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Caring For Spring Flowering Bulbs

First signs of Spring.

First signs of Spring.

Bulbs are, arguably, the most carefree, low maintenance flowers you can plant in your landscape. However, there’s no such thing as a maintenance-free plant, just low maintenance.

The little crocus will soon make its appearance as the harbinger of spring. Even if there’s snow on the ground, the flowers will pop right up through the snow. The crocus will be followed by daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. After giving us our first splash of spring color, these beautiful flowers will fade. Later in the season, their leaves will turn brown.

As soon as the flowers fade, some enthusiastic gardeners cut these plants right back to the ground. Others just leave them and let nature take its course. The right thing to do is to meet those two extremes right in the middle. When the flowers die, remove them but leave the green foliage in place. The green leaves continue making food through photosynthesis. The food is stored in the bulb to sustain the plant through next winter. When the leaves and stem die and turn brown, it’s then time to remove them. The bulbs will lie dormant through the summer and will begin growing new roots in the fall.

It’s not necessary to fertilize for the summer, but a light coating of mulch will help moderate soil temperatures. Check the mulch again in the fall to be sure it’s at least three inches deep. In fall, your bulbs might also like a balanced fertilizer, depending on how fertile your soil is naturally. Most bulb experts recommend mixing bone meal with fertilizer but I’ve found that bone meal is a magnet for hungry wildlife who eat the bulbs as well as the bone meal.

With fertilization and mulching complete, you can relax and wait until color bursts on to the scene next spring to signal that your landscape is waking up from another drab winter.

The only other thing you have to do in the fall is to plant more bulbs so your spring awakening will be even more spectacular. You can never have too many bulbs. These early risers provide you with plenty of spring color at a time when most of your other plants are still sleeping. Yet they ask so little in return.

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What Right Plant/Right Place Really Means

Green industry professionals have been throwing the mantra “Right Plant/Right Place” around quite liberally for the last few years. Ever wonder what it really means? When so many different people, all with different agendas, have jumped on the bandwagon, the true meaning can become rather clouded.

The original meaning, and the one to which Birchcrest subscribes, is to analyze the growing conditions of the space in which you would like to install a plant and to select a plant that will grow happily in those conditions. The plant can be changed but the site can’t.

Native plant advocates believe the only right plants in these parts are those native to our area. Others define the term to mean any plant that is suited to the growing conditions the site provides. That gives you the choice of native, exotic, introduced, nativar, even volunteer, as long as they are suited to the growing conditions. Remember, you can change the plant you select but you can’t change the growing conditions without a lot of work and dubious success.

Plants at a garden center have tags on the plants or stuck in the container. They list the growing conditions that the plants require, including the amount and duration of light each day, the amount of water it needs and the amount of wind it can tolerate.

Tags also list the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) hardiness zone for the coldest temperature the plants can tolerate. Knowing the temperature extreme is important because of microclimates. Although the Rochester, New York area is generally Zone 5 (-20 to -10), there are pockets that are Zone 5B (-15 to -10), Zone 6A (-10 to -5) and even Zone 6 (-10 to 0). Your yard may have microclimates caused by your house’s shape, positioning on the property or other factors.

A major consideration when buying a tree is its ultimate height and width. These, too, are on the tag. If you want to plant the tree under electric wires, its maximum height, when fully grown, shouldn’t be more than 20 feet. If you’re planting near structures or the edge of your yard, the tree should be placed so that the crown doesn’t overhang a right-of-way or a neighbor’s property when fully grown.

You’ll also need to contact a utility locating service before you begin digging the hole for a tree. They will come out and place flags where underground utilities are located so you can avoid them. Be sure the service also flags water and sewer pipes, especially if you’re on septic tanks. Tree roots can interfere with these pipes.

You should also be aware of insects and diseases that are active in the area where you want to plant. For example, it’s not wise to plant an ash tree since the emerald ash borer is active in our area.

What if you plant a wrong plant in a wrong place? The results can range from failure to extra maintenance work. Some plants, especially those exposed to light, water and wind conditions they don’t like, will not thrive and may die. Trees and shrubs that are too big for the site will require constant pruning to keep them in check.

If you have our professionals design and plant your landscape, you won’t have to worry about the right plant being in the right place. This is a mantra for professionals as well property owners.

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Use Winter Thaws Wisely

This winter has been typical for a La Nina winter, according to the TV meteorologist I like to watch. He said that we would have our share of ups and downs – periods of cold and snow followed by periods of mild weather. If this weather pattern continues, it will, you can use the mild thaws to get outside and improve the look of your landscape.

