Environmental Accountability

Abby Farms will be entering or 7th year since we chose to go insecticide, fungicide and bactericide-free and push the sustainable envelope.  The word is spreading quite rapidly with our customers/contractors as we continue to enlighten them on our practices.  The sustainability is actually helping our customers sell jobs to their clients, creating a grass-roots movement in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond.  Abby Farms now has a sustainable footprint in 12 states.  Garden center clients use our products to push a pollinator plant product line.  We are showing a presence on the “Green Roof Movement,” also.

The customer feedback has been tremendous, including a buzz from our government agencies.  Surveying our customers, we have pin-pointed the fact that the trend is growing.  Our customers are aware that when we partner up sustainability, it definitely helps sell jobs and provide customer satisfaction.  Keep in mind that we can assist you with sustainable discussions with your clients, if need be, as we have meeting rooms that can accommodate 12-30 people.  All we ask is that you give us some notice and for you to choose a client that it really matters to.

Things to Remember for a Successful Commercial Landscape Project

Here is a list of professional tips to remember when working on a successful commercial landscape project.

  • The calcium-magnesium or sodium in the hard water can compete with the Roundup molecule and render it ineffective.
  • Don’t store plant material on asphalt.
  • Train your crew to jet or water in trees by paying attention to the air bubbles.  No air bubbles=a tree that will survive.
  • Check tree stakes.  Many crews install them way too tight against the bark.
  • When augering holes to install trees, scar the sidewalls of the hole with a shovel to reduce the bathtub-effect.
  • Don’t choke strap trees without some protection.  An old t-shirt or burlap can save you a lot of embarrassment.
  • A 3 inch B&B tree will need about 6 gallons of water a day in lighter soils for the first couple of weeks.
  • The organics in pond water will tie up or use up the glyphosate molecule rendering it useless.
  • It’s better to have a tree planted 2” high than 2” low.
  • Tree stakes and guy wires need to be adjusted as the tree grows.
  • It is always a good idea to water holes before planting the trees into them.
  • Treat root balls carefully.  Don’t drag or drop it off the truck or trailer.
  • The optimum pH when using Roundup is 5-5.5 pH.
  • Always water trees when they are unloaded from the truck after delivery.  Wind from highway travel will dry out the root ball.
  • When digging holes for plants, save the soil from the upper half of the hole to backfill because it is more biologically active.
  • Discard the lower half of the hole’s soil.
  • Little things like this make a difference.

Scale Insects

Scale insects are classified as either hard (armored) or soft (waxy).  They  are occasional invaders of the nursery and landscape setting while being sometimes the hardest to see due to size or coloration.  When you walk or inspect your grounds or nursery,  take a hard look,  as sometimes a scale insect will hide in cracks of the bark and if you’re doing your inspection on the fly,  you may not be close enough to see them.  Tulip tree scale is a larger scale easier to see from a distance while Japanese maple scale is smaller and can look like an extension of the bark.  The color of the bark also helps hide the scale and the newly emerged instar is extremely small.  Japanese maple scale can be found on a number of different types of trees, not just maples.  The same goes for tulip tree scale.  It is often found on southern magnolia, so don’t let the name confuse you.  Look at all the trees when doing a walk- thru.

The severity and length of the infestation can usually be determined by the sheer number of scale.  For example, Japanese maple scale will typically reproduce about 40-50 a year.  Then ask yourself, which side of the tree are they on, north, south, east or west.  Is one side more populated than the other?  If so, this could have been the initial site.  Stop and do a few random fingernail samples to see if they’re still alive as many times they are dead but still attached to the tree.  Flip them lightly with your finger nail.  Most times they will be moist and will be different colors.  For example, they can be whitish-yellow, yellow- pink or purple.  They may be dead with no moisture and are blown away with the wind like a feather.  Scale insects are not as hard to kill as some pest control companies want you to believe. In most cases this is a way they can command higher fees and instill fear in the property manager to quickly sign an expensive contract.  Remember, you’re dealing with a sick tree.

Healthy trees do not get attacked by scale insects.  Examine the site.  For example, is it new construction with no top soil left, wet areas, wet shaded areas, so on and so on?  A simple soil sample can tell you a lot and if you’re  dealing with a scale insect,  I would also send off a tissue sample to see what is not being picked up by the roots. There are many organic products that can kill scale within 48 hours (temperature-dependent ) in your kitchen at home.

Elm Trees

Elm trees and the weather are typically the most common topics at trade shows and meetings where growers congregate.  When attending trade shows I somehow end up in the booth as I am a grower, not a salesman.  I am always happy to see my friends and associates throughout the industry and to listen to our sales team answer some of the usual questions about availability, shipping, etc.  I’ve heard some potential customers say, “I stopped growing elms because I always get a bark canker and I’m tired of losing money,” or “I got freeze damage that split the bark,” or “the tops all died out this year.”  All of these comments get me stirred up.  It’s not that difficult so please don’t give up on elms!  There are a few simple rules for growing an elm.  When I speak of elms, I’m only talking about Ulmus Parvifolia, the trees that Abby Farms currently grows; Allee and Bosque.  Let’s discuss two major diseases that affect elms and how to prevent them from occurring.

