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On Tues Oct 27, 2015, the Brookline Board of Selectmen took a vote of no action on Warranty Article 10, which would place a year-round ban all gas-powered blowers. The article was amended to exempt Town crews, the country club and golf course, but still was not recommended by the board. (Update: on 11/18/15, the Town Meeting voted to refer the question to a moderator’s committee. More details and background here.)

As a company concerned with the environment and with the health of both workers and community members, we agree that blowers are overused by both groundskeepers and homeowners. However, we are also concerned about the unintended consequences of a 100% ban on blowers, which we believe would disproportionately impact small businesses, workers, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Here are our responses to some major points of the blower ban proponents:

1. Contractors don’t care.” There will always be contractors who break the rules. It’s up to Brookline to figure out how to enforce them. But a complete ban would primarily hurt those small, locally-owned businesses who do follow the rules. We even go our of our way voluntarily to try to do the right thing:
– We signed on to Quiet Communities and asked to be listed by Newton Safe & Sound as contractors who will perform hand-raking
– We spent the extra money to invest in blowers that meet the 67 decibel regulations, including electric ones.
– We pay living wages and benefits to our workers to create a stable, well-trained workforce. Our workers are not disposable; they want the company to be perceived as a good neighbor and community member.
2. “Banning blowers protects workers.”
If the blower ban is passed, we will be out-competed by irresponsible companies who hire day laborers as a cheap, short term source of manual labor to do hand-raking. These workers will not get basic protections of employment law like minimum wages, overtime, or workers compensation in case of injury. This blower ban will primarily hurt the very workers who are making Brookline a nice place to live. Landscaping workers may work 60 hours a week for 6 weeks removing leaves. They will face an increase in repetitive strain injuries from use of rakes or handheld electric blowers. If they’re not covered as employees under workers comp, they will likely be sent packing if they’re injured.
3. “Just rake your own leaves, already! Or pay someone else to do it.” The exemption for Town crews will save Brookline taxpayers some money, but the ban will raise costs for those homeowners who can least afford it: senior citizens & those with disabilities might not be able to do their own hand-raking, and will be hard hit by increases in costs to have someone else do their leaf removal. Alternately, they may not clean up leaves. That’s great for the soil, but neighbors might not like the messy look, and leaves in storm drains will increase street flooding problems.
4. “But blowers are so noisy…” At 80-100 decibels, walk-behind lawn mowers are actually louder than the 67 decibel blowers required under Brookline’s existing regulations. And that’s not to mention chainsaws, wood chippers, or excavators. Blowers have been targeted because often several are running at a time. Rather than an outright ban, Brookline might consider regulations similar to Cambridge and Arlington, which limit the number of blowers that can be used at any one time, based on the size of the property.
5. “What about the effect of blowers on allergies, asthma, and blood pressure?” We aren’t epidemiologists, but Alan Balsam, Brookline’s health director, has said that the Advisory Council on Public Health “found no compelling health threat” from the use of blowers in accordance with Brookline’s current regulations. Even the American Lung Association has recently acknowledged that the primary concern for pollution from 2-stroke engines comes from machines manufactured before 2012 EPA guidelines went into effect.

To learn more about what local landscapers are doing to be responsible blower users, go to BrooklineLeaves.org

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ice dam

A little preparation during the final days of fall can prevent many headaches and chilly emergency repairs. Here are some tips to prepare your yard and landscape for winter:

  1. Last winter, rapid accumulation of heavy snows damaged many flat roofs. If your house has a flat roof, make sure that you purchase a roof rake ahead of time, or contract with a snow removal company that offers roof clearing services.
  2. Disconnect and drain any rain barrels to prevent freezing and cracking. The empty barrels can be very lightweight, so make sure that they are secured so they don’t blow away in heavy winds.
  3. Inspect and clean the gutters and drainage systems. If you have a basement sump pump that drains into a dry well or exterior drainage system, it should have an overflow in case the system freezes up.
  4. Before the ground freezes, check the grading of soil around house foundations and behind retaining walls. When heavy spring rains come, you want the water to flow away from your house, and not to get trapped in a low point behind a wall.
  5. Inspect trees for cracked, dead, or broken branches that might damage your house or vehicles.
  6. Shut off water to outdoor faucets, then open the faucet so that any remaining water can drain out. Drain and store garden hoses and drip tubing. Have irrigation systems drained.
  7. Stock up on ice melt, selecting one that meets your family’s needs. Salt will damage concrete, so read labels carefully to select the appropriate product. Ice melt with magnesium chloride or magnesium acetate  as the active ingredient will damage plants less than salt or calcium chloride, though chloride can accumulate in soils and water supplies, and damage plants over time. Chlorides will also irritate pets’ paws and stomachs.
  8. Shift seasons for your maintenance equipment. Drain gas from the lawn mower. Fuel up the snow-blower, add oil, and check rotor blades, belts, and spark plug. Put away gardening tools, and have snow shovels at hand.

