The sound of June bugs colliding with your windows has probably faded now but they’re on the verge of causing real trouble in your yard. These big beetles were no match for the windows that got in their way, but their kids could destroy your lawn.
Those pesky beetles we call June bugs are adult Japanese beetles and European chafers, and they were just looking for love. In their adult form, their only job was to reproduce. With that accomplished, the females lay their eggs in the turf of nearby lawns.
Upon hatching, the little grubs immediately burrow into the ground and begin dining on turfgrass roots. They continue their feast until the ground begins to cool in preparation for winter. As the soil cools, the grubs burrow deeper into the ground, where they’ll overwinter.
When the ground begins to warm next spring, the grubs will again make their way up to the lawn’s root zone and continue the feast they began last fall. They’ll continue eating and growing until it’s time for them to pupate and morph into a new generation of June bugs.
The best time to check your lawn for grubs is now through the end of September. This is when they’re smaller and weaker and will require less aggressive treatment to control them. Waiting until spring may require a more aggressive approach to knock out the larger, stronger grubs.
To check for grubs, cut several 12-inch squares of sod in different parts of your yard and fold them back. Grubs are white, crescent-shaped, soft bodied creatures. If there are six or less in each hole, they don’t pose a threat to your lawn. Seven or more warrant an application of grub control.
Garden stores and home centers sell grub control material for the do-it-yourselfer. One brand is even manufactured locally. Or you can leave grub control to our lawn care professionals, even if you aren’t on a lawn care program. One final caution: don’t assume you have no grubs just because you didn’t see any June bugs. They fly significant distances before depositing their eggs.
On hot summer days, you may not feel like eating, especially not a heavy meal. But you should still drink plenty of water. You won’t starve but you will dehydrate rather rapidly, and dehydration can cause any number of health problems.
This same scenario can be applied, loosely, to your trees and shrubs. That stressed look is not from hunger but from thirst. So, pull out the soaker hoses and let the fertilizer stay put.
Even when the rains have stopped, your young trees and shrubs still need at least an inch of water a week. And it’s best to apply it all at one time.
Although I used the plant feeding analogy above, don’t fall victim to the common misconception that fertilizer feeds plants. Fertilizer replenishes depleted soil nutrients, and these essential nutrients are part of the photosynthetic reaction by which plants make their own food.
However, water is the medium by which plant roots absorb nutrients, and the tree’s xylem transports them to the leaves where photosynthesis takes place. Water is also the medium by which the phloem distributes the food (photosynthate) throughout the tree.
In summer, water is often scarce, so plants slow down their nutrient–laced water absorption until fall. In fact, woody plants’ roots absorb the most water in spring and fall. Consequently, these are the seasons of greatest root growth.
The food they make in the fall is stored in the roots to sustain them through the winter and to break dormancy, and flower and leaf out next spring. In spring, the plants need extra energy for new growth. But applying fertilizer in the summer may encourage tender late growth that may not have enough time to harden off for the winter. That’s why I advise you to resist the urge to fertilize now just because the plants appear stressed.
If you want to give your summer-stressed woody plants a treat, make it water instead of fertilizer. They’ll appreciate it more, as will the environment and your wallet since you won’t have to buy fertilizer. When deciding which plants to water, start with any young trees and shrubs. They need it most. Some of your other shrubs may appreciate water, too. Large, mature trees have found water so you can skip them unless they look extremely stressed.
It would be a good idea to fertilize trees and shrubs in the fall. Late fall, toward the end of October, is the best time. The plants won’t have time to push out any tender, young growth, which is what you want. Instead, the photosynthate will be stored in the roots to fortify, make them grow, andsustain the plant through the winter with plenty left over for their critical spring reawakening.
If you’d rather not have to worry about formulation and timing, you can leave fertilizing to our professionals. Our Plant health Care professionals will apply just the right formulation when it will be most beneficial to your trees and shrubs.
Like all plants, the turfgrass that comprises your lawn needs to breathe. However, soil can compact during any summer, but especially when it’s hot and dry. When this happens, the space between soil particles, called pores, shrinks. The result is less room for the oxygen and water plant roots need.
