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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.

Give Dormant Pruning a Try, and Your Plants Will Thank You This Summer

Dormant pruning or winter pruning is exactly what it sounds like: pruning plants during the winter while the plants are dormant. Late fall and winter, between November and March, is a good time to get on top of this particular chore.

Pruning in the winter means that there is less of a chance for insects to spread disease, and fresh pruning cuts heal faster during the dormant season. It’s also easier to see what you’re doing during the dormant season, without all of the leaves in your way. Finally, dormant pruning doesn’t just help the tree; it also helps the people around it. By trimming dead or broken branches you can prevent them from falling off in storms, which can cause injury or damaged property. 

When it’s time to prune make sure to wait until the weather breaks. You don’t want to prune when there is still snow and ice on the trees or shrubbery. You’ll want to remove the oldest woody stems and thin the plant out to allow for better airflow and increased growth in the spring. Plants that bloom will see increased flowering within a year or two of dormant pruning.

Dormant pruning is the perfect time to shape young trees, which can save you money because you won’t have to have larger branches removed later. Trees and shrubs which undergo dormant pruning are encouraged to put out new growth come spring and summer. This type of pruning is a way you can control where the plant puts its energy during the growing season. 

If you’re intimidated by the idea of doing the pruning yourself you can always call in the experts at Aronica Plant Healthcare. Their trained arborists and landscape technicians will be able to determine exactly which plants in your yard can benefit from this useful practice. 

The Dos and Don’ts of Raking Fall Leaves

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere you look outside fallen leaves have drifted into piles. There are leaves on your car, leaves on your lawn, and everywhere else they can possibly go.

While most people don’t love the chore of raking leaves (it’s often right up there with shoveling snow), there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. By following these tips you’ll get the job done quickly and efficiently!

Feed your lawn.

Wait until most or all of the leaves have fallen before starting your leaf removal efforts. In the meantime, use a mulching lawnmower and mow the leaf litter into the grass, adding organic matter to the roots of your fall lawn and acting as a lawn fertilizer.

Keep it neat.

Raking your leaves onto a tarp, or using your leaf blower to move them onto the tarp, will make the job of bagging much easier. If you choose to place leaves in your compost pile with your grass clippings rather than rake and bag them for the curb, you can move them all at once instead of one load at a time.

Make use of what you have.

Fallen leaves make great mulch for your garden by adding nutrients to the soil and, according to the national wildlife federation, give animals a place to hide and keep warm during the long winter months. They also suppress weeds. Rather than going out to buy mulch you can use the leaves your trees give you for free and help out wild animals at the same time.

Wet or dry?

There are pros and cons to both wet and dry raking. You can generally rake dry leaves faster—as they’re lighter and easier to move—however that also makes them more prone to blow away in the wind. In either case, be sure to rake downhill; it’ll save time and your back.

It’s Time for the First Frost of the Year! Here’s What to Get Done.

While winter seems to come later and later every year, eventually it’ll happen. You’ll wake up one morning, go outside, and find sparkling crystals of ice on the grass and your car: it’s the first frost of the year. Unfortunately, it’s hard to gauge when the first frost will be. Upstate New York has already gotten their first frost, but because we’re in a slightly different hardiness zone we won’t see the first frost occurring for another couple of weeks. In zone 7, where Long Island is located, the average date that freezing temperatures usually occur is about November 15. Dates can vary, but generally speaking, we’ll have a light freeze midway through November. 

Frost occurring doesn’t necessarily mean your growing season is completely over. If you have a cold frame or greenhouse you can still extend it for a few weeks, but you’ll want to start thinking about picking the last of your broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and spinach before the first moderate freeze comes, which will damage or kill your plants. 

If you have a garden you’ll want to get your mulching done before the first frost, as the mulch will protect tender plants from the cold and help to keep them from drying out. 

Clear out any dead plants that are left in your garden. Old stalks and weeds should go into the compost so that pests have nowhere to overwinter. If the plants were diseased, toss them in the trash. 

You’ll also want to bring in any container plants you want to keep over the winter. They will not survive the cold weather, so they should be making their way inside now.

If you plan on planting any trees, it’s starting to get late in the season. The roots will likely have time to establish themselves before the ground freezes, but once the first hard freeze comes it may be too late, so use discretion. 

Finally, collect seeds! Those dead heads on your flowers contain all of the seeds you’ll need for your garden next year. Deadheading your plants isn’t just good garden hygiene, it’s also a great way to re-seed next year. 

