Landscape Maintenance

Deer Damage Control

Do you hate walking out the door in the summer to find your impatiens nipped off at the ground or your hosta leaves cut back to the stem? Maybe you're plagued even earlier in the year, with mysteriously disappearing tulips or neatly cropped pansies. It’s almost time to start seeing deer damage, and if they're already sampling your garden your garden, now is the time to act. The longer deer have been allowed into your yard, the more you'll see, and the harder it will be to get rid of them. There are four main ways to deal with a deer problem: repellents, frightening them, fences, and deer resistant plants.

Taste and Scent Repellents for Deer

Repellents seem to be the most common solution, but they're generally not the most effective. They can manage mild to moderate deer problems if you start as soon as you see damage and rotate through different types. Both scent and taste repellents are available, and some commercial products combine the two. Scent repellents include rotten eggs, garlic, bars of soap, and deer fear pheromones. If you opt to used soap bars, pieces must be hung on wires for the smell to circulate, and you’ll need a ton to keep the deer away, so this option may not appeal to you if you're dealing with an ornamental garden. Deer pheromones repellents work by emitting a smell that deer release when frightened to warn other deer to stay away.

Taste repellents usually rely on capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers spicy. In store bought spray repellents, you'll often find capsaicin mixed in with the garlic and egg. You can find any of these at your local garden center, but be sure to read the packaging first. Some must be applied under certain conditions or reapplied frequently, and if you have a large property you may not want to deal with the time and expense required to keep the deer away by these means. Not all of these products are safe to use on plants you intend to eat, even if the active ingredients are things you recognize, like egg solids. Natural does not necessarily mean safe. Always be sure to read landscape product labels.

Scaring Deer Away

Deer can also be frightened away. Shooting them, while it may be an effective means of instilling fear, is not a recommended or legal way to deal with the problem in urban or suburban areas like Indianapolis (and it always requires licensed permission). An outdoor dog can be an excellent solution more appropriate for heavily populated regions. Sometimes people use noise-making devices to repel the animals, but they quickly adjust to the noise, and it can end up bothering you and your neighbors more than the deer.

Deer Fencing

Proper fencing is a reliable way to keep out deer. Deer fences should be at least 7 feet high and sturdy enough not to be easily knocked over. Mesh fencing designed specifically for this purpose is less expensive, but also less attractive. A solid wood fence will also keep them out, but at much greater expense, and you may not be interested in physically and visually cutting your property off from the world. If you have a smaller vegetable garden you want to protect, this may be a more fitting situation for using mesh fencing. Make sure your fence is solid down to the ground, because deer can just as easily climb under a fence as jump over it.

Plants Deer Avoid

The last way to keep the pests out is to use plants they don't want to eat. Deer will generally avoid plants with strong, pungent scents or tough, hairy, or thorny stems and leaves. I'll give you a list of some of the most common options, but if you check the plant tag at a nursery or garden center, if will often tell you if deer leave it alone since this is such a common problem. Here are some plants deer don't like. For a more comprehensive list, check out this resource from Rutgers University. I put a * next to any plants that are native to Indiana, and a + next to any that attract pollinators.


Spring Bulbs


  • Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)+

  • Annual Vinca (Catharanthus rosea)+

  • Marigold (Tagetes species)+

  • Cleome or Spider Plant (Cleome hassleriana)+

  • Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)+

  • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)+


  • Ajuga or Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

  • Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)

  • Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)

  • Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)


If you mostly plant species deer don't like to eat, then you can selectively protect the plants you love that the deer also love and save yourself a lot of time and effort. The nice thing about these deer damage prevention strategies is that they are usually effective at keeping out rabbits as well, if you have problems with them. These are the most common solutions I'm aware of, but I know there are more deer repellent strategies out there, especially when it comes to home remedies. Do you have anything to add to the list? What has worked or not worked for you in the fight to keep deer from eating your favorite plants?

