Vande Hey Design Center

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pruning for Dummies

Proper pruning of your trees and shrubs isn't necessarily complicated, but it often strikes fear into the hearts of many first time owners of a new landscape.  Here are a few "rules of thumb" to help you during your learning curve associated with a new landscape.
- Try limiting pruning the first year or two.  This keeps the maximum amount of foliage on the plant, producing the maximum amount of nutrients as the shrub works to adapt to its new home.
- Spring blooming plants are best prunes immediately after they flower.  This spring pruning will not only remove and spent blossoms but it will also keep your shrub in shape for the summer ahead.  Remember that spring blooming plants set their blower buds in later summer or fall.  Pruning too late in the year will actually remove the flower buds for the following spring.  Examples of spring bloomers are forsythia, lilac, rose tree of China, bridal wreath, and mockorange.
- Summer blooming plants are best pruned when the plant is dormant.  This includes late fall and early spring.  Examples of summer bloomers would be potentilla, spirea, and Annabelle hydrangea.  Remember that summer blooming plants set their buds in the early spring.  Pruning once the growth has started each spring will remove the flower buds for the summer ahead.
- Trees that bleed readily in the spring and best pruned during the summer.  This allows abundant time for pruning wounds to heal.  Examples of trees susceptible to bleeding are maple, birch, and elm.
- Finally, put away your pruning tools for the months of September and October.  The result of pruning is often new growth.  New growth at this time of year can be damaged by the onset of cold weather.  Why tempt fate?

Hopefully these general rules will make your more comfortable with the process of pruning your landscape plants.  Look for future articles providing specific information on how to revitalize your existing plantings through pruning.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Each spring though fall we see a steady steam of chewed or infected leaves, stems, and branches making their way into our garden center for diagnosis.  Sometimes the diagnosis is easy and sometimes we may never figure out the problem.  In every case, our client is looking for some chemical or treatment to cure their ailing plant.  Sometimes the problem can be treated but more often than not, there is nothing we can do.  Why not?  In almost every case, early detection is the key.  Many fungal problems have no cure once the infection has started or once the caterpillar has defoliated the plant.  At that point, it is too late to treat the problem.

So, what should you do?  I'd recommend that, on a weekly basis or more often if you choose, take a casual stroll through your landscape. Look for the subtle changes in your plants that might foretell a problem in the works.  Look for misshapen or discolored leaves.  Look for leaves that have have unexpectedly fallen to the ground and check them for signs of trouble.  Look for partially eaten or chewed leaves or any creatures taking up residence on the leaves, petioles, or stems.  Look for bumps, growths, or lesions not present earlier.  Once you've detected a problem in its early stage, collect a substantial sample of the plant and come in for help.  With early detection, you may be able to nip the trouble in the bud because it spreads to the entire plant.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

With Winter Burn. Patience is Still a Virtue

It's mid-June and many of our winter burned evergreens are on the mend.  New growth is beginning to hide the damage and a simple brush of your hand goes a long way in removing the remaining brown foliage.  Despite these encouraging signs, it could be one or two growing seasons before the plants look the way they did last fall.  The good news is there is hope.  Make sure the evergreens stay well watered and fed through the summer and you'll have done all you can do for now.

So what about those Evergreens that, despite some new growth, are mostly brown and still look awful?  I'm afraid the answer is mostly more patience.  The cool weather has many plants just putting on their spring growth and with time, they will see new growth as well.  However, in this case, there might be some steps you can take beside waiting.  As stated earlier, keep the plants well watered and fed with a mild fertilizer such as Milorganite or Miracid.  Consider pruning back the brown branches until you find new growth or the stems become green and supple.  Once we've given the plants a few more weeks and cleaned out the truly dead material, you will have a decision to make.  Do you give the plant one more a season to grow back or do you move ahead with a replacement?  Horticulturally, these plants will come back, but aesthetically it may be time to go.  Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Whether your plants are once again flourishing or still looking sad, it if safe to say our landscape will continue to show the scars of the past winter for many years to come.

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's never too late!

All too often I hear people tell me that you simply cannot plant after Memorial Day.  Once the calendar hits June 1st, all planting must stop until the fall.  This may have been true once but not anymore.

In the past, many trees and shrubs were only available bare root, a condition when the plants were literally sold with no soil or pot to contain them.  Bare root plants came packed in moist peat moss or saw dust and needed to be planted before the leaves developed.  Even when stored in cold storage, most bare root plants needed to find a permanent home before Memorial Day.  This is probably where the advice to plant prior to Memorial Day came from.

Today, most items are sold either potted or balled and burlapped which means we can plant and improve the appearance of our homes and landscapes from April to frost.  So what is my advice to you now that June is busting out all over?  Relax, plant, and enjoy your home and garden all summer long.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Rose Care

"How do I prune my roses?" is a very common question and one that often puts terror in the eyes of the new rose grower.  Yet the pruning of roses, especially the lower maintenance shrub roses, is quite simple and easy to master.

