Fall Garden ChoresFall Gardening Chores Made Easy

We made it through the dog days of summer, and now the leaves are changing, and the temperature is dropping. Crisp days and cool nights are upon us, which means it is time to put your gardens to bed and finish up your fall gardening chores before the snow flies!

How to begin fall cleanup

The first thing to do is to take a quick look around your beds and start with a good clean-out. Leave ornamental and wildlife-friendly plants standing. Next, take out any unhealthy plants and destroy the debris to minimize next year’s issues with squash bugs, cabbage worms, and other pests and diseases. Now is also a good time to trim any dead or broken limbs. Doing it now, will save time later.  A hard freeze or heavy snow can break more branches and cause more damage during winter. Gather up and dispose of any dead leaves. Once crumbly after aging in a heap, they make great mulch, or can be turned into beds to add organic matter.

Fall lawn care tips

Take another look around and think about the lawn. It’s best to do heavy raking now as opposed to in the spring. If you notice spots of grass that are bare, throw down some seed and cover it with a half, or three-quarter-inch layer of compost. This will help to prevent weeds later and protect the seed. Now about those weeds, clean them up now! Getting rid of weeds now, means less seeds which translates into fewer weeds when the weather warms up again. This will make your spring weeding faster, and way more manageable.

Fall watering

If you are experiencing a dry fall, be sure to water trees now through the hard frost, so that they enter dormancy well-hydrated. Evergreens (needled ones and broadleaf types like rhododendron, too) are particularly vulnerable to desiccation and winter burn.

Look for ways to improve your gardens

Thoughtfully take apart the vegetable garden as crops fade, with an eye to improved future performance. Think about tilling less, about cover crops, and about generally boosting soil health. Make sure to protect or store weather-vulnerable pots and the tender plants in them. At a minimum, move pots under cover, where they will dry off to minimize the thaw effects of weather. Finally, look back at the season and see what worked well, and what can you change for next year. Maybe you need to expand your garden and reduce the number of trees and shrubs? Which plants did well, and which one might you trade out for something else next year? Enjoy your last tomato plant while watching old man winter make his way in. Spring will be here before you know it, so relax and enjoy this season of change.  

Basic Rules of Pruning

Tree PruningEarly spring is by far the best time to prune your shrubs and trees. Dormant pruning (shortly before the spring growth starts) minimizes the amount of time fresh wounds are exposed. Also, pruning before there are leaves allows you to make better decisions because the structure of the plant is not obscured by leaves.

However, trees and shrubs that bloom early in the growing season on last year’s growth should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. Some examples include azalea, chokeberry, forsythia, magnolia, or early blooming spirea.

Shrubs grown primarily for their foliage should be pruned prior to when their spring growth begins and some examples include barberry, burning bush, and honeysuckle.

Some trees such as maples, butternuts, walnuts, and birch trees have free flowing sap in the late winter or early spring. While this is generally not a major concern, unless you are into syrup making, pruning of these species can be done in late spring or early summer to avoid the loss of sap.

Rules for Pruning Trees

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, you should follow these steps when pruning your trees.
  1. Begin visual inspection at the top of the tree and work downward.
  2. Use The ⅓ and ¼ Rules of Pruning
    • Never remove more than ¼ of a tree’s crown in a season
    • Ideally, main side branches should be at least ⅓ smaller than the diameter of the trunk.
    • For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, don’t prune up from the bottom any more than ⅓ of the tree’s total height.
    • Where possible, try to encourage side branches that form angles that are ⅓ off vertical that form “10 o’clock” or “2 o’clock” angles with the trunk.
  3. For most species, the tree should have a single trunk. Identify the best leader and lateral branches before you begin pruning and remove defective parts before pruning for form.
  4. Don’t worry about protecting pruning cuts. For aesthetics, you may feel better painting large wounds but it doesn’t prevent or reduce decay.
  5. Keep tools sharp. One-hand pruning shears with curved blades work best on young trees.
  6. For high branches use a pole pruner. A major job on a big tree should be done by a professional arborist.
  7. For larger branches, cut outside the branch bark and ridge collar (swollen area). Do not leave a protruding stub. If the limb is too small to have formed a collar cut close.
  8. When simply shortening a small branch, make the cut at a lateral bud or another lateral branch. Favor a bud that will produce a branch that will grow in desired direction (usually outward). The cut should be sharp and clean and made at a slight angle about ¼ inch beyond the bud.

