Archive for 2003

A Christmas at Martin’s Yard & Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on December 1, 2003 – 7:52 pm


Christmas is a very special time at Martin’s Yard & Garden. Many of our family traditions revolve around the Christmas Holiday. Activities start shortly after Thanksgiving, with our daughter PC and her husband Jon helping to decorate the exterior of our home. Decorating Day begins at the crack of dawn and usually finishing well after dark. 

Cookie Day

This is followed a week later with Christmas Cookie Day, a traditions spanning generations. A fun filled day involving anyone not afraid to measure, stir, bake and of course, eat a few cookies. Even Madison, our English Setter, gets involved. Since we usually bake between 900-1200 cookies, for friends and relatives, this happening lasts well into evening hours. 

Some where between Outdoor Decorating and Cookie Day, Marty (my partner in arms) and I, choose the Christmas Tree. While some of our most cherished memories involve selecting the family Christmas Tree, it is not an easy task. The selection process has been know to take most of the day, involving much discussion, a few minor injuries, and a lot of travel. 

There are just some things that cannot be rushed, they are meant to be savored. Marty and I believe in taking our time, enjoying each others company and the holiday experience. The poem The Last Christmas Tree by Howard D. Fencl is a cute tale of a father and son hunting for the family tree. 

From experience, we know the best evergreens for “the” Christmas Trees are: Concolor Fir, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Pine. Most of these can be found on any retail or cut your own tree farm. Do not be afraid to experiment with different species of trees, after all Cherry and Hawthorne trees were once very popular indoor holiday trees. We have even seen Weeping Figs, Norfolk Island Pines, and “Fake Trees” used for Christmas Trees. 

Eggscape Ornament


Yes, last season, we bought an artificial tree for our second tree. Over the years Marty has collected numerous Christmas Egg Ornaments, many made by our son Geoff. 

We first displayed them along with our traditional ornaments, as the collection grew a second tree was required. After several years of trying to find two “perfect” trees we decided to give a fake tree a try. This proved a perfect solution, although it does not smell or taste as good. 

Whether you select an artificial tree, real cut tree, or a living tree, try to make selecting the tree a family event. Do not be afraid to experiment and try new ideas. Get the whole family involved rather it be for Cookie Day, Outdoor Decorating, or Tree Selection. These happenings last forever as fun times and fond memories.

Posted in  

Getting Your Lawn mower Ready for Storage

Icon Written by Geoff on November 1, 2003 – 6:02 pm

We use to abuse our lawn mower, although, ashamed we freely admit it. Until the time we entered the property maintenance business, we took our mower for granted. Oh sure, we kept it clean and changed the blades regularly. We even managed to follow the manufactures recommended greasing and cleaning schedule. But when it came to preparing your lawn mower for off-season storage we failed miserably. 

There just are so many things to do in the garden in the Fall that our thoughts are not on grass and mowers but leaves and snow. Our Fall maintenance consisted of pushing it out of the way to make room for the snowblower. Sad but true, a trusty steed cast aside, forgotten until Spring. Then we wonder why it will not obey our commands and start. 

Fall is the time to do a few simple maintenance procedures listed in your mowers owners manual. That is, if you remember where you put it, that will keep your mower healthy. While it is always best 

Check the blade and engine mounting fasteners making sure they are all tight. Take time to remove and sharpen the blade or better yet replace with a new one. Clean built-up grass clippings and dirt from under the deck. Clean or replace the air filter taking care to oil it. On four cycle engines we drain and refill the engine crankcase with fresh oil. 

On self propelled model, clean grass clippings and debris under belt cover and drive belt and oil height adjuster brackets. Check the mower tires and replace any that are cracked or worn. Check all screws for tightness and replace any missing. 

You can drain the fuel tank or run it dry but we prefer stabilizing the fuel as there are no gasoline disposal problems. Fuel stabilizer can be purchased at any hardware store or automotive supply center. Simply add to the mowers fuel tank, start the engine, and run a few minutes to mix stabilized fuel through 

Service your mowers engine by removing the spark plug and spraying fogging oil into the plug hole. Slowly rotate the engine several times by hand to distribute oil. Install a new spark plug but do not connect spark plug wire. Blow or vacuum off the engine paying particular attention to the cooling fins. 

Wash the mower thoroughly and allow to dry. Spray all exposed surfaces with a wax or other protectant such as Armor All. Cover with a plastic tarp or other dust proof cloth. Store in a cool dry place, but near a stove, furnace or water heater. 

