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Remove Buckthorn and Restore Your Vermont Woodlot

Winter can be a slower time in the landscaping business with fewer outdoor projects due to weather constraints.  But cold weather and frozen ground are the perfect working conditions to remove buckthorn from Vermont’s native landscape.  What is buckthorn?  Where did it come from?  Why should we remove buckthorn from our woodlands and landscapes?

Buckthorn, specifically common or European buckthorn, (Rhamnus cathartica) came to the United States from Eurasia in the 1800’s as a landscape plant for hedging.  Lacking natural pathogens and pests in its new North American environment, the buckthorn quickly escaped the landscape and began overtaking native woodlands.

Common buckthorn grows to to a mature height of 20′-25′ tall.  Buckthorn trunk diameter can grow up to about 10″ but most that we see in the Champlain Valley go from 1/2″ to 4.” Buckthorn has a glossy darker brown bark with noticeable lenticels.  Lenticels look a little bit like dashed lines making rings on the tree.  Older buckthorn has a rougher bark that may even peel a little bit like birch bark.  Common buckthorn has a very distinctive orange color sapwood which is located right under the bark.   With a simple scrape of a pruner or finger nail, you can easily make positive identification.  In the fall buckthorn holds green leaves well after other trees are bare.  Buckthorn trees tend to form dense tangled thickets crowding out light.  This species is a very prolific seeder and produces tons of little black berry-like fruits on the female trees.  Birds love eating the berries and readily spread the seeds with a little dose of fertilizer.

So why do we need to remove buckthorn from our Vermont woodlands?  Buckthorn crowds out native understory plants.  Buckthorn also crowds out successive species and can slow or stop natural forest succession.  Imagine woodlands without sugar maples…..  Forests that lack diversity of plants species soon begin to have lack of diversity in wildlife species as well.  The dense thickets of buckthorn shade out forest floor wildflowers and perennials which are key to stabilizing forest soils and preventing erosion.

So back to winter and how to remove buckthorn.  S & D Landscapes uses a technique that works with the native landscape and preserves soil integrity.  First we go through the woods and identify all the saplings of native species “hidden” in the buckthorn we want to preserve.  We then cut the buckthorn as close to the ground as possible and detangle the cut buckthorn thickets into piles.  We use our mini skid steer with grapple to gently weave the piles through the woods without damaging other trees and saplings.  The buckthorn is then chipped and the chips can be left on site as a mulch or we can haul them away for biomass fuel. As the cuts are still fresh we use an oil-carried systemic herbicide on the freshly cut stumps–application of this herbicide requires professional licensure.  Why herbicide?  The more “organic” option is to pull out the roots of the buckthorn.  We do not like to do this as stump pulling activities can damage the roots of desirable native species.  Pulling stumps loosens already fragile soil making erosion inevitable–further damaging native plants.  And finally, turning over soil and exposing it to air and light unleashes the ENORMOUS seed bank of buckthorn seeds dropped over the last five years creating a resprouting situation capable of doubling or tripling the parent buckthorn density.

Buckthorn management doesn’t end with removal and cut-stump treatment.  Nature abhors a vacuum and the buckthorn has a large seedbank.  Ongoing treatment during the growing season of the small buckthorn sprouts will minimize future need of large scale buckthorn removal.  It is also important to replenish the woodland with native species.  S & D Landscapes can help you plan, select, and install a variety of native understory perennials, shrubs, and trees that will help restore and reclaim your native woodlot.

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Weed Control in Turf

sprayingSummer is upon us and we have been experiencing a wonderful stretch of warm weather where we can be out enjoying our lawns and landscapes with friends and family.  As we’ve been playing kickball with the kids we may be noticing more than normal weeds in our lawns.  I thought it might be helpful to write about broad-leaf weed control in turf so we can understand more why there might be more weeds this summer.

The primary objective of every good turf weed control program is building a healthy stand of turf.  The healthier and and thicker the grass, the less opportunity we have for weed germination.  The weather we have been having this summer (to date) in northwestern Vermont has not been ideal for cool-season grass development.  We are experiencing borderline drought conditions and have had a slightly warmer than average temperature.  Cool season turf grows best up to 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  When the grass is less vigorous there is opportunity for weeds that are better adapted to these climatic conditions to invade the turf.

