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Aphids

One of the most common insects, and one of the most potentially plant-threatening, is the aphid. There are actually many types of aphids – more than 4,000 in all. Some feed on specific plants and others are not so choosy. They all attack the newer plant growth and suck sap from a plant’s internal circulation system, the phloem, in stems and leaves. This can decrease the plant’s growth rate, discolor or disfigure leaves, cause galls to form and transmit plant diseases. Strong aphid infestations can lower produce yields and eventually kill plants altogether.

Recognizing Aphids

Aphids – also called plant lice, blackflies and greenflies – are easy to recognize. They’re about one-eighth to one-third of an inch long, usually pale green but can be almost colorless, pink, black or brown. Their pear-shaped bodies have six legs, small tail-like structures and long, jointed antennae. Aphids are soft-bodied and are mainly found in dense groups on the underside of new plant growth, where they leave behind a sticky residue called honeydew. Ants are attracted to aphid honeydew, so a nearby ant infestation or very active ant colonies may also indicate that aphids are present. Aphids are most common in spring, and die off rapidly in the hot temperatures of summer.

Controlling Aphids

Fortunately, controlling aphids is fairly easy. Most full-spectrum chemical insecticides kill aphids. Other, less strenuous products include plant extracts, neem oil, plant oils and insecticidal soap water sprays. A regular spraying with strong blasts of water or hand picking will control many infestations, especially when just a few aphids have been noticed. Many gardeners release ladybugs (lady beetles) to eat the aphids or parasitic wasps to lay their eggs in the aphid, but because these natural predators will quickly spread out, large applications of hundreds of predators may be needed to effectively control an aphid infestation. Another option is to encourage insect-eating birds to visit the yard – chickadees, titmice and warblers all especially love aphids and can provide superior natural pest control. Even hummingbirds will happily munch on aphids.

It’s best to control aphids early. As their numbers increase, the drying leaves begin to roll over them, thus protecting the aphids from controls such as soaps, oil and water sprays, and making it harder to effectively eliminate these pests. If you think you have aphids or you’re not sure what you have, bring in a sample. We’ll take a look and suggest the best way to eliminate the problem and help you protect your plants.

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Plants for Wet Soil

More water is always good for plants, right? Wrong! When water stands in the soil, air is displaced, which in turn smothers the plant roots. Once the roots are damaged many symptoms appear on leaves and shoots including wilting, marginal and inter-veinal browning of leaves (scorch), poor color and stunted growth. But the excess water isn’t always coming from overwatering, it may be the result of poor draining soil.

Poor drainage is often produced in disturbed sites when heavy clay soil is compacted by construction machinery or other excessive use, such as yards where several children are often playing. Areas cultivated for plantings, such as flowerbed or borders, then collect water running off the compacted ground – this is called the teacup effect. Wet areas may also be the result of swales, drain spout runoff and low areas even when soil percolation is adequate in most of the site but when general moisture levels are routinely high.

To check for a potential drainage problem, dig a hole at least 2 feet deep, fill it with water and note how long the water remains. If it doesn’t drain completely away within 24 hours a severe drainage problem exists.

Fortunately, you can correct drainage problems in different ways. Easy options include…

  • Divert water past plantings using drainage pipes, splash blocks or rain chains.
  • Plant in mounds or raised beds so water will run off and away from the plants.
  • Install drain tiles in saturated areas or use French drains to contain excess water.
  • Amend the soil with organic matter such as compost to improve its structure.

An even easier solution is to simply select plants that tolerate wet sites. The following trees and shrubs tolerate wet sites and flooding better than most. Few tolerate standing water for long periods (those that grow in truly swampy conditions are marked *), but all will do better in wet areas.

