Preparing Your Landscaping For Winter

winter-preparationAs the last of the leaves come floating to the ground, the air chills, and the days shorten, dont forget to prepare your garden or landscaping for the snow and biting winds of winter. Fall landscaping work is all about the long game, which is why many homeowners look at the thermometer and decide more gardening can wait until spring. But all of those perennial flowers and shrubs you selected, planted, watered, and trimmed this spring and summer will bloom for you again even more beautifully with the right maintenance now.

What does fall landscape maintenance involve?

  • Mulching – Adding several inches of mulch will both protect your plants from damaging wind and precipitation and keep the soil much warmer – allowing the organisms in the soil to continue doing their nourishing work well into the winter season. Shredded leaves are a great mulch that will both protect and add nutrients to the back to the soil.
  • Trimming – Cutting back dead perennial stalks and deadheading flowers will make your garden look neater for winter, although you may want to leave some grasses or taller flowers for the birds and squirrels if you like to watch them from your windows in winter. Remove dead annuals and any dead branches on trees and shrubs. Save the pruning for later, though – except for roses; they can be cut back now.
  • Wrapping – Surrounding your more tender shrubs and plants with an extra layer of burlap may make the difference between life and death, or at least maintain their attractiveness and vitality. You may have noticed many spruces and conifers were damaged last winter by the harsh temperatures and wind. Protect them this winter by wrapping them up – but not too tightly! While trees and shrubs are dormant in winter, they still need to breathe.
  • Aerating – Giving the roots of your cool weather grasses more room to breathe and grow is an important fall task. Also, add grass seed to any bare areas, and fertilize where necessary.

If youve accomplished all that and still have some energy and vision left, fall is the time for transplanting, separating overgrown perennials, adding bulbs to your flower beds, and planting trees and shrubs. Remember to water anything you plant until the ground freezes. These plants still need the moisture, even if its no longer hot outside.

After youve got the above accomplished, it will be time to relax on the couch, sip hot cider, and wait about eight weeks for your seed and plant catalogs to arrive. Then you can begin dreaming again about planting, and weeding, and watering, and trimming…Until then, enjoy the break from outdoor chores. If we at Procare can help you at all with putting your garden to bed, dont hesitate to contact us. Thats what we are here for.

Summer Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

lawn-sprinklersWe are now at about the halfway point in summer, and we at PROCARE hope you’re enjoying your landscaping and taking some time to get out and relax in the green loveliness that is Michigan. Fortunately for you and your garden, many fall perennials last well into October and extend the beauty and enjoyability of your outdoor space long past the equinox.

In order to make sure you get the most out of your trees, flowers, and grass this season, here are a few common gardening mistakes to avoid:

  • Forgetting to deadhead flowers – It may seem like a tedious task to cut off the dead blooms from the flowers in your garden, but you will likely get more blooms to enjoy if you do. Deadheading sends a message to the plant that they need to try a little harder in order to successfully reproduce, and the result is more loveliness.
  • Failing to regularly tidy up – By this time in the season, plenty of perennials have already come and gone, and the detritus they left behind should be gone too. It may seem reasonable to leave dead flowers, leaves, and stalks where they are to go back to nature, but in reality, a neater garden is a garden that doesnt have places for bacteria, molds or other fungi to form or pests to propagate.
  • Ignoring your trees – If youve recently planted trees or if your area is experiencing especially dry or hot weather this summer, do not forget about your trees water needs. A planted tree is an investment in more ways than one. Yours shouldnt get too thirsty. It will take a heavy toll.
  • Watering the grass too much – People often forget about their trees, and sprinkle their lawn instead, which is frequently the backwards way of going about things.  Sure, no one wants a brown lawn, but overwatering your grass can harm it too. Too much water will drown your grasss roots, encourage weed growth and fosters molds, and waste your money.
  • Cutting the grass too shortLonger grass requires less water than shorter grass does. As the grass grows, so does its root system, and longer roots mean stronger grass that is able to withstand drier periods without shriveling up and dying. If you think youre saving your grass by babying it along, you may actually be weakening it and making it more vulnerable to weather and pets.

Of course, the services of a professional landscaping service will always help to give you your best results in the garden, but keeping the above tips in mind will help extend your summer garden well into fall, brightening your life and your neighborhood.


