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Let Trees & Shrubs Grow On Their Own

It’s a fact: We can love our plants to death. I’m not talking about the common practice of overwatering house plants. I’m talking about practices involving outdoor plants – trees in particular.

Most trees, even when newly planted, don’t need to be staked, unless they’re in the path of strong winds. Even then, the stakes should be removed after the first year. Stakes are like unnecessary crutches. As they’re getting established, trees should be developing tissue that will protect them from the buffeting of wind. Instead, staked trees direct that energy elsewhere, resulting in weak trees.

Another questionable practice is wrapping all trees and shrubs on your property in burlap for the winter. The only reason wrapping is recommended is to protect them from the spray of road salt or if they are near the limit of their hardiness zone. Tender plants you planted last fall may also benefit from wrapping but most evergreens will do fine with just anti desiccant protection, and deciduous plants protect themselves by shedding their leaves.

With the pending arrival of spring, it would be a good idea to schedule an unveiling of any wrapped plants. Give them a chance to grow and thrive on their own.

You can help your landscape plants grow on their own by providing them with an optimal growing environment. They need good soil loaded with the essential elements and teeming with the beneficial microbes to help plants thrive. To do this, add organic matter like compost. Fertilize if your soil needs mineral replenishment.

After adding compost and fertilizer, top it off with organic mulch. Mulch will moderate soil temperature and moisture. It serves as a gate keeper for plant roots, keeping the soil at an even temperature so the roots don’t get too hot or cold. When it rains, mulch holds water, releasing it over time. If mulch isn’t there to run interference, rainwater can just run off without soaking into the ground where the plants can use it. In other situations the ground can absorb water so fast that it drowns the plants. Mulch can keep this from happening.

The best way to minimize the need for such extreme measures is to plant the right plant in the right place. Do your research before you buy plants or work with one of our professional landscape designers for real peace of mind.

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Prune Plants That Flower On New Wood

We always remind you to refrain from pruning trees and shrubs that flower in spring. Most of them flower on old wood, which means this spring’s buds were set last fall. You’ll probably remove those buds if you prune now. But what about trees and shrubs that bloom on new wood?

The ever popular hydrangeas top this list. Rose of Sharon and Buddleia (butterfly bush) are other examples. Although these can be pruned anytime in the fall after they bloom, they should be pruned by the time they begin putting out new growth in spring. Otherwise, the old dead canes will detract from the fresh, new growth, and the flowers won’t look as spectacular.

There are some varieties that bloom several times a year or even throughout the growing season. These endless summer varieties bloom on both old and new wood. Reblooming plants include Boomerang® lilac, Sonic Bloom™ weigela and Bloom-A-Thon® azalea*.

Don’t prune these in spring. Rather, prune them after each flush of flowers, cutting the stems to about half their length. This will encourage them to put on new growth, including flower buds. Give these plants a final pruning, cutting their stems in half in the fall, after their last blooms have faded.

Plants that bloom only on new wood should be cut back to four to six inches at this time if you didn’t do it last fall. This may seem like radical pruning but you want to keep them growing in the shape nature intended, rather than spread out with new canes and flowers mixed with long, dead canes.

If you want to enjoy the blooms of these prolific plants without having to do the maintenance that goes with them, our landscape professionals would be happy to identify your varieties and prune them at the proper time to assure you of maximum blooming. The first pruning should be made quite soon so it’s imperative to act now.

* Trademarks and Registered Trademarks of Proven Winners.

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Your Ornamental Grass Needs Its Spring Trim

As March dawns, winter begins to loosen its grip as spring pushes its way in. For many, the tan or gray of ornamental grasses poking their seedheads above the snow was the only thing breaking up the endless expanses of white in our landscapes. Those seedheads have done their job; now it’s time for the next generation to take their place.

It’s time to give your ornamental grasses their spring trim. This is one of the earliest landscape tasks of the season because the new year’s new growth will soon begin appearing in between last year’s stalks. Wait too long and you’ll remove new grass right along with the old. That means no seedheads giving your landscape that bit of color you’ve come to expect next winter.

The tool to use is whatever’s comfortable for you. I’ve heard of people using hedge clippers, loppers, chainsaws and even pruning shears. For most plantings, hedge clippers are, arguably, the easiest and safest, especially if they’re new, lightweight models with geared pivot points.

