Time to Think About Firing Up the Sprinkler System

April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with plentiful spring rain on schedule. Now is the time to be sure your sprinkler system is ready to take up the slack.

Restarting Your Sprinklers

Before you actually start needing your sprinklers, you should take the proper steps to be sure your irrigation system is functioning properly and efficiently.

  1. Check that the ground is not still frozen.The deeper parts of the soil are the last areas to feel the warm kiss of spring, and before you begin work on your sprinkler system, you want to be sure your buried pipes aren’t still in frozen ground. Use a spade or shovel to check that the soil is fully defrosted at least 12 inches below the surface, otherwise you may damage your sprinklers and pipes when you start them up. If the soil is still frozen, wait another 5-7 days before checking again, and do not start your sprinklers until defrosting is complete.
  2. Adjust your automatic controller as needed.

    The times and durations of watering cycles you used last fall are not likely to be the same that you will want to use this spring. Furthermore, your timer may not be set to the correct time depending on Daylight Saving or power adjustments, so now is the time to double check that your controller is properly adjusted and timed for spring use. Reread instructions if necessary to refamiliarize yourself with how to change the settings appropriately.

  3. Recharge the sprinkler lines slowly and carefully.

    When you open the main line to your irrigation system, do so very slowly and carefully, staying alert to possible leaks or problems. It is crucial to allow the line to fill slowly, otherwise the air pressure and water pressure surge could damage pipes, valves and sprinkler heads, leading to costly repairs and landscaping damage. Once the main line is recharged, do the same for each individual sprinkler zone, but keep the pace slow and gentle. It may take up to 30 minutes to recharge each zone, but use that time to watch for leaks or other indications of damage, particularly at valves or sprinkler heads where even slow leaks can add up to hefty water bills.

  4. Run each zone briefly and adjust coverage if necessary.

    Once your system is fully charged and ready to be operated, run each zone for a few minutes to check the efficiency and coverage of individual sprinkler heads. Frost heaving, snowblower incidents and even inadvertent kicks from pets or children can all misalign sprinkler heads, leading to more water on sidewalks or driveways than on the lawn. This is also the time to remove any dirt or debris that has built up on the sprinkler heads, and check that the overall coverage is adequate for each watering area.

If you find damage in your sprinkler system, you can make the proper repairs on your own or hire our company to repair and inspect the system thoroughly. You may also want to consider upgrading to better or more water-wise sprinkler heads in the spring, which can save you money all through the watering season.

Is It Time to Start Watering?

Just because you’ve fired up your sprinkler system, that doesn’t mean it’s time to set the automatic timer and let the sprinklers take care of themselves. The actual time you will start using your sprinklers will vary based on your lawn’s condition, local climate, recent precipitation and your fertilization schedule. While you will want to get your sprinklers ready to go 2-4 weeks before regular watering begins in case there are repairs to be made, a good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t start watering your lawn until the grass starts to grow naturally. At that point, more water will be needed to nourish a healthy root system and keep the grass lush so weeds do not take over. You will want to schedule your sprinklers to provide two inchs of water to the lawn each week, using 1-2 watering cycles to reach that total. When Mother Nature does oblige with a good spring shower, you can use your sprinklers less.

Start Pruning Roses This Spring

It is officially spring now and that means blooming roses are just around the corner if they haven’t started already! In order to get them ready for the coming growing season, start pruning roses now so they have time to produce new growth.

Pruning roses can be done in spring

What Kind of Pruning Cut Should You Make?

When you make your cuts, do them on a 45 degree angle. If you do a steeper angle, more of the stem is exposed and it’s possible that diseases or insects could strike. Make your cuts right next to the node, which is a section where the leaves are connected to the stem. Buds are produced at these junctures. If you cut higher and leave more of the stem, it can also be a source of pests and other problems.

Making your pruning cuts near the leaf node also keeps the appearance tidier. This method can also be used later when you remove dead flowers (deadheading) as the blooming season progresses. This cleans up the rose bush and can possibly prompt it to blossom again.

How Much Do I Prune?

