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Schedule Tree Pruning

Ever wonder what arborists do in the winter? Practical wisdom might lead you to answer that they go skiing, ice climbing or go to Florida. The truth is, though, that they stay here and continue working.

Arborists dress for the weather and take extra precautions on slippery surfaces. They’re used to it and trained to avoid hazards because they know winter is the ideal time to work on deciduous trees. The trees are dormant and that’s like nature’s anesthesia. Pruning, cabling & bracing and most other repairs are invasive procedures. Performing them now is far less traumatic than when sap is flowing, and the tree is foliated. Then the leaves are actively making food through photosynthesis.

Pruning cuts provide pests and pathogens with easy access to the interior of trees but many insects and disease organisms are dormant for the winter. Pruning now will give the wounds plenty of time to callous over before the insects and disease organisms become active again.

Defoliation allows our arborists to see the tree’s skeletal structure. With the leaves gone, our arborists can stand back and inspect the tree’s architecture and determine which branches need to be removed for health and aesthetic reasons. When in leaf, the leaves cover up problems and may present a different shape.

Frozen ground lets us better position equipment. A tree in the middle of your front or back yard may be difficult to reach with our bucket trucks. In spring, summer and fall, we’d have to physically climb such trees. In winter, though, when the ground’s frozen, we can often maneuver closer to the tree and prune it faster and safer.

Clean-up is also faster and easier in winter. This saves money because less debris falls by the wayside as we drag it across a snow-covered lawn. (Less friction)

It’s best to schedule your winter tree pruning now. As the winter progresses, we’re bound to have some days when the weather is just so bad that even we can’t work. Early scheduling better assures you of a time that’s most convenient for you and gives both of us plenty of options should we have to postpone.

As always, I urge you not to attempt to prune your own trees. It’s dangerous in the best weather and even worse in inclement weather. If the tree’s a flowering tree, you may unwittingly remove flower buds. Most spring flowering trees and shrubs bloom on old wood, which means this spring’s flower buds are already on the branches. To the untrained eye, they’re indistinguishable from the new leaf buds. However, our arborists are trained to identify both types of buds.

Trees with broken, hanging, crossed or rubbing branches should be professionally pruned at any time of the year. These are hazardous and should be removed before they can do any damage to people or property.

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Plan Snow Removal With Your Landscape In Mind

When the snow begins falling in your driveway and on your sidewalks, your only thoughts are how to get rid of it. The last thing on your mind is the landscape under the snow. However, where you throw or pile up snow this winter can have a significant impact on the plants hunkering down under that snow, and also on your wallet.

You can make life so much easier for yourself next spring if you plan your snow management strategy now, while your landscape is in full view. You wouldn’t just throw seed or mulch or fertilizer willy-nilly around your land. It costs money so you make sure it reaches your target area. Snow management requires the same thought process. Your objective should be to pile or blow snow to areas of your yard where it won’t damage plants or hardscape.

Each snow removal method requires a different plan. Shoveling, of course, is the most strenuous. Blowing is time consuming. Under pavement heating is expensive. Plowing is costly.

Even if you blow or plow your driveway, you’ll need to shovel snow from steps, porches and other small areas. Many landscapes have foundation plantings close to steps and porches so you have to find a different trajectory to throw the snow to avoid piling it on top of your plants. Maybe the best idea is to shovel it off the steps and porch onto the sidewalk and then blow it out onto the lawn. Or you may be able to push it off the steps with the shovel and then just lift it off the sidewalk onto the lawn.

You should also shovel snow from around the base of trees to deter small rodents from burrowing under the snow and feasting on your trees. I’ve seen mice actually girdle trees, compromising the tree’s vascular system and killing it.

Blowing gives you the most control over where the snow ends up. As you blow, you can turn the chute to avoid plants. If necessary, you can blow the snow straight ahead until you’ve cleared the planted area and the turn the chute to blow that snow onto the lawn. Blowing also lets you scatter the snow so you’re not moving a large amount of it, which you’re concentrating as you push it.

