Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Flowering Shrubs, Part 1 of 4

Most shrubs flower during the warm seasons of the year, but those that bloom in the winter seem more precious because of the relatively rare occurrence of winter flowers.

First, evergreen foliage adds soothing green color to the winter landscape. This includes narrow leaf evergreens (conifers) that come in colors ranging from silver and blue to green to yellow and orange.  It also includes broad leaf evergreens that are the special provenance of metro-Atlanta, and really contribute to the springtime feel of a landscape throughout the cold months.

Second, winter flowering shrubs have an excitement all their own, whether on deciduous or evergreen shrubs. The top three winter-flowering shrubs include

Witchhazel is a medium to large deciduous shrub that particularly noted for winter flowers which appear on bare branches. There are dozens of varieties, hybrids and named cultivars of witchhazel in colors ranging from pale yellow, bright yellow, orange, red and rust. Those native to North America begin to bloom in the fall, while others bloom through March. Winter blooming, mildly fragrand flowers are each about an inch long with groups of narrow, ribbon-like, crinkly petals. Witchhazel has no serious insect or disease problems and is great for shrub borders, woodland gardens or as a specimen in a winter landscape.

Camellias come in two main categories: Camellia sasanqua (familiarly known as “Sasanquas”) begin to flower on voting day in early November through December in metro-Atlanta, and Camellia japonica that bloom from late December through March. Lovely white, pink, red or variegated flowers, two to five inches across ornament the dark evergreen foliage of this popular and handsome, long-lived shrub. 

Quince’s rose-like flowers burst forth on bare branches on the first warm days of winter. Shrubs come upright and rounded or low and spreading, and withstand both heavy clay and heat. Flowers come in shades of red, white, pink and orange. The variety with appleblossom pink, white, and pink-and-white flowers is called Toyo Nishiki 

Crabapple LandscapExperts include winter flowering shrubs to enliven the season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Natural Pest Prevention in the Landscape

The Landscape Experts at Crabapple know the first step in Natural Garden Pest prevention is to identify the type of pest in order to stop it in its tracks. 

  • Plant-eating Insects
    • chewing insects 
    • sucking insects
    • below-ground grubs
  • Mites 
  • Plant Diseases 
    • fungus 
    • bacteria 
    • virus

The best defense is a good offense, and the LandscapExpert Team begins by using many cultural controls. 
  • Start with the soil. Build healthy, organic soils that optimize plant growth by raising the organic matter content in Georgia red clay
    •  compost 
    •  mulch
    • mushroom compost
    • topdressing with well-rotted manure
    • aerated compost tea
    • seaweed 
    • organic mulch
  • Create optimum soil acidity/alkalinity levels
    • Correct pH
    • Pulverized dolomitic lime to make acid soils more neutral
  • Mycorrhizal inoculents: 
    • friendly fungi to create a symbiotic relationship with roots of higher plants
    • beneficial bacteria to produce nitrogen in available compounds 
  • Choose the correct plant for the location; for example, do not plant boxwood in a soggy location, nor crape myrtle in the shade 
  • Rotate crops, interplanting, companion planting (avoid monocultures) 
  • Pull weak plants since these will be more susceptible to pest attack
  • Minimize insect habitat by raking off old mulch and plant litter and composting
  • Water in early morning so sun will dry off leaves; water roots, not leaves 
  • Disinfect pruning tools between plants to avoid spreading disease 
  • Open planting to provide improved air circulation

Integrated Pest Management
  • Identify pest 
  • Cultural controls first and foremost
  • Add or attract beneficial insects to eat or parasitize harmful insects or larvae
    • beneficials include carnivorous insects that eat other bugs
    • well known lacewings, praying mantids, ladybugs
  • Organic remedies include 
    • hand- picking, 
    • dormant oil spray 
    • traps 
    • lures
  • Chemical remedies include 
    • Targeted spot treatment with chemical insecticides or fungicides appropriate for the specific pest
    • We avoid broadcast pesticide spraying that will adversely affect beneficial insects and soil organisms  

Members of the Crabapple Team are certified Pesticide Applicators with up-to-date licenses who attend re-certification classes. Count on Crabapple for the best in knowledgeable Pest Prevention. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

5 Essentials of Winter Tree Care

Crabapple LandscapExperts recommend minimizing stress on trees during the cold months, even though they seem to be in “a state of hibernation”.