As a general rule, it is a good idea to prune up to one-third of a shrub at a time. Some kinds of roses like the hybrid teas can take more drastic pruning; in fact, you may want to prune out a lot on that type especially to help encourage the plant to produce fresh new stems that are long and good for putting in a vase, for example.

Study the plant before you start chopping away. Look for any parts that have died, become damaged, or are diseased. You always want to remove them for safety and the health of the plant. Once those have been taken out, look for the strongest canes (branches) on your rose bush. Use these as your foundation. Think of where they are located and make sure that you do not leave large gaps.

When do you prune your roses?

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Is My Tree Still Alive?

As plants start to awaken after a long winter slumber, you may notice that one or more of your trees do not have leaves or blossoms yet. The thought that they may have died from exposure to the harsh weather comes to mind. How can you check to see if the tree is still alive or not so that you can replace it if necessary?

A live tree next to a dead tree

Know Your Species

Some kinds of trees will send out leaves and flowers earlier than others, so it is important to keep that in mind when observing the stragglers. You can ask your extension office or garden center worker, or do a search online to see if this is the case for your specific species.

Check for Buds

Look at the branches for signs of flower and leaf buds. Once you find them, inspect to see if you can see signs of swelling or if they are green. That is another sign that the tree is doing fine. If they look small and dry, it is still possible that they could swell and open soon, though.

Do a Thumbnail Scratch Test

Take your thumbnail and gently scratch the trunk (young trees) or a branch hard enough to remove the top layer of bark. If you reveal green underneath, the tree is still alive. If it is brown, check a different branch to make sure that it’s not just that one branch. If that one is also not green, there’s a good chance that the tree has perished. For large trees especially, calling in an arborist for a definitive answer would be prudent.

Remove if Necessary

If you determine that the tree is no longer living, now is a good time to remove it and work on planting a replacement if desired. Spring is a good time to put in new trees, as well as fall for many species. Depending on the age, species and size of the tree, you may need to call in an arborist company so that it is taken out safely. These companies have the equipment and training to help ensure that you don’t run into problems like a tree falling on your house or injuring people.

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Start Your Weeding Early in the Year

The garden world is starting to come alive again. Early bloomers like forsythia and redbud have burst into bloom and the ground is not always covered with snow. Unfortunately, it also means that weeds tend to pop up. If you do not take action in a timely matter, you may look one day and realize that your landscape is overrun. It is best to start weeding as soon as they appear and keep up on it.

Weeding your lawn and landscape early will keep it from becoming a mess.

Do Your Weeding While They Are Young

One of the key parts of weed control is early removal. When they are small, they are easier to remove. You can also prevent future weeds if you take them out before they have had a chance to flower and produce seeds. Plan on walking through your landscape at least weekly (more if you have the time) to scout out new weeds and remove them promptly. If you choose to use a herbicide, pay attention to the weather and follow the directions on the bottle. The efficiency of the chemical can be lessened if you use it on days that are hot and/or windy, for example.

Use a Preemergent Herbicide

Another way to keep weeds at bay is to use a preemergent herbicide. These chemicals work by keeping the seeds from germinating in the first place. This does mean that you have to be careful where you use it, as it doesn’t discriminate and would also work on grass or vegetable seeds, for example. Use this early on to catch as many weeds as you can before they sprout. You may want to do another application later in the season to combat any weed seeds that may have drifted in since the first treatment.

Have you started weeding your landscape?

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Order Garden Seeds and Plants Now

One way to keep working on your garden until the temperatures warm up again in the spring is to order garden seeds and plants. You can send off for a catalog, shop online or visit a local garden center or nursery.

One place to buy plants is your local garden center

Know Your Zone and Growing Conditions

If you ask a gardener about it, chances are many of them have fallen in love with plants at the store and bought them, not stopping to consider if it would actually work within their garden. They get planted and it’s really too hot or too cold, too acidic, too small of a space or a host of other potential problems. When you order garden seeds and plants, make an effort to research each potential candidate and see if they really will work in your landscape.

