Now that the snow and ice are receding a bit, and we are beginning to get tiny glimpses of spring, it’s time to prepare our outdoor spaces for warmer weather. With a little bit of preparation, it won’t take much work to make your yard ready for use in the warmer months to come.
Clean debris. The first thing to do is to walk around your yard and see what happened over the winter. You’ll likely notice debris and broken branches left over from the winter storms; leaves that fell after the snow started or that didn’t make it into the last fall clean up; long forgotten birds’ nests, paper, wrappers, and other miscellanea that blew in from the road. A quick raking will take care of all these issues and make your yard look cleaner in no time.
Trimming. Next, you should trim bushes around your property that may be overgrown, or whose branches might have received damage from heavy snow. It’s also a good time to trim tree branches that may be dead; with no leaves on them, you can really get up close and inspect the branches thoroughly.
Mulch. Late April or May is a generally good time to apply mulch around trees, shrubs, and other plantings. This is because weeds have not had a chance to grow yet, and the soil is beginning to warm up. Mulching in the spring will also lock in nutrients needed for your plantings and add to your yard’s aesthetic when the warm weather comes, and everything starts to grow and bloom.
Fertilize the lawn. The grass is waking in the spring and needs to be fed, and late March/early April is the perfect time to start applying fertilizer. It’s also a great time to deal with crabgrass if you have patches of it on your lawn.
Spreading the snow. If you have big piles of snow on your lawn, it’s a good idea to spread it around on your lawn more evenly, so some spots of the lawn aren’t overly wet while others remain dry. (Try to stay off the overly wet part until it dries out a bit to give the grass a chance to grow and not have that area become a muddy mess.)
Reevaluate entertainment areas. Now is also a good time to consider how you’re using your outdoor spaces, and decide if you want to make any changes to add or expand on any entertainment areas like an addition of a pergola or pavilion, a built-in spa or hot tub, or designing an outdoor kitchen for example.
After the black and white panoramas of winter, the thoughts of spring’s color fill many of us with cheerful anticipation. Many of us love the beginning of spring because it’s the signal that we can get our gardens going!
Spring is the perfect time to plan what you want to plant this year. Walk around your property and see if you’d like to make any changes to your landscape, like adding new flowers, shrubbery and trees, or maybe even a fruit or vegetable garden, for example. Spring is also the time to think about replacing what may have died or been irreparably damaged over the winter.
If you are planning a vegetable or flower garden, you will need to start your plants early indoors or in a greenhouse if you are not buying your seedlings from a commercial grower; traditionally, the seedlings are planted outside in New Hampshire after Memorial Day because that’s the last date we can be sure of avoiding a killing frost.
However, you can prepare your outdoor garden soil now by cleaning up any debris, including any old mulch and dead leaves in your proposed garden space. You’ll need to pull any weeds or annuals that may have wintered over in your garden, and loosen the soil with a tiller as the weight of the snow may have compacted it a bit; you can add compost at this point as well, to make sure the soil is well fertilized.
With a little thought and advanced preparation, your landscape, gardens, and entertainment spaces will be ready for spring. We’ll be happy to help with all of this, including creating a master plan for spring success and making the most of your outdoor spaces for increased property value and enjoyment. Please call us at 603.707.0630 or email us to get started.
In this month’s blog, we’ll discuss how to deal with the water conditions of your property: having not enough and having too much.
Dealing with Drought
If it hasn’t rained for a while, look for signs that your landscaping is experiencing water stress—plants with stunted growth or brown or yellow leaves, trees dropping leaves and have some dead branches, plants in the garden may not have flowers or start to seed early, and your lawn may start to show footprints or can’t “bounce back” after you walk on it or may even begin to show brown spots in some areas.
If a drought is coming, there are steps you can take immediately to minimize the damage:
Add mulch to garden areas and bare spots. Mulch keeps areas cool and traps moisture.
Don’t add any new plants; instead, focus your watering efforts to your existing landscape.
Don’t fertilize your plants or lawn. If you must fertilize, cut the amount of fertilization by half. Your lawn and plants are trying to survive, not grow. Fertilization is not needed at this time.
Pruning is not necessary, but remove dead branches and leaves, stalks, etc.
If plants look like they are going to die, remove them. Try not to waste water on something that will not make it through the drought.
Pull weeds. Eliminating weeds will cut down on unnecessary water usage, and your landscaping will look better.
