Category Archives: Plants

Spring Landscape Maintenance Tips

Yah!  Spring has finally arrived here in Southeast Michigan.  The grass is starting to green up, buds are swelling on trees and shrubs and perennials are popping out of the ground.  So how do you prepare your landscape for the upcoming season?  We hope these tips will help you out if you are doing these tasks yourself or looking to hire a landscape contractor.

Planting Beds

  • Blow, rake and/or physically clean out debris from your beds.  With large beds, decorative stone beds and/or beds with groundcovers usually the easiest way to clean out is with a powerful enough blower.  Dirt only beds might need the dirt physically turned over with a shovel or cultivator.  Shredded bark beds also need to be turned over and loosen the hard top surface.  Even if installing new bark if the old bark has crusted surface it needs to be broke.
  • Adding new mulch is a preference thing.  It should be done every or every-other year.  If budget and/or time is a constraint every-other year could be option, but recognizing that controlling weeds could be more difficult on the second season.  Just remember though, mulch depths should be about four inches.  On average, two inches a year decomposes.  So if you are on a bi-yearly schedule you will need to install more mulch.
  • Mulching around trees has become quite an issue over the last several years.  Mulch should NOT be applied above the flare of the trunk.  The root flare is the portion to the tree where the trunk widens at the base as it transitions to the root system. This flare occurs at the natural grade of the soil. It is of critical importance that this level be maintained.  So a mulch volcano should be avoided at all cost!

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  • Pre-emergent weed control can be added to beds to help prevent weed germination.  This will not control any weeds that are already rooted in the bed.  So, if there are still weeds leftover from the previous season, these should be pulled or sprayed with a post-emergent such as round up.  Careful application should be taken to avoid overspray onto desired plants.  One thing to consider is that some weeds will become resistant to pre-emergents if they are added every year to the planting beds.
  • If you do not have something (plastic, steel or aluminum edging or retaining walls) to separate the beds from the turf, a spade (or machine) cut bed edge defines the bed and puts the finishing touch on the landscape.  If adding mulch to the beds, using a spade to push back soil and old mulch from concrete/paver sidewalks and drives will help prevent new mulch from being washed onto the surface.

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  • Except for cold weather annuals (i.e. pansies, etc.), these types of plant material should not be planted until frost is not possible.  The rule of thumb is around Memorial Day (late May).  Alternatively, you can find out when the projected last frost date is in your area by checking with your local county extension office.

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Herbaceous Ornamental Plants (perennials, ornamental grasses and ground covers)

  • If mulch was heavily applied over the root system for the cold season, this should be carefully pulled back.
  • If (non evergreen) perennials and ornamental grasses were not cut back in the fall, they should be done before new growth shows.  For some plant material such as daylilies and hostas, it might just take a hand to pull it from the ground.  Some other  species, such as peony and Black Eye Susan might need pruners to cut the stalks.  For ornamental grass, we use powered or hand hedgers to cut as low as possible.

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  • Most groundcovers will just need a good raking over to pull out any dead branches, leaves and debris.
  • Spring flowering bulbs should be left alone until the leaves are yellow.  Then at that time they can be removed and a bulb fertilizer is usually recommended.
  • Vines (such as clematis) should have dead branches pruned off.
  • New plants can be installed as long as there is no chance for a heavy freeze.  Here in Southeast Michigan we are pretty much in the clear of that danger.

Shrubs

  • If physical winter protection was installed in the fall, this should be removed immediately.
  • Dead branches should be removed in most cases.  Sometimes certain evergreens will have brown leaves from winter damage, do NOT remove these yet.  Many times these branches will produce new leaves/needles.  The smartest way to check is to prune at the tip of a branch in search of green cambium.  If brown, continue cutting back until green or you reach an intersection.
  • All new type landscape roses (Carpet, Knock Out, Oso Easy, etc.) should be cut back six to twelve inches from the ground.  This will promote a thick and healthy plant.
  • Hydrangeas should not be cut back in the Spring as they have produced many if not all of their flower buds in the previous fall.  Arborscens or Smooth (Annabelle, Incrediball, etc) and paniculata or Hardy (Limelight, Quickfire, etc.) Hydrangeas flower on new wood, so you can get by pruning lightly, but to control size major pruning should take place in fall or early winter.  Macrophylla or Bigleaf and quercifolia or Oakleaf Hydrangea  flower on old wood so no pruning should be done unless the branch is dead.  Then pruning back to the next live bud might be necessary because of winter damage.   To control size, major pruning should be done in June or July.

