Category Archives: Education

Composting Made Simple

It’s no secret that compost is highly revered among gardeners. We know some who have requested a truckload as a Birthday present!  Love for compost is understandable since the benefits of this nutrient-rich substance include improved soil quality,  reduced need for watering, and healthy plant growth. But the benefits extend beyond being an invaluable resource for gardeners; composting is one of the simplest things we can do to make a positive impact on the environment. According to the EPA, Americans discard about 73 billion pounds of food each year. All of that unnecessary waste takes up a lot of room in our already crowded landfills, in turn, creating a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, it makes sense that more of us should be in the routine of composting, whether we maintain a garden or not.

Oftentimes, people don’t take up composting because they believe it is too complicated, while others may have the impression that it’s too messy or smelly. There is, of course, something else that may prevent someone from taking the plunge into the composting world: limited space. Lack of space is an issue that many of us in the Boston area know quite well. While it’s true that larger kitchens and yards can be helpful for creating compost areas, deciding to compost need not be a big endeavor. There are several easily manageable ways to begin the practice of composting, regardless of space constraints.

One popular method of composting is known as “stealth composting” and this is ideal for those with limited space as it allows for composting on a smaller scale. Stealth composters can be kept indoors or out and it’s not difficult to make your own, which means the size can be customized to suit your needs. With this process, it’s not uncommon to designate a countertop or the space under your kitchen sink as your compost area. If this appeals to you, here’s a great tutorial to get you started.

 

 

Vermicomposting (or “worm composting”) is another popular option for indoor composting. This option is particularly suitable for basements, and as an added bonus, children are likely to want to be involved with this system. Vermicomposting is unique in that is specifically relies on using worms to assist in the decomposition process. As with stealth composting, setting up your own vermicompost bin is not complicated, nor is it difficult to maintain. Here are some good guidelines should you decide to take up vermicomposting.

If you are fortunate enough to have enough space to compost on a larger scale, there are endless choices when it comes to creating an outdoor compost area. Compost bins can be made from wood pallets, trash bins, large storage containers, wire fencing, and pretty much anything imaginable.  However, living in an urban area can make for unique challenges when it comes to composting. You will definitely want to take measures to ensure your compost does not attract rodents and other critters, and it’s also important to keep your neighbors in mind when you consider the location of your bin. Purchasing a compost bin is not a requirement, but manufactured bins may be the best way to ensure your food waste is securely covered. (If you are a Boston resident you can purchase  your bins at a reduced rate from Boston Building Resources.)

 

Those of us in Boston are lucky to have a few more options to make composting as simple in possible. Recently, the city began a pilot program called “Project Oscar,” which allows residents to drop off their food waste for composting at designated areas through the city. (Read this to learn more about Project Oscar.) An even easier option is to sign up for service with Bootstrap Compost. For a fee, Bootstrap Compost provides members with buckets in which to store food scraps, then it is collected weekly or bi-weekly, depending on your needs. In return, you are given five pounds of compost a few times a year (or you can choose to donate it). 

Perhaps you like the idea of composting but you just aren’t sure what to do with the stuff once you’ve got it. This is where we can help! Our experts at Christie Dustman and Company can work with you to show you how to use compost to get the most from your plants and garden. If you don’t personally have a use for it, check with the gardeners in your life as they will probably happily take it. You can also contact your nearest community garden and see if they accept donations.

With so many composting techniques available, there really is no excuse not to do it.  Find the method that suits your needs best and you’ll be in the habit of helping your garden and our planet in no time.

 

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 3

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

Round 3: English Ivy (Hedera Helix) vs Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)

As we learned in our previous posts in this series, you can’t purchase Japanese Barberry or Burning Bush in Massachusetts because they’re invasive species. Though we often see English Ivy taking over landscapes and even houses, you can buy it almost anywhere plants are sold. This begs the question: is English Ivy is an invasive species? You betcha.