When mowing your lawn, don’t mow too short. Keeping the blades long will shade the soil, reduce evaporation, and minimize any heat damage that may happen during the drought. Consider leaving the clippings on the lawn to help protect it and return nutrients to the soil.
If the drought is really bad and it looks like it will continue, consider letting your lawn go dormant; most grass is drought resistant and will recover when a steady supply of rain returns.
If you have ornamental plants around your yard, consider how long is left in the season. If it’s an annual, is it worth keeping them alive? If the season is almost over, it might be easier to let them die. If you’ve planted shrubs and trees in the past one or two years, they are more susceptible to being lost. Focus your watering efforts on new plantings, those plantings that are expensive to replace, or anything that you’ve planted that has sentimental value.
How to Water During a Drought
Once a drought is firmly established, soil will begin to harden and get impacted. Add water slowly so it gets absorbed instead of running off. A good way to make sure water gets absorbed well is to use soaker hoses. After running for an hour check that water has penetrated down about an inch; if not, run the water longer.
It’s best to water on a schedule, and to water in the early morning. This will stop the water from evaporating and allow time to soak in the soil. Do not water at night; wet grass overnight can cause fungus to grow.
If you have an irrigation system, it’s best to use a timer. Some irrigation systems can connect to your home’s Wi-Fi to monitor weather conditions. These systems control when and how you water your property and respond to water, weather, and soil conditions to deliver the right amount of water at the right time.
Water, Water Everywhere
What if we’re having a rainy summer and we’re experiencing the opposite problem? If you have noted areas of your lawn or garden where water pools, there are things you can do to avoid erosion and have your plants or lawn die from too much water.
One thing you can do is aerate your lawn to assure water is penetrating the dirt’s surface. By doing so, you’ll direct water to the roots of your grass, which will make it stronger and more lush when the rain stops. And it’ll make the soil less compact, allowing it to drain easier.
Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clean, so the runoff doesn’t create erosion around the foundation of your home, garage, or other outdoor structures and buildings.
When planning your landscaping, be sure to properly grade your lawn, garden, and flower beds. And choose plants that love water—ask us if you’re unsure.
For existing landscapes, add soil and grade the surface away from your home. Consider adding terraces to your landscape to help water run down slopes. Prune your landscaping to allow sunlight to dry areas.
For areas that always seem wet or are susceptible to pooling, you might have to install a drain, or consider changing the layout to a hardscape. You can add a permanent water feature and incorporate that area, like a pond, water garden or even a meandering stream with a bridge to your yard.
At Stephens Landscaping, we have a lot of experience helping homeowners come up with a plan for drought and overwatering. Let us help you and your landscape; call us at 603.707.0630 or contact us today.
There aren’t any completely deer-proof plants. Deer eat almost anything when food is scarce, or their population is high. Like humans, deer have food preferences, even when they have many options to choose from. Depending on deer pressure, here is a selection of plants that we have found to be more and less susceptible to deer browse.
HIGHLY SUSCEPTIBLE TO DEER BROWSE
Deer love to graze on many types of groundcovers, especially the tender new growth in the spring. If you have deer on your property, we recommend avoiding the following plants as they are more prone to deer browsing and can be severely damaged:
Deer seem to prefer plants which have been fertilized over those which have not.
LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TO DEER BROWSE
Deer tend to avoid fragrant plants with strong scents or highly aromatic flowers, and plants which have leathery, fuzzy, hairy, or prickly foliage. In our experience, the following plants are rarely damaged by deer:
Perennial Grasses & Ferns
Allium (Ornamental Onion)
GARDENING WITH DEER-RESISTANT PLANTS
While gardening can be challenging in areas with high deer pressure, there are a wide variety of plants with beautiful flowers and fragrant foliage that are less susceptible to deer browse also attract bees and butterflies.
Deer are especially hungry in the spring, so consider filling your spring garden with deer-resistant plants or aromatic perennial herbs. Even resistant plants are more vulnerable in the first few weeks after planting; to eliminate temptation consider a strong-smelling deer repellant or plan for additional fencing or barriers for protection.
If you’re experiencing problems with unwanted deer on your property or are looking to plan ahead before it becomes a problem, we recommend talking with our experienced staff. We’ll help you select the right plants for your landscape, plan for additional protection such as the use of fencing or recommend deer repellant products which are available at our Garden Center.
Spring Pruning Techniques & The Best Time To Prune Which Plants
Pruning can be intimidating based on the decision of when to prune, how much to prune, and the proper types of cuts to make. Proper pruning is important and provides these important benefits.
To maintain plant vigor.
