Monday, January 7, 2019

How Snowflakes Form

Love it or hate it, snow is a major part of New England winters. To make matters more exciting, no two storms seem to be alike. This is partially because of the consistency of snow, which is determined by a series of atmospheric factors such as temperature, wind, dew point, humidity, etc. This creates a wide range of probabilities that can be tricky to predict. The formation of a snowflake is caused by a chemical reaction known as crystallization. Did you know that snowflakes are actually classified as minerals? How cool is that?

Close up of snow crystals forming. Photographer: Alexey Kljatov.

A snowflake begins its life as a particle, or a speck of dust. Traveling through the air, water vapor condenses (changing from a gas to a solid) on this particle. From here, two formations may occur. Colder and drier conditions will cause a faceted prism to form. Warmer and wetter conditions will cause branching patterns. All snowflakes are hexagonal in shape, with six sides aptly referred to as “six-fold symmetry.” This is because the crystallization process works on the molecular level, and frozen water molecules produce six sides. However, few snowflakes are perfectly symmetrical – the arms and sides grow independently of one another, so subtle differences in the branching patterns are typical.

Temperature and humidity play a role in which processes occur. Changes imperceptible to humans determine the growth pattern. Sometimes both processes occur at once. As the snowflake is blown around the cloud, it experiences many changes in temperature and humidity. The likelihood of a single particle undergoing exactly the same set of conditions as another particle is unlikely. This is why no two snowflakes are truly identical.

As a snowflake forms and gains mass, it eventually becomes too heavy to stay in the cloud and may even combine with other snow crystals to fall as clumps. As it journeys through the atmosphere, it will undergo additional changes. If temperatures increase as it approaches earth, it may change to water and fall as rain. If temperatures remain around freezing or below, it will reach the earth as a snowflake. Ground temperatures will then determine if it melts or begins to pile up with other snowflakes, forming and contributing to what is referred to as the snow pack.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Shrub Blog Series - Part Four - Border Plantings and Edging

Whether for appearance or functionality, there are a variety of beautiful plantings you can use to edge your beds. Border plantings not only distinguish the edges of your flower and/or mulch beds, but they can help to keep your beds from eroding away due to the elements, and keep specimen plantings from overgrowing their boundaries. There is definitely intersection between border plantings and foundation plantings, so we will focus on some of the more unique choices in part four of our shrub series. Oftentimes you will want to pair plantings to create a variegated look; a common pairing is that of herbs.

1. Lavender – There are about 47 species of lavender, but for our region, English Lavender is one of the better choices; so chosen due to its endurance in colder climes. Lavender grow on spikes with gray-green leaves and lilac-blue flowers. They are extremely aromatic and attract butterflies but repel ants and deer. Most cultivars grow up to 3 feet and can spread up to 6 feet. They require well-drained soil, so bear this in mind while planning.

2. Sage – Many varieties of sage exist, but the easiest to grow is Common, or Garden Sage. It flowers for about a month in the spring with lovely pale purple blooms. The leaves are a gray-green color and are covered with fine hairs called trichomes; these give an interesting velvety texture to the leaf surface. Sage is a highly functional plant as well, with notable uses in the medical and culinary fields. The size of a mature sage plant will vary depending on your cultivar, but they can typically grow up to 2 feet high and 2 feet wide. Full sun and regular watering are preferred but these plants are relatively hardy and will tolerate drought, cold, and a variety of soil conditions.

3. Heather – There are over 500 varieties of Heather available in a range of colors. One of the most colorful varieties is known as “Firefly.” Firefly’s foliage changes throughout the seasons. “In summer the foliage is a bright mix of lime, chartreuse, and primrose yellow highlighted in late summer with spires of bright purple-pink flowers. In early autumn intense orange and terracotta tones slowly work their way down the stems deepening in color until late fall and early winter when the entire plant becomes a shocking, vibrant brick-red” ( We love that Firefly has dramatic interest in winter, which is important when planning out a New England landscape. Firefly requires full sun and regular watering, and will grow to 2 feet high and 4 feet wide.

