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Friday, August 26, 2016

Pests to Watch for: Asian Longhorned Beetle

In a world of global commerce and travel, it's inevitable that species will find themselves living in new places both by accident and by design. Some of our most beloved garden plants are from other continents, and they get along quite well with our native plants. However, some non-native species can invade an ecosystem and cause all kinds of damage to the unsuspecting native flora and fauna. Today we'll introduce a particularly insidious new invader with the potential to change both our wild and managed landscapes: the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

What is the Asian Longhorned Beetle, and why is it important?

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As you may guess, the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) is from Asia - specifically China and the Korean Peninsula - and it probably got here on wood packing materials like crates (this is also the way the invasive Emerald Ash Borer made it's way here). The insect attacks a wide range of trees including all maples, ashes, elms, sycamores, birches, and many more. An un-treated infestation will inevitably result in tree death. With such a wide range of vulnerable trees, it is estimated that communities could lose 30% or more of their trees if ALB becomes established. The good news is that so far this beetle has only been found in the wild in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts, and all of those outbreaks have been successfully contained. The bad news is that the beetles have been found in packing materials in warehouses in an additional 11 states (including Indiana), so we have to be vigilant to prevent a catastrophe in our state's cities and forests.

How does ALB affect a tree?

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The distinctive adult beetles are easy to spot, but it's the larvae that do damage to a tree. Adult females lay eggs on the bark of a tree, and once the larva hatches it burrows into the wood of the tree in the trunk or a large limb. When it first emerges it feeds on the outer layers of wood, and these are the layers that are critical for transporting water and nutrients and growing new wood. As the larva grow they burrow deeper into the heartwood where they can significantly weaken branches. The larvae can grow up to 2.5" inches long and nearly half an inch in diameter. After spending time as a pupa deep within the tree, it emerges as an adult and chews its way out of the tree to mate and feed on leaves and bark. The tree is gradually weakened as its ability to transport food and water is reduced by the larvae feeding on the critical outer layers of wood. The tree starts to visibly struggle 3-4 years after the initial infestation, and the tree will usually die 10-15 years after being attacked. In the meantime, large limbs may fall and damage property as they are weakened by the burrowing of the larvae.

How can I tell if my tree has ALB?

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There are several indicators to watch out for. For one thing, the adult beetles are hard to miss. At 1-1.5" long they're fairly big, and with their long curving antennae, black bodies with white spots, and blue feet, they don't look like many other beetles you'll see. They can emerge at just about any time of year, but their activity peaks in late summer and early fall. Two other easy-to-spot indicators are the adult exit holes and frass. Adult exit holes are round circles about 3/8" of an inch across (see photo to the left), large enough to fit a pencil inside. Frass is the excrement from the larvae as they feed on the wood. It looks a lot like sawdust and can be found on the ground under the tree or on branches. ALB is not the only tree pest that has exit holes or produces sawdust-like frass, but most other borer beetles we see around here don't make holes nearly as big as ALB. If you look closer you may also notice little oval-shaped depressions in the bark where the female lays her eggs. Branches that fall off of an infested tree will have large holes bored through them from the larvae feeding. Infested trees will have yellowing or dying branches after a few years, but many other insect, disease, and environmental factors can also cause yellowing leaves or canopy dieback.

What can be done for an ALB-infested tree?

Unfortunately, not much. It is very difficult for insecticides to reach the larvae once they make it into the heartwood of the tree. The best response is to cut down the tree and destroy it to ensure that no eggs, larvae, pupae, or adults survive to attack another tree. Since treatment isn't an option, the best course of action is to make sure your trees are healthy (stressed trees are always more vulnerable to insect and disease invaders than healthy trees) and to spread the word to make sure everyone is on the lookout for this dangerous beetle.

What is being done to keep ALB out?

