You can protect your valuable ash trees. Sure, the emerald ash borer (EAB) is an insidious scourge among these beautiful shade trees, and some owners have given up and just written them off. However, you don’t have to!
Ash is a tree that has graced many a city and suburban street. Ash has been the wood of choice for baseball bats. They deserve a better fate than a chain saw when they suffer from an EAB attack. And those trees the EAB hasn’t found yet can continue giving you pleasure and increasing the value of your property if they receive preventive treatments.
If you have an ash tree, I urge you to take preventive action by having us apply a systemic treatment now. This is when the treatment is most effective, and it will last for two years. If you wait until after the emerald ash borer strikes, you’ll need an annual application to control the pest. Emerald ash borer control is not a do-it-yourself job. The most effective control material is restricted to state licensed pesticide applicators, and using anything else is a waste of money.
EAB larvae have been boring “galleries” inside the tree. The galleries disrupt the tree’s vascular system, causing the tree to decline until it dies. Soon the larvae will pupate and the little, metallic green adults will chew “D” shaped holes to the outside. The adults have only one purpose. That’s to mate and start the next generation on its road to destruction. After the female has made indentations in the bark of an ash tree and deposited an egg in each indentation, she will die. The male dies right after mating. As soon as the eggs hatch, the new larvae begin boring into the tree and take over where the last generation left off.
Control may be achieved on trees that have been attacked but only if the destruction is limited to a quarter to one third of the tree. One of our Plant Health Care professionals can inspect your ash tree(s) and make treatment recommendations. From a purely financial standpoint, preventive treatments can be made for a good, long time for the same amount that it costs to remove a dead ash tree and replace it.
Remember, too, if you enjoy wood fires in your firepit, buy your firewood only where you’ll burn it. Not only does it reduce the spread of this insidious pest; it’s the law.
Plants are vibrant living organisms that add beauty, color, food, medicine, oxygen and so much more to our lives. However, most depend on a thriving ecosystem below ground to help them live. That soil they’re anchored in is more than just dirt. Soil depends on many different species of living organisms, and may need human help to supply them.
The soil’s fertility determines how well it can support plant life. Many different organisms live in the soil, depending on a number of different factors. These organisms range from earthworms to microscopic bacteria, fungi, and even insects. Each has a role to play in the circle of life.
In its basic form, soil is composed of granules of weathered rock. It isn’t alive and can’t support life on its own. It’s the organisms that live in the soil pores and attach themselves to the plant roots or soil granules that support life. Earthworms, arguably the largest subterranean creature, are more than fish food. Their waste material, known as castings, are rich in nutrients plants need. In fact, worm castings have become so popular among gardeners that they launched an industry. There are businesses ranging in size from individuals to large corporations that grow worms in containers. They harvest, package and sell the castings to organic gardeners.
We’ve heard a great deal in recent years about mycorrhizae. Landscape and Plant Health Care professionals inject these microorganisms into the ground either mixed with liquid fertilizer or alone. Colonies of mycorrhizae affix themselves to plant roots to extend the roots’ reach as they search for water and nutrients. The mycorrhizae consume some of the water and nutrients they find to sustain themselves.
Mycorrhizae aren’t a single species. They’re a group of bacteria and fungi that form a symbiotic (cooperative) relationship to benefit themselves and the plants they attach themselves to. Mycorrhizae aren’t the only microorganisms, or microbes, that populate the soil. Soil literally teams with microbes.
We hear a lot about adding compost and other organic matter to soil. When we add organic matter, it’s the microbes that break it down so that its elements are available for plant roots to absorb.
Undeveloped land is self-sustaining. Plants shed leaves annually. Plants and animals die. Microbes immediately go to work breaking down those larger organisms. It’s called decomposition and its elements are returned to the soil as nature’s fertilizer, which we call organic matter. This rich soil remains near the top.
When land is developed, the rich layer is often scraped away. Occasionally, it’s stored and returned to its rightful place after construction is complete. More often, however, topsoil is trucked away and either sold or used for another of the builder’s developments. Sometimes, the bulldozers just move the soil around to form the site’s final contour. When finished, the topsoil may be several layers down from the top or just mixed in with the subsoil. Humans messed up the soil profile so humans have to fix it to sustain plant life. That when property owners call in landscape professionals.
If your plants are looking stressed and appear to be declining, conventional wisdom may indicate that they have a disease, insect infestation, animal damage or other above ground environmental issue. The actual cause may be below ground and require professional help.
There must be some unwritten law that says vegetable gardens have to be planted in straight rows in the far corner of the back yard. Why? Do we think edible plants are ugly? We shouldn’t. They flower just the same as those we plant to beautify our yard. Our ornamental plants require just as much care as our edibles. Maybe more.
Relegating the edible plants to the back corner only means more work for you. When the planting bed needs weeding, you must haul your tools out and back. And, on the return trip, you also need to bring the weeds back for disposal. If we have a dry summer, you’ll have to haul the hoses out to the garden and back. Having to do all that extra work may make you feel like an urban, or suburban, farmer but know that farmers constantly look for ways to work more efficiently.
Another argument against planting your edible landscape in the back corner is wildlife that are too shy to help themselves to your produce may not hesitate if the food source is far from the house. Boldness is also the reason why you should consider carefully before planting your edible garden in the front yard. Some people who have done this have reported that passers-by have harvested where they have not sown.
So, what am I suggesting? This year, try planting edibles among ornamentals in back yard planting beds close to the house. You can mix annual vegetable plants among perennials and/or among annuals.
Don’t just plant vegetables and ornamentals willy-nilly with no thought to how they’ll look when fully grown. Design your planting beds so the edibles and ornamentals are compatible and complement each other. For example, plant corn among sunflowers and carrots among marigold, rather than the reverse.
I like the photo, taken back in 2008, when the concept of mixing edibles and ornamentals in the same planting beds was just done by a few idealists. But look at the photo and think of how nice it would be to walk out your back door and inhale the fragrance of the ornamental plants as you pick fresh tomatoes for tonight’s salad. Doesn’t that sound better than having to walk a distance just to pick a couple tomatoes?
You can also plant berry bushes like raspberries among ornamental shrubs or use blueberry plants to define planting bed borders. In this way, the edibles become integral elements in the overall landscape design, rather than an eyesore outback.
Do we plant vegetables in straight rows because that’s the way farmers plant? Farmers use that layout for efficiency. They have to be able to easily maneuver their large equipment to maximize productivity. You don’t have to worry about productivity. Your concern is more with aesthetics.