Bark Canker is actually Fusarium stem canker and there is no chemical control if you get it.  The telltale signs are orangish-colored spore masses on the trunk about the size of a pencil eraser and you may see bark peeling or a wound that looks like a bull’s eye leaking sap.   The large wounds will not heal and will continue to leak sap periodically.  There are several causes of these wounds; the most common being mechanical injury.  Wounds provide an entry point for Fusarium to infect the tree.  Mechanical or physical injury can come from shipping.  If one or three gallon trees are stacked like cordwood in very hard, rigid pots, bouncing down the road may cause it.  If your planting crew is in a big rush, they can drop or slam trees around.  Mowers throwing sticks or rocks, bump sprayers and a whole host of other factors like hail, can cause injury.  Herbicide damage from repeated chemical weed control applications is another possibility and one that is hard to detect.  Are the entry points at the same height?  Are they on the same side of the tree?  A little detective work can eliminate many possibilities.  I almost forgot to mention that stress from inconsistent moisture, and water-logged or too dry a specimen can amplify the problem.  Get a good book or read up on Fusarium online.  This one is easy to prevent.

Coral Spot Nectria shows up in the spring and early summer.  As with Fusarium, there is no chemical control.  You will know when you have it as the tree will usually flush from the bottom in the spring with no flush occurring at the top.  It may flush separately, and will soon turn brown, usually dying in four to eight weeks.  After careful examination, you will see pink pustules.  You may also see discolored bark or dead, sunken areas.  The cause is simple; it is usually a stress condition.  Untimely late summer or fall pruning leaving fresh pruning cuts exposed, provides entry points for this fungus.  Other causes for points of entry are root pruning at the wrong time and freeze damage.  Freeze damage is the most common cause, resulting in injured bark or buds during the first or second cold snap in the fall when the trees have not yet hardened off.  Coral Spot Nectria mainly affects younger trees.  I have not observed this to any major degree after they have reached about a 2” caliper.

What steps can the grower take to lower the risk of getting either of these diseases?  The first step is to gain knowledge such as what I’ve outlined here, a quick overview, based on my personal experience as a grower.  There are several things you can do to set yourself up for a successful elm crop.  The prevention of man-made injury and bruising, timely pruning and not getting herbicide on the trunk are all under your control.  Don’t blame the tree.  Train your crew to be careful with them.  The weather is a factor that is completely out of your control, but you can minimize your risk by preparing the tree for the cold.  Forget the old wives tale of shutting elms down in the fall.  Reducing the fertilizer and shutting the water off are the two most detrimental things you can do.  Adjust your water to match the weather.  Inconsistent fall moisture, mainly being too dry, is also a major factor in container production.  Also, change your fertilizer.  Nitrogen is essential going into the winter months, especially if you plan on digging.  When doing this with elms, drop the sodium level in the soil down to no more than 3%.  Personally, I aim for 1-2% sodium.  Remember, potassium and sodium have the same positive charge; the plant will absorb sodium because it’s more mobile and move it into the cell walls.  As long as the weather is cool, you’ll have no problem.  But when it gets hot and humid, the sodium will expand and break the cell walls allowing an entry point for Fusarium or Nectria, occurring in the summer.  This is the beginning of the problem.  You will most likely see the damage in the following spring.  I lower the sodium and raise the potassium to try to keep this from happening.  It is actually very simple; just get a base saturation soil sample.  This is usually a free service provided by your fertilizer sales person.  Read your test and make sure you have good potassium levels.  Potassium also helps with your cold hardiness by regulating pressure in the cellular tissues.  The next step is to make sure you have adequate sulfur levels.  I like to be in the mid-20 ppm minimum, which helps the plant deal with stress.  With all of this being said and done, I think these simple steps help lower my risk of loss due to Mother Nature.

In conclusion, I am a grower and these suggestions, again, are based on my personal experience.  In 2002 I lost over 4,000 three gallon elms to Coral Spot Nectria.  Since then using these methods, I have not lost a single tree to the disease, so these methods are working.


Plant Health Checkup

March 2016

Scouting is an integral part of sustainability practices at Abby Farms. By constantly walking our fields, we are able to notice many problems when they are small, and get them corrected quickly. In addition, we are constantly sampling our trees and soil, looking for problems before they are visible to the naked eye.

Soil samples are pulled every year, 3 times the recommended State of Maryland rate. We do this to fine tune our soils every year instead of making large scale corrections every three years. This keeps our soil humming along like a fine-tuned engine.

Leaf and tissue samples are pulled during the growing season. Sap is extracted from the leaves and run through several in-house tests. We are then able to make real time decisions about the health of a tree and make targeted mineral treatments.

November 2015 Farm News

So far this fall has been very busy here at the farm. Inventory is going fast as our customer base continues to grow; more and more customers are leaning on us to supply their entire job from the perennials to the trees and we are happy to be able to support them with this.

Now is the time when our field and container operations kick it into high gear as we prepare next years inventory. Our field crews are feverishly digging 400 trees a day to keep our above ground B&B inventory well stocked through this fall and fall 2016. Our early order program is off to a great start with our customers having already booked thousands of trees for their spring jobs. Please contact Doug Miller for more information on this program at DDmiller@abby-farms.com

As soon as our digging crew clears the field our nutrient management team prepares the field for planting (see October 2015 newsletter for a detailed description of this process) and shortly after the planting crew diligently plants our next crop.

Our container crews are busy shifting up thousands of liners each week to meet the demand of our customers for 3 and 7gal shrubs. The target is to have 300,000 shrubs planted and ready for early summer sale to ensure we have continuous supply for our customers. We have also got a head start on our 15gal tree inventory and have potted 10,000 out of the 20,000 we have projected. The remaining 10,000 will be planted from bare root stock in March 2016.

Even though we have all this activity on the farm we are always eager to hear from you and take the time to help our customers, so please give us a call 301-782-9077 and talk with Doug Miller if you would like to come out and see our operation and get to know us better.