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The best time to prune Japanese Maples is January or early February. December pruning can encourage insects and disease. Pruning too much in one season will cause the tree to produce many small branches at the cuts. You will be fighting these suckering branches for years. The first year, remove the rubbing branches and dead wood. Then prune according to your plan for size and look, never opening large holes in the canopy or removing more than 20% of the tree in one year.

Mulch

Mulching is one of the best things you can do for the health of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Mulch helps retain moisture in soils, maintains a steady soil temperature, adds nutrients to the soil and keeps weeds from germinating in your landscape beds. Put simply, plants love mulch. However, if some is good, more is not necessarily better. Here in the mountains of western NC, we recommend 3" of mulch for trees and shrubs and 2" for annuals.

Excessive mulch material piled up against the base of a tree or shrub, forming a mulch "volcano," keeps moisture in direct contact with the bark. The moisture penetrates the bark and suffocates the cells of the phloem, which is the layer of living tissue that transfers food up and down the plant. When this supply of food from the leaves is limited, the roots die back. This leads to less water being taken up, and the tree or shrub goes into general decline, leaf drop, and premature death.If trees or shrubs have been mulched too heavily, remove excess mulch using a shovel, trowel, or whiskbroom while taking care not to injure the trunk. A hard stream of water may be used to remove excess mulch and soil from the trunk and flared base. Cut off secondary roots that may have grown into the mulch. The trunk and flare should be visible. New mulch can then be applied properly.

The Potting Shed uses only double ground hardwood mulch. Double ground hardwood is the highest quality mulch due to its' high level of moisture retention, cohesive stability on slopes and ability to hold its dark brown color through the year. Few things can add a more immediate impact to your landscape than freshly laid mulch. The Potting Shed is happy to offer a free estimate for your mulching needs.

Pruning Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons flower on the prior year's wood. In other words, the buds for spring flowering form on the plants during the previous summer or fall. If you prune in the late summer, fall, or winter you may be trimming off your flowers for the following spring. Typically, it is best to prune Rhodo's and azaleas right after the plant is through flowering. The spent flower clusters are called trusses. The trusses are not only unsightly but will eventually form seed, which uses precious energy that would otherwise be available to the plant for vegetative growth. Maintenance pruning is the easiest type of pruning and is the only one that needs to be done every year.

To remove old flower trusses on rhododendrons, use a pruning shear to snip the truss at its base, about 1/2 inch above the emerging flush of new growth. Some folks just grasp the stem with their thumb and forefinger and snap the truss from the plant. This works well most of the time, but occasionally the truss breaks off, taking some of the new growth with it. By using a pruning shear, such accidents are avoided. Pruning out the spent trusses will encourage multiple flushes of beautiful blossoms throughout the season and promote healthy, compact growth for many years to come.

Irrigation

When it comes to irrigating a new or existing landscape, you'll be hard pressed to find a more efficient or cost effective way than with drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is the slow, precise application of water directly to the plant's root zones. Using this method, water is absorbed slowly into the soil and directly into the area where the plants roots can most readily "drink." Unlike traditional spray systems, drip systems will maintain an optimum moisture level within the root zones, efficiently conserving water that might otherwise be lost to non-growth areas, runoff, or sun and wind evaporation. Studies have shown that drip systems use up to 85% less water than conventional spray heads. As water becomes an ever increasing resource, we believe that drip systems will continue to be pushed to the fore front of innovative and resourceful irrigation design. Did we mention that drip systems also cut down on unwanted weeds and pests? Watering only the roots of your plants cuts down on water-borne pests and fungal diseases that spread by water movement, as well as decreasing the germination of weeds in the area between your plants.

The Potting Shed installs all of their new landscapes with a low maintenance, easy to use drip irrigation system. These are typically set up to timers connected you your hose bib, leaving you to focus your thoughts elsewhere. Call us today for a free consultation on how The Potting Shed can help transform your outdoor area into a beautiful, useable living space that is nourished through responsible irrigation practices.

Diagnosing Lawn Problems

Diagnosing lawn problems is not hard - you need to observe the turf and understand some basics about turf grass physiology and the impact of the environment.

Poor looking grass in sunny areas is the result of the plants being stressed. The action that you take will either cause more stress or relieve it. The trick is to find what is causing the plants to be stressed. Possible stressors are:
Fertility: Home lawns need three or more fertilizations per year to look good. If it has been four to six weeks since the last fertilizer was applied, another application is due. However, it is also important to avoid over applications! 