4. Red Barrenwort – Barrenwort is a popular choice due to its tolerance of drought, rocks, and pests. It also does nicely in shaded spots and is very easy to grow. The Red Barrenwort variety arrives in spring with heart-shaped, pointed leaves tinged with red which turn to shiny green for the summer and red in the fall. Pale clusters of flowers can be seen in mid to late spring. They grow up to 15 inches tall and 2 feet wide, spreading fairly quickly after initial growth. Watering and sunshine are preferred for best results, but it will still grow in drier soils or in shaded areas.

5. Fountain Grass – Ornamental grasses can be used in many classes of planting, but fountain grass in particular lends itself to creating soft borders for your beds. There are many varieties, each presenting different levels of spread and color. Burgundy Bunny Fountain Grass is a great choice to spice up your borders. The grass is highlighted with red throughout the summer, which changes to intense burgundy in the fall. This plant also boasts a number of cream-colored plumes reminiscent of bunny tails. Bonus: these grasses are tolerant of a number of conditions including slopes, clay soils, hot conditions, dry conditions, humidity, sand, and more. They like lots of sun and prefer moist soil. They will typically stay under 16 inches in height and spread.

6. Sedum – With over 470 species and being primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, you have many options with sedum. For a border, the creeping varieties are an ideal choice. We like the “Sunset Cloud” variety. It emerges green in the springtime, then darkens to a dusty purple. It will not grow much taller than 8 inches, but will spread up to 18. Pink-red flowers bloom in late summer to autumn. Sedum is sustainable in rocky terrains and loves the sun, but keep up with regular watering. Sedum can also tolerate cold temperatures.

7. Lady’s Mantle – The multi-purposed Lady’s Mantle is a gardening classic. It features scallop-shaped leaves in a gray-green color. In late spring to early summer, the plant produces chartreuse blooms. It thrives in shaded areas, but does prefer moist, fertile soil. Do not overwater and be mindful of humidity as it is susceptible to fungal problems. You can expect it to grow a foot tall and wide under proper maintenance. Be aware that deadheading is an important process to follow if you do not want this plant to spread far. It will stay evergreen throughout the winter, but make sure to remove brown leaves to stimulate growth.

In part five, we are going to talk about ground cover. Happy plotting!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fall Foliage: Why Do Leaves Change Color?

New England is known for its exquisite show of color during the autumn season. “Leaf peepers” come from all over the globe just to witness the phenomenon, and it’s no wonder as there are only five regions in the world to experience the changing of the leaves. We are still about 3-4 weeks out from forecasted peak foliage, but the extremities of trees are already beginning to turn shades of red, orange and gold. But what causes this beautiful display?

During the growing season, leaves are the largest contributors to a tree’s growth. It is in the leaf where chlorophyll absorbs energy from the sun, transforming carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates which fuel growth in a process known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is also the chemical which gives leaves their green color! But there are secondary pigments known as carotenoids and flavonoids in leaves which are not visible through the chlorophyll—until…

As the temperature begins to drop and the length of daylight shortens, photosynthesis slows down and then stops altogether. This causes a breakdown in the chlorophyll, and the green pigment fades away, revealing a myriad of brilliant autumn colors! Some trees undergo a second chemical process which creates pigments known as anthocyanins; these tend to be red and purple in color. Anthocyanins are thought to be produced as a form of protection, helping the tree to recover nutrients in the leaves before the next growing season.

See larger version.

Weather conditions can also impact the brilliance of fall foliage. A warm, wet spring, an average summer, or a fall with warm sunny days and cool nights present the best conditions for a spectacular autumn. Severe frosts will kill the leaves early causing them to turn brown and drop, and a warm, wet period during the fall will lower the intensity of colors. Droughts can delay foliage by weeks. So, as many things in life and nature, the conditions must be “just right”!

