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How Should I Mulch My Leaves?

Leaves are piling up outside and for many, it’s time to pull out the rake and blower and start bagging leaves to be taken away. Consider, however, that mulching your leaves back into your lawn can help enhance the soil and the effectiveness of your lawn fertilizer.

While leaving whole leaves on your lawn can sometimes smother the grass and leave dead patches, running over those leaves with a mulching mower creates an excellent fertilizer. Many mowers have the ability to mulch if you use the right blade. Mulching blades are serrated rather than straight and help to shred the leaves into small pieces 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. Be sure you go over the leaves a number of times, making sure they are broken down into small pieces. This way, the leaves will not mat together, but will settle down into the turf and be decomposed by valuable microorganisms within the soil.

These leaves will break down over the course of the winter and release nitrogen back into the soil. This nitrogen, in turn, will feed your lawn and help it to be as lush and green as possible come spring. 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 see 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.

You can also use fallen leaves as mulch for plantings rather than for lawn care. In this case, you’ll still need to shred leaves first, though not as small as when you’re using them for the lawn. No matter what you choose to do with them, leaves should always be shredded before use. When you pile up whole leaves, air and sunlight cannot get to the decomposing leaves at the bottom. This 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 Tree Spraying

Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and that’s just one sign that it’s the ideal time to start thinking about a preventative spraying program for fruit and other trees!

In particular, Peach Leaf Curl and Shot Hole Fungus can be prevented with a disease control application, while aphids, scale, spider mites, and others may be controlled with a dormant oil spray. After the first winter freeze, your tree’s bark contracts and seals in disease-causing organisms, so catching them early before the first heavy frosts come is essential. 

When trees are dormant, some pests take advantage of cracks and crevices to survive the winter, so spraying now is important for prevention. 

If we have a particularly wet winter, another application may need to be done in early spring just as buds begin to swell. 

It is just as essential to keep the areas around your trees clean from debris as it is to spray. Pests and fungus may take up residence in fallen leaves so it is important to rake up leaves and fallen branches before winter sets in.

To find out what type of spraying your trees may need, or to schedule a preventative service, contact us today!

Ticks vs. Chiggers

The weather is cooling and it’s perfect for spending time outdoors. Unfortunately, for many people, this will mean dealing with bites and the allergic reaction that comes along with them. 

People who have been outdoors in grassy areas may report instances of hundreds of red, itchy bites around the ankles, lower legs, or groin and assume these are chigger bites; but on Long Island, they would be mistaken. 

Chiggers are red bugs found in the southern, southeastern, and midwestern United States. They are the larval stage of a  parasitic mite that tends to bite in clusters where clothing is tight against the skin. They have not been found on Long Island. 

So if not chiggers, then what are those bites? Most likely, these bites are from the larval stage of the Lone Star Tick. Lone Star ticks bite in similar areas of the body as chiggers so it is easy to confuse them. Ticks bite in order to feed on blood, and while they do they often transmit tick-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease. Deer ticks are another parasite that may also cause these bites. These ticks may be almost invisibly tiny so they’re very hard to avoid. 

Your best bet to avoid any biting insect outdoors is to dress properly in long sleeves and pants and use bug repellent containing DEET. Stay on paths when you hike and avoid grassy areas! 

If you’re worried about ticks in your yard—be it dog ticks, deer ticks, or Lone Star ticks—you can contact us to have your yard treated!

West Nile Mosquitoes

The West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne disease spread by the bite of an infected mosquito or, rarely, due to blood transfusion. Mosquitoes generally become infected after biting birds infected with West Nile and then spreading the virus to humans. While most people infected with West Nile Virus (WNV) do not experience any symptoms, many can experience fever accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headaches, body aches, and diarrhea. In the United States, a total of 54 human cases of West Nile virus disease have been reported to the centers for disease control and prevention, and there are more cases reported every summer. 

Recently tests in Suffolk County showed 13 mosquito samples tested positive. Because of this, it is important to practice mosquito safety to reduce the risks. 

First, make sure you’re wearing good mosquito repellent. Insect repellent sprays with DEET have shown great effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes and ticks. Next, remove sources of standing water. Pet water bowls, bird baths, planters, tires, etc. can all be places where mosquitoes lay eggs. Change the water out regularly or keep water flowing with a pump to dissuade them from breeding there.  

Minimize exposed skin from dusk till dawn, the most active time for mosquitoes. 

Report dead birds. Dead birds may be a sign of local West Nile activity. To report dead birds, call the Bureau of Public Health Protection at 631-852-5999 from 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

Finally, consider having your yard sprayed for mosquitoes (and ticks as well!) Make your yard a more pleasant place to be through the fall by keeping up with a spraying schedule to keep your family and pets safe from West Nile and other mosquito-borne viruses. Give Aronica Plant Healthcare today to schedule your yard treatment. 