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  • Most shrubs should not need any fertilizer in the Spring.  If needed, this should be done in the late fall.  The one exception could be acid loving plants.  On rhododendrons, azaleas, etc.   Thoms Bros. uses a product out of Westcroft Gardens called Greenleaf Compound.  We apply it to flowering plants in spring before they bloom, right after they bloom and again one more time in the fall.

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Turf

  • Debris (leaves, branches, etc.) should be removed as soon as possible from your lawn.
  • If the lawn was left long in the fall, cutting would be recommended.
  • Any bare spots that were killed by winter or from the previous season, can be raked and seeded.  A seeding mulch is usually recommended.  Pre-emergent (crab grass control) should be avoided in these locations as they will prevent seed from germinating.  Adding some soil to the areas might help as well.
  • A pre-emergent weed control should already have been or quickly applied to prevent crab grass from germinating.  A light fertilizer can also be done at this point but usually is not needed if a heavy late fall fertilizer application was completed the year before.
  • Pink or gray snow mold should also be raked off the lawn and seeded.  A fungicide is not recommended as the disease has already did its damage.
  • Aeration of the lawn is recommended for turf that has heavy soil (clay) and/or heavy traffic.  Grass needs water and air in order to grow. When soil is compacted, water and air do not get to the grass. Aeration involves poking holes in the soil with an aerator, by which water and air can better circulate and stimulate growth.   Aeration should take place in the early Fall as to prevent undesired weed germination but can be done in May when ground is warm enough but drought isn’t a problem.

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  • Overseeding/slit seeding is the practice of spreading grass seed over an existing lawn.  This can either be done by hand/spreader or using a machine that actually slits into the existing turf/soil. The obvious need to overseed is when your grass is thin.  But keeping your lawn young by overseeding every so many years will keep it fresh and thick.  Be aware though, turf can be thin because of too much shade and root competition from trees.  Even though there is some shade “tolerate” turf species, no grass likes deep shade.  Overseeding would only be a temporary fix.  If a lawn is really in rough condition, it can be overseeding in the same time frame as aeration..May.  But the best time of season is late summer/early fall.

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  • Irrigation should not be needed for at least another month.  When we get our first full week of no precipation is when you should consider turning on the sprinkler system.  Please do not let your irrigation contractor start up and program your system and leave it like that for the season.  if you do not have a weather and/or web based irrigation controller, you should adjust the amount of water your system puts done based on the season and weather patterns.

Blue Spruce Problems

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) is one of the most recognizable and widely planted conifers in Michigan landscape.   Unfortunately, blue spruces have been encountering some seriously health-threatening problems in recent years.   Most of the problems are from disease are killing branches and eventually the entire tree.  Industry experts are calling this “Spruce Decline”.   This epidemic has caused many to believe that the blue spruce will become extinct. 

There are a variety of factors that may contribute to Spruce Decline.  It is believed that there are two reasons for this problem.  First, we have overplanted blue spruce, just as we do with most popular plants.  Do you remember the Dutch Elm Disease and the very recent Emerald Ash Borer?  Overplanting often leads to buildup disease and pests with so much food and survival potential for these causal factors.  Second, we have taken a tree that is “native” to the slopes (well drained, perhaps even droughty, nutrient poor) of the Rocky Mountains to clayish, poorly drained soils of Michigan.  Other species of spruce (Norway, white, black, Serbian, etc.) may contract some of these problems as well…even though they are generally not nearly as seriously affected as blue spruce.   Here at Thoms Bros. we are not recommending to plant Colorado Spruce, but use Norway and other Spruces more than not. 