In the Spring you should be able to roll out your mower and with a few quick tugs be off to the lawn.

Posted in  

Aerating Your Lawn

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2003 – 5:55 pm

Aeration can be an important part of any lawn program. It allows water and oxygen to reach the grass roots. We only recommend aerating in the Fall, in cool weather lawns, for best results. Not only will you pull better plugs, in the Fall, but there will be little weed seeds blowing around to germinate in the exposed holes. Never aerate during dry summer months as you will not only get poor core penetration, but could damage an already stressed lawn. 

Aeration involves the removal of small soil cores from a lawn, roughly 3/4 inch in diameter by 3 inches long. These soil plugs will break down and add nutrients back to the soil. Unless your soil is heavy clay, aerating need only be done every 8 – 10 years. If you have heavy soil, your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic, or you notice a lot of standing water after a rain, you probably need to aerate annually. 

If you cannot decide if your lawn needs aerating, it probably does not at this time. In our opinion, aerating is an often overused lawn maintenance tool. It is also often oversold by aggressive lawn maintenance companies trying to earn a profit in an otherwise dead time of year. 

Power aerators are available, to the homeowner, at most rental stores. These machines use a rotating tillerlike action that pushes the corers into the soil and extracts small plugs, as the machines pull you forward. Avoid aerators that only pokes holes in the lawn without removing plugs, as they do little good and could actually add to soil compaction. 

Since aerating requires specialized equipment and is very hard work we recommend the homeowner contract out the work to a professional lawn service. They used large aerator, requiring a truck and several helpers. With these machines, the corers are vertically plunged into the turf to extract a sizable plug. 

Aerators penetrate your lawn best when the soil is moist, so you will need to water your lawn the day before aerating, unless it rains. When aerating, make several passes in both directions across your lawn. You can break up the cores with a rake if you want, but it is not necessary. 

Right after aerating is a good time to top dress your lawn and over-seed. Again, this is up to you and depends on how much time and money you want to put into your lawn. This is strictly optional and no matter what, aerating alone will increase your lawn’s health and vigor. No matter if you choose to top dress and over seed or not, water the lawn immediately after aerating.

Posted in  

To Stake or Not to Stake

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 2003 – 5:41 pm

As a matter of practice, Martin’s Yard & Garden does not stake trees or shrubs that we plant. We are often asked by our customers why we do not recommend staking. The answer is quite simple: staking, in most cases, is unnecessary and downright harmful! 

Staking produces a tree that is unnaturally tall and slender, like the spindly trees one sees growing under a mature forest canopy. Unlike their forest cousins, the landscape tree does not have the advantage of having other plants to protect it from Mother Nature. Trees unsupported in the landscape are forced to withstand nature’s winds, they develop a stronger, thicker trunks and a denser growth habit. 

Studies of unstaked trees also show that they have a better developed root system. Even after a year’s growth, you can pull a staked tree out of the ground without much effort. Unless you are planning to move your trees around like chess pieces, this is not a desirable feature in the urban landscape. 

Another danger of staking is the potential damage which can be caused by the ties. Ties which are not removed or loosened as the trunk grows will restrict the growth and cause girdling. Even stretch ties can cause damage. We constantly replace dead trees because of this cruel and senseless oversight. 

The tie or stake may also damage the trunk by rubbing against the bark. While this may not kill the tree outright, the open wound leaves the tree defenseless against an invasion of diseases, insects, and fungus. 

Also, the installed price of trees may increase from 15 to 30 percent because of staking. We always explain to our customers the cost of the procedure weighed against the benefits is very marginal. 

While staking or guying every tree is unnecessary and often times terminal there are a few times newly transplanted trees need additional support. For instance, in open areas, exposed to high prolonged winds. Another good use is when planting in shallow loose soils, over hardpan or bedrock. Stakes also act as barriers protecting trees from mowers and other equipment that could cause trunk injury. 

Unfortunately, we sometimes stake trees just because the customer likes the braced-tree appearance. In these cases we always make it a point to set up a time to comeback and remove all staking materials. 

If in doubt, do not stake or guy a tree. If you feel you absolutely must stake by all means do it correctly. Also, make it a point to remove the staking completely as soon as possible. Remember more trees are harmed by staking than not.

Posted in  

Planting Under Maples and Other Surface Rooted Trees

Icon Written by Geoff on July 7, 2003 – 5:28 pm

The problem with growing anything under maples and other shallow rooted trees is that they suck up all available water and nutrients. They also form a dense mat which is hard to penetrate with even the toughest gardening tools. On top of this, little light is able to get to the soils surface through the leaf canopy. A good challenge for us shade gardeners. 

