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Shanna

Why are Eastern White Pines dropping needles?

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Eastern White Pine has comprised the backbone of our landscape for many thousands of years. Why are many of these trees suffering recently? white pine decline

‘White Pine Needle’ cast and ‘Brown Spot’ are fungal diseases which attack the prior season’s foliage. These diseases are problematic in cool and wet spring which we’ve observed in the past number of seasons. The infected trees are further stressed by severe summer droughts which have also been a problem for consecutive years. Fungicide sprays are impractical since many trees reach more than 100 feet in height, and researchers have not discovered any viable control methods.

white pine decline

Spring of 2019 has been particularly cool and wet. Our fear is that these conditions combined with last summer’s record breaking drought have stressed some of our White Pine trees beyond the limits of survivability.

Our focus should clearly be on sound cultural practices, particularly fertilization and irrigation during drought conditions. Please contact us for more information or to schedule a consultation.

12 Things to Know Before Hiring a Landscape Contractor

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Last week we received a client referral to take over landscape services for a mismanaged local property. It’s always hard to see the results of a contractor who didn’t care enough or was unable to provide a needed service. From property damage to poor installation and even unsafe conditions, as a leader in the landscape industry in New Hampshire for over 30 years, we’ve seen a thing or two. We’d like to help you, our neighbors and community members, know how to protect yourselves from this type of situation.

Choosing a landscape company can appear deceivingly easy. Not understanding a few things can cost you time, money, and peace of mind. So, what should you know? In general, when hiring any type of landscape contractor, it’s helpful to do the research and ask them directly if their website or materials are not clear.

Here’s what you need to know.

Is the contractor insured?

Someone working on your property should have you, their customer, as well as their own company’s and employees protection in mind. As a good practice, they should carry commercial coverage in the following types at the following limits:

  • Commercial General Liability of at least $1,000,000 for each occurrence and $2,000,000 general aggregate coverage
  • Commercial Auto Liability of at least $1,000,000 combined single limit. Some small businesses assume their personal auto insurance is enough, but if they are using a personal vehicle to do business, their personal policy will not cover them in the event of an incident.
  • Workers Compensation Insurance of at least $500,000 because if they do not have it, and something happens, the customer may become liable. Even a sole proprietor should carry this, even though the state of NH does not require them to have it.
  • To cover any higher claims in any of these areas, it is a good idea to carry Commercial Umbrella Liability coverage of at least $1,000,000.

A customer can ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance from their insurance company, and it can be faxed or emailed to them so they can be sure the contractor has the proper insurance. It comes directly from their insurance agent.

Choosing_landscape_contractor

Is the contractor certified?

Proper green industry certifications help you know that your contractor understands how to accomplish the tasks for which they will be hired. Improper mowing, pruning, or mulching can be detrimental to your plants. Incorrect installation of landscape features such as patios, walls, and perennials will severely reduce the lifespan of the investment.

Are they licensed?

New Hampshire requires licensure for a variety of landscape activities. For example, many methods used to control pests may require several applicable licenses, whereas the purchase of materials is not governed. This means an unlicensed, unknowledgeable worker may apply products to your property in levels that are unsafe, or illegal. In the Lakes Region, this can have especially detrimental effects on our lakes and waterways, not to mention wildlife or even your own personal health.

Are they members of professional organizations?

Membership in the National Association of Landscape Professionals, or the New Hampshire Landscape Association, enable members access to continued education or professional development. This helps clients know their provider maintains knowledge of current practices and industry trends.

Are they drug-free and do they complete drug testing?

This company will be sending employees to your property. You should have confidence that these employees are the type of person you’re comfortable with working and operating machinery on your property.

Do they have a safety program?

Landscaping activity often requires the use of equipment which could be hazardous. Landscape firms are obligated to ensure the safety of their employees, clients, and the general public. In NH companies with 15+ employees are required to have a written safety program. The absence of a safety program is a serious red flag.

How long have they been in operation?

Unfortunately, the landscape industry has been plagued by ill-prepared or unscrupulous operators. Longevity is a good indicator of ethical and viable business practices.

Do they have existing relationships with other contracting firms and suppliers?

A good contractor will have a strong network of supporting partners who provide them with materials or services. Lack of partnerships, or the ability to give examples, may indicate they are not a reliable partner or may not have adequate support to overcome unexpected challenges.

Do they utilize professional grade equipment?

This is an indication that a company not only takes their profession seriously, but it also increases the likelihood they are capable of completing their tasks efficiently and accurately. Additionally, professional equipment is more durable, ensuring reliability.

Are they well-reviewed?

Online reviews can be a good indicator of how a company treats its clientele and the quality of their work. Houzz.com is an excellent resource to get reviews on contractors.

Are they responsive?

If a contractor is slow to respond to you before you’re a client, it’s unusual that will improve once you have become a client.

professional_landscape_contractor

Do they answer your questions directly?