Dormant oil spray is one of the most effective insect control materials, and best of all, its environmental impact is low. It’s just highly refined, very dilute petroleum jelly. If that sounds like a medication you put on burns and other injuries, that’s because it is. Dormant oil is one formulation in a class of insecticides known as horticultural oils.
The use of horticultural oils in our battle to keep insects from destroying our valuable trees and shrubs isn’t new. Arborists have been using it for decades, maybe even centuries. As more and more property owners are concerned with the environment when making plant health decisions, dormant oil has risen to the top.
Dormant oil spray is particularly effective against aphids, mites and scale. These insects hibernate for the winter in the deciduous trees or shrubs whose leaves provide them with food in season. Spraying the trees/shrubs with dormant oil in early spring, while they’re dormant, kills the insects while they’re still asleep. Dormant oil can also coat gypsy moth and spotted lanternfly egg masses to prevent the eggs from hatching.
I’m urging you to sign up for this treatment because we have a very small window of opportunity to apply dormant oil. It needs to be applied after the temperature rises above 40 degrees and before the plants leaf out. Dormant oil coats the insects, smothering them. But plants transpire water through their leaves. Consequently, applying this material to foliated plants can interfere with photosynthesis.
The dormant oil target insects that are very small, scarcely visible to the naked eye. Aphids are small (adults are no more than an inch long), soft body insects that suck nutrients from the leaves. Mites pierce leaves and suck out the chlorophyl. Mite damage is easier to see than the mites themselves. Mites are black specs the size of a grain of pepper. Sucking the chlorophyl out of leaves results in yellow spots that are clearly visible. The best way to check for mites is to hold a piece of white paper under a branch and shake it. The mites will fall onto the paper just like shaking pepper on food. Scale insects also pierce and suck the chlorophyl, leaving yellow spots.
A dormant oil application is part of our Plant Health Care (PHC) program. If you’re on a PHC program, you don’t have to do anything. We’ll apply it at the proper time. But we also offer it as a single application for those who aren’t on a PHC program. Time’s running short for you to arrange for an application. Act now if you want this environmentally sound protection for your valuable trees and shrubs.
As spring makes its return, your lawn should be greening up as your other plants begin to flower and leaf out. Assuring that your lawn greens-up and stays green may require more resources than the rest of your landscape combined.
Everyone…and everything…loves a lush green lawn. That includes weeds, insects, moles and even fungi. Keeping them at bay can be like working a second job. That job starts right after the snow exposes grass. That’s when you can check the lawn to see if it was wet enough to attract any winter fungal diseases. These will show up as discolored patches, with gray being the most common.
Just take an iron rake to these patches. Rake out the dead grass and throw it in the trash, not on the compost pile. Healthy grass will fill in small, bare spots. Larger spots should be reseeded.
Rough up the area with the rake. Spread fertilizer and seed, rake it in and water it. If the grass appears thin, and bare soil peeks up between the blades of grass, it would be a good idea to overseed the whole lawn. Thick grass discourages weeds.
Applying pre-emergent crabgrass killer should be your next task. Crabgrass is, possibly, the peskiest weed in your lawn, and the only one that can be treated effectively only with a pre-emergent product. Pre-emergent prevents latent seeds from germinating.
Soon your lawn will turn yellow as dandelions bloom. I recommend treating the lawn with a pre-emergent broadleaf weed killer at the same time you apply the crabgrass pre-emergent. The broadleaf pre-emergent will prevent latent dandelion seeds and other broadleaf weed seeds that overwintered in your lawn from germinating.
It's also going to need several fertilizer applications. The first can be applied at the same time as the pre-emergents to help the grass break dormancy and green up. The fertilizer package should tell you when subsequent applications should be made.
Don’t be surprised if a few dandelions and other broadleaf weeds pop up even if you applied pre-emergent. Their seeds may have been strong enough to germinate despite your treatment. Or, they may have blown in from neighboring yards. You can spot treat these, spraying broadleaf weed killer directly on each weed. Be sure you treat with BROADLEAF weed killer. This is a selective material that won’t harm your grass. Non-selective materials like Roundup will kill any plant it touches.
If you treated for grubs last fall, you probably don't need to treat again this spring. The best way to be sure is to cut several one square foot pieces of sod in different parts of the lawn. Pull the sod back and check for grubs. They’re white and crescent shaped. If there are six or fewer in each square foot, they won't do enough damage to warrant treatment. Seven or more calls for treatment. Be sure to check for grubs again in the fall. That’s when the next generation is just beginning to feed on your grass roots. Treating in the fall is better than treating in spring. The new hatch is smaller and weaker than those that overwintered beneath your lawn. As a result, the fall treatment is more effective.
Mowing is a weekly job from spring to fall, and the healthiest thing you can do for your lawn is to mow high. Set your mower deck height to 3.5 to four inches. Mowing high encourages deep, healthy roots and thick turf. Weeds like to grow where there’s open space, but your lush, thick turf won't leave them any room.
This may seem like a lot of work, and you'd be right. It's much easier to hire our lawn care professionals. They'll make the necessary treatments at the most effective time. You won't have to keep watching the calendar and the weather conditions and make everything fit into your schedule. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy your nice, green lawn, although you’ll be sitting on your mower at least once a week.
You don’t have to wait any later to begin enjoying your landscape. Watching nature wake up from its long winter nap can be a brand new experience for the whole family, and not one anyone will soon forget. Signs are all over your yard as your plants begin to break their winter dormancy. Often, however, you must look carefully to see them because they make their presence known with a whisper rather than a grand flourish.
Right now, you can check your trees and shrub for buds. They’ve been on the branches all winter. Leaf buds and flower buds were set before last year’s leaves fell. Keep watch and you’ll see nature unfold before your very eyes. In spring, buds swell before they open up to reveal their green or colored contents, and many spring flowering trees and shrubs will dazzle you with their colorful displays before the green leaves emerge and begin their task of making food. This year, watch them wake up by being up close, carefully examining their buds as they prepare to break open and bring forth their bounty of beauty.
Don’t confine your moments of awe to just looking up at tree buds or looking straight ahead at budding shrubs; look down at the ground, too. Be careful where you step, though. Perennials and spring bulbs are poking up, checking out whether it’s time for them to get up and begin their spring show of color. Be careful not to step on them. In a few weeks, or even days, bulbs like crocus will be the advance party to let us know that spring is right around the corner. They are probably more reliable than the groundhog, too.
