Category Archives: Landscape maintenance

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.

 

Keeping Rabbits Away

Aside from the erratic temperatures May and June bring, perhaps nothing says summer is coming to Boston like the appearance of the eastern cottontail rabbit. The first few bunny sightings of the season may have you fawning over their cuteness, but that feeling of adoration often gives way to dread once you realize how much damage these cute creatures can do to your landscape. These voracious herbivores have long been the bane of many vegetable gardeners’ existence, but their appetites are certainly not limited to “people food.”  The list of things rabbits are known to eat is exhaustive and includes almost all varieties of grasses, flowers, twigs, and buds. In short, if you grow anything at all in your yard or garden, odds are good the eastern cottontail can and will make a meal out of it.

If you want to enjoy your outdoor space without fear of it being destroyed, you are likely to be in need of some rabbit-proofing solutions. Unfortunately, no method is completely guaranteed to keep rabbits away, but it is certainly possible to create an environment that is less inviting to them.

The most effective ways to reduce the number of rabbits that visit your yard is to create a physical barrier. Many gardeners have great success using chicken wire to section off areas, but if aesthetics are of utmost importance this is, admittedly, not the best option. However, installing a metal or wood fence is a great alternative, depending on the amount of space and budget you have to work with. The key is to make sure your fence is deeply anchored into the ground in order to prevent the rabbits from being able to crawl underneath. You will also need to make sure your barrier, whatever you choose, is at least three feet high, as it is believed wild rabbits can easily jump about two feet.

If creating a physical barrier is not an option, there are countless other methods that may prove helpful. Natural rabbit repellent, both homemade and commercially available, may be an easy fix. A few DIY options include sprinkling cayenne pepper around the perimeter of your garden; soaking rags in ammonia and placing them discreetly behind planters and other out-of-view locations; or combining a mixture of garlic, red pepper flakes, dish soap, and water into a spray bottle and frequently spraying the area you hope to protect.  You can also purchase ready-made repellent and ultrasonic deterrents from most hardware and lawn and garden stores. Some people even claim to have success by filling their yard with plants rabbits tend to avoid- snapdragons, salvia, and geraniums, to name a few- although, of all the options available, this may be the least effective as hungry rabbits aren’t too picky. 

Since there’s no way to control the ever-expanding rabbit population, the best solution is to try multiple options in hopes that your yard or garden becomes too much of a hassle for cottontails to bother with. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin, our team at Christie Dustman and Company can help you create barriers and choose plants that make for a rabbit un-friendly space. The good news is that whatever works for rabbits often works for other animals as well. With a little experimenting and perseverance, you’re likely to have your outdoor space all to yourself in no time.

 

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.

Caution! Power Lines

Contributed by Jim Lynn2016-1-29 ice pix for blog

The colder temperatures are settling in and we are starting to see snow in our forecast as we head deeper into winter. Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have what New Englanders refer to as a dusting (anything under 6 inches), but it is becoming more commonplace to see greater snow accumulations or destructive ice storms with our winter weather. Last year we saw numerous landscape plants damaged by the weight of our heaviest snowfall on record in the Boston area.

Many times as we maintain the beauty of gardens we are working in the vicinity of service lines, especially when we are clearing downed or broken branches due to heavy ice and snow loads. To enable us to properly identify utilities, understand electrical hazards and conform with safety standards when working around electricity, Christie and the crew got together with the Tree Care Industry Association for Electrical Hazard Recognition & Compliance Training.

We were surprised to see just how many potential hazards there can be with electricity. It is hard to remember that we have to keep a good distance from service lines when we see squirrels and birds using them as an elevated walkway or a place to rest between flights. Unless you are a certified line worker, the closest anyone can safely work around service lines while conforming to electrical safety standards is 10 feet! Ten feet is the closest anything you are touching should be from any service line.

One thing is for certain: electrical safety is serious business and should not be taken lightly. Allow trained professionals to handle potentially unsafe situations for you. Properly maintaining trees and shrubs around service lines and selecting the right plant material for these areas can2016-1-29 danger electricity blog pix also help prevent unsafe situations. When working near electricity it is always better to work with extra caution rather than work with any questionable circumstances.  As always, if you have any questions or concerns don’t hesitate to have us evaluate the situation for you – we can safely perform what’s needed for your trees or plants, or we can put you in touch with professionals in the tree care industry that are qualified for more dangerous tasks.