Ornamental grasses should be cut as close to the ground as possible without cutting new growth. If you cut them back very soon, you should be able to trim them back to within a couple inches of the ground. Later in the season, you may have to trim higher to avoid cutting the new growth. The best way to know how high to trim is to begin low from the outside. If you begin seeing green among the brown, raise the cut so it’s above the new growth. When the new growth reaches its mature height, you won’t be able to see where you changed height.

Getting rid of the clippings can be a problem if you don’t compost. Check with your trash hauler to see if you can put them out for pickup. If not, check with your town. Some pick up landscape waste during spring clean-up. If you’d rather not worry about trimming height, disposing of the debris or timing, we have landscape professionals who would be happy to handle the whole job for you.

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Beneficial Sprays That Need To Be Applied In Winter

Winter isn’t usually thought of as a time to spray your plants. As spring approaches, though, two come to mind – anti desiccant and dormant oil.

When we enjoy enough warm winter days, your evergreens may need an anti desiccant touch-up. When the temperature rises up into the 50s, the sun can melt anti desiccant. It’s a wax like material designed to melt off in the spring. When spring teases us with previews of what’s in store, the temperature rises sufficiently to melt the anti desiccant.

If you applied anti desiccant yourself last fall, just repeat the procedure now. You probably don’t have to apply it as heavily as you did the first application. We have crews out touching up those applications we made. So, if you want us to revisit your plants, just contact our office.

The second application is dormant oil. Although it’s a little early for applying this material, we’re beginning to take requests for this service. Like anti desiccant, there’s a small window of opportunity for dormant oil. So, we’re planning our routes so we can serve as many property owners as possible who want this service.

Dormant oil is a horticultural oil formulated to smother overwintering insects while the trees, shrubs and insects are dormant. The target insects wake up just before the plant leafs out. Target insects include such common pests as aphids, adelgids, mites, lacebugs and mealybugs.

This product is like diluted petroleum jelly that is used on burns and other human wounds. When sprayed on a plant, it covers the plant and the sleeping insects. Since the target insects breathe through their skin, or exoskeleton, the dormant oil coats them and they don’t wake up.

The window of opportunity for applying dormant oil begins when temperatures rise to 40-50ºF and stay there for 24 hour periods and ends just before the plant’s leaves break bud. Spraying dormant oil on leaves can have the same effect as it does on the insects. It clogs the leave’s stoma (pores) and interrupts transpiration.

Like anti desiccant, dormant oil is sold in spray bottles at garden centers. Also like anti desiccant, these are fine for a couple of perennials, small shrubs or dwarf conifers but you can get very tired using this application method on all the plants in your landscape. Also, you can’t reach to tops of tall trees. This is when professional application is preferred. Besides being kinder to your body, it’s also more economical than buying all those bottles at retail.

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Winter Weeding

The term winter weeding might appear, at first blush, to be an oxymoron. Why would one have to weed in the winter? Because weeds are adventitious plants. They take advantage of any opportunity.

Weeds, particularly dandelions, begin growing long before grass or desirable flowers. Before dying off last fall, weeds dropped seeds, which lay dormant all winter. When the temperatures begin to rise and the days start getting longer, these factors will trigger weed seeds to germinate.

Weeds will take advantage of the grass and other plants’ extended dormant period to hog the light and water. Their roots will binge out on available nutrients, enabling them to spread. They’ll spread across the ground, overshadowing the still dormant plants until they take over the lawn or planting bed.

The most basic, and thorough, way to rid your landscape of weeds is to pull them out by the roots. It’s also the most labor intensive. Take a garden stool or five-gallon bucket to sit on and a weed digger or trowel out to confront the weeds. Plunge the weed digger or trowel into the root zone as deeply as you can. Your goal is to get the tool beneath the root and pull the entire root system out. Dandelion roots grow deep, so dig at an angle. This will enable you to cut the root as necessary.

Applying a weed killer is less labor intensive than pulling weeds. However, you have to deal with getting rid of the dead weeds by pulling them. If you decide on weed killer, pick a broadleaf weed killer formulated with both a preemergent and post emergent compounds. There will be more weeds from last fall lurking in the soil just waiting to take the place of those you’re getting rid of. The preemergent will reduce to number of seeds that germinate.