Crocus can be anywhere. Besides the early risers in your spring bulb beds, these colorful little plants may also grow in your lawn. If you didn’t plant them there, try it in the fall so your lawn will come alive with color before greening up. Crocus is the only spring bulb that you can safely plant in the lawn. It’s the lowest growing, as well as the first bloomer. So, its leaves will not go through the lawnmower. In fact, the show will probably be over and the crocuses will be back to bed before you have to get out your lawnmower.
Soon after the crocuses take their final bow, daffodils will take the stage, followed by tulips and hyacinths. Meanwhile shrubs like forsythia will begin their show. Rhododendrons, lilacs and other spring flowering shrubs will take their turn in the spotlight. If this year’s show didn’t provide the spectacle you’d like, add more plants and different plants to your landscape. If you plan well, you can enjoy a visual show of nature’s beauty all year long.
If I’ve presented some good ideas that you’d like to incorporate into your landscape but you just don’t know how to start, may I suggest that you start by meeting with one of our creative landscape designers? They can take your wishes and incorporate them into a design that you can install. Or, our landscape professionals can do the work, and let you just enjoy the results.
We still have plenty of winter left and using sunny, relatively warm days to walk your property and inspect your trees can be very therapeutic for any cabin fever. It could also save your valuable trees from an untimely death.
Trees respond to environmental stimuli so the frequent weather changes we experience in our corner of the world may be causing problems for your trees. When you inspect them, check their entire height from ground to crown.
Just above ground level, make sure you don’t have mulch volcanoes (mulch piled against the trunk) or snow piled against the trunk. Snow is nothing but water and mulch holds water, releasing it over time. If there are any injuries, even small injuries, excess water provides the perfect media for diseases, including rot.
As if the danger of mulch volcanoes and snow piled against the trunk, putting your trees at risk from water born diseases, isn’t enough, they also provide rodents with the perfect place to hide while they girdle the trunk, a problem that can be fatal or very expensive to repair. The expensive surgical procedure, called bridge grafting, involves small twigs being grafted all the way around the tree’s circumference to bridge the girdle. Your tree has to be extremely valuable to justify this investment.
As your eyes move up a tree, look for signs of deer browsing on the lower twigs. They’ll look like a ragged cut, as with very dull pruning shears. The best way to discourage the deer is to have the lower branches removed, if the tree is tall enough. Since deer can stand on their hind legs and reach 12 feet, I recommend turning the job over to our professional arborists, rather than risking life and limb trying to reach that height from a ladder.
Further up the tree, look for broken or weak branches. Broken branches that are just hanging up there present an imminent hazard. You never know when a good gust of wind will snap the broken portion free from the main part of the branch and come crashing to the ground. The results can be disastrous if people or property are beneath it. This job, too, is best left to the professionals.
While scanning the tree, mushroom like protrusions on the trunk may signal the presence of rot fungi inside the tree. What you see on the outside isn’t what’s damaging the tree. They’re fruiting bodies whose job is to spread spores around to infect other trees. The microscopic fungi inside the tree are eating away at the wood. Using electronic equipment, our arborists can examine the tree to determine the extent of the rot. Rot isn’t necessarily a death sentence. There are ways to clean it out, or at least slow its spread.
Some other problems to be on the lookout for include frost cracks (vertical cracks in the bark) caused by temperature fluctuations, winter burn on evergreens caused by desiccation, and salt damage affecting trees planted too close to salt treated roadways, driveways and walkways. If any of these conditions exist, it’s best to have a professional evaluation, resulting in recommendations for remedying the situation.
Any plants in your landscape that appear to be protruding from the ground are probably suffering from frost heaving. Frost heaving usually affects perennials but can also uproot shrubs and small, recently planted or shallow rooted trees. It’s caused by the freezing and thawing cycles in winter. The higher the frequency of these cycles, the greater the risk of frost heaving.
Freeze cycles cause soil, especially poorly drained soil, to swell. The soil can only go in one direction – up. This action causes plant roots to lift up with enough force to literally heave them out of the soil. Roots can be torn so that they are not anchored in their hole but exposed to cold temperatures and drying winds. The extent of torn roots depends on their thickness and how firmly they were anchored. I’ve seen shallow rooted trees uprooted and leaning against houses.
Planting or dividing perennials too late in the fall or not mulching them sufficiently is the most common causes of frost heave. To repair frost heaved plants, try to stand them back upright, backfill soil around the roots, tamp it down and mulch. It may also need supplemental support, such as staking.
If the plant is completely out of the ground or leaning in such a way that it can’t be stood back upright, cover the exposed roots with plenty of soil and a three- or four-inch layer of mulch. Seasoned wood chips are the best mulch for this. Some recommend using straw, but I prefer wood chips. They weigh more than straw so they can hold the soil in place better than straw. Wood chip mulch also moderates soil temperature, reducing the chance of a reoccurrence. As they decompose, wood chips add organic matter to the soil. Improving the soil also can reduce the chances of frost heaving happening again.
The repairs recommended here are probably only temporary. Plants that you were able to stand upright may grow new roots and be fine. Watch them for a growing season, making sure they’re firmly in place next fall. Remove any staking as soon as they’re firm enough to stand on their own. Plants whose exposed roots you just covered when they heaved must be replanted in the spring. If one you stood up doesn’t look as though it’s returning to health, dig it up and replant it.
If this is a job you’d rather not tackle, our landscape professionals can assess the damage caused by the frost heaving and give a prognosis of each plant’s chance of surviving. We can then make temporary repairs to those that can be saved. In spring, we can come back and make permanent repairs to the survivors or replace those that didn’t survive.
If winter’s the best time to prune deciduous trees it should be the best time to prune deciduous shrubs as well. Right? That’s one of those questions that I have to answer, “It depends.” It depends on whether the shrub flowers in early spring or in late spring or summer.
Early flowering shrubs like forsythia or lilacs shouldn’t be pruned until after they flower. These plants flower on old wood, specifically, last year’s growth. The buds that will burst forth into colorful flowers this spring were set last fall. Pruning may remove all or some of the flowers, so you won’t get to enjoy the beautiful blooms this spring. Wait until after they’ve finished blooming to prune these shrubs.