Most trees shed their leaves to conserve energy for the winter months. A layer of cells called the separation layer develops at the base of the leaf stem which severs the connection to the tree. The tree closes off the cut, and leaves will either fall of their own accord or be blown off by the wind. This process contributes to the breakdown in chlorophyll as the flow of nutrients is cut off.

Isn’t science awesome? Happy Fall!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lawn Aeration

Lawn aeration is the process of perforating the soil with small holes to alleviate soil compaction. This in turn encourages air, water, and other vital nutrients into the root system to establish a healthier, thicker lawn. Compacted lawns are caused by a number of reasons including excessive thatch, heavy debris under the grass surface, clay-rich soils, poorly-drained soils, or lawns with heavy traffic from people and pets.

Lawns consisting of cool season grasses are best aerated in the fall. There are two types of aerators: a plug (core) aerator and a spike aerator. Spike aerators simply poke holes in the lawn, and are less effective than plug aerators as they can cause additional compaction. Plug aerators on the other hand remove a core of soil with each hole, allowing air and nutrients to penetrate the root system. These cores are left on the lawn to decompose naturally (usually about two to four weeks). Pro-Turf uses a plug aerator for maximum efficiency!

Before you aerate, it is recommended you water the lawn thoroughly a day or two before. Moist soil will improve the efficacy of the aerator and pull out cores more easily. Make sure you flag sprinkler heads and other objects which could be impacted by an aerator. Post-aeration is also a wonderful time to overseed! Overseeding is a great way to fill in bare spots, improve the density of your turf, and help establish your lawn’s cultivars and color—all without having to tear up your existing lawn. Pro-Turf does not offer overseeding services however, we do have a detailed document to help you through the overseeding process yourself.

Pro-Turf Landscaping aerates from September through October. A typical aeration service costs between $150 and $250. Contact the office for quotes and scheduling!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Shrub Blog Series - Part Three - Privacy Plantings

Perhaps you have nosy neighbors! Perhaps your home is situated in an undesirable part of town, and you would like to block out the view with something more aesthetically pleasing. Or maybe man-made fences just aren’t your thing. Regardless of your reason, privacy plantings can provide a natural screen against many factors and are arguably one of the more popular ways to enhance the landscaping around your yard. The right plantings can even buffer sound and wind, which will offer an additional layer of protection to your house and landscape. Let’s explore some top choices in part three of our shrub series.

1. Arborvitaes – One of the top choices for screenings and available in many types and sizes, arbs are a great way to mimic a fence. We love the Emerald Green Arborvitaes in particular for their lush coloring and density, but they are also disease and ice resistant. Growing up to 15 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide, they are ideal for screening and even topiaries. You can expect them to stay green all winter long, but make sure you water them regularly, and more often during the heat of summer. 

2. Northern Spice Bush – This is a gorgeous, deciduous shrub and is wonderful used in conjunction with other plantings. During the growing months, you can expect to see light green leaves, but these will turn to a brilliant yellow-gold in the fall. In the case of the Spice Bush, male and female plants will put on a different show in opposing seasons. Male plants will produce pale yellow flowers in early spring, where-as female plants will produce bright red fruit in early fall (if planted near a male). They reach 6 to 12 feet in both height and width, and require regular watering.

3. Cypress – Cypress shrubs may not provide the widest coverage, but they do present a distinct vision reminiscent of the Mediterranean countryside. There are many varieties to choose from, but we really like the Blue Italian Cypress for its blue-green color and elegant columnar shape. This is an incredibly fast-growing conifer, which will grow up to 60 to 80 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. If you are looking for a tall screen, this just might be the plant for you. Water well until established, then water occasionally; more often in extreme heat.