When the turf isn’t healthy or other conditions prevail that allow for weed growth we need to enhance the turf health strategy with some help from some selective herbicides.  Selective herbicides are those that can be applied to your lawn grass that will kill out the weeds while not killing the grass.  Round-up is a non-selective herbicide that will kill grass.  The only time Round-up should be used against turf weeds is during a completed turf renovation scenario–a blog post for another time.  There are many selective herbicide blends and brands.  Each blend has a series of weed targets that it will effectively control and it is important to match the correct herbicide to the correct weed pest to minimize the amount of herbicide applied.  Within the blends there are options on formulation either ester based or amine based.  In layman’s terms oil based vs. water based.  The ester formulations (oil based) are the most effective at the lowest dosage, but cannot be used in temperatures above seventies because they will volatilize.  The amine formulation (water based) can be used all summer.  The bottom line for all herbicides is that the weed needs to be actively growing to take in the herbicide at any dosage.  In the heat and drought many plants slow down growth and “close-up” to reduce the loss of their structural water to the atmosphere.  This slow down also drastically reduces the intake of the herbicide into the weed and thus will reduce efficacy of the herbicide.  So the hot dry weather has been doubly difficult for weeds in the turf.  Don’t despair.

If this describes your lawn and your struggle with weeds there are options.  First–hire a licensed professional.  In the state of Vermont you must be licensed to commercially apply pesticides.  This includes all applications including “I bought this at Home Depot.”  Second, work with a local company that knows turf care and local soil conditions and doesn’t just want to sell you on a program.  Third, analyze the program–does it focus on turf health?  How and when to they control weeds?  Is that the best weed control method for the best efficacy at the lowest input level?

We are fast approaching the best time of year to get your lawn back into shape–fall weed control, fall fertilization, full lawn renovation (seed or sod), and aeration and overseeding.  All are key strategies in winning the war on weeds.  We would love to talk to you about how we can make your weed control in turf more effective with less inputs.weed control in turf

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Watering the Vermont Lawn and Landscape

Summer is upon us here in the Champlain Valley and the mercury is rising, school is out and everyone is rushing out to enjoy the weather and some additional free time.  As we do that we notice that our lawns are brown and our landscapes are looking a bit sad.  We offer below some helpful watering tips to keep those lawns and landscapes performing with the smartest use of water.

The discussion begins with WHAT we are watering—lawn/turf or landscape planting—specifically what type of planting—tree, shrub, perennial, annual, or even vegetable garden.  Knowing WHAT we are watering will determine WHEN we should water and HOW we should water.

Beginning with lawns/turf as this is where we can typically see drought stress first.  In northern Vermont our lawns are predominantly a blend of Kentucky bluegrass varieties, fine fescue varieties, some perennial ryegrass varieties, and some tall fescue varieties.  All of these varieties are cool season turfs meaning they stop actively growing in temperatures above ~80 +/- degrees F.   Cool season grasses lose most of their water to a process called evapotranspiration (ET) where water is lost through the leaves of the plant (transpiration) and then evaporated into the environment.  Evapotranspiration occurs most rapidly under hotter temperatures and low relative humidity.  This means that your lawn will require more water under hot weather conditions or conditions with exceptionally low relative humidity.  The first is easy to track, but most of us when the temps are in the 60’s and 70’s don’t particularly track the humidity and this is where we miss the most watering.  The spring of 2015 saw huge ET losses to low relative humidity and lack of rainfall—many lawns were damaged because it happened early and irrigation systems weren’t on yet and it seemed to early to lug hoses and water lawns.  Evapotranspiration (ET) rates can also be changed by rooting depth—the more deeply a plant is rooted the more access to soil water it has and can replace water lost to ET.  Grass roots more deeply when the top (leaves) are cut at heights higher than 3”.  Dry weather conditions as well as ET water loss releases hormones in the grass and causes the elongation of fine root hairs (note here that heat stress can be good for further root development).  Water management for cool season turf then takes on a more holistic approach that includes mowing and fertility.  The goal of a summer water program should not be to push growth in cool season turf (unless under an athletic field program) but rather to simply replace water lost to ET and to keep grass crowns and rhizomes from drying out and dying.  To do this we recommend increasing mowing height to 3”-3.5”, mow with a sharp blade, and provide ample fertility–2 to 4 lbs of actual nitrogen per 1000 ft^2 split in four to five applications through the season.  This nitrogen should be >50% slow release.  Then, adherence to the mantra, water as deeply as possible as infrequently as possible, is key for building a great turf root system as well as developing healthy, well adapted, cool season turf grass.  The actual amount of water needed varies from site to site based on how exposure and soils affect the ET rates of the grass.  We would be happy to help you perform a site irrigation audit to assist you in developing a great watering program.  All watering of turf should begin at about 4 AM and should be wrapped up by 8:30 AM to 9:00 AM.  It is best to not keep blades of grass wet after dark particularly during hot weather.  Sprinklers installed with an appropriately designed irrigation system have the best, most even, and most efficient delivery of water to the turf.  We work with two irrigation companies in the area and would be happy to refer you based on your needs.

