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Fallen Leaves Make Great Compost

Who rakes fallen leaves in a forest? The answer: Nobody. They just fall to the forest floor and decompose. This decomposing organic material is called humus or duff. As they decompose, the fallen leaves return organic matter to the soil to be used by the plants. This is nature’s compost.

Letting leaves decompose naturally in the landscape isn’t practical. They fall on the lawn, in planting beds and even swimming pools and gutters.. Instead, most people rake them up, or blow them into piles. And they get rid of them by the most expedient means. Depending on the laws of the jurisdiction in which you live, you may bag leaves and put them at the curb or you may be able to just rake or blow them to the curb and the town will pick them up.

When the town comes around with a giant vacuum and sucks leaves into a truck, chances are they will be taken to a municipal composting facility and piled into windrows. Windrows are long piles of leaves left out in the weather to decompose. Because the windrows generate heat, they are turned periodically. This not only keeps them from catching fire but also evens out the decomposition process.

When the leaves are completely composted, the municipality uses the material to add organic matter to the soil in parks and other public gardens. If there is any left over, it may be offered to residents. Some municipalities give compost free while others charge a nominal fee. But you have to go to the composting facility and get it. This means your leaves are handled by numerous people before they are returned to you. That hardly fits the definition of sustainability.

I suppose that’s OK if you don’t want to be bothered with the turning and other work involved in making compost. However, if you want to really be sustainable, you’ll make your own compost. Cordon off a far corner of your yard, one that isn’t too visible, and build your compost facility there.

A compost bin can be built with a little work and some lumber and nails or wire. Just build big boxes to hold the leaves. You’ll be able to work the compost easier if you leave the front off the boxes. You can also buy kits for wood or wire compost bins at home stores or online at garden supply sites. They even have various size plastic bins that you can turn simply by turning a crank.

Leaves will compost faster is they’re crushed into small pieces. The most efficient method of crushing them I’ve ever seen was when the host of a TV garden show filled a garbage totter with leaves, donned safety glasses and plunged a string trimmer into the totter like an immersion blender that’s used in the kitchen.

When making your own mulch, you’ll need to check the temperature in the middle of the pile and turn it when it gets hot. Turning also allows the leaves to compost evenly so you’ll have nice, dark, finished compost by spring. If you don’t have a composter with a crank tumbler, just use an iron rake.

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Creating a Beautiful Winterscape

Your winter view out the window doesn’t have to be a bleak sea of white. In fact, winter landscapes can be quite beautiful. Creating such a scene, however, has to be a cooperative effort between you and Mother Nature.

Mother Nature will provide the icing but you have to provide the cake. When planning your landscape, think four seasons rather than three. Imagine what your yard can look like after a snowfall and choose both plants and hardscape with winter in mind. You may have to move a few things around between seasons but that’s a small price to pay for winter interest.

Snow will probably not cover evergreens completely so imagine them with a dusting of snow. Check the big arborvitaes at the left in the photo and the junipers on the hill. They have just enough snow to give them that Currier & Ives look. In the center, two dwarf blue spruces peek their heads out from the snow.

The deciduous trees have also retained a dusting of snow on their bare branches. But, imagine them glistening in the sun after an ice storm. Each branch looking like an icicle. The ornamental grasses in the background are planted in no small part to add their wheat like color to the winter landscape. In spring, they’ll be cut to the ground to make way for fresh, green stalks to begin the cycle again.

And then there’s the hardscape. Most of the furniture is of a southwest design so the colorful mosaics peeking out from around the snow provide a hint of bright color to contrast with the white of the snow. In the background, wind chimes tickle another sense every time the wind blows. The igloo shaped domes of snow on the tables add a touch of whimsy, as does the juxtaposition of a Mexican clay chiminea with snow covering its openings.

This is one person’s idea of an attractive winterscape. Yours will depend on the layout of your landscape and the direction that the wind blows the snow. You might want to take photos now and again after a snow storm to help stimulate your creative juices. The substrate that your autumn landscape provides may look like the perfect cake. But, when Mother Nature adds the icing, you may want to add more plant material, or move some around. Or the hardscape placement may need some tweaking. You can make hardscape adjustments between snowfalls. Keep doing it until you’re happy. Then take more pictures so you know where to place everything next winter.

If you’d like professional help selecting plant materials, our professional landscape designers would be happy to help you determine what plants will be best for the spots you have in mind, and our installation professionals can take that responsibility off your shoulders. All you have to do is enjoy winter rather than staring at a flat sea of white.

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Tree Risks: Real or Fake?

Owning trees can be compared to owning pets. They are both enjoyable to have and life wouldn’t be the same without them. But with the pleasure they provide comes risks and responsibilities. We’re all familiar with pet risks like dog bites and cat scratches but do you know the risks trees present?

The most obvious is the chance that wind, snow, ice and age may cause branches to break and come crashing to the ground, resulting in personal injury or property damage. Some trees produce surface roots that can cause tripping accidents. Like pets, trees can also contract diseases or be infested with unfriendly insects.