4. Juniper – There are many species of Juniper, but we would like to talk about the Hollywood Juniper. If you are looking for something with more of a natural shape to add to your privacy planting, this beautiful shrub has a sprawling, rustic appearance which can be trimmed down, or left wild. Left alone, these will grow up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide—and will spread out in all directions. Like many evergreens, after becoming established, only occasional watering is necessary except in the case of extreme heat.

5. Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’) – If you’re looking for something a bit more showy, look no further! This particular variety of lilac blooms in mid-late spring with such profuse blossoms that the entire plant is covered in them. They are gorgeous, fragrant, and bi-colored white and purple. The green heart-shaped leaves stick around through the summer, turning light green to yellow in the fall before falling off; then the remaining spindly branches collect rivulets of snow in the winter before the cycle begins again. They can grow up to 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide, so make sure you leave some space when planting. Bonus: Not only are they hardy, but they can handle drier soil conditions after establishing!

6. “Handsome Devil” Viburnum – There are upwards of 150 species of Viburnum. Among them is the Handsome Devil variety, which produces a stunning rainbow of colors exhibited in new growth and especially in the fall. The leaves are glossy, thick and leathery making them a wonderful addition to your privacy screen. White flowers in June are followed by red fruit. Compact and dense, this is a great shrub hedge which will grow 5 to 8 feet tall and 6 to 7 feet wide. Water regularly and more often in extreme heat. Bonus: this plant is disease and deer resistant! 

Thanks for reading, and look for part four, which will cover border plantings!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Shrub Blog Series - Part Two - Foundation Plantings

If you want a stunning presentation, you need a solid foundation! Welcome to part three of our shrub series: Foundation Plantings! We go over how to design your perfect New England landscape in a previous blog entry. With foundation plantings, you want to be thinking about the structure of your home. Is there anything you want to cover up? Does a corner look too harsh? Think of the big picture in terms of what you want to accomplish with your yard. Here are some of our top picks, chosen for interest and hardiness during the four dramatic seasons of New England weather.

1. The Boxwood 
A versatile plant with a number of variations (over 200, to be precise), this is a top pick for many landscapers as a foundation planting, and can function for multiple purposes around your yard. Each variety boasts a different height and spread, so be mindful of what you are looking for in terms of dimension. One of our favorites is the “Winter Gem” variety, which grows up to six feet tall and six feet wide. Not only is it one of the hardiest options, which makes it ideal for New England’s wild seasons, but it can gain a bronze hue during the winter and is the first to change green again in spring. Does well in partial to full sun and requires regular watering.

2. The Holly
There are between 400 and 600 species of holly to choose from. For our purposes, we really like the “Carissa” variety for its dark and dense glossy green leaves. This is a low-maintenance shrub which will tolerate drought, extreme heat, and extreme cold. It grows up to three feet high and spreads up to four. Once established, it will not require any pruning. Carissa is a great foundation planting because of how lush and green it stays year-round, offering a wonderful backdrop to any planted perennials and in the winter tipped with snow.

3. Knock Out Roses
Knock Out Roses started trending in the year 2000 and remain a staple amongst landscapers for foundation plantings. Roses are notoriously difficult to grow and high maintenance at that. Luckily, these shrub roses were created so you can have low-maintenance roses from the first thaw to the first frost. There are over 10 varieties to choose from, so be thinking about what colors compliment your home and what types of flowers you would like to see. At maturity, these rose bushes can grow up to four feet high and four feet deep. With dark foliage, the blooms stand out quite nicely in any landscape. They will need full sun with fertile, well-drained soil. Fertilize every so often to keep the blooms cycling throughout the growing season. (Featured Right: Sunny Knock Out Roses).

4. Rhododendrons and Azaleas
There are over 1,024 species of Rhododendrons and over 20,000 named hybrids of Rhododendrons and Azaleas worldwide. Visit to see some of the best choices for your New England landscape. One of our favorites is the “Gibraltar” variety. This mid-sized deciduous azalea is award-winning for its stunning display of orange funnel-shaped blooms which light up the landscape in trusses of 10-12 flowers over dark green foliage. Growing up to five feet high and five feet wide, these are an exceptional and bold choice for a foundation planting. Requires full or partial sun and good drainage.

5. Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses will offer a nice texture to supplement your palette of deciduous and evergreen selections. Popular for New England is the “Karl Foerster” Feather Reed Grass. We recommend reading our article on winter care to prepare yourself for proper maintenance of ornamental grasses. The Karl Foerster variety is a cool season grass which grows rapidly in the spring. It is highly tolerant of partial shade, salt, and humidity which makes it a low-maintenance addition to your landscape. It grows up to five feet tall and three feet in spread, boasting feathery plumes of a shifting bronze color throughout the growing seasons.

6. The Dwarf Spruce
There are many evergreens and especially spruce varieties to pick from when selecting foundation plantings. We like the Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce for its unusual shape and color. It is flat-topped unlike many other spruce plants and densely branched, but bright silver-blue in color. This spruce will grow up to five feet tall and six feet wide. Needs full to partial sun and an even watering schedule, especially in extreme heat, but is extremely hardy during the winter months.

Stay tuned! In part three, we will talk about our favorite privacy plantings.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Shrub Blog Series - Part One - Introduction

Why plant shrubs? Aside from the obvious answer, which is to improve the aesthetic of your property, there are plenty of functional reasons to establish plantings in your yard. They can assist with erosion-control, improve the amount of oxygen around your residence, and help your local ecosystem thrive. Luckily, you don’t have to wait for King Arthur and his team to get the ball rolling like the fellow above. With the help of your local nursery, you can start planning a multi-dimensional landscape that will wow your friends and family!

Shrub/Planting Types:
  1. Foundation Plantings: These types of plantings hug your house, both enhancing your home and complementing your landscape. This can visually link your house to the surrounding landscape, hide any unsightly fa├žade areas, and help prevent flooding!
  2. Privacy Plantings/Screening: These are [usually] tall shrubs to block out unwanted views and act as a natural fence. They will cost you less than a fence installation in most cases, but come with more maintenance than a fence.
  3. Border Plantings/Edging: These plantings are used to outline and distinguish sections of your yard and/or flower beds and will establish wonderful dimension in your landscape. Primarily aesthetic in purpose, but they can also help prevent your beds from washing out during heavy rain.
  4. Ground Cover: These low-growing shrubs usually have a spreading habit and are perfect for large beds or landscapes. They can also reduce the amount of turf you have to mow, and may thrive better in harsh soil or environments where you may have difficulty growing grass.
  5. Specimen or Accent Plants: These are the plants to liven up your landscape! They are often chosen for interesting appearance or fragrance, but may serve an additional purpose such as framing a walkway. Usually showy in appearance, they are placed within your landscape strategically as focal points.
  6. Specialty Plantings: The “miscellaneous” category, these plants may vary in appearance and function and include: (1) Salt-tolerant plants for street-side plantings; (2) Container shrubs for apartment living or decks; (3) Shrubs for full shade; (4) Shrubs for full sun.

General Shrub/Planting Tips:
  1. Choose shrubs which have seasonal interest across four seasons, or rotating seasonal interest. See our article on creating seasonal interest.
  2. Leave space for the plants to mature so they don’t overcrowd one another and be aware of how tall they will be at maturity (be prepared to prune!)
  3. Be mindful of growth rates and maintain shrubs which may have invasive qualities.
  4. Plant shrubs in the fall or early spring to ensure proper root establishment.
  5. Choose native shrubs for maximum growth and lowest maintenance.
  6. Be aware of what maintenance is required of your plantings to ensure they survive all four seasons and any extreme weather conditions which might occur. See our article on winterizing your yard.
  7. Talk to a local nursery! They can give expert advice tailored to the conditions of your yard and desired maintenance level.

In part two, we will go over more specifics of Foundation Plantings, including some recommendations of our top choices!