Plant catalogs and tags will have basic info listed on them to help you know how this species will grow and if it is indeed suitable for your landscape. Some to consider include:

  • USDA garden zone
  • Height and width
  • Light requirements
  • Soil requirements like pH, sandy, clay, etc.
  • Water requirements
  • Flowering season
  • Fertilizer need

Shop Local When Possible

In addition to supporting your local economy, shopping at your neighborhood garden center can give your plants an edge when it comes to surviving and thriving in your landscape. Many grow their own plants and thus they are already acclimated to your specific environmental conditions. They may also sell native species that will flourish since they are naturally adjusted to your area.

You do still want to check over the requirements for each specific plant. I sometimes run into plants that do not do well in the area, like orange trees. Plants that belong in warmer regions can often be used as houseplants, of course, but they aren’t always labeled as such.

Where do you like to get your seeds and plants?

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8 Plants for Early Spring Color

As an avid gardener, winter seems to make the time pass slower. The world around me is often covered with a blanket of white snow or otherwise stark and bare. I long to see pops of color creeping up again. If you are also wishing that you could see plant growth sooner rather than later, place one of these plants for early spring color.

Redbuds are a source of early spring color

Redbuds blooming in a snowy landscape

Crocus

These little bulbs are one of the best choices for blossoms that come early on in the year. The leaves will push their way up through snow and produce flowers that can be shades of purple, yellow, white and striped mixes.

Forsythia

If yellow is your favorite color, one option for blossoms in this color is produced by the forsythias. When these start blooming, you know that spring is right around the corner.

Glory of the Snow

For blue, pink or white flowers that are shaped like stars, look for the glory of the snow. These plants will start blooming for you in February.

Lenten Rose

If you want a groundcover for a shady spot, consider planting the Lenten rose. It will produce flowers that can be red, white, yellow, pink

Lilacs

A favorite shrub for many (myself included) is the lilac. Clusters of sweetly perfumed blossoms will help brighten up your garden. Purple is the most common color, though you may also come across some in white, yellow, pink or burgundy.

Pansies

These annuals do great in cooler temperatures. In some cases, they are able to overwinter after placement for fall color and bloom again in the spring.

Redbud

This little tree is so eager to flower that the blossoms will appear on the branches before the leaves do! In addition to the standard green heart-shaped leaves, look for ‘Forest Pansy’, which has purple foliage.

Snowdrops

Another bulb for early spring color is the snowdrop, with blossoms possibly starting off the year right in January. There are double flowering varieties available.

Do you have any of these in your garden? Which is your favorite?

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Treat Your Fruit Trees and Shrubs with Dormant Oils

Another garden task that can be performed during the winter is spraying some of your trees and shrubs with dormant oils. There are many species that can benefit from this practice, but they are notably associated with the care of fruit trees and shrubs. Spraying them now will help your future crop production be optimal.

DormantOilsFlickrSizbut

What Are Dormant Oils?

These products are created from petroleum and are designed to suffocate the insects that may have taken shelter in your plants for the winter. The oils form a layer on the pests that prevents them from breathing properly and hastening their demise. On some insects, the dormant oils will also actually start to eat away at their exoskeleton and inner body.

Some of these products will also help control fungal diseases that may be present in the plant. There are several different kinds available for purchase at your local garden center or nursery. The associates should be able to assist you in choosing the best option for you if you are not sure which one is necessary.

When Do You Use Dormant Oils?

As you may have figured out from the name, these products should be applied during winter when the trees and shrubs are dormant. Choose a time in the season when the temperatures are at least a bit above freezing to do your treatments. Follow the directions on the label and wear necessary safety gear like goggles and gloves.

Some insects can be very persistent, so watch for them in spring and summer to see if any survived. There are oils that can be applied in summer to help get rid of these stubborn pests.

What kinds of fruit trees and shrubs do you have in your garden? Have you used dormant oils before?

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Prune Trees and Shrubs During This Winter

While most gardening tasks do not start until the growing season begins, you can get your new year off to a good start when you prune trees and shrubs this winter. This will help them be ready for when the temperatures warm up and your landscape springs to life.