Be careful and seek the assistance of a knowledgeable person at the garden center when buying weed killer. Know where you’re going to apply it. Some products can be applied to the lawn and kill only broadleaf weeds without harming the grass. Others will kill anything green. You have to be careful to choose the right product when you declare war on weeds in your flower beds and around trees and shrubs. You’re apt to have expensive collateral damage.

The safest, most thorough weeding method for flower beds or around trees and shrubs is hand pulling. You may see some people using their string trimmer on those weeds but this is only a temporary fix that you’ll have to repeat next week.

One way to reduce the number of weeds in your flower beds is to install the plants really close to each other and then mulch well. This will discourage the weeds by giving them less space to grow and requires them to grow through several inches of mulch. Remember, weeds are adventitious plants. They want to grow where it’s easy.

You don’t have to worry about weeds when you’re on a lawn program with us. We apply the proper material at just the right time.

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Get Ahead Of The Crowd With Your Tool Maintenance

If you’re looking for something to do on these wintery weekends, may I suggest getting your tools ready for the landscape and gardening season. This segment of the economy has not been spared from the supply chain issues that have been plaguing us. A good way to start is to make a list of each tool and what needs to be done before you can put it into service this spring. Then you can start at the top and chip away until everything’s ready to go.

Shortages may be particularly acute in the power tool segment. Many are manufactured in Europe or Asia. Even those manufactured in America source parts from around the world, just like the automobile industry. Don’t think you can avoid these problems just because you’re not planning to buy new equipment. If you planned to have your current tools serviced, you may encounter delays.

Outdoor power equipment, whether handheld or large equipment like lawn mowers and garden tractors, should undergo preventive maintenance annually. Annual maintenance for wheeled power tools like lawn mowers includes…

• Changing the oil.

• Lubricating if the manufacturer requires it.

• Checking the ignition system for worn or dirty spark plugs and changing them if needed, and setting the timing on multiple cylinder engines.

• Checking the fuel system, checking and cleaning the carburetor or fuel injectors, replacing worn hoses and dirty air filter and fuel filter if one is present.

• Checking the muffler and exhaust system.

• Checking the suspension for worn joints and bushings.

• Checking belts.

• Checking hydraulics if present.

• Sharpening mower blades.

Handheld power equipment maintenance is less involved and you may be able to do it yourself. You should…

• Clean everything.

• Change the oil in four cycle engines.

• Be sure oil and gas is mixed properly for two cycle engines.

• Charge batteries for electric tools. Charge or replace as necessary.

• Change spark plugs.

• Check and clean the carburetor or fuel injectors.

• Check the muffler and exhaust system.

• Check the air filter and replace if dirty.

• Sharpen blades.

Even if you do your own service, you may have to shop around for a store that has the parts you need. Who knows where the parts are made? Even the transport of domestic parts is subject to truck driver availability.

While navigating the power tool challenges, don’t forget your hand tools. Sharpen blades. Oil pivot points. Tools like shovels, hoes and rakes just need a cleaning to remove last year’s dirt. You might also make sure the handles are solidly attached.

Doing these tasks now can save you a great deal of stress in the spring when your lawn needs mowing, your flowers beckon and your garden needs tending.

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Include A Cutting Garden In Your Landscape Plans

In winter, you have to depend on your local florist for the cut flowers to add fragrance, color and beauty to your home. Those flowers were flown in from someplace warm and then transported by truck from a wholesaler to your retail florist. That’s hardly sustainable for the environment.

When planning your landscape improvement projects for the coming growing season, why not include a three-season cutting garden? Then you’ll only have to go to your backyard for your flowers. It’ll save you time and money but, better yet, it’ll benefit the environment, rather than use valuable resources.

A cutting garden may look like one of your annual, perennial or bulb bed but there are subtle differences. Your flower gardens should be for beauty to be enjoyed in place. The plant heights should also be nearly the same or tiered so the highest plants are in the back and grow progressively shorter so they make an attractive array.

A cutting garden is a production garden. You are producing as many flowers as you want for decorating your home. That may include only enough for a centerpiece on the table each night for dinner or you may want to include bouquets throughout the house. High production and low maintenance should be your goal. One way to do that is to plant close together to discourage weeds.