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA is on red alert to prevent the beetle from making it here in the first place whenever possible. Wood packing materials coming from Asia are now subject to new regulations to ensure that no living things are present before they are shipped to the U.S. Travelers coming from regions where ALB lives have their luggage inspected if they are carrying any plant material (already standard practice to catch a whole range of potentially dangerous species). Any piece of cargo that is suspected of carrying ALB is immediately quarantined, and the area is searched in case any escaped. APHIS is doing what they can to prevent another outbreak, however it's impossible to be 100% effective. That's why it's so important that average citizens like you and me are informed an on the lookout. If you think you see ALB, it is important that you report it immediately. Here in Indiana you can call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on their toll-free line: 1-866-663-9684 (1-886-NO-EXOTIC)

Want to learn more?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Proper Tree Pruning: There's more to it than you think

It's time for another tree care lesson! If you need a refresher on why we value trees so much, check out last year's post on the top 10 benefits of urban trees. Today we'll talk about proper pruning technique and why it's so important.

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Flush cuts leave large wounds.
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If you've ever needed to prune a tree branch and you haven't been trained on the best methods, chances are you've done one of two things: cut the branch somewhere in the middle to meet whatever clearance needs you're trying to achieve, or cut the branch off flush with the trunk. Both of these are bad for the tree. Trees can't heal wounds in the way people heal cuts on their skin. The tree has to grow new bark from the areas around the cut to seal off the damage, and some parts of the tree are better at this than others. When you cut a branch in the middle, the bark just below that wound can't wrap around and seal off the cut, so instead the branch just dies back to a spot lower down the branch where it can seal itself off, and you're left with a stub that will die. If you cut the branch flush with the trunk, you're creating a much larger wound that provides a bigger area for insects and disease to invade, and it takes longer for the tree to seal it off. The tree pictured above has been pruned properly, and you can see that new bark has totally covered the cuts over the years. Learn how to get these results below.

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So where should you make a cut? There's a sweet spot at the base of a branch just before where it connects to another limb or to the trunk. There is a ridge of bark on the top of the branch and a little bump called the branch collar on the bottom. Your goal is to cut just on the outside of these two structure. See the diagram above for an example. It won't always be easy to spot the branch collar on the bottom, so if you aren't sure make your best guess. The angle of the cut should follow the angle of an imaginary line connecting the bark ridge and branch collar. If you're having trouble finding the branch collar, make the angle match the angle of the bark ridge as it extends into the trunk.

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If you look at a branch that has broken off in a storm, you will sometimes notice that the weight of the falling branch caused a strip of bark to rip off of the trunk as it fell. This can also happen when a branch breaks as you work on sawing though it, and ripping bark like that leaves a wound that can be difficult for a tree to heal over. If you are removing a branch larger than 1" in diameter, you need to use the three cut technique to avoid tearing the bark. First you make a cut on the bottom of the branch further up than where your ideal cutting zone is. This cut should go about a third of the way into the branch. Next, you cut off the branch on the outside of this pre-cut. If the bark starts to rip, it will stop when it gets to your first cut. Your third cut should be at the base of the branch in the sweet spot we discussed above.

Congratulations! You now know how to prune your trees to keep them happy and healthy for years to come! Please spread your knowledge, and never hesitate to ask a professional for help if you have questions.

Friday, August 5, 2016

August Featured Plant: Liriope

Here at the office, we like to joke that it's not a GoG garden unless it has liriope! We certainly do use this grassy plant a lot, and with good reason. With clean, tidy foliage and a pleasant surprise of purple flowers in late summer, it thrives in many conditions and matures to be a dense, low-maintenance groundcover suitable for a wide variety of soil conditions.

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Liriope is not technically a grass, but it looks like a grass and is valued for its foliage like a grass would be, so it's considered a grass-like perennial. It is actually classified in the same family as asparagus. In warmer climates, liriope is evergreen. Even here in Indiana it remains green into the winter, but it eventually turns brown before the spring unless we have a very mild winter. Liriope will spread gradually through its roots to form a dense turf. The purple flowers in August and September are a bonus feature for this attractive foliage plant. The small purple blossoms eventually give way to glossy black berries that stay on their stalks through the fall.

