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Prepping Shrubs for Winter

Every year as fall rolls on you start thinking about winter. More specifically, you start thinking about your plants in winter. While some plants are easy because you can just bring them inside, the plants outside your home are a little more tricky. So how can you prepare your outside plants for winter?

The first thing to know about your trees and woody plants is that if they are bred to survive your hardiness zone you don’t really have to do anything to prepare them. Most local deciduous trees and shrubs can survive on their own with little-to-no intervention on your part. To prepare these shrubs for winter simply remove any dead or diseased branches that may snap under heavy snow and ice. Save the heavy trimming for spring so that you don’t lose any newly developed flower buds.

The exception to this is newly planted trees and woody shrubs that may need more care for the first year or two until their roots settle in. For these plants, you’ll want to mulch heavily, at least 2–3”, around the base to cover the entire root zone of the plant. This will help protect the roots from the constant freezes and thaws that are more damaging than staying frozen. Keep watering through fall, but stop watering them before the ground is frozen. These tips should keep young trees in good shape. If you are worried about branches snapping you may want to use a tree wrap of burlap around the tree for extra protection. You can find burlap at almost any garden center. 

When it comes to evergreen foliage such as arborvitae a burlap wrap is a great idea to protect against snow, wind, and sun particularly for the plant’s first three years of life. Winter sun can activate growth activity in evergreen trees, meaning that when the sun goes down and freezing temperatures return the active areas can be killed. Drying winter winds can pull moisture from these plants leading them to turn brown and sometimes die. The wrap will help keep the shrubs safe until the growing season starts again. You can either wrap directly around the tree or you can create a wind barrier by driving stakes into the ground and then wrapping the burlap around the stakes. If you directly wrap the tree you need to tie off the burlap with twine, and if you use the windbreak method you need to staple the burlap to the stakes. 

With just a small amount of prep work this fall your trees and shrubs will emerge from winter looking great this spring. If you don’t feel comfortable doing your own fall prep, give Organically Green Horticultural Services a call and they can do the job for you!

Making Pumpkins Last

You’ve spent the day out east pumpkin picking and you’ve found THE perfect pumpkin for Halloween (or pumpkins!). Hopefully, you’ve started with a firm pumpkin. Any soft spots will quickly develop into rot, so be aware of that while picking out your pumpkin. Now, how can you keep them lasting through Thanksgiving and beyond?

The first thing to know about keeping your pumpkin fresh is that uncarved pumpkins will last a lot longer than a Jack-o-lantern. Carved pumpkins give mold and decay the opportunity to take hold and begin the decomposition process. 

Now, if you’ve decided to carve your pumpkin, there are a few things you should do to help it last as long as possible. Put a teaspoon of bleach into a quart of water (this is best done in a spray bottle) and cover the pumpkin with the bleach solution. Let it dry before carving. This will sterilize your pumpkin and kill any existing bacteria. Make sure it’s completely dry before carving. 

When you carve your pumpkin it’s important to make sure that you’ve gotten ALL of the pumpkin guts out; the moisture they hold in their guts will speed up the rotting process and mold growth. 

After you’ve carved and cleaned the pumpkin thoroughly, make a mixture of ⅔ cup of bleach and at least a gallon of water in a bucket. Submerge the pumpkin, leaving your pumpkin to soak for up to 24 hours. Once you are done soaking let your pumpkin dry completely. 

Finally, to help prevent mold and to keep the moisture inside the pumpkin, coat the exposed carved edges with petroleum jelly, vegetable oil, or coconut oil. This will keep the gourd from drying out and collapsing too quickly. However, bear in mind that because these are flammable you should not put a candle inside a pumpkin treated in this way. You should use a flameless votive instead. If you want to use a real candle skip the coatings and just hope for the best! At the very least, your pumpkin should be looking good for Halloween, but if you do it right you can keep it going for quite a long while afterward.

How to Overwinter Mums

Mums are one of the most popular flowers you’ll see this time of year. Hardy mums are carried at almost every box store and farm stand and even supermarkets. Keeping garden mums helps to fill in empty spots left after the growing season has ended and most other flowers have wilted. Along with pansies and asters, mums are the heroes of the fall planting season. They continue to grow well after most other plants have slipped into dormancy and bring much-needed color to your yard. 

If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like to throw away your plants once the winter months arrive you may be wondering how you can help your mums survive the winter. 