Coreopsis (photo by Maria Gulley)

Coreopsis (photo by Maria Gulley)

Siberian Squill (photo by Maria Gulley)

Siberian Squill (photo by Maria Gulley)

Snapdragon (photo by Maria Gulley)

Snapdragon (photo by Maria Gulley)

Lily-of-the-Valley (photo by Maria Gulley)

Lily-of-the-Valley (photo by Maria Gulley)

Bluebeard (photo by Maria Gulley)

Bluebeard (photo by Maria Gulley)

Bottlebrush Buckeye (photo by Maria Gulley)

Bottlebrush Buckeye (photo by Maria Gulley)

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Tips for Effective Watering

What is the single most important factor in the short-term and long-term success of a new planting? If you said proper watering, you're right. Newly installed plants don't have extensive root systems like more established plants, so they rely on the moisture present in their root ball. Even drought-tolerant species will need a little help at first. As new plants grow and root out into the surrounding soil, they become stronger and more resilient to changes in moisture levels. But be careful - there is such a thing as too much water, especially in the slow-draining clay soils common in the Indianapolis area. Also be aware that just because the hose is running, it doesn't mean that the right amount of water is going to the right place. Follow these instructions to make sure your new installation is happy and healthy.

When to water

Dig into the soil 2-4 inches with your hand or a trowel. If the soil feels damp, don’t water, but check the soil daily to see if it's dry. Soon you will be able to use the weather and the look of the plant will help you judge if it’s time to check the soil again so you aren’t having to check every day. If it's 90 degrees in July, and it hasn't rained in three weeks, a new tree or shrub might need to be checked twice per week, while perennials should be checked every 2-3 days. If it's 60 degrees in April and it has poured rain for a week, you should be fine checking once per week at most. Eventually, you'll learn what your property needs, and you may not need to dig into the ground often at all.

How to water

When the soil is dry, water the plant slowly and deeply. This means you should water slow enough that the water is absorbed without running off. Leaving the hose running on full blast at the base of a tree won't help much because the water will run off instead of soaking into the soil. Instead, leave the hose on a trickle within the root ball of a tree or shrub or set up a sprinkler to cover the area with new plants.

Periodic deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering because it encourages the roots to grow further, and so it prepares the plants to be stronger and more resilient after you stop hand-watering.

Fifteen to twenty minutes of gentle watering should be enough for a shrub or very small tree. For larger trees, water the tree for a total of about 45 minutes, moving the hose once or twice to make sure the root area is evenly covered (you don’t have to move it if you’re using a sprinkler). Tree irrigation bags can be helpful in the short run if you know you'll forget to water a tree. Follow the instructions provided with the bag to make sure you're providing the right amount of water for the size of your tree. In very hot, sunny weather, tree bags can actually hurt your tree by trapping heat and humidity against the bark. In these conditions, consider removing the bag entirely or at least taking it off between fillings.


Annuals and perennials don't need to be watered as deeply as trees and shrubs since their roots are shallower. A sprinkler or a hand-held hose nozzle works well. 20-30 minutes is usually enough time for a sprinkler on perennials, 10-15 minutes for annuals. When hand-watering, I like to slowly move over the area in 15-30 circuits depending on how dry the soil is. Annuals will need water more frequently than perennials, because we focus more on growing those for a showy display above ground rather than a durable root system below ground.

Keep in mind that all these numbers for watering frequency and duration will change depending on soil type and moisture and weather conditions. When in doubt, check the soil in the way we described above.

Water newly planted trees and shrubs throughout the first year from spring until late fall. Trees benefit from an additional season of watering, especially if they were planted late in the year. Perennials are usually safe to stop watering after 2-3 months, but keep an eye on them. Annuals should be watered all season long. Temporary irrigation can be installed for the first few months or the first season so you don't have to worry about checking the soil. If you’re interested in having temporary irrigation installed after your project is complete, talk to your account manager. Water plants in later years when they look wilted, such as during droughts.

Other Tips

  • Water between late evening and early morning to reduce water loss through evaporation (but don't wait if a plant is wilting now!).

  • Avoid watering the leaves when possible. This can cause leaf spot diseases on some plants, especially roses.

  • Frequent light watering is only good for annuals, and even they prefer deeper watering.

  • Wilted leaves can come from too much water as well as from too little water. Always check the soil, especially in containers without drainage.

  • A thick layer of mulch will help conserve moisture. Just make sure you apply extra water so that the soil still gets soaked to a depth of a few inches.

Download a PDF version of our watering instructions.