Initially, we need to try to turn the soil, removing as much surface roots as possible. This is where a good ax and a sharp mutt come into their own. Take your time, work as deeply as possible. Once you have the majority of their roots removed, fire up your trusty old mantis tiller. This will be hard work and you will have to stop often to clean the tillers tines. 

Once you have the ground broken up you will want to amend it with loads of compost and other good organic stuff. We like to apply double ground wood chips and work in deeply. We follow this with compost and rotted leaf mold. 

Then we go over the area two more times with our tiller, raking out any debris. By now you will have a slightly raised bed over which we apply a 2-3 inch layer of double ground bark. 

Into this lovely stuff, plant your perennials. By the end of the first season, your plantings will have made substantial inroads before the tree roots start growing back. About every 3 to 4 years we dig up the border and remove whatever surface roots we can and replant. We have not noticed the trees objecting to root pruning every few years. 

You can plant under these trees, but it takes more effort than planting somewhere that is not ordinarily full of roots. We do water these areas much more then other garden areas as often little rain fall reaches the soil and what does is usually used by the trees.

Posted in  

Trees for City Lots

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 2003 – 7:37 pm

How often we have seen a beautiful tree die just because it was planted in the wrong location. Not only do trees die but also untold amounts of damage is done to buildings, streets, and walks. Just walk through an older section of town and see how the walkways are heaved and buckled by the tree roots. In places it is not even safe for children to ride bikes or the elderly to walk. 

In defense of our ancestors, most of which grew up in the country, they were only planting trees that they were familiar with, the oaks, elms, and maples of the woodland lots. Many trees available today were unheard of 50 years ago. Most cities are covered with silver maples and why not, fast growing, hardy, and best of all requiring little maintenance. To this day, many cities plant silver maples every Spring to replace those that died, a never ending chain. Maybe someday, someone will question why, but I would not hold my breath. 

The mighty oaks and stately beech of our woodland forest belong in the countryside. Small urban lots call for small-sized trees. Thanks to testing by Colorado State University, homeowners have a variety of trees that should do well for city living. Their research show the following trees are better choices for city lots: 

Acer tataricum ‘Tatarian Maple’
– Shows less iron cholorsis than the widely planted silver or amur maples. 

Pyrus ussuriensis ‘Ussurian Pear’
– This is more cold hardly and shows less winter dieback than Bradford Pear. 

Malus hybrids
– Five promising crabapple varieties listed with their flower colors, the varieties are Beverly, Centurion, Indian Magic, Red Baron, and Red Splendor. 

Prunus armenica mandshurica ‘Manchurian Apricot’
– A well-adapted urban tree that features a striking appearance with a round-headed shape and lush green foliage. 

Syringa reticulata ‘Japanese Tree Lilac’
– A slightly larger tree with a rounded crown is notable for its white, 6-12 inch flowers borne in mid-June, and it’s distinctive, reddish-brown, cherry-like bark. 

Acer saccharum var. grandidentatum ‘Wasatch Maple’
– Is one of the best small trees for low water landscapes. This tree grows to a height of 30 feet with a 20-foot spread. The leaves are 3-5 lobed, similar to the eastern sugar maple. 

Crataequs ambiqua ‘Russian Hawthorne’
– A moderately slow grower, it peaks at 25 feet high and l5 feet wide. The plant’s best features are the small, pinkish-white May flowers, red fruit in the fall, and glossy, deeply lobed leaves. 

Urban trees are also often planted along narrow boulevards or in pits usually round or square, with bricks, concrete or metal grates surrounding the trunk base. Trees die if they are unable to get adequate water and oxygen. Since bricks and concrete effectively keep water from seeping into the ground, metal grates are preferable. Even then metal grates must be cut periodically to prevent the grate from girdling the tree. 

In our opinion, the best sidewalk pit is an open hole, with a good bedding of mulch surrounding the tree. These are easy to maintain, healthier for the tree, and attractive. 

The City of Chicago Urban Planting Ordinance is a prime example of a city’s efforts to provide sound leadership in city forestry management. The City of Chicago requires: 

“a minimum width of 11’6″ from the curb to the property line for planting trees in sidewalk pits. The minimum dimensions for the pit itself are 5′ x 5′, but the bigger the better” 

They recognize that continuous soil pits are preferable because they provide more room in which roots can grow. The greater soil mass keeps the soil temperature stable, thus the trees roots are less likely to hurt by the extremes of heat and cold. 