Whenever temperatures are above freezing, roots will grow in the soil and evergreen foliage will transpire moisture, so a little care during the cold months goes a long way. We water trees during periods of winter drought, just as in summer. A little irrigation is essential, especially on newly planted, young trees.

A “blanket” of organic mulch goes a long way to protect roots by acting as an insulation to retain moisture and reduce temperature fluctuations.  

We protect trees from deer and rabbit damage by wrapping trunks in hard plastic or hardware cloth.

Damage from cold temperature extremes is avoided by wrapping trunks in burlap or plastic tape.

Finally, winter is a good time to prune trees, as the leaves are gone and it is easier for our LandscapExpert Team to see the overall structure and scaffold branches, and to prune out problem branches. Pruning keeps trees growing, relieves stress and eliminates crossing branches.

Sign up for a wintertime consultation with your CrabappleRep

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stay Green Throughout Winter with Top 15 Broadleaf Evergreens

Evergreens bring color to the winter landscape, keeping properties looking green and lush even during cold weather after deciduous shrubs and trees have shed their leaves. There are two kinds of evergreens, broadleaf and needle leaf. Crabapple LandscapExperts suggests the first group to bring color to the winter landscape on properties we manage

Unlike more northern cities, broadleaf evergreens are plentiful in metro-Atlanta. Southern gardens look inviting despite chilly temperatures because of the many broadleaf evergreen shrubs that add year round interest with their lustrous foliage and textural forms. Many broadleaf evergreens also have beautiful flowers that turn them into seasonal focal points. 
Here are Crabapple LandscapExperts’ Top Broadleaf Evergreens in three categories:

Tough as Nails
Cherry Laurel

Osmanthus - Tea Olive
Illicum - Anise Shrub
Wax Myrtle - Bayberry

Unusual and Appealing
Mountain Laurel
Leatherleaf Viburnum

You can rely on CrabappleLandscapExperts to choose the best broadleaf evergreens to add a welcoming feel to the landscapes you manage that will make your residents feel at ease. Studies have shown calming and restful effects of a great landscape on residents and workers including stress reduction, slowing of heartbeats, brain relaxation, and promotion of a feeling of well-being, and all the while increasing property values. Call your Crabapple Rep to discuss adding some green to your winter landscape. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winterize Irrigation Systems After Thanksgiving

Did you know?  Metro-Atlanta and surrounding areas have among the highest water pressure in the country. Add to this another piece of information, The Farmers’ Almanac has issued their winter forecast for thesoutheast,  predicting mild, wet weather for the upcoming 2011/2012 winter in the Deep South.

Crabapple tells Property Managers and HOA Reps what this means to them:
  • Even though most areas of Georgia may not be at risk for freezing and burst pipes, shutting down your irrigation system and bleeding out static pressure in the lines will relieve pressure on both the valves and the PVC or pipe and will extend the life of your sprinkler system.  
  • With a wet winter predicted, sprinklers likely will not be needed for watering landscape plants.  Deciduous plants have lost their leaves and lose less moisture through transpiration, needing less watering.

It is important to give your drainage system a professional once-over, and early winter is the perfect time, when other landscape maintenance demands are reduced.  
 Options to Clear the Irrigation Lines: Crabapple LandscapExperts will  
  • Manual Draining

Shut off all water to the system and manually open drain valves (or install them if they do not already exist) situated at the low point of each line, and allow gravity to clear the lines of water. Dry wells with gravel are a good idea for these low points. We will turn off the power to a well- or pond- pump if applicable to the individual client.

  • Blowing Out

Contact Crabapple LandscapeExperts to blow out your irrigation lines using an air compressor to force water out of the system. This process, known as “blowing out” can damage your components if not done professionally because the amount of pressure needed to blow out the water will vary from one system to the next. Our technicians will attach the compressed air hose to the blowout connection for each zone and blow out all the water (applying less than 35-40/psi of pressure), finishing up by draining the valve that prevents backflow and the shut off valve.