Vermont Irrigation and Aquarius Landscape Sprinklers

The how and when of watering landscape elements—trees, shrubs, and perennials is very different from turf watering practices.  Landscape plants still lose water through ET, but because they have larger and deeper root systems than turf, these plants have access to more water stored in the soil.  Because of the deeper root system it is important to not over water these plants as it will stunt root zone development—remember not all stress is bad.  In fact, unless just being established properly located (right plant in the right place) landscape plants should require almost no supplemental water post establishment.  We strongly discourage irrigation systems in landscape plantings except in a very limited number of circumstances.  We also in these circumstances prefer drip systems due to the timing of establishment watering.  Establishment watering of new landscapes is key.  Plants that get put in the ground during a new installation are growing on limited root systems either established in the ground and then cut or established in a pot and constrained.  In all circumstances, nursery stock must remain watered multiple times per day to keep the foliage growing well on its limited roots.  When transplanted into the new landscape the roots can now grow into the soil, but they must have some of the old watering habits to nurse the landscape plants through this process.  Upon installation we suggest daily watering in the morning and the evening simply using the open end of a garden hose.  Thoroughly soak the root zone of the plant with a good volume of water making sure to soak the transplanted root system as well as the surrounding soil.  Depending on soil type you might have to water each plant in short bursts you may flood to a run-off point before you have thoroughly soaked into the soil profile.  Having a trowel or soil probe to poke down into the soil to check for moisture at depth is key.  After a few days of morning and evening we suggest backing off to evenings only depending on weather.  In the evening check the plants—if the sun has gone down and things are cooling off and the plants are wilting—provide ample soaking.  If the plants are not wilting and the soil tests dry, water deeply just as you water the wilting plant.  If the plant is not wilting and the soil is damp, pass on watering.  Check the next night.  The idea of this process is a slow weaning of the plant off of the regular watering.  Note that hotter days will require more attention as will days with a heavy breeze and low relative humidity.  As we get ample rainfall stretch the distance between watering and only water if absolutely dry and wilting.  When plants work for their water under stress conditions (within reason) they release hormones that allow for further root hair growth and become more suited to their environment and require less input from us the landscape managers.  This makes the plants more resistant to drought, disease, and insects.

The keys to a good turf and landscape watering program are

-Proper plant selection and proper turfgrass variety selection is key in reducing the need for water.

-A calibrated and consistent method for delivering water to the plants/turf in need delivers the best results without wasting water.

-More does not make enough better—plants and turf that work for water (not overwork) become better suited to their environment and in the long term require less input.

-Observation is key—follow the plant and turf cues for watering.  In plants wilting leaves even after the cool of the evening and in turf loss of color.


Do you feel your landscape requires too much water?  Are you struggling to provide enough water to keep things looking sharp?  Is your new landscape installation struggling to adapt to its new home?  We would love to meet with you to discuss how we can renovate and maintain your lawn and landscape to give you the most performance with the least amount of watering input.

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Fertilizer for the lawn–what’s in the bag?

Today’s post on lawn fertilizers is from Joe Charbonneau from Valley Green Turf  of Holyoke, MA.  Joe lives in Manchester Vermont and supplies golf course and lawn care companies through out Vermont and northern New York.  Before working with Valley Green, Joe spent a number of years as the superintendent of the Equinox in Manchester.  Joe has been working with us since 2008 supplying fertilizers and consulting in special cases.  We are honored to have him share his knowledge about turf fertilizers with us today.  So without further fanfare here’s Joe……

A fertilizer provides a balance feeding for grass/turf plants just as food and drink does for our bodies.  There is not just one nutrient that the plant requires to flourish but many which will be discussed in general terms in this posting.  We will also discuss organic vs synthetic based components that comprise each and every bag or gallon.

