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Repairing Lawns Damaged By Summer Heat

This has been quite a summer. Some people in our area have had healthy, green lawns all summer long while others are parched and dormant from lack of rain. If yours is among the latter, consider giving it a good inspection when it greens up in the next few weeks to see if there’s any damage from summer dormancy.

The most obvious areas that need attention are brown patches where the grass failed to green up. This doesn’t indicate any diseases; it just means the grass in those patches wasn’t as hardy as the rest.

Closer inspection may reveal that the turf in other sections of the lawn is thin. You can actually see soil around the grass plants. This is an open invitation for weeds to move in and fill that space.

The best fix is to rake out the dead grass with an iron rake. Be careful to get it all out or your next problem could be a build up of thatch. Gather up the dead grass and throw it on the compost pile, where it will decompose quickly.

Using your metal rake, rough up the soil. That includes those spots with thin turf. Next, spread fertilizer or compost, followed by seed. Then work the seed into the soil with your rake and finish the task by watering the areas you’ve reseeded. Finally, be sure it receives that important inch of water a week by rain, irrigation or a combination of both.

Repairing your lawn now, in the late summer or early fall, will give it plenty of time to become established before winter. Not repairing your lawn in fall opens the door for weeds to make the most of the opportunity you provided. Many of their seeds are lying latent in your soil, and they germinate early in the spring and begin growing before your grass breaks winter dormancy. They will quickly fill in any spaces you left bare. You’ll then have to get rid of the weeds before you can repair the grass in the spring.

If this work needs to be done this fall but you can’t fit it into your schedule, we have lawn care professionals who would be more than happy to take the whole job off your shoulders.

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Choosing Shade Loving Plants

Some people say there is no such thing as shade loving plants, only shade tolerant. I beg to differ. If you’ve ever tried to grow hostas or rhododendrons in full sun, you know what I mean. But if you haven’t tried… they don’t grow in full sun. Planting them in full sun is a great example of wrong plant, wrong place.

Many landscapes would be very uninteresting without shade loving plants. There would be no understory plants (those that grow under the canopy of large trees), plants for areas around houses and other buildings that are always in shadow, and even containerized plants that live on a deck or patio under an awning or roof.

It would be best if you do your homework to decide what plants you like and sketch the design before going to your garden center. Most people aren’t as familiar with shade loving plants as they are with sun loving plants. So you may need some help when you get to the store.

At the garden center, Be sure to:
• Check out all the plant material that’s available.
• Read the tags for each plant you’re considering. Plant tags always list
sunlight requirements on them.
• Talk to one of the knowledgeable horticulturists. Share your plans, discuss
the plants that you’ve seen in the store that you like, and ask their advice on what plants they would recommend for the location(s) you have in mind. It wouldn’t hurt to take some photos of the locations to give the horticulturist an idea of the conditions. That could influence their recommendations.

The photos may also save you another trip to the garden center. If you feel comfortable with your own research and the horticulturist’s recommendations, you can buy the plants, take them home and plant them. If you need more time to think and consider before making a decision, take photos of the plants you’re considering in the store. They’ll help you make your decisions after you get home. If you still can’t decide on the course of action in this unfamiliar territory, turn it over to the pros. Our landscape designers and installation professionals are as experienced at creating shade gardens as they are at full sunlight gardens and anything in between.

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Plant Low Maintenance Shrubs This Fall

Fall is for planting, and fall will soon be upon us. I don’t mean to rush summer away but fall planting conditions actually begin to appear in late August.

When making your fall planting plans, may I suggest low maintenance shrubs? After all, your landscape’s main reason for being is to provide you with enjoyment, not work. There aren’t any no-maintenance plants but plenty are low maintenance.

The first step to assuring that a shrub will be low maintenance is to plant the right plant in the right place. Even shrubs sold as low maintenance will be high maintenance if planted in the wrong place. Some of the care needs for low maintenance shrubs include:

• Watering. If they don’t get the inch of water a week that they need from rain, they’ll need supplemental watering.
• Fertilization, at least when they are young and just getting established.
• Annual mulching.