Crabapple’s key to winterizing irrigation systems is to be patient and thorough. Letting the lines drain a few days until they dry out completely will make a big difference next spring when we recharge the systems.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forcing Bulbs Indoors for the Winter Holidays: 2 Key Rules

One of the easiest and most successful forms of winter gardening is forcing tender bulbs into flower. Bulbs are packages of energy surrounding a flower bud, all ready to go, and all they need is some moist potting soil or water-and-pebbles to start the process. Now is the ideal time to start them for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Years decorating, for home or office.

Those in the know follow 2 Key Rules for Forcing:
  1. Buy the largest bulbs you can find/ afford because they yield the most and largest flowers
  2. Grow bulbs in a bright, sunny window with direct sunlight so they do not stretch too tall    

The two best known types of tender bulbs are Amaryllis (6 to 8 weeks to force flowers) and paperwhites (3 to 5 weeks for blossoms). These evolved in warm climates and do not need chilling like some of the hardy landscape bulbs do.

Amaryllis are huge bulbs with large showy red, pink, white, orange or bicolored  trumpet flowers, best planted in rich potting soil. Each bulb will throw two flower scapes with 4-8 flowers, and sometimes a lucky third. They are not inexpensive but can be treated like a houseplant, spending summers outdoors, and will usually bloom again each following winter.

Paperwhites are small-cupped white daffodils that have a delicate beauty and an intense fragrance.  If you buy a couple of dozen bulbs, you can start sequential batches every couple of weeks for blooms through February or March. Put at least 7 in each pot or bowl. These can be forced in pots of potting soil or in decorative bowls filled with water and 2-3 inches of pebbles for ballast. After bloom, plant them outdoors and in the metro-Atlanta they typically bloom in December in following years.  

If success with forcing tender bulbs has whetted your appetite for more, check The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center for lots of information on bulbs and how to chill outdoor bulbs like hyacinths, crocus , grape hyacinths or mini-daffodils indoor blooms. 

Photo Credits, Geri Laufer, White Flower Farm and

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Honk if You Love Your Landscape: Canada Goose Control Tactics

Certainly you can recognize Canada Geese; they are large, aggressive, birds, taupe in color with pale breasts, black necks and heads, and distinctive white chin straps. You may have seen them in the sky on their way to somewhere else in a flying V- formation. But many flocks of geese become unwanted permanent residents in populated landscapes, and this is where Crabapple LandscapExperts can help. 

Historically, due to intense hunting pressure and habitat loss in the last two centuries, the goose population faced a serious decline. But with new game laws, quotas for hunters, habitat restoration in the form of man-made lakes and water features (e.g. on commercial developments, subdivisions, planned communities, public parks and golf courses), and the decrease in natural predators, Canada Geese populations have skyrocketed in occupied areas.

On top of that, due to 
metro-Atlanta’s mild winter climate large flocks of the geese have become tenacious permanent residents in places such as retention ponds in apartment complexes or detention pools in commercial properties. They have reached the point where property managers and HOA reps consider them to be pests (because of their messy droppings, harmful bacteria related to their droppings, loud nasal honking and noise pollution and confrontational behavior).

Turn to Crabapple LandscapExperts to remove birds, avoid property damage and decrease liability, while eliminating costly cleanup of droppings and the spread of disease, all without toxic pesticides.

Some humane strategies that can be employed by Crabapple LandscapExperts:
Physical exclusion
            low fencing
bird spikes
Turf grass repellants to make grass unpalatable (waterproof / reapply)
Sticky gels to hamper their feet
Harassment by 
            Border Collies
            Trained Hawks
Visual scare tactics
coyote decoys
owls decoys
eagle decoys
flashing lights
buoys with flashing lights
Laser beams in ever-changing patterns
Audio repellants
sonic repellants
gun sounds
cannon sounds
Hatch control

So give us a call at 770-740-9739 and we can evaluate your goose control needs.