Cutting garden designs are as varied as any garden design. You may want it to blend in with your other beds or you may want a more utilitarian design. Regardless of your design, it will look nicer if you plant separate beds for flowers that bloom in spring, summer and fall. This way you’ll be harvesting from one bed per season. It’s best to select plants that produce long stem flowers that all grow to approximately the same height. That makes arranging bouquets much easier. You can always cut off some stem, if necessary, but you can’t add to it.

Utilitarian beds can be laid out similarly to an edible garden. A nice, neat design defines each bed with a border of railroad ties, dimensional lumber like 6x6s, bricks or pavers with stone or paver paths between them. Raised beds can make maintenance and harvesting even easier. When designing your beds, whether raised or at ground level, make them only as wide as you can reach from the paths. You don’t want to disturb plants that haven’t bloomed when trying to harvest those blooming in the bed’s interior.

A wide range of options for selecting plants are available. If you are confident of your plant savvy, select the individual plants yourself from your garden center. If you have doubts, garden centers and online garden supply sites sell seed mixtures, so you just have to plant the seeds and wait for a nice selection of flowers to grow. If you’d rather confine your efforts to cutting the flowers, our landscape design and installation professionals would be happy to select the plants that best suit your taste, construct the garden and plant the seeds.

As for winter, the only alternative to buying flowers from your florist is a greenhouse, and we’d be happy to work with you to design and build one of them.

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A New Idea For Spring – An Ornaveggie Garden

Wondering what an ornaveggie garden is? It’s a single garden with both ornamentals and vegetables planted in it. Who said you have to plant only ornamental plants in beautifully designed and tended flower beds that are closest to the house? And that your vegetable garden had to be relegated to a plain rectangular plot in the far corner of the backyard? Nobody!

You can design your landscape any way you want but so many landscapes are merely an extension of their neighbors’ landscape. If you want to be adventurous this spring, integrate your edible plants in with your ornamentals. You may want to do a little research or work with one of our landscape designers this winter. It’s important to integrate plants in such a way as to keep compatible plant together. For example, combining corn and pansies in the same bed probably wouldn’t be too attractive but corn among sunflowers or tall ornamental grass would be fine.

Ornamental plants aren’t the only plants that flower. Vegetables do, too. Most may not be as showy as the ornamentals but they flower just the same. The big difference is that the seeds that result from vegetables are tasty for humans rather than only to wildlife.

Besides being a head turner, you won’t have to walk so far to harvest. You need a tomato or pepper for tonight’s dinner? Just step outside the front door and pick the bright red tomato or shiny green pepper. How about integrating fragrant herbs in a container with flowers that either live on your deck, patio or back stoop.

When laying out your ornaveggie garden, decide on whether you want to start your garden from seed or buy plants in six packs at your local garden center. If you wan to start your vegetables from seed and buy your flowers in six packs or containers, I suggest you invest in a seed starter kit and start your seeds indoors during the late winter or early spring. Your goal is for both ornamentals and vegetables to grow together. To do that, they have be approximately the same size when you plant them outdoors.

Raised beds are becoming increasingly popular. They make ideal environments for your ornaveggie garden. However, you might want to concentrate the flowers in the center of the raised bed and the vegetable plants toward the edges. Conventional wisdom would dictate that you do just the opposite – bury the veggies in the center and surround them with attractive flowers. If you do that, you’ll have to reach into the center to harvest your crops, and you can damage the flower plants or miss some veggies. If you plant the veggies on the outside, harvesting will be easier and more complete. Visually, it’ll look like colorful flowers sitting on a bed of green foliage. And, the color of the year for 2022 is green! The only downside might come when you have to deadhead the flowers but a pair of loppers will ease the job.

When buying, building or having your raised beds built, make them look like pieces of outdoor furniture, rather than just a plywood box. Make them so they blend in with the landscape. If you make them almost waist high with a wide, flat top, you can work either standing up or sitting on the top piece. Finish them with either paint or a clear coat of preservative.

A garden is for tending not for toiling. The ideas presented here will let you do that while enjoying a garden that’s unique to you rather than just an extension of your neighbor’s landscape.


Add “Rooms” To Your Backyard

We Americans do most of our outdoor living in our backyards. Yet most backyards aren’t divided into specialized activity areas like the indoor space is. Until now, that is. People are now starting to dedicate sections of their backyards to specific activities.

Entertaining has been the one activity with dedicated space. We usually find the grill, table and chairs on the patio or deck. Some are very basic while others are an extension of indoor entertaining space, complete with television.

