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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.

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Preparing Your Lawn For Winter

Yes, it’s only September and too early to think about winter. But the reality is that winter isn’t that far off and some of the winterizing tasks for your lawn need to be done at least a month before the first frost.

Your lawn may need more than just lowering your mower. It could need aerating, fertilizing and overseeding. Start with aerifying, which removes plugs of sod from the lawn. The purpose is to let compacted soil expand and fill the areas created by removing the plugs. The expanded soil then has more area, known as pores, for the water and air grass roots need to be healthy.

Aerifying machines can be rented from tool rental stores if you feel really ambitious. My prediction is that, if you do it once, you’ll leave it to our lawn care professionals the next time. So, save yourself the not-so-pleasant experience and let us do it. When you compare our cost with what you pay to rent the machine and transport it back and forth from the rental store, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

When aerifying, the plugs of sod are left on the top of the ground to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. But this usually doesn’t provide the full amount of nutrients the soil needs to support a lawn. Consequently, your lawn will need a fall fertilization. Wait until the aerification process is completed so that there will be more pore space for the fertilizer.

Lawns whose turf is thin or suffered damage during the dry summer should be overseeded. Otherwise, you’re opening the door for weeds to take over. Weeds are stronger plants than grass, so their seeds germinate anywhere the grass is thin or dead.

After you’ve aerified and fertilized and given the fertilizer sufficient time to sink into the soil, rake the area to be overseeded. You’ll probably be surprised at the amount of thatch and grass clippings you’ll rake up. If you have a compost pile, that would be a good place to put the organic debris that you rake up. It should be noted that thatch is dead grass plants that accumulate in the turf, not grass clipping, as many believe.

The next step is to spread the grass seed at the rate indicated on the package label. The seed can be spread by hand when overseeding small areas. However, a wheeled spreader is better for large areas or entire lawns. After you’ve spread the seed, lightly rake the area to be sure the seeds are in contact with the soil. That’s the only way they’ll germinate. Finally, water well to maximize the seed/soil contact. This should be completed a month to six weeks before the date of the typical first frost.

If you want a lush lawn without the work involved, our lawn care professionals can do the complete overseeding as well as the aerifying. Then all you’ll have to do is wait for spring to enjoy your renewed lawn.

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Best Mower Settings For Fall

The coming of fall doesn’t signal a change in deck height for your mower. Not yet anyway. There’s still plenty of mowing left until your lawn goes dormant.

Hopefully, you’ve been mowing with the deck height at three to four inches all summer. If so, keep it at that height until the last mowing. If you’ve been mowing any lower, raise the deck up until your last mowing. For the last mowing, lower the deck to two inches.

Mowing high encourages stronger, thicker grass. Higher grass is healthier, and the longer blades of grass are able to make more food through photosynthesis. More food in the roots results in stronger roots, and thicker roots discourage weeds. Another advantage to mowing high is that you may be able mow less often. It’s like your hair; people with long hair can go longer between cuts than those with short hair. Grass blades and hair follicles grow at different rates, and the longer ones are more noticeable when the rest is short.

Long grass holds more moisture, creating an ideal environment for the fungal diseases that lawns are susceptible to in our area. That’s the reason for the last mowing being short. To know when to lower the mower, watch the weather forecasts. When the first hard frost is predicted, that’s the time to lower the mower. The mowing after the frost is the time to mow short. If that frost doesn’t drive the grass into dormancy, keep mowing low until the grass goes dormant.

Save some time and energy by combining two tasks into one – mowing and leaf mulching. Unless you have mountains of leaves on the grass surface, you can use the mulching feature on the mower to chop leaves up finely and let them fall on to the lawn. There, they’ll decompose over the winter and fertilize the lawn. If more leaves fall, there’s no reason why you can’t run the mulching mower over the lawn again, unless it has been unusually rainy, in which case you’ll have to rake or blow.

Whatever you do, though, don’t let the leaves stay on the lawn. Like long grass, leaves will retain the water from melting snow and provide the perfect climate for fungal diseases to infect your valuable lawn.,

A little preventive maintenance in the fall can go a long way toward assuring a lush, green lawn in the spring.

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A Reminder: Fall Is For Planting

Fall Is For Planting has been a nursery industry slogan for decades, and it’s based on sound horticultural science. It’s all about giving plants a head start on getting established in their new home. For you, it means less maintenance work than planting in the spring requires.

Granted, fall doesn’t officially start until later in September, but Labor Day is its unofficial beginning. The beginnIng of September is also when the weather starts becoming more autumn-like. Nighttime temperatures moderate while daytime temperatures stay warm. Cool nights and warm days help plants get used to cold temperatures gradually. When winter arrives, they’ll be established and ready for dormancy.

The nursery industry recommends planting most deciduous trees and shrubs in fall. Deciduous plants are those that lose their leaves in winter. Fall is also the best time to plant or split  herbaceous perennials. And spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips need to be planted this fall if you want them to bloom next spring.

In spring, trees and shrubs planted in the fall will break dormancy and begin growing several weeks before spring planting can get underway. Because of their earlier start, last fall’s plants require less care during the summer than spring plants. That means less watering and, possibly, less fertilizing, saving you both time and money.

Evergreens are a different story. Wait until spring to plant these trees and shrubs. Evergreens retain their leaves or needles and don’t go completely dormant. Thus, the name – evergreen. If planted in fall, they can be subject to unsightly winter burn, unless you apply anti desiccant. Also, wait until spring to plant perennials that flower on new wood like butterfly bush and big leaf hydrangeas. Otherwise, you’ll have to prune the old wood away in the spring to allow new wood, and flowers, to grow.

Contrary to the belief of some cynics, Fall is for Planting isn’t just a way for garden centers to get rid of their leftover nursery stock. Most buy fresh stock for the fall. If plants look like they are leftovers, don’t buy them. If they look fresh, go ahead. Nurseries aren’t going to invest in stock that they’ll have to overwinter.

Homeowners who want to enjoy the results of fall planted trees and shrubs without the work, turn the whole job over to our landscape professionals. Then they can be sure they have winter hardy plants and that the right plants are planted in the right places. Then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy their new plants this fall, next spring and for years to come.