Long Island Tick Identification

When you’re out and about on Long Island, there are several tick species to look out for to help you avoid disease including Lyme—the most common tick-borne illness. 

As soon as the weather is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit you are at risk for tick bites in grassy or wooded areas across much of the United States. Tall grass in particular is a common spot for finding ticks. 

Some of the kinds of ticks you may encounter in Suffolk County are Lone Star Ticks, Wood Ticks (or American Dog Tick), and deer ticks (or black-legged ticks), with deer ticks being the smallest of the bunch. 

Lone Star Ticks are very widespread and can be distinguished by the “star” or white spot on their backs. They are very aggressive ticks that actually stalk their prey through the grass. They are known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia, in addition to meat allergies. 

Wood ticks, or the American Dog Tick, is a relatively large tick that features brown to reddish brown markings with silver grey markings on its back behind the mouth. These ticks are known to transmit Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia.

Deer ticks are the smallest of the Long Island ticks, but tick bites from a deer tick can pack a punch. These ticks can spread American Powassan Virus, Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis. Deer ticks are very small and brown or black in color with no other colors present. Adults are the size of a sesame seed and nymphs are the size of a poppy seed.

Most ticks have to be attached for at least 24 hours to spread Lyme, but other diseases can be spread sooner than that, so it’s very important to check yourself for tick bites after every trip outside in the woods or near tall grass. 

To keep your property safe, pest management practices such as cutting grass low and creating natural barriers between play areas and wooded areas are vital for tick control. 

For further control methods, having your yard treated with certain sprays can help keep you and your family safe as well. For more information about tick spraying, contact Aronica Plant Healthcare today. 

Mosquito Diseases in America

Ticks are in the news for spreading diseases like Lyme Disease and Babesiosis, but mosquito-borne diseases are also a risk to public health and something that everyone should pay attention to. Mosquitoes are a public health risk due to the numerous diseases they spread across the United States. Some diseases, such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis (or EEE) can be spread to both humans and animals. Encephalitis viruses, including EEE and St. Louis Encephalitis, can cause brain swelling and even death. Human cases are rare, but can still be dangerous. 

Other mosquito-borne diseases that can cause Encephalitis (or swelling of the brain) are the Jamestown Canyon Virus, La Crosse Encephalitis, and the West Nile Virus (WNV). Encephalitis affects the entire nervous system and can cause pain, swelling, and paralysis. 

Other viruses that can be passed through mosquito bites are the Chikungunya Virus, Yellow Fever, and Zika Virus. Zika Virus was originally prevalent in parts of the world like South America but has since become a public health risk in places like Florida and Texas, however, it has been seen as far north as New York due to travel-associated transmission. 

For most of these diseases, transmission to humans happens when a mosquito bites an already infected animal. These bites infect mosquitoes with an illness that then spreads to humans through the next bite. The Center for Disease Control has many fact sheets for each disease we’ve mentioned, including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. 

Combining mosquito control techniques is the best way to avoid catching these diseases. Wearing long sleeves and long pants outside is one method, and using bug spray on your clothing is another. The easiest method is to have a yard spray applied to your property. These sprays help to cut down on not only mosquitoes, but also fleas, ticks, and flies. 

Contact us today if you’d like to find out more about mosquito sprays for your yard this spring and summer.

Long Island Ticks

The warm weather is here and we’re back to spending time outdoors. Unfortunately, while we’re outside there’s a better than average chance we’ll encounter ticks. Currently, there are three kinds of ticks that are most commonly found on humans on Long Island. These include black-legged ticks (aka, deer ticks),  Lone Star ticks, and the American dog tick, also known as the wood tick. 

Lone Star ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas of Suffolk County. While they don’t transmit Lyme disease, they can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and meat allergies. They can also transmit STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness). They originated from the southern United States, but have slowly crept northward due to climate change. 

The other tick species also transmit tick-borne diseases including Lyme, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichia. 

The best way to deal with tick bites is to avoid them; so it’s important to practice tick control in your gardening. Keep a three-foot barrier between play areas and wooded areas. Keep grass trimmed low and check everyone before they come inside for ticks. 

Managing wildlife is important in the fight against ticks. Keep your yard neat and free of leaf litter, long grasses, and brush piles in order to make your yard as unpalatable to ticks as possible. Wildlife such as domestic chickens and similar fowl—including ducks, geese, turkeys, and guinea hens—also eat ticks and can help keep your yard and garden tick-free.

Finally, spraying for ticks is an easy way you can help reduce the number of ticks on your property. Having your yard treated early and regularly can make play areas safer for children and pets. These sprays can reduce all three kinds of ticks, including dog ticks! Contact us today to schedule a spray for your yard to help keep you, and your loved ones, safe as they play in the summer sun. 

Planting Spring Bulbs

Everyone loves to see spring flowers peeking out of the ground as soon as the weather turns, but in order to make that happen, it takes a bit of planning! 

