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Think Low Maintenance When Planning Spring Landscape Renovations

It may seem a bit early to think about next spring’s landscape renovations, but I assure you it’s not. Planning a beautiful landscape takes time, and you don’t typically have landscaping chores in the winter, so using that time to plan will allow you to hit the ground running, come spring.

All good plans begin with objectives, and your landscape renovation plan is no exception. One objective that many property owners put right at the top of the list is lower maintenance. People today are so busy they have to budget their time, and landscapes often don’t get the TLC they need and deserve.

There are a number of design considerations that can lead to reduced maintenance. Planting the right plant in the right place should be number one. This may seem basic, and it appears in every garden story but people often forget this axiom when visiting a nursery. You may find a plant that you absolutely fall in love with. If it’s not suitable for the site you have planned, I recommend resisting the temptation to buy it and plant it in that spot anyway.

If you just must have it, consider whether you have a more suitable site on your property for your newfound botanic love. If you don’t, ask one of the horticulturists at your garden center if there is a similar plant that’s better suited for the site you have in mind. Planting the wrong plant in the wrong place will, inevitably, sour your love affair with that plant very quickly, and it will cost you more to keep it alive. Since stressed plants are more attractive targets for pests, you’ll spend more on pest control. The plant’s dissatisfaction with its new home will increase its need for fertilizer. If it grows too big for the site, you’ll have to pay for frequent pruning. And the list goes on.

Selecting native plants or nativars (cultivars of native plants) can also decrease maintenance requirements. Native plants have grown here for many years so they have adapted to our growing conditions. There are also many introduced plants that have adapted well to our environment. Making sure you buy only plants that have adapted successfully requires a little research.

Some of the negative factors you’ll experience from planting non-natives or introduced plants that haven’t adapted well is that they may become invasive. This will require them to be cut back constantly. Plants that haven’t adapted well are also preferred targets for many insects and diseases, increasing the need for pest control.

Starting on your design now will give you plenty of time to do your due diligence to be sure you are doing everything humanly possible to assure that the plants you choose will live a long, healthy life with minimal care.

If you aren’t into plant research, or are concerned about the accuracy of your data, you can turn to one of our landscape designers. They already have the answers to those questions that you’ll spend time researching. And, they spend their winters designing landscapes and landscape renovations for early spring installation.

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Be A Landscape Trend Setter In 2019

If you’re planning to renovate your landscape in 2019, a must read is the “Annual Garden Trends Report,” published by the Garden Media Group. This report is used by landscape designers and other green industry professionals to create the most modern landscapes for their clients. Here are a few ideas that you may want to incorporate into your design for a truly trendy landscape.

This year’s report leads off with the statement: “The Future of Gardening Looks Joyful.” And, that’s what landscaping and gardening is all about – giving us joy and making us feel good. And, one of the ways that’s being done is to bring Mother Nature back to her rightful place.

The 2019 report is as philosophical as it is specific. Interestingly, landscaping set sales records in 2018. In previous years, Millenials said they didn’t have time or interest in working in the garden, although they liked plants and nice landscaping, as long as someone else maintained it. Now, 29% of millenials consider themselves gardeners. Of course gardens can mean anything from a single houseplant to a complete landscape.

A great deal of interest in the environment was expressed. This included…

• Sustainable designs using native plants. This is the hottest trend, according to 83% of landscape architects.

• Zero Waste. Composting has been around for years but zero waste gives people a goal of directing their organic waste to the compost heap and recyclables to the recycle bin. Composting can reduce household waste by nearly 40%., according to the report

• Pollinators. People are concerned, and rightly so, by the reduced number of flying insects. The report says the UN warns that 40% of pollinators – especially bees and butterflies – risk global extinction. You can help turn this troublesome statistic around by including a pollinator garden in your landscape

• Invasives. People are concerned about the rapid spread of invasive plants and insects. Species like the emerald ash borer and spotted lanternfly have no natural predators here so they spread fast. Then there are invasive plants like the poisonous giant hogweed.