P.S.  Canada Goose Hunting Season is November 19-27 and December 10, 2011 - January 29, 2012. Pick up your waterfowl hunting license and migratory bird hunting and conservation stamps from the Georgia Department of Fish and Wildlife before you go.

photo credits: and 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Retention Pond Care and Maintenance by the LandscapExperts

Homes, developments and commercial buildings alter the land, and the natural permeable system of forests and grasslands gives way to hard surfaces like roads, roofs, sidewalks and parking lots that increase rapid rainfall runoff. Erosion can be a problem, and pollutants from sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous, oil or gasoline off of roads, bacteria from pet waste and plant litter can all impact metro-Atlanta water systems and their native wildlife.

As a result, retention ponds are a Best Management Practice (BMP) for storm water and are designed to reduce the impacts of excess water and pollutants caused by increased building and development of new construction.

In Georgia, Homeowners Associations (HOA’s) and Property Management Companies are required to maintain retention and detention ponds to make sure that rainwater is collected without disturbing the surrounding land. Ponds are subject to annual or semi-annual inspections. However, these retention basins last longer when they are properly maintained. For the best in maintenance help, turn to Crabapple LandscapExperts, a full service maintenance company equipped to handle all aspects of retention pond maintenance and restoration.

A retention pond is self-enclosed and depends on evaporation and percolation to remove water, and differs from a detention pond that has an outlet such as a neighboring storm sewer or creek to accept excess rainwater and storm water after a rain event. Count on Crabapple LandscapExperts for regular inspections and maintenance of your pond in order to: 
  • Protect life and health 
  • Minimize property damage 
  • Protect water quality 
  • Maintain a functional storm water system

Inspection of riprap (large rocks used to slow the flow of water) and replacement when clogged with sediment or debris

Vegetation management including elimination of invasive species and increase in native plant diversity

Embankment and outlet stabilization, where we establish permanent native vegetative cover on eroded slopes

Debris and litter control and routine inspections for trash or debris that could block inlet or outlet pipes, grates, culverts or emergency spillways

Wildlife and insect control, for example, use of natural predators that are encouraged by wildlife enhancements, by physical means such as low barriers to stop nuisance geese, or by state sanctioned West Nile Virus control for mosquitoes (through local city and state health departments)

Sediment removal and dredging may be required, typically once every 5-10 years

Maintenance of a 15-25 foot no-mow and pesticide-free zone, eliminating herbicides, insecticides or fertilizers around pond, and burning off vegetation once each spring

Recycling of yard waste such as grass clippings, leaves or brush that is carried away and recycled to rich mulch at the Alpharetta Crabapple facility

Make it easy on yourself and call the LandscapExperts Contact your Crabapple Rep to establish a maintenance program for the retention or detention pond on your property for longer life and increased efficiency. . 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bring Houseplants Indoors for Winter

Did your houseplants “vacation” on the back porch or in the garden this summer? If you haven’t already moved them, now is the time to get them back indoors before frost. The LandscapExperts at Crabapple have some tips on Best Practices for safely moving plants back indoors when cold temperatures threaten, including potting up and organic pest control if needed.

Just as the move outdoors was traumatic for plants because of the big differences in light and humidity levels, bringing them back indoors can result in yellowed leaves, dieback and wilting. Try for a gradual reintroduction to the indoors before temperatures dip below freezing. (Basil growing outdoors is a good indicator plant, and ours is still green and fresh, so it is not too late this fall!) 

First, inspect plants for insects and diseases, and wash with a dilute solution of Ivory Liquid and water, then rinse thoroughly (outside or in the shower). Another option is to spray with an organic pesticide like Safer Soap before bringing plants back inside. 

Check the outside of the pot for dirt or signs of unwanted inhabitants.  Submerging the entire plant and pot in a tub of room temperature water for about 15 minutes will force insects out of the soil. Snails, earthworms or other insects have got to go. A soaking will also help you scrub the pot clean using a stiff scrub brush. 

Second, evaluate your plants from an interior design standpoint. Did they get too big and outgrow the space this summer?  Can they be cut back, or divided and shared, to maintain an appropriate size?

Have on hand some fresh potting soil containing slow-release fertilizer, a few large size pots and saucers to choose from, and a long serrated bread knife for root pruning or dividing.  