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Common Name: Liriope (sometimes Lilyturf)

Scientific Name: Liriope spicata or Liriope muscari

Notable Varieties: 'Big Blue' (overall improved variety), 'Variegata' (white stripes on edges of leaves), 'Silver Dragon' (white flowers, white stripes on edges of leaves

Light: full to partial sun

Size: 1-2' tall, spreading to fill a space

Soil: will tolerate drought and low fertility soils; does not like soggy soil

Blooms: purple flower spikes about the same height at the foliage in August and September

Other Notes: deer and rabbits don't eat it; keep a border between liriope and a lawn so the grass doesn't grow into the liriope

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Singin' in the Rain with the TF Publishing Bio-Swale

The bio-swale at TF Publishing is one of our few non-residential projects. Ordinarily you wouldn't think of commercial landscaping as something to get excited about, but this site is special. The building is in an industrial/commercial complex on the Northwest side of Indianapolis. We started with an existing drainage swale along the entire front of the building, some outdated and overgrown landscaping, and a tiny concrete landing in front of the building entrance, and we transformed it into a environmentally-friendly, native-plant-filled, bound-to-be-gorgeous bio-swale and paved entry patio.

This tiny native grass will
grow to fill in the swale.
“Green Infrastructure” projects - such bio-swales and rain gardens - are important for many reasons. First, the storm water is slowed and allowed to pool, keeping a volume out of the actual storm sewers. When the storm sewers in Indianapolis become overloaded in heavy rains, the system combines with the sanitary sewers because it has nowhere else to go, and then this contaminated water is released into the White River and our other natural waterways. This happens every time we get a rain heavy enough to overload the storm sewer system. Sometimes as little as a quarter inch of rain is enough to overload the system. By giving the storm water a place to pool up before it goes into the sewer, projects like this bio-swale help to keep the storm sewers from being overloaded and polluting our river.

The native grasses and wildflowers planted in the bio-swale are also doing a very important job for the health of our environment. Once established, these plants will have very long root systems (6-10’ into the ground), that create tiny channels for the storm water to infiltrate into the ground and eventually recharge the groundwater aquifers. As the water filters through the soil, pollutants from the road and roof. The native plant species also provide host plants for bugs and butterflies, and provide other benefits you can read about in our post last year on the value of native plants.

One of our helpers got sleepy and took a break.
GOG excavated the existing swale down as much as the permit would allow, and built a boulder wall to hold up the ornamental landscape beds. We also replaced their tiny concrete landing with a beautiful paver patio with a limestone wall. We are still working on fabrication of a custom handrail made with steel cables for the patio. The staff at TF Publishing wanted to plant the entire bio-swale themselves in order to give them a connection to the project and take pride in their new environmentally friendly landscape. On planting day, 12 people (and one dog) from TF and two of us from GOG planted 1,200 plugs.

Want to make your office or home more sustainable? We can do it with style! Contact us for information about how we can design, build, and maintain "green" landscapes.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Criminal Critters: Management Strategies

Guilty. No doubt about it.
Image source: Kelsey Behl
Last week we met our prime suspects for animal damage in the landscape. This week we'll turn to management strategies. There are five main options: taste and odor repellents, visual and sound repellents, poisons and traps, altering the habitat, and professional grade repellents and trapping services.

Taste and odor repellents include most of the products you'll find at the garden center. Most rely on smells like rotten eggs and garlic combined with a spicy pepper flavor to keep critters away, but there are some products that use animal pheromones to signal to specific animals that the area not safe. Sprays and granules are common options, and there are some slow-release odor products as well. Some common DIY remedies fall into this category as well, such as hanging human hair or chunks of bar soap. These repellents are popular because they're easy to find, but their effectiveness varies widely, and it can be expensive to treat a large area all season. Specific products are designed for different animals, but these options can be used to control rabbits, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks.