The easiest way to keep your mum plants alive for next year is to bring the plants indoors. For potted plants this means cutting off the brown foliage and stems about 3–4 inches long above the soil, wrapping the pot, and bringing it inside to an unheated garage or shed. This area should stay between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit so that the plant can stay dormant. If your mum plants are in the ground you can move them to a pot before the ground begins to freeze or heavily mulch the ground around them. Be sure to add some potting soil and organic fertilizers to the pot so that your potted mum has a good start come spring. 

In areas that receive slightly warmer weather, including New York, overwintering mums can be done outdoors as well. Heavy mulching can keep the roots from freezing and thawing again during the winter. This mulch can be straw, leaves, or even grass clippings. Remaining frozen during the winter is less damaging to your plant than freezing and thawing over and over. With the warmer winters we have been having this is more and more likely to occur. Your mums can even stay in the ground, provided that you give them enough mulch. Just be sure to cut off the dead stems and bury them in mulch shortly after the first frost. 

By following these steps you’ll be able to keep using your mums year after year with the bonus that every year they’ll be bigger and lusher than the year before!

Keeping Ticks Out of the Yard

With the fall weather here your family is likely to spend a lot of time outdoors. It’s still warm enough to barbecue and the kids love jumping in piles of leaves. What you don’t want to happen is for them to become victims of tick bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ticks on Long Island can spread diseases from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease to Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis. So what can you do to keep ticks away from you and your family?

Well, there are a few options. The first is to use a tick repellent. There are both chemical and natural tick repellents available on the market that all work relatively well when applied appropriately. However, if you really want to enjoy your yard as much as possible, the best thing to do is to manage the tick population in your yard and try to keep them as far from play and living areas as possible.

Make sure there is at least a 3-foot barrier of wood chips or gravel between your yard and any wooded areas surrounding it. Keep it clear of leaf litter, which is one of a tick’s favorite places to hide. If you have playground equipment try to place it in a sunny location; ticks absolutely love the shade and this will help keep them away from the kid’s playthings.

Keep your grass trimmed neatly. Tall grasses and brush should be cut down whenever possible as they can carry ticks and spread them to anyone who walks by.

Some people use tick tubes. These are tubes filled with cotton doused in Permethrin which can kill and repel ticks. These tubes are placed all around the yard and can help reduce tick populations by using mice to do the work. Mice take the cotton and make nests out of it and that in turn helps to keep ticks, which breed on and feed on mice, at bay.

Another step to control ticks is to keep your woodpile far away from your house. Keep your wood neatly stacked and dry and away from your lawn.

Finally, one of the best things to do to keep ticks from your yard is to have it treated for ticks by a licensed professional such as Organically Green Horticultural Services. Their tick repellent services can last up to a month and will make your yard a safer, and more comfortable place for your family to spend their time.

Bees vs Wasps: What You Need to Know

You hear something buzzing by and catch a black and yellow streak out of the corner of your eye. Quick! Was it a bee or a wasp? And what’s the difference anyway?

While you certainly wouldn’t mistake an inch long bumble bee or a carpenter bee for a common wasp, wasps and honeybees can sometimes look very similar. Honeybees come in black and yellow—like yellow jackets—but also solid brown or solid black. Honeybees are rotund and fuzzy. They can only sting once, and then they die. This makes them more hesitant to sting people than wasps, which have narrow waists and are smooth and shiny. Wasps come in a variety of colors and patterns and can sting multiple times and come back for more. 

Like honeybees, many species of wasps are social wasps. They make large, paper-like wasp nests out of wood pulp and saliva where they lay eggs and raise their young. These are known collectively as “paper wasps”.

If you’re wondering about hornets, the main difference between wasps and hornets is the size. Wasps tend to be smaller and have black and yellow stripes, whereas hornets are larger and have black and white stripes. This is with the exception of the mud dauber; the mud dauber is a solitary type of wasp that prefers not to sting humans or animals. 

Bees are also social animals, building a bees nest to raise their young. The queen sends out worker bees to collect pollen and protect the nest, so most any honey bee you encounter will be a worker bee. 

Both bees and wasps serve an important role in our ecosystem. Bees pollinate our plants and wasps consume pest insects.

No matter what type of stinging insect you encounter you’ll want to be careful. Wasp and bee stings can sometimes be life-threatening if the person has a bee or wasp venom allergy. So be careful around them. If you find a nest too close to where you live or play contact a pest control company. They can verify whether you’re dealing with honey bees (in which case, they’ll likely relocate the nest) or wasps or hornets (in which case they’ll dispose of the insects as pests).

So the next time you hear that buzz, take a closer look (if you’re not allergic!) and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp.