   1.    Knock the plant out of the pot and evaluate how crowded the roots are. Is there a solid mass of white roots, or can you see some potting soil along the sides?  

   2.    Decide
        a.    to pot up to a larger size pot 
        b.    to root prune and return the plant to the same pot with some fresh soil (after scrubbing the pot inside and out) 
       c.    to divide in half and replant each half the plant into a pot with some fresh soil (two pots will be needed).

If potting up, add fresh potting soil to the bottom and sides of the larger container and pop in the plant.

If root pruning, slice away about an inch of the solid mass of roots from sides and bottom all the way around, using the long serrated bread knife. Then pot up as described above. Cut back top growth to the desired size using sharp pruners or utility shears.

If dividing the plant in half, shake some of the soil off of the roots and hunt for a natural division through the center of the plant. Use the long serrated bread knife to help saw the crown in half. Then pot up each half as described above, placing each new plant in the center of the new pot and adding fresh potting soil as needed. 

Clean your windows (perfect timing for Thanksgiving, too) to ensure that plants will get adequate light through the glass this winter. 

Place plants on waterproof saucers in your living space. The key will be to water appropriately, after the soil surface gets dry to the touch for a day or two. Beware! Overwatering is the #1 cause of death of houseplants. Indoors they won't need as much water as they did outside during our dry summer, but after the furnace kicks on, they will dry out a little more quickly.  Water succulents and Phalaenopsis moth orchids even less often, when the soil has been dry for several days.  Don’t water during dark, cloudy days or rainy weather because plants won’t get sufficient light indoors to dry out.

Of course the other option is to treat houseplants like cut flowers instead of like old friends, and toss them out (or into the compost pile) this time of year and start with fresh, vigorous nursery stock. Which way do you prefer? Let Crabapple know.   

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Lawn Care: Making your Fescue Lawn the Best It Can Be!

Although metro-Atlanta has had a taste of cool fall weather, it’s not yet time to call it quits on lawn care. Get the properties you manage prepped for winter with some last-minute tasks.

Thatch removal and raking off moldy grass clippings will alleviate disease pressure on the lawn, but better yet, try core aeration, particularly on Fescue turf this time of year. 

Since Fescue is a cool season grass, its most vigorous growth takes place from September/October through April/May. Aerating the lawn should be at the top of the list, since it opens up the soil and promotes a healthier lawn next spring. Water, air and nutrients more easily can make their way down to the roots of the grass plants, resulting in a more vigorous turf overall. The unobtrusive soil cores, scattered over the surface of the lawn, will dissolve during the rains of winter and recycle nutrients back to the soil.

The type and timing of fertilizer to be applied also depends on the type of grass. Crabapple LandscapExperts determine the best formula of fertilizer and the rates for optimizing their clients’ lawns. Proper management of Fescue provides a green turf all year long, in contrast to warm season lawns such as Bermuda or Zoysia that turn tan and go dormant during the winter. Three or four times during the cool months, about October, December, February and April, the LandscapExperts can apply a fertilizer formulated especially for cool season grasses. These products are designed to strengthen the root system and prevent winter injury to your lawn.

The late winter feeding (the end of February to early March), just before the lawn takes off for the Spring, is often an application of slow-release lawn food high in nitrogen. This fertilizer will promote a healthy green color and will feed the lawn for about two months of especially active growth. We generally apply a second application of slow release or organic fertilizer in April, but no later than May 1, to get a robust Fescue through the heat of summer.

Fall is a great time to add Lime to the soil to make it less acidic and closer to neutral, benefitting the lawn and making the nutrients in fertilizer more accessible for plant absorption.

Fall is also a great time to topdress the lawn by raking in some rich organic matter, filled with beneficial microorganisms that supply a natural boost to the grass plants, and mitigate the effects of compacted soils. 

As the wheel of the seasons turns to Fall, there is a lot of thoughtful maintenance that is required to keep the landscape on the properties you manage in top shape. Call the LandscapExperts at Crabapple to lend our expertise. 

Photo Credits: thanks to Royal Horticultural Society,, University of Florida