A good plow operator can manipulate snow to some extent, pulling or pushing it clear of plants before pushing it off to the side. A downside of plowing is that the plow can cut off edges of the grass if the operator doesn’t aim correctly, and it can be difficult to aim a plow and truck and keep it on course, especially if your driveway bends or curves.

Even if they aim properly and don’t cut sod from the edges of the driveway, they may cut it during another common move. Plow operators have to pile snow somewhere, so they often push it into the front yard. The snow pile is usually peppered with small pieces of sod from the edge of the driveway. Worse yet, if you have a tree in the front yard, the plow operator may pile snow up against the trunk, which is my greatest fear. It has all the downsides of a mulch volcano plus it’s usually piled only on one side of the trunk exerting pressure on that side of the tree, which can cause lean or even failure.

Blowing allows you to cut nicely defined edges, and you’ll know immediately if you’re off the pavement. Rows formed by blown snow are not as high as piles left by plows and are much lighter and less dense.

With the pros and cons of each removal method, you can decide which method best meets your needs. If you have a plowing service, be sure the operator knows where you want snow piled and places to avoid. If you have a written contract, insert these instructions into the contract.

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Why Mulch Planting Beds For Winter?

Your deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and the perennials are standing but brown. So, here’s the answer to the title question. Mulch is a regulator. It moderates the temperature of the soil beneath it and regulates the rate at which moisture seeps into the soil. Organic mulch like wood chips provide the bonus benefit of returning essential nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Inorganic mulches like stone chips are only decorative and don’t provide any environmental benefits.

While the above ground portions of your trees, shrubs and perennials may appear to be dead, they’re not. They’re dormant and the roots are still alive. I compare plant dormancy with animal hibernation. In each case, the organism is alive but functioning at a significantly slower pace. As a result, plant roots continue to benefit from the regulation that mulch supplies.

It could be argued that plants need winter mulch more than summer mulch. We recommend four inches of mulch in winter but only two, and under certain conditions three, inches during the growing season.

Mulch regulates the amount of water reaching your plant roots by absorbing some of the moisture from rain and melting snow and then releasing it into the soil over time. It moderates temperature by acting as insulation, protecting the roots from the freeze/thaw cycles that we experience every winter.

When spreading mulch, don’t pile it up the trunk in a mulch volcano. Mulch provides the perfect cover for small rodents like mice as they dine on tree and shrub bark. Also, mulch touching trunks releases its water on to the trunk, rather than into the soil. Any crack, cut or break in the bark can create a perfect environment for rot and other microbes.

I recommend double ground hardwood mulch because it’s made from recycled debris from tree trimming operations. Recycling this material contributes to plant health while reducing the stream of waste going to landfills.

If you spread four inches of mulch for the winter, don’t forget to remove an inch or two in the spring. Four inches is too thick for the growing season. Measure the mulch depth before removing any in spring. Some may have already decomposed.

You can buy bags of mulch at garden centers and home stores but that’s expensive, especially for large areas. We can deliver it in bulk much less expensively. We can either dump it in your driveway for you to spread or one of our professional landscape crews can spread it for you.

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Still Time To Protect Valuable Plants From Hungry Wildlife

Your landscape trees and shrubs are worth a lot of money, and, as they grow, they increase the value of your property. To the wild animals living nearby, however, they just represent a tasty meal when the winter pickings are slim.

Dining in the wide open may not be their idea of a great experience. They may not even consider your trees and shrubs gourmet fare but when their favorite food is inaccessible, they’ll turn to whatever’s available.

Persistent as these critters are, you can take steps to discourage them from dining on your growing green investment. Deer are the most difficult to discourage. They’ve become so bold that they’ll rise up on their hind legs if necessary to reach a tender tree branch. When they’re hungry enough in winter, they aren’t fussy about their diet. They’ll even eat plants you wouldn’t think they could swallow – plants like holly and barberries.

People try all kinds of deterrents but there’s no one technique or product that’s foolproof. Fencing may be the most effective but it has to be at least eight feet tall. Netting is said to work on shrubs and small trees. Tenting can also discourage deer. Drive poles into the ground around the trees and wrap burlap around the poles and attach it with staples. These tents have to be at least 12 feet tall and should be left open at the top to allow sunlight and water to reach the trees.