To ensure that your yard is filled with blooms all spring and summer long, follow these tips for planting. 

Beautiful bulbs make beautiful flowers, so when picking out your bulbs make sure they have no mushy spots or mold. Avoid bulbs that are soft, feel hollow, or have dark spots on them. Choose the largest bulbs in the variety you’re after, as those will be the healthiest and the most reliable bloomers. 

Spring flowering bulbs need to be planted the fall before you want them to bloom. These hardy bulbs do not need to be brought inside to overwinter. This includes tulips, hyacinth, crocus, snowdrops, etc. They need a chill in order to prepare them to bloom, however, you can plant them as late as January if the soil is still workable and they will still have time to settle in before blooming. Make them a part of your fall planting for a spectacular display come springtime.

For plants with summer bloom times,  early spring is the perfect time to plant bulbs. When planting bulbs it’s very important to dig a hole that is at least 3 times deeper than the size of the bulb. For large bulbs, you’ll want to dig a hole about 6 inches deep, while smaller bulbs may only need a 3-inch hole. 

Many bulb flowers are sun-loving, particularly summer bulbs, so try to put the bulbs in a place where they will receive full sun. You also want to ensure good drainage so that the bulbs don’t end up rotting. 

To create a spectacular spring and summer-long show, plant spring bulbs on top of mid-to-late season bloomers, and mix different types of bulbs to create displays of color that will pop up all season long. 

Starting Seeds in Egg Cartons

It’s that time of year; when the weather is getting just a little warmer and it’s time to start seeds indoors. One of the best methods for starting seeds uses cardboard egg cartons to start your plants. Cardboard egg cartons are biodegradable and make the perfect little planters for growing seeds. You can start indoor plants in egg cartons as well as plants you intend to sow outdoors once they develop. 

To start prepping for seed containers you’ll want to poke small drainage holes in the bottom of each egg compartment. This will allow water to escape. If you like you can poke several small holes or just one slightly bigger one. It’s up to you. Next, use some plastic wrap to cover the top; you’re going to use this as a drainage tray. Next comes the fun part: playing in the dirt! 

Take some potting soil and place it in the bottom of each egg cup. Once they’re about half full, poke holes in the middle of each section and begin planting seeds! You’ll want to put one seed in each hole for larger seeds like squash and cucumbers, but for smaller seeds like flowers feel free to put several in each hole. Once you have all of your seeds planted, cover the seeds with enough dirt to reach the top of the egg carton. Next, dampen the soil and place the moist carton on your drainage tray and put it in a sunny window. Cover it with plastic wrap or a bag from the grocery store. Every day check on the seeds and give the dirt a little spray if it’s looking dry. The warmth from the sun will help you to start seeds indoors, so be sure they’re in a warm, sunny, dry spot!

Soon, you’ll start to see small seedlings appear. Once they’re about a quarter-inch high you can remove the plastic cover, but continue to water them so they don’t dry out. Let them grow for a couple of weeks before planting them outdoors. You can just tear off each section and plant the whole thing, egg carton and all, right in the ground as the carton will biodegrade and become part of the soil. 

Planting seeds in egg cartons is a fun project to do with your kids, and a great way to bring spring into your home. Even though the weather may still be a bit cold, when you start seeds in egg cartons you can get your garden going, and enjoy a bit of greenery until it warms up outside. 

March Gardening Checklist

March is here and that means that spring is just around the corner. For those of us itching to get back into the garden, our time has come. Now is the time to begin turning that gardening plan into reality!

March gardening means a lot of prep work before the early spring growth begins. Start your garden journal in March. Record the layout of your garden design and include pictures. Make a note of successful plants and those to avoid as well as bloom times. Record when you started seeds and transplanted plants. If you go to a flower and garden show bring your journal and make a note of the plants that you’d like to work with.

All of these notes will help you to improve your garden year after year.

It’s a great time to start seeds indoors so you’ll be ready to plant after the danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature rises. Cool-season crops like lettuce, peas, spinach, and radishes can be planted now, though they may benefit from protection like a cold frame. The rest of your vegetable gardening may need to wait until April or May. Check your local nursery’s weekly newsletter to see what kinds of new seedlings are available so you can get them as early as possible.

Now is also a good time to plant summer blooming bulbs. These can be put in the ground as soon as the last frost is over once your garden bed is turned and prepped.

If you have flower boxes, cool-season annuals such as pansies, petunias, snapdragons, daisies, and more will help bring color to your garden early. 

For larger plants, if you have trees and shrubs that you’ve wrapped with burlap, now is a good time to remove it. 

Fruit trees can benefit from being sprayed in March against insects and disease, and ornamental grasses should be cut back to make room for new growth. 

Finally, to bring some color into the house, you can take cuttings of spring-flowering shrubs and force them into bloom to get a taste of what’s to come in the next few months and hold you over until the warm weather takes hold and you can spend more time out in the garden.