While accidents do happen, you can manage tree risks to minimize the chance of them occurring. Some of the precautions that you can take include:

• Moving possible targets like sandboxes, playground equipment, picnic tables, cars and any moveable hardscape features to prevent them from being hit by falling tree parts.

• Having the tree pruned to remove dead, dying, crossing, rubbing or rotting branches.

• Cabling and bracing to provide support for weak branches and limbs. While this procedure isn’t a guarantee against failure, it does reduce the odds of a catastrophic failure.

• Providing the routine care that mature trees require. Routine maintenance includes water, mulch, fertilization and pruning.

• Removing the tree. If none of the preventive remedies work, high risk trees should be removed. This will not only reduce the hazard they present but will also give you peace of mind.

Ideally, removed trees should be replaced to maintain the environment they’ve created.. Removing a large tree can leave a hole in the landscape. Shade tolerant plants may be growing beneath the canopy. Or they may be growing in the shadow cast by the tree. Removing the tree will leave these plants in full sunlight, which will stress them to the point that they may not survive.

Tree work is not a DIY project. For safety’s sake, leave tree work to the professionals. More than 100 people are killed each year and many more are seriously injured performing their own tree work. I don’t want you to become a statistic. Serious injury or death isn’t worth it. Besides having the specialized training and equipment to repair or remove your large tree(s), our professional arborists possess the knowledge and education to inspect a tree and determine if it presents a hazard to your family, visitors and property.

You wouldn’t hesitate to take your pets to the vet when they are sick, or even for regular check-ups. So, don’t take a chance with your trees. Have an annual hazard inspection, but don’t wait for your annual inspection if something appears to be wrong. Having repairs made as soon as you see a problem can save lives.

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Trees Do More Than Look Nice

Everyone loves the beauty of a tree. Joyce Kilmer even articulated his love of trees in a famous poem, entitled simply Trees. Beauty is the main reason we plant trees, but nature’s giants reward us multi-fold for this gesture.

We learn in school that trees provide us with the oxygen we need to breathe and remove the carbon dioxide that we exhale. Carbon dioxide is needed, along with sunlight and water, for the photosynthetic reaction that results in the food that plants need to survive. Water and oxygen are given off, or transpired, through the leaves. That’s the oxygen we breathe.

As part of this process, trees sequester, or store, carbon. Since there is so much carbon in the atmosphere from vehicles and industry, as well as people and animals, removing and storing it helps the environment. Trees remove other pollutants from the air as well.

Trees’ root systems form an underground web that helps prevent soil erosion. This web also filters water runoff, further protecting our waterways from pollution. You can help reduce the water runoff even more by mulching the root zone of your trees. The mulch will hold rain water, releasing it slowly so the tree roots can use it, rather than losing it to runoff.

Strategically placed trees can reduce your energy bill. Deciduous trees, planted to the south and east of your house, can shield the house from the sun in the summer and let more sunlight shine on your house in winter. This can keep your house cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Conversely, conifers planted to the north and west of your house can block some of the winds that typically come from those directions. This same principal works for large, paved areas, which absorb a lot of heat. Trees, planted in parking lot medians help to reduce the pavement temperature.

Trees provide us with a major building material – wood. While still standing in forests, they may become wildlife habitats. That may also be true for trees planted in our yards. However, they increase property values as well as providing habitat for wildlife.

Trees also play a role in shaping our attitudes and making us feel better. Research has shown that trees have a healing and calming effect on us. They also mark the seasons for us. We know spring is here when trees flower and leaf out and that fall has arrived when the leaves turn color and drop. Bare branches can also contribute to our winter doldrums. That may also be one of the reasons we began bringing evergreens into our homes for the winter holidays.

Physically, trees can help shade us from harmful ultra violet (UV) rays from the sun. And, of course, fruit and nut trees provide us with food. Organisms that give us so much certainly deserve lots of love and care in return. We domesticated trees for our own enjoyment and the benefits they can provide. In return, we have the same responsibilities as we have to the animals we domesticated as pets.

If you have a spot in your yard that would make a nice home for a tree, or trees, remember that Fall is for Planting.

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The Importance Of Fall Cleanup

Has fall cleanup become a scheduled part of your annual landscape activity, or is it hit and miss – you go out and do what needs to be done when you feel like doing it? Fall can be a beautiful season or it can be a depressing season as you look forward to winter. However, the leaves will fall, plants will still need to be winterized and those last fruits and vegetables still need to be harvested. Scheduling the various tasks can take some of the stress off you when the time comes to do the work.