One deer deterrent may work for your neighbor but not for you. You’ll just have to experiment. There are repellents, which can be purchased or made using household items, and deer resistant plants like herbs. Deer love tulip bulbs but not daffodils. Mixing the two types of spring flowering bulbs in a single bed may discourage them. Hopefully, it’ll be like one food on our plate making the entire meal distasteful. If the ground hasn’t frozen, there’s still time to plant such a bed.

Don’t concentrate all your effort on discouraging deer and forget the mice, rabbits and voles. These animals are smaller and sneakier, and they can kill a tree or shrub while deer usually only disfigure it. That’s because mice and voles eat tender bark around the base of trees and shrubs. Rabbits eat bark and twigs further up the tree or shrub. They’re attracted to smaller, younger plants because they’re most tender. Mice have been known to kill plants by girdling all the way around the trunk or stem.

Mice and voles don’t like dining in public. They burrow under the snow when possible. When that’s not possible, they often dine at night. Rabbits, on the other hand, aren’t quite as paranoid. They’ll stand on top of the snow and eat. While they, too, tend to be nocturnal, they can also be seen dining by daylight at times.

There are a number of ways to discourage mice, voles and rabbits. The most basic deterrent is to keep mulch and snow away from the trunk and stems. This open space will eliminate a hiding place so the animals (mice in particular) feel vulnerable. Barriers are also effective. The easiest barrier can be made by wrapping the trunk with hardware cloth, plastic pipe or tree wrap. Some barrier directions say to offset the hardware cloth out from the trunk with wooden or PVC frames. Installing barriers can be done now before winter arrives with its full fury. However, you’ll have to keep pulling snow away from the base of your plants after every snowfall.

There’s still time this season to take any of the actions presented here. But I wouldn’t wait too long. Any measure that involves pounding poles into the ground or digging has to be completed before the ground freezes.

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Wait Until Spring For These Landscape Tasks

It won’t be long before winter descends upon us. If you’ve lived in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area for any length of time, you know that winter scenery can range from a few flurries now and then to months of snow covering your entire landscape. How boring!

The best way to break up the visual monotony is to include winter color in your landscape design. You’re probably not going to invest in winter interest plants at this late date but there are several things to do, or not do, now to add interest to a plain vanilla winterscape.

Ornamental grass is one of the most popular winter interest groups of plants. By now, they’ve turned brown, tan or gray and have seedheads that blow and rustle in the wind. Hopefully, you resist the temptation to cut them back in the fall. If you’re one of those in the minority that does cut ornamental grass back in the fall, wait until spring this year and let nature take its course. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see those fuzzy tan, brown or gray whisps swaying in the breeze after the first good snowfall.

You’ll still have to cut ornamental grass back but you will have deferred the job until spring. It’s important that you do cut it back in spring to make room for next year’s growth. As soon as you can get out in spring, probably in April, grab your favorite cutting tool – usually hedge clippers work best – and cut each clump of grass back as close to the ground as possible. You’ll soon see new, green shoots growing among the stubble. If you see the new shoots when you begin cutting, adjust and cut above the new growth.

Ornamental grass isn’t the only “dead” plants that can add winter interest to your landscape. Leave the stems and flowers on tall perennials for the winter, too. Perennials like Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and Cone Flowers (Echinacea) come to mind because they’re tall and add color and dimension to your landscape when they’re in bloom. Keeping the stems and the last spent flowers in the fall contributes to winter interest. What more could you ask from such a plant?

Use your judgement when deciding whether to cut other perennials or let them stay until spring. For example, keep tall hostas that will peek up through the snow. Cut the shorter varieties to keep the planting bed looking clean and neat on those days when you have little or no snow.

If you like the contrast these dead plants add to your landscape this winter, plan on augmenting them next spring with plants with specific winter features. Their familiar red berries make hollies good winter interest shrubs. Most holly varieties have separate male and female plants. Be sure there’s a male in the mix to enable the female plants to bear the red berries that provide the winter interest.

