may find yourself the defendant in a court case.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to tree ownership than digging a hole and planting it. That’s why we recommend annual tree inspections to be sure trees are sound and present little chance of failure or damage to your family and property and your neighbor’s. Ignorance is no excuse. Putting off inspections on the theory that what you don’t know won’t hurt you doesn’t work.

If you have questions about your trees or those impinging from a neighboring property, we have a Board Certified Master Arborist and nine Certified Arborists on staff who can answer your tree-related questions and can refer you to lawyers who have experience in tree-related cases if you need legal advice.

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Winter Landscape Maintenance

The weather may not be conducive to working out in your yard but there are some landscape maintenance jobs that can be done inside. It may be more comfortable to do the work in the house, down in the basement, or even in the garage.

For those planning to replace containerized plants or expand their container gardens this season, now would be a good time to wash and sanitize/disinfect containers. Start by washing them in hot water and dish detergent. Old soil or potting mix may be hard and crusty. If so, use a brush or scouring pad to take it off.

Containers should be sanitized to disinfect them, especially if the previous occupant died. You don’t know what insects or diseases killed the plants that were growing in the container. The traditional disinfection solution is a 10 percent bleach solution. Another option is a three percent hydrogen peroxide solution. Both products are considered radical by gardeners, especially organic gardeners. They opt for a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water. This is my choice, too. Have you ever seen vinegar’s efficiency as a weed killer? Try it.

If you’ve considered raised or elevated beds, this would be a good time to begin shopping for them. You may be asking, “What’s the difference between raised and elevated beds?” Raised beds sit directly on the ground and can be any height that’s comfortable for you to work standing up or sitting down. Some even have a cap board you can sit on to work. They can be made of wood, metal, stone or even plastic. Elevated beds are planting beds on legs. They’re like window boxes on stilts. As with raised beds, elevated beds should be at the right height for you to work standing or sitting. Some even come with heavy duty casters, or you can easily install them yourself.

Raised or elevated beds can be made from scratch, assembled from kits or bought fully assembled ready to install. They’re sold by home centers, large garden centers or from online garden suppliers. If you already use these beds, check to see what maintenance may be needed before the next gardening season. Elevated beds can be taken into your garage or shed for maintenance or repair. Raised beds may be more difficult to move and require that these tasks be done outside on nice pre-spring days.

Last but not least, any tools that you didn’t clean and check for repairs last fall should be taken care of now before you need them. Being prepared for spring makes the season of rebirth more enjoyable. It’s also less stressful to have everything ready to go when the weather breaks.

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Work Outside During January Thaws

As winter progresses, the walls of the house seem to be closing in on you. It’s just an illusion because you miss being outdoors. My suggestion: make the best of any January thaw(s). Get outside and work on your landscape. Even if it appears to be puttering to you, your plants will appreciate your attention.

January thaws aren’t limited to January. It’s a term that applies to any time the temperature goes above freezing. The temperature will still be crisp but the sun will likely be out, making conditions very pleasant. It won’t be shorts and flip flop weather but you also won’t need a heavy parka.

The first thing to do is take a walk around the yard. Check all the plants for broken branches and stems. Take a pair of pruners with you to cut off any broken branches on shrubs. Don’t just cut them off at the break. If possible, make the cut at ground level or where the broken branch is attached to a larger branch, being careful to leave any collar (appears as swollen tissue at attachment point). The third alternative is to cut just above a leaf or bud. The main thing is to not leave any stubs.

If you see any broken branches up in trees, reach for you phone instead of your pruners. Removing branches from trees is too dangerous for the untrained. Many a property owner has found that out the hard way. Leave tree repairs to our arborists who have the training, equipment and experience to avoid falling or getting struck by a falling branch. And, if something goes wrong, they’re covered by insurance.

If conifer branches are still snow laden, resist the temptation to remove the snow. They can spring back and leave you with pine needle injuries. Nature equipped conifers with the resilience to spring back by themselves as the snow melts.

Pay special attention to plants near the road. Check them for damage from road salt spray. You may have to wrap them with burlap. Check any trees or shrubs wrapped in burlap to be sure they aren’t stressed, and be sure the tops are open so sunlight and water can reach them.

While you’re checking trees and shrubs, be on the lookout for critter damage. Deer damage will be anywhere from eye level to 12 feet. Look down at the base for bite marks by rabbits, mice and moles. Even this late in the season you may have to protect them by wrapping the trunks in hardware cloth or tree wrap.

Containerized plants overwintering in a cold frame would appreciate some fresh air and water. Just prop the cover open while you’re outside, after you’ve watered them. Containerized plants spending the winter on the deck or patio just need watering.

When you finish all the tasks suggested above, you’ll realize that you’ve expended a lot of energy while enjoying the January thaw, whether it comes in January, February or March. A takeaway might be that a gym membership is in order to prepare you for upcoming landscape season.

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Time To Plan For Spring Landscaping

Winter is barely underway. Why am I already writing about spring landscaping? Because your landscape is constantly changing, evolving; it’s always a work-In-progress.

Plants grow, sometimes exceeding their allocated space and blocking your view of other plants. Plants may become infested with insects or a disease, and some may even die. As your landscape evolves, certain plants no longer appear to “fit” in the place that used to be just right. After a while, you may get bored looking at the same old scenery every day. The end result is some degree of renovation.

On cold, blustery, winter days when only a polar bear would venture out, why not use that time indoors to plan the renovations you’d like to start in spring? Then you’ll be able to hit the ground running when spring finally arrives. Waiting for spring to begin the planting process will only put you behind. Instead of enjoying the results of early season planting and construction, a later start will drag the process into summer.

Your goal should be to have new plant material or transplants well established before subjecting them to summer heat. This will result in less watering, saving you time and money. Instead, you can spend the summer enjoying your renovated landscape.

Hopefully, you took pictures and made notes or kept a journal to jog your memory of modifications that came to mind during the last growing season. This will become a good starting point to begin your planning. Nothing beats looking out the window at the blank canvas of your snow covered yard and comparing what you see with the photos showing the same scene in all its splendor. 

As you consider changes to your landscape, also consider alternatives for completing the job. Are you able, or do you want to do it yourself? Have you decided exactly what your renovated landscape should look like? If your answer to one or both of those questions is no, this is the perfect time to begin working with one of our designers to help commit your ideas to paper so our landscape professionals can begin the installation process as soon as spring arrives.

If you decide to do it yourself, committing your ideas to paper now will give you plenty of time to shop for plant material, hardscape and associated material, and be ready to “dig in” as soon as the weather breaks. With today’s supply chain issues, it’s never too early. Such problems even extend to nursery stock.