Shade Trees

  • *Acer rubrum/Red Maple
  • *Betula nigra/River Birch
  • Liquidambar styraciflua/Sweet Gum
  • Alyssa sylvatica/Sour Gum
  • Platanus occidentalis/Sycamore
  • Quercus phellos/Willow Oak
  • *Salix spp./Willow
  • *Taxodium distichum/Bald Cypress

Flowering Trees

  • Amelanchier Canadensis/Serviceberry
  • Magnolia virginiana/Sweetbay Magnolia

Evergreen Trees

  • Calocedrus decurrens/Incense Cedar
  • Ilex opaca/American Holly
  • Thuja occidentalis/Pyramidal Arborvitae

Deciduous Shrubs

  • *Aronia arbutifolia/Chokeberry
  • Clethra alnifolia/Summersweet
  • *Cornus spp./Twig Dogwoods
  • Enkianthus campanulatus/Enkianthus
  • Ilex verticillata/Winterberry
  • *ltea virginica/Virginia Sweetspire
  • Lindera benzoin/Spicebush
  • Myrica pennsylvanica/Bayberry
  • *Rhododendron viscosum/Swamp Azalea
  • *Salix spp./Pussy Willow
  • Viburnum spp./Viburnums

Evergreen Shrubs

  • *Andromeda polifolia/Bog Rosemary
  • *Chamaecyparis thyoides/White Atlantic Cedar
  • *llex glabra/Inkberry
  • Kalmia atifolia/Mountain Laurel
  • Leucothoe spp./Leucothoe

Perennials

  • *Arundo donax/Giant Reed Grass
  • Aster nova-angliae/Asters
  • Astilbe spp./Astilbe
  • Chelone/Turtlehead
  • Cimicifuga racemose/Snakeroot
  • Helenium autumnale/Helen’s Flower
  • Hibiscus moscheutos/Hardy Hisbiscus
  • *Iris kaempferi/Japanese Iris
  • Iris siberica/Siberian Iris
  • *Lobelia cardinalis/Cardinal Flower
  • Lobelia syphilitca/Blue Lobelia
  • Monarda didyma/Bee Balm
  • Myosotis scorpiodes/Forget-me-nots
  • Tiarella cordifolia/Foam Flower
  • Trollius europaeus/Globe Flowers
  • Viola spp./Violets

Ground Covers

  • Gallium odoratum/Sweet Woodruff
  • Gaultheria procumbers/Wintergreen
  • Hosta spp./Hosta
  • Mentha spp./Mint
  • Parthenocissus quinquifolia/Virginia Creeper

Annuals

  • Cleome hosslerana/Spider Flower
  • Myosotis sylvatica/Forget-me-nots
  • Torenia fournien/Wishbone Flower
  • Viola wittrockiana/Pansies

Not sure which water-loving plants to choose? We’d be happy to help you evaluate your landscape moisture and other conditions to help you choose the very best plants for your yard!

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Endless Summer® Hydrangeas

Do you love the look of large, stunning hydrangeas? Do they evoke wistful images of summer and floral nostalgia? Don’t you wish they would last longer in the landscape? Unfortunately, many hydrangeas have relatively short bloom cycles, but there are amazing cultivars you can investigate that provide longer lasting blooms without losing any of their beauty or richness as the season progresses.

Endless Blooms, Color and Summer Luxury

Endless Summer® The Original and Endless Summer® and Blushing Bride® are the first mophead (large, ball-shaped flower) hydrangeas that bloom on both old and new growth, providing you with beautiful flowers and gorgeous color all season long. Young plants produce blooms that are 4-6 inches wide, while mature plants can have blooms as large as 8-10 inches wide, making these massive hydrangeas real show stoppers in your landscape or garden. Flower color for Endless Summer® The Original ranges from shades of blue through shades of pink, depending upon the pH level of your soil. Pink blossoms are the result of alkaline soils (pH 6-7), while more acidic soils (pH 5-5.8) will cause the plant to produce blue flowers. Adding Master Nursery Hydra Blue or other acidifying agents to the soil can help produce the lovely blue colors if your soil is initially alkaline, or you can adjust bloom color throughout the season for a vibrantly changing show. Endless Summer® Blushing Bride, as its name implies, initially offers pure white blossoms that mature to a sweet, pink blush or pale blue tinge, again depending on the soil pH.