How to Keep Your Lawn and Landscaping Mosquito Free

mosquitoSummer is one of the most enjoyable times to be out enjoying nature in Michigan, whether in a park, camping, or in your own backyard. Because of milder temperatures and sufficient rain, things are still really green and pleasant. The only downside? In many places mosquitos are thriving and taking over.

People know how to protect themselves from mosquitoes if they’re going to be outside for a short while: bug spray, citronella candles, and long pants or long-sleeved shirts. But how to do they protect their outdoor spaces from being overrun? It seems counterproductive to spend time and money creating a beautiful perennial garden if you can’t enjoy it when it’s most beautiful.

Well, first, it’s important to understand how mosquitoes breed. They need to lay their eggs in water, but, in order for their larvae to successfully hatch, that water needs to be stagnant and free of natural predators. A natural pond is not a mosquito breeding ground, but a large puddle is. Any shallow body of water that is present for more than a week can result in mosquitoes. Generally speaking, they need between one and two weeks to mature.

So if you have a stream running through your property, this should not be a problem. Koi ponds are deep enough not to breed mosquitoes. Instead you need to watch out for things like flooded or marshy grass, children’s wading pools, buckets or watering cans, and anywhere else water naturally collects. The next time it rains, do a survey of conditions on your property. You’ll probably be surprised to see how hospitable your landscaping is for bugs. Remove any standing water. This may require some landscaping adjustments or changing the position of a downspout or gutter.

For deliberately placed standing water, like bird baths or koi ponds, placing a Bt (Bacillus thuringensis) doughnut will keep mosquitoes from breeding there without causing harm to birds or fish. There is a sprinkle form of it available as well. There are granular products for wet lawns as well that contain natural oils from plants like mint, lemongrass, and garlic that mosquitoes naturally avoid. Adding plants like bee balm, marigolds, or catnip to your landscaping is another natural and beautiful solution.

Mosquitoes really avoid the scent of lemons which is why burning citronella candles or torches are another remedy for a deck or patio overrun by mosquitoes. In a pinch, putting out rotating fans will help as well as mosquitoes will not stay in windy places.

The best mosquito fighting strategy is to address any standing water problems around your home or landscaping, placing mosquito repelling plants strategically, and then using short-term solutions like citronella candles when necessary. If PROCARE can assist with solving any landscaping issues causing this kind of problem, we would be happy to help.


Which Perennials Should I Add to My Landscaping?

Michigan has just experienced a lovely, warm, largely uneventful spring, and now we are moving into the long days of summer. While the Southwest and the West Coast have experienced nearly unending drought, dry conditions there have prompted homeowners to change their landscapes to either xeriscaping or the more drastic replacing of grass with artificial turf. The State of California is actually offering tax rebates to people who put in fake grass. The situation there is that dire!

But here in Michigan we have lots of water surrounding us. The Great Lakes have more than recovered from their record low levels of just a few years ago and are now at above average levels. The leaves on the trees are lush and green, the farmers markets are full of fresh lettuce and green onions, and people are about done putting their annuals in their gardens.

For homeowners with a longer term view, its now time to think about adding more perennials to create an ever changing, ever blooming view from your window or your patio. Think back to last summers garden. Do you remember anything that left you dissatisfied? Were there plants that werent thriving in certain spots or were thriving too much and need to be thinned? Would you like to see more birds or bees attracted to this space? Now is a good time to address some of those issues.

7994695423_70a140cfe0_zRain garden perennials are an excellent choice for homeowners looking for something extra to add to their landscaping. Rain gardens are both an aesthetic and an environmental choice. Not only are rain garden plants hardy under occasionally extreme Midwest conditions, but they also serve to stop flooding and filter out contaminants naturally before they can enter the watershed. So what are some specific rain garden perennials we would recommend? Heres a short list of possibilities:

  • Sweet flag
  • Marsh marigold
  • Cardinal flower
  • New England aster
  • Switch grass
  • Marsh phlox
  • Great blue lobelia
  • Wild bergamot
  • Sweet coneflower
  • Fox sedge
  • Goldenrod
  • Black-eyed Susan

Of course, putting together a gorgeous, well arranged rain garden that will bloom all summer long and nourish birds and bees is not a simple project. Soils are different, terrain can be challenging to work with, and what people like to look at or attract to their garden differs as well. If youd like to consult with professionals about installing a rain garden or adding select perennials to your landscape, PROCARE is always happy to talk to you. Call us today if we can be of further help to you and your lawn and gardens.


What Is Boxwood Blight and Should You Worry about It?