While many of the questions above can be answered through your own research, some of them you’ll need to ask the contractor. If they seem unable or unwilling to answer your questions, that is a problem. This indicates they either cannot provide you with adequate, safe, and consistent service; or they may be unwilling or unpracticed in providing good initial customer care.

Other considerations when choosing a contractor should include the type of service you need. Are you looking for someone to maintain your property by mowing, mulching, weeding, and other reoccurring activities, or are you looking for someone to improve your property through the addition of patios, walls, drainage, and perennial installations? While many companies offer “full-service,” few companies do all aspects well.

If you’re looking for someone to maintain your property:

Do they have someone who is dedicated to ensuring the satisfactory completion of the hired tasks? An owner, account manager, or supervisor should regularly check the quality of work, and follow up with the homeowner. You shouldn’t be the only one making sure your property is being cared for correctly.

Can they explain to you their processes and why the methods they use are essential? Proper mowing isn’t just making sure the grass is trimmed, just as pruning isn’t just cutting off parts of a plant. Having an awareness of horticultural best practices will ensure the health of the plants you own while minimizing damages and loss to your property.

Do they have a plan? What if their mower breaks down, their staff calls out, or it rains for 6 days straight? How do they ensure they still provide you with the services you are paying for?

If you’re looking for someone to improve your property:

Do they have experience and a portfolio of work they’ve completed that they can share with you? While every company has a beginning, your property and the investment you’re making are valuable, and the best indicator of future success is past performance.

Can they complete all the steps your project requires? From design to procurement, and through installation, there are many variables in this process. If not, whose responsibility is it to complete these tasks, and are they certified, licensed, insured, and well-recommended?

Who handles permitting? In many cases, you will need a state or local permit. If your landscaper is comfortable working without a permit, that’s a problem. If your landscaper isn’t involved in the permitting process, that could also be a problem. Permitting ensures work is done correctly, safely, and legally. The legal penalties of unpermitted work typically fall on the landowner. This can and often does prove costly.

Will you have a dedicated project manager? The project manager ensures quality, the fulfillment of the scope of work, and timeliness of completion. They are also your liaison for the process, keeping you informed, and answering your questions. Not utilizing a project manager could lead to frustration as your project may go over budget, over time, or not achieve your intended purpose.

 

Keep Your Property Healthy By Avoiding Invasive Plant Species

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Invasive Species - Microstegium vimineum commonly known as Japanese stilt grass

Invasive Species – Microstegium vimineum commonly known as Japanese stilt grass

When spring arrives people in New Hampshire like to take time to beautify and improve their outdoor space. Through the introduction of new plants, shrubs, and trees, one can make their outdoor space healthier and more enjoyable. We at Belknap Landscape spend much of the spring helping clients choose, place, and install a wide variety of plant life, and we know this process can be as complicated as it can be fun.

When choosing plants, a homeowner or landscape professional may consider aesthetic, viability, or practical variables. It is also essential to be mindful of the plant species itself. Simply put, some plants, when introduced to your property, can be harmful or even illegal. Mindful selection of plant choice helps us to be good neighbors and stewards of the land, and contributors to the long-term health and beauty of the landscape. One reoccurring challenge is invasive plant species.

Avoiding invasive species

Invasive Species - Hesperus matronalis commonly known as Dames rocket

Invasive Species – Hesperus matronalis commonly known as Dames rocket

Invasive Species - Lonicera spp commonly known as Bush honeysuckles

Invasive Species – Lonicera spp commonly known as Bush honeysuckles

Invasive plant species, in particular, are problematic for both the property owner and the greater natural environment. When introduced, these plant species often out-compete and asa result overgrow native species. This has a detrimental effect on the ecosystem, which, in many cases, cannot be easily overcome. Responsible property owners and landscape professionals have a moral and legal obligation to be mindful of and not to introduce invasive plant species.

Spotting an invasive species isn’t easy. The sale of invasive species is illegal in New Hampshire, and local nurseries will not carry them. So how do they get in our state? Some potential sources include online purchases of plants, using inexperienced or out-of-state contractors, or transferring plants from out of state to properties in New Hampshire. Homeowners can arm themselves by becoming more informed and asking questions with their vendor or contractors.

Invasive Species - Euonymus alatus commonly known as Burning Bush

Invasive Species – Euonymus alatus commonly known as Burning Bush

 

Getting informed

Thankfully the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension has resources readily available to help understand, identify, and report invasive species. You can visit this article for more information on this vital subject.

Utilize this resource as a guide for plant selection, or to identify if you have an invasive species on your property. You’ll also see ways to help mitigate this problem and get involved in protecting our native plant species, and still enjoy a beautiful well planted outdoor space.

Photos provided courtesy of the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food

Winter Damage Worsens As Spring Temperatures Climb

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We’ve observed yet more damage to evergreen plants as the result of winter injury. As temperatures increase, even more dried up leaves are appearing on stressed plant material.

winter damage

Note the undamaged foliage at bottom of plants where snow insulated plant tissues

The stage was set last summer with record breaking heat and drought. Trees and shrubs were weakened from severe stress. Root systems died back, resulting in reduced water storage needed to keep these plants from freezing this past winter.

