Any Hilltown gardener knows that between the rocks -- aka boulders -- ice storms and hungry critters, the lawns, flowers, trees and shrubs in rural New England take a beating. As he notes in his blog, Jim McSweeney of Chesterfield, a certified arborist, horticulturist and landscape designer and installer, has made it his business for the last 15 years to know how to keep plants thriving in western Massachusetts' demanding climate. As he puts it, he lives and works in Zone 5. McSweeney's business, Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC, provides services in landscape design and installation, tree culture and care, perennial garden maintenance and consultation. The business is located on Pynchon Road along with his solar electric home, where he lives with his wife, Lisa, and two children. McSweeney, 39, who attended the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture, is now on the faculty of New England Wildflower Society where he lectures on a range of horticultural topics. Located on the business's website, www.hilltowntreeandgarden.com, McSweeney's blog offers help on a variety of subjects, from watering new lawns to voles to compost. A March 16 blog, The dirt on dirt, provides a five-step plan for a process that some writers have penned whole books about: creating compost. In keeping with his no-nonsense approach, he ends his directions with this note: But remember, we're not baking a cake. It's really hard to go wrong when you only MAKING DIRT. An April 25 blog addresses why some rhododendron plants and other evergreens, like mountain laurel and boxwood, suffer winter burn. He writes: In their natural habitat these plants would be found growing in the filtered shade of a deciduous tree and rarely on a site exposed to the winds. In the winter when the ground is frozen solid and the wind starts to blow or the sun shines brightly the plant and its leaves start to respire. This process of respiration ends up desiccating the plant's leaves because the plant cannot replace the lost water with uptake by its roots because the ground is frozen. This is why you are more likely to see this winter burn on the top of the plant because this is the area that is exposed to the sun and drying winds the most. McSweeney goes on to provide tips for avoiding such damage, such as to prevent the ground from freezing too solid you should always have 3 inches of mulch (NOT AGAINST THE TRUNK PLEASE!) under the canopy of the shrub.And what does he say about voles, those nasty rodents that make runways across your lawn? Live and let live. Voles do little long-term damage to lawns and young trees can be protected by a simple rodent guard. .. chemicals rarely work nor do we need more chemicals in the landscape.
Reprinted with permission of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. All rights reserved.
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