Large, deep green leaves provide a lovely background for these spectacular flowers, which are excellent for cutting for fresh arrangements and for drying. Endless Summer® hydrangeas mature at 3-5 feet in height and width and are perfect used as standalone specimens, planted in borders or as hedges, massed under deep-rooted trees or even set in large containers. These plants perform best in partial shade with moist soil. Another big plus for Endless Summer® hydrangeas is the fact that they are cold hardy to Zone 4, giving northern gardeners a beautiful plant that will bloom well year after year.

Perfect for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, weddings and house warming celebrations, potted Endless Summer® hydrangeas make beautiful gifts that will provide years of beauty and enjoyment. If you already have these stunning blooms in your yard, consider cutting a few for a bouquet and share the joy with friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers and acquaintances, and the interest in these amazing hydrangeas will continue to spread until the world is blooming all summer long.

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Pruning Forsythia

Forsythia is a true spring favorite and never disappoints with its shocking yellow blooms atop a mass of unruly branches. This early-flowering shrub can thrive for decades on neglect but there will come a time, whether out of want or necessity, that your forsythia will require pruning. But how can you do so without dampening the ferocious spring flame these spring shrubs produce?

Why Prune Forsythia?

When this shrub does so well without detailed care, why is it necessary to prune it at all? In many landscapes, if the shrub is properly sited, it may not need pruning. Unfortunately, many people underestimate the vigorous growth of these beauties, and in just a few years it may seem crowded and overgrown in a corner, narrow bed or border. A large, unruly forsythia may also seem overwhelming in a smaller space or when paired with less vigorous plants. Damage or illness may also create a misshapen or unbalanced plant that is no longer so pleasing to the eye. In these cases, judicious pruning can rejuvenate and refresh the shrub and give new life to its part of the landscape.

Rejuvenating Forsythia

Rejuvenating an old, out of shape and poorly flowering forsythia is simple. After the shrub has finished flowering in late spring, cut all the branches back to within one foot of the ground. When branches put on new growth, reaching two feet from the ground, prune all branch tips to the first set of side shoots. This will help develop a fuller, thicker shrub for a more lush look. Be aware, however, that it will take until the second bloom season for a severely pruned forsythia to return to its former splendor.

A newer forsythia that is just a few years old can be kept in tip-top shape a bit more easily. Each spring, after it flowers, cut up to one-third of the branches back to the ground. Choose dead branches, branches thicker than your thumb and all crossed or inward facing branches. This will help create a good form with healthy air circulation and pleasing growth for years of beauty and enjoyment.

It’s easy to keep forsythia looking stunning for many years. Whether you want to make the most of the forsythia already in your yard or want to add this beauty to your landscape, stop by – our landscaping experts can help you choose the best species for your yard and needs so you can enjoy its beauty for many springs to come.

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Nurturing Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs faithfully reappear at the most advantageous time – after a long, cold winter, just when we’re longing for bright colors to relieve the monotony of winter snow and ice. Most spring bulbs are perennial and multiply in number every year, bringing more beauty to the flowerbeds each spring, but some problems can destroy a carefully planted bulb bed. Seemingly carefree, bulbs do require a bit of nurturing to ensure they perform their very best for years to come.

Tips for Bulb Care

  1. Good soil drainage is important to prevent bulbs from rotting so plan your site accordingly. Do not plant bulbs near areas where downspouts let out or large snow piles may build up and spring melt can drown bulbs.
  2. When planting bulbs in the fall, add a high phosphorus fertilizer to the planting hole for the development of strong roots. This will help the bulbs establish well so they can renew themselves each year.
  3. Bulb foliage will often break through the soil after a few warm winter days. This vegetation is hardy and its exposure to the cold will not damage your plants or prevent them from blooming. There is no need to cover, wrap or otherwise protect this initial foliage.
  4. Fertilize bulbs as plants are emerging from the ground. Do not fertilize once flowers appear. Use a 5-10-5 granular fertilizer to assist in foliage and flower development, ideally one that is formulated especially for bulbs.
  5. After blooming, cut back the flower stalk. This will force the plant to put its energy into the bulb for next year’s flowers and not into seed production that would dampen the strength of the bulb.
  6. Allow the leaves to die back naturally. The leaves are vital for producing food that is stored in the bulb for next year’s growth. Cut leaves, never pull, once they have turned yellow – pulling can damage the bulb. Do not tie leaves as this reduces the leaf surface required for adequate food production.
  7. When the foliage has completely died back the bulb is dormant, and this is the proper time to dig and separate bulbs if necessary. Flowering will often be reduced when bulb beds become over-crowded. If division is needed, bulbs should be dug and stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place and replanted in the fall.
  8. Fertilize bulbs again in the fall with a high-phosphorus, granular fertilizer.