When buying your low maintenance shrubs, be sure to read the tag for care instructions. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask one of the garden center horticulturists. They are plant people trained to be sure you are satisfied when you leave the store, and after the plants you bought have matured. Some of the low maintenance characteristics you should look for include…

• Disease and insect resistance. You don’t want to constantly be treating them to control insects and diseases.
• Making sure they are hardy to our USDA zone 5 climate and that they can tolerate the big swings in weather conditions that we experience.
• When fully grown, the shrub has to fit the space allotted for it and it shouldn’t spread beyond its borders so that you have to prune it back every year. Selecting compact varieties of the species you want will reduce the need for frequent pruning. The dwarf blue spruce pictured is a good example.

If your idea of low maintenance includes going to work one morning with an empty space in your yard and coming back to a nice, new shrub, our landscape installation professionals can make that happen. They can also advise you on plant selection – which ones are good choices and which trendy new introductions are destined to be in vogue only for a short time. Planting trendy shrubs could make your house look dated when they go out of style in a few years.

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Grubs Are Returning

After a summer absence, grubs are beginning to feast on the grass roots of our lawns again. But these aren’t the same grubs that dined on your lawn this spring. It’s their children.

Photo Credit: Bruce Watt, University of Maine, Bugwood.org.

After their spring feast, the grubs pupated, similar to what happens when caterpillars become moths or butterflies. They emerged from the pupa stage as adults in late May and early June, and began flying around looking to mate. You may have seen them. They were big, brown, beetle-like insects, commonly known as June bugs, that may have flown into your windows and patio doors.

After mating, the female lays her eggs on the turf. When the grubs hatch, they burrow into the soil and begin eating the grass roots. To check if you have grubs, you can cut 12 inch squares of sod from several locations. Fold it back and see if there are any grubs. They are small, white and crescent shaped.

Count the grubs in each test plot. If there are six or fewer, they won’t do enough damage to warrant treatment. If there are more than six, treatment should be considered. Late summer and early fall are the best times to treat for grubs. They are small and weak, and treatment will be more effective. As they gorge themselves with food – your grass roots – they grow bigger and bigger. They will then burrow deeper into the soil to overwinter where it’s warm.

When the grubs come back up to the grass root zone in spring to begin feasting again, they will be double or triple the size they were in the fall, and much stronger. They will be better able to resist the control material in the spring.

If you don’t want to cut and roll back the sod samples or spread the grub treatment, we have lawn care professionals who will handle the whole task for you.

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Let Your Lawn Breathe

The soil in the Rochester (NY) area is known for its high clay content, and clay isn’t the best soil for lawns. But it’s what we have so we may have to take extra steps to grow healthy grass.

Clay soil is very dense and compacts easily, making it difficult for water and oxygen to reach plant roots. It’s difficult for them to penetrate the soil and there are few pockets between soil particles to store water and oxygen. The answer is to aerify.

Aerifying involves pulling plugs of soil out of the ground so that the rest of the soil can “breathe.” The holes where the plugs were provide points of entry for water and oxygen. Eventually the soil spreads out and fills in the aerifying holes as people walk and play on the lawn. However, the soil is still loose enough to provide space for water and oxygen storage. This process may have to be repeated every year or two for a healthy lawn.

It’s been suggested that homeowners mow the lawn wearing golf shoes. That’s one of those ideas that’s too good to be true. Golf shoe cleats are too short and thin to penetrate the soil enough to do any good. Professionals use aerifying machines.

Core aerators are the most effective, and the type our lawn care professionals use. They have a rotor of hollow tines that are pushed deep into the soil. The tines pull up plugs of soil about an inch in diameter, and deposit them on the lawn surface. The plugs should be left in place to decompose naturally and return their nutrients to the soil.

Do-it-yourselfers can rent aerators at rental stores. Be forewarned, however, that they are heavy and difficult to use. Most of our customers who have tried it once turn the job over to our lawn care professionals the next time.

Dethatching is often mentioned in the same breath as aerifying. However, they are two different processes. Dethatching is necessary only when dead grass plants become entangled in the turf. A dethatching machine has tines that reach into the turf and pull the dead plants out and lay them on the lawn surface. Contrary to popular belief, thatch is not grass clippings. Grass clippings decompose quickly and return nutrients to the soil. You are doing the lawn a favor when you just let them lay where they fall when you mow.