Create and preserve a good branch or plant structure
Increase flower or fruit production on fruit trees.
Improve overall health and air flow.
Keeping the plant size to the space in which it is planted.
People often find themselves pruning shrubs or trees more often because they have been planted in a location where mature size was not taken into account. The excess growth can lead to encroaching on other plants, screen windows, or spill into the lawn spaces and walkways.
A common mistake is pruning a plant purely by its appearance rather than looking at its natural growth factors: size, width, shape, growth rate, and determining the best course of action from there. If possible, it’s important to start pruning plants when they’re young as it is easier to maintain a well pruned tree. It’s important to cut back conservatively and knowledgeably, otherwise the plant often ends up worse off than if you just left it alone.
The first step to starting with good pruning practice is to select a high-quality plant from a reputable garden center who has been pruning it correctly from the early stages. This will create good branch structure and a good balance that will eventually establish well. Starting with healthy plants that have “good bones” makes a huge difference.
Some Things to Consider Before You Prune
It is a known fact that more pruning in young, vibrant shrubs and trees increases the amount of new growth. This means that if you prune too often, it can make the situation worse or even require more attention than if you had just left it alone. With older trees that have lost a lot of their vigor, a good heavy renovation prune often stimulates new growth of the tree and helps produce more branches, flowers, or fruit. Just like mowing grass weekly, when pruning a shrub or tree it is recommended that no more than 1/3 of the height be taken off per year to avoid stress on the tree or shrub.
Timing your pruning also has a lot to do with the species that you are working on. There is a spring and early summer prune which will help take off a lot of the new flushed growth and prohibits a lot of new shoots. You should be careful on fall pruning of some items as this can stimulate new flushes of growth that can be damaged by early frosts and cold freezes.
For flowering type shrubs and trees, it’s important to determine if the species will flower on the new buds from the current season or the previous season’s growth. Knowing this will help you decide when it’s best to prune and reduce cutting off the new potential flowers. We have found that if you prune in the dormant season, and take off growth with buds that would have developed in the spring, it will help the plant flower more and develop a stronger branch structure. This also helps reduce the time that the open wound is susceptible to disease before active growth starts.
There is definitely a benefit to pruning shrubs and trees for the right reasons. It’s always good to take off any dead, diseased, or dying material at any point. This will reduce the stress on the plant, reduce the wounded area from insect and disease damage, and allow the wound to heal correctly. If you put thought and consideration into what you are trying to accomplish and what outcomes you hope to have, this will drive how you do your pruning, when you do it (depending on species), and will also help you decide if you really have the right plant for the area.
Proper Pruning Tools
Loppers: used for larger branches up to 1” in diameter.
Pole Pruner: used for different size branches that are further up in the canopy of the tree that cannot be reached from the ground or ladder. These have a lopper-type cutting ability as well as a heavily toothed saw that is used for larger branches.
Hedge Shears: used to shape smaller shrubs with very fine or thin branches.
By-Pass Pruners: this type of pruner has the blades slide by side like a pair of common scissors.
Anvil Pruners: this is a sharp blade that pushes down on a flat, small metal surface on the pruner to cut the branch.
Chainsaw: used for larger branches that cannot be cut by a pole saw or other method.
It is very important that you sanitize your tools before you start pruning anything. A simple 10% bleach and 90% water solution is the easiest way. It is recommended that you do this between each type of plant and cut that is being made to reduce the chance of spreading a disease. Although it is not common to spread disease through pruning, there is some risk, and sanitizing your tools will reduce that risk greatly. It’s also a good idea to always start with your known healthy plants and then finish pruning any plants or shrubs in question.
When you start to prune your plants, you need to consider what the mature look of the plant is and make your pruning cuts accordingly. The type of cut and where it is made will have a big impact on how the wound heals, along with how the new branch structure will grow out and effect the health of the plant in the future. It is said that most species of shrubs and trees will respond to the cut similarly as long as it is done the right way.
Different Types of Pruning Cuts
There are several different types of cuts that can be made during the pruning process depending on what the condition of the plant is, what you are trying to accomplish, and the species of the plant as well:
Heading Cuts: this is when the new growing part of the branch is taken off, which then stimulates the lower buds to push out a vigorous flush of new growth. This method is often used when you want to create a dense type of growth like shaping a small shrub, hedge, or tree. If you are using this method only to keep the plant size down, you have the wrong plant for that location.