With thoughtful care, you can easily help your bulbs reach their full potential and they will thrive for many years.

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Trackable Tools

It’s the beginning of a new gardening season. Hopefully you took out last year’s journal in January or February and reviewed your notes on what you wanted to change, improve, experiment with or eliminate from your garden and landscape. Now is the time to begin implementing some of those great ideas, and it starts with having the right tools.

Where Do Your Tools Go?

One common problem in the garden is misplaced tools. We’ve all found hand tools in the spring that were inadvertently thrown in the compost pile or left under a shrub during fall cleanup. Many of us have spent time we didn’t have to spare walking in circles, looking for the shovel that we just had in our hand. It was laid down for a moment and seemed to disappear. Tools can easily disappear on a crowded workbench or in a cluttered shed, or they may even end up in a brush pile or other unlikely location.

When tools are lost, not only are our gardening chores impacted, but the tools can be damaged by exposure or accidental damage if they’re dropped, run over with a mower or otherwise subjected to inadvertent abuse. This can mean we no longer have the tool we need when we need it most, and we have to make a trip to the garden center to replace a tool – using time and money our gardening budget may not have.

Finding Your Tools

Let’s do things differently this year. Let’s save time, money and our precious tools. Resolve to only buy new hand tools with bright colored handles that are easily seen from afar and stand out to be picked up after a long day in the garden. If you already have a good selection of tools that you love and wish to keep track of, simply cover the handle with a bright colored spray paint on a sunny spring day, or wrap the handles with brightly colored tape or other coverings to make them more visible.

Similarly, take the time to clean out and declutter your garden shed, tool boxes and workbenches, making sure there is a safe, appropriate place to store every tool. If each tool has a place, you’ll be able to see at a glance when a tool may be missing and you can find it quickly before you’ve forgotten where you saw or used it last.

You and your garden will be glad you did!

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Dividing Hybrid Hellebores

Hybrid hellebores bring us all sorts of happiness. These are one of the first plants to bloom in the late winter and early spring and are available in flower colors of chartreuse, cream, white, pink, red and deep purple. Hybrid hellebores are also those rare and treasured perennials that provide year-round interest, giving you the most bang for your buck and brightening your landscape in every season. As evergreens, they never lose their luster, and their flower shapes and textures are quite varied for even more interest, with a cultivar to suit any gardener’s taste. What’s not to be happy about?

A Love Divided

To keep these plants healthy and thriving, and to increase your quantity, division is a necessity. It is important to divide these plants carefully, however, or else you risk sadness with fewer blooms, lopsided plants or even losing these gems. Fortunately, it’s possible for even a novice hellebore lover to divide their plants with confidence.

  1. Divide hybrid hellebores in the spring when it is in bloom. This will also let you see how the blooms are positioned on the plant so you can divide shapes appropriately.
  2. Choose a plant that has at least 5 flower stems. Each one represents a division and will give you great new plants to bloom.
  3. Dig your hellebores up with a garden spade by inserting it deeply into the soil around the perimeter of the plant about 6 inches away from the outer stems of the clump. This will keep the root system largely intact and uninjured.
  4. Lift the clump and shake off loose soil or any trapped rocks or ensnared mulch. You can gently loosen clumps with your fingers, but take care not to damage the roots.
  5. With a garden hose, wash away any additional soil from the clump so the plant roots are exposed. This will help them get established in their new location more quickly.
  6. Divide the clump by cutting through the roots with a heavy-duty serrated knife. Make your root cuts where you see obvious natural divisions between the flower stalks.
  7. Replant your divisions at their original depth, in a shady location. Include plenty of compost in the planting hole for good nourishment. Water well and continue to keep soil from drying out until your new plants are well established.