Many homeowners are leery of pruning around their yard and we understand! It can be scary to cut something back and hope you did it right and aren’t killing your tree or bush. However, pruning is vital for maintaining healthy growth. If you are unsure, feel free to give us a call and our Landscape Maintenance team would be more than happy to come out and take care of the pruning for you.

How to Attract Birds in the Winter

Have you ever spent any time trying to attract birds to your garden? It’s an entertaining pastime, and can even be quite rewarding, to tally up the various species that visit the feeders and bird friendly landscaping in the garden. While many homeowners look for their birds during the spring and summer months, there is actually a great need to help our fine feathered friends during the long cold days of winter.

During the winter months, birds spend most of their time and energy seeking out food, water and shelter. It can be a desperate time for them, especially here in Upstate New York when the temperatures plummet and snow blankets most of their feeding grounds. With a little bit of planning, however, you can transform your garden into a prime location for birds to find both shelter and sustenance.

The selection of trees, plants and shrubs you choose for your landscaping can offer birds both the food and shelter they need to survive. Not only will you be providing a refuge for them, you will be able to enjoy seeing and hearing them all year long. You will also be providing some much-needed color and contrast into your winter landscape as well!

Plant in Layers

Some birds prefer higher trees for shelter and food, while others prefer to be closer to the grounds. So when you look around your yard, consider the differing layers – a canopy of tall trees, an under-canopy of smaller trees, a shrub layer, and various ground covers and/or vines. The more variety your offer, the greater the variety of birds you’re likely to attract.

Provide Adequate Food Sources

Food is the single most important thing you can provide for your feathered friends. Food can be rather scarce during the winter months and trying to find enough food consumes most of their time. By providing a source of seed and nut bearing trees to your yard, you make their hunt much easier.

Consider adding evergreens, junipers, firs, hemlock and spruces to your yard, which will provide both shelter and food. These trees provide a great food source for birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers and grosbeaks.

Trees such as oaks, walnuts and hickories won’t necessarily provide much in the way of shelter, but the nuts they provide are an excellent source of food for many different birds.

Don’t forget about fruit-bearing trees and shrubs as well. There are varieties that hold onto their fruit throughout the winter months. Winterberry, holly, bayberry, viburnum and photinia will provide food all winter long. Flowering crabapple trees and dogwoods are also a winter favorite of birds. As an added bonus, they all provide some amazing color and interest in your garden as well.

Go WILD with your Landscape

What we mean by this is don’t immediately cut everything back in the fall. Sure, it will look nice and give you that well-manicured look, but you will be taking away a fantastic source of food and shelter. Native grasses that emerge later in the season will provide flower seeds for your birds to feast on as well as good coverage for them. Many of them also put on a beautiful show of color during the fall and winter months as well. Hair grass, switch glass and bluestem are all great choices.

You can also leave your perennials as is throughout the winter months. Just like the native grasses, perennial flowers produce seeds that provide much needed nutrients. If you can refrain from snipping their seed heads back until springtime, the birds will thank you! Birds love Coneflowers, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans and Coreopsis for their abundant seeds.

Offer Plenty of Water

It might seem like birds would have plenty of access to water during the winter, but they really don’t. Having access to a clean source of water is critical for survival during the winter. Make sure your birdbath is still accessible during the winter months and that the water doesn’t stay frozen.

There are portable warming devices you can utilize that will de-ice your birdbath during the cold months. You might also want to consider investing in a heated birdbath. As long as they have access to fresh water daily they have a much greater chance of survival.

Even the smallest changes in your landscaping can make a huge impact for the birds in your area. By just adding a few bird friendly shrubs or trees, your garden will soon become a valuable resource for your feathered friends.