Now that spring is finally here, its important to assess your landscape for any problems. While this past winter was not nearly as brutal as last year, even an average winter can put your landscape through its paces. Its better to be proactive in dealing with any damage so you can enjoy the beauty of your landscape all spring, summer, and fall.

Last year many people noticed that their conifers and spruces had turned brown. This was because so many of them were vulnerable to cold and especially to wind exposure. This spring its obvious that many boxwoods have experienced leaf die off, and it would be easy to assume that the same forces are at work. After all, boxwoods are in the evergreen family as well. But are the brown spots on boxwoods the result of winter kill or something more worrisome?

buxuswinterburn3_600pxThe good news is that, while boxwood blight, a devastating fungal disease, has been confirmed in a number of states, Michigan is not one of them.  While both winter damage and boxwood blight both leave bushes with tan leaves and, eventually, bare stems, one of the differences between the two is where the browning occurs. Typically, with damage due to lack of moisture or exposure to very cold temperatures, the browning will occur at the top of the bush, above the snow line. (Snow will act as an insulator and protector for plants.) When a plant experiences fungal blight, the leaves will die all over and not in such as obvious pattern. Over time the disease will take over the entire plant and kill it, leaving it bare with blackened stems.

Again, as of now, boxwood blight is not thought to be a problem in Michigan, but many people incorporate these plants into their landscapes so we at Procare want to spread awareness of the problem before it becomes a problem. Addressing winter damage is much simpler, fortunately. Boxwood plants can be carefully pruned of their dead sections and often return over time to their more healthy selves with just a little extra tender loving care.

If you would like advice on how to best care for your boxwoods, evergreens, or other landscape plantings, PROCARE would be happy to provide you with advice and assistance. Keeping plants healthy is one of our areas of expertise, so contact us today with any landscape challenge.


How to Repair Your Winter Damaged Grass

West Michigan had a much milder winter this year, and so far spring has come slowly and steadily without a lot of excess rain. Fortunately for your lawn less waterlogging means that you will not have as much damaged grass to repair this spring, but there are still some smaller problems you may have to address, including salt damage, bare spots, and snow mold, in addition to any complications that may have occurred as a result of less than perfect lawn or climate conditions. Lets break these down.

Salt damage. While the snow plow is essential to keeping Michigan going through the winter, the salt that is scattered by trucks to de-ice the roads and make them navigable does damage grass and plants. It should be obvious where the salt landed; there will be brown spots. Salt pulls moisture from the soil, making it harder for all plants to survive. This is why, according to legend, the Roman general Scipio Africanus ordered the rebellious city of Carthage to be leveled and salted during the Third Punic War – so that nothing would ever grow there again.

Spreading pelletized gypsum, or calcium sulfate, over the affected area will help encourage new growth. Make sure to water the area well so that any remaining salts dissolve and leach away, and avoid planting anything very sensitive in areas that you know are likely to see a lot of salt next winter.

damaged-lawnBare spots. These may be a result of fungi, bugs, or other pests, or they could come about because of imperfect soil conditions, too much shade, soil compaction, poor drainage, or other factors. Regardless of cause, if you want a lush, attractive lawn, youll have to figure out the cause of the problem, address it, and either re-turf or re-seed.

When the ground temperature reaches 52 degrees, that is when grass seed will sprout and grow. In Michigan we still have a bit more time to work the area, then. Clear away any leaves or lawn debris, lightly thatching the bare spot until it is smooth, scattering new grass seed, and then covering with a thin layer of topsoil and/or straw to protect it and keep the moisture in. Make sure this area remains well watered until the grass has had a chance to fully establish itself.

Snow mold. The conditions that cause snow mold have to be addressed in the fall, with timed applications of fungicide and fertilizer, but if it does appear, a vigorous thatching with a rake followed by mowing off the tips of the affected grass should help.

As always PROCARE offers full landscaping and lawn care maintenance services. If your lawn does not look as beautiful or as lush as you would like, we can help diagnose what the problem is and repair the underlying conditions so you can avoid this happening again in the future. Call Dirk at PROCARE today to schedule your consultation..


Early Spring Landscaping Tasks To Put on Your List

It’s March now, this weekend Daylight Savings time returns, and we are only a few weeks away from the equinox – which means that spring is in the air. It might be very, very faint yet, but spring is coming, and it’s not too far away. Are you ready to take on those early spring landscaping tasks? There may still be snow on the ground, but enthusiastic gardeners can get a jump on some of the work they’ll need to do to get their yards looking great again.