Our crews are available to help with your winter preparations. Drop us a line to schedule a free estimate.

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layers of spring bulbs in a pot

This weekend promises to be beautiful weather for some final gardening chores. Guarantee yourself weeks of spring blooms by making “bulb lasagna.” Line the bottom of a 14″ or deeper container with gravel for drainage. Then layer potting soil and bulbs in 3 layers, starting with the largest bulbs on the bottom. Choose bulbs which will flower at different times to make your planting really work.  Keep in mind that there will likely be some overlap in bloom times, so choose a color scheme that will be pleasing, such as monchromatic, contrasting, warm or cool colors.

Spring bulb bloom sequence (Boston area):

Iris & crocus

Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’ and yellow crocus

Mid-March

Dwarf Iris
Galanthus (Snowdrops)
Snow Crocus

Late March-Early April

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)
Kaufmanniana Tulips
Large Crocus
Eranthis (Winter Aconite)

Mid-to Late April

Daffodils & Muscarii

Narcissus ‘Sailboat’ and Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

Darwin Hybrid Tulips
Large-Flowered Hyacinths
Muscari (Grape Hyacinths)
Double Tulips
Lily Flowered Tulips
Single Early Tulips
Fritillaria (large and small)
Mid-season Daffodils
Triumph Tulips

Early to Mid-May
Bunch Flowered Tulips
Giant Allium
Scilla campanulata
(Wood Hyacinths)
Darwin Tulips

Flaming Parrot Tulips

Flaming Parrot Tuli

Parrot Tulips
Viridiflora Tulips
Fringed Tulips
Peony Flowered Tulips

Mid to Late-May
Dutch Iris
Single Late Tulips Dutch Iris
Small Alliums
Madonna Lilies

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fall leaves

We’re doing fall clean-ups and saying our goodbyes to many of you for the year, but please remember that the work of protecting your landscape investment is not done!  Now is the time for:

  • Getting those last bulbs in so you have early spring color
  • Wrapping or spraying anti-dessicant on evergreens (esp. rhododendrons, boxwoods, yews)
  • Protecting marginally hardy perennials and shrubs with extra mulch of pine needles, salt marsh hay, etc.
  • Deer protection, if needed
  • A final, low mow for the grass (2″) to prevent snow mold
  • Pruning dead and broken branches from trees and shrubs to prevent further damage from snow
  • Protecting plants in the way of snow loads from the eaves or the snow plow

Finally, we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Bank those leaves!  Make nifty, sculptural cages out of wire mesh, or just pile ’em up and throw a tarp over them, if you have the space.  At my house, the worms are enjoying real leaves in the vermicompost bin, instead of the diet of newspaper & cardboard that they get for most of the year.  Our maintenance crew is mulching up leaves using the lawn mower, so they can be spread as mulch.

Give us a call (or a tweet) for help with late fall chores.  We’re also available to help you prepare for winter festivities, with light-hanging and arrangements of fresh greenery.

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Pest-Proof Bulbs

Are this week’s chilly temps making you feel like you need to get those bulbs in stat?  Here’s a quick how-to:

  • In general, plant bulbs three times as deep as the width of the bulb.  So, a 2″ wide tulip would go 6″ deep.  Pointy part goes up.
  • For more “wow” and less work, dig flat-bottomed holes large enough to accommodate a dozen bulbs.  Lay bulbs in the bottom and backfill with soil.  You can even layer multiple varieties in the same hole (“bulb lasagna”) — large daffodils or alliums (9″), then tulips and hyacinths (6″), topped with squill or crocus (2″-3″).
  • If you don’t want to worry about cutting back the spent foliage in spring, plant early-flowering bulbs where they will be covered by the emerging leaves of summer or fall flowering perennials, or tuck them in amid groundcovers for a surprise burst of color.  You can also naturalize drifts of scilla or scatterings of daffodils into a lawn area and mow when the foliage begins to yellow.
  • To deter rodents from munching the bulbs, mix “chicken grit” (available at Agway, etc.) with the backfill, including the soil under the bulbs.