Late flowering shrubs like hydrangeas or butterfly bushes bloom on new wood – on growth that’s new this spring. You can prune these plants now without affecting their floral display this season. Look closely at the branches before grabbing the pruning shears. Shrubs that bloom on new wood won’t have buds on the old branches. If you prune these shrubs later in the winter or in early spring be sure you just prune old wood. It’s easily identified, usually by its gray, weathered color. New growth will look fresh and have buds on it.
Some shrubs flower but their flowers aren’t showy. They’re planted primarily for their foliage. They’re best pruned before new growth appears and before they leaf out. These shrubs are ideal candidates for winter pruning. Like trees, deciduous shrubs bare their skeletons in winter, so you can see the structure.
Begin by removing any broken or cracked branches. Next remove any branches that are crossing or interfering with others. With all the errant branches out of the way, you can begin shaping the shrub. If you don’t remember what an overgrown shrub should look like, you’ll surely be able to find photos on the internet.
As you prune, keep in mind that woody shrubs are the same material as trees. The roots take up water and nutrients and distribute food the same way trees do. When removing branches, avoid leaving stubs. Ground level is the best place to make cuts. If that’s impossible, the next best place is at a junction of two branches or just above a leaf bud. If the shrub is big enough to have branch collars (swollen tissue where a branch is joined to a larger branch), leave the collar rather than making a flush cut. Don’t paint or treat cuts; let nature take its course.
Evergreens shouldn’t be pruned in winter, except to remove broken branches or in other emergency situations. Then any shrub should be pruned immediately. The best time to prune evergreens is right after they’re finished pushing new growth but before the new growth has set. New growth will be lighter green and softer to the touch than old growth.
Unlike tree pruning, shrubs pruning can be a do-it-yourself job. If you’d rather leave it to the professionals, though, our arborists would be happy to prune your shrubs.
The reason for the title: you have the same responsibility for your trees as you have for your pets. This means that you must keep them under your control at all times and you’re responsible for any damage they cause.
If you have pets, I’m sure you’re aware of the need to keep them on a leash when out in public and clean up after them. If your pet bites, or otherwise injures another person or causes property damage, you’re responsible.
Perhaps less well known are how tree owners are responsible for the “behavior” of their trees. One of the most frequently litigated matters involves trees infringing on neighboring property and the neighbor’s rights to take action.
According to lawyers Victor Merullo and Michael J. Valentine, authors of Arboriculture & The Law, property ownership extends to space above and below ground level. Therefore, if your tree’s branches extend over a neighbor’s yard, they have the right to remove the offending branches. They can cut the branches off at the lot line. The same holds true for roots that extend into neighboring property and cause damage.
A more practical, and neighborly, approach is for the adjoining property owner to discuss the problem with the owner of the offending tree. The whole tree probably needs pruning or root work and, hopefully, the owner will use the opportunity to do the right thing. Tree branches and roots may be putting the owner’s home in jeopardy, too. If things can’t be worked out and you need to take unilateral action against the neighbor’s tree, you can’t trespass onto the tree owner’s property and you can’t do anything that will put the tree in jeopardy.
Merullo and Valentine make it clear in the book that trees planted right on the lot line, or those that grow so they’re straddling the lot line, are owned jointly by both property owners. This means that you and your neighbor must agree before any work is done on border trees. Property owners whose trees grow across the lot line may have an unwelcome co-owner they have to consult on every tree-related issue. And, that neighbor, who has become the co-owner of trees they may not want, will be just as dissatisfied.
When planting trees near the border of your property, it’s best to plant them far enough into your yard that they’ll never grow across the lot line. If you’re the neighbor who becomes the unwitting co-owner of your neighbor’s tree(s), don’t prune or remove them without the other owner’s agreement or you may find yourself the defendant in a court case.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to tree ownership than digging a hole and planting it. That’s why we recommend annual tree inspections to be sure trees are sound and present little chance of failure or damage to your family and property and your neighbor’s. Ignorance is no excuse. Putting off inspections on the theory that what you don’t know won’t hurt you doesn’t work.
If you have questions about your trees or those impinging from a neighboring property, we have a Board Certified Master Arborist and nine Certified Arborists on staff who can answer your tree-related questions and can refer you to lawyers who have experience in tree-related cases if you need legal advice.
The weather may not be conducive to working out in your yard but there are some landscape maintenance jobs that can be done inside. It may be more comfortable to do the work in the house, down in the basement, or even in the garage.
For those planning to replace containerized plants or expand their container gardens this season, now would be a good time to wash and sanitize/disinfect containers. Start by washing them in hot water and dish detergent. Old soil or potting mix may be hard and crusty. If so, use a brush or scouring pad to take it off.
Containers should be sanitized to disinfect them, especially if the previous occupant died. You don’t know what insects or diseases killed the plants that were growing in the container. The traditional disinfection solution is a 10 percent bleach solution. Another option is a three percent hydrogen peroxide solution. Both products are considered radical by gardeners, especially organic gardeners. They opt for a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water. This is my choice, too. Have you ever seen vinegar’s efficiency as a weed killer? Try it.
If you’ve considered raised or elevated beds, this would be a good time to begin shopping for them. You may be asking, “What’s the difference between raised and elevated beds?” Raised beds sit directly on the ground and can be any height that’s comfortable for you to work standing up or sitting down. Some even have a cap board you can sit on to work. They can be made of wood, metal, stone or even plastic. Elevated beds are planting beds on legs. They’re like window boxes on stilts. As with raised beds, elevated beds should be at the right height for you to work standing or sitting. Some even come with heavy duty casters, or you can easily install them yourself.
Raised or elevated beds can be made from scratch, assembled from kits or bought fully assembled ready to install. They’re sold by home centers, large garden centers or from online garden suppliers. If you already use these beds, check to see what maintenance may be needed before the next gardening season. Elevated beds can be taken into your garage or shed for maintenance or repair. Raised beds may be more difficult to move and require that these tasks be done outside on nice pre-spring days.
Last but not least, any tools that you didn’t clean and check for repairs last fall should be taken care of now before you need them. Being prepared for spring makes the season of rebirth more enjoyable. It’s also less stressful to have everything ready to go when the weather breaks.
As winter progresses, the walls of the house seem to be closing in on you. It’s just an illusion because you miss being outdoors. My suggestion: make the best of any January thaw(s). Get outside and work on your landscape. Even if it appears to be puttering to you, your plants will appreciate your attention.
January thaws aren’t limited to January. It’s a term that applies to any time the temperature goes above freezing. The temperature will still be crisp but the sun will likely be out, making conditions very pleasant. It won’t be shorts and flip flop weather but you also won’t need a heavy parka.