Mowing: Short, mowed turf has short roots. You should set your mower high - 2 ½ inches or more. Let the clippings lie, unless they are long and could smother the grass. Leaving the clippings does not cause thatch and does recycle nutrients to the lawn.

Watering: Are you watering properly? The only proper way to water is thoroughly but infrequently. Over-watered lawns are shallow rooted, because air is cut off from getting to the roots. You cannot properly water a lawn by setting a timer for weeks or months at a time.

Insects: Grubs can eat the roots of turf and are an easy problem to check for. Just grab the turf and pull up; then, look at the surface, or a little below the surface, for white worms. Grubs are usually only a problem in May, August and September. You may want to treat your lawn for grubs if you find more than 5 per square foot.

Temperature and Humidity: Cold temperatures in the Fall and Spring reduce leaf growth. Cold temps in Winter, especially when there is no snow cover, often turn leaf tips brown. When the grass grows in the Spring, the brown tips soon disappear. High temperature in the Summer stresses the turf and slows the growth. Proper irrigation will lessen this stress. A week of high humidity at night is perfect for disease development. An overall good turf care program and the use of disease resistant varieties is the only preparation for this condition.

Disease: Prevention -by mowing, watering, and fertilizing properly, is the best cure for lawn disease. If you follow proper prevention techniques, you will seldom have a disease severe enough to require renovation of the lawn, unless you have grass with inferior genes. Lawn diseases do occur and the first instinct most homeowners have is to apply a fungicide. This approach is wrong because, in most cases, the fungicide needs to be applied before the outbreak occurs. By the time the symptoms are seen, it is simply too late to apply a fungicide. Homeowners applying fungicides seldom see results worth their time, effort, or expense. The more practical approach is to view a disease as a symptom of stressed turf and then work to correct the causes of the stressed turf. Newer grass varieties have improved genetics that lessen the severity of devastating diseases.

Early Sod Care

Second through fifth day watering:
It's very important to check your lawn at least once per day during the week after installation to ensure that there is adequate moisture for the turf to flourish. During hot and/or windy weather, you may need to check for moisture more than once per day. Walk on the new lawn to inspect it. If you observe water puddles or soil that is so soft that you leave footprints, it is too wet. However, if you walk across your lawn to inspect it and find that the soil is very firm, lift a corner of the grass in several places. The soil should be damp-- not dripping wet or dusty dry.

Further watering:
After about five days, it is time to start reducing your watering habits. If you do not reduce the amount of water applied to your lawn, you risk drowning the sod or preventing proper root development. Grass plants will not grow in waterlogged soils! Now is the time to begin stretching out the amount of time between waterings. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, you will need to reset the timer. Follow this philosophy: deep, infrequent watering. Watch the color of the sod for watering: green is good, blue-green indicates not enough water, and yellow-tan means the sod is heat/moisture stressed and will go dormant.

Signs of under watering:
Areas where the grass has wilted, or turned a straw color, have not received enough water. Seeing green grass turn brown almost overnight will get your attention! This is the most obvious symptom of under-watering. The roots and crowns of the grass plant are still alive, and in most cases, new leaves will appear in seven to ten days, if immediate action is taken. Another indication of under-watering is cracks that appear between the rows of sod. Both of these signs of under-watering that can be corrected by watering longer than you have been currently, with more water. Temperatures above 80° generally mean more water is needed, while temperatures below 60° mean less water is needed. In the cooler months of March, April, October and November, sod needs much less water.

Mowing:
Your new living carpet needs mowing 6-7 days after installation. The basic mowing rule is never removing more than 1/3 of the leaf blade during a single mowing. Mow when grass height reaches 3"-3 1/2". Set your mower at a cutting height of 2"-2 1/2". For best appearance, be sure to keep your mower blades sharp.

How soon can I use the sod?:
For best establishment, the sod needs time to properly root to the new soil. Early watering often makes the soil underneath the sod soft, and susceptible to ruts. Making deep footprints when the soil is soft won't hurt the sod, but will make for an uneven lawn in the future. Therefore, use your new lawn sparingly until good root establishment has taken place, usually 2-3 weeks. Avoid concentrated play activities, dog traffic or similar rough usage until four weeks have passed. There are no restrictions on visually enjoying your lawn.

Fertilization:
The Potting Shed will apply a root stimulator to your new sod to help give it an extra little boost of support when making the transition to its new home in your lawn. Your new lawn does not need any fertilizer for at least two weeks. Brown patch fungus, however, is a common problem with sod laid in the summer. This problem can often be solved with a fungus applied at the time of installation. The Potting Shed will be happy to discuss a turf care program that fits within your needs and budget.