Grass plants are very demanding, and their roots don’t like to push through compacted soil in search for these necessities. Weeds, on the other hand, are tough. They just barrel through, taking up what little oxygen and water that’s available.
You can help your grass get its fair share of oxygen and water by aerating. Aerating’s a procedure that makes holes in the turf so the soil particles can spread out, creating more pores. An aerated lawn looks like someone walked over it in golf shoes. In fact, some people have mowed their lawns in golf shoe under the mistaken assumption that they’re completing two tasks in one. However, the spikes on golf shoes aren’t long enough or thick enough to really aerate.
Aerating is done with a special machine that looks something like a big, power lawnmower at first glance. It won’t take long for you to realize that it’s more than a mower. An aerator has hollow tines that punch good size holes in the turf and deposits “plugs” of soil on the ground. The plugs should be left there to decompose and return organic matter to the soil. Although the lawn is unsightly at first, the plugs decompose quickly.
Lawn aeration can be a do-it-yourself project. You can rent machines at equipment rental stores, but you need to transport them to and from the store, and they’re heavy. Aerators weigh considerably more than a lawn mower and can be difficult for you to maneuver before you get the hang of it. Most DIYers I know do it only once. When you add up all the costs plus your time, I think you’ll find that you’re not saving much, if anything, over having it done by our lawn care professionals.
Some believe that aerating and dethatching must be done at the same time. Usually that’s not the case. Contrary to what you may have been told, thatch isn’t grass clippings. It’s dead grass plants. While aerating is needed often in clay soil like we have, dethatching is only needed when there’s a build-up of dead grass plants. This occurs seldom to never in most lawns.
Dethatching is also done with a specialized mower-like machine. Whole lawns only have to be dethatched when there’s dead grass among green plants. If patches fail to green up after summer dormancy, you can easily rake that dead grass out with an iron rake. After you rake out the dead grass, small patches should fill in from adjacent healthy grass. Larger patches will require reseeding.
Our lawn care professionals can advise you on whether your lawn needs aerating, dethatching, neither or both. Even though we’re into summer, you can start a professional lawn care program now that will keep your green carpet healthy through fall and prepare it to survive winter.
July and August are called the dog days of summer for a reason. Many people like to lie down and sleep on a hot afternoon, just like their dog does. If you and your dog just want to be left alone, what makes you think your landscape plants want to be pampered on hot days?
I recommend that you get everything done now and then just sit back and take in the beauty of your landscape in the height of its summer glory. I’ve written recently about the need to water and to not fertilize at this time. So, what’s there to do?
One task you can do all summer is deadhead your flowers. Deadheading is removing spent flowers before they go to seed. This enables the plant to redirect its energy to producing another flush of flowers, rather than dropping seeds. Also, make sure all your plants are well mulched. Mulch moderates soil temperatures, cooling it in summer and warming it in winter.
Deadheading and mulching can actually extend the life of your flowering annuals, saving you time and money. You may be able to keep these plants productive by flowering all the way to fall if you water them when they need it, as well as deadheading and mulching. Why not make it a goal to try extending your spring/summer annuals until your garden store has mums and other fall annuals?
If you maintained the mulch in your planting beds all season, you probably won’t have to add any now. Just fluff up what you have. Of the three annual maintenance tasks recommended above, mulching is the most strenuous. If you can avoid it, you’ll feel better. And on oppressively hot days, don’t do any strenuous work. Stay inside and enjoy your beautiful landscape from the air-conditioned comfort of your house.
Deadheading and watering are less strenuous and can be done in relative comfort on most summer days, except for those so oppressive that it’s best to stay inside. Be sure you protect yourself against the sun with a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen on exposed skin.
Even on comfortable summer days, the best times to work outside are early in the morning or in the late afternoon or early evening. Besides being comfortable for you, watering at those times will save you money on your water bill. You lose a lot of water to evaporation if you irrigate in the heat of the day.