How to Attract Butterflies

One of the most welcome sights in the garden is when a butterfly comes to visit. When a whole swarm of them comes, it’s like magic. So how can you be sure to get more of these lovely visitors? By planting a butterfly garden! A butterfly garden, or pollinator garden, is planted specifically to lure beneficial insects who pollinate your flowering plants.

Here on Long Island, we have many butterfly species that you might see in your garden. Monarch butterflies, black swallowtail, and the painted lady just to name a few. To lure adult butterflies you not only need nectar plants for them to eat, but you also need to plant native plants that are food for butterfly caterpillars.

In early spring butterflies arrive and begin to lay their eggs on native plants that will feed their young. These eggs hatch into caterpillars. Once the caterpillars eat their fill they will build a cocoon. They’ll stay inside the cocoon until they emerge sometime later as an adult butterfly. Your garden should provide for every stage of the lifecycle. Plants like butterfly bushes (which are considered an invasive plant in some states), coneflower, sage, and lantanas are great at feeding adult butterflies, while milkweed, aster, parsley, and violets are the favorite foods of caterpillars.

Most plants that attract butterflies grow in full sun, so plan ahead before planting your butterfly garden. While some birds and butterflies can get along, most birds love butterflies for a snack. When laying out your garden place bird feeders well away from your butterfly garden, as well as any birdhouses.

In addition to knowing what plants to grow, you need to provide water, shelter, and sun. A birdbath or water feature is the perfect way to ensure that your winged friends have access to water to drink. Trees and shrubs make for the best butterfly houses. They provide branches to roost on at night and a place to hide from predators. Many trees and shrubs are also excellent caterpillar food.

Finally, the sun. Butterflies are cold-blooded insects and they need the sun to warm themselves up each morning. Make sure that some sun reaches either open ground, stones, or even pavement early in the morning so that it warms up and will be attractive to butterflies.

If you do a little bit of advanced planning and make sure to offer everything butterflies need to thrive you’ll lure them into your garden year after year.

Dealing With Squash Borers

If you’ve grown squash plants in your home gardens, be they pumpkins, zucchini, or butternut squash, you may have dealt with squash borers and not even known it. Have your plants ever wilted seemingly overnight? Have you seen big, mushy holes in the plant stems? That’s a sure sign that you have squash borers. Here are a few tips on how to avoid these highly destructive pests so you can produce a bountiful harvest from your summer squashes and winter squash plants. 

Squash borers are the larvae form of a certain type of orange and black moth about an inch long that is active by day. Many people may recognize these adult moths as wasps because they have a similar look; but they’re not wasps, in fact, the adult squash vine borer is a moth. 

In early July adult moths begin looking for host plants on which to lay squash bug eggs. They lay shiny copper eggs on squash stems at the base of the plant, or sometimes on the leaves themselves. Once the eggs hatch borer larva emerge and eat their way into the stems of squash and pumpkin plants. They reside inside the plants, eating away at the stems until the next phase in their life cycle happens and they become moths, starting the whole thing over again. 

There are a few tricks you can try to prevent squash borers. When the plants are young you can wrap the stems in aluminum foil to inhibit the moth’s ability to access the base of the plant. As the plants age, you should loosen these wraps so as not to strangle the plants. 

Floating row covers that cover the entire plant will keep squash borer moths off your plants and interrupt the life cycle. 

Some people place yellow bowls filled with water and a drop or two of detergent near the plants to lure the moths and drown them. 

Another tactic is to mulch the stems; this will help support the plant and prevent the moth from reaching the stems. 

The best way to prevent squash borers is to spray BT (beneficial bacteria spray) on the base and stems of the plant once a week. BT is a naturally occurring bacteria that ONLY kills caterpillars and eggs. It does not harm beneficial insects like bees. By using BT, any borers will quickly be killed before they can munch on your squash garden. BT is considered organic and many organic farmers use BT spray.

Whichever method you choose (or even if you do several) remember to keep your squash well-watered. They’re big drinkers and if they’re weak from dehydration they’re more easily susceptible to being infested with pests. Follow these tips and you’re sure to have a bountiful season’s harvest!

When to Harvest Vegetables

We’re just about in the middle of summer and that means that some of your vegetables are ready to harvest while others still have a while to go. But how do you know exactly when harvest time is?

First: the time of day. Early in the morning is the best time to harvest vegetables. Vegetables harvested in the morning tend to be sweeter and crispier, with more taste than vegetables harvested in the evening; this is because the moisture that has been lost during the day is replenished overnight. 