Pavers

Efflorescence

Efflorescence is a white haze that may appear on the surface of pavers sometime after installation. It forms as a result of a natural chemical reaction that occurs when the lime or water-soluble calcium oxide produced by the cement contained in the paver reacts with water. When the water enters the microscopic capillaries in the pavers, calcium hydroxide is formed. The calcium hydroxide then rises to the surface of the paver and reacts with air to form a white haze of calcium carbonate. The white haze may give the impression that the color is fading, but this isn't the case. It's simply the salts rising to the surface and covering the color. Dark pavers can show efflorescence more easily than light colored pavers. If efflorescence does occur, it can be removed with special cleaners specifically designed for concrete pavers. Inexperienced or improper cleaning can result in discoloration of the surface of the paver. Contact The Potting Shed for a free estimate on cleaning your paver patio or driveway.

Preventing Weeds and Ants

Weeds can germinate between pavers from windblown seeds lodged in the joints. They do not grow from the bedding sand, base or soil. Weeds can be removed by hand or with herbicide. We recommend removing weeds by hand. However, in some cases, this just isn't feasible due to the size of the paved surface area. In this case, herbicide can be used. Be sure to take extreme care when spraying so that adjacent vegetation isn't sprayed. It's best to spray early in the morning when the wind is calm. It's best to use biodegradable products that won't pollute water supplies. Joint stabilizing chemicals can also be used to seal the joints to prevent weed seeds and ants from entering.

Removing Oil Stains

Concrete pavers are not damaged by petroleum products, but oil stains from cars can be difficult to remove driveways. Stains should be treated as soon as possible. The longer they sit on the surface, the harder and more difficult they are to remove.
First, wipe excess oil from the surface and apply liquid detergent. Allow it to soak in for several minutes. Then, rinse the pavers with hot water. You may need to do this a few times to achieve the desired look. There are also special chemical cleaners designed specifically for removing oil from concrete pavers, should the detergent not be totally effective. Another option would be to flip the pavers over. Some paver styles have the same appearance on both sides, but be careful because others do not. Make sure you contact your installer before attempting to remove any pavers from your hardscape. Removing a paver often requires a special 'paver lifter' that slides down into the joints and applies equal pressure to both sides of the paver. Attempting to remove a paver without one can lead to a damaged or even broken paver.

One way to protect your paver driveway or patio from stains is with a sealer. Sealers reduce the intrusion of water, stains, oil and dirt into the paver surface. There are various types of sealers to choose from. Some leave the pavers with a "wet" look, while others dry with a flat finish. Sealers are a great way to protect your investment while further enhancing the aesthetics of your paved area. The Potting Shed offers sealing as an additional option at the end of installation for all of our paver installations.

Fertilizer Facts

Fertilizer labels always display three numbers in the same order, (i.e. 10-6-4). They represent the % by weight of three important nutrients:

Nitrogen (N) — for green, leafy growth.

Phosphorus (P) — for root and bud growth.

Potassium (K) — promotes disease tolerance and drought tolerance.

Example: A 40 lb. bag of 10-6-4 fertilizer has: 10% nitrogen (4 lbs.), 6% phosphate (2.4 lbs. of P), and 4% potash (1.6 lbs. of K)

Time to Lime

Our abundance of beautiful oak trees, means very acidic soils in our mountains.  That often means a low soil pH.  We recommend getting a soil test to determine how much lime you need.  If you guess too low, you will be wasting money because your fertilizer won’t work efficiently.  Keep mind that while one 40lb bag of 10-10-10 may give you and adequate fertilization rate, one 40 lb. bag of lime may have little effect on raising you pH to an adequate level.

We prefer mulch

Not only is it very attractive and easy to put down, but it also keeps weed seeds from germinating for the season.  It comes in many varieties to match your landscaping tastes and will cut down on your watering needs. Lastly, as it breaks down, it will add valuable nutrients to your soil to save you money on fertilizer.

Landscape fabric?

We are often asked if landscape fabric should be used when installing landscaping.  While this is often used as a weed deterrent, there are some things that you should keep in mind.  First, the material can be tough to cut through in areas where you will be planting additional plants such as annuals.   Also, keep in mind that you won’t be able to easily add compost to help with soil nutrition.  And over the seasons, the weed seeds that are naturally scattered on top of the fabric, will nullify their effectiveness anyway.