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Visual and sound repellents aim to frighten away animals with strange and unexpected sights and sounds that could suggest danger. Options include motion-activated lights (for nighttime invaders), owl decoys, any moving shiny objects, and ultrasonic sound emitters. Sound and visual deterrents should not be used alone - animals quickly learn what does and does not pose a real threat. They are most effective when combined with taste and odor repellents and when changed frequently. These methods are most effective for deer, but can also help with rabbits

Next up are poisons and traps. These are especially effective for moles, which can't be controlled by any of the other methods we mention. Poison bait worms and peanuts work fairly well for moles, and there are also metal traps you can set in their tunnels. There are live traps for chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons if you prefer an option that doesn't kill the animal, but most of the methods in this category are lethal to the animal.

It looks like this fence even keeps out
the killer rabbit.
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I considered listing altering the habitat as the first method since it's often the most effective, but it can involve significant changes to the landscape that not everyone will be interested in. Plus, they don't work for all of the pests we mentioned (good luck making your garden uninviting to chipmunks and squirrels). These methods focus on making it impossible (or very difficult) for the animal to get in, or removing whatever it was that attracted the animal to your garden in the first place. For example, deer love hostas, so if you live in an area with a lot of deer, they will probably find ways to eat your hostas no matter what. Astilbe and brunnera are great shade alternatives (for a longer list of deer-tolerant plants, check out our deer control post from last spring). Fencing can keep out deer and rabbits, as long as rabbits can't wriggle under and deer can't hop over. To keep moles from wanting to live in your lawn, keep insects and grubs under control with insecticides and let your lawn get a little drier than you might want (dry soil is harder to dig in). Removing brush piles or heavy undergrowth and sealing off crawl spaces can eliminate cover for animals and encourage them to go elsewhere.

If all of these options fail, and you feel like your culprits are doing enough damage that they absolutely must go, you can call a professional pest control company. They are experts and knowing what methods are best for each situation, and there are some trapping and repellent options available to them that aren't available to homeowners. You can also check out the sidebar links on this website for more specific control options for different species that might be causing problems. Good luck! We have to share our gardens with wildlife, but it's good to have some choice in who's invited to the party.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Criminal Critters: Identifying the Suspects

We all know the frustration of walking out the door to see that the hostas were bitten down to the ground overnight, or that some mammalian miscreant dug up your favorite planter. Furry critters may be nice to look at, and they are important for the ecosystem as a whole, but there's no denying the damage they can do in the landscape. Today we'll talk about five very common animal pests, and one somewhat unusual one that we saw more often than usual last year on our properties.

First, you need to determine whether or not there is a problem worth dealing with, because keeping out wildlife is not easy. Is the animal causing a significant nuisance? Is there a health or safety risk? Are the animals significantly damaging your plants? Some scenarios that are worth dealing with would be moles in a lawn that sees a lot of foot traffic (potential for twisted ankles and falls), deer that routinely munch on plants, skunks on your property, and squirrels and chipmunks that keep on digging up plants. Ultimately, it's your call on whether or not the wildlife problem merits action. Just know that in most cases it isn't possible or practical to eliminate the critters entirely, so choose your battles accordingly. Let's move on to profiles of some of the most common mammals you'll see in your landscape crime scenes.

Animal Damage Profiles

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  • Type of Damage: rubbing, scratching, or gnawing on tree bark; eating plants and produce and leaving a ragged cut
  • Time of Day: evening or overnight
  • Time of Year: all seasons (damage to tree bark is mostly seen in winter or early spring)
  • Other Clues: characteristic hoof prints

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  • Type of Damage: eating flowers and vegetables, sharply angled cut close to ground
  • Time of Day: most active at dawn and dusk, but can be active any time of day
  • Time of Year: spring, summer, and fall
  • Other Clues: round pellet-like droppings

