What Do You Do All Winter?

Posted on: January 18th, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

I put on my fuzzy slippers and eat bonbons all day! Not quite! Landscapes that create measurable benefits for others aren’t created overnight. While other landscapers are out plowing snow during the winter, I’ll spend the coldest months planning out the details for upcoming projects. Sustainable property design requires forethought in planning, material/plant selection and attention to detail in execution.

While I can create a concept for a property and install the project in a very short time, it is imperative that the customer be engaged and involved in the process and that takes time. Spending time with customers during the winter helps to create the unique property features that in turn creates the multiple benefits that are part of a sustainable yard.

Keeping up with these winter tasks has really streamlined the work and has allowed me to plunge right into the installation phase very early in spring. This has turned out to work well for customers too. The decisions are all made and they can enjoy the early warm weather!

So enjoy winter! And give me a call and we can meet up to discuss your future project.




EPS Foam: The Gift that Keeps on Giving . . . . . . Sigh!

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Don’t you hate the waste regarding packaging? While cardboard and some wrapping paper is reusable and recyclable in many ways, foam is often not so easy. Most foam and plastic packing materials end up in the landfill or worse yet in our oceans.

Part of a sustainable property is finding ways to reuse things that you end up with. Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) is one of those things that show up in abundance, especially around the holidays. It is used for packing many things, is light and cheap to produce. You can recognize EPS by the small balls of compressed foam that make up this material. EPS takes up space in landfills, lasts forever and is not easy to re-use on your own property.

If you live in central Wisconsin and want to recycle it you are in luck. A local company accepts clean, used EPS and it turns it into new products almost immediately. Styrene Products Inc. is located in Schofield, Wisconsin and you can get more information on drop-off times at styreneproducts.com


Our friend Eric reused our EPS wine shipping carton to fly these jack fruit trees to Cameroon.

Our friend Eric reused our EPS wine shipping carton to fly these jack fruit trees to Cameroon.

EPS foam can be recognized by its white color and composition of compressed, small beads of foam

EPS foam can be recognized by its white color and composition of compressed, small beads of foam




Weather Forecasting: Is it All About the Money?

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

An aster blooming on December 2, 2016 in central Wisconsin.

AccuWeather’s Advertising Sales team is based out of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. This is not a low-rent district and a testament to how much money changes hands in the weather forecasting business. Not only are there private and government weather forecasters, but there are also companies such as, ForecastWatch, that sell services related to tracking accuracies of the forecasters.

Weather forecasting is big business because even small changes in temperature, for instance, can have dramatic financial effects on businesses, government operations and individuals. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Cloudy with a Chance of Swimsuit Sales, illustrates how fashion designers and clothing retailers were blindsided by the warm fall and early winter weather this year. The result; cold weather apparel didn’t sell well.

People ask me all the time for long-term weather predictions. Usually they will ask; “Is it going to be a dry summer?” or “Will it be a cold winter?”. Part of my job is identifying weather trends to help me  position my services and schedule customers for optimal results. The office phone starts ringing or the emails pour in with the first warm day in late winter from potential customers. However, long before that, my work schedule was created to take advantage of the weather averages and to benefit by anticipating day-to-day, atypical weather during the current weather trend.

In sustainable property design, instead of trying to design around weather reports, we design for the extreme. It has become obvious that weather seems to be more erratic. By incorporating features in the landscape that takes advantage of and actually produces benefits from what ever the weather brings, you can be more in control of the outcome. Here is one of my past articles about using excess precipitation.

So if you want 100% accuracy in weather; look out the window, put your coat and mittens on (or swimsuit) and let’s go out and play!


Preventing Winter Animal Damage To Plants

Posted on: November 10th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

[For information on identifying damage to your plants, read our article: Spot Animal Damage To Your Landscape.]

If you haven’t protected your plants from animal damage yet, you still have time. Winter in northern climates is part of the natural process for plants. And so is the presence of deer, rabbits and mice that survive our winters by eating dormant plants.


Here a tree stem is protected from deer, rabbits and mice.