Containerized annuals continue to grow in popularity every year. If you’re among those using this method to display plants, keep in mind that they must be watered more often than in-ground plants. It’s the only maintenance task container gardeners have need to do more often than non-container gardeners.
All the spring work you put into your landscape should be undertaken with the ultimate objective of just coasting through summer. Enjoy the dog days of summer just like Fido – by sitting in the shade and enjoying the fruits of your labors. Fall, and its many landscape chores will be here before you know it.
As I write this, we’ve surpassed two weeks without rain, and smoke coming down from Canadian wildfires is reducing visibility and causing the outdoors to smell as though everyone has a fire in their backyard firepits. The state has issued Air Quality advisories and recommended that people and pets stay inside. But what about our landscape plants?
Plants are suffering but most are very resilient. Take care of yourself first. When the air quality improves enough that you can safely go outside, that’s the time to begin irrigating. Hopefully, nature will have intervened with rain in the interim.
When it’s safe to begin watering, consider your budget as well as your plants’ needs. Prioritize. Mature trees and shrubs are your most valuable landscape plants. However, they have most likely found water. You can check them to see if there is any leaf wilt. If there is, they should be watered.
If you planted trees or shrubs last fall or this spring, they should be at the top of your priority list. Their roots haven’t grown deep enough to find water the way the more established trees and shrubs have. If their leaves are wilting, they need your help.
Young plants need at least an inch of water a week. Don’t sprinkle or spray them. Most of that water will evaporate before it reaches the plant. Soaker hoses work best and are relatively inexpensive. They’re made of porous rubber from recycled tires. Place the hose at the base of the plant and turn the water on a quarter turn. Any more pressure will rupture the hose. You can see the water oozing out and it’ll take about an hour to provide an inch of water.
Another alternative is to lay the nozzle-less end of a hose at the base of the plant and turn the water on to a trickle. Leave it on for an hour or until it begins to pool. If it pools, turn the water off until the soil absorbs the water and them start it again.
Perennials are the next most valuable plants. They, too, can be watered the same way as trees and shrubs. Annuals are, arguably, the least valuable and many have to be replaced during the growing season anyway.
Many people are very concerned about their brown lawns. However, nature gave turfgrass the ability to go dormant until the rain returns. Don’t mow it, apply fertilizer or weed control, and limit the amount of walking on it. It’ll green up the next time it rains. It’s more important that you concentrate your efforts on your valuable trees and shrubs, especially the young and newly planted.
It’s nice that June rhymes with prune because that’s the month that a number of landscape plants should be pruned. Specifically, all evergreens can be pruned in June. So can spring flowering deciduous shrubs. Pruning now gives the plants plenty of time to heal before fall, when it’s time for them to form next year’s growth buds
Evergreens’ biology is very different from deciduous trees and require different care. About now, new growth should begin appearing on the branch tips of both needled and leafed evergreens. It can be identified by its bright green color. New growth on coniferous plants can be further identified by feeling the new needles. They’ll feel softer than those on old growth. Wait until the new growth is complete before pruning. Otherwise, the new growth will continue and you’ll have to prune again when the growth spurt is complete.
If the plant size was satisfactory before new growth began, just remove the new growth. If you want the size reduced, remove old growth as well. Be careful, though. Many evergreen shrubs’ interior is so shaded that no foliage grows there. Exposing into the interior will leave you with irreparable brown spots. To remove only new growth, be sure you do it after the new growth is complete but before it hardens. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to tell where the new growth ends and the old growth begins.
Most evergreen trees do not need as much pruning as deciduous trees. Evergreen trees are usually pruned to control size and to remove dead, dying or broken branches. Pruning evergreen trees is not a do-it-yourself job. Besides evergreen trees’ height, their branches are very “springy.” They can break easily if you try stepping on them, and they can spring back, stabbing you with their sharp needles. Confine your pruning to evergreen shrubs and leave tree pruning to our professionals.