One finding that’s particularly disturbing is that indoors is the new outdoors. People are spending so much time indoors with their electronic devices that they are bringing their plants indoors, rather than putting their devices aside and going outdoors. The report says, “In the last few years, Millenials were responsible for 31% of houseplant sales, according to Garden Research. Com.” They are even referring to themselves as “plant parents.”

Technology has led to “robogardening “ – planning, planting, watering and even weeding remotely. And, this is just the beginning. You can already buy a robotic mower and landscape professionals are making greater use of drones.

I hope this information gives you food for thought as you think about the future of your landscape. Click this link if you would like to read to complete Garden Trends Report and click on the report at the top right.

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Holiday Greetings

The twinkling lights and sound of jingling bells signal the arrival of the holiday season. The most festive time of the year is here. A time of joy, smiles, sounds, and holiday smells.

On behalf of the 145 members of the Birchcrest family, I urge you to make the most of the season. Emblazon those sights, sounds and aromas in your mind so you can remember them long after the lights come down, the songs are put away for another year and the fragrant tree is recycled for mulch.

It is our fervent wish that 2019 be a wonderful year for you and your loved ones. For our part, we pledge to help make your corner of the world your very own slice of paradise.

Have a joyous holiday season…and a happy, prosperous new year.

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Last Minute Gifts For The Gardener On Your List

As the holidays get closer and the shopping days fade away, I have some ideas for the gardeners on your list.

• A book on gardening from one of the online or brick and mortar booksellers. Of course, buying online relieves you of having to go to one more store.

• A subscription to one of the gardening magazines. Just Google gardening magazines and you can order online.

• You can also go shopping at the recipient’s favorite garden center. Consider a piece of statuary or some other hardscape item. You could also buy a gardening tool or a garden clothing item. If the person raises houseplants, they would surely appreciate a nice houseplant in a decorative container. And, when all else fails, there’s always a gift card from the garden center.

• A Birchcrest Tree & Landscape gift certificate that can be redeemed for any of our services is always a favorite. Whether the recipient’s yard needs tree, shrub or lawn maintenance, mulch, a new tree or shrub or a whole new landscape, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you had a hand in making their dream a reality.

Besides the practicality of one of the suggested gifts to a gardener, this gesture also shows that you are aware of their passion and thoughtful enough to give a gift they can really use. It can also take some of the stress off you as you rush around to tie-up those last minute loose ends.

All of us here at Birchcrest wish you, your family and everyone on your gift list the happiest of holidays.

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Selecting Just The Right Christmas Tree

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are both behind us, and Christmas tree lots have popped up all around. Friends and neighbors often ask me which variety is best. That’s difficult to answer because they’re all good, hardy species. It all depends on your taste, which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I can share with you information on each species of tree sold in our area, as well as how to test a tree for freshness and how to keep it fresh once you get it home. Then it’s up to you and your family to choose what’s best for you.

The most common species in our area are:

• Firs: Douglas, Fraser, Balsam. (All have soft, flat needles with rounded tips).
• Spruces: White, Norway, Blue. (All have short, sharp needles that grow thickly on the branches.)
• Pines: White (Long, soft needles that grow five to a cluster), Scotch or Scots (Stiff, short needles that grow two to a cluster).

The best way to be sure you buy the freshest tree possible is to go to a local Christmas tree farm and either cut it yourself or accompany a staff member out to select the “perfect” tree and watch it being cut.

Even pre-cut trees at a local Christmas tree farm are usually fresher than those sold on street corners or vacant lots. Those vendors buy their trees from growers who may be miles away and cut their trees months ago.

Before finalizing the sale of any tree, do these three, easy field freshness tests:

• Bend a few needles. Fresh firs snap, pines don’t.
• Pull on a branch to be sure the needles are secure.
• Rap the trunk butt on the ground to see if the needles fall.