I don’t mean to imply that you should go out and start major renovations or upgrades. However, there are routine maintenance tasks you can perform that will keep your yard looking nice and clean. Checking on your landscape from the outside will also afford you the opportunity to identify potential hazards early and have them taken care of before they injure people or damage property.

When you take these strolls around your property, inspect your overwintering plants, especially those you planted last fall. Be sure they’re still healthy, secure in the place you planted them and not under stress. If the weather is well above freezing and no cold spell is predicted for a few days, give your fall plants a good watering.

Frequent freezing and thawing causes frost cracks. These are vertical cracks in the bark of trees, especially smooth bark trees. Be sure to also check the base of trees and shrubs – both young and old – for rodent damage. While looking at trees, look up, too. Check for broken branches. We’ve had some high wind this winter, so there may be some branches that are broken and hanging.

If your trees and shrubs appear to have any problems, call us. Remember, our arborists work year round. You don’t have to wait until spring to have that broken branch removed or steps taken to discourage rodents.

As you walk around your property, pick up any leaves and trash that blew in. Not only will your property look nice for the rest of the winter, it will also reduce the chance of lawn diseases. Best of all, you won’t have as much clean up work in the spring.

Finally, use these opportunities to take note of where you need new plants or some need to be replaced. You can also sketch out the projects that you budgeted for after last week’s blog. Then you’ll be prepared to start these projects as soon as the lawn is firm enough to walk on. Speaking of firm lawns, be sure yours is dry enough to support you during your walks around the property. If it’s not firm enough, limit your walking to the perimeter.

This winter is certainly a gift, unless you’re a winter activity person. Make the most of it. While you are able to keep a closer eye on your landscaping, you’ll also get outside in the fresh air. And that sure beats sitting inside staring at your landscape out the window.

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Early Planning For Spring Landscaping

Winter is the perfect time to prepare for spring landscaping and to make your wish list of updates you’d like this season. You aren’t rushing like you would be once the season starts, and our landscape designers have more time to spend with you.

Last week, I wrote about budgeting for this season’s landscaping. Once you have a budget, your wish list and your reality list, the next step is to meet with one of our designers. Our expert designers will take the information from your discussion and put your dreams on paper. This will allow you to see what it will look like and to make easy alterations to fit your preference and budget. Before meeting with our designer you should review nursery catalogs (either paper or online) to gather ideas.

During the winter, our designers are only concentrating on creating plans for the growing season. Once the season starts, in addition to creating plans, they have to visit job sites to supervise installations. So during the winter, they are able to work closely with you to share ideas and design just what you have in mind.

Once you finalize the design and sign off on it, your designer can order plants and hardscape items for delivery early in the spring. This will allow for installation as soon as the snow melts and the ground thaws. If you’ve ever experienced previous springtime crunches, I know you’ll be pleased with the lower stress levels that result from early planning.

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Landscaping On A Budget

Time to shed those winter blues and start thinking about the landscaping projects you want to complete when the weather breaks and the joy of working in the yard begins. Start by establishing a budget in order to ensure that you can complete those projects you really need to get done. How much do you want to spend and how much can you afford to spend on your landscape this season?

If you have no idea where to start, begin with your 2016 receipts. You’re probably pulling your records together for your income tax return, so put landscaping receipts aside as you come upon them. After you’re finished with your taxes, look over the landscaping receipts to determine how much you spent last year and what you spent it on.

This can serve as your baseline for 2017. Then, list the projects that are definitely required this year and those that you’d like to do this year, and estimate the cost of each project. You can price out do-it-yourself plants and other materials on the internet. We’d be happy to give you estimates on the projects you prefer that a professional complete.

After assigning costs to the items on each list, you can make informed decisions. Can you afford everything on both lists? If not, subtract the total of the must-do projects from the total amount that you have budgeted for landscaping. This will give you the amount you have available for the projects you’d like to do. Then prioritize the projects on your wish list. Plan to do as many as possible this year and schedule the rest for future years.

Once you know how much money you can spend and the projects on which you’ll spend it, you can begin preparing for the start of the spring landscaping season. Next week, I’ll offer some tips on how you can prepare early for spring to get the most value for your dollar.

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Plan Lawn Renovations Now

You may not always be able to see your lawn under the snow but this is the time you should begin thinking about the work that has to be done to it this spring. What did it look like last fall? Were there big bare spots that didn’t spring back from the summer drought? If you didn’t renovate, or have it renovated, it should be at the top of your spring landscaping to do list. If there were thin spots that need overseeding, that, too, should be at the top of your list.

Repairing your lawn first thing in the spring will let you take full advantage of spring rains to get it established before precipitation levels off or disappears for the summer. This means less watering on your part, resulting in cost savings and time saved from not having to monitor the sprinkler.