If you have spring flowering deciduous shrubs that need pruning, now’s a good time to prune them, if you haven’t already. Don’t prune them just because they’ve finished blooming. Prune for specific reasons, such as reducing the height or girth. Removing interfering shoots is another good example. Shoots may be cascading over a sidewalk or driveway. This doesn’t mean that you should cut back the whole shrub. Just remove the offending shoots.
Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs back to the ground like you do with later blooming shrubs like butterfly bush (Buddleia). These plants bloom on new wood. Early blooming shrubs like forsythia and lilacs bloom on last year’s wood. If you prune that wood as far back as you would a butterfly bush, you could kill the shrub since you’ve removed most or all of the leaf buds.
You don’t have to prune your own shrubs. Our professionals can care for them, just as they do your trees. By turning it over to the pros, you don’t have to make technical decisions. You also won’t have to dress in a long sleeve shirt, long pants and gloves on a hot summer day to keep from getting scratched.
The answer to the title question is that the sun is both friend and foe, depending on the circumstances. We can’t live without the sun, but we have to be careful living with it. I’m sure you know about the need for protection when you’re out in the sun.
The rush to get sun tanned has given way to the need to slather with sunscreen. Optical professionals urge us to wear sunglasses. They say the sun’s UV rays can exacerbate cataracts and macular degeneration. With these warnings in mind, it’s important to protect you, your family and even your pets but it’s also important to protect your trees, lawn and other landscape plants.
Trees and other plants depend on the sun to provide them with energy to manufacture food by photosynthesis. The big difference between our sunburn and that of trees is the amount of time it takes for symptoms to show up. We turn red immediately, but it takes a while for trees to exhibit any symptoms.
Sunburn usually occurs on young trees and thin bark trees, especially those with dark bark. Sunburn damages the tissue just beneath the bark. The bark discolors and dries out, cracks and starts peeling off. These symptoms are quite similar to those for sunscald, except that sunscald occurs in the winter and is caused by freezing. Thus, the more common name – frost cracking.
Sunburn can be caused by sudden exposure to the sun, caused by removing nearby shade, such as other trees or structures. If you’re planting new trees, try not to plant them in the heat of summer. Otherwise, take special care to protect them until they become established.
Protection measures start with watering. Be sure the tree receives one or two inches of water a week. Also, mulch and compost around the base of the tree. Organic mulch and compost will help the soil retain moisture and lower the soil temperature. Wrapping the trunk with paper, plastic or cloth, or even painting the trunk, are other protective measures.
Tree roots are intended to keep the “plant” in its place. Thus, trees do not react well to environmental changes. Sunburn is one environmental change that can be prevented or treated. But prevention is much more effective than treatment. So, consider the effect on a specimen tree before removing the shade that has contributed to its good health for all these years.
Removing shade can also cause stress to annuals, perennials and shrubs. Plants that already are in full sun should be kept hydrated and mulched. Keeping a large lawn watered will send your water bill into the stratosphere but nature equipped turfgrass with the ability to go dormant until rain and cooler weather returns. Refrain from mowing brown, dormant turfgrass. Also limit walking on it, and don’t fertilize or apply weed or insect control to it.
The answer to the title question is that the sun is our friend if we treat it with respect and take the necessary precautions to keep it from becoming our foe.
Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers before they go to seed. Some people refer to deadheading as pinching. The reason for doing it varies with the plant but, in any case, it conserves energy that the plant can direct elsewhere.
Removing spent flowers from most annuals will often result in a new flush of flowers. Keep doing it as long as the plants keep pushing new flowers and you may be able to enjoy blooms from the same plants all season long. Annuals live for only one season so the main reason for their being is to flower, drop seed to continue the species and then die. Deadheading may extend their life by encouraging them to reflower over and over until their flowers successfully go to seed.
Bulbs are different. Removing the flowers when they begin to wilt but before they go to seed won’t result in a new flush of flowers. They’re one and done for the year. However, they need energy to produce next year’s beautiful floral display. Removing spent flowers will let the plants direct food being made by the green leaves to the roots, rather than to the seed making process. That’s why it’s important to keep the leaves in place for as long as they’re green. The food being made through the process of photosynthesis will be stored in the roots (bulbs) until next spring when it will direct its energy to once again welcome spring with beautiful flowers.