Before you know it, you’ll have many more hybrid hellebores to enjoy! If you have a few too many, be sure to share the happiness by giving them to family members, friends, neighbors and anyone else who can fall in love with these beauties.

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Sweet Peas, the “Queen of Annuals”

For many gardeners, it’s not the tulip or daffodil to forward to at the end of winter, it’s the sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) that declares, “spring is here!” The colors and sweet fragrance of these climbers announce the coming of warmer days like no other.

Choosing Sweet Peas

The hardest part of growing sweet peas is choosing from the riot of colors. From the palest of pastels to the most vivid of hues (including stripes), reds, pinks, white, blues, purples, yellows… the list seems endless. Many gardeners buy mixed packages of seeds to avoid the decision and to add a riot of spring color to the garden and landscape.

Beyond color, it is important to carefully consider different types of sweet peas. If the seed package says “tendril” this means the plants have small green growths to attach to a surface or netting to help the vine grow upright. This is how the taller sweet pea vines support themselves as they grow to 6′ (or even taller!), and they will need an appropriate trellis, arbor, arch or other structure to reach their full beauty. The varieties with no tendrils remain more compact, making them great in containers. Some of these will trail downward, creating a beautiful draping effect. Other dwarf non-vining varieties act as annual fillers in the mixed garden bed or as borders.

Growing Sweet Peas

These beauties are super easy to grow. To improve the germination rate, especially of the darker colors, use nail clippers to gently nick the seed coat and soak overnight before planting. This will allow thin shoots to pierce through the thick seed covering more easily so they can grow effectively. Sow the seeds 2″ deep in rich, well-draining soil in a full to partial sun location. If the soil is heavy, add compost to improve the texture and nutrition. Keep the soil moist, but avoid saturated soil that can drown small seeds or delicate roots. Germination should occur within 10-28 days. Continue even and consistent watering. When seedlings are 4-5″ tall, thin them to create 5-6″ spacing between plants. To encourage bushy and compact plants, pinch the tips when three sets of leaves form. Generally, do not provide additional fertilizer, otherwise the plants may be lush but the flowers will be sparse.

Impatient gardeners or those who may have a shorter growing season may also be able to purchase seedlings from a garden center. This way there will be fragrant sweet pea bouquets a month earlier, and there’s no need to miss out on the sweetness if the ideal seed planting date has passed. Removing flowers when transplanting will encourage stronger root growth to produce larger flowers later if desired.

Seeds for perennial sweet peas are also available. Unlike annual sweet peas, the perennial plant will continue to bloom throughout warm, humid summers. Be aware, however, that annual sweet peas tend to have a gloriously heady scent, but this is a feature sorely lacking in the perennial form.

Enjoy the Beauty

Those long-lasting, colorful and fragrant flowers are so sweet in large loose arrangements. They’ll easily last a week if the water is changed daily and a bit of the stem is snipped off each time to improve water uptake. Remember, the best way to extend the sweet pea blooming season is by daily picking early in the day. Or, simply enjoy these beautiful blooms by walking through the garden each day and relaxing in their delicious scent and colorful blooms.

Fall Flowers – Really!

Gardeners who just can’t get enough of annual sweet peas don’t have to mourn their loss in spring. Instead, grow them again in the autumn! These fast-growing flowers will thrive just as well in the cool autumn as they did in the early days of spring. Just remember to provide enough time for flowering before the first frost hits, and you’ll love using sweet peas to say goodbye to the gardening season in fall just as you said hello to them in spring.

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Holey Moley, Shrew or Vole!

Mole, vole or shrew: ever wonder what the difference is between these pests, or why you should care? All three of these mouse-like creatures may be seen in or around your garden. Identification is important in determining if and how you should control these critters.