Seasonal pruning of roses begins in the spring as our snow melts and leaves begin to appear once again on our plants.  The first step is the remove any materials broken or killed by the winter.  Begin by simply removing any broken branches.  Now attempt to remove any stem or portion of stem that has not survived the winter.  Winter-damaged growth will be black in comparison to the green growth of surviving tissue.  Simply remove the blackened stems down to the remaining green growth.  Once this is done, step back and look at what remains.  Your second goal of spring pruning is to create a symmetrical look to the plants.  Reduce the size of the largest stems down to the height of the smallest stems.  Now make one final cut on each stem to encourage strong, healthy growth.  This cut should be made about 1/8th of an inch above a bud or developing stem that faces outward.  With this, your spring pruning is complete.

As the season progresses, your rose will grow and flower throughout the year.  As the flowers fade and the petals eventually fall, it becomes time to change to deadheading mode.  Deadheading is the technical term for removing the spent blossoms.  Once the flowers have faded, prune back the flowering stem to just above a leaf comprised of 5 healthy leaflets.  By doing so, you will promote a strong, new shoot to grow in its place that will eventually develop buds and flowers in about 3-4 weeks.

Fall pruning is even easier...there is none!  As we reach the early fall, stop all pruning on your roses, even the deadheading.  This will encourage the plant to think winter and prepare for the long months ahead.  Next spring simple repeat the process and your roses will be the shapeliest in the neighborhood.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thatch...It's Not a Dirty Word

Thatch is defined as the layer of accumulated plant materials found between the soil and the green grass itself.  Contrary to most beliefs, thatch is natural and a part of your lawn's growth process.  It even has many beneficial elements such as aiding in the retention of water and nutrients.  It's only when the thatch layer is in excess that problems occur.  Thatch is in excess when it reaches a depth of 1/2 inch.

Cultural practices are usually the cause of excessive thatch.  The two most common reasons for too much thatch are over-fertilization with high nitrogen fertilizers and improper mowing.  The abundant top growth caused by over-fertilization and the buildup up clippings from mowing too short cause thatch to increase quicker than it can naturally decompose.  Our lawns need approximately 4LB of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year, no more.  Lawns should also be mowed to a height of no less than 2" in cool weather and 3" in hot conditions.  Do not let your lawn become overly-long between mowings.  Each mowing should remove no more than 1/3 of the grass blade.

The only way to check if your lawn has an excessive layer of thatch is to take a soil core from the lawn and physically inspect the thatch layer.  If it is determined that you indeed have a thatch problem, the best method of control is core aeration.  Aerate twice the first year and each fall thereafter.  Core aeration makes "Swiss cheese" of the existing thatch and encourages natural decay of the existing thatch layer.  Following correct cultural practices will also allow nature to aid in the thatch breakdown.  We DO NOT recommend the use of de-thatching machines and power rakes.  They work by ripping out the existing thatch.  On clay-based soil, you will damage the good grass as well.

Core aerators are commonly rented at equipment rental stores or simply call us to provide all your lawn care needs.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to mow your lawn

Have you ever taken the time to consider how you mow your lawn?  No? Well, it's time you do.  How and when we mow our lawns can actually make a difference in how it appears, fights disease, and stands up to the droughts of summer.  Following these basic rules will help you have the best lawn possible:

- Mowing Height: We start here because mowing height is vital to a healthy and vigorous lawn.  Blue grass is usually the grass of choice here in the Midwest and it prefers to be mowed quite high.  In spring and fall, set your mower height to no less than 2.5 inches.  When the heat of summer arrives, raise the mowing height even further to 3-3.5 inches.  Remember that the depth of the lawn's roots will usually match the lawn's mowing height.  The taller the grass, the deeper the roots and the more stress and drought tolerant the lawn will be.  Taller mowing heights will also act to shade out many weeds, lessening the need for chemical herbicides.

- Mowing Frequency: How often you mow should not be based on the day of the week or your son's sports schedule.  Lawns are best mowed when no more than 1/3 of the grass blade will be removed by the mowing.  For example, a lawn which is mowed to a height of three inches should be mowed when the turf has reached a height of 4.45 inches.  This may mean a mowing schedule of every 3-4 days in spring and only as-needed during hot, dry weather.

- Direction: If possible, change the direction of your mowing frequently.  One week mow in a north to south direction.  The next week, go east to west.  After that, try a diagonal pattern and so on.  This will help limit soil compaction and make sure the grass is actually being cut instead of simply being laid down underneath the mower blade.

- Mower Blades: Finally, make sure your mower blades are sharp and balanced.  For most people, this will mean caring for the blades once per year in spring.  For very large lawns or in situations when the blades have been dulled or nicked by unforeseen obstacles, you may need to maintain the blades multiple times through the year.