The first thing to do is take a walk around the yard. Check all the plants for broken branches and stems. Take a pair of pruners with you to cut off any broken branches on shrubs. Don’t just cut them off at the break. If possible, make the cut at ground level or where the broken branch is attached to a larger branch, being careful to leave any collar (appears as swollen tissue at attachment point). The third alternative is to cut just above a leaf or bud. The main thing is to not leave any stubs.
If you see any broken branches up in trees, reach for you phone instead of your pruners. Removing branches from trees is too dangerous for the untrained. Many a property owner has found that out the hard way. Leave tree repairs to our arborists who have the training, equipment and experience to avoid falling or getting struck by a falling branch. And, if something goes wrong, they’re covered by insurance.
If conifer branches are still snow laden, resist the temptation to remove the snow. They can spring back and leave you with pine needle injuries. Nature equipped conifers with the resilience to spring back by themselves as the snow melts.
Pay special attention to plants near the road. Check them for damage from road salt spray. You may have to wrap them with burlap. Check any trees or shrubs wrapped in burlap to be sure they aren’t stressed, and be sure the tops are open so sunlight and water can reach them.
While you’re checking trees and shrubs, be on the lookout for critter damage. Deer damage will be anywhere from eye level to 12 feet. Look down at the base for bite marks by rabbits, mice and moles. Even this late in the season you may have to protect them by wrapping the trunks in hardware cloth or tree wrap.
Containerized plants overwintering in a cold frame would appreciate some fresh air and water. Just prop the cover open while you’re outside, after you’ve watered them. Containerized plants spending the winter on the deck or patio just need watering.
When you finish all the tasks suggested above, you’ll realize that you’ve expended a lot of energy while enjoying the January thaw, whether it comes in January, February or March. A takeaway might be that a gym membership is in order to prepare you for upcoming landscape season.
Your landscape may extend indoors and you don’t even realize it. Even people who don’t have an outdoor landscape probably have an indoor garden consisting of houseplants. We know that because houseplants have topped the list of plant material grown by nurseries for the past several years, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Winter, when you aren’t distracted by outside landscape chores, would be a good time to give your houseplants some tender loving care. In most households they tend to be overshadowed by the demands of our outside plants, especially our lawns. If you don’t have houseplants, this winter would be an opportune time to turn to indoor gardening. Join the trend and garden for 12 months a year.
Many people move their houseplants outdoors for the spring, summer and fall, and then bring them back indoors for the winter. Surely, you care for them when they’re outside. You water them when nature turns off the rain. You deadhead them to encourage new flower growth. They may need a bit of fertilizer and, possibly, some insect and disease control when they’re outside for their summer vacation. And those tasks must be worked in among your seasonal outdoor landscape care.
In winter, you may be seeking ways to keep your green thumb from fading. Some care your houseplants would appreciate in addition to watering, deadheading, fertilizing and controlling pests include…
• Cleaning the leaves. Dust tends to settle on plant leaves. Outdoors, wind and rain remove most of the dust. Inside, however, air movement is not fast enough to remove dust. The easiest way to keep your houseplants dust-free is to spritz the leaves and then wipe them gently with a soft cloth.
• Repot when necessary. Check the roots periodically to be sure they’re not pot bound. Gently remove the plant from the pot and examine the roots. If they’re growing around the plant instead of downward, you have two choices. If you want them to keep growing, repot them into a larger container. Choose a new pot that’s only a size or two bigger than the current container. Check it in a year to see if it needs to be repotted into a bigger container. Plants prefer repotting in increments to being planted into a much larger pot. And they won’t look like a person dressed in clothes that are too big. If you want a pot bound plant to continue living in the same container, root prune it. Shorten the long roots that are circling the plant so that they grow downward.
• Prune and remove dead leaves. Houseplants that grow too full for light to penetrate the interior or show stress even though their foliage is full may have to be thinned by pruning. Using scissors, cut out stems that won’t affect the plant’s shape. The pruning shears that you use to prune your shrubs may be too big to get into houseplants’ tight spaces. Some indoor gardeners simply use kitchen scissors. Bonsai pruning shears really work well. They have big handles, but the blades are small for tight work. You can also use your shears to remove unsightly dead leaves.
• Propagate your houseplants. If you’re looking for an interesting, garden-related activity this winter, try your hand at propagating more houseplants. It’s easy. Take a trip to your favorite garden center for a supply of small terra cotta pots, a bag of soilless potting mix and container of rooting hormone. Take a cutting, or cuttings, from the plant(s) you want to propagate. Cut a piece of stem with two or three sets of leaves. Dip the stem in potting hormone and plant in a pot of potting mix. Keep the new plants moist and keep them in the light and soon you’ll see new leaves appear as they take root and begin growing. If you don’t need or want any more plants for your indoor garden, give the new plants to a charity plant sale, confident in the knowledge that you propagated it.
Athletes train during the off season and conscientious students read when school is out to keep their skills sharp. The same thinking can extend to gardeners and folks who enjoy tending to their landscapes. Spending time helping your houseplants look their best this winter will keep your thumb green and ready for spring.
Landscape trends are being driven by societal trends. That’s abundantly apparent in the Garden Media Group’s Garden Trends Report for 2023. The report is intended to help garden centers and landscape professionals plan for what customers will be requesting. I present some of the highlights here to help your creative juices begin to flow.
The report starts out with the statement that the two driving forces of the moment are the individual and access – summed up as self-reliance. Personal empowerment includes things like growing our own food. It’s estimated that 8.5 million people turned to gardening during the pandemic and 75 percent intend to continue as pandemic restrictions ease.
As housing prices soar, cities are accommodating accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs are self-contained living units that can be attached or detached from single family homes. The report refers to this as the Backyard Revolution. As a result, containers continue to be a significant gardening trend, especially with 35–45-year-olds. Roses, bred to live in containers, are trending, as are miniature vegetables – even lettuce. And green walls are coming of age to provide privacy.
The report refers to Baby Boomers as “Super Agers” whose brains function as if they were 30 years younger, noting that they are making their landscapes accessible as mobility limitations and other health problems begin to challenge them. It mentions raising planting height (raised or elevated beds) for those who can no longer kneel and making landscapes accessible to those with wheelchairs and walkers.
The report goes on to indicate that aging boomers are purchasing midcentury modern products like retro metal lawn chairs, pagoda umbrellas and plants with a tropical flair.