Pinching: this method is used by taking off only the new growth on the stem or branch, which then pushes out new growth from the buds below that to develop into branches. The more often this is done, the denser the branch structure will become as the plant grows. For example, we see this type of practice a lot in the growing of annual plants or fall mums that have 3-4 pinches in a 6 month period to shape and build out the density and fullness of the plant.
Thinning Cuts: these types of cuts are taking off more than the small new growth at the tip. It is cutting back down to the first or another lateral branch which then will put energy back into the growth of that lateral branch rather than pushing out new growth at the pruned location. This method is often used to help open up air flow inside the canopy of a tree, cut crossing branches out, and decrease the height.
Removal Cuts: this is one of the heavier cuts made which results in taking the branch right back to the main stem or trunk of a large tree. It can be utilized when trying to limb a tree up from the ground.
Branch Collar and Branch Bark Ridge
When making cuts during pruning, it is very important that each cut is done with the correct angle as trees and shrubs do not have the ability to heal “tissue”. Instead, they create a barrier of cells to reduce the damage of the wound. The cut angle is easy to establish once you are able to identify the key features on the branch. These features are the “branch collar” and “branch bark ridge”.
Branch Collar is the swollen area that is found right where the branch and trunk tissue connect at the start of growth.
Branch Bark Ridge is the area of the branch in which there is raised bark that the branch and stem meet at. This area is crucial to the health of a tree because the “woundwood” is located inside this area, which has cells that help form tissue to protect the tree from decay after cuts are made.
When you start to prune, the cut needs to be right above the branch collar and at the same angle as the branch bark ridge. If you cut below or your cuts are flat, this reduces the amount of woundwood and the trees ability to fully heal the wound, which then opens the tree up for decay and insects.
If you are worried about doing this process, you can always start out on a small shrub or tree in an inconspicuous location, take a photo of the area you are about to prune, and make the proper cut. Then, in a few months, return to that same shrub or tree and see how your pruned area has developed based upon your pruning technique. Start small until you are comfortable and confident in what you are doing. There are many books, online articles, and resources to refer to in making the right decisions on timing and techniques. And, as always, our experienced staff at Stephens Landscaping Professionals is here if you want your pruning expertly taken care of.
Poinsettias are a classic plant choice for decorating your home or business for the holiday season. We have plenty to choose from here at the Stephens Landscaping Garden Center. Poinsettias are easy to care for and their vibrant foliage add the perfect finishing touch for any room. We have many different sizes and colors of Poinsettia to choose from, including classic red, white, pink, and variegated varieties in many different sizes.
Here are some tips to consider to help keep your Poinsettias looking their best:
Choose plants that are healthy to begin with. All of our plants are expertly cared for and will start you off on the right foot.
While they’ve become synonymous with Christmas and winter, poinsettias actually originate from Mexico and prefer a warm, sunny spot in your home. They are strictly houseplants and won’t tolerate our chilly New Hampshire winter outside.
Use room temperature water when watering your plants; never use hot or cold water.
Make sure not to overwater your plant. Poinsettias do not survive excessive water. An easy way to check if it needs water is to lift the plant and if it feels light, it’s due for a watering.
When in doubt on whether to water your poinsettia or not it’s better to keep them a little on the drier side rather than too wet. If the roots get too wet it can encourage root rot. Alternatively, if you see yellowing leaves then that probably means your plant is too dry and is in need of water. If your house is dry—from using a wood stove, for instance—you may need to water your poinsettia more frequently. Remember: a little water at a time, never a soaking.
Poinsettias are happiest in a southern-facing window but will do well in any draft-free area that gets good sunlight.
Poinsettias can make nice cut flowers for flower arrangements, too.
No need to toss your Poinsettia at the end of the season. You can keep it year-round and even get it to re-flower for the following year’s holidays. In order to time the bloom correctly, the plant needs to be cut back in the spring, then “forced” with 12-hour light/dark cycles starting in mid-October to get it to bloom at the correct time. If you’re interested in trying to get your poinsettia to re-flower next year, we’d be happy to explain the process the next time you swing by our Garden Center.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the large “flowers” on Poinsettias aren’t really flowers? They’re actually colorful, red leaves called Bracts. The real flowers are the tiny yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch.
Poinsettias make wonderful hostess, neighbor, and teacher gifts. Contact us today to see how we can help you pick out the perfect plant for your needs at our Garden Center located at 63 Whittier Highway in Moultonborough, NH 03254. We also carry a wide variety of house plants, centerpieces, Christmas trees, wreaths, gifts, and decor items to make decorating your home and shopping for the holidays easy.