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How to Mulch Leaves

For many people, when the leaves fall it’s time to pull out the rake and the blower and start bagging leaves to be taken away. However, what you may not know is that by not raking leaves and leaving them on your lawn instead you can help enhance the soil and the effectiveness of your lawn fertilizer. 

It’s important not to leave whole leaves on your lawn as they can smother the grass, blocking the sun and eventually killing the lawn. Instead, you should run over those fallen leaves with a mulching mower. Most mowers have the ability to mulch if you use the right blade. A mulching blade is serrated rather than straight and helps to shred the leaves as you go over them. If you’re using a regular mower you’ll need to put on the mulching blade before starting your task. If you’re using a mulching mower you just need to raise the blade up as high as it goes and remove the grass catcher so that the shredded leaves go back onto the lawn. These leaves will break down over the course of the winter releasing nitrogen back into the soil. This nitrogen, in turn, will feed your lawn and help it to be as lush and green as possible. It will also help your lawn to fight off weeds like dandelions and crabgrass. Depending on how thick the tree cover around your property is you may have to mow once a week or so until the leaves stop falling.

As you mow over the leaves you’ll notice the pieces getting smaller and smaller until they sink down a bit between the grass blades. Once the grass is showing through, and the leaves are broken down to confetti size, you’re done with your lawnmower or mulching mower. 

If you want to use your fallen leaves as mulch for plantings rather than for lawn care you’ll still need to shred leaves first, though not as small as when you’re using them for the lawn. Even leaves destined for the compost pile should get shredded rather than remain as whole leaves. When you pile up whole leaves air and sunlight cannot get to the decomposing leaves, and it becomes worse once they get wet and soggy. Mold and diseases can grow in this anaerobic environment. Your mulch, like your compost pile, should be as fluffy as possible so that air can circulate and nature’s decomposers can do their work. The idea of leaf mulching is to protect the ground from freezing, thawing, and then re-freezing because this is damaging to plants. The leaf layer in this case serves as a temperature regulator to keep this from happening. You’ll want a thick layer of shredded leaves for leaf mulching your garden beds. 

So before breaking out the rake and the blower this year consider mulching your leaves instead. Your garden, and especially the soil, will thank you!

Fall Garden Cleanup

There’s a chill in the air and there’s no doubt that fall is on the way. For most of us, the garden has at least started to die back, and for the rest of us, it’s completely brown and wilted save for those cold weather harvests. You may think that your gardening chores are over for the year but you’d be wrong. What you do with your garden cleanup now will have an effect on how your garden performs next spring. So follow these tips to ensure a happy and healthy spring flower or vegetable garden.

Out With the Old.

Go through your garden beds and clear out any remaining foliage. If it is healthy you can put it right into your compost pile. If there are any diseased plants, or if they were attacked by garden pests over the summer, be sure to put them into the trash. 

Deadhead the flowers in your flower bed and collect seed heads. These contain the dried seed that you’ll need to replant the same flowers next spring. You can also start the seeds indoors in late winter to ensure spring color as soon as possible. 

Mulch It!

Work mulch or compost into your garden soil. This will help “recharge it” for another season of growing. The mulch and compost will break down over the winter, leaving you a bed full of nutrients for next year. Add more mulch to your still active garden plants to extend your fall gardening growing season as long as possible. Some plants when properly cared for can last long enough for a winter garden harvest, so don’t skimp on the mulch for your beets, garlic, cabbage, carrots, and whatever else you have going in your fall/winter garden. 

Leaves. Leaves Everywhere.

While it’s tempting to get out your leaf blower and start piling up those fall leaves, consider the benefits that leaving fallen leaves alone can have. Our gardens are havens for beneficial insects and animals of all kinds. Leaving at least some of the leaves in the place where they fall can give them a safe place to overwinter. While it’s tempting to go all out with your fall cleanups, leaving at least some of the garden intact isn’t the worst idea. Don’t forget: you can use some of the leaves that you do pick up as compost and mulch. 

Wrap ‘em Up.

If you have delicate trees and shrubs you may want to wrap them in burlap to help protect against winter winds and heavy ice. While this is not a bad idea, it’s important to remember to trim and prune any dead or diseased branches first. For spring-blooming perennials now is the time to cut them back without risking blooms. 

Clean Your Tools!

Finally, when you’re all done, you should give your garden tools a good cleaning and/or sharpening. Wash any remaining soil off and give them a soak in soapy water. Then rinse and thoroughly dry your tools. Use a wire brush to remove any rust; a light coating of vegetable oil will help you to loosen it. Finally, make a mix of 2 cups chlorine bleach to one gallon of water and dip your tools. Let them soak for at least 10 minutes to kill bacteria and fungi that can spread from one diseased plant to another come spring. Once they’ve soaked be sure to dry them COMPLETELY before putting them away for next spring.

