Tag Archives: Landscape maintenance

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.

Cueing Up a New Season and a New Location

2016 postcard as email blast


2016 is cuing up to be a great year! Christie Dustman & Co. has moved to a new location with more room to grow! All of our processes will be housed under the same roof for streamlined operations. The incoming phone number will stay the same and so will the website address. You may see some new phone numbers when we call you due to our updated phone system. Fell free to add those numbers to your phone book or contacts list. See our new address below.

2016 3-8 side wall photo

It has been an exciting “off season” this winter but we are poised to move back into our perennial tasks of design, garden maintenance and planting, and containers. Contact us now to schedule an appointment. We love meeting gardeners and people interested in sensible and aesthetic landscape design, so please help us spread the word. All referrals are gratefully welcome.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook for more frequent updates. 2016 3-8 small pergola

617.327.0330         www.christiedustman.com        info@christiedustman.com

8 A Street, Boston (Hyde Park), MA 02136

photo credit & copyright Lynne Damianos – Damianos Photography


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?


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!

Tales from a New Gardener

2015-10-1 Curtis gardener question pixContributed by Curtis Hawley

Have you ever had the opportunity to learn something new and you begin to realize more and more that you’re just at the beginning of a long, rewarding path? Isn’t it exciting? As the newest member of Christie Dustman & Co., I’ve had quite a year. Even with prior experience in landscaping and client relations, I’ve never been a part of a relationship where clients come out to meet our crews when we arrive, greet us with a warm smile and then bubble over with gardening ideas to discuss with us that they’ve been contemplating since our last visit. It’s very reminiscent of a child excited to receive their big gift around the holidays – that sort of unabashed enthusiasm is contagious.

If you haven’t already taken advantage of this aspect of our services I highly recommend it. Our crew is extremely knowledgeable and all are great teachers. They’ve shared careers’ worth of wisdom and tips through helpful direction that has helped me go from a novice to professional level gardener in a short amount of time. They’ll help you too! It never fails that if you come out to ask our crew a question or two when we’re on your property, you’re going to get a nice walk through of your garden, highlighting important growing tips and seasonal expectations of your garden’s aesthetic. Take it from me: awareness of your garden is the first step to truly appreciating your garden.

As the season has now changed to Autumn and the leaves will soon drop, I can’t help but be contemplative of the past year. I thank you for indulging me and I hope you look back at this past season with as much fondness as I have. I think I can speak for everyone here at Christie Dustman & Co. that we’ve enjoyed each and every opportunity to work with you and look forward to those exciting moments that are still to come.

2015-10-1 curtis + tim with leaf barrels


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.


Contributed by Lynn Hutchinski

Surveying my garden today in the early morning chill (only 38 degrees – much better than 17!), I was struck by what a disaster area it seems to be. After a much ballyhooed record-breaking winter of snow in the Boston area and after a fall of neglect on my part, the side beds are covered in plant debris: partially-decomposed leaves, haphazardly-fallen dead stems like pick-up stix, overgrown dead foliage, forlorn-looking bare shrubs. It looks like a major flood came and receded.

But wait! If I look again, there are masses of green here and there – crocuses in royal purple, daffodils fattening up and even the green leaves of tulips starting out of the soil. It’s time to envision once again my garden dreams. There’s a rhyme and reason to the flow of seasons, as it says in Ecclesiastes: “to everything there is a season …; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” and I feel the quickening of the earth waking up and stretching, and life moving and reviving the plants.

2015-4-8 crocus pix

So it’s time for me to get moving – dig out the rake and hoe from the shed, find the empty trash barrels, and clean out that garden debris. A joyful response as I look forward to the unfolding of new blooms and the parade of emerging perennials that usually surprises me at some point as a plant shoots up in a spot that I thought was empty. However, if a ‘joyful response’ is not quite the emotion you have as you look at your emerging garden, please feel free to call us for your Spring clean-up – we’re ready to go and eager to celebrate the season.