Last fall, I posted this list of fall cleanup jobs. Hopefully, you saved it for this year but if you didn’t or are a new reader, here it is again:

• Clean up all trash that has blown on to your property.
• Remove dead stems and leaves from perennials and toss them onto the compost pile.
• Divide perennials.
• Rake, blow or mow fallen leaves for mulch or compost.
• Apply grub control if your lawn needs it.
• Lower your mower blade to 2”-2 ½” in early October and mow at that height until the end of the season.
• Prepare your lawn mower and other power tools for winter storage, following the manufacturers’ instructions.
• Put your deck or patio furniture in storage.
• Bring your containerized plants indoors or place them in a cold frame for the winter.
• Finish harvesting veggies from your vegetable garden.
• Apply anti-desiccant to evergreens.
• Wrap tender young trees.
• Critter proof trees and shrubs.
• Mulch trees, shrubs and planting beds.
• Fertilize as necessary
• Have us inspect your trees and remove any hazards.

Fall cleanup has a number of benefits. Your property will look better if we have low snowfall this winter. It will also look tidy in the spring, even before you do your spring cleanup. Cleaning up leaves and papers can protect your lawn from holding too much moisture that can lead to winter fungal diseases. You’ll protect your valuable plants when you winterize those that need extra care, and you’ll protect people and property when we inspect your trees and remove any hazards. And finally, getting out on brisk, fall days and getting some useful exercise will make you feel better about the arrival of winter.

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Firewood Precautions

As you begin planning for winter’s cold and the cozy fires you’ll enjoy in your wood stove, fireplace or even your fire pit, I want to remind you of the restrictions on the movement of firewood and the consequences of ignoring those restrictions.

The federal government and many states have quarantines in place to restrict the movement of firewood in and out. Plus, there’s a law that prohibits the movement of any wood 50 miles or more from its origin without a permit. Permits are granted only when a wood dealer or transporter has taken the necessary steps to guarantee that the wood is free from contamination by insects and diseases.

There are any number of dangerous insects and diseases that can be imported in wood. That’s how they came to our shores in the first place. They include the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, gypsy moth, spotted lanternfly, Dutch elm disease, and the list goes on.

These pests successfully hitchhike here in or on firewood because they are often invisible to the untrained eye. They may be living inside the wood like the emerald ash borer. Or they may be in egg form like gypsy moth and spotted lanternfly. Once the wood is in your yard, these pests emerge or hatch and go looking for new food sources– i.e. your valuable trees and shrubs and your neighbors’.

Any savings that you realized by buying illegal firewood, and a lot more besides, will be lost in having your infested trees and shrubs either treated or removed and replaced. So that perceived saving is only false economy.

The answer to the dilemma is simple. Buy firewood only from a reputable dealer. Ask the right questions like where they acquired their firewood. If it’s from the guy down the road with a woodlot, you can either trust that he’s telling the truth. If you don’t trust him or believe he bought it from someone more than 50 miles from his lot, ask to see the paperwork showing that his source had the proper permit to bring firewood into your area.

You may consider this attention to detail unnecessary. You may not realize the importance even if I told you how many thousands of trees are lost each year to invasive pests. I certainly hope it doesn’t take a hitchhiking, invasive pest destroying one or more of your valuable, mature trees to drive the seriousness of this problem home.

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Why Kill Weeds In Fall?

Many people ask why weeds should be killed in the fall. Some would answer that weeds should be killed anytime they appear. Actually, weeds are starting to disappear in the fall, as do many annual plants. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Not so fast. They may not be seen but these devious characters may have dropped seeds that are lurking in the soil waiting to strike in the spring.

Applying a pre-emergent broadleaf weed killer this fall will prevent those latent seeds from germinating next spring. You may ask why this preventive action should be taken now instead of waiting for them to begin growing in the spring and then treat them. For one, pre-emergents are more effective than post-emergents. Secondly, many overwintering weed seeds germinate before the grass breaks dormancy, giving them a head start in the race for soil space and nutrients.

Have you noticed that dandelions appear before the lawn needs its first mowing? By the time you mow for the first time, the dandelions’ first flush of flowers has gone to seed and the wind has distributed them all over your yard. To control them, you’ll need to apply a broadleaf weed killer, or dig them out by hand. Isn’t it better to get them before they even have a chance to germinate?

Ideally, spreading a pre and post emergent broadleaf weed killer will rid you of the weeds in your lawn now and those seeds that they dropped to overwinter. The best timing is between flushes of flowers so they don’t drop any more seeds after you’ve made the application.

This method is intended for your lawn, not your flower beds. Broadleaf weed killers can’t differentiate between those plants you consider weeds and your beautiful flower plants. The definition of a weed that I use most often is a plant growing where you didn’t plant it and where you don’t want it.

For weed infested flower beds,, pulling weeds by hand is the safest control method. The alternative is to spot treat, spraying only each individual weed. This might be a moot point if your flower beds are planted only with annuals. However, some annuals drop seed that lies latent through the winter and germinates in the spring, and you’ll want to protect them. Some people like to retain their spent annuals as foliage plants for as long as they can. You’ll have to use the control measures that are best for your situation.

If your flower beds include herbaceous perennials, it’s important that you protect them. Pulling weeds by hand or spot treating are your only options. A helpful hint: Pull weeds when the soil is moist. They are easier to pull and more of the root may comes out.

If you don’t have time to weed, our landscape and lawn care professionals would be happy to do it for you.