A section indicates that ancient Greece is inspiring garden design with everything from columns, statuary, stone walls and archways to boxwood hedges and roses. It went on to say that Gen Z is embracing this.
Two pages are devoted to the proliferation of battery powered tools. Depending on where you live, a robot mower might be a good investment. The report also mentions a new companion to the robot mower – a robot weeder. Speaking of technology, the report even devotes a page to phone apps, including one that “allows you to shop, log plants, calculate planting and harvesting dates, and find recipes.”
The report also has a section on climate change. Needless to say, it indicates that the earth is getting warmer than the zones on the current hardiness map. Other trends are whimsical and eclectic gardens, filled with bold colors, texture and art. Finally, the color of the year is terra cotta.
Our tree crews and I get asked the title question quite often. The short answer is that it’s safe to spread them on the surface but not if you rake them into the soil.
Some years back, an arboriculture professor at Clemson University in South Carolina conducted an experiment to answer the question. He planted three groups of trees. Around the base of one group, he spread fresh wood chips. He mixed fresh wood chips into the backfill soil for another group. He didn’t apply any mulch to the third group, which was a “control” group.
The professor tested the soil periodically to see if there was any change in the amount of nitrogen in the soil from the pre-planting and mulching. He also monitored the trees’ health and vitality. He took on this project to determine the truth to the old theory that fresh wood chips draw nitrogen from the soil. After a year, he found no difference in the soil nitrogen between the surface mulched area and the control trees and only a slight decline in the amount of nitrogen where he had mixed the fresh chips into the soil. They were perfectly safe.
If you are concerned about using fresh chips in your own landscape, just mix in some fertilizer before spreading them. Better yet buy wood chips in bulk. We double grind and age them until they’re a dark black in color.
I don’t recommend colored mulch. Mulch sold for its color has dye in it and some dyes are harmful to plants. Our mulch is black, its natural color. As tan wood chips age, they take on a gray color which then darkens to black. Naturally black mulch will do the most good in your landscape.
Ground wood chips are better for the environment and your landscape than inorganic mulches like stones. Inorganic mulches are purely decorative. Organic mulches decompose and return organic matter to the soil. Also, it’s made from chipping and grinding debris from tree pruning operations. Mulching saves this material from already stressed landfills.
The professor’s conclusion was in an article that appeared in two trade magazines several years ago. This professor was one of three prominent research arborists the author spoke to when researching the article. All three of them said that fresh chips would not deplete soil nutrients, and that fertilizer could be mixed in if you doubted these conclusions. I know the author and the three research arborists and respect their opinion.
It'll cost less to buy ground wood chip mulch in bulk rather than by the bag. We’ll deliver it and dump it in the driveway for you to spread. Or our landscape professionals can spread it for you.
The title may appear to be an oxymoron. Why would plants need water in the winter? It’s cold and snowy most of the time. Most being the key word. Everything may be frozen much of the time but when we do have occasional thaws, your plants, especially trees and shrubs would appreciate a drink of water.
Evergreens in particular need water during the winter. Even if you’ve applied anti desiccant, they still need watering on warm winter days. The amount of water the plants reabsorb from transpiration may not meet their needs. They’ll really be able to use any supplemental water you apply.
Don’t forget deciduous plants. They may be dormant, but they aren’t dead. It won’t be practical to water large shade trees. But these trees have survived all these years without your help. However, young, tender trees and shrubs could use a drink. This is especially true for those just planted this last spring or fall.
Plants that overwinter anywhere except in the ground need even more attention. Containerized plants are particularly prone to desiccation. They don’t have as much soil around their roots as in-ground plants, and it’s the soil that holds the water. In addition to watering during thaws, applying anti desiccant and mulching your containerized plants that live outside during the winter will provide an extra layer of water retention protection.
Cold frames do a good job of protecting certain plants from winter winds, but they don’t let natural moisture in. When you put your plants into the cold frame, be sure that they’re well hydrated. The closed cold frame should then act as a terrarium. The water is circulated as the plant roots absorb it from the soil, use it in the process of photosynthesis and then transpire it through the leaves. The cold frame is a closed environment, so the water doesn’t escape into the outside atmosphere. Rather, it’s reabsorbed by the soil and recycled. However, this recycling isn’t 100 percent.
Watering the plants in a cold frame on warm winter days will replenish the water inside the cold frame to assure that the plants will continue to make sufficient food. It’s also recommended that you open the cold frame on warm winter days to give the plants some nice fresh air. I recommend checking the soil moisture when you open the cold frame and add water as necessary and then do the same when you close it up for the night. Be sure to close the cold frame each night to protect the plants from falling temperatures after dark.
Climate changeiscontributing to our more frequent freeze/thaw cycles. Here in our area, we could expect a January thaw and the rest of the winter was bleak and frozen. Today, many winters are becoming milder with just a few real cold spells and even fewer snowstorms. We humans can deal with these changes much easier than our plants can. So, it behooves us to protect our investment by staying vigilant and keeping our young and tender plants sufficiently hydrated to help them cope with their changing environment.
Winter is barely underway. Why am I already writing about spring landscaping? Because your landscape is constantly changing, evolving; it’s always a work-In-progress.
Plants grow, sometimes exceeding their allocated space and blocking your view of other plants. Plants may become infested with insects or a disease, and some may even die. As your landscape evolves, certain plants no longer appear to “fit” in the place that used to be just right. After a while, you may get bored looking at the same old scenery every day. The end result is some degree of renovation.
On cold, blustery, winter days when only a polar bear would venture out, why not use that time indoors to plan the renovations you’d like to start in spring? Then you’ll be able to hit the ground running when spring finally arrives. Waiting for spring to begin the planting process will only put you behind. Instead of enjoying the results of early season planting and construction, a later start will drag the process into summer.
Your goal should be to have new plant material or transplants well established before subjecting them to summer heat. This will result in less watering, saving you time and money. Instead, you can spend the summer enjoying your renovated landscape.
Hopefully, you took pictures and made notes or kept a journal to jog your memory of modifications that came to mind during the last growing season. This will become a good starting point to begin your planning. Nothing beats looking out the window at the blank canvas of your snow covered yard and comparing what you see with the photos showing the same scene in all its splendor.
