Sunday, May 27, 2012

Removing a Tree from your landscape

When we moved into our home in 2004 our backyard had only 2 pine trees and one small oak tree. It was quite a shock after leaving a home in Georgia that had over 30 trees. In order to develop some shade quickly I planted 4 Red maple trees I bought on clearance at a Lowe's Home Improvement Store and also two seedlings I brought from Georgia. I picked Red Maples for two reasons; one Red maples establish quickly and look good at a young age and two; I love the color of the leaves in the fall.

But the light-colored bark of this tree does present problems because trunk damage to young red maples is very common. Due to the light gray bark, the tree suffers from a condition referred to as sunscald, which happens during the winter. This environmental problem causes the trunk bark layer to split open. This break in the bark severely weakens the tree. A weakened and stressed tree is more likely to be attacked by borers. The tree cannot transmit water and nutrients up into the plant resulting in poor growth and possibly death. If the tree does survive and heal over, the trunk is weakened because of internal rot and decay. It will never completely heal and the hazard potential is increased.

I didn't realize this is what was causing a problem with one of the trees we had planted in December of 2004. The tree never did thrive and even with extra care and watering it just couldn't manage the drought of the last couple of years. This week I noticed the leaves had curled and turned crispy. We decided it was time to remove the tree. We had to remove another maple we had planted at the same time 2 years ago for similar reasons. Two other trees are doing well and I have to wonder if the problems of these trees may have been made worse by the soil or environmental problems. As it turns out both trees were located in spots where they were in the way.

My original landscape plan had changed over the years and the trees I planted were really in the way of our storage shed. So taking them out was not such a bad thing. I also kind of went overboard when planting trees in our small yard. I attribute this over planting to the shock of moving to a home with almost no trees after having so many trees in my former yard.

Removing this tree will change the make-up of the yard. This spot will now get more sun and the birds will not have the tree to use for perching and nesting. I have had to relocate a few shade loving plants that were shaded by the maple and luckily there is a metal arch where birds can perch. The small oak tree has also grown and is able to provide perching and nesting areas. There are no plans at this time to replace the tree.

I've called my yard "ever changing" and I guess it is living up to that description!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Separating plants and pets in a landscape

As you may have heard we brought home a new puppy in about a week ago. A dog can be mans best friend but not so for flowers and plants. You may wonder if it is possible to have an attractive backyard that is also secure enough to keep your pup from wandering off. The answer is “Yes” with some planning.

Here are ideas and tips I’ve learned from raising several Labs and Lab-mix dogs. With some planning I’ve been to make my yard/garden attractive for us and Lab-friendly for the pets. If you have the space, you can divide your yard into two sections, creating a formal lawn and garden next to the house for enjoyment and entertaining and a lawn at the back of the yard where the dog can run and play. This area could be divided using green lattice fencing that separated the areas but allows breezes to flow through. The lattice can also be used to support roses, clematis, and other climbers to add privacy. I considered this option in one of our homes when we lived in Florida but moved before implementing my plan. Instead I’ve gone with an integrated plan where we share the same space. In our latest home we don’t have as much outdoor space as is previous homes so I have developed a plan that has worked for me and might work for you as well.

You can expect a certain amount of wear and tear to your landscape if you have a dog but your dog (my Labs) don’t have to destroy every living green thing in sight. I use small portable fences to protect my delicate and easily damaged plants like Hostas and hydrangeas and to keep them from running through planting areas when chasing squirrels or each other. I use raised beds for my vegetables and herb gardens and use containers for other plants and flowers. Drought-resistant plants are often tough enough to stand up to dogs and I’ve found use tough-trample proof ground covers like mondo grass, creeping jenny and mazus reptans useful in some areas of my yard. (Our new puppy Annabelle loves laying in my dwarf mondo and Maggie the 2 year old like the creeping jenny.) We’ve worked concrete and flagstone walkways and patios into our backyard designs making for a little less time spent on maintaining a lawn. In the open grass area I’ve kept for running and playing I’ve provided a few trees for shade on sunny days. If you don’t have shade in your grassy area consider a shade tarp to provide a protected area for your dog to escape from the hot sun.

Labs and other dogs will resort to digging when left alone maybe because they are convinced there is a small animal deep in the ground or because they are bored. I never leave my puppy alone in the yard and monitor the time my older Lab spends alone outside. There are too many f possibilities or damage to my landscape to leave a pup alone. If you have a dog that likes to dig and keeps returning to the same spots, try fencing the area and remove any rodents that may be nesting in the ground cover. If that doesn’t help you can build a designated digging area. Choose a shady spot with soft soil in a back corner of your yard. To encourage your puppy or dog to use the space bury some favorite toys and plastic bones when your pup is not around. Then later show interest in the spot by digging a few shovelfuls and soon he’ll follow your lead. Use an upbeat voice and using his name say “okay, dig”. If he strays out of this digging area redirect him by hiding another toy or bone. Just remember it may take a little while for your dog to catch on so have some patience.

Perhaps your yard is already established when you get your new puppy and you just can’t wait for him or her to out grow they seek and destroy phase you may want to consider an underground electronic or wireless fencing system to protect your plants and planting beds. When used properly and with consistent training, underground and wireless fences can quickly teach your dog to respect boundaries. Up to now I’ve never needed to use an underground system. My Labs have learned rather quickly my pants are off limits!