If you don’t know whether your lawn needs aerifying or dethatching, one of our lawn care professionals would by happy to check your lawn and make recommendations for its care.

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Take Pictures & ID Your Plants While They’re In Bloom

Landscape design is typically done in winter and spring. That makes it difficult to determine which plants in your current landscape should be kept, moved, or removed and replaced. Images of your landscape now can provide you and your designer with guidelines for planning changes during a snowy winter.

Summer is a good time to take photos of your entire landscape. All plants have leaves and many are in bloom at this time. The photos will show your landscape designer, and remind you, how the landscape looks in season. Take plenty of photos, including close-ups of specimen plants and those flowering, cover shots of each planting bed and long shots from different angles for an overview of the whole property.

It would also be nice to identify each plant. The simplest way is to sketch each planting bed and draw a circle for each plant and print the common and the scientific name inside the plant or in the margin with a line connecting the name with the plant. If you don’t know the names, you can select one of our landscape designers for your project now and they can do the photography and plant identification.

The thought of having to draw a sketch frightens many people. With digital cameras and photo manipulation, you can actually turn this into a fun project. Hopefully, you’ve saved the nursery tags for each plant. Photograph the plants and take a close-up of the tag and, using your photo manipulation program, put the tag shots into the plant photo as an inset.

Even if you aren’t planning to renovate your landscape in the near future, photographing and identifying all the plants is a good idea. You never know when our unpredictable weather will turn ugly and unleash a damaging storm upon us. Should that happen, you’ll have documentation for your insurance and casualty loss claims.

Your landscape contributes to the overall value of your home, and each plant has a value of its own, as well as contributing to the overall property value. The value of annuals, perennials and shrubs is based on replacement cost. Lawn value is based on the cost of repair or replacement. Large trees, however, can’t be replaced. Their value has to be determined by a certified arborist using one of several valuation methods. The bottom line is determined by how much damage to the landscape, as well as the house and other structures, reduces the total value of the property.

Keeping a photographic inventory of the plants in your landscape, and updating it as the plants grow or your plant palette changes, can be a great resource when needed. But it can also be a fun summer project when the dog days of summer make your green thumb itch.

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Slow Down, It’s Summer

Sometimes, it seems that our plants are smarter than we are. They take it easy on these hot, summer days while some people spend their summers making landscape work. If there’s nothing to do in the yard, these people pace around, mow the parched, straw-like grass twice a week and still aren’t satisfied.

They are lost because there isn’t anything to do for the beloved plants in their landscape. Many plants, like turfgrass, go dormant. Others just slow down their life processes. Your plants would prefer that you do the same, rather than forcing care on them that they don’t need or want. Instead, why not make a nice, cool drink and go sit on your porch, deck or patio and just enjoy your beautiful landscape? This is better for your health and the health of your plants.

If you must do something, keep a diary of weekly rainfall. If it doesn’t total an inch or more, a week, give your plants the supplemental water they need. Today, watering doesn’t have to lead to heat stroke. You can weave a network of soaker hoses through your planting beds to water annuals, perennials, shrubs and even small trees. These porous rubber hoses are made from recycled automobile tires. The water is turned on only a quarter turn, otherwise the pressure can blow the hose apart. Consequently, it takes a considerable amount of time to provide an inch of water. All you need to do, though, is sit in the shade and watch the water ooze out of the hoses.

Mature trees seldom need supplemental water. Their extensive root systems find water on their own, even in a drought. Turfgrass watering is your call. Grass has the ability to go dormant when thirsty and then bound back when the rains return. Lawn watering is tiring work and will raise your water bill as high as the temperature.

If you must keep busy during the dog days of summer, you can deadhead flowers so the plants will redirect their energy away from making seeds to either making new flowers or energy to store in the roots for winter survival.

Mulch may also need your attention. If it looks matted down or depleted, pick a “cool” day and fluff it up using an iron rake. If that doesn’t do it, add some more mulch to bring it up to two or three inches.

There’s a good reason why the slow gardening movement had its start in the south. Summers are too hot to be going a mile a minute. Summers are too hot for that here, too. That’s why the best landscaping task you can do in July and early August is nothing.