Moles

  • Identification: A mature mole will grow 5-7 inches from snout to tail. Moles have soft, thick, velvety-gray fur, a long, blunt snout and an approximately 1-inch long tail. Their eyes and ears are inconspicuous, hidden under their fur. Their paddle-like front paws are two to three times wider then their rear paws.
  • Damage: Moles, in search of grubs, beetles and earthworms, burrow in the ground and create tunneling in the lawn and garden. They surface occasionally leaving small hills of loose soil. Moles are solitary, subterranean creatures.
  • Control: Reduce food supply by controlling grubs in the lawn. Use repellents containing castor oil, or toxic baits placed in the tunnel but out of reach of pets. There are several different styles of mole traps available on the market.

Voles

  • Identification: Voles, often called meadow mice, are a little larger than moles reaching 5-8 inches long at maturity. Their heads are rounded, their eyes are larger than shrews, their fur is brown, short and smooth, their front paws are about the same width as their rear paws and their tails are about 1 ¾ inches long.
  • Damage: Voles are herbivores that feed on bulbs, tubers and tender young plants. During the winter, often under the cover of snow, voles will eat surface roots and chew bark from the base of trees and shrubs often causing the plant to girdle and die. Voles, unlike moles and shrews, are social and where you find one, you will find many. Voles will often tunnel in mulch or ground cover above ground leaving surface trails. They sometimes run through old mole tunnels eating plant roots.
  • Control: Use Thiram-based repellents. Set up mouse traps baited with peanut butter or apple slices. Keep mulch away from tree trunks. Remove snow from the base of trees and shrubs in the winter. Protect young trees by wrapping the lower trunk in wire mesh. Apply predator urine to the area and reapply frequently. Do not use poisons.

Shrews

  • Identification: A mature shrew will reach 4-5 inches long. Shrews have a thin tail about 7/8 of an inch long, soft, grey, short fur, small beady eyes, small ears and a pointed snout.
  • Damage: Shrews, like moles, are insectivores. They eat earthworms, grubs and other insects. Shrews, however, are often seen above ground although they tend to use old mole and vole tunnels to get around. Shrews cause no real damage to plants and eat a variety of insects making them beneficial in the landscape and garden.
  • Control: None necessary.

Not sure what to do about these pesky garden visitors? Stop by to see our complete line of safe, effective pest control products and to ask for expert consultation about which visitors should be welcome in your garden and which ones you should gently encourage to leave.


Tremendous Turf

The benefits of turf grass as a ground cover are numerous and often undeclared or overlooked. In recent years, turf has gotten a bad reputation due to the belief that a beautiful lawn requires a lot of hard work and overuse of dangerous chemicals. This is a misconception and the benefits of turf can far outweigh the concerns, particularly when you care for your turf properly and responsibly.

The following is a list of the many advantages that our lawns provide. This list was provided by and may be found, along with other helpful turf information, at www.TheLawnInstitute.org.

Environmental Benefits

  • Cools the Air
  • Produces Oxygen
  • Filters Air & Reduces Pollution
  • Captures & Suppresses Dust
  • Recharges & Filters Groundwater Supply
  • Reduces Storm Water Runoff
  • Controls Soil Erosion
  • Retains and Sequesters Carbon
  • Assists Decomposition of Pollutants
  • Restores Soil Quality

Community & Human Health Benefits

  • Enhances Community Pride & Social Harmony
  • Offers a Natural Playing Surface for Recreation
  • Provides a Safe Surface & Reduces Injuries
  • Promotes Outdoor Activity & Exercise
  • Improves Physical & Mental Health
  • Relieves Stress
  • Lowers Allergy-Related Problems
  • Dissipates Heat & Cools the Environment
  • Reduces Glare
  • Diminishes Noise Pollution
  • Minimizes Nuisance Pests
  • Compliments Overall Landscaping
  • Preserves Natural Wildlife Habitat

Economic Benefits

  • Increases Property Values
  • Reduces Home Cooling Costs
  • Provides a Low-Cost Ground Cover
  • Serves as a Fire Barrier
  • Improves Visibility & Deters Crime
  • Boosts Human Productivity

With so many benefits to healthy, luxurious turf, won’t you give your lawn another chance? We can help – from suggestions for revitalizing a weak lawn to proper mowing tips to fighting weeds and pests, plus all the tools, seed, fertilizers and amendments you need to improve your lawn – our experts can help you make the most of every square inch of your turf!