You may need to do some repair work on your lawn even if you had renovated the drought damage. How early or late in the fall you made the repairs will govern how strong the new grass was before the weather turned cold and the lawn went dormant.

The more time your repaired lawn had to become established, the better it will be able to withstand the fungal diseases that can attack even healthy lawns in the winter. If big patches of grass appear brown or gray, possibly forming rings, you’ll have to renovate these areas. Those are signs of the fungal diseases that can disfigure lawns over the winter.

Your renovation schedule will be governed by how quickly the soil dries out in spring. Since you have to rake up the dead grass and rough up the soil and then rake the seed into the soil after you spread it, the soil needs to be relatively dry, especially near the surface. Mud doesn’t rake well.

By monitoring the lawn throughout the winter, you’ll know when the soil begins to dry up and be ready to renovate on the first suitable day.

If you don’t want to monitor your lawn throughout the winter or to go through the work of raking the dead grass, roughing up the soil, fertilizing, planting the seed, raking it into the soil and watering it in, call us and have our lawn professionals take care of all the renovation tasks for you.

You should plan ahead even if you are having us renovate the lawn for you. Then you can be scheduled early in the spring. We’ll need enough time for one of our lawn care professionals to visit the property between snowfalls to examine the extent of the damage, present you with a price quote and still be able to place you on the early schedule.

Another benefit of professional repair: our pros can look at a lawn and know what variety of seed they need to match what you have so it won’t look like a patchwork quilt. That alone is worth the cost.

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Is Your Landscaping Keeping Up With Your Age?

Pigeon holing people into specific generations – Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials – seems to be the fad these days. Much of this has to do with marketing but some has to do with changing needs. A landscape trade magazine recently ran a story on how to help aging Baby Boomers enjoy their gardens and landscapes even as their needs and capabilities change.

People have had anecdotal knowledge for centuries that green plants, colorful flowers and fresh air have a positive effect on our health. Recent studies have validated it. Researchers have found that gardening and just being outdoors can reduce stress, and the increased physical activity is very productive exercise. The trouble is, the physical aspect of gardening often limits seniors.

If you’re planning to renovate your landscape to accommodate age-related limitations, here are a few considerations, whether you’re retaining a professional designer or doing it yourself:

• Safety should be your number one concern. Fall-prevention should be part of every design decision. Falling can cause more serious injuries for seniors than for younger people.

• Landscapes for seniors should include plenty of shade and seating. Most seniors have to take frequent breaks, so be sure you have a cool, shaded place to sit down and rest. Direct sunlight is not good for the skin, even with sunscreen, and it isn’t good for aging eyes, either.

• Learn labor-saving techniques so you can make the most of your energy and mobility. If you’re a perfectionist, lighten up. Learn to accept imperfection. “Gardening for a Lifetime, How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older,” a book by Sydney Eddison, has a chapter on this subject.

• Raised beds, trellises and terracing can all decrease the impact on your back and legs. Raised beds should have wide caps so you can sit on them and tend your plants. Trellises and other vertical planters let you garden from a standing position. If your property is hilly, have the hills terraced. Gardening on terraces will reduce strain on your back and legs and will reduce the chance of falling.

• Prioritize. Don’t try to do everything at once like you used to. Do what absolutely has to be done first and put the rest off for another day.

• Think ahead. As we age, we may eventually find ourselves using a motorized scooter or wheelchair. Wide, smooth, paved paths with no stairs are essential for navigating with these aids. They will even benefit you as your legs begin to show wear, and will reduce the chance of falling. Failing eyesight is another fact of aging, so good lighting is important if you want to be able to enjoy your landscape in the evening.

• A low maintenance design will reduce the frustration you’ll experience as weeding and other work get more difficult. It will also save you money when you have to hire someone for these tasks.

• Include bird and butterfly-attracting, as well as, edible plants in your design. The thought of nice, juicy tomatoes and other produce can be a great incentive to keep going when your body would prefer not to. Between tasks, sitting and resting while you watch birds and butterflies fly around can be especially relaxing.

• If your landscape design calls for containerized plants, use lightweight plastic or fiberglass containers rather than terra cotta or ceramic. Placing them on wheeled platforms will let you move them around easily.

What I’ve just covered is a gardening overview of a movement called “aging-in-place.” Its practitioners advocate bringing needed services to seniors instead of forcing them into various stages of assisted living, This allows them to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Garden aging-in-place, and horticulture therapy help extend that time by allowing seniors to spend time outside gardening and enjoying their landscapes and the benefits they provide for people of all ages.