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Make Sustainability Your Landscaping Mantra In 2020

Sustainability has become the mantra for the new decade. However, everyone seems to have their own definition of sustainability. As with any such thing, there are extremes and most of us fall right in the middle.

Here are some things you can do to make your landscape more sustainable this spring. None of these suggestions is extreme. They are all done easily and will likely be an aesthetic as well as environmental improvement for your landscape. Each will contribute to your property’s sustainability and reduce your maintenance needs.

Plant native plants. As I’ve written before, the strict definition of native plants is next to impossible to apply since we’ve been hybridizing plants and trading seeds with other countries since colonial times. My definition is a plant with its roots in our area that has been planted successfully here for many years. That includes nativars – cultivars

These two river birches we are pruning are native trees. The arbor vitae behind them are also native. Non Native Asian arbor vitae are available in some areas of the country.

of native plants. (Cultivars are plants bred by horticulturists for specific characteristics) I also use many introduced plants that have been grown here for many years and behave themselves.

Native plants attract pollinators, birds and wildlife. Of course, you may not want to attract wildlife. If you plant their favorite food source, they could leave you with a mess. So, that’s a decision you’ll have to make. Attracting pollinators, however, is important, and takes some planning so you have plants that butterflies and beneficial insects need to survive.

Native plants also save water, even though we seldom have to irrigate here in Western New York. They should also need less fertilizer and little or no pesticides. That statement doesn’t take into consideration exotic pests that come to our shores from other countries.

Reduce your lawn area. This also contributes to sustainability, as well as reducing the time you spend mowing. And when you spend less time mowing, you are using less gas and you spend less time maintaining your lawn. Convert lawn area to planting beds or meadowland, or add a patio or outdoor living area. Less water, fertilizer and pesticide is also good for the environment.

Besides reducing your workload, a meadowland will attract wildlife, support pollinators and clean the air. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), running a gas powered mower for an hour emits as much pollution as taking a 20 mile road trip in your car.

Implementing these tips takes planning, which you can do at your leisure during the winter downtime. If you would rather have a professional touch, one of our landscape designers can help you to any extent you want. They also have time over the winter to help you define sustainability from their perspective.

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What Landscape Care & Tennis Have In Common

Both landscape care and tennis are strenuously physical. Whether mowing your lawn with a walk-behind mower, spreading mulch or compost, weeding planting beds, or playing a game of tennis, you use muscles that you don’t normally use. To prepare for such activities, experts recommend doing warm up exercises before starting and cool down exercises at the end.

Experts in both gardening and physical fitness urge exercise before and after starting your main activity. They point to Olympians and athletes in other televised sports going through an exercise routine before taking to the field, ice or court? They must be on to something.

When working on your landscape, you use muscles that you may not use in any other activity, especially if you’re sedentary in your day job. That’s why it’s good to stretch those muscles and limber them up with light exercise before starting the real exertion. It’s the same reason why athletes warm up before their performances. Often, you’ll see our professionals, especially our tree climbers, go through an exercise routine before starting a job.

Some of the exercises need to stretch shoulder, arm, neck and leg muscles. Others should help your breathing, especially if you have shortness of breath when mowing, stooping or even kneeling.

If you belong to a gym or have a personal trainer, you may have warm up and cool down exercises that are part of your routine. Ask if they are right for your landscape activities, too. If not, the gym or trainer may be able to give you a routine. Or, you can always check the internet.

I Googled “Exercises before gardening” and got more than 42 million results, including some YouTube videos. If you want to go even further and make gardening part of your fitness program, Google “Gardening exercise” and get even more results. As always, we can’t vouch for the accuracy of all that information on the internet. But, if you find exercises that interest you, discuss them with a trusted professional to see if they are right for you.

Researching and developing a pre and post landscape or gardening exercise routine is a good winter activity. Use your downtime to do your research and practice the exercises in the warm comfort of your home before the season starts and you’ll be all ready for a fit start to the 2020 growing season.

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Start The New Year With Nicely Pruned Trees

Weather conditions control tree growth. They react to temperature and light, and cold temperatures, short days, as well as winter dormancy provide ideal pruning conditions. You could say, if fall is for planting then winter is for pruning.