Growing Succulents in Containers

If you’re looking to grow hardy plants that thrive on benign neglect, look no further than succulents. Succulents are plants with fleshy leaves and stems that come from all over the world. Cacti are in the succulent family, as is aloe. Succulents come in all shapes and sizes.

In warm, dry climates succulents can be used outdoors as landscaping focal points. Most succulents cannot survive a New York winter (though a few like prickly pear cacti, hens and chicks do quite well!). Because they are low maintenance and require little water succulents are perfect for container gardening. Succulent container gardens can thrive for years on end, as long as their needs—lots of light with just a little bit of water—are met. 

To grow succulents in pots the first step is to purchase the right container. Head to your local garden center or nursery and take a look around. Succulents tend to spread, so you’ll want a nursery pot with plenty of space depending on how many you intend to plant. You’ll also want to make sure that your container has a hole in the bottom because a drainage hole will ensure that your succulents are never sitting in too much water. 

Regular potting soil tends to be too heavy and holds too much water for succulents, so you’ll want to get a potting mix specifically made for cacti and succulents. Save the regular soil for vegetable gardening. 

After you’ve filled the pot with soil you can carefully begin planting succulents. Poke a hole in the dirt not too close to the side of the pot and then gently remove the plant from its container and place the roots in the new hole and cover. Repeat with whatever plants you intend to use, but remember that they will spread and need more space eventually. When first planting you can water your succulents lightly. 

Before you water again it’s important to let your plants dry out completely. Healthy succulents do not need or want to be watered too often, and excess water in the soil can easily cause root rot. 

In the spring and summer months, your succulents can live happily outdoors in a sunny spot. For the first few days of the spring, you’ll want to place them in the shade so they can get used to being outside. If you put them directly in full sun they may burn. 

Over the winter months indoor succulents need a lot of sun, so be sure to put them in a West or South-facing window. Succulents need even less water in the winter months. To test if a succulent needs water you can squeeze a leaf; if that leaf is firm you can leave it alone, but if it squishes a bit then it’s time to water.

How to Garden in Containers

Container gardening is a great solution for those of us who may not have a tremendous amount of garden space. Whether you’ve got a small patch of land or just a patio to work with, you can container garden successfully in any number of different barrels, containers, large pots, or even window boxes.  

Growing flowers in containers means you can add color wherever it is needed in your yard without having to dig a permanent bed. Using a container garden to grow vegetables means you can take advantage of that patch of full sun even if it happens to be on your driveway!

Flowers, herbs, and vegetables are happy to grow in containers. It is easier to grow plants in larger containers as they hold more water; this helps plants last through hot summer months. 

Before deciding on your container it’s important to decide what type of plant you want to grow. Consider the size of the plant when mature, how deep the roots will grow, and how quickly the plant will grow. If you plant zucchini in a tiny terra cotta pot, it won’t do well at all. Note that unglazed pots let a lot of water evaporate through the sides, while glazed pots hold in moisture. With the right variety of pots, you can have an entire vegetable garden in containers. 

Plants that grow large need a lot of water, so you’ll want a large pot that will retain moisture. When plants get root-bound (the roots fill the pot) they dry out too quickly. In that case, you’ll need a larger pot. For example, pole beans have a deep plant root system so you’ll need a larger pot than you would with bush beans that have a shallow root system and can be planted in a smaller pot. 

In addition to pot size, location makes a difference. For vegetables, you not only want full sun but if they are trailing plants like pumpkins you need to make sure they have enough room to spread out.

It is important to make sure that your pots have drainage holes. Too much water is just as bad as too little. Drainage holes help excess water to escape. There are certain kinds of potting mix you can get that will help to adjust the water level automatically by holding it and then releasing it to the plants slowly. Using potting soil rather than garden soil is preferred in container gardening as potting soils are formulated for container gardening and will not compact delicate roots. It also doesn’t drain as well. 

Finally, you should feed your container garden plants just as you would a regular garden plant. Fish emulsion is a great (though pungent) choice for organic fertilizer, though there are many other options such as Miracle-Gro available on the market. 

No matter which fertilizer you use, with a little bit of patience, sun, and nurturing, you’re sure to see success and get to enjoy the fruits—or vegetables—of your labor, all summer long.