The biggest problem of this “Decline” are the Canker Diseases.  Caused by fungi, the most common are Phomopsis, Cytospora and Diplodia.  But other issues include Needlecast Disease, Pitch Mass Borer, Cooley Spruce Gall and Cultural/Environmental Problems. 

Managing these issues is very complex.  The biggest solution is to not overplant and when planting to allow adequate spacing to allow air movement.  Using several varieties of spruce , pine, and fir on a jobsite would protect you from a larger problem.  Pesticides can definitely be used to control the disease and pest problems, but the key to solution is recognizing the problem early enough.  Many clients come to us after the plants have declined to much and are beyond salvageable.  If you have Blue Spruces on your property, have our Arborculturist (from our key partner, GreenTrees) put you on a program.

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June is National Rose Month (Part I)

In 1986 President Reagan signed a resolution making the rose the national floral emblem of the United States. What a good choice! Roses can be grown in all 50 states and are one of the most versatile and rewarding of plants.  There are basically four types of rose: landscape roses, those bred for cutting (like what you enjoy on Valentine’s Day), miniature roses and rugosa roses for people with larger properties.  Unless we have a client who is heavily into gardening or has their own gardener, we typically deal with landscape roses.  Landscape roses continuously bloom and are typically disease-resistant. 

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A line from a state of Michigan plant producer, Spring Meadow Nursery, the Proven Winners Oso Easy Rose comes in color variations ranging from pink, red, yellow and orange. Touted as being “so easy” to grow, the roses in the Oso Easy series are becoming known for being disease resistant and not susceptible to black spot or powdery mildew.  In the past few years growing Oso Easy’s in our landscapes we have had no issues with disease.  These roses are self-cleaning and require little to no pruning.  As with any other rose the Oso’s are best grown in full sun and benefit from good air circulation.  They prefer well drained and slightly acidic soil with medium moisture. The American Rose Society (ARS) announced at the 2015 National Conference that Proven Winners® received the Award of Excellence for Oso Easy® Lemon Zest rose. To receive the Award of Excellence, a rose must prove its mettle in six different no-spray trial locations across the United States. This is the second Proven Winners rose to win this prestigious award; Oso Happy® Petit Pink rose received the Award of Excellence in 2012.

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Spring Meadows June 12 Plant of the Week is Oso Easy® Mango Salsa.  This Proven Winners variety grows 2-3′ tall and wide and is hardy to USDA Zone 4. It will do best in full sun and is very disease-resistant and will not need spraying to keep its foliage nice and clean. It will bloom continuously all summer and into fall.

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Here’s a rose for dad. Oso Easy® Urban Legend™ is a real tough guy, a badass, take-no-prisoners rose with intense red flowers accented by bright yellow stamens. The flowers are brilliant, but the thorns really stick out.

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They are many other varities in this lineup including Candy Oh! (candy apple red), Smoothie (hot pink), Livin’ La Vida (flamingo pink), Cherry Pie (red w/yellow stamens), Double Red (bright red), Fragrant Spreader (light pink/white), Italian Ice (soft yellow w/pink margins), Paprika (reddish/orange), Peachy Cream (peach to cream), and Pink Cupcake (reddish new growth turning pink).  Check them out at www.springmeadownursery.com.

In our next articles, we will be talking about Knock Out, Carpet, Drift and the Home Run lines.

Proven Winner Shrubs

Maintaining Your New Sod

Wikipedia describes sod as grass and the part of the soil beneath it held together by the roots, or a piece of thin material.  The website goes on to say sod is typically used for lawns, golf courses, and sports stadiums around the world. In residential construction, it is sold to landscapers, home builders or home owners who use it to establish a lawn quickly and avoid soil erosion. Sod can be used to repair a small area of lawn,[1] golf course, or athletic field that has died. Sod is also effective in increasing cooling, improving air and water quality, and assisting in flood prevention by draining water.

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Sod is grown on specialist farms. For 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture reported 1,412 farms had 368,188 acres of sod in production.  Thoms Bros. purchases 80% of the sod used from http://www.kogelmannssodfarm.com/.