As you consider changes to your landscape, also consider alternatives for completing the job. Are you able, or do you want to do it yourself? Have you decided exactly what your renovated landscape should look like? If your answer to one or both of those questions is no, this is the perfect time to begin working with one of our designers to help commit your ideas to paper so our landscape professionals can begin the installation process as soon as spring arrives.
If you decide to do it yourself, committing your ideas to paper now will give you plenty of time to shop for plant material, hardscape and associated material, and be ready to “dig in” as soon as the weather breaks. With today’s supply chain issues, it’s never too early. Such problems even extend to nursery stock.
When the snow begins falling in your driveway and on your sidewalks, your only thoughts are how to get rid of it. The last thing on your mind is the landscape under the snow. However, where you throw or pile up snow this winter can have a significant impact on the plants hunkering down under that snow, and also on your wallet.
You can make life so much easier for yourself next spring if you plan your snow management strategy now, while your landscape is in full view. You wouldn’t just throw seed or mulch or fertilizer willy-nilly around your land. It costs money so you make sure it reaches your target area. Snow management requires the same thought process. Your objective should be to pile or blow snow to areas of your yard where it won’t damage plants or hardscape.
Each snow removal method requires a different plan. Shoveling, of course, is the most strenuous. Blowing is time consuming. Under pavement heating is expensive. Plowing is costly.
Even if you blow or plow your driveway, you’ll need to shovel snow from steps, porches and other small areas. Many landscapes have foundation plantings close to steps and porches so you have to find a different trajectory to throw the snow to avoid piling it on top of your plants. Maybe the best idea is to shovel it off the steps and porch onto the sidewalk and then blow it out onto the lawn. Or you may be able to push it off the steps with the shovel and then just lift it off the sidewalk onto the lawn.
You should also shovel snow from around the base of trees to deter small rodents from burrowing under the snow and feasting on your trees. I’ve seen mice actually girdle trees, compromising the tree’s vascular system and killing it.
Blowing gives you the most control over where the snow ends up. As you blow, you can turn the chute to avoid plants. If necessary, you can blow the snow straight ahead until you’ve cleared the planted area and the turn the chute to blow that snow onto the lawn. Blowing also lets you scatter the snow so you’re not moving a large amount of it, which you’re concentrating as you push it.
A good plow operator can manipulate snow to some extent, pulling or pushing it clear of plants before pushing it off to the side. A downside of plowing is that the plow can cut off edges of the grass if the operator doesn’t aim correctly, and it can be difficult to aim a plow and truck and keep it on course, especially if your driveway bends or curves.
Even if they aim properly and don’t cut sod from the edges of the driveway, they may cut it during another common move. Plow operators have to pile snow somewhere, so they often push it into the front yard. The snow pile is usually peppered with small pieces of sod from the edge of the driveway. Worse yet, if you have a tree in the front yard, the plow operator may pile snow up against the trunk, which is my greatest fear. It has all the downsides of a mulch volcano plus it’s usually piled only on one side of the trunk exerting pressure on that side of the tree, which can cause lean or even failure.
Blowing allows you to cut nicely defined edges, and you’ll know immediately if you’re off the pavement. Rows formed by blown snow are not as high as piles left by plows and are much lighter and less dense.
With the pros and cons of each removal method, you can decide which method best meets your needs. If you have a plowing service, be sure the operator knows where you want snow piled and places to avoid. If you have a written contract, insert these instructions into the contract.
The holiday season is upon us. Hanukkah began last Sunday night (December 18) and Christmas is this Sunday (December 25). Whether from the twinkling LED lights on a tree or the traditional candles on a Menorah, these festive holidays shine brightly on the shortest days of the year.
It is the fervent wish of the 200 + members of the Birchcrest Tree & Landscape family that each member of your family be touched by the warm glow of the lights and the twinkle in the eyes of the youngest members of your family as they take part in your annual traditions.
May your holidays meet or exceed your expectations. May you be safe and, if you have a real Christmas tree, please return it to nature by recycling it.
Happy Holidays one and all!
You may have received a thick envelope from Birchcrest Tree & Landscape or may receive one soon. I urge you to open it and act now to save a significant amount of money. Sent to all our Plant Health Care and Lawn Care customers, it’s their 2023 contract renewal. And it contains a time-sensitive financial incentive. If your valuable landscape isn’t currently protected by this service, one of our consultants would be happy to inventory your property and make a proposal.
Some people have told us that this mailing looks so intimidating that they just set it aside. If this includes you, please accept our apologies, but every paper in the packet is mandated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
We must provide you with all kinds of technical information on every material we are apt to apply, and we need your signature on the contract that is also in the packet before we can provide any Plant Health Care or lawn care services.
Returning the contract with payment for the full year before the date on the contract can save you a significant amount of money. The saving is often more than that money will earn in a bank account.
Why do we offer this incentive? Because it results in savings for us, and we are sharing those savings with you. For example, knowing how many customers need each product allows us to more accurately determine how much to buy and get our orders in early. It also reduces accounting costs for you and for us. You don’t have to write and mail a check after each visit, and we don’t have to process it. Offering this discount is our way of saying Thank You.
You’ll still receive a form in a plastic bag hung on your front door each time we perform a service. The form will contain information on the services performed and the care you need to take to assure that any treatments will be effective. The payment section will include the cost for that visit but the balance due will be zero.
When you trust the health of your valuable lawn and landscape plants to us, you can be sure that the work will be done by one of the 12 New York State Certified Pesticide Applicators on our staff. To obtain this mandatory state license, a person must successfully complete a rigorous examination. To maintain their license, they are required to take continuing education throughout the year. The chances are good that the professional visiting your home will also be one of the nine people who have earned the voluntary Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional and/or one of the nine who have earned the voluntary Certified Arborist credential.
The benefits of being on a Plant Health Care and/or lawn care program far outweigh the hassle of having to deal with the renewal packet. First and foremost, we have diagnostic responsibility rather than saddling you with it. Our professionals can diagnose problems when they are in their early stages, so we can often treat with less aggressive materials and methods. Second, our service is automatic. You don’t have to call; we visit at the optimum time to take care of each problem.
At this time every year, many are faced with a big decision. Do we want a live or artificial Christmas tree? There are many factors in play when making that decision. Some involve family traditions, others social concerns and still others involve environmental issues. I’m not qual
ified to offer advice on keeping family traditions or social concerns, but I am qualified to advise you on environmental issues.
There are some Grinches out there who would like us to believe that we’re upsetting the balance of nature if we have a real Christmas tree. They want us to believe that cutting a real tree is a waste of natural resources. Christmas trees are grown by tree farmers as a crop to be harvested, just as wheat, corn and other crops are planted to be harvested.