When the leaves turn yellow or brown, that’s the time to remove them. It’s a good idea to identify where your bulbs are planted with tags stuck in the ground. The more information you can put on the tag the better. At least identify what the plant is and the color of the blooms. This will reduce the chance that you’ll inadvertently dig them up while working in the garden. It’ll also keep you from mistakenly mixing up colors if you plant more bulbs in the same bed this fall.
What about flowering shrubs? You can deadhead these, too, but don’t expect a second flush of flowers. Most shrubs only bloom once a year. A few, such as Buddleia (butterfly bush), have a long blooming period so they’re in flower continuously from spring to fall. Deadheading flowering shrubs will keep them looking tidy and encourage them to direct the energy that would be used in the seeding process to other life-enhancing purposes.
Some gardeners interpret the term “pinching” as the only way to remove spent flowers. However, some plants have very thick stems, making pinching difficult, resulting in a ragged stub. Using pruning shears, or even kitchen shears is perfectly acceptable. Scissors will give you a nice, clean cut rather than looking like a leftover from a critter’s dinner.
Memorial Day is upon us. In addition to remembering those who paid the ultimate price for our country, it signals the start of summer fun. Many will use this occasion to kick off the camping season. Others will stay home and fire up the grill for some backyard fun. Both traditionally end with a rip-roaring campfire. First let me wish you a happy and fun weekend. But, let me also caution you, on behalf of all trees, to obey the laws governing sourcing and transporting firewood.
For several years, insects and plant diseases have been sneaking into the country and infesting our forests. They include the emerald ash borer (EAB), Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), Dutch elm disease, winter moth, spongy (gypsy) moth and the latest – spotted lanternfly. Most arrived on our shores in wood packing material and have spread through hitchhiking rides as the cargo is transported to its destinations.
These “foreign” pests can attack our trees, especially native trees, with virtually no resistance. Our native trees haven’t built defenses like they have to fight our home-grown pests. The foreign pests also have no predators to feed on them.
The federal and state governments have quarantined areas of high pest concentration. They also have a nationwide ban on moving wood or wood products (unless certified pest-free) more than 50 miles from their source. That means don’t take wood from home to camp. Buy it at your destination. Sure, you might pay a bit more for it but think of the costs that will result from a wood shortage. You shouldn’t bring any leftover firewood home either. You could be bringing pests into your yard to attack and kill your trees. If you are buying wood for your backyard fire pit, be sure it was cut locally and not brought in by some unscrupulous dealer.
The easiest way to obey the law, be kind trees and still have unforgettable fun around the campfire is to buy your wood where you’re going to burn it. Besides obeying the law, burning only local wood can save thousands of trees. That includes those shading your favorite campsite and those shading your backyard.
While breaking down camp check your vehicles, especially the underside to be sure you don’t have any unwanted passengers. They may appear as insects or caterpillars or as egg masses. They like to hide so pay special attention to the undercarriage. Some egg cases are tan or gray masses that look like mud, others look like balls of cotton. The best action is to remove anything that looks like it could be an insect or its eggs, put them in a sealed zipper bag and leave it in the trash.
A lot of money is being spent trying to control these voracious pests. That includes tax dollars; money the destruction is causing on farm, orchard and woodlot owners; and money homeowners have to pay for treatment or removal of infested trees. The simple task of buying your firewood where you burn it can contribute to managing these pests.
Have a great, safe and flaming good time this Memorial Day weekend!
Monday, May 29 is Memorial Day. When this holiday, begun in nearby Waterloo, was first celebrated, it was called Decoration Day. It’s purpose? To decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers. The end of May was selected because it was a sure bet that we Upstate New Yorkers wouldn’t wake up to any more spring frosts. So, it was safe to plant flowers.
Today, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of the growing season in the Finger Lakes region. If you got a head start, don’t worry; the spring has been too mild for frosts. If you haven’t added spring color to your yard, this three day weekend would be an excellent opportunity to do so.