The Label is broken up into numbers that represent both the macro and minor nutrient content of the product. The “big 3” or N-P-K are the big bold numbers that are represented by the percent in the bag.

  • N- Nitrogen: supplies the food for top growth and color for the grass plant. Affects all metabolic processes of the plant
  • P- Phosphorous: supplies food for root, rhizome, and stolon growth of plant. Essential for seeding   Remember: application of P to established turf without a soil analysis stating that there is a P deficit is against state regulations in both Vermont and New York.
  • K- Potassium: supplies food to the plant that assists with rigidity of plant through enhancing cell structure

One will also find a listing of minor nutrients found in the bag that will include Calcium which is thought by some as being part of the “big 3” because of its relationship to plant and soil structure. Also the minor elements Iron, Magnesium, and Manganese will be listed, all of which have an impact on chlorophyll production or “greening without growth”.

The label will also list sources of nutrients such as:

  • Synthetic- Urea, Methylene Urea, Ammoninical Nitrogen, UMAXX, UFLEXX, SCU, XCU, Duration, and SurfCote. All these Nitrogen sources have different longevity of releases and speed of release which equates to how hot the fertilizer is on the plant, burn potential and longevity.
  • Mineral- Sulfate of Potash, Muriate of Potash, Phosphorous- Mined from the earth
  • Organic- SunFlower Ash, Poultry Liter, Feather Meal, Blood Meal, Bio Solids

When a consumer or professional turf manager selects a Fertilizer Formulations all these aspects of the fertilizer label are considered in the selection.  Often times a soil analysis is examined and deficits of nutrients are also addressed.

As a person with over 40 years as a turf manager, consultant, and now sales of turf products; here are a few basics of choosing an appropriate fertilizer for your lawn.

  • Examine the N-P-K of the label to figure how much Nitrogen is in the bag and ensure more value for the dollar. This is done by multiplying the %N by the pounds of fertilizer in the bag so a 50# bag of a 25-0-5 has 12.5# N in the bag. A 50# bag of 25-0-5 has twice the N and twice the square foot coverage as a 25# bag.
  • Examine how much slowly available (slow release) Nitrogen is in the bag. Most bags available to the consumer at a big box store are between 15-30% slowly available N.  This is fine for early season application to get a short lived, fast growth burst to quickly recover from the ravages of winter, but sustained, steady growth is the goal of a fertility program for your lawn. Look for a minimum of 40-70% slowly available Nitrogen to achieve healthier turf and less spikes in growth.
  • Slowly Available Nitrogen coupled with small amounts of readily availabe Nitrogen in a bag gives you the ultimate in balance of cost.
  • Nitrogen Sources will vary your release also. Methylene ureas depend on soil temperatures, coated material need both water and soil temps, and organics need both soil temps and water to change nutrients to available forms so the plant can utilize it.  Organic fertilizers also add one additional very important element: CARBON which is the key to growth in the soil.
  • Want to jump on the CARBON wagon?? This is an investment the soil that turf grows in and will cost more money and takes a couple of years before the investment starts to pay dividends.

Bottom Line here is “that all fertilizers are alike but not the same”.  Unless you know the relationship between plant and soil, get the advice from a Lawn Care Professional.  By applying fertilizer high in readily available Nitrogen will produce a lot of lush top growth and at first observation look great but the plants roots and soil environment have not been addressed.  When environmental stresses hit of summer or winter, the roots and soil will not get the top growth of the plant through the period and thus will go dormant or perish.

Does your lawn fertilization program need help?  Aaron or Joe would love to talk to you about how you can improve your turf while keeping to your budget.  S & D Landscapes is proud to offer a wide variety of professional turf care programs.

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Athletic Turf-establishing a budget friendly, environmentally sound, and effective management plan

Athletic turf is America’s most high profile lawn–from the Master’s golf tournament in Augusta Georgia, to Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, Americans spend hours watching teams from little league to the major leagues show off their skills on athletic turf.  Athletic turf most often shows up at schools and park districts and it broader than just baseball, football, and soccer fields.  Playgrounds also require management similar to athletic fields.  Because most of these facilities are in the public eye and involve our children, there are strong feelings, that are not necessarily scientifically founded, that skew the way we are allowed to manage the athletic turf.  We have invited friend and mentor Tim Madden from Northeast Nursery, Greenhouse, and Turf Supply to give some guidelines for some practical athletic turf management techniques.  Tim has an extensive background from the world of golf courses.  He was past superintendent at the Edison Club, Mount Snow Resort, and the Equinox–so without further fanfare here is Tim…….