Summer Lawn Care

Summer is here and your lawn may be looking a little bit crispy or have a few bare patches from higher foot traffic. To maintain a healthy lawn you need to adjust your lawn care depending on the season; so here are some care tips to help you care for your lawn this summer and keep it looking green and healthy. 

Some grass types are naturally brown in the summer. Cool-season grasses such as fescues and bluegrass go dormant in the heat of the summer and will naturally look browner. They will green up on their own once the warm season and summer heat come to an end. 

When it comes to mowing in the summer you’ll want to adjust the mower blade to mow high. A taller grass blade offers more shade to the roots helping to keep them cool in the heat. Taller grass also grows deeper roots, aiding in an overall more healthy lawn. You may want to leave your grass clippings on the lawn to help return nitrogen to the soil as well as helping to retain moisture in the ground. 

Your watering schedule should water deeply once or twice a week rather than shallowly every day. One and a half inches of water per week is an ideal amount. If you’ve got rainy weather adjust your schedule accordingly. The early morning hours are the best time to water your lawn so that the water has time to evaporate during the day to avoid developing fungal diseases. 

Your lawn should be fertilized every 6 weeks during the active season with a slow-release fertilizer, whether or not you also use a weed control or grub control brand. This will help to keep your lawn green all summer long. Do this before the real heat sets in and then after it leaves. If grubs are usually a major issue in your lawn you can apply a separate grub control during midsummer when grubs typically emerge. You should only do this if you have severe lawn damage. You want to add as little to the lawn as possible to keep it in good condition. Too much fertilizer or insecticide can harm your lawn, so be sparing in all applications. 

Finally, before it’s very hot out (as well as in the fall), you can take the opportunity to overseed your lawn with grass seed. Try using a warm-season grass that tolerates heat better when overseeding. This will help your lawn to grow thicker and fill in any bare spots that may have developed over time either from traffic or pets.

Tips to Reduce Mosquitoes

With the colder weather, we’ve been having it may be hard to believe, but mosquito season is almost here. Soon enough you’ll need insect repellents every time you step out the door. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, let’s talk about some ways we can reduce the mosquito population in the first place.

The number one rule of mosquito control is: eliminate standing water. Anything that can collect water can harbor mosquito larvae. Reducing larvae means that you reduce the number of adult mosquitos over time. Mosquito breeding requires still water for a breeding ground. There are a number of places that attract mosquitoes, including:

  • ponds
  • puddles
  • buckets
  • tires
  • bird baths
  • clogged gutters
  • plant saucers
  • lawn ornaments
  • anything else that can collect and hold water

Mosquito breeding isn’t just a nuisance; mosquitoes spread diseases like the West Nile Virus so it’s important to keep mosquitoes at bay.

If you can’t get rid of the standing water (as in ponds and birdbaths) consider treating it with mosquito dunks, which are harmless to wildlife but don’t let mosquitoes breed.

Another thing you can do for pest control is to plant naturally repellent plants such as Basil, Lemon Balm, and Citronella Grass. These plants will not work as chemical pest control, but they can make a small dent in the number of mosquitoes you see in certain areas.

Another thing you can do to reduce mosquitoes is to use mosquito traps to catch and kill mosquitoes. From zappers to mosquito magnets, these can range in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

Finally, you can have your yard treated for a temporary respite. This is a great idea if you’re planning a party or barbeque to keep your guests from becoming pin cushions. To schedule spraying for your yard contact Aronica Plant Healthcare today.

Is Tick Spray Treatment Right for Your Yard?

The days are warming up and we’re spending more and more time outside. This is especially true this year as, due to recent events, there’s nowhere else to go. Because of the warm winter, people have already reported seeing ticks, and the fleas are sure to follow. With that said, what type of insect repellent should you be using? Is a personal spray enough, or should you have your yard treated? 

For many people, the idea of spraying with a flea, tick, or mosquito repellent each and every day (and every few hours at that) seems like a no-go. There are some flea and tick spray options that are better than others. Some are made of essential oils and while they may smell delightful, unless they have at least 30% lemon eucalyptus oil as the active ingredient they are unlikely to be effective as a tick repellent spray. To make this natural spray use 30 drops of oil of lemon eucalyptus with 4 ounces of witch hazel and place the mixture in a spray bottle. This may also work with mosquitoes to a certain extent. That is your best DEET free option to repel ticks and mosquitoes. It is also safe for children. 

If spraying yourself isn’t your thing, consider having your yard treated instead. Having your yard treated protects your family year-round from fleas and ticks and the diseases that ticks carry such as Lyme disease. Mosquitoes can also be controlled through yard treatment and there are options to use either a natural product to repel fleas and ticks or traditional ones. 