If you visit your local garden center, you’ll find their greenhouses awash with a rainbow of color. They’re well stocked with the many species and cultivars of annuals that are hardy in this region. They’ll also have an excellent selection of containers in which to plant them, as well as potting soil and the tools you’ll need.
Back when Decoration Day was first celebrated, most annuals were planted in the ground in people’s yards and gardens, as well as around the graves of fallen soldiers. This isn’t the case today. You may see annuals hanging from porch eaves in hanging plastic pots or baskets lined with peat moss. Flowers in decorative containers of any material you can imagine grace porches, stoops, patios, decks and even planting beds. Some are planted in window boxes so they can be enjoyed both inside and outside. Repurposed items are even popular for displaying flowers.
Raised and elevated beds, once thought of only for growing edible plants are now home to ornamental plants as well. Raised beds are available at home centers, large garden centers and online in all different shapes, sizes and colors in wood, metal and plastic. If you’ve never heard the term elevated beds, they’re raised beds on legs that can be tended from a standing position. Some are even on wheels so they can be rolled around.
What can be done creatively with annuals is limited only by your imagination. In addition to those planted in the ways discussed above, you may want to plant a cutting garden dedicated to providing bouquets of flowers for decorating the inside of your house. Wildflower and cottage gardens are also popular today.
I’ve presented you with an endless variety of flower gardens ideas here. Although many families enjoy designing annual beds and planting them, others would prefer to leave the work to the professionals. Our landscape designers would be happy to work with you to create all the landscape color you want. Then our landscape professionals can do the planting to make the plan a reality. All you’ll have to do is keep the plants watered and enjoy them
This Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day. Many moms receive bouquets of flowers or potted plants. This year, consider a personal twist on an old, and probably long forgotten, Rochester tradition – planting one of the hundreds of varieties of our beloved lilac in her honor.
Lilacs in Rochester dates back to 1898, but the first Lilac Festival wasn’t held until 1978. Before that, beginning in 1905, Lilac Sunday was popular. It was later expanded to Lilac Week and evolved into today’s Lilac Festival. Lilac Sunday often fell on Mother’s Day, and it didn’t take long for a tradition to emerge – taking mom to visit the Highland Park lilacs on her special day.
This year, I’m suggesting that you bring Lilac Sunday on Mother’s Day to your own landscape. It’s easy. Select a spot in your landscape that could be further beautified with a colorful, fragrant lilac shrub. Hundreds of cultivars of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) are sold in the nursery trade. Lilacs like full sun and well drained soil. As an added benefit, they attract butterflies and hummingbirds, classifying them as pollinators.
Be sure you have enough room for a lilac. Most grow 8-15 feet tall and 6-12 feet wide, although there are some medium and dwarf varieties that are smaller. As always, read the plant tag to know what you’re buying – the mature size, flower color, blooming information, maintenance needs and other pertinent information. Some lilacs, such as Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri), bloom later than S. vulgaris cultivars and produce smaller flowers that aren’t in the familiar panicular clusters. If the tag doesn’t answer your questions, seek out one of the garden center’s or nursery’s horticulturists and get answers from them.
When you get your new plant home, plant it as soon as possible. Dig a hole that’s at least twice the diameter of the root ball but only as deep. Remove the nursery pot from the root ball. If it’s balled and burlap, cut the twine or remove the wire and pull the burlap away from the stem. Place the plant in the hole and get your assistant to hold it up straight while you backfill. Stop several times and tamp the soil lightly. It should be firm but not compacted. Finally, water the soil thoroughly.
One last thing, be patient. It may take several years for mom’s new lilac to bloom but it’s worth the wait.
Friday, April 29 is a holiday. It doesn’t come with a day off and you won’t see any parades but it has been celebrated for more than 150 years. I’m talking about Arbor Day. Arbor Day was first set aside to plant trees on the virtually treeless plains of Nebraska. Today, it’s a national holiday.
Arbor Day is marked in communities across the country with tree plantings in public places. Grade school classes learn about the importance of planting trees, and service clubs often donate seedlings that the students can take home and plant in their yards. I’ve recommended that families take an Arbor Day outing to a garden center, buy a tree and plant it in their yard.