The City of Chicago recommends the following trees for sidewalk pits: 

Callery Pear
– A highly adaptable tree, noted for its white flowers and leathery, lustrous heart-shaped leaves that turn a glossy purple or scarlet in autumn 20-40 feet. 

Chanticleer Pear
– This is an upright, narrow tree that has an abundance of white flowers that are less susceptible to late spring freezes because of late blooming. It grows to 35 feet making it another good choice for small spaces. 

Thornless Honeylocust
– Fast-growing and takes well to transplanting, it is tolerant of road salt, drought and soil variations. It can grow anywhere from 30-50 feet and its delicate leaves turn bright golden yellow in autumn. 

– Transplants well and is particularly urban tolerant, withstanding heat, pollution, road salt spray and almost any soil condition. Its fan-shaped leaves turn a brilliant yellow in autumn. The ginkgo is slow-growing, but can eventually reach a height of 50-70 feet. 

Green Ash
– Noted for it’s compact and glossy foliage crown, the Green Ash grows to a height of 40-50 feet. It transplants well and once established is highly tolerant of drought. Its fall foliage is yellow. 

Japanese Tree Lilac
– This small 15-20 foot tree copes well with limited space. It produces an explosion of creamy white flowers the Spring. 

Kentucky Coffeetree
– This native Midwestern tree has a coarse picturesque look. It can reach a height of 40-50 feet. 

Little Leaf Linden
– Noted for its shiny, small, heart-shaped leaves, the Little Leaf Linden grows 60-70 feet. It has smooth bark and fragrant flowers that bloom sometime in June and July. 

Redmond Linden
– This hybrid tree, which grows 40-50 foot, is noted for its heart-shaped leaves, smooth bark, fragrant June flowers and formal pyramidal shape. It is very urban tolerant. 

While the Honeylocust and the Kentucky Coffeetree are extremely urban friendly, they are our least favorites because they can be messy in the Fall. We would recommend the Japanese Tree Lilac and Redmond Linden for sidewalk planting and the Manchurian Apricot or one of the crabapple hybrids for urban lots. For further information you may wish to check out TreeLinks or the Morris Arboretum.

Posted in  

Forcing Branches for an Early Spring

Icon Written by Geoff on February 1, 2003 – 7:03 pm

We really like Winter, to snowshoe and ski through the cleansing blankets of snow. How different our woodlot appears in the stark glow of a Winters moon. I like to run through the powder, falling down once and again to make snow angels on the hillsides. Being an outdoor person Winter is just another time for me to enjoy the wonders of nature. 

Unfortunately, last year I had to have surgery which meant no snowshoeing, skiing, and definitely no snow angels. I suddenly learned why so many people found Winter to be depressing. That was until I rediscovered the refreshing beauty of forcing branches for early Spring bloom. 

I had forgotten just how easy and how much fun forcing can be. Almost any Spring flowering shrub’s branches can be forced to bloom by February. Just grab those pruning sheers and whack off a few healthy branches just loaded with buds. Actually since we are talking about cutting shrubs which normally you baby the rest of the year you should take a little care with the whacking bit. You want to follow normal sound pruning techniques and cut off 16 – 24 inch branches although size does not really matter. 

Bring the branches inside, cut each branch at a slant, and place in a suitable container. Place the container in a cool dark area away from drafts. Change the water every 2-3 days, maintaining the original level. Bloom times will vary with the type of shrub, when the cuttings were taken, and storage conditions but usually is no longer than 3-6 weeks. 

When the flower buds are just opening move the container to your display location. Bright indirect lighting is best. Keep watering to maintain the original level. To prolong blooming move to a cool area at night. You now have a little bit of Spring to chase away the gloom.

Posted in  

Diagnosing Shrub and Tree Problems

Icon Written by Geoff on January 1, 2003 – 7:30 pm

We often receive calls asking for advice or help with a sick tree or shrub. Usually the questions are hard to answer over the telephone, without seeing the tree, but not always. Two of the most common questions are; “Why did the leaves on my Amur Maple turn bright red and fall off when it is only Summer?” or “My White Pine’s needles turned brown this Winter when does it turn green again?”. 

The answer to both these questions are, unfortunately, never as these trees are dead. Nothing can be done to save them and costly replacements will be required. If only the homeowner had taken the time to inspect his trees and shrubs in time correct to the problem, these trees may have been alive today. 