Next: the time of the season. For many vegetables, you should harvest throughout the season to ensure the plant’s productivity. Plants like zucchini and cucumbers should be harvested throughout the summer months when the vegetables feel full. Summer squash like zucchini should be 6–12 inches long whereas cucumbers should be 7–9 inches long to ensure that they don’t turn bitter. The vegetables are done when they feel full and firm.

Winter squash should be harvested when the color of the fruit is deep and solid (except for speckled varieties) and the rind of the fruit is hard. It should thump when knocked on. Once harvested, store them in a cool, dry area and you’ll be able to keep them for months. 

Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when the little sprouts are round and firm and at least an inch in diameter. Twist off the individual sprouts from the bottom up. You may also remove yellowing leaves at that time; the plant will continue to grow upward, growing more leaves and sprouts. 

Leaf lettuce is harvested by snipping off the outer leaves and leaving the inner leaves intact. While head lettuce is harvested when the lettuce head reaches full size and is cut off at the base, leaf lettuce can keep producing as long as there isn’t too much hot weather, and the main body is left in the ground. 

Green beans, snap beans, and bush beans will be ready for harvest from 50–90 days after planting. Beans will reach full size at about 3 inches long. Pick just before the seeds begin to grow plump and bulge.

Finally: flower seeds. When flower buds turn brown and dry out you should be able to harvest the seeds easily. This should be done on a dry, sunny day. Then, when the seed pods turn brown, you can easily harvest the seeds.

Hot Weather Lawn Watering Tips

We’re officially into the summer heat and the dog days are on their way. So what can you do to keep your lawn as green as possible? These lawn care tips will tell you how to water your lawn to keep it healthy and happy all the way through into the fall. 

The amount of water a healthy lawn should receive is about 1-2 inches a week. It is recommended to do a few ‘deep waterings’ because they help promote a deep grass root system instead of ‘short watering’ that creates a shallow grass root system. Set your sprinkler system to do this and you’ll be largely set. 

The best time of day to water your lawn is in the very early morning because that the water has time to be used up by the lawn before it gets burned off by the heat. It also helps to prevent fungal diseases which can develop when your lawn is wet all night. Set your watering system to go off at about 4 am and your lawn will thank you. 

Remember, an established lawn is better able to withstand a hot day than new turf or a freshly seeded lawn that naturally has more shallow grass roots; so you may want to water a new lawn a bit more often so that it doesn’t suffer from drought stress. If your lawn shows signs of drought stress water it right away, the time of day doesn’t matter. 

Sandy soil will need more watering than clay soil so adjust your sprinklers accordingly whether you use a sprinkler system or manual pulsating sprinklers. 

Finally, don’t forget that cool-season grass like bluegrass can go dormant in summer. This can cause it to turn brown and look dead. It is a survival mechanism for the plant to make it through severe heat. If this happens don’t worry too much, your grass should come back once it cools a bit. Continue watering your grass as normal and come fall you’ll see your beautiful lawn again.

If you have any other questions about your lawn and how to improve and care for it you can always contact Organically Green Horticultural Services for more information.

Avoiding Mosquito Bites

Summer is here and that means spending a lot more time outside. Unfortunately, part of that time outside often includes bug bites, particularly mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control list mosquitoes as spreading a number of diseases from EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis), and Yellow fever to Zika virus and even—in other parts of the world—malaria. 

Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide that we exhale when we breathe. 

So, unless you’re willing to hold your breath while outside the next best thing is to avoid getting bitten by using an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registered insect repellent containing one of the following ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone

All of these have been proven to be both safe and effective to repel mosquitoes when used properly and will help you to prevent mosquito bites.

The CDC also recommends preventative maintenance for mosquito control. This includes getting rid of or treating the breeding grounds that mosquitoes love. Any source of standing water from a plant saucer to a birdbath can become a place for mosquitoes to breed. If the water is necessary, such as a birdbath, treat it with a mosquito dunk. These are safe for birds and other wildlife but will kill any mosquito larvae and prevent eggs from hatching. All other sources of standing, untreated water should be dumped out. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggest avoiding the outdoors at dawn and dusk. These times of day are the most active for mosquitoes. If you must be outdoors at these times use mosquito nets around your seating areas, or wear long-sleeved shirts to help reduce the number of bites you receive. 

Finally, if you know you’ll be having an event in advance, it’s a good idea to have your yard treated for mosquitoes so that you and your guests can be worry-free. If you’d like to have your yard treated call Organically Green Horticultural Service and they’ll treat your yard so that your party can be as bite-free as possible.