Some yard treatments are extremely effective flea and tick killers while some simply act as repellents. Killing fleas and ticks is best done at specific times of the year, usually early in spring when they first emerge but can be done at any time if necessary.

Whichever treatment you choose, personal, or the whole yard, it’s important for your health to use some kind of protection against mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks when outdoors this spring and summer.

A Mild Winter For New York Means That Ticks Are Already Here

Our mild winter may have had some benefits, but knocking back the tick population was definitely not one of them. There are already reports of people finding ticks on their dogs. That means it’s likely to be a tough season for tick-borne diseases. As usual, the deer tick is the most common species of tick people and domestic animals will be encountering on a regular basis, followed closely by the lone star tick. Ticks are found across the United States and many of them carry diseases.

This early in the season ticks are small and very hard to see, however even these nymph ticks can spread infectious diseases. The best way to avoid tick bites is by preventing tick bites.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), creating a “tick-free zone” in your yard is vital to ensuring that your family is protected from the diseases that are transmitted by ticks. Some of these diseases include Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, among others.

They suggest:

  • Remove leaf litter
  • Clear tall grass and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns
  • Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas
  • Mow the lawn frequently
  • Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents)
  • Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees
  • Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences
  • Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide

Ticks feed on blood meals so it’s important to remove them as quickly as possible once they are found so they don’t have a chance to transmit diseases. Tick removal should be done with a tweezer by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling up with steady, even pressure. After removing the tick be sure to wash your hands with soap and water.

By following these tips you will greatly reduce your risk of both encountering ticks in your yard and of catching the diseases they carry.

Preparing Your Yard for Spring

Spring is just around the corner, though you may not know it from the weather. Now is the time to pull on a jacket and get out into the yard. There’s a whole lot to do before you start the real work of gardening and the sooner you start, the better. These simple steps should give you a head start on all of your spring gardening chores.  

Clean It Up

If you haven’t been going out on winter weekends to clean regularly you’ll need to do that before you can do anything else. Downed branches, twigs, and blown leaves will need to be removed before you can work on your lawn or soil. 

Tend the Grass

Spending a little bit of time preparing your lawn for spring will make it look green and lush in no time. Early spring is a great time to prevent weeds before they happen. When you apply fertilizer, make sure you mix in pre-emergent herbicides. These herbicides are weed killers that work before the weeds are visible. It will also help to keep weed seeds from germinating. Unfortunately, it will also stop grass seed from growing if you try to fill in bare spots, so wait for the fall for that particular task. If you just can’t deal with the bare patches, or if they’re just too big, consider purchasing a piece of sod to fill the hole. 

Warm-season grasses won’t enter active growth until soil temperatures reach 65 F., while cool-season grasses will start earlier in the season. Whichever you have, it’s important to “mow high,” when you break out the lawnmower in the spring. This means allowing the grass blades to get at least 3-4 inches high. 

Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs can suffer damage through the hard winter months so now is a great time to give them the once over. Prune any damaged branches or branches that will rub against fences or your home. Do not trim fruit trees once they have flowered, as this can cause tremendous stress. 

If you’re looking to plant new trees and shrubs spring is a great time because of the wet soil, but make sure the soil temperature is above freezing. Your hole should be several inches larger than the root ball and you should put some compost in with your new tree or shrub to give it a good head start for the growing season. 

February Gardening Activities: Staying Busy in the Winter Months

The days are still short and cold, but that doesn’t mean there are no gardening activities to be had. Try out these garden tips to keep busy during the winter months.

Planting Alternatives

While planting in the open is out until light levels increase and the temperatures come up, consider setting up cold frames in your yard. Cold frames will let you start cool weather vegetables up to a month early, and let you extend your vegetable garden season well into the fall. Try easy to grow veggies such as:

  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Leek 
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beets
  • Kale

Check Your Seeds

Seed starting now will mean an early harvest this spring and summer. If you don’t have your seeds yet order them or pick them up. If you do have seed packets ready to go you can start planting them indoors in just a couple of weeks and they’ll be ready to be planted when the warm weather hits. 

Get Trimming

Fruit trees and other trees and shrubs that need pruning can benefit from what is called “dormant pruning” (pruning which is done during the trees’ dormant season). If you see any damaged or diseased branches, or just plants that need shaping, consider doing that sooner rather than later. 

Check Your Bulbs

Finally, make sure you check your stored bulbs to be sure they haven’t been nibbled at or gotten moldy in storage. 

There’s plenty to do, even in the dark days of winter, so don’t let the view get you down! Just follow these tips and you’ll be busy almost all the way through spring.