You can prune many trees and shrubs during winter

Why Prune Trees and Shrubs in Winter?

When you prune away parts of a plant properly, it can stimulate new growth to occur. If you did this process in the summer, it might be stressed due to lack of water and higher temperatures. You can do some in fall, but it needs to be earlier in the season if you do. If the tree or shrub produces new growth right before a frost, it might become damaged and hurt the plant.

If you prune them during the winter while the plants are dormant, they will naturally wait until they wake up in spring to start producing new growth. It is also often easier to see where to prune since the leaves have fallen away and the structure of the branches is revealed.

Check with us, your extension service or your local garden center to see when your various plants may need pruning and how much. Do not prune your evergreens until the end of winter or at the start of spring unless necessary, as in the case of a branch that is broken and dangerous. These species do not fully go dormant and may start sprouting in warm weather. In general, evergreens do not need much pruning period.

You will also want to wait to prune trees like maples and birches. These have high levels of sap developing early in the year and the wounds can bleed a lot if pruned too early.

Know How Much to Prune Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden

Trees, shrubs and perennials vary in how much you need or should prune them each year. Some do not need yearly pruning and can possibly even be harmed by the practice. Some like fruit trees need specific cuts to help them maintain a certain shape that is best for production and growth.  Others (some shrubs and perennials like ornamental grasses) will happily tolerate being cut right down to the ground each year and will bounce back once the temperatures rise.

As a general rule, it is fine (and necessary) to remove any parts that have become dead, diseased or damaged as they will affect the structure and health of the plant. You may need to sterilize your pruners after each plant if diseases are present.

What will you be pruning this year?

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Spend a Snowy Afternoon Planning Your Garden

Planning your landscape out before planning can help ensure your garden's success

This time of year is when I like to daydream and think about the coming gardening season. It is lovely to take a day and work on planning your garden out properly so that you can make the right choices for new plants and keep your landscape beautiful.

Three Basic Steps for Planning Your Garden

  1. Start by Drawing Out Your Current Garden on Paper. This step will help you visualize what can be done. Measure out your garden and draw your plan to scale to make sure that all of your new plants and other features will fit in properly.
  2. See What Improvements Can Be Made. Are there spots that are looking empty, perhaps where plants may have died in the previous season? Do you need to move plants around? Would you like to add any new hardscape features like a pathway or patio? If you use tracing paper, you can overlay it over your design to get an idea of what different possibilities could look like.
  3. Use Garden Catalogs and the Internet to Consider Plant Choices. If you have identified that you might want to add some new plants, take a trip around the Internet or thumb through some garden catalogs. Know what your USDA zone, sun availability and soil pH levels are so that you can make good choices. Design based on the mature size, not the smaller versions that are cheaper to buy. Consider the plants around it so they don’t receive too little or too much sun.

While there is much more to the art of garden design, you will have a greater chance of creating a beautiful landscape if you start out with these three steps. Call us if you would like help in this process.

Have you planned your garden on paper before? Did it help?

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Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year

May you have Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year

Winter at the Grey Gardens in NY

We want to send you our Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays and wishes for a Happy New Year as 2015 comes to a close. We are very grateful for our customers and that we have the opportunity to help beautify your landscape during the growing season.

This time of year is often a period of reflection as many different holidays are celebrated and we head into a new calendar year. Now is a great time to think about how your garden looked over the past year and possible changes that you might want to make.

Gardens Make a Difference in the World Around You

One of the reasons I decided to major in Horticulture in college years ago was because I looked forward to the opportunity to make the world at least a little more beautiful. Think of how your garden makes you feel. Hopefully you feel satisfied with how your landscape looks and that it brings you peace.

There is always the possibility that you are ready for changes in your yard because it is not where you want to be. If that is the case, never fear. Take some time to do some searches online, read magazines and books, and think about what you could do to make your own landscape a better place. We would be happy to consult with you in this process to help make sure you get the right plants and features for your situation.

Make 2016 your best year yet!

Are you planning on making changes to your garden? What will you do?

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