Some of the Arbor Day trees families have planted over the years have reached maturity and, just like us, need some care. If this describes your situation, I’d like to suggest that you celebrate this Arbor Day with some TLC for the stately giants on your property.
You can begin by touching your trees. I’m not suggesting that everyone become a tree hugger. However, the late tree pathologist, Dr. Alex Shigo admonished everyone to touch trees in order to commune with nature, and he should know. Dr. Shigo, was a renowned researcher whose writings revolutionized arborists’ thinking and the way we approach tree care today.
One easy way you can help the trees in your yard this Arbor Day is to protect them from lawn mower or string trimmer damage. Do that by removing any sod at the base of your trees and replacing it with two or three inches of organic mulch. I recommend ground wood chip in their natural color. Besides protecting the tree’s bark, the mulch will also moderate water and air so the roots don’t get too much or too little. Wood chip mulch also returns organic material and nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
Ideally, the mulch should reach from the trunk all the way to the dripline (the outer edge of the crown). If that’s not possible or practical, spread it at least a foot from the trunk for every inch of trunk diameter, measured at 4.5 feet in height. Spread it flat; don’t pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Mulch volcanoes can kill a tree. Pull the mulch out from the trunk a couple of inches. Otherwise rodents can hide in the mulch as they feed on the bark at the base of the tree. Dining rodents can eat all the way around the trunk, girdling and killing it.
While you’re touching your trees, look up into the crown and down at the root area. Be on the look-out for insect activity and signs of diseases. Leaf damage – holes in the leaves or chewed edges indicate insect feeding. Shriveled leaves or premature leaf fall indicates that the tree is hosting either an insect like the emerald ash borer that lives inside the tree or a disease. Fungal diseases can be identified by fruiting bodies on the outside. Mushroom-like fruiting bodies aren’t doing any damage. The damage causing fungi are inside the tree.
While examining your tree(s), also check for broken, weak or hanging branches. These are hazards that can be disastrous if they fall on people or property. Removing dangerous branches and treating for insects or diseases is best left to our professionals - arborists for the broken branches and Plant Health Care professionals for the insect and diseases.
The Arbor Day objective of planting more trees is admirable. However, many properties in our area have plenty of trees. These large trees can give back to you more benefits than smaller, younger trees. Benefits like the oxygen we need to breathe and sequestering carbon from the CO2 in the atmosphere. Don’t trees deserve to receive some pampering on this day that’s all about them?
Most lawns have dried up from winter and the April showers that followed. This means it’s safe to walk on it and begin your annual lawn care schedule.
Hopefully you won’t be greeted by a carpet of yellow. While the grass greens up over time, dandelions seem to just spring up. That’s because they’re adventitious plants that take every opportunity to benefit from their environment. Even if you only have a few dandelions, it’s a good idea to treat your lawn with both a pre-emergent and a post-emergent broadleaf weed killer. Be sure you use a product labeled specifically for broadleaf weeds. Otherwise, you could be applying a nonselective product that will kill any green plant, including the grass.
Dandelions are prolific weeds. You can tell that by the number of seeds that result from each flower. These seeds are so light that they are easily spread far and wide by the wind. The post emergent will only kill those weeds that it encounters, not the next flush. The next flush is still in the ground as seeds. Thus, the need for pre-emergent. It’ll keep the latent seeds from germinating. Speaking of pre-emergents, it would be a good idea to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass killer as well. Crabgrass is a weed that can only be controlled by a pre-emergent, or by manually digging out each weed.
May is also the best time to start your annual fertilization program. Grass plants must grow new leaves continuously all season because we mow off a good portion of their leaves every week. The best way to schedule your fertilizer applications is to buy the whole season’s product at your local garden center now. They sell several brands, including one made locally, in seasonal packages with application instructions. Your lawn will probably need three or four applications. The best way to know for sure is to have your soil tested to determine what nutrient deficiencies it has. A reminder – fertilizer doesn’t feed the plant; it replenishes depleted nutrients in the soil.