For those in the ‘burbs, here are some deer-deterrent bulbs – Latin(Common):
* squirrel resistant, too!

Allium (Ornamental Onion)*
Corydalis solida
Eranthus (Winter Aconite)
Erythronium
Fritillaria*
Galianthus (Snowdrops)
Muscarii (Grape Hyacinth)
Narcissus (Daffodil)*
Scilla (Squill)

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As temperatures cool, schedule winterizing for irrigation systems, but remember to keep watering through the autumn!  Continue with a watering schedule appropriate for the age of new plants, as long as air and soil temps are in the 40s.  Watering mid-day ensures that the water will reach roots when the soil is at its warmest.  (For responsible waterers who have their systems set to go off at 4 a.m. in the summer, this will be an adjustment.)

Extend your growing season by building a coldframe to shelter winter greens.  The Garden Girl shows you how.

Carol Stocker’s “A Rake’s Progress” remains a great reminder for general fall clean-up tasks.

Upcoming Events:

Chainsaws: Use, Safety, and Maintenance – Oct 17th, 9:30am – 2:30pm Dana Greenhouse, Arnold Arboretum, 1050 Centre Street, Boston.  John DelRosso, Head Arborist, Arnold Arboretum covers the basics of chainsaw use.  John will talk about essential safety equipment and maintenance requirements. He will demonstrate sharpening and bar tensioning and discuss limbing and felling techniques, including tension cuts. Bring your saw, along with ear protection, for the maintenance discussion. Bring a lunch, and dress for the outdoors.

The Gardens at Mount Auburn Cemetery: A Guided, Ecological Walking Tour – Nov 7th, 2009 – 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Sponsored by the Ecological Landscaping Association (ELA) Join Dennis Collins, Horticultural Curator, for a unique “Eco” tour of this beautiful 175 acre landscape. Get professional information about the ecological landscaping methods used to maintain the 5,000 trees and thousands of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Registration info.

NOFA/MASS Winter Conference: Food From Farms For Families – Jan 16th, 2010, 9am-5.30pm, Worcester Technical High School, Worcester, MA.  Over 40 workshops on organic farming, gardening, landscaping, and sustainable living!  Includes children’s programming, expo of organic products/services, and local, organic lunch.

Join Carolyn Edsell-Vetter of A Yard & A Half for her course on Gardening in Small Spaces:

Living densely has many benefits, but may come at the price of growing our own food or relaxing outdoors.  Yet, we can nourish our bodies and souls using space afforded by a roof deck, patio, or small yard.  Learn about small space design, edibles for containers, and vertical gardening, plus small-scale bioshelters, composting, and rainwater harvesting.

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For Designers:

COGDesign presents designer Lynden Miller – October 7, 2009, 6-8 pm.  From the website:

Lynden Miller,well known NYC public garden designer, will speak about designing, maintaining, and funding beautiful, four-season plantings for public places. Her garden projects in NYC have become urban oases with economic benefits and the power to transform the way people behave and feel about their city. Lynden will sign her new book, Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape, after her presentation.

(Techo-)Bloc Party at Northeast Nursery – Sept. 25 & 26 from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.   Visit the 53 ft. Mobile Display Center (MDC) to see new, naturalistic models and design concepts.   While you’re there, have a nosh, and check out the selection of plant material and natural stone products in their huge yard.

2010 APLD Design Awards – Entry materials are now available.  Categories include: residential design, planting design, small gardens (under 1500 sf), and specialty projects (“theme gardens, therapeutic gardens, educational gardens, rooftop gardens, sustainable designs, green roof installations, historic preservation, etc.”).  Our horticultural maintenance crew is available to groom gardens in preparation for photos.  Deadline: Feb 1, 2010.

For Homeowners:

NOFA Food Preservation Workshops – Learn to can, pickle, ferment, freeze, and dry summer produce.  Expand your ability to eat locally throughout the year, and meet other local food aficionados!

Bulb Orders and Lawn Renovation – Now is the time to place orders for bulbs to ensure fall planting and a colorful spring!  With cooler temperatures and the likelihood of regular rainfall through September, it’s also a good time to patch, renovate, or establish new lawns.  Get detailed how-to’s from MassHort, or contact us to arrange a visit.

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