Protecting valuable landscape plants from permanent damage is easy to do, but the devil is in the details. Deer, rabbits and mice/voles damage plants in different ways and you have to protect against all three.

Deer will tear off branches to eat and during the fall and early winter bucks will also rub their antlers on stems of trees, removing the bark. Rabbits cut away at branches and stems as high as they can reach and snow may help them reach higher. Mice and voles gnaw at the base of plants, girdle trees and even burrow down into the root system. Mice can operate unseen in the slim layer between the ground and snow cover, only revealing damage during the spring thaw.

Some plant varieties are less subject to damage, but under the right conditions any plant can be damaged. Fruit trees  and fruit shrubs are often more damaged than other plants because they apparently taste good to animals.

To protect against deer, plants need to be fenced to above where deer can reach. That can be 5 feet or more. Rabbit protection also needs to extend up to the height they can reach. Since mice mainly operate very close to the ground, collars around the base of the plant that fit tight to the ground are needed.

It is easiest to incorporate protection against deer, rabbits and mice at the same time. Protect your plants now and enjoy them in the spring!

Spot Animal Damage To Your Landscape

Posted on: November 5th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

If you are observant you can take action as soon as you see animal damage in your landscape before it is too late!

Every year I am amazed at the number of people who say they don’t have deer problems where they live in central Wisconsin. Yet, they have noticed that mysteriously their plants are not growing and even seem to be getting smaller! This is because they are failing to notice the signs of animal damage in their landscape.

If your landscape plants are getting smaller or not doing well here are some of the things that you can look for:

  • Ends of branches appear that they are torn off-deer feeding
  • Stems of trees have bark stripped off-antler rubbing by deer
  • Sharp, pointy cuts on shrubs stems 2 feet off the ground or less-rabbit feeding
  • Bark missing and gnaw marks close to ground level, especially on fruit trees-mice/voles feeding

The most severe animal damage in northern climates occurs during the winter. For information on preventing animal damage to your plants, check out our article Preventing Winter Animal Damage To Plants.



The little round balls are not a breakfast cereal. They are rabbit poop. As an experiment, I put apple tree branches on the ground and the rabbits nibbled all the bark off them!


The protective collar for this tree did not fit tight to the ground in our nursery. Mice moved in and completely girdled this tree. Make sure mouse protection is thorough!


Rabbit damage is easy to spot. Rabbits cut off stems at a sharp angle as shown in this picture. Deer teeth tear branches leaving a very rough looking cut.

Putting Plants to Bed and Other Fairy Tales

Posted on: October 19th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
Planting the right plants in the right place eliminates having to have your home look like this for months.

Planting the right plants in the right place eliminates having to have your home look like this for months.

Have you ever noticed around Halloween that some properties look just plain scary? Over night big, white styrofoam barrels appear, shrubs are wrapped in tattered burlap and straw is strewn about. Sometimes you even see elaborately constructed “gallows” built around plants with lots of small pieces of wood, baling wire, metal stakes and all manner of materials.

Well, this isn’t holiday decorating! It is instead what gardeners and hobbyists have bought into when they read one book or another on gardening that had a section on putting plants “to bed” for their winter “sleep”.

Installing plants that are not hardy in our climate zone, installing plants in the wrong location or placing plants where physical damage can occur are some of the reasons gardeners and gardening authors spend so much time on the subject of preparing plants for the winter. Sometimes these measures actually cause more damage, like when straw or other coverings provides a great location for mice to hang out in a cozy spot and eat the “protected” plants.

The elaborate ritual of covering, wrapping and mulching plants in late fall is not necessary when property owners adopt sustainable landscape methods. Starting out with sustainable property design means that plants and other features will be chosen based on the climate and site conditions. Good design and good plant choices significantly reduce all maintenance needs including at the end of the growing season.

It is time to put to bed the notion of “putting plants to bed”.



Signs of Soil Erosion and Water Damage

Posted on: October 12th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
Exposed soils, rills and gullies indicate an erosion problem

Exposed soils, rills and gullies indicate an erosion problem.