A few other plants that provide winter color include red stemmed dogwood, witch hazel and hellebores. A good winter activity would be to work with one of our professional landscape designers to expand your landscape to one with four season color, rather than the three season color that’s so common here. Do this during the winter so you can be all set for our landscape professionals to install first thing in the spring and you can enjoy winter color next year.

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Autumn Landscape Checklist

If you haven’t battened down the hatches and prepared your landscape for the onslaught of Ol’ Man Winter, here are a few tasks that you should surely make time to complete before the snow flies:

• Clean up debris. If any debris has blown in from the neighborhood and is laying on your lawn or under your shrubs, it would by wise to remove it. Debris on your lawn can mat the grass, trap water under it and create an environment for winter fungal diseases. Debris under shrubs can limit water and air getting to the roots before the ground freezes. Besides they make your shrubs look unkempt.

• Take in ceramic & terra cotta containers. Terra cotta and many types of ceramic containers will break when frozen. Even empty containers made of these materials will break.

• Check tree crowns from the ground & arrange for professional inspection if necessary. Walk your property and check the trees. Look up in the crowns to see if you have any broken, drooping or hanging branches. Check the trunk from the ground up for damage to the bark or the presence of mushroom-like fungal fruiting bodies. If you see anything out of the ordinary, contact us for a professional inspection so any necessary repairs can be made before winter storms cause disastrous damage to people or property.

• Compost fallen leaves. Unless your home is in the middle of a forest, leaves shouldn’t be left right where they fall. Like other debris, they can mat, trap water and you’ll have to deal with renovating your lawn because of winter fungal diseases. An easy way to compost those leaves that fall on the lawn is to mulch them in your mower as you mow the grass short at the end of fall. You’ll have to rake or blow those that fall in your beds and then throw them on your compost pile.

• Winterize tools. Winterize your gardening tools before you put them away for the winter. Then you won’t have to remember to do it during the winter or get caught with servicing undone when you need them next spring. At the very least, clean both hand and power tools before putting them away for the winter. Also, drain the gas from the power equipment tanks. Gas can become contaminated if left in the tank for long periods. If you sharpen cutting surfaces, change oil, air filters and spark plugs now, you won’t have to do it in the spring. You’ll be all ready to mow when the grass is ready.

• Don’t Forget The Garden Hoses. If you watered your landscape this past summer, be sure to disconnect the hoses, drain and store them in your garage, shed or basement. Those left out for the winter can crack or break when frozen, especially if they have water in them. If you have no space inside to store them, disconnect them, drain them, coil them and store them in a sheltered place in your yard.

Spring is aptly named here in upstate New York. It often tends to spring forth on us unexpectedly. Unless you’re an avid gardener eagerly awaiting spring’s arrival, it may be here before you’re ready. However, you’ll be a step ahead if you take care of the details recommended here before winter arrives. Then you’ll be prepared when it leaves.

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Time To Schedule Your Anti Desiccation Application

In my humble opinion, anti desiccant is the most economical protection against winter burn that you can provide for your evergreen trees and shrubs. That’s why I remind you of it every fall and encourage you to plan ahead for its application.

Anti desiccant’s application is very weather dependent. It can’t be applied when the temperature is too high or too low. It’s a wax-like liquid. Consequently, it can freeze when it’s cold and melt when it’s warm. We apply anti desiccant on days when the temperature is below 50ºF and above 32ºF (freezing). If we get sustained warm spells during the winter, additional applications may be necessary. Nothing needs to be done in spring, though. The anti desiccant just melts when the weather warms up.

Why apply anti desiccant? Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs that go dormant in winter, evergreens just slow down their life functions. This applies to both needled conifers like pines and broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons.

Evergreens’ leaves or needles continue to manufacture food through the energy trapping process of photosynthesis. That process requires water, which is normally absorbed by the roots and transported to the leaves by the plant’s xylem. Water, also a byproduct of the process, is given off through the leaves. This is called transpiration.

When the ground is frozen, the roots can’t absorb water, so the plant reabsorbs transpired water and recycles it during photosynthesis. This is fine until the wind blows. Wind picks up transpired water droplets and carries them away before they can be reabsorbed. When this occurs, photosynthesis shuts down and the affected leaves, needles and branches die.