Before the snow melts, prune your fruit trees and grapevines. Do not wait until they bud, or your fruit crop will suffer this year. It’s a good time to prune rose bushes and any dead foliage off of trees and shrubs. Other spring bushes that can be pruned at this time include forsythias, azaleas, and dogwoods. Wait to trim flowering spring bushes and trees that already have buds. They will open as soon as the better weather arrives, and it would be a shame to miss any of their beauty.

This is also the time to thin trees that have had any history of leaf spot diseases. When the last of the bitter winds of winter have subsided, you can remove the burlap covers you put on your more exposed trees and shrubs last fall. Spring is a wet season, and in warmer weather, it’s better for those plants to have air and sunlight. If any of your trees have experienced aphid or spider mite infestations, now is the time to apply horticultural oil. This will reduce the need for pesticide application later in the year.

Early spring is also the time to apply ground lime such as Dolomite to beds that have a pH below 6.2. Put this down as soon as the snow is gone, and cover the beds with plastic so that the lime is not washed away in the spring rains. Mulch any spots that winter bared as well. This will keep the weeds down and stop more from germinating. If you do see leftover weeds from last fall, now would be a great time to pull them. The damp earth will release their roots much more easily. Pull or trim any dead perennial or ornamental grass foliage as well. Don’t worry about bare spots – these will fill out as soon as the ground warms up.

Finally, in these last quiet days of winter, it would be a great idea to examine your gardening tools and see what needs to be repaired, sharpened, or replaced. That way everything will be at hand when the gardening bug hits you again, and you will be ready to dig in. Literally.

PROCARE offers full landscaping and lawn care maintenance services. We’d be happy to take the work and worry out of spring lawn care for you. If you have questions about lawn care, contact Dirk at PROCARE today.

How Snow Removal Has Changed through History

The sounds the snow plow, the snow blower, and the snow shovel make are so familiar to residents of Michigan and the northern parts of North America that they probably cant imagine people living without these tools. But they did, for most of history. In fact, the way we tackle snow removal today is very different from the way they did it a hundred years ago because the how, where, and through what means is also very different today.

Prior to the widespread use of the automobile, cities and villages didnt worry about clearing snow or salting roads because most people either walked or traveled on horseback or by carriage. Clear pavement wasnt necessary to travel this way. Affluent families traded out their carriages for sleighs, and cities focused their efforts on packing down the snow, rather than getting rid of it. Instead of a plow, municipal workers called snow wardens navigated huge snow rollers through the streets.

snow rollerOf course, snow rollers werent in universal use, and they were too large to be useful for clearing the alley ways and sidewalks most people traveled. Often, following a large storm, city dwellers collectively shoveled snow (or paid people) to clear the streets. As North American cities became more populated, an open thoroughfare became critical because urban dwellers needed constant access to supplies to survive the winter: the delivery of food, wood, and coal were critical. If these things ran out, people died. At the edge of civilization, the pioneers were often unprepared to face the sheer amount of snow and the bitter cold of the winters on this continent.

As motorized vehicles were introduced, so were new ways of clearing roads and tracks. The first patents for snow plows were issued in the 1840s, but their general use in cities came decades later. The rotary snow plow – more or less the snow blower design we know today – was invented as a way to clear train tracks in the Canadian wilderness. More commonly used snow plows of the time were ineffective in this environment.

When automobiles became the general mode of travel, snow removal changed again because, unlike skis or sleighs, cars need traction to safely operate them. This meant more efforts to clear roads down to the pavement, including the use of salt and salt spreaders. Plows were now mounted on tractors, cars, and trucks, and cities now needed to plow out side streets as well as the main traffic arteries. They also created parking and other ordinances to ensure that cars would not be abandoned after a blizzard and snowplowing could be carried out.

All in all, over roughly one hundred years people completely changed their strategies for surviving winter. Far more snow must be moved and melted today for cars to navigate because we depend so much on our vehicles to go to work, to school, to the store, or practically anywhere. Winter is still a big job, but in a very different way.

In addition to offering full landscaping and lawn care maintenance services, PROCARE provides a full line of snow and ice removal services. Winter in Michigan is challenging, so let our professionals make it easier by taking the work and worry of shoveling and salting off your shoulders.  Contact Dirk at PROCARE today.