Today’s expectation for the quality of the playing surface is pretty high for most of our outdoor games, but seemingly seldom able to please either the athlete or coaches. For decades now television has shown us just how perfect a venue for competition can be; The Masters, World Cup, and MLB all show us what turfgrass can look like with the right amount of knowhow and resources. The two things that many schools and towns are lacking during tight fiscal times. When money gets tight it’s typically the maintenance budget that takes a hit first, and often the maintenance of the playing fields, beyond mowing and marking, is the first area to be cut. Basic field maintenance does not have to be costly, and with a longer term view of the health of the grass, real results can be achieved.

First, test the soil by a reputable lab, and have results reviewed by a professional in the turfgrass maintenance field. The pH of the soil is typically the starting point to look at and the easiest to correct if necessary. Often this alone may result in dramatic changes to the vigor of the field. When the pH is in the correct range for the soil type and grass species the other nutrients in the soil are more readily available for the plants to use resulting in stronger, healthier fields. Adjustments and additional inputs can be made after this has been realized.

Secondly, make some holes. Athletic fields take a beating, and much of it concentrated in a few small areas; in soccer It’s at the goals and centerfield, in baseball the outfielders positions and the mound walk-off. You see this wear because the constant traffic compacts the soil eliminating the space between soil particles, pore space. Without pore space there is no place for water and air in the soil. Water as we all know is necessary for all life. The air in the soil is required for the chemical reaction to take place that allows water and nutrients to enter the root hairs to nourish the plant. Aerating the fields routinely helps relieve the compaction and results in a soil that can hold the air and water necessary for growth. This process does take a specialized piece of equipment of which there are many options, some better than most. The ability to make a deep, clean hole with proper spacing is key. Many machines only take shallow, widely spaced plugs and are more of a ‘feel good’ program than those that offer real results. Check with a company that focuses on turfgrass maintenance and see if they have the equipment and staff to do this properly.

Third, understand that not all grasses are created equal. Seed companies spend years and a whole lot of money, to breed and test grass species for specific applications; wear tolerance, drought tolerance, color, dwarf habit, low fertility needs, and much more. These typically are not what you will find on the shelf at your local hardware store. Sales people and your lawn care specialist are up to speed on what’s available and the best option for a specific area of use. What’s best on a soccer field may not be the same for around the school grounds. For additional information look at the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) website. Overseeding into an established stand of grass at aerating time is a great strategy, the holes make for very good seedbed; protected from foot traffic as they germinate and start to grow, and not as likely to dry out quickly being out of direct sunlight. Introducing newer species chosen for your site will help with the long term improvement of your fields.

Fourth, fight the weeds. This is a sensitive topic these days with pressure on to reduce the use of pesticides. But strong arguments can be made for the use of periodic applications of control products to reduce the populations of broadleaf weeds and weed grasses in in a playing surface, not the least among them is the safety of the athlete. While one goal of a good field may be to allow proper roll of the ball, proper traction and cushion during falls is another. High populations of clover, dandelion, plantain, crabgrass, and other weeds, diminishes those qualities sought for a great field. Organic options are available though, at this time, not especially effective and much more costly than traditional herbicides.

This was by no means meant to be a definitive’ how to’ take care of your fields, but a quick review of some of the basics required for managing turfgrass. Always consult with professional in turfgrass management before acting on any of these steps, there’s a bit more to each of them than what’s been written here.

To maximize the maintenance budget of your local parks and schools we suggest consulting with a turf professional like Tim or Aaron to get a balanced, budget friendly, environmentally sound, and effective athletic turf management program in place.

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Landscape Renovation

The snow is rapidly melting off the lawns and landscapes of Essex and Essex Junction and things are progressing right into the spring season.  Snow is a wonderful medium that can cover lawns and landscapes hiding from your view for five months the overgrown plant material that was installed when the house was built in 1990, 1970, 1950 or earlier.  Spring is the time when most people notice their property is in dire need of a landscape renovation.  Landscape renovation is a unique, section by section approach to updating the property’s curb appeal that uses low impact machinery and installation technique to preserve mature elements of the landscape that are not overgrown or failing.