A recent visit to a vacation property, poignantly brought attention to the visible signs of soil erosion. This residential resort has attempted to install erosion control features and those features are actually causing more damage. Roads on the property are breaking up because water is undercutting them and they will need early replacement or repair. Mulch and road shoulder gravel is being washed away causing the maintenance staff extra work. Debris washed onto driveways and eroded areas of the landscape make the property look distressed.

One of the reason we are seeing more erosion on many properties is because they were built during the prolonged drought that extended back to the 1990’s and above average rainfall has returned. There are other reasons for excessive erosion too. Many landscapers and excavators are used to working on flat or low-slope properties and fail to do the necessary ground work to control water flows. More development is occurring in hilly and environmentally sensitive areas. There are fewer prime properties available that offer flat, easy to build on land.

Knowing the signs of erosion damage and the signs of failed erosion control practices are really important first steps.

Undercutting and wet soils under paving results in premature failure

Undercutting and wet soils under paving results in premature failure.

Signs to look for of soil erosion and unchecked flows of water:

  • Rills (small channels) and gullies are formed that wash away the top layer of soil or mulch.
  • Edges of roads are exposed, pavements crack and break off at the edges, and shoulder material is washed away.
  • Water runs across sidewalks, roads and driveways and deposits debris and soil on those surfaces.
  • Previously installed erosion control materials, like riprap (rocks laid on the surface), begin to wash out and expose landscape fabrics.
  • Water in basements and excessive running of sump pumps.
  • Down slope ponds that have excessive weed and algae growth caused by water carried soil, organic materials and fertilizers.

Once you understand what to look for, what is the next step?

Stay tuned for additional articles on erosion control and water control methods that really work.


Eroding soils and debris is left on driveways

Eroding soils and debris are left on driveways.

Storage for temporary road shoulder repair materials cause collateral damage by killing tree roots that are under the gravel

Storage for temporary road shoulder repair materials cause collateral damage by killing tree roots (and the trees) that are under the gravel.

Traditional erosion practices begin to fail as organic materials build up in the rock, erosion fabric is exposed and water is channelized

Traditional erosion practices begin to fail as organic materials build up in the rock, erosion fabric is exposed and water is channelized.

Fall Planting Bliss

Posted on: October 6th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
2010 Garlic Harvest

Late fall, about 2 weeks before the ground freezes, is the best time to plant garlic in northern climates.

If you haven’t tried fall planting you are missing out on the easiest time of year to establish many types of plants. Bulbs, perennials, shrubs, trees and prairie plantings are all easier to plant in the fall. And most fall planting can go right up until the ground freezes. Think of it, as it gets colder there are no mosquitoes or gnats buzzing around your head while you’re working outside!

So why is fall such a great time for planting? Don’t most people plant in spring? Spring planting is fine for annuals and most other plants. However the dormant period of plants in the spring is really short. Once plants come out of dormancy they need immediate care and watering. To top it off, weed growth in the spring just explodes as you well know-adding to the work. So most people rush as they try to get everything done in a 2 week window of opportunity.

In Fall you can slow down. Plants are hardening off and beginning to go dormant. Dormant plants need less inputs, yet their root systems continue to grow. With cooler temperatures, less watering is needed and in some cases mulching may be enough to retain adequate moisture for the plants. Most annual weeds begin to die after the first frost so you don’t have to work at removing them.

One caveat to fall planting are species that have needles and leaves on year-round (evergreen) and can become desiccated in cold, dry winter weather. If roots of these plants are cut in the transplanting process they may not be able to regrow fast enough to supply the plant with adequate moisture. Save the planting for these as soon as the ground thaws in spring.

So put on your jacket and let’s go do some fall planting!

Fall: Get Your Pond Ready Now For Winter Aeration!

Posted on: September 7th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Early fall is a great time to assess your needs for pond aeration over the winter.

Aeration compressors can do double duty. Heat produced when our compressor is running helps keep our shop above freezing

Aeration compressors can do double duty. Heat produced when our compressor is running helps keep our shop above freezing

Did you find dead fish in your pond when the ice melted or was there a foul odor emanating from your pond last spring? If you had either of these conditions, it is time to consider winter aeration of your pond.