Before you mow your lawn for the first time this season, check the deck height. If you lowered it to two inches for the last cutting before putting it into winter storage, you should reset it to three or four inches for the growing season. This exposes longer leaves to energy trapping photosynthesis. The result is thicker, healthier grass, increasing its ability to fight off weeds and insects. Longer grass also doesn’t look unkempt if you put off mowing for a couple of days the way short grass does.
We have two insect pests that attack area lawns. One is grubs. They may be the larval stage Japanese beetles or European chafers. Grubs are best treated in the fall when they’re young and weak. Right now, they’re near the end of their larval, or grub, cycle. They’ll soon pupate below the soil surface and emerge as big, brown beetles, commonly called June bugs. They annoy us most when they splat against windows and screens as they fly around looking for a mate. The other pest is the sod webworm. The gray adults can be seen flying low over the top of the grass at dusk. Garden stores sell products to control these pests.
If you feel overwhelmed by all the care lawns require in addition to weekly mowing, consider a professional lawn care program. Although our programs are usually contracted for the whole season, we can start treating your lawn whenever you’re ready to turn the task over to the pros and just enjoy your lawn.
“Tending” is the key word in the title. I’ve seen garden writers advise their readers to tend to their gardens rather than toil in them. This is what I advocate, too. Although there is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape, you can strive for a low maintenance landscape.
Steps to a low maintenance landscape include…
• Selecting plants that are resistant to insects and diseases. Do your homework before you buy plants, and cross those that are favored by persistent pests off your list. Two examples that come to mind are ash and hemlock trees. Ash trees are being decimated by emerald ash borer and hemlocks by the hemlock wooly adelgid. These two examples also put to rest the assertion that native plants are more resistant to pests. We are being invaded by foreign pests, and our native plants have no defense against them, and the pests have no natural enemies to keep them in check. This is leveling the playing field between native and introduced plants. Just make sure any introduced plant you select will behave itself. Many become invasives that are difficult to control.
• Buy only low maintenance plants. If you have high maintenance plants in your landscape now, consider removing them and replacing them with something that’s less work. Many perennials, for example, are high maintenance. They spread to the point that they must be dug up and divided periodically. Some require dividing every year. Replace them with shrubs that only need to be pruned once a year or even less. Even better, consider including dwarf conifers in your plant palette. Many of them can go years without even having to be pruned.
• Reduce the size of your lawn. Turfgrass is, arguably, the most high maintenance plant in your landscape. A lush, green lawn requires multiple fertilizer and weed control applications every year, as well as applications of grub control and other lawn insecticides. This doesn’t include the time required to mow once or twice a week during the growing season. Ground covers, and even moss, are the most popular alternatives. Some designers are replacing large grass areas with planting beds. Cottage gardens and wildflower gardens also make attractive lawn alternatives in the back yard.
• Plant annuals in containers. Planting annuals in containers is becoming increasingly popular among gardeners. By container, I’m not just talking about plain old terra cotta pots on the patio. Containers include window boxes, raised beds, and even elevated beds. Elevated beds look like big window boxes on legs. Some are even on wheels. Raised beds are available in all shapes, sizes and colors. You have your choice of materials, also – wood, metal, plastic and even a combination of several materials. Garden centers have huge selections of decorative containers in all shapes, sizes and materials. Why plant annuals in containers? It’s easier on the knees. You’ll be able to raise the containers up to you rather than you having to get down to them. You can sit or stand, possibly putting off the onset of knee problems – an occupational hazard of gardeners. Containerizing annuals also makes it easier to change them out during the season or as summer fades into fall. You can make planting even easier by planting the flowers in nursery pots and just slipping them into the decorative containers. You won’t even have to wash and disinfect the decorative container when changing out plants.
These are just a few ways in which you can work smarter, rather than harder, on your landscape. Adopting these practices now, regardless of your age, may put off being forced to adopt them as joints begin wearing out as you age. For professional help, you can call on our landscape design professionals.
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.