Desiccated leaves and branches turn brown but the whole plant rarely dies. It just has ugly brown patches, and the only remedy is to cut out the deadwood. This affects the aesthetics of an otherwise graceful, beautiful evergreen.

Evergreens provide winter interest to your landscape. The various textures and shades of green break up the otherwise desolate sea of white that greets you when you go out the door or look out the window. It’s also a much more interesting view than that of tan shrouds where your evergreens stand in summer. Before anti desiccant, it was common to wrap all evergreens in burlap. Today, only plants affected by salty road spray, young trees and shrubs that are still getting established, or tender plants that may be near the limit of their hardiness zone benefit from wrapping. The others are sufficiently protected by anti desiccant.

Garden centers and home stores sell anti desiccant in spray bottles. The most familiar brand is Wilt Pruf, and it’s in easily recognized green bottles. Buying one or two of these bottles to apply to a couple of evergreen shrubs is a good DIY project. Any more and your hand will let you know how hard it is to squeeze those spray triggers.

For properties with many or large evergreens like towering conifer trees, it’s more economical and efficient for one of our Plant Health Care professionals to apply anti desiccant. We buy it in bulk, which is considerably less than buying those consumer-size containers at retail, and you don’t have to worry about properly disposing of the empty containers. Our PHC pros apply anti desiccant with backpack sprayers that have enough pressure to reach the tops of tall trees.

You planted evergreens to enhance your landscape 12 months a year, and anti desiccant is the most economical insurance policy you can buy to protect them during our severe winters.

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A Basic Guide To Leaf Peeping

It’s almost time for many residents and visitors to the Finger Lakes region to take their annual “Leaf Peeping” treks to the beautifully hued hills that rise from the lakes. Soon these hills will be ablaze with yellows, reds and oranges. Have you ever wondered why this phenomenon occurs and what determines which trees’ leaves will turn what color? Well, read on and I’ll explain it.

Nature equipped most broadleaf trees and shrubs with a defense mechanism to protect them from breaking under the added weight of snow falling and ice forming on the surface of their many leaves. These plants, called “deciduous” plants, lose their leaves and go dormant every fall. As a result, the surface available to snow and ice is reduced substantially. In the process of defoliating, the leaves undergo chemical transformations before falling to the ground.

As temperatures begin to cool and daylight hours get shorter, these conditions are nature’s signals to prepare for winter. First the plants go on a binge, producing food through photosynthesis to be stored in the roots to sustain the plant through the winter. When this is finished, the green chlorophyll drains from the leaves, revealing their true color – yellow.

Some leaves remain yellow while others turn orange or red. These colors are displayed when other chemicals are present. The presence of carotenoids gives leaves their yellow or orange color but aren’t seen during the growing season because of the chlorophyll. Carotenoids, which give carrots their orange color, are present to some extent in all leaves. The more carotenoid, the more intense the color.

Red leaves indicate the presence of anthocyanins, which are produced only in autumn. According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), these complex, water soluble compounds in leaf cells react with excess, stored plant sugars and exposure to sunlight, creating vivid pink, red and purple leaves. A mixture of red anthocyanin pigment and yellow carotene often results in the bright orange color seen in some leaves. The photo provides an excellent example of brilliant orange color. It’s near the entrance to the Seneca Waterways Council Boy Scouts of America’s J. Warren Cutler Scout Reservation in the Bristol Hills near Naples.

Colors most affected by weather are the red tones created by anthocyanin. On warm sunny days, lots of sugar is produced in the leaves. Trees exposed to brighter sunlight generate the reaction between the anthocyanin and the excess sugar, creating the bright red hue. Cooler temperatures cause the veins in the leaves to gradually close, preventing the sugars from moving out, which preserves the red tones. Thus, a succession of warm sunny days and cool crisp nights can paint the most spectacular display of color.

As the trees’ show of color comes to an end, the buds for next year’s leaves, growing at the base of this year’s leaves, force the colorful leaves to disconnect and fall to the ground before the curtain of winter descends.