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Proper Tree Pruning: Art & Science

It's time for another tree care lesson! If you need a refresher on why we value trees so much, check out our post on the top 10 benefits of urban trees. Today we'll talk about proper pruning technique and why it's so important. The tree you see above has completely closed off some cuts and is working on others with even, donut-shaped callus growing over the wound. That's what you want to see, but getting that result is harder than you might think.

If you've ever needed to prune a tree branch and you haven't been trained on the best methods, chances are you've done one of two things: cut the branch somewhere in the middle to meet whatever clearance needs you're trying to achieve, or cut the branch off flush with the trunk. Both of these are bad for the tree. Trees can't heal wounds in the way people heal cuts on their skin. The tree has to grow new bark from the areas around the cut to seal off the damage, and some parts of the tree are better at this than others. When you cut a branch in the middle, the bark just below that wound can't wrap around and seal off the cut, so instead the branch just dies back to a spot lower down the branch where it can seal itself off, and you're left with a stub that will die. If you cut the branch flush with the trunk, you're creating a much larger wound that provides a bigger area for insects and disease to invade, and it takes longer for the tree to seal it off. The tree pictured above has been pruned properly, and you can see that new bark has totally covered the cuts over the years. Learn how to get these results below.

So where should you make a cut? There's a sweet spot at the base of a branch just before where it connects to another limb or to the trunk. There is a ridge of bark on the top of the branch and a little bump called the branch collar on the bottom. Your goal is to cut just on the outside of these two structure. See the diagram on the right for clarification (click to see larger). It won't always be easy to spot the branch collar on the bottom, so if you aren't sure make your best guess. The angle of the cut should follow the angle of an imaginary line connecting the bark ridge and branch collar. If you're having trouble finding the branch collar, make the angle match the angle of the bark ridge as it extends into the trunk.

Step 1: cut a notch (red arrow) on the underside of the branch about a third of the way through

Step 1: cut a notch (red arrow) on the underside of the branch about a third of the way through

Step 2: cut the branch all the way through at least 4-6” past the notch (red arrow) you cut in step 1

Step 2: cut the branch all the way through at least 4-6” past the notch (red arrow) you cut in step 1

Step 3: make your final cut just outside the bark ridge (red arrow) at an angle away from the tree

Step 3: make your final cut just outside the bark ridge (red arrow) at an angle away from the tree

If you look at a branch that has broken off in a storm, you will sometimes notice that the weight of the falling branch caused a strip of bark to rip off of the trunk as it fell. This can also happen when a branch breaks as you work on sawing through it, and ripping bark like that leaves a wound that can be difficult for a tree to heal over. If you are removing a branch larger than 1" in diameter, you need to use the three cut technique to avoid tearing the bark. First you make a cut on the bottom of the branch further up than where your ideal cutting zone is. This cut should go about a third of the way into the branch. Next, you cut off the branch on the outside of this pre-cut. If the bark starts to rip, it will stop when it gets to your first cut. Your third cut should be at the base of the branch in the sweet spot we discussed above.

Congratulations! You now know how to prune your trees to keep them happy and healthy for years to come! Please spread your knowledge, and never hesitate to ask a professional for help if you have questions. If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s short video that shows how to cut medium-sized branches and shows where you want the finishing cut for any size of branch. For more details written instructions, you can also check out this Purdue Extension bulletin about pruning trees and shrubs.

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To Shear or Not to Shear? How to Prune Shrubs

It's the time of the year where you're probably starting to think about tidying up wayward shrubs and pruning hedges during the spring growth spurt. But before you grab shears or gas-powered hedge trimmers, let's talk about proper pruning practices and how they differ from species to species. Not all shrubs can be pruned the same if you want them to live long and prosper.

Rule #1 is to put away your electric or gas-powered hedge trimmers. Unless you're maintaining a substantial yew hedge or something like that, this tool doesn't have a place in shrub pruning. They can be useful for cutting back ornamental grasses or other sturdy perennials, but when used on shrubs they can tear and tatter twigs ends and leave the shrub vulnerable to pest and disease problems, along with leaving unsightly dead tips on branches.

Yews are one of a handful of shrubs that does well with tight shearing, as seen in this image of our work. Photo by Maria Gulley

Yews are one of a handful of shrubs that does well with tight shearing, as seen in this image of our work.
Photo by Maria Gulley

Even if you're using sharp, clean hand shears, a tight globe or box look is not suitable for every shrub in the landscape. For some species, this kind of pruning can