What are the steps for planning a successful landscape renovation?

1.  Audit the existing landscape and see what is performing well and what is not performing.  Take an inventory of plants that have out grown the space and are beyond rejuvenative pruning.  Is the lawn doing well or have trees grown up and shaded it–would a shade loving perennial garden be a better use of the space?  Are the foundation plantings too close to the house holding moisture against the walls and rotting the siding and trim?  Do you need to add nutrients to the soil?  What is the pH?  Perform a soil test.  Do any structures in the landscape–sheds, fences, playsets need to be added or removed?  Are there any noxious weeds that require a special management plan so they do not crop up again in the renovated landscape?  Is surface water an issue?  Is there water coming into the basement?

2.  Plan your landscape renovation.  We suggest using a trained landscape designer that can analyze the audit results, make sound recommendations on what should stay and what should be removed, and assemble a comprehensive plan for the entire property.  The designer will also be able to give a structured plan for installation that minimizes disturbance to the surrounding landscape and does not duplicate work.  It is important at this stage to look at the landscape as a whole to make the most cost effective plan for execution.  Good landscape designers will focus on the mature sizes of all plants both new and existing in the plan and will design will mature size in mind.  Putting a plant that has a mature size of 10′ x 10′ into a 6′ x 6′ space just means the landscape will overgrow again and will be a maintenance headache.  Not to mention, think of all the lost weekends to the hedge trimmers and pruners!!

3.  Install your landscape renovation.  Landscape renovations require precision and finesse as well as a different list of equipment compared to landscape installation for new sites.  Preserving existing lawns, trees, and shrubs requires a light foot print to avoid compaction as well as minimal root zone disturbance during excavation.  Avoid full size machines unless the landscape renovation is of a significant size.  Timing is important particularly if there will be transplanting of existing materials.  Onsite water is always key to aid in thorough transplantation and planting as well as managing stress of the remaining plants that may have damaged root zones.

4.  Sustain your landscape renovation.  Landscape renovations unlike home renovations require the utmost of care upon completion.  If designed and installed properly the regular maintenance should in fact decrease as a function of time, but immediately will require regular watering, adequate mulching, weeding, some fertilization, and pruning.  Newly installed plants and transplants are often more susceptible to insect and fungal pathogens during the initial transplantation shock.  Hiring a company that does both landscape renovations and maintenance is the best way to insure the success of your landscape renovation as they can provide the necessary inputs and care while monitoring for diseases and pests.

As the snow melts and the home landscapes become visible again, is your property in need of a facelift–has 1983 called asking for its overgrown landscape back?  We would love to work with you to help audit, plan, install, and maintain your landscape renovation.  Schedule a consultation today to discuss landscape renovation plans for your home.


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Spring clean-up and tree ring mulching

Spring is just around the corner here in Essex Vermont and many will begin thinking about a spring clean-up for their landscape.  We love our bark mulch here and a fresh layer of bark mulch around trees and plants can be just the shot in the arm that wakes us up from the winter blues.  I know for me just the smell of the fresh mulch really tells me that the winter has passed and we are on to new and fresher things.

One of the most important areas to mulch during the spring clean-up in your landscaping is around trees.  Trees benefit hugely from mulch rings for the following reasons:

-lessened compaction of the root zone

-no competition from turf

-reduced soil erosion

-water preservation

-protection from string trimmers and lawn equipment

If you have trees in the landscape that stand alone in lawn areas or in green belts mulch rings are a great plan.  Incorrect mulch ring installation can result in long term damage and even death of the tree.  Below are some pictures of trees that are improperly mulched.  Note how the mulch ring is small and the mulch covers the trunk of the tree–particularly the root flare.

Mulch rings should be a minimum of 6′ in diameter and should be spade edged to prevent grass from creeping into the mulch.  Mulch should be a shredded bark product ~3″ in total depth, and should not cover the root flair of the tree or any portion of the trunk.

Here is a schematic showing an appropriate mulching arrangement.

Mulching trees is imperative to good tree health, but there is too much of a good thing.  Please don’t just dump and run mulch up on the trunk of the tree and covering the root flair.  This is the #1 cause of stem girdling roots which if left unchecked are fatal to the tree.  The best suggestion is leave the spring clean-up and landscape maintenance to the pros to insure the long term health of the trees in your landscape.