Of course, not all tree problems can be solved easily, just ask the American Elm or Chestnut, if you can find one. Catching a plant problem in the early stage, at least gives you a chance. It also gives you an opportunity not to make the same mistake twice, such as planting too deep or in the wrong location. Who knows, you might even be able to save a tree or two by your quick action. 

If you are like me, you overlook your trees and shrubs in the Spring and Summer, when everything else is in bloom. I have to make it a point to inspect each tree and shrub. You need to do the same, it only takes a few minutes. 

The Colorado State University has but together a list of the most common symptoms and theircauses which you can use as a quick reference. 

  1. Symptoms: Poor foliage color, stunted weak growth, gradual decline.
    1. Planting too deeply or too shallow.
    2. Poor drainage; plants located near down spouts, in low areas, in non-drained planter boxes, and in beds over very compacted soil.
    3. Damage to stem or trunk
      1. Freeze damage.
      2. Bark splitting caused by sudden freeze following periods of mild weather. Symptoms may not show until summer time.
      3. Mechanical damage such as, lawn mower or other equipment can skin or girdle bark or borer damage occurring when these insects gain entrance into the stem and destroy tissue just under the bark.
    4. Poor soil preparation, heavy soils that are easily packed and very sandy soils produce poor growth.
    5. Soils too acid or too alkaline.
    6. Drought damage, usually occurs on plants in light sandy soils, under overhanging roofs, or in planter boxes.
    7. Nematode damage, microscopic work-like organisms attack root system and interfere with ability of roots to take up water and nutrients.
    8. Needs proper fertilizer.
    9. Competition from other trees, trees and shrubs often compete with other plants for water, light, and nutrients.
    10. Pot bound root system, roots were not altered as needed at planting.
  2. Symptoms: Shrubs die suddenly.
    1. Too much fertilizer kills roots and top cannot get needed water. Damage more likely to occur during dry periods.
    2. Root rots caused by fungi or bacteria.
    3. Insects, borers and beetles that attack trunk can cause sudden damage.
    4. Severe drought with new plants and shallow-rooted plants most susceptible.
    5. Leakage from underground gas lines.
    6. Weed killer damage when applied incorrectly.
  3. Symptoms: Yellowing foliage.
    1. Insects small sucking insects.
    2. Poorly drained soil.
    3. Too much fertilizer.
    4. Needs proper fertilizer.
    5. Soils too acid or too alkaline.
    6. Nematode damage.
    7. Damage to stem or trunk.
    8. Poor soil preparation.
    9. Roots disturbed by cultivation, roots of shallow-rooted plants are easily damaged by cultivation.
    10. Construction, damage from nearby grading or construction often result in damage to roots or soil filled over roots.
    11. Pot bound root system.
  4. Symptoms: Leaf drop in spring.
    1. Natural occurrence, older leaves fall as new leaves develop.
    2. Unusually wet or dry conditions, trees shed leaves to deal with stress.
  5. Symptoms: Failure to flower.
    1. Shrubs or trees are too young, age and a slowdown in growth rate will increase flowering.
    2. Too much vegetative growth because of overfeeding.
    3. Pruned at the wrong time, prune spring flowering shrubs after blooming and summer flowering shrubs in fall and winter.
    4. Too much shade.
  6. Symptoms: Failure to produce berries.
    1. Cold or frost during flowering; kills developing fruit.
    2. Female plant with no male friend around or only male plants
    3. Improper pruning, often berries are produced on older growth.
  7. Symptoms: Occasional branches die.
    1. Stem breakage, shrubs such as dwarf holly have brittle limbs, easily broken by animals or children.
    2. Disease.
    3. Insects.
  8. Symptoms: Browning of leaf tips and edges and leaf spotting.
    1. Drought.
    2. Cold damage, exposure to bright light and strong winds during low temperatures. Spots develop when ice accumulated on foliage in sun. Injury also occurs during prolonged periods of freezing temperatures.
    3. Poor drainage.
    4. Root loss due to recent transplanting.
    5. Too much fertilizer.
    6. Root rot diseases.
    7. Damage to stem or trunk.

Many problems found can be corrected by the homeowner. While not easy, trees can be moved, drainage improved, and Winter protection can be provided. The homeowner can also learn proper pruning techniques, fertilization methods, and to be more careful mowing and trimming. We recommend, for large tree damage, insect, or disease problems, the owner call in a professional arborist. One can quickly be located by going to the National Arborists Association’s web site and typing in your zip code. For example, in our area, when you type in 49120 it tells youWatson’s Tree Service is the one to call.

Posted in