English Ivy is an aggressive exotic plant that outcompetes other plants. It can even kill off tall trees! Let’s get ahead of the game and consider a friendlier groundcover plant, Barren Strawberry, a groundcover that offers some excellent characteristics to enhance your garden.Barren Strawberry vs. English Ivy

Invasive Species: English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

English Ivy has been a standard go-to groundcover plant for years, especially in hard to grow, heavily shaded areas. It’s a rather hardy plant, but is not known for its flowering stage. In fact, English Ivy is most aggressive when it does go to flower. This is because it only goes to flower once it starts climbing. Once English Ivy starts climbing a structure, it must be heavily maintained. This is especially important around the home, where English Ivy is capable of damaging gutters, wood fences, and cracked masonry. If it gets to the point of having to be removed, English Ivy can cause damage at that point as well. It often leaves behind a residue that’s very difficult to remove.English Ivy

Non-Invasive Alternative: Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)

Barren Strawberry is a groundcover plant native to the Eastern U.S. It can be a bit aggressive, but that can be a benefit when trying to fill an area quickly. Unlike English Ivy, though, Barren Strawberry is not a climber, so it won’t cause the kind of damage that many invasive species can cause when they spread. Personally, I notice this plant the most in the spring after the early spring show of bulbs and before the perennials and annuals really start rocking with the warmer weather of late May/early June. During this gap, I often see a solid blanket of yellow Barren Strawberry flowers in full bloom!  Barren StawberryOne significant advantage of English Ivy when compared to Barren Strawberry is its shade tolerance. If you need a groundcover plant in a deep shade, I recommend considering Japanese Pachysandra.

Here are some other great advantages with this non-invasive alternative:

  • Drought tolerant
  • Not too many ground covers have a showy flower, but this one does!
  • Excellent lawn alternative

This concludes our showdown between some of the most commonly requested invasive plants and more friendly, native alternatives! Many invasive species are not well suited (or perhaps too well suited) to our New England ecosystem. I hope you get to try out the alternatives mentioned in your own landscape – feel free to mention your own native plant alternative success stories in the comments!

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 2

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

In Part 1 of this blog series, we talked about what the term invasive means in regard to plants. Another term that’s commonly used in this discussion is “native,” which refers to a plant that is native to the local environment. This term also can be dissected, argued and debated.

When we say a plant is native to our area, though, how far back are we going? When we go back about 12,000 years to the end of the last ice age, the glaciers that rolled down Route 128 almost certainly obliterated all “native” vegetation up to that point and transplanted them undiscerningly along its way. Let’s put a closer parameter on time: the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock will be our time cap. We have pretty good documentation about the plants that inhabited our area at that time and those that were introduced for various purposes.

Let’s get into another exciting plant showdown, shall we?

Round 2: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) vs. Cotoneaster horizontalis

Japanese Barberry & CotoneasterInvasive: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thungerii)

Japanese Barberry is commonly requested – it be quite appealing to the eye! Visual appeal is typically what spurs a non-native plant’s introduction to an environment. Since Japanese Barberry is an invasive species, it can handle all sorts of difficult conditions including deep shade. It can thus outcompete native plant species, dominating edges of woodlands and choking out native undergrowth.

Non-Invasive Alternative: Cotoneaster horizontalis  

There are a few great alternatives to Japanese Barberry, but my choice would have to be the Cotoneaster. If you want a taller form, Cotoneaster divaricatus looks very similar but grows to about 6’ – 8’. I think the Cotoneaster has a very interesting, unique structure. This shrub offers a skilled pruner (ahem) all sorts of possibilities to accommodate a client’s style preference; from formal and tidy to a natural and flowing look to even accommodating water features.

While Barberry’s deep burgundy color certainly gives it much fall appeal, Cotoneaster has game too! Its foliage has a similar burgundy show, although not quite as deep a color. Where it really wins in my opinion is its bright red-orange fruits which appear in late summer and persist into early winter. I’d recommend Cotoneaster to anyone interested in a Barberry with the confidence that they’ll be pleased with its unique look.

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Here are some other great advantages of this non-invasive alternative:

  • Very hardy plant in all sorts of conditions
  • Much broader, year-round interest
  • No thorns! Barberry is thorny, a concern for little ones, 4 legged friends and your local fine gardener tending your gardens
  • Rabbit problems? Cotoneaster is seldom abused by rabbits

In the next and final round of our Invasive vs. Non-Invasive showdown, we’ll highlight a plant not yet technically identified in Massachusetts as an invasive species. Intrigued? We’ll discuss alternatives before it’s classified as such!

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 1

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

Inspired gardeners often ask our crew with hopeful expressions: “I was driving down the street the other day and saw this amazing plant, could you get me one of those?” As knowledgeable horticulturists, it’s our responsibility to do some research before we order you the latest garden showstopper. We go through an in-depth list to learn about each plant. This list includes the plant’s sun/shade requirement, moisture tolerance, acidity/alkalinity preference and competition with neighboring plants. During this process, we sometimes learn that a requested plant is considered an invasive species.