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It is usually grown locally (within 100 miles of the target market) to minimize both the cost of transport and also the risk of damage to the product. The farms that produce this grass may have many varieties of grass grown in one location to best suit the consumer’s use and preference of appearance.

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It is usually harvested 10 to 18 months after planting, depending on the growing climate. On the farm it undergoes fertilization, frequent watering, frequent mowing and subsequent vacuuming to remove the clippings. It is harvested using specialized equipment, precision cut to standardized sizes. Sod is typically harvested in small square slabs, rolled rectangles, or large 4-foot-wide (1.2 m) rolls.

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In Michigan, sod is grown on either a topsoil or peat base.  Thoms Bros. uses mostly topsoil based sod because it does much better on a clay based grade.  It will not dry out as quickly and will root much better.  Peat based sod is cheaper in price and weighs less, so installation is less intensive.  Peat sod is fine for a sand grade. 

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There are three types of sod grown locally.  The most prevalent is a Kentucky Bluegrass blend.  Premium Kentucky Bluegrass seed varieties will result in a high quality product that will resist disease and provide a deep green color.   Other types which are not typically used include a Fine Fescue/Bluegrass blend which is better suited for a shadier location and Bent Grass Sod which is used for golf course greens and tees.

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At Thoms Bros. we are committed to our client’s success, but we do not guarantee that it will not die if not watered properly.  We install high quality, fresh (cut same day) sod.  But sod is a perishable product and we do not accept responsibility for the care after we leave.

Sod should be watered promptly and thoroughly after installation.  If you have an irrigation system, our employees will turn on zones after the area has been completed.  Sod should not dry out until completely established.  You can check by lifting a corner to see the soil below is good and wet.  But do not over water as well.  The soil underneath should not be sopping wet.  As a rule of thumb for the first week or so, you should irrigate a minimum of once per day.  If the air is dry and/or temperatures are 80 degrees plus then twice a day is recommended.  If using an irrigation system, misting head zones  should be on from 10-20 minutes each day and spray head zones should be on 20-40 minutes each day.  The supplemental weeks the frequency can be turned down.  As always though, the best way to know is to pick up corner of sod. 

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First mowing is usually recommended about three weeks from initial installation.  The sod must be fully knitted down before mowing.  We highly recommend the first few mowing be done with a small (20″) walk behind mower.  Large commercial and riding mowers can very easily rip the sod out of place.  Optimum mowing height is 1 1/2 to 2 inches for a high quality lawn.  Mow regularly with a sharp rotary mower, allowing the clippings from frequent mowing to remain on the lawn.

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Fertilizing the new sod is not recommended for the first few weeks before the turf gets established.  Turf should be fertilized 4 to 6 times in a full growing season at a rate of 10 pounds per 1000 square feet.  The most important times are in late fall for good root growth and faster Spring green-up.

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Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are probably the most utilized and functional flowering shrub in Michigan.  There are many species, varieties in each species, and uses of this great plant.   Grown for their large flowerheads, with Hydrangea macrophylla being by far the most widely grown with over 600 named cultivars.  The six most common species used in Michigan landscapes include:

Hydrangea anomala – Climbing Hydrangea

Although slow to start, after a season or two to become established, climbing hydrangea gains considerable steam and becomes rather assertive, often putting on a foot or more of growth in a single season.  With root-like holdfasts and semi-twining habit, it will cling to either trees, bricks or fencing. (30-50′ tall)

Hydrangea arborescens – Smooth Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a small- to medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to the eastern United States.  This shrub flowers on new wood……meaning you can prune back in late Fall or early Spring without fear of losing flower buds.