Even the freshest tree will be a sorry sight if it isn’t straight, so hold the butt flat on the ground and check the trunk to be sure it’s straight up and down. Otherwise, you’ll have to invest in a special tree stand that swivels to make the tree appear straight.

Even a freshly cut tree can dry out if you don’t care for it properly between the time you get it home and Christmas. As soon as you get your tree home, cut a half-inch off the bottom and place the tree in a bucket of water. Keep it in a cool, sheltered place until you’re ready to take it indoors. Then put it in the garage a few days before you’re planning to take it inside so it can acclimate to the warmer interior environment. Don’t be too hasty to take the tree indoors. The warmer temperature could shorten its life.

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Tips To Keep Winter Foraging Rodents At Bay

Some of the smallest animals do some of the most serious damage to landscapes in the winter. That’s because their food sources are low to the ground, and their traditional food may be covered with snow.
The animals I’m talking about are mice, voles and even rabbits. The tips here don’t apply to deer. They graze higher up on the plants.

It’s important to blow or rake leaves. Leaving them where they fall provides rodents with hiding places. If the leaves are piled against a tree trunk or shrub stem, rodents love to hide under them and chew away at the tree or shrub. If they are piled against the foundation of your house, mice can hide there while they find a way into your house, where it’s warm and they can find food scraps.

Leaves left on the ground can also hide harmful insects who are overwintering under them. But that’s a two-edge sword. Fallen leaves can also provide a hiding place for beneficial insects. Unfortunately, you can’t decide which insects take up residence under your leaves. A good compromise is to retain a few leaves for the insects but keep them away from the plants to discourage rodents.

Besides removing leaves from around plants there are several other steps you can take to discourage bolder rodents who don’t mind dining in the open. The easiest is to wrap tree trunks with hardware cloth. Hardware cloth is a durable, plastic screening material. A rodent would have to be very determined or very hungry to try to eat through this material. You can also buy plastic tree guards or make them from plastic drain pipes. Be sure you don’t install tree guards tightly around the trunk. They should also be buried into the soil a couple of inches. And remember to remove the hardware cloth or tree guards in the spring.

Protecting your valuable plants from winter foragers is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Repairing the damage these creatures can cause is just the opposite.

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Winter Prep For Perennials

Perennials are, arguably, the most popular landscape plants. One reason for their popularity is that they don’t have to be replanted every season like annuals do. Even if they are cut back to the ground, they’ll reappear in the spring. Another reason for perennials’ popularity is the number of varieties available in the nursery trade. There are both woody and herbaceous perennials and they are hybridized extensively. However, perennials are NOT known for is being low maintenance.

As we transition from fall into winter, there are still some perennial maintenance tasks that you should do before winter really sets in. Doing these jobs now, instead of waiting until spring, is good for the plants, as well as your time management.

Many herbaceous perennials should be cut back in the fall. Wait until the leaves turn color and then cut the plants back to within a couple of inches of the ground. If you leave shoot stubs sticking up above the ground, you’ll always know where the perennials are in your landscape, as long as that bed is snow-free. The old shoot stubs will also help protect fresh shoots from animal damage in the spring.

Leaving ornamental grass standing until spring will provide winter interest. It will also break up the drab of snow we are apt to experience. You can do the same thing with taller perennials like coneflowers or goldenrod. Besides adding interest in the bleak winter snow, spent flowers and seed heads above the snow provide hard-to-find food for birds.

The second fall maintenance task for perennials is splitting them. This applies to both herbaceous and woody plants. Many perennials tend to spread and, if left unchecked, can take over a planting bed and smother the other plants. The way to keep them in check is to divide them. This is done by digging up the whole plant. Cut the root in half and each half in half again. Return one section to the hole from which you just took the plant, backfill and water. Plant the other three sections in other beds in your yard, give them to friends or “heel” them in (temporary planting method) until spring and then donate them to one of the many charity plant sales.

Cutting back perennials and dividing them are relatively easy DIY tasks. However, if you don’t want to do it yourself, our landscape crews are available to do it for you. With snow threatening, the time to act is now.