Getting Your Trees and Shrubs Ready for Winter

Fall is here and while you may think that the cold is the biggest issue your trees and shrubs will have to face, the truth is there are a number of factors that can damage them. Problems such as dry winter winds, frozen soil, animals, and alternating freeze and thaw cycles can all cause damage to your plants. So how can you winterize your trees and shrubs? The following tips will give you, and your plants, a helping hand with getting through the winter.

Stop Pruning and Fertilizing Right Now. 

When you trim your branches you stimulate new growth that will be unprepared to handle the cold and harsh weather of winter. You want to give your plants a chance to go dormant before the cold weather arrives, and by not trimming or feeding them you help them with that process. Fertilizer also encourages growth, so stop providing it by mid-summer.

Water Deeply. 

Give your plants as much of a head start as possible. Once the ground freezes, roots can no longer take up water so water thoroughly until the root area (about 12-18” deep) is soaked. Stop watering once the ground freezes.

Give Them Some Mulch. 

After the ground freezes mulching around the base of the plant will insulate the soil around the roots and prevent the freeze/thaw cycle from damaging the roots. Make sure to keep the mulch a couple of inches from the trunk to prevent it from rotting or becoming a feast for rodents.

Wrap Them Up. 

Evergreen trees and shrubs—including Rhododendrons—can benefit from a burlap blanket to protect them from wind damage. This will also help to keep deer from turning them into a mid-winter snack. These plants are different from your other trees and shrubs because they never go fully dormant, so you should continue to water them when the ground isn’t frozen.

You may also want to wrap the stems of young or delicate trees to prevent damage from ice and snow. If snow builds up on branches you can gently knock it off, however, once the snow has frozen it’s best to leave it alone as you can end up doing more damage than the snow by breaking delicate branches.

If you’d prefer to leave all of the winter prep to the professionals give Aronica Plant Healthcare a call! They’ll make sure that your garden is ready for winter so you can have a beautiful and green spring.

Fall Gardening Tips

Fall GardeningAs the temperature slowly drops and we move into fall, there are plenty of opportunities available to improve your yard and garden. Fall Gardening will help make the most out of your garden all year round. By putting in the time now, your spring garden will really shine, so make a note of those frost dates, and read on for some tips on how you can make sure your spring garden shine.

Fall Gardening:

During late summer and early fall, many people like to overseed their lawn to rid themselves of bare or thin patches come spring, or start seeding a new lawn. Before doing this, make sure your soil has a pH of 6.0-6.5 and then enrich the soil accordingly before seeding or—if you need to have the soil tested by a county extension service—as soon as the results come back. Making sure your soil has the right nutrient balance this fall will make a big difference in the thickness and health of your grass come spring.

Before planting your fall vegetable garden it’s important to get rid of the organic matter left over from your summer garden vegetables, as pests and diseases like to hide and overwinter in the roots and stalks that are leftover after planting, and they will spread easily to next year’s crop. Insects and diseases may also affect cooler weather plantings such as spinach, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, and radishes. These are great veggies to start growing in fall and, by using a row cover, you can continue your harvest almost all the way through to winter, whether you plant in the ground or in a raised bed.

If you’re planting trees and shrubs fall is the best growing season to do so. The ground is still warm enough to allow the roots to grow and settle in, but the leaves are not taking up much in the way of nutrients. They will be secure and strong by the time the heat comes back around next year. If you do plant during the fall be sure to water enough. Cooler weather tends to be drier, and new plantings should be watered at least once a week, either naturally (with rain) or from your hose.

Flower gardening in the cool season can include adding brightly colored annuals for a pop of color. Mums, Asters, and Pansies do well in the cooler months. Another step to take before the cool season sets in is to plant your spring bulbs. Tender bulbs may be stored in a cool dry place—such as your refrigerator—but most bulbs—such as Irises, Hyacinths, Tulips, Crocuses, and Daffodils—will winter over well in the ground. Another great fall gardening tip is to use fallen leaves to mulch them this gives them an additional layer of protection from the cold. Fall planted bulbs will put on a showy display in the spring, making all of your work worth it, so have a little bit of patience and you’ll be basking in a beautiful spring garden in seven or eight months!

They’re Not Bagworms, So What Are They? Fall Webworms Are Here!

fall webworms

If you’re wondering what that white webbing is all over your trees, you’re not alone. Numerous complaints have come into our offices about these sticky masses, and the caterpillars that emerge from them. While many may think they’re the bagworms of early spring, they are actually something different: fall webworms.

Fall Webworms?

Fall webworms create nests of webbing late summer and early fall and become most noticeable in August and September. This late summer pest is unattractive but rarely causes significant damage to the trees in which it nests as the leaves being eaten are soon to fall off anyway. This particular nuisance prefers hardwood deciduous trees so if you have these in your yard (and on Long Island, you’re sure to have some,) you may have seen their sticky egg sacks.