Annabelle Hydrangea - White round flower heads are erect.  2001 PA Gold Medal Award Winner.  Rarely to never fed on by Japanese beetles (3-6′ tall and wide)

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Incrediball Hydrangea  (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – Huge round flowers up to 12″ accross open green, then change to white before turning green again.  Sturdy stems hold the flowers upright. (4-5′ tall and wide)

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Invincibelle Spirit (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – The round pink ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea!  Dark pink buds open to hot pink flowers which mature to soft pink before turning green.  (3-4′ tall and wide)

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White Dome – A white lacecap flower (4′-6′ tall and wide)

Hydrangea macrophylla – Bigleaf Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a small- to medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to China and Japan.  This shrub flowers on old wood……meaning you should only prune them when necessary immediately after flowering or you will lose flower buds.  This species’ flower color is highly affected by soil pH.  It is not the pH itself that changes the color, but the availability of aluminum ions.  Aluminum is more available in acid soils, so the flowers turn blue.  In alkaline soil, the aluminum is tied up and flowers will be pink.

Cityline Series (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – There are currently six cultivars in this series ranging from pinks and reds to blues and purples depending on pH.  These are very compact and disease resistant plants. (1-3′ tall and wide)

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Let’s Dance Series  (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – Even after a harsh winter these varities were selected for their exceptionally vibrant flower color and excellent hardiness.  (2-3′ tall and wide)

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Forever & Ever Series  (The Forever & Ever Brand) – Explode with color from late spring to early fall and are almost foolproof selections for even the novice gardener. Their ability to weather wintry conditions and still produce blooms each year means your garden will be gorgeous.

Endless Summer Collection - Includes “The Original”, Blushing Bride, Twist-n-Shout, and BloomStruck.  Endless Summer® Hydrangeas offer everything you are looking for in perennial flowering shrubs: beautiful full blooms, multiple hydrangea colors, low-maintenance care and versatility in planting and hydrangea arrangements. With the collection’s unique re-blooming quality, these hydrangeas will fill your garden with incredible blooms all summer long! (3-6′ tall and wide dependant on cultivar)

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Hydrangea paniculata – Hardy Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a large size deciduous shrub that thrive throughout North America.  They are quite cold hardy, and also tolerate full sun, heat and drought better than bigleaf hydrangeas.  This species also flowers on new wood and has cone-shaped blooms.

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Limelight - Lime green flowers mature to pink and burgundy in fall.  (6-8′ tall and wide)

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Little Lamb – Compact variety whose tightly packed white florets dance above the foliage like little lambs. (4-6′ tall and wide)

Little Lime  (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – Dwarf form of the poplar ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, it has the same wonderful flowers in a smaller package (3-5′ tall and wide)

Pinky Winky (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – White flowers turn pink as they mature.  The panicles continue to grown and produce new white florets, resulting in a huge, bi-colored flower. (6-8′ tall and wide)

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Quick Fire (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – White flowers mature to pink.  Blooms about a month earlier than other varities, so you can enjoy several months of hydrangea flowers.

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Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a large sized deciduous shrub that is native to the Southeastern United State, in woodland habitats from North Carolina west to Tennessee, and south to Florida and Louisiana.

Munchkin - Compact form and dense habit with white flowers. (3′ tall x 5′ wide)

Ruby Slippers – A lovely plant whose white summer flowers quickly turn pale pink, then deepen to rose.  (3′ tall x 5′ wide)

Snow Queen - Flowers become rose-pink in fall and leaves turn deep red-bronze.  Tan-brown exfoliating bark is attractive in winter. (6-8′ tall and wide)

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Hydrangea serrata – Mountain Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a small- to medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to Korea and Japan.  This shrub flowers on old wood and the Soil pH affects the flower color in the same manner as it does with H. macrophylla. 

Tuff Stuff (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – A reblooming plant with reddish-pink lacecap flowers in early summer until frost. (2-3′ tall and wide)

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I personally love all hydrangeas, but careful selection should be made when choosing the right plant for the right location.  Hardiness, size and cultivation are the biggest factors.  Even though a certain color might be your desire, if a plant cannot perform at its best in a certain location than that certain color did you no good.  With the last two winters being very difficult here in Michigan, most macrophylla Hydrangea have not faired well.  Consider the other four shrub type species instead.