As unfortunate as disfigured plant material is, many will not be lost outright. Follow-up care is essential in helping plants recover from the winter injury. These are some ways we can help;

  • Soil fertility. Applications of bio-stimulants not only help to nourish plants directly, but they also help create a proliferation of beneficial microbial activity which helps resiliency during stress periods. Fish hydrolysate, humic acid and seaweed extracts are excellent products for this purpose.
  • Irrigation. While sufficient water is critical, too much can be just as damaging as not enough! Although watering is not required at this time, pay attention when things get hot and dry as the season progresses. You should never be able to squeeze water out of a handful of soil.
  • Pruning. Some obviously dead limbs in trees and shrubs are apparent right now, but it’s probably best to hold off pruning them until later in the spring. Our hope is that dormant buds will sprout along bare stems, giving us better choices where to make quality pruning cuts.  
  • Antidessicant applications. There are materials that can be applied in the late fall or early winter that can decrease a plants ability to loose water during the winter. ‘Transpiration’ is a plants way of evaporating water vapor during the winter so that plant tissues do not freeze.
  • Protection from wind. Vulnerable plants can be shielded from drying winds with burlap. This takes place just before the onset of winter and is removed in the early spring of the following season.

Please feel free to contact us so we can evaluate your landscape plants. There are plenty of things we can do to help and protect your valuable landscape plants!

Winter Injury on Rhododendrons

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We’ve been observing wide spread winter injury on Rhododendron and Holly in the Lakes Region this spring as the snow and ice begin to recede. Cold drying winds over the past several months are partially to blame for the damage, but there are other factors which have certainly contributed to this plight.

Rhododendron Winter Damage

Desiccation is the evaporation of water in vapor form from foliage and plant stems. Although this is a year-round and daily occurrence, winter desiccation (also called winter burn) can be particularly stressful on broad leafed evergreens which are the most susceptible because they have a greater surface area through which to lose water compared to deciduous plants. When the ground is frozen solid and freezing temperatures are accompanied by high winds, the exposed plants continue to lose moisture without being able to replenish the supply.

In the two pictures, you’ll see that the foliage at the bottom of the plants is unaffected due to the snow cover protection from the wind. Evergreens that have suffered from winter desiccation typically have beige to brown leaf edges that are curled, or they may show red or purple discoloration.

Rhododendron Damage

The stage was set last summer with drought conditions, so broad leafed evergreens went into the winter with a major disadvantage. Younger plants with shallow root systems and plants that have suffered injury in prior years are the most vulnerable.  The plants survival is based on the moisture reserve stored up in the roots, branches and leaves.

We recommend delaying pruning chores a bit this spring so that the toll of winter injury can be properly assessed.  Dead tissue can be removed anytime, but cutting into live tissue leaves the remaining stem more vulnerable to further drying.  Be sure to wait until after shrubs leaf out if you are unsure whether or not a branch is still living. Corrective pruning along with recommended fertilization and proper watering will often help these plants recover.

Rhododendrons do not like soggy soil, so be careful not to overdo it on the watering.

Be on the Lookout for Emerald Ash Borer Damage

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We have been noticing damage on White Ash trees (Fraxinus americana) over the course of this winter, particularly in the southern lakes region. In the picture below, you will notice the light bark discoloration on the tree trunks. This discoloration is called ‘blonding’ which is the result of woodpeckers feeding on the Emerald Ash Borer larvae in the bark.

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outdoor kitchen hooded

4 Ways to Improve Your Outdoor Kitchen

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An outdoor kitchen is quickly becoming a must-have for summer homes in New Hampshire. Get the most out of your outdoor kitchen with these enhancements, which improve both the utility of your outdoor space and the value of your home. 

outdoor kitchen hooded

1. Add a roof – A roof protects your outdoor kitchen from the elements, allowing you to use it even during summer rains. A roof also keeps your guests cool during muggy summer afternoons. Finally, a roof allows you to add in little touches, such as a fan and overhead lighting, that make the space truly useful and comfortable.

outdoor kitchen

2. Don’t skimp on prep space – If you forget to install plumbing, counter space, or a refrigerator, you’ll be traipsing back and forth from the main house to your outdoor kitchen. This may become so tiresome that you stop using your outdoor kitchen. Budgeting for ample prep space helps you create an outdoor kitchen that boosts your home’s value and meets all of your needs.

outdoor kitchen

3. Upgrade your cooking equipment – You can have an outdoor kitchen with nothing more than a propane grill, but there are so many fun pieces of equipment that can really make the space feel special. Consider adding a pizza oven, smoker, or charcoal grill to accommodate slow cooking. 

outdoor patio and kitchen

4. Give your guests a place to hang out – A bar makes clever use of space and gives your guests a front seat to observe the grill master at work. A bar with seating is convenient for intimate gatherings and allows you to tend to the cooking without ignoring your guests. If you have more space, consider adding in a lounge area that’s near the kitchen but allows guests to relax comfortably while you cook.