This year, we have seen a much higher incidence than usual of fall webworm. Webworm comes in two waves, and the first wave of the season produced higher than average webworm activity, so as we move into August, the second wave may seem more apparent than usual. While it is important to protect young, or previously damaged plants, do not chop off branches or light them on fire to get rid of these nests, as you will do far more damage than the worms would do. You can break up the webbing with a rake or a long pole to improve the cosmetic effect they have on your trees. Breaking up the nests will expose the caterpillars to natural predators such as birds, wasps, and yellow-jackets, and therefore will reduce the number of future outbreaks.

If you are concerned about these pests and want to find out how you can protect your hardwood trees, or would like to inquire about having your trees treated, contact Aronica Plant Healthcare today.

What Are Seed Ticks and Do I Need to Worry About Them?

seed ticksIf you’re outside this summer you have a good chance of encountering ticks at some point, whether they’re crawling on you, your clothes, or the dog. Some ticks may be relatively easy to see—such as dog ticks or an adult tick—but some, such as seed ticks, are not.

Seed ticks are ticks that have just hatched and passed through the larval stage. They are the nymph (or baby) stage of ticks and they can be as small as the period at the end of this sentence. While they are tiny (think little black dots with legs) they still feed on blood and can pass along tick-borne diseases as easily as adult ticks. Some of these diseases include Lyme Disease and the Powassan Virus.

Female ticks lay nests of several hundred to a few thousand eggs, and you’re most likely to encounter seed ticks near these nests. Eggs are the first stage of a tick’s life. Once they hatch they become larva, and then they become a nymph (or seed tick) before finally going on to become an adult. The size of a poppy seed, these tick nymphs are extremely hard to notice. They are part of the life cycle of all types of ticks, including the lone star tick, which has been particularly troublesome this summer season.

Are Seed Ticks Dangerous?

Just because they’re small doesn’t mean seed ticks don’t pack a punch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seed ticks are actually the most likely to transmit Lyme disease or another tick-borne infection to humans than ticks at other stages, in part because they are so difficult to see and may remain on the body for so long. Their saliva contains an anesthetic, which means you are highly unlikely to feel their bites and, while they may not attach right away, it has now been shown that certain tick-borne illnesses—such as Babesiosis—can be transmitted within minutes of being bitten. Seed ticks are most active in the spring and summer months, so now is the time to be aware of them and the problems they can cause.

Having your yard treated for not only these tiny ticks but also their adult relatives is the best way to stay safe while at home. Aronica Plant Healthcare offers a family and pet-safe spray that can keep your yard safe from ticks. While away from home, make sure to use a repellent containing DEET to keep your family safe. Long pants and sleeves are also a good method to protect yourself if you are out near grassy or wooded areas. Remember, if they can’t reach your skin, the ticks can’t bite you.

Summer Lawn Care Tips To Keep Your Grass Looking Green!

Summer Lawn CareWe’ve already covered how to get your grass ready for spring and how to handle weed control, now we’re going to tell you summer lawn care tips and how to keep a healthy lawn all through the summer months.

We’ve had a very wet spring, which means you haven’t really had to water your lawn, but summer heat and drought are on the way. In the summer heat, cool season grasses such as fescue, bluegrass, and rye can have a hard time and will need a higher amount of water to keep from turning brown.

Summer Lawn Care Tips:

When the weather starts reaching about 80 degrees, and all through the summer months, you’ll want to make sure your lawn gets at least an inch of water a week. This will help to keep it from turning brown. Hot weather not only makes your lawn look tired, and it will behave that way too, becoming less able to handle the wear and tear of traffic and everyday use. To make sure your lawn gets all of the water you give it, set your water schedule to happen in the early morning (before 10 am) or in the evening so that it doesn’t all evaporate.

Another way to help keep your lawn healthy is to cut it regularly with a sharp mower blade. A dull blade is more likely to shred grass rather than cut it neatly, and this can allow diseases to infect your lawn. Most manufacturers suggest sharpening your blade after every 10 hours of use. When you do mow don’t cut your lawn too short. You want to make sure only a third, at most, of each grass blade is cut. So at the beginning of the summer season raise your blade. A taller lawn is more drought-tolerant as it can grow deeper roots to better reach the water you give. When you do mow, mulch the grass clippings right back onto your lawn. This will help it to retain water and stay green for longer.

Finally, if you choose to fertilize your lawn, be sure to do it before the summer starts. Once the real heat of summer arrives even organic fertilizers can sometimes burn your lawn, though they are less likely to do so than traditional fertilizers.

By following these summer lawn care tips you can help to keep your lawn green, healthy, and looking great all summer long.