Another area can be dedicated to children’s activities. It’s best to design this area to be flexible. Kids’ interests change as they grow, so making modifications easy will save both time and money when the time comes for the kids’ area to be updated.

You’ll want playground equipment for young children. A playground set, a sandbox and a safe space for them to drive electric vehicles. As they grow into their tween, teen and young adult years, they’ll probably prefer sports equipment. A basketball hoop, a soccer goal, a baseball or softball pitch back or, possibly, a lacrosse net.

You’ll need different surfaces for the various activities. The safest surface for the playground set is rubber mulch or specially designed rubber mats. Rubber mats could also be installed under a sandbox. Grass will be best for some athletic areas, such as soccer, baseball, softball or lacrosse but a basketball court requires a hard surface. To keep this area flexible, consider artificial turf where grass is recommended.

Many families opt for a pool that will become the family recreational area. If that’s likely to happen soon, take that area into account when designing your backyard rooms. Then you won’t have to “steal” a little bit from the existing areas in order to retrofit the space with a pool.

A Secret Garden would be a nice rest area for the adults. This could be a small area where you could get away from the hustle and bustle of family life to read, think or meditate. It could be completely enclosed by high shrubs, except for the entrance. Inside, a comfortable chair, a small table and a container of seasonal annuals would make a fitting décor.

Your Secret Garden may be a good place to meditate. But if you prefer to walk as you meditate, consider a labyrinth, if you have the space. The space set aside for a future swimming pool could be made into a temporary labyrinth until it’s time for the pool to occupy that space.

I realize that these are a lot of ideas to consider all at once, but they’re presented so you can pick and choose those that’ll be best for your family, and so you won’t be surprised when the backyard needs to be modified to accommodate the needs of your growing family.

Winter is a good time to begin thinking about how to divide your backyard so it will serve the needs for your family now and well into the future. For help from the initial formulation of your plans to committing your desires to paper and right trough installation, our landscape professionals are here to serve you.

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Consider Curb Appeal First

Most families live in their back yards so that’s where they concentrate their landscape efforts. Consequently, the front yard often consists of a rather boring mix of lawn and foundation plantings. That could be changing, according to the 2022 Garden Trends Report by the Green Media Group.

The report notes that there’s renewed interest in curb appeal. Homeowners are making the approaches and entrances more welcoming to visitors. Perhaps the months of few visitors during the pandemic has made people so eager to share their space with friends and family that they’re showing their appreciation as soon as someone pulls into their driveway.

Some sources are suggesting paving driveways with material other than blacktop – specifically concrete or pavers. The same sources suggest planting the borders with perennials. In our upstate New York climate, though, they would have to be very hardy perennials to withstand snow being piled on them. It would also be a good idea to install curbing between the pavement and plant border to keep your shovel, snowblower or plow from damaging the plants.

If you don’t have any trees in the front yard, consider a shade tree. Select a deciduous tree rather than a conifer. The crowns of deciduous trees are above the line of sight from the street. The foliage on most conifers extends all the way to the ground, obscuring your ability to see the street. Under overhead wires, the only tree to plant is an ornamental that grows no more than 20 feet tall.

Obscuring line of sight presents two concerns. The first is security. Blocking the view gives potential burglars cover to do their illegal activities, and it could be disastrous for your family. The other concern is that you would be blocking the view of your house and yard, reducing the curb appeal that you’re striving for.

Front porches also are trends. People are going back to the tradition of sitting on the front porch. Those with porches are rejuvenating them and many without our building them. Be sure plant material is part of your plan. Place containerized plants on the porch, attach hanging baskets of annuals from the porch and/or install window boxes to the porch rail.

The same plants as suggested for a porch can be part of the curb appeal even if you don’t have, or want, a porch. Two large containers, one on either side of the front door, would be your first opportunity to welcome guests. Baskets can be hung from the eaves and window boxes can be installed under the front windows. Remember, though, that you’ll have to water these plants more often than those in-ground.

How about giving your front door, shutters and any woodwork a fresh coat of paint to complete your front yard makeover? Some people are even installing curtains on their front porches for privacy and shade.

If your home’s curb appeal needs some attention and you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, we have landscape designers who can help you with the planning and landscape installation professionals who can help you with the planting and hardscape construction.