Why Salt Brine Is Superior To Road Salt For Ice Management

salt-brineIf you live in Michigan and drive, you are more than familiar with road salt. In the winter salt trucks andsnow plowsare a significant presence in your life. They make getting to work, going to the store, and getting home possible even in treacherous weather. There are, however, a number of salt options that most people are unaware of, the best of which is the use of salt brine to remove ice from streets, sidewalks, and parking lots.

Salt is certainly not the only thing applied to roads to make them safer during winter, but unlike sand or gravel,adding salt lowers the freezing pointof any water it contacts, therefore limiting ice build up. If the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, however, it does not have the same effect, so areas that battle precipitation and extreme cold dont get much benefit from scattering and spreading rock salt. Thats when sand is actually a better option.

Many municipalities are discovering that there is a better way to apply salt, and that is via salt brine, or any liquid salt mixture, although typically it is a 23 percent solution of road salt in liquid. Salt brine applied before any snow or ice accumulation is more effective at keeping roads cleared because the salt in liquid form begins to work immediately to stop water from turning into ice. By applying salt in this way, up to four times less salt can be used with the same effectiveness, making it both cost effective and overall more environmentally friendly.

Astudy done by the New York State Department of Transportationrevealed that proactive road maintenance strategies like using salt brine before the arrival of snow or ice are being used more and more often by transportation agencies and bolster both the effectiveness and longevity of other maintenance strategies, keeping plowed roads and surfaces safe longer.

PROCARE has long used salt brine for clearing our clients travel and parking spaces for the above reasons and also because it limits salt accumulation and the damage this can cause to vehicles, concrete, landscaping, carpet, and other surfaces. We consider the long term consequences of any chemical we apply on both parking lots and green spaces because our customers need them to both be safe and look good now and later.

PROCARE offers full snow and ice removal services we would be happy to take this part of the work and worry of winter away for you. If you would like more information or a quote for snow management services, contact Dirk at PROCARE today!

Are You Interested In Pet Friendly Landscaping?


Americans are very fond of their pets. In 2013, Americans spent $56 billion dollars on products and services for them.  Americans are also partial to their outdoor living spaces and like to garden and otherwise enjoy their green spaces.  However, pets and gardens do not always combine very well. Some common plants are toxic to certain kinds of animals, and some mulches are also dangerous to use if you have pets. And pets are also toxic to plants. Cats eat them. Dogs dig them up or trample them. For people who love both their plants and pets, it can be frustrating to keep them both alive and in good condition.

The good news is that, with careful planning, it is possible to have both and have them both thriving. In fact, the demand for pet-friendly green spaces is so great it’s generated a new term: petscaping. Petscaping is landscaping designed to be rewarding for a family’s animals as well as its humans. As you can imagine, this takes a bit of research, observation, and work, but pet-and-garden enthusiasts believe it’s worth it.

Before you begin planning your pet-friendly yard, there are some things to know or observe. It’s critical that you understand your pet’s habits and needs before you plant anything. Dogs and cats have different behavioral patterns; they are not all the same, even if they are the same breed. If your dog is a sniffer or very playful, he will be stimulated by different surroundings than a digger will.  Watch your pets navigate the garden space and take note of what they do and where they go. If your dog buries his bones in the same place every time, there is no point in planning an herb garden – or even grass – for that spot. If he paces up and down the fence, using stones or mulch there would be less frustrating than trying to grow grass every summer. Barriers can be designed to keep pets out of food gardens, and there are a number of fast growing, hardy plants that will quickly fill in areas pets may have destroyed.

Be aware of plants that are toxic to pets. Dogs and cats have less mass than humans so a smaller amount of toxic matter can be very dangerous to them. The ASPCA has an illustrated list on their website for landscapers to consult. Double check it before you plant anything. Cocoa mulch is also not advised. When fertilizers and weed killers are applied, keep the pets away as well. A trip to the vet is physically, emotionally, and financially draining.

Finally, if you compost, keep the compost bin away from where your pets will be. Decomposing compost material can make them sick, and it attracts pests like raccoons and skunks who can be dangerous to pets (or horribly smelly).

If you would like to consult an experienced gardening team about planning a landscape that’s enjoyable for everyone in the family, including its furrier members, give us a call at Procare. We’d love to help you make your green space better meet your unique needs.

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*Basic Plan includes: Spring Cleanup, Mowing, & Fall Cleanup