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Bulk Up Your Mulch For Winter

With autumn officially beginning, winter can’t be far behind. With it comes snow, ice, cold and swirling Arctic winds. While we retreat into our nice, warm homes, our landscape plants have to stay put. The least we can do is put a coat around their cold-sensitive roots.

That coat should consist of an extra layer of organic mulch like wood chips. Sensitive roots can be compared to human nerves. Both like the status quo and react adversely to radical changes. Mulch reduces those radical changes in several ways.

Mulch moderates soil temperatures, reducing the impact of their frequent swings on plant roots. These swings are year-round considerations. In spring, summer and fall, however, temperature swings aren’t as significant as they are in winter. They fluctuate only a few degrees in a 24-hour period. In winter, that fluctuation can be much greater and plant roots don’t like these wide temperature changes, especially those that drop from warm to below freezing and vice versa.

Mulch will minimize the effect of temperature extremes on your plants. During the spring, summer and fall, two to a maximum of three inches of mulch are sufficient. Any more is too much. In winter, however, three or four inches are preferable. Be sure to remove any mulch over three inches in the spring.

As you prepare your yard for winter, start by fluffing up the mulch already in place. Using a leaf rake, fluff it up similar to the way you would mashed potatoes or rice. Once the existing mulch is fluffed, you can measure its depth with a yardstick. Add enough new mulch to bring the depth to four inches; no more. Moisture still needs to soak through the mulch to reach the plant roots. And, remember – don’t pile the mulch up against the tree trunk. Mulch volcanoes trap moisture between the bark and the mulch, providing a good breeding ground for microbes. It also helps camouflage small mammals that may want to dine on the bark.

Organic mulch does double duty. Besides protecting your roots in the cold weather, wood chips and other organic mulches will decompose and return nutrients to the soil. Decorative mulches like stone won’t do that. It doesn’t decompose. Besides, stone mulch is cold to the touch, so it won’t moderate the soil temperature as effectively as wood.

If you don’t care for shoveling, hauling and spreading mulch, we have landscape professionals who would be happy to do these jobs for you before winter settles in.

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Keep On Weeding

Maybe Labor Day marked the unofficial beginning of the fall season, but nobody told weeds that. These strong, adventitious plants seize upon the shoulder season to thrive and make sure they’ve provided ample opportunity for the next generation to do the same.

As adventitious plants, weeds make sure they fill up any bare spot in your lawn or planting beds. If you fell behind in your weeding during the spring and summer season, weeds may already have a foothold. This makes your job tougher in the fall. Besides having to rid your landscape of these unwanted plants, you also must rid your yard of the seeds they’ve dropped in preparation for winter.

You may want to sit back and assume that the winter will kill the weeds, no matter how strong they look. You’d be right. Before succumbing to winter’s blasts, though, those strong weeds dropped strong seeds that’ll lie dormant in the soil until next spring. Then they’ll pop up early in spring when other plants are still enjoying their winter dormancy. They’ll be able to flower and get established without competition from other plants.

These ideal conditions will allow the weeds to grow strong before the good plants wake up. Some even flower early and drop their seeds before anything else. As a result, strong, hardy weeds produce several generations a year. A weed may just be a plant growing where it wasn’t planted but where they grow seems to be to their liking because the do tend to thrive.

The best way I’ve found to fight weeds is to use everything in your arsenal. Start by spot treating the weeds with a broadleaf weed killer with both pre-emergent and post-emergent compounds. The post-emergent will kill the weeds that you see while the pre-emergent will prevent the seeds they’ve dropped from germinating.

The method I just described isn’t a one-and-done. You’ll have to keep after it. Weeds are persistent. If you want to take some aggression out, you might consider applying a pre-emergent to prevent seeds from germinating and pulling the weeds by hand.

The herbicide you select should be labeled for broadleaf weeds. A non-selective herbicide will kill all plants. Your lawn should be safe if you apply a broadleaf weed killer, but you will have to be extra careful applying it to weeds in a planting bed. The material can’t tell the difference between a weed and a desirable plant.

If you would like to leave the whole process to the pros, our lawn care professionals would be happy to make the application for you. Weed control is part of our lawn care programs but we can also provide a la carte service.