When it comes to plants, the term “invasive” can get a little muddied. For all practical purposes, an invasive species is a non-native plant that is introduced to a new environment where it behaves in a rather aggressive manner due to very little competition and/or extremely ideal growing conditions. Although Poison Ivy or Golden Rod can be rather aggressive at times, they are actually not considered invasive species since they’re native plants. Two examples of common invasive species are Oriental Bittersweet and Japanese Knotweed. Both of these species are very aggressive. They’re often found growing on roadsides and quickly taking over areas. We don’t get many requests for Knotweed, though, so let’s talk about some other popular plants that qualify as invasives and some excellent, eye-catching native alternatives.

Round 1: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) vs. Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’

Burning BushInvasive: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)   

We commonly get requests for this shrub in the fall. Admittedly, its month-long bright fiery red display is quite stunning. Outside of its fall showcase, however, I don’t personally find this shrub to be very aesthetically pleasing, and of course because it’s invasive I don’t recommend it! When someone asks for this Viburnum, I like to present my favorite alternative Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur.’  I think Winterthur outdoes Burning Bush, plus it’s more friendly to neighboring native plants.

Virburnum nudum WinterthurNon-Invasive Alternative: Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’   

Winterthur is a native plant, so that’s a great place to start. Not only is a native plant by definition not invasive, but it’s usually not overly aggressive either. But you know what’s even better about native plants? They’re being grown in their natural environment, which means that it’s very likely that the plant will thrive!

Here are some other great advantages of this non-invasive alternative:

  • Much nicer flower show in May/June (Burning Bush has a non-distinct flower)
  • Flowers are followed by a colorful fruit structure that changes from red to blue throughout summer
  • Fall colors feature maroon to dark red-purple
  • Great food source for pollinators
  • Better ornamental shaping from pruning (Burning bush tends to get sheared into “meatballs”)

 

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of the Invasive vs. Non-Invasive Plant Showdown, including another very popular shrub and one of the most popular plants you can still buy today…

Arborway Tree Care: A Trusted Partner in Business

Contributed by Libby Coley

Being a trusted adviser for our clients means taking the time to vet other colleague companies who provide complementary landscape services. Lucky for us, Arborway Tree Care is one of our trusted partners in business. We recently met up with Bob Kelley, Plant Health Care Manager and ISA Certified Arborist at Arborway, to get the inside scoop on the company: their services, company philosophy, and some tips of the trade!

Arborway Tree Care is a full-service tree company that has served metro Boston for 40 years. Arborway offers many services that complement CD & Co. These include plant health care, health maintenance and structural shade tree pruning, structural cabling and bracing, crane services, lot clearing, storm damage and stump grinding. Many of our clients use Arborway Tree Care for their disease and pest management services.

Bob joined the Arborway team four years ago. As Plant Health Care Manager and ISA Certified Arborist, Bob wears many hats. In any given week, you can find him doing tree work and plant health care in the field, in the office doing paperwork, or meeting clients. Bob shared that one of the best parts of his job is talking with clients about what’s going on with their trees and why. Educating their customers and thoughtful planning are important to Arborway.

We asked Bob what he thinks a property owner should know in terms of tree care:

  • Bob said that adequate water uptake is the most pressing issue these days for trees and plants, especially in light of the last three years of drought. In previous years, Bob stressed the importance of watering perennials and shrubs from July 1st to the end of the growing season (typically around the middle of October) in the absence of normal rainfall, but now he stresses the importance of watering all plants. He also advises homeowners to water large shade trees if they are of high value to the property.
  • Bob stresses safety above everything when it comes to trees. It’s crucial that trees are structurally sound, especially in stressful conditions such as drought and storms which can tip the tree into irrevocable failure.
  • Plant Health Care. Bob points out that monitoring and treating plants for pests and diseases is the best way to keep a landscape healthy.

What are the biggest challenges facing trees in 2017? Bob anticipates a quantifiably larger rate of tree decline and pest/disease problems after three continuous years of drought. Three is a key number here – healthy trees can survive on stored energy for three years, but any additional stress makes them more susceptible to health issues after that point. Bob also highlighted that the gypsy moth and winter moth hatch in early spring and noted that mid-March to July 1st is Arborway’s busiest time of year. During this short period of time, their Plant Health Care crews apply several different applications before buds break and after leaf emergence including pesticides and fungicides.