That doesn’t mean going out with your chainsaw and starting to cut just because it’s winter. It means inspecting your trees to determine if they really need pruning. Pruning shouldn’t be guided only by the calendar. It should be guided by the calendar and the tree(s). Arboricultural best practices direct us to prune with a purpose. First, inspect your tree(s) to determine if they…

• Have broken, hanging, crossing or rubbing branches.
• Suffer from an insect or disease attack.
• Overhang structures.
• Block a vista.
• Block traffic visibility.
• Need thinning.
• Need to be reduced in size.

If any of these conditions exist, the tree(s) should be pruned. If none of these conditions exist, you’re lucky and don’t need to worry about pruning. If you are on the fence, one of our professional arborists can inspect your trees and make recommendations.

If your trees do need pruning, please get any thoughts of doing it yourself out of your mind quickly. There are good reasons why our arborists use personal protective equipment (PPE). Our work is dangerous, even for professionals. It’s even more dangerous for amateurs.

Our arborists always wear eye and ear protection. The reason for that is obvious. They also wear helmets because “struck by” (being struck by a falling or swinging limb) is one of the major causes of injury and death in tree care operations. You’ll never see a professional arborist pruning while standing on a ladder. It’s too easy to slip and fall. They always secure themselves in the tree with ropes or work from an aerial bucket.

Winter is a good season to prune because, with no leaves, we can see the tree’s skeletal structure, and the cutting wounds will be well calloused (healed) before insects and diseases become active again in spring. Frozen ground will support our heavy equipment and clean-up is easier when we don’t lose leaves as we drag cuttings to the chipper.

All the while we are pruning, you can stay in the nice, warm house and watch. And when we’re finished, you’ll be safe and happy and your trees will be safe and happy.

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Trees Are Renewable Resources

I’ve just finished reading about a trend that leaves me aghast! Robert Hudson Westover, with the USDA Forest Service, wrote a story, entitled “Brown Furniture is the New Green.” In the story, published in the December issue of Tree Care Industry magazine, he describes a trend away from wood furniture by young people. This trend extends to new wood furniture, too.

Much of this unwanted heirloom furniture is being burned or ending up in landfills. Besides losing pieces of history, we are also adding to our environmental problems. Wood is a carbon bank. Carbon is the primary ingredient in wood and, while living, trees use the carbon dioxide that we exhale in the process of photosynthesis. As trees grow, they store more and more carbon and they hold it until they are burned or decay. The stored carbon is then released back into the atmosphere, where we don’t need it.

I suspect that much of this aversion to wood is because some people have bought into the misguided myth that cutting down trees – any trees – is a bad thing. The truth is that trees are crops just like grain, fruit and vegetables . They aren’t going to stop eating bread because the whole wheat stalk was cut for the kernels at the top because wheat is a renewable resource. Farmers plant more seed, which yields another crop. Trees are also a renewable resource. When forest or woodlot owners cut one, they plant one or more new ones.

If we save the furniture and other wood products that we own, that wood continues to store carbon. The new trees that are planted then begin storing carbon, too, carbon they will carry with them until they are burned or decay.

The alternative materials for furniture – metal and plastic – are not renewable resources. Once metal is mined from the ground, it doesn’t grow back. Once petroleum or other materials are converted to plastic, they can no longer revert back to their natural state. There goes the environmental argument.

If young people are turned off by the size, weight and style of classic and antique wood furniture, many lighter weight, simpler, modern, wood furniture is on the market. Those who eschew the classic designs of wood furniture for environmental reasons can still embrace clean air by acquiring modern wood furniture. And, there is a market for the antique and classic furniture. They can literally have their cake and eat it too.

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How To Be Garden Trendy In 2020

New trends in gardening emerge every year. You might like to try some while others may not appeal to you. The industry authority on current gardening trends is the garden trends report, published each year by the Green Media Group. Published for the last 20 years, this report reflects the things people are doing with their landscapes nationwide. In recent years, it has focused on how social trends influence landscaping.

This great example of a green wall, completed in 2010, is at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.

This year is no exception. The report notes that half the population lives in cities. That number is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. While we are seeing a return to city living in Rochester, it doesn’t reach the national numbers. Urban living has led to a dramatic interest in houseplants among apartment and condo residents. Young urbanites even call themselves “Plant Parents,” and there is a company by that name that offers plant care services when owners are away.