Christmas tree farmers must wait longer than other farmers to harvest their crop. They don’t plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. All the while Christmas trees are growing, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it as they grow. They also return oxygen to the atmosphere – the oxygen we breathe.
Christmas tree farmers don’t just sit back and wait a decade or so for their trees to grow to a salable size. They must tend to their crops just as other farmers do. They need to control insects and diseases. They also have to prune them to maintain their desired shape. They may have to fertilize them as well. Then when it’s time to harvest the trees, they cut them, package them in nets and ship them to tree dealers.
If you opt for a fresh cut Christmas tree, cut about an inch off the base diagonally as soon as you get it home. Then place it in a bucket of water and leave it in the garage at least overnight. This will reduce the shock of going from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors.
When you set up the tree indoors, be sure that it’s kept watered throughout its stay. Keep candles and other open flames away from it. But most of all, enjoy it without feeling any guilt about the environmental impact. Remember, Christmas trees are renewable resources. Christmas tree growers are farmers who use sustainable techniques, usually planting three or more seedlings for each tree cut to assure that we have plenty of trees each Christmas.
Finally, recycle your tree after Christmas. Take it to one of the many recycling stations around the area to have it ground into mulch to either be used in municipal parks or returned to you for mulching your landscape.
For the ultimate in environmental consciousness, consider a live, potted tree. If you think this is a great idea, dig a hole for it now, before the ground is frozen and cover the backfill with a tarp to keep it from freezing. Cover the hole with a piece of plywood or other protection to keep people from falling in it. Keeping a live tree in the house for more than a week isn’t recommended. And, you should plant it as soon as you remove it from the house. It’s also a good idea to spray the tree with an anti-desiccant after planting.
Ever wonder what arborists do in the winter? Practical wisdom might lead you to answer that they go skiing, ice climbing or go to Florida. The truth is, though, that they stay here and continue working.
Arborists dress for the weather and take extra precautions on slippery surfaces. They’re used to it and trained to avoid hazards because they know winter is the ideal time to work on deciduous trees. The trees are dormant and that’s like nature’s anesthesia. Pruning, cabling & bracing and most other repairs are invasive procedures. Performing them now is far less traumatic than when sap is flowing, and the tree is foliated. Then the leaves are actively making food through photosynthesis.
Pruning cuts provide pests and pathogens with easy access to the interior of trees but many insects and disease organisms are dormant for the winter. Pruning now will give the wounds plenty of time to callous over before the insects and disease organisms become active again.
Defoliation allows our arborists to see the tree’s skeletal structure. With the leaves gone, our arborists can stand back and inspect the tree’s architecture and determine which branches need to be removed for health and aesthetic reasons. When in leaf, the leaves cover up problems and may present a different shape.
Frozen ground lets us better position equipment. A tree in the middle of your front or back yard may be difficult to reach with our bucket trucks. In spring, summer and fall, we’d have to physically climb such trees. In winter, though, when the ground’s frozen, we can often maneuver closer to the tree and prune it faster and safer.
Clean-up is also faster and easier in winter. This saves money because less debris falls by the wayside as we drag it across a snow-covered lawn. (Less friction)
It’s best to schedule your winter tree pruning now. As the winter progresses, we’re bound to have some days when the weather is just so bad that even we can’t work. Early scheduling better assures you of a time that’s most convenient for you and gives both of us plenty of options should we have to postpone.
As always, I urge you not to attempt to prune your own trees. It’s dangerous in the best weather and even worse in inclement weather. If the tree’s a flowering tree, you may unwittingly remove flower buds. Most spring flowering trees and shrubs bloom on old wood, which means this spring’s flower buds are already on the branches. To the untrained eye, they’re indistinguishable from the new leaf buds. However, our arborists are trained to identify both types of buds.
Trees with broken, hanging, crossed or rubbing branches should be professionally pruned at any time of the year. These are hazardous and should be removed before they can do any damage to people or property.
It’s that time of year again when families gather to give thanks for all that has been good this year. This gathering centers around food, the universal symbol of hospitality.
Our Birchcrest family will be gathered with their families, secure in the knowledge that we have done our best to serve every customer with the same consideration and professionalism that we would the people gathered around our dining room tables.
On behalf of our Birchcrest family, I thank you for the confidence you’ve placed in us, and pledge to continue serving you with the most knowledgeable, professional tree, landscape and tree services. Happy Thanksgiving from our Birchcrest family to all of your families.
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.
Your deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and the perennials are standing but brown. So, here’s the answer to the title question. Mulch is a regulator. It moderates the temperature of the soil beneath it and regulates the rate at which moisture seeps into the soil. Organic mulch like wood chips provide the bonus benefit of returning essential nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Inorganic mulches like stone chips are only decorative and don’t provide any environmental benefits.
While the above ground portions of your trees, shrubs and perennials may appear to be dead, they’re not. They’re dormant and the roots are still alive. I compare plant dormancy with animal hibernation. In each case, the organism is alive but functioning at a significantly slower pace. As a result, plant roots continue to benefit from the regulation that mulch supplies.
It could be argued that plants need winter mulch more than summer mulch. We recommend four inches of mulch in winter but only two, and under certain conditions three, inches during the growing season.
Mulch regulates the amount of water reaching your plant roots by absorbing some of the moisture from rain and melting snow and then releasing it into the soil over time. It moderates temperature by acting as insulation, protecting the roots from the freeze/thaw cycles that we experience every winter.
When spreading mulch, don’t pile it up the trunk in a mulch volcano. Mulch provides the perfect cover for small rodents like mice as they dine on tree and shrub bark. Also, mulch touching trunks releases its water on to the trunk, rather than into the soil. Any crack, cut or break in the bark can create a perfect environment for rot and other microbes.
I recommend double ground hardwood mulch because it’s made from recycled debris from tree trimming operations. Recycling this material contributes to plant health while reducing the stream of waste going to landfills.
If you spread four inches of mulch for the winter, don’t forget to remove an inch or two in the spring. Four inches is too thick for the growing season. Measure the mulch depth before removing any in spring. Some may have already decomposed.
You can buy bags of mulch at garden centers and home stores but that’s expensive, especially for large areas. We can deliver it in bulk much less expensively. We can either dump it in your driveway for you to spread or one of our professional landscape crews can spread it for you.