Starting my garden list again

2015-12-3 gloves -prunersContributed by Allan Robinson

Like many of you, last weekend I was completing one of the “final” final clean-ups of the year. I’m hedging to say “final” as this IS New England and for another few weeks leaves will accumulate beneath the Boxwood hedge along my front walk. As the garden winds down, I find myself ticking through my mental checklist, taking stock of my garden. The thought occurs to me – maybe I will be out at least one more time unless Mother Nature unleashes the first snowfall of the year soon – but I digress.

I began my mental list of autumnal tasks: leaves bagged and at the curb, mm-hmm; bulbs in the ground ready to pop in the spring, ok; spigots off, hoses and patio furniture in the basement – all present and accounted for.  Perennials cut back – I’ve even divided a few and transplanted them, ready to settle in for their long sleep.  The winter A-frames and other assorted structures are in place to protect the plants in case we have another monumental snow load like last year.  Holiday lights are on the tree and the ground is beginning to freeze.  I think I may be done, beyond those last pesky leaves.

Sadly another year of gardening is coming to a close.  I’ll continue to mark the calendar with the usual events like Christmas, New Years, MLK & Valentine’s Day until garden activities resume.  I will also follow many of the winter garden events such as my Hawthorne tree losing its berries, Hellebores blooming in late winter, Crocuses and Snowdrops poking their heads through the snow, and some of the surest signs of spring: Hostas, Daylilies and Peonies beginning to push their tiny tips through the ground around the beginning of April. I can’t wait!

Until then I’ll be planning for next year’s garden. Lining up more tasks and big ideas like I hatched during last year’s 106 inches of snow. More transplanting, new plants and bigger projects like a reconfigured deck and an artistic fence to frame a view. While I am sad to head back inside, I feel a sense of satisfaction and optimism for 2016. How about you?

THE COST OF WINTER DAMAGE

split tree crotchHow many of you had deep sadness this spring when you saw the snow’s violent impact on your favorite Weeping Japanese Maple, Mounded Pine, or other beloved plant? Christie Dustman & Co. spent much of the spring in plant triage mode; in many cases, we had to remove and replace the plant.

The problem with mixing winter and plants is that the plant’s branch carrying capacity – tensile strength of the limb – can be overtaxed by the weight sitting on it. A large volume of light and fluffy snow is much easier for the branch to bear than the same volume of heavy wet snow.

Heavy weight on limbs causes different effects:

Bending: When a branch bends, it still is attached and can generally right itself when relieved. The branches sag downward.

Breaking: If the branch bends too far, it breaks and often tears or rips off of the plant, leaving an ugly torn area of bark. In the spring we cleanly re-cut the break and trim the edges of the ripped bark so that the plant can try to heal over this open wound.

Splitting: This is when two branches attach in a V shape and the attachment of the two fanning branches is weak. We call it a “weak crotch” in arborist terms. Many Japanese Maples had weak crotches that split last winter. For some, we used a stainless steel screw and cinched them back together; if this didn’t didn’t provide enough stability, we had to remove one large limb or say goodbye to the whole plant.

Uprooting: If the snow pulls over the plant or tree, we call this a plant failure. This sort of damage is more common with high winds combined with weight on the plant.

shrub taped to protectSo what can you do to minimize damage? Let us implement these solutions at your house:

Lightly tie/bind columnar evergreens or other vase-shaped type plants for added resistance against the branches splaying open and breaking. Don’t cinch too tightly – just tie loosely like a hair net. We use a stretchy Arborist tape.propped tree limbs

Prop up horizontal limbs from underneath with a Bamboo support or with another tree branch with a crook in it.

Build an A-frame structure over a Weeping Japanese Maple or mounded type shrubs in vulnerable locations – like where shoveled snow will collect or slide off a roof.

a-frame slotted shelterVery carefully knock off snow from plants where you see them sagging. This is NOT advisable if the snow is icy and is stuck on the branch or if you apply a lot of force. You can do more damage.

Protect your favorite and most valuable plants. We are fabricating shrub sheltercustom winter protection solutions for our clients – both A-frames that can be reused year to year as well as tying/propping up limbs. Call us and we can devise an individualized solution for your plants!

Even Gardens Get Blankies – Time for Mulch

2015-10-20 CD rake and leavesOk, so I was pretty suspicious of the “let’s put down a blankie” idea for the garden before winter. If you have met me, you know that I am not the type of person who makes my own crackers. I buy them. In the garden, I will do fussy things but only if there is a good reason to do it. I resist babying plants and I resist doing things in the garden that make humans feel better rather than make an actual difference in the garden.