A Look Back – MNLA/MSU/APLD-MI Annual Landscape Design Tour 2014

by Steven D. Thoms, APLD, CLP, CGIP

What a crazy year 2014 was! It has gone from my worst year in business (2011) to my best year in business in three short years.  Talk about pent up demand!  The one thing bad about a prosperous year is that I wasn’t able to write like I was planning.

August 20, 2014 was the annual Michigan Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA), Michigan State University (MSU) and Association of Professional Landscape Designers Michigan Chapter (APLD-MI) Landscape Design Tour. This past year’s tour took us to the Saginaw Valley area of Michigan.  And, it did not disappoint!  The tour included seven private home landscapes, a tour of Blue Thumb Distributing facilities, a bonus stop at the Dahlia Hill and ending up at Dow Gardens for a dinner reception.  This year’s event was sponsored by Michigan Horticulture Industries Worker’s Compensation Fund, Blue Thumb Distributing, Inc., and Unilock.

As difficult as it might seem to break away from work to attend tours and/or education events, it is much needed. Socializing with fellow landscapers and getting inspired by beautiful gardens definitely help me make it over the hump for the season.

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Our first stop was a less glorious landscape just on the outskirts of Saginaw Township, but was very educational. This site was not about what you saw but about planning and preparation of some difficult conditions.  This residence had bad drainage issues.  The designer talked about the permeable pavers, drainage around the pool and foundation of house, and all that was needed to make this property functional.  Sometimes as designers we want to avoid problems like this because it is not visual, but we do need to remember that our work needs to be functional as well.

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It always fascinates me to hear how people change their mind.  Our next stop was a koi/specimen plant lover’s dream.  The large house right next door to our first stop was sprinkled with specimen plants from Larix decidus ‘Pendula Prostrate Form’ to Ginkgo biloba ‘Pendula’ to everything in between.  But the real showcase of this landscape was the water features in the backyard.  The original backyard included a small pondless waterfall.  The client did NOT want fish or the upkeep of a pond.  After receiving a koi as a gift, the client did a 180 degree turn.  They wanted a koi pond and water gardener’s dream.

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This bog with its grandeur Lotus plants helps keep the main pond area clear.  This lower pond was five feet deep with minimal plants and rocks.  It housed the two dozen large exotic koi that the client had to grown to love like family.  She even had a tank in her basement to transition new fish into the pond and to also use as a hospital when a fish got sick.  Her favorite fish was black and yellow colored with the longest lashes.  It ate food out of her hand.

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From the sounds of it, I believe it was everyone’s favorite stop.

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Our next stop was definitely a plant collector’s garden.

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It included many great plants and a very intense water filtration system. The homeowners designed, installed and maintained their landscape themselves.  It had won several awards.

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We then stopped and had lunch at one of the tour’s sponsors, Blue Thumb Distributing. I was excited for this stop because they had just purchased a company that I had used on many jobs, Aqua Bella Designs.  It was great to see all their products, many in functional displays and to also hear about their business procedures.

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The next site was a charming historical home in Bay City. It was interesting hearing from the landscape architect on the whole landscape procedure of designing and satisfying the historical committee on this 100+ year old house.

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Our next three locations included tranquil water features, quaint gardens and lovely plant combinations.

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Our bonus site was Dahlia Hill in Midland. This highest point in Midland was started by artist Charles Breed, financially supported by private companies and foundations, and maintained by over fifty volunteers.

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The terraces were created by the use of 300 tons of Bay de noc Limestone from the upper peninsula.

With over 250 varieites in the 3,000 dahlia plants in this open-to-the public garden, it is a sight to see. To learn more, please visit http://www.dahliahill.org.

IMG_3130aThe evening ended with great food, drink and company at the restored barn at the wonderful 110 acre Dow Gardens in Midland.

Crazy Weather and Our Plants

So how much small talk have your heard in the last several months that included?: “Long Winter”, “Crazy Weather”, “Cannot wait until spring”, You Think Winter is Finally Done?”, etc.  Here at Thoms Bros. we officially started our season on April 7, a week later than usual.  In the last two weeks we have seen temperatures into the 70’s and on tax day 2014, we officially did it!  We broke a 150 year record for snowfall in a season.