Full scale landscaping of city residential lots can be a creative and fun endeavor. We have some impressive, small space city landscapes here in Rochester but you have to know the owners in order to arrange a tour. If you are considering moving to a home on a small city lot, you should meet with one of our landscape designers during the winter. They have countless creative, small garden design ideas. If you’re looking for more ideas and want to see what’s possible, visit some of the garden shows and tours available throughout western New York. One of my favorite places to learn about these events is gardensbuffaloniagara.com. A visit to Buffalo the last weekend in July for Garden Walk Buffalo will introduce you to creative designs with plants that are appropriate for our hardiness zone. Hundreds of people open their private gardens for this free tour. A considerable number of the most spectacular landscapes are concentrated in several adjacent city neighborhoods. I recommend the cottage district tour, which is comprised almost entirely of small space landscapes.

Regardless of where you live, sustainability is expected to be an important consideration. Green walls, edible plants, native plants and good stewardship are being emphasized. The idea of the circular economy promoting repair, renew, reuse and recycle that began several years ago is starting to really take hold. Planned obsolescence and our throw away mindset are giving way to restoration and renewability.

Regenerative gardening is a new movement within organic gardening. Its objective is to preserve our precious topsoil and stop the land damaging practices that have already claimed a third of this growing medium. Regenerative practices include the use of compost, planting native plants to attract pollinators and beneficial insects, and regenerating habitat for frogs and other endangered amphibians, If we disregard all these warnings, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that our topsoil could all be gone by 2050.

Last but not least, the report suggests that fungi may be the saviors of the world. Mushrooms have been found that can eat plastic and then be eaten by humans.

Oh yes. What will the color of the year be in 2020? The garden trends report says it will be indigo, so be sure to include plants with blue flowers in your landscape this spring.

Happy New Year!

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Consider A Green Collar Job

There was a time when jobs were separated only by blue collar and white collar. Then came the pink collar jobs, which are those held, predominately, by women. Now we’re hearing about green collar jobs. These jobs are just now being identified by a separate collar category.

Green collar workers include those working in traditional tree, landscape and lawn care positions, those who work for nurseries and garden centers, and even those working on farms and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) cooperatives. According to Garden Media’s 2020 Gardening Trends survey, horticulture jobs outnumber graduates two-to-one.

If discussions about a fence-sitting high school student’s future plans comes up at holiday gatherings, you might suggest they look at green collar jobs. The survey notes that many high school students are looking for opportunities that allow them to avoid the student debt that’s strangling so many graduates today. I’m pleased to report that many top level green collar jobs only require an associates degree, vocational training or even on-the-job training.

There are plenty of educational opportunities right nearby. Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua has a very good horticulture program. Many of the SUNY two year colleges offer agriculture and some, such as Cobleskill, offer horticulture as well.

My alma mater, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), offers excellent four year courses in a wide variety of majors. A five-year landscape architecture program is also offered. ESF is in Syracuse, adjacent to the Carrier Dome. Students enjoy many Syracuse University amenities while paying SUNY tuition.

Once a person has begun working in one of the green industry fields, they can take examinations for the certification credentials that are offered by trade associations and professional societies. Two very prestigious credentials are Certified Arborist, which is offered by the International Society of Arboriculture, and Certified Nursery and Landscape Professional, offered by the New York State Nursery & Landscape Association.

Finally, the green industry is diversified. There are opportunities for women and men in all positions.. The first women were admitted to ESF (then SUNY College of Forestry) in 1956. Today it’s ranked as one of the best colleges for women.

There is renewed interest in all that has to do with nature, healthy eating, beautiful landscapes and saving the planet. We just need people to step up and make it their purpose in life. And, we will reward them for their work and passion.

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Have A Wonderful Holiday Season

Nothing can warm a cold winter day more than enjoying a festive holiday celebration with family and friends. This year, two major winter holidays are celebrated at the same time. Hanukah begins Monday (December 23) and Christmas is celebrated next Wednesday (December 25). The celebration of both holidays includes light to brighten the darkness of long winter nights. Winter begins this Saturday (December 21).

It is the holiday wish of the 130 member Birchcrest Tree & Landscape family that light will add to your holiday cheer, regardless of whether the light is twinkling on a tree or glowing on a menorah.

The following Wednesday (January 1), the holiday seasons all culminate in a common crescendo as we usher in the year 2020. That number reminds me of perfect vision. I hope that perfect vision prevails as we make decisions that affect the health and welfare of those we love and for whom we are responsible. Happy New Year!