Most ponds are not self-sufficient in oxygen production during the winter months because they don’t have enough aquatic plants to produce oxygen and the number of fish may exceed the amount of oxygen needed. During the winter a cap of ice and snow tightly seals your pond from natural aeration. Oxygen is consumed by dying plants and decomposing organic material on the pond bottom. Fish in your pond die when the oxygen level goes below what they need to survive. The decomposition process also releases toxic gasses that are fatal to fish.

Condensation in airlines can freeze during the winter. Cover and insulate lines, valves and connections.

Condensation in airlines can freeze during the winter. Cover and insulate lines, valves and connections.

Circulating water in your pond and creating a small opening in the ice is necessary to allow air to mix with water and to release toxic gasses. The most efficient way to do this is with diffuse aeration. Diffuse aeration is simply a small compressor mounted near the pond with an airline going into the pond and to an underwater diffuser that bubbles air to the surface of the pond. Many people assume incorrectly that it is these tiny bubbles of air that saturate the water with oxygen. This is not true. The air bubbles are simply an efficient way to move a column of water upward to the surface of the pond. This moving current of warmer water helps keep a space open in the ice-covered pond and allows for mixing of the water with the atmosphere to absorb oxygen for fish to breath.

There is specific equipment designed for aeration and this equipment can be long lasting and easy to use. It is important to use compressors and diffusers that are efficient in order to adequately oxygenate the water and at the same time to keep electrical bills low.

Aeration equipment used in the winter can also be suitable for summer use in your pond to improve water quality and your enjoyment. This can make your investment in pond aeration something that you can enjoy year-round.


Easy Fall Weeding

Posted on: August 30th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo 1 Comment

By this time of year, most gardeners are ready to fall in their tracks, exhausted from months of weeding.

I see many people pull weeds up by the roots, stuff them into plastic bags and put them out in the garbage-permanently banning these invaders from their property. So, if this is a successful method, why do you have to do it again next week? Is this the most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of weeds by using a plastic bag and taking up landfill space? The simple answer is “no”!

A scuffle hoe can cut off weeds at the soil surface minimizing soil disturbance

A scuffle hoe can cut off weeds at the soil surface minimizing soil disturbance

There is a method that makes weeding easier, takes less time and makes the gardener a better steward of the environment. This weeding method is called chop and drop. The basics of this method is that you cut the weed off at the base of the plant and cut the upper portion of the weed into small sections leaving it in the garden. What!!!!? Isn’t this garden hearsay!!! Well, let’s look at the science and biology of weeds.

This type of scuffle hoe was made with sickle mower blades

This type of scuffle hoe was made with sickle mower blades

Most weeds that we battle in the garden and landscape are annuals. This means that they only live for one year, sprouting next year from seeds that can lay dormant for decades. Many annuals grow best in disturbed soil. Deep cultivating, pulling weeds up by their roots, digging dogs, and rototilling all create perfect conditions for weeds to germinate. It is true that annual weeds that are cut off at the soil surface can regrow from the roots during the growing

You can purchase many types of long-handled or short handled scuffle hoes

You can purchase many types of long-handled or short-handled scuffle hoes

season. However, pulling them out just opens a fresh wound in the soil that is soon taken over by new weeds. The existing weed root system that is left in place by the chop and drop method actually discourages new weeds from sprouting.

Weeds can create benefits in their initial growth and in their demise.  Since weeds concentrate micro-nutrients that might be missing in your soil, finding a way to incorporate them into the surface of the garden or landscape is essential.

Leaving weed roots in the ground allows them to die at the end of the growing season releasing the nutrients they process. The cut-off top of the plant will also decompose returning it’s nutrients to the soil. Weed stems and roots also contribute a significant amount of organic material to the soil.

Chop and drop is not magic. Just like other weeding methods, chop and drop needs to be periodically repeated during the growing season. However with chop and drop you are going to do a lot less work which leaves time for everything else you want to do!