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Fall Clean-up for Vermont’s abundant foliage

Fall gently drifts down to us here in the Champlain Valley–the days get shorter, the nights get cooler, the mornings get foggy, and we begin to see a blaze of color, first slowly then surely creep down the mountains and brighten our short sunny afternoons with hues of red, orange, and yellow.  One last hurrah before the cold grayness of winter sets in from November till April.

Now is the time to make preparations for fall clean-up service for your property.  Your weekend time should be spent out enjoying the last sunny days of autumn not laboring over a leaf rake and a tarp trying to win the war against the fall foliage.  At S & D Landscapes we are well equipped to efficiently remove leaves from your lawn and landscape.  We have a collection of leaf blowers, bagging systems, leaf plows, and a truck loader that can make very swift work of the largest volumes of leaves.  Leaf removal is included in our seasonal maintenance programs and we schedule several visits for each property depending on the tree/leaf cover anticipated on the property.  We do have some slots for clients who would just have us do a fall clean-up, but we give first priority to our regular seasonal contracts and we would be happy to sign you up for 2015 landscape maintenance services and we can include the remainder of 2014 services including fall clean-up.

Fall clean-up 3013 piles out for pickup



Our fall clean-up services include blowing/removing all leaves from the landscape beds and the lawn areas.  We also remove leaves from driveways, decks, walkways, and patios.  The property is left spotlessly clean for every fall clean-up visit on the off chance that snow will cut our season short.  Heavy leaf debris on lawns can cause some smothering damage and later spring green up if left untended.  Leaf litter makes a great mulch for perennials but only hinders clean-up efforts in the spring.  We encourage regular mulching so that leaves can be removed from the planting beds in the fall.  We cut back all perennials except perennial grasses and remove all the spent tops.  The lawns will be mowed as needed and the final cut will be between 2.5″ and 3″.  We have a truckloader and can swiftly remove our piles from the curblines.  If accessible and appropriate we can also blow leaves into woods areas as well.  All of our leaves are composted and recycled back into landscaping and gardening projects.

Don’t let leaves be a hassle this fall–let S & D Landscapes be your one stop landscape maintenance solution–including fall clean-up.  After leaf clean-up comes winter……and we switch from leaf blowing to snowblowing.

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Retaining wall 101. The anatomy of a dry stacked wall and how stone choice affects the formality of a hardscape

Today’s post on retaining walls in the landscape comes from Richmond native Doug Nolan, owner/operator of Stonescapes Inc.  Doug and his business partner Fred have built many walls, walkways, and patios throughout Vermont and New Hampshire for over 22 years.  Hardscapes are key elements of many landscapes and it is imperative that they be constructed well so that they stand the test of time.  The plantings surrounding your hardscape need time to establish into full mature size and shape.  It is devastating to the landscape to have to pull plants to come back through and re-construct the failed hardscape.  Starting with a good design and following with sound hardscape construction technique will insure the success of your landscape many years into the future.

A retaining wall should  be built upon a base of  geotextile fabric and  6” to 8” of crushed stone-more if you are building in an area that has a lot of clay soil.  The base of a retaining wall should be as thick as it is tall up to 3’ in height. If you are building a wall that is 4’ or more, the base should be two thirds the height

For example the wall pictured is roughly 14’ in height,  so the base is 9’ 3” in thickness. The back of the wall slowly tapers over the total height of the wall to a cap width of 2’.  When building a wall, you stack a face course which, is the front of the wall stack back building courses, which make up the middle and back of the wall. Face stones should extend into the middle and to the back of the wall every 3’ to 5’ over the distance of the wall. This should happen on succeeding courses as the wall gets taller. Each stone that is stacked  in the wall should be level or pitch slightly towards the back of the wall. If a stone tips towards the front. Over  time it will slide out which will cause more stones to slip out and will eventually cause the wall to fall apart. Wall stones should also be stacked so that joints are covered. For example,  you place two stones together  that are approximately 4” in height . These two stones have a joint in between  them. When building the next course you should place a stone directly over this joint . This will make the wall stronger because you  will not have a vertical joint traveling up the wall. The wall can be stacked so that it is plumb or has a batter. Plumb means that a surface is perfectly level from bottom to top and batter means that a surface has a slight pitch from bottom to top. In most situations walls should have a batter. Retaining walls should also have a layer of crushed stone and geotextile fabric between the back course and the earth they are retaining. The geotextile fabric allows water to travel through but will not allow silt to work its way into the wall.  The crushed stone allows the water to find an easy path back to the ground or to a perferated drain pipe laid behind the wall. Dry stacked retaining walls, when built correctly,  allow water to travel through them and do very well with frost.