When planning your landscape remember that many common plants found in backyards and homes can be poisonous to your dog. You will need to remove the plants or protect your dog from ingesting them. Here is a part list of some plants that can be deadly to your dog. Amaryllis, autumn crocus, azalea/rhododendron, castor bean, chrysanthemum, cyclamen, Daphne, dogbane, English Ivy, foxglove, kalanchoe, lilies, marijuana, narcissus bulbs, oleander, peace lily, pothos, sago palm, schefflera, tulip bulbs, white snakeroot and yew. For a more complete list visit the Cornell website:

Now I will admit you will find some of these plants in my yard. I’ve found that once my puppies mature out of the mouthy chewing stage they don’t try to eat my plants. So I fence my beds and delicate plants and monitor the time my puppy spends outside alone. A puppy pen in a grassy area away from all plants could help while a puppy outgrows this stage. If they don’t outgrow eating everything green consider a dedicated fenced run area away from dangerous plants Occasionally my dogs will eat grass and so I keep some oat grass also called cat grass growing in a pot and that seems to satisfy their need for greens.

Besides dangerous plants, fertilizers and pest control products can be hazardous to your pet’s health, as many contain toxins in the chemicals. Read the labels on everything you use on your lawn and plants to make sure they are pet safe. It’s not only chemicals that pose a danger for your pet. Even something natural like a compost pile or sweet smelling cocoa mulch, could be harmful and deadly if ingested by your dog. Other outdoor hazards in your dog’s outdoor environment include: sharp gardening tools and supplies, barbeque equipment, citronella candles, pools chemicals and exposed wiring.

Spending quality time with your dog relieves boredom that can lead to dangerous and destructive behavior. Daily walks, playing fetch, dog parks, and dog training classes go a long way to challenge your dog mentally and physically and relieve boredom. Believe it or not eventually your pup will out grow seeking and destroying every part of your landscape/yard.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Backyard Mosquito Management

”Why didn’t Noah swat those 2 mosquitoes?” ~ Author Unknown

So mosquito season is here again in the Lowcountry and it will most likely be a terrible one with the lack of cold weather this last winter. If your idea of Mosquito management is dousing yourself and your nearest and dearest in your favorite DEET product and then stepping out to enjoy a night under the stars or by swatting at the blood-suckers as they bite you during a 4th of July bar-b-que you may need to reevaluate your control practices.

Many communities have fogging/spray programs; this is an Adulticiding program. Adulticiding programs spray pesticides indiscriminately and do not get at the mosquitoes until they have matured and are already nibbling on your skin. They also do little to restrict breeding. Over time Mosquitoes develop resistance to chemical pesticides, which render the chemicals ineffective. Adulticides represent considerable risk to all living things, and kill beneficial insects and natural mosquito predators, such as dragonflies, damselflies, and beetles. According to entomologists from Cornell University, close to 99.9 percent of the sprayed chemicals end up in the environment where they can have damaging effects on public health and ecosystems, leaving only 0.10 percent to actually hit the targeted mosquitoes. This questions the efficacy of spray-based strategies against mosquitoes and you will still have a lot of the annoying insects in your yard. To best manage mosquitoes, you have to get rid of the situations that are attracting them to your property, when you detect them kill them before they breed; you need to kill them before they become adults. That’s called LARVACIDE!

So what do mosquito’s need to thrive in your yard? Why are they finding your backyard so attractive? They need suitable aquatic breeding habitats in order to complete their lifecycle (a.k.a they need water). Eggs must be laid on the surface of slow-moving or standing water.

Your first step in managing mosquitoes should be to remove any and all potential breeding areas – anyplace that water collects – from your yard. This will provide long-term control over mosquito populations and will also control populations before they mature and have a chance to reproduce, transfer disease, and just plain annoy.
If mosquitoes do breed, larvaciding allows control measures to be used in targeted areas, while mosquito larvae are still concentrated in breeding pools and before adult mosquitoes spread throughout the community.

Ideas for Personal Prevention
• Remain indoors in the evenings, when most mosquito activity occurs.
• Use screened-in porches instead of open porches.
• Use herbal repellents to ward off mosquitoes, such as Skin-So-Soft. Reapply often. Herbs that repel mosquitoes include cedar wood, garlic, lemongrass, frankincense, cinnamon, geranium, eucalyptus, basil, rosemary, cloves, peppermint, lemon balm (citronella), onions, feverfew, thyme, and marigold.
• Essential oils of the herbs listed above are also good repellents, though most are volatile organic compounds and will bother someone who is sensitive to scents. To mix your own essential oil repellent, add 10 drops of essential oil to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, stir, and dab a few drops on your skin or clothing. Pregnant women should consult their doctors before using essential oils.
• Neem oil is used as a mosquito repellent cream and composed of 2% crude neem oil is a highly effective repellent.
• When you are outdoors burn citronella candles and torches to control mosquitoes in the immediate vicinity when there is no wind.

Here are some hints for Household Prevention and control
• Maintain window screens and doors, closing all opened doors.
• Remove or regularly drain all water-retaining objects, such as tin cans, pet dishes, buckets, holes in trees, clogged gutters and down spouts, old tires, birdbaths, trash can lids, and shallow fishless ponds. Check ponds and sources of water for signs of mosquito larvae and stock permanent water pools, such as ornamental ponds, with mosquito larvae eating fish.
• Check for standing water in plastic or canvas tarps used to cover pools and boats. Arrange tarps to drain water and turn canoes and small boats upside down for storage.
• Use Mosquito Dunks™ (made from Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis) one of the most popular and most effective least-toxic biological controls. The dunks are safe for birdbaths, rain barrels, ponds, ditches, tree holes, roof gutters, unused swimming pools — anywhere water collect.
• Fix dripping outside water faucets.
• Keep street gutters and catch basins and rain barrels free of debris and working properly.

Even if you put the above ideas for control into practice you will still need to monitor mosquito activity in your yard. Check for standing water after rain showers, and change birdbath water often to keep mosquitoes from using them to breed. Hopefully these practices will lead to a more enjoyable summer season.