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Summer 2005

Planting Sense
Proper Transplanting Practices for Trees and Shrubs

You may have noticed newly planted shrubs or trees that are already showing signs of poor health. There may be signs of pest or disease infestation, but this is likely a symptom or complication resulting from incorrect planting. Many plants die or fail to grow properly due to bad planting and insufficient aftercare.

Although simple enough in concept, digging a hole the correct depth and breadth for a tree or shrub's root ball is the most critical step contributing to future plant health and like anything else there are rules to follow. The crown or flare, where the roots meet the stem or trunk of the plant, should be level with the soil surface. If the hole is too deep or the soil underneath the plant settles and the flare of the trunk is buried rot may occur. If the hole is too shallow, exposing the root system to the surface, there is a good chance the plant will become dehydrated, sunburned, and subject to winter damage. You can measure from the flare to the bottom of the root ball to get the correct depth of the planting hole. Another method is to simply lay a straight board or shovel handle across the hole; the top of the root mass should be the same level as the board.

The width of the hole should be at least two times the width of the root ball with rough sloping sides, not smooth and vertical. This will allow new roots to spread without restriction in the back filled area and beyond. If the soil is particularly sandy or full of clay amend with compost before back filling. Remove any burlap or wire that is on the root ball. It is best to remove it while in the hole because if soil falls off, there is less chance of damage. Fill the hole about one-third, add water and pack down to remove air pockets and assure proper contact between soil and roots. Once the water has drained, back fill the hole up to the trunk flare and water again.

Mulching is another essential part of plant health. Mulch is placed around plantings to increase water retention, control weeds, and buffer against mowers and power trimmers. It also provides a slow and steady stream of essential nutrients to the root system. Spread the mulch two or three inches thick but do not pile it against the trunk or stem of the plant as this, like planting too deeply, can cause rot or trigger the growth of roots in this area girdling the tree and causing the main root system to die out. Be sure to water the plants thoroughly and regularly for the first couple of seasons until your shrubs or trees have the root system in place to absorb enough water on their own. Following these simple planting techniques will ensure the survival of your new plants and get them on healthy start to a new landscape.

Japanese Beetle Grubs
Now is the Time for Control

At this time of year, early July into early autumn, the Japanese beetle (Papilla japonica) can become a serious problem. It has annoyed homeowners and plant care technicians for years in Maine because it damages lawns and gardens throughout its life cycle.

As the ground begins to warm up in the spring, the white grub stage of the beetle begins feeding on the roots of our lawns. Indications of grub damage include dry patchy areas that resemble drought stress where turf can be easily pulled up, and holes dug by skunks snacking on the beetle grubs. Later in July adults emerge and feed on a wide variety of plant leaves. They can completely "skeletonize" their victims by chewing all of the leaves except for the leaf veins. Serious outbreaks of this insect can result in severe damage to your home garden.

Control Measures
Unfortunately in the state of Maine, we have no way to effectively control large Japanese beetle grubs when they become a nuisance in your yard. However, we can control them in their immature grub stage. As with most pests, the younger they are, the easier they are to control. The best way to control the grubs is a simple lawn application with a safe, environmentally friendly, grub control product containing a biological parasite that infects the feeding grubs. Timing is essential with application because if you apply too early or too late the product will not be effective.

Adults are shiny metallic green beetles with copper-colored wings. Larvae (grubs) are one inch long, grayish-white with a dark brown head, and are curled forming a C-shape.

If you notice symptoms of feeding grubs, or have a history of Japanese beetle problems, there is a very easy way to find out. Take out your shovel and dig down a few inches, roll up the turf in a one square-foot area and check for white grubs. If you find 10 to 15 white grubs, you may want to consider control measures. We are happy to offer grub control as part of our lawn care services. If you notice symptoms and think that you may need control, be sure to contact us for a consultation to see if control is necessary.

Ornamental Grasses
Great Plants for Maine Landscapes

If you are considering making changes to your landscape consider grasses as a hardy low maintenance option. There are many grass varieties to choose from and all can add great aesthetic value to your landscape. Everything from a six-foot maiden grass planting to a small border with dwarf fountain grass will be a great fit for your garden.

Grasses are versatile and attractive addition to any landscape all year long. They will survive in a wide range of conditions and have many desirable characteristics including resistance to disease, insects, and even deer. Grasses are tough plants that require very little care, they don't need much water once established, and only need to be cut back once a year.

Design Characteristics
With their flowing fountain like habit grasses may be used in beds, borders, rock gardens, meadows, as edgings, or as specimens. In addition to contributing form, texture, and color to the landscape they can be called on for more subtle attributes such as movement and sound. As the wind blows through the garden, the tall leaves of the grass sway back and forth in a rhythmic motion and you can hear the rustling of the leaves as they rub against one another. It can be a very relaxing experience on a breezy summer day.

Grasses will add fantastic color and structure to your garden. Their foliage can be green, blue-green, red, cream, or variegated. From summer into early fall most grasses bloom and show off their flowers and seed heads while perennial flowers expire. In late fall and winter grasses change color with the trees and add architectural interest to the dormant garden, especially when coated with freshly fallen snow.

If you think you may want to incorporate grasses into your landscape design or even if you want a design without grasses, give our designer, Jim Allen, a call at 207-797-8733.

Organic Fertilizers
It’s All About the Soil

The use of organic fertilizers -- substances derived from natural sources, such as plants, animal by-products, and rocks that have been subjected to little or no processing-- has grown in popularity as public concern for the environment has increased and as more dependable sources for these products have become available.

Organic fertilizers are generally considered to be more conducive to the long term sustainability of quality soil than chemically synthesized fertilizers. Soil is a mixture of mineral and organic matter bonded together in close association. As this material breaks down soluble nutrients are made available to plant roots. All fertilizers replace nutrients that have been consumed by plants, leached into the groundwater, or emitted as gas. Organic fertilizers, however, stimulate microbial action in the soil as they are broken down, providing an additional benefit. They contribute to the physical structure of the soil through the production of humus. This is critical to the ability to absorb and release water as needed and provide for adequate air exchange.

How does this work? Organic matter is composed of both living organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, and previously living matter known as detritus which the organisms feed on. Organic fertilizers provide fodder for existing soil organisms allowing them to grow and multiply increasing the overall organic content of the soil. This on-going cycle provides the slow steady release of a broad spectrum of nutrients on which plants feed. It also increases the soil's capacity to hold nutrients until they are called upon. Furthermore, nutrient availability from microbes is regulated by seasonal demands of the plant. Since these organisms become more active when the soil is warm and moist, the ideal conditions for plant growth, nutrient availability peaks when it is needed most and is preserved in the soil when it is not.

Chemically synthesized fertilizers are designed for the direct and rapid uptake of a few chemicals by plant roots with no moderating influences. This can get plants off to a quick start but contributes very little to soil structure and for the long term is not the best solution. Under some circumstances Keystone Horticulturists may recommend limited applications of inorganic fertilizers to address a specific problem however our long term solutions rely primarily on the use of organic fertilizers.

If you are interested in organics, please contact us and we can set up a program for your property.

Keystone Services

Keystone Horticulturists, LLC offers a wide variety of services to cover all of your landscape needs or solve any problems that you may have.

Please feel free to contact us at any time, by phone or by email. We look forward to hearing from you and caring for your property.


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