Stone choice sets the theme for the wall.

When building a wall: you can use round stone, flat stone, quarried stone, stone recycled from old foundations or walls, or large stones that you set with excavators.  Each of these choices will give a certain flavor to the wall. Round stone and large stone tend to look less formal. They  make a hardscape feel more relaxed. Stones collected form old foundations or from old walls also lend themselves to this relaxed feeling. These stones often have moss and lichen on them and a  patina that only comes from being exposed to the  patterns of weather for decades.  Flat stone and quarried stones give the hardscape a more formal feel. This type of stone tends to be smaller in size and has a block-y feel to it. You can stack the courses level and  have extremly tight joints. This stone is great for building smaller retaining walls where you want to see more detail. It is also great for architectural details like cheek-walls next to steps or column details to end walls with.


Retaining walls add function to a landscape by creating level areas above or below. They also create great back drops  for trees, shrubs, and perennial plants.  Proper construction is key so that the planting can grow into maturity with no disruption–Stonescapes Inc. and S & D Landscapes LLC can bring a hardscape/softscape combo that will beautify your home now and into the future.


Fall is for Planting

September has come in warm in northern Vermont, but the forecast shows cooling and fall rains perfect conditions for planting.  Most people see Labor day as the official end of summer and the beginning of winter and they push back their landscaping plans till the following spring.  Let’s not be too hasty.  Fall is perhaps the best time to establish a new lawn or landscape.  Typical Vermont fall days include cooling temperatures, consistent rainfall, and heavy morning dew.  These ideal conditions allow new plants and grass easy establishment before winter’s cold and spring cool temperatures help complete establishment before the onslaught of the following summer’s heat and drought stress.  What are good fall planting tasks?  Let’s divide this into three major planting types–landscaping trees, shrubs, and perennials, lawns and turf, and fall and spring seasonal color. Landscaping trees, shrubs, and perennials: There are many trees, shrubs, and perennials that provide awesome fall interest either through late season flowers, gentle waving seed heads, or brilliant fall foliage colors.  Perhaps your landscape is in need of some late season pizzazz. and now is the time when we can see what is missing and see exactly how we can improve the late season color.  Nurseries also have an opportunity to dig field grown materials again in the fall when the weather cools.  That flowering tree you had your eye on in the spring, intended to plant in the summer but it was sold out will become an option again–don’t miss a tremendous spring flowering display for another season.  There is still also ample time in the fall for planting the landscape of your dreams–start the 2015 season off enjoying your new landscape not on a waiting list by preemptively  installing your landscape in the fall of 2014. Lawns and turf: Fall is the best season to for planting a new lawn or rejuvenating an existing lawn.  If your existing turf is tired from the summer heat and drought but still has over 70% density we suggest a fall aeration and overseeding as well as a fertilization application.  If your lawn has poor density and tons of weeds we can thoroughly renovate and install sod.  You can see a new lawn we installed last October here.  When spring comes you are out playing kickball with your kids on dense, well established turf.  We use the highest quality sod direct from Green Thumb Farms, and we have specialty equipment for renovating lawns and creating an ideal root-zone for fantastic lawn quality. Seasonal Color: Fall offers many colors–reds, oranges, and yellows and we at S & D can enhance these warm tones with a planting of fall mums–bright colors to enjoy during the cooler autumn days before the onslaught of winter.  Mums are available as mass plantings in landscape beds or as a switch over in container plantings.  Beyond mums there are many other fall annuals that can be mixed and matched to create a vibrant celebration of these autumnal days.  In anticipation of spring 2015 there is a window for planting bulbs–tulips, daffodils, gladiolas, hyacinths in the later fall and we can provide this service as well. Fall brings a ton of opportunity for planting and enhancement both to add color now and in the future.  We would love to setup a meeting with you to discuss how S & D Landscapes can partner with you to bring you the most value from your landscaping investment.