If you want to learn more about Arborway Tree Care, check out their website: www.arborwaytree.com

The Challenge of Finding Skilled Labor: Discovering a New Approach

Contributed by Jim Lynn

Finding a few qualified candidates to hire out of 7.9 million people can be trickier than you might think. 7.9 MILLION is how many people are currently unemployed in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Surely there must be plenty of great horticultural candidates in that huge number. It should be easy to find somebody who wants to work in our industry, right? Think again.

When looking for a strong candidate to work with our crew at Christie Dustman & Co., we are looking for a well-rounded individual that has experience, education, passion, and stamina. We don’t think that’s too much to ask for, is it? Well, it can be difficult to find such an individual who doesn’t mind working in all kinds of weather conditions!

We took a different approach to hiring this year and tried something new: if we can’t find candidates to match our needs, maybe we can take the candidates we have coming in and train them into the fine gardeners we are looking for!

hiring - JhylikThis year, we had two candidates for crew member positions who were eager to get into the landscaping industry but didn’t have the experience or rounded knowledge base that we were looking for. However, both were willing to learn, have a passion for plants and importantly, are likable. Thus, they were high potential candidates, and we let them join the team for a trial period with the crew in the field. On a typical tryout, we have each individual work with each of hiring - Sarahour crew members to get feedback and see how adaptable and teachable they are.

Our new hiring approach has been a great success. If every tryout ended in success we wouldn’t have to have them, but this year we were lucky – we added two new crew members through this process! Welcome to Jhylik and Sarah!

A Design for All Times

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

“I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future.”  Frederick Law Olmsted

A Clearing in the DistanceEarlier this year, I had the good fortune of running into a great read, A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski. Being new to the horticultural field, I’ve been exposed to a lot of new and exciting things, and while working in and around Greater Boston, one can’t go too long without seeing the name Olmsted. A colleague enlightened me to the fact that Frederick Law Olmsted designed not only Boston’s Emerald Necklace, but also New York City’s Central Park. I immediately thought, “That’s quite an accomplishment!”, but what was more impressive is that those accomplishments turned out to be just a small part of quite a varied and accomplished career.

I think we all have a tendency to examine our own lives when we read about another’s life. Like me, I appreciated that Olmsted took his time early on in his career to feel out exactly what his passions and interests were. By taking his time, I mean he traveled the world, started a farm, explored the master gardens of Europe, authored nationwide publications and literature, was a strong voice against slavery and was the precursor to the American Red Cross during the Civil War, amongst other achievements.Emerald Necklace

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from his life and career was his propensity for long term planning. This skill exemplified his intelligence but much more so his immense generosity. To plan something so lasting as the Buffalo, New York Park System or The Biltmore Estate is a deliberate gift to future generations, one that he knowingly wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate in his own time. Imagine a painter or musician crafting a fresco or ballad but never being able to see it or listen to it? What vision indeed!

Visiting and working in our client’s gardens is a truly great opportunity and one that I genuinely enjoy. Installing new additions to a garden, pruning and shaping an ornamental tree, or even just editing a garden bed can have quite the long term impact on a garden. Seeing now that I have the ability to leave a more lasting impression than I might have initially realized only further enhances that experience.

Spiders: Not So Scary After All?

Contributed by Libby Coley

SPIDERS!  Did a wave of “ewww” just go through your spine?  Often maligned and feared, these eight-legged critters should be considered one of our best friends in the garden.

Why, you ask?

Bottom line: spiders eliminate many insects that harm plants, and they themselves don’t harm plants.  Where web-spinning spiders are indiscriminate consumers of any bug unlucky enough to get trapped, common garden spiders such as wolf spiders and jumping spiders live on the ground and tend to be more particular about what they consume. These spiders also don’t seek out prey but will only prey on what comes to them.

For example, wolf spiders have the ability to sense vibrations and have sharp vision which allow them to hunt insects by foot. This type of spider lives in underground burrows, often beneath mulch. This makes prey bound to fall into their homes unsuspectingly. Jumping spiders conversely pounce on their prey and tend to go after small winged insects like flies. If they jumping spidermiss a jump, they have a web-like silk that they can produce in order to tether themselves to a nearby plant or tree.