As I read studies about using winter mulch, I realized that the reason for mulch is not the COLD per se – the problem is temperature fluctuation, often from the sun’s rays. Cold is cold. The goal of bed covering in winter is not to stop freezing – it is to minimize the top layer of soil from warming up and cooling down. This freeze-thaw action forces smaller plants up and dislodges them from the soil surface. Now vulnerable and stranded, the plant’s roots dry out. (Ok, so I feel a little sympathy now …) Warming soil during midwinter thaws can also encourage plants to come out of dormancy in addition to being popped out of the soil surface by plummeting temperatures.

To assist your perennials (or more recently planted small shrubs) this winter, shade the soil around them to protect against the sun heating up the soil. Snow cover is the best winter insulator but is undependable – once we get snow, lightly push snow back onto beds when you can. Before the snow comes, we recommend adding 2-4 inches of chopped leaves, pine needles, salt marsh hay or sterile straw over the crown of the perennials and around the root zone after you have cut the perennials back and after temperatures are staying consistently in the 50-40F range.

More than just a comfort object, your garden’s ‘blankie’ of winter mulch will help keep it snug and minimize winter damage. Let us help you put your garden beds to sleep before the snow flies!

IT’S A DRY HEAT

Dogwood Drought_Stress1921Spring semi-drought continues

Contributed by Lynn Hutchinski

You would think we wouldn’t have to worry about watering now after all that snow we slogged through this past winter. However, you’d better get out your watering hoses and sprinklers. After a record-breaking108-plus inches of snow, our precipitation totals for the past 2 ½ months are less than half of our normal rainfall – only about 5 inches for March, April and half of May. The last truly measurable amount of rain was on April 20th (1/2 inch), and before that, March 26th (1/2 inch). Our plants are panting for moisture.

With so much snowfall, what happened to the water? Well, usually 10 inches of snow would give us 1 inch of water, but when the weather is bitterly cold for prolonged periods (remember hunkering down for most of February? Even the governor told us to hunker down!), the snow is lighter and has much less water content when melted. Our 108 inches of snow only gave us about 5 inches of water instead of the 11 inches we should have had.

And if April showers bring May flowers, we shouldn’t have had any this year given the lack of rainfall. As the weather forecasters like to say, we’re in a dry pattern which looks to continue for probably the rest of the month and possibly into June.

We recommend deep watering 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 1 hour per plant.  Keep track with a kitchen timer so you don’t forget and leave the hose running.  If you are fortunate enough to have a sprinkler system, use it!  An adequate amount of water would be 1-2” of water every 4-7 days, as we continue to have little or no rainfall.

So get out those hoses and turn on those sprinkler systems, and plan for weekly watering. Our plants are a valuable investment and provide shade, decrease noise pollution, and cleanse the air, as well as giving us a relaxing alternative to the urban environment.

Deepwater tree - hose

Mulch…it’s a texture thing…

Contributed by Brian McGinn

The answer to whetheleaf mold pixr or not to mulch your garden beds is simply…YES! Adding a layer of mulch to your garden does many things: enhances soil nutrition by adding nutrients as it decomposes (reducing the need for fertilizers), reduces the amount of water that evaporates from your soil (reducing the need to water), acts as an insulating layer on top of soil (which keeps soil warmer in winter andcooler in summer) and also keeps weeds down; and the weeds that do grow are much easier to pull (less tedious work! and less need for herbicides).

But few of us think about these scientific reasons for mulching.  In practice, we like the “finished” look that it gives our garden beds. You may like a particular color of mulch – brown, red, black.  For others, it is a “texture” thing.  We are just used to seeing bark mulch with its chunks and particles as a foil for the drama of the plants.  At CD & Co., we recommend natural pine bark mulches that have not been color enhanced or artificially dyed.  But more and more we are turning to leaf mulch.  It means altering your aesthetic vision of a “well mulched bed”.

If you are in the woods and push away an area of leaves, underneath you’ll discover a layer of a crumbly brown material with a very pleasant and earthy scent…this is nature’s leaf mold.  Leaf Mold or Leaf Mulch is a naturally occurring product made from partially composted leaves that have been shredded.  Shredding the leaves in the fall allows them to compost more quickly due to increased surface area for fungi to do their work.  The result is mulch that has a rich brown color with a texture very different than bark mulch. It is more finely textured and uniform than bark mulch.

I remember my first garden experience working with leaf mold.  The garden had benefitted from a yearly layer and the beds were bursting with amazingly vigorous plants that needed no extra fertilizer and required limited weeding.  Aesthetically, it may look different but it’s well worth the benefits to your garden!

We have great local suppliers of quality leaf mold.  Let us amp up your garden for a new look.