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So April 15 was another day our crews could not work in the field.  Whether it is snow or rain, we assume we will not be able to work six days a week in April.  That just goes with the territory.  But it just proves the old saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan than just wait a minute.”  With Tuesday’s high of 32F we are now expecting seasonable temps for the weekend and above normal temps for early next week.

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What will this past winter and the crazy weather do to our plants?  With some plants the damage is quite obvious right now.

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Winter burn can be seen on many types of boxwood.  These boxwoods were especially susceptible since they were out in the open and had road salt sprayed on them.  Also, some boxwood are hardier than others.

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Winter damage can also be noticed on other evergreens throughout the landscape including yews/taxus.

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This is Cephalotaxus harringtonia fastigiata.  It is rated for zones 6 through 9.  Even though we are in zone 6 on average, this past winter was at least a zone 5 for us.  I would not normally plant zone 6 plants, but I received two free from the APLD Conference.  You can see the bottom is still green and the top was green like this at the end of February.  We started losing some of our snow cover in March and the top got exposed resulting in the yellowing.  We will see how it recovers.

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Obviously evergreen damage is quite visible this early in the spring, but how about our deciduous plants and perennials.  This Carpet Rose in a grouping of 8 has very little green in the stems.  I would assume you will never notice the winter damage in later summer, but cutting back the brown stems right to the ground will need to be done here very soon.  Usually most stems in roses will stay green throughout the winter, but this was not a “usual” winter.

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On April 12, many locations in Metro Detroit received heavy hail.  Hail will not usually do any damage to plants.

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The next day on April 13, a storm that produced shear winds went through the area.  Many large, older evergreens can be seen on their sides. 

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This 200+ year old oak had severe heartwood rot and the cambium (outer, growing part of the trunk) was the only thing keeping this majestic tree upright.

Now that we are FINALLY done with winter (I think), let’s hope most of our plants recover and we can enjoy a beautiful spring and summer.

What’s Wrong with My Spruce Trees?

For about 10 years, spruce trees have had a tough time in Michigan due to pest, diseases, over-planting and weather.  Diseases with spruce are nothing new.  Cytospora Canker is manifested by the dying of the lower branches accompanied by dropping of the needles.  The disease is very destructive on the blue spruce.  But a recent survey in southern Michigan by Dr. Dennis Fullbright (MSU Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Science) has discovered that this disease is not as prevalent as in the past.  A new disease, Phomopsis Blight, has shown its ugly head on one of Southeast Michigan’s favorite conifer (i.e. Christmas tree or evergreen tree).  This disease as described in an article in the magazine The Michigan Landscape works much faster than the Cytospora Canker.

So what can we do to stop or prevent this disease?  The future does not look very bright for infected plants.  Fungicide and pruning can help, but dead branches will not grow again.  If you do not catch the disease soon enough, much of the lower branches of the plant will be gone.  Bad news if the plant is used for privacy.  A fungicide, Cleary 3336, can be used to prevent the disease.  But this needs to be applied several times while the shoots of the plant are growing the spring.  This could be a very expensive endeavor.

As with the Elm Dutch Disease epidemic in Detroit in the 50’s and most recently the Emerald Ash Borer, diversification is key to slowing down insect and disease issues in our landscape.  Colorado Blue Spruces have been planted heavy in the last 30 or so years.  They are loved for their color, availability in the market and tolerant of our heavy soils here in Southeast Michigan.  We should consider using and actually make it a point to plant other types of conifers.  Please check out this extension handout by MSU.  As a landscape contractor and designer, I will do my best in educating my clients on other choices.

This tree Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens) is in a row with four other Colorado’s and one Norway Spruce.  The plant declined extremely rapidly this year and before I knew it lost a big gap of needles in the lower third of the plant.  I have been treating all of the plants with herbicides and will deep root fertilize them this Fall, but will eventually replace at least this plant with another species of conifer.  These trees provide privacy for my backyard and block road noise from the entrance of the subdivision.