Plant harming insects like mites, aphids, slugs, and earwigs are bountiful examples of harmful insects in your own backyard that spiders help keep at bay.  Some things that help increase spider populations are:

  • Perennials and groundcovers, which provide spiders with a protected hiding place
  • Mulch, which provides spiders with cover and humidity
  • Leaving plant stalks instead of pulling them for winter habitat, as spiders live through even harsh New England winter. They are thus one of the first natural control agents that emerge in the spring.

While few of us specifically spray to eliminate spiders, note that it takes a lot more pesticide to kill spiders and these higher levels of pesticide are lethal to other, beneficial insects as well as to us humans! The vast majority of spider species are not poisonous to humans, and here in Massachusetts, only the Black Widow is venomous.

Spiders Alive Ad 2
So celebrate and praise your spiders! If you want to learn more about them, check out the SPIDERS ALIVE! exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science running through September 6th. You can find more information about the exhibit here.

Water, water, water!

Contributed by Christie Dustman

Summer’s wonderful sunny weather is here in full force and we humans love it!   But our plants experience summer differently.  The Boston area is entering a drought ……… and this follows a winter and spring of low moisture.

While it occurs to many of us to water the Evergreens + perennialsperennials we have, few of us think about our shrubs and trees. Perennials and perhaps the temperamental Blue Mophead Hydrangeas wilt more easily, triggering our compassion.  More established shrubs and trees, on the other hand, are stalwart in the face of lack of water though at a more severe point may lose inner leaves or show fall colors out of season.  Much like we think to pack water for our kids, we may forget our adult water bottles at home.

True confession:  Every day when I get home, I pull out my hose and get to work on systematically watering my shrubs and trees. Dinner and the dog can wait.  I start in the back left corner and work around my garden 360 degrees.

I recommend deep watering for large shrubs (3’ tall+), evergreens (hedges too!), and trees Deepwater-tree-hose(smaller and large canopy trees) to get moisture down into the top 18” of soil where the majority of water-absorbing roots are found.  The ideal method is the slow-soak method – put your hose at the base of the plant and turn on a low trickle from your hose for ½ -1 hour per plant.  For a large shade tree, water on both sides of the trunk, so 2 hours total. The goal is for the water to seep into the ground and not run off.  Keep track with a kitchen timer so you don’t forget and leave the hose running.

I will be deep watering my larger plants once per week until the natural rainfall comes back – most likely into the fall – and encourage you to do the same. Check out the links below from our friends at the UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery & Urban Forestry and feel free to email me if you have specific questions!

Dry, Dry, Dry… Resources for Landscapers

Long-term Drought Effects on Trees and Shrubs

U.S. Drought Monitor: MA

Tales from another new gardener …

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

2016 3-23 Liz gardening

I had previously written about being new to the fine gardening scene and all the great teachers I’ve had along the way giving timely advice and demonstrating proper technique to accomplish standout results. Well, last season I had an opportunity to pay this knowledge forward working with a fellow new gardener, Liz. Liz has had the desire to beautify her property for the 3 years since moving there but wanted to avoid the uncertainty that comes with a new venture. Christie worked with Liz to understand her desired goals and came up with a design to channel these energies. That’s where I came in.

Liz and I set out on an early Saturday morning to do the first real groundbreaking on her new front garden beds. We were both excited. This was my first experience working one-on-one with a client implementing a new design and Liz finally got to start working on her garden that up until now had only been an idea. We dove right into our work. We transplanted Peonies and daylilies, defined/redefined bed edges, graded out beds and then began planting Hydrangeas and Persicaria.

We were making great progress! I was preparing the beds, barely able to keep a step ahead of Liz who quickly became a whiz at transplanting and proper planting techniques with the new plants being added to her garden. As we progressed nicely and the garden was beginning to take shape some of the axioms of my mentors came to mind: slow down and most importantly HAVE FUN! So I started pulling Liz back away from our work so we could actually look at what we were doing, visualizing the end result and even playing around with the original design a little bit (don’t tell Christie).

It was a great experience to see another new gardener full of ideas and pos2016 3-23 side beditive energy taking to gardening so enthusiastically. Our newest gardener was off to a great start and when I left she was already thinking of the placement of some nice beach rocks she had collected and how to add those to her garden. That’s when I knew my job was done and I could leave confident that another gardener was well on her way.