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  • Type of Damage: small holes 1"-1.5" in diameter, small plants dug up or nibbled
  • Time of Day: day
  • Time of Year: spring, summer, and fall
  • Other Clues: edges of holes are clean with no dirt piled outside

Image source: Maria Gulley
  • Type of Damage: 1.5"-3" holes with dirt piled at entrance; dig up small plants; disturb mulch in spring and fall when burying and digging up food caches; eat fruits and vegetables; can sometimes see damage to thin-barked trees, especially in winter
  • Time of Day: day
  • Time of Year: all year
  • Other Clues: tips of twigs nibbled off of trees (this can also be caused by some insects)

  • Type of Damage: extensive underground tunnels; it's the tunnels near the surface and "mole mounds" (small piles of dug-up dirt) that are problems in the landscape
  • Time of Day: any time of day
  • Time of Year: spring, summer, and fall
  • Other Clues: ground feels squishy in areas if you're walking on tunnel

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  • Type of Damage: troughs eaten through grass under snow; groundcover stems cut low to ground without disturbance to foliage
  • Time of Day: night
  • Time of Year: damage mostly seen in winter, but they are active all year
  • Other Clues: population spikes every 3-4 years, so it may be a problem one year and then not again for a few more years

Have you found your culprit yet? If not, you can check out this website for a more extensive look at landscape animal pests. The web design is a bit dated, but the information is very helpful. Next week we'll move on to what to do if you have an animal pest causing enough problems to merit control efforts. Be sure to tune in!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Project Spotlight: Outdoor Entertaining at Its Best

We're well overdue for another featured project, so today we'll take a look at a home up in Carmel that epitomizes the trend towards fun and functional spaces for outdoor entertainment.

The walk up to the front door passes under a canopy of river birch limbs. To the left, a mixture of hostas and hydrangeas showcase variety and interest in a monochromatic color scheme while the yews on the right will be shaped into a solid block to provide structure in the winter.

The front door is livened up with annuals in the client's favorite hues of bright pink. The boxwoods in the containers act as a nice vertical accent to keep the landscape from being lost in the scale of the house.

If a sign on the front door tells you the party is already started out back, then you can head down the driveway where more annuals light up a shaded spot. Here again we have a mixture of evergreens, hostas, and hydrangeas for a mix of summer and winter interest behind the main show of the annuals.

The path to the back yard is made of limestone slabs set into turf punctuated by solid limestone steps to make the slope more walk-able. We love the rhythm here and the way the mix of plantings on the left soften the white walls of the house and make for an interesting walk.

As you round the bend, the main entertainment space comes into view, complete with fire pit, grill, fireplace, wet bar, and plenty of casual seating. The paving material switches from the pale gray of limestone to the muted slate blue of bluestone.

This gas-fueled fire pit stands out among fire features. Lava rock forms the main filler, but multicolored stone spheres sit on top to break up the otherwise boring circle, making this piece fascinating with or without flames dancing around the rocks.

Need some shelter from rain or sun? No worries, we've literally got you covered. Here we find more seating space and the bar. What you don't see is the fireplace built into the side of the bar facing the wicker furniture and the flat screen TV hung behind the bar. Built-in lighting means the fun can last far into the night. This view superbly highlights how even a color palette of greens can provide a variety of colors and textures and wonderfully set off the neutral tones of the home and furniture.

Take a step further back and you'll find even more seating and more planters for pops of color. We love how the separate clusters of seating allow for small groups to pick the ideal setting for the day or let large groups spread out for better socializing and conversation.

We conclude our tour back where we started with a view of the front from another angle. We chose to bring the planting beds out into the lawn to let the entire yard serve as a creative canvas. A mix of shade perennials and groundcovers thrive under this ash tree and extend the landscape to welcome visitors.

Ready to get your outdoor party started? Whether you're interested in an adult-oriented space like this one or the perfect area to set some kids loose, we're ready to make a design that fits your needs. Contact us at 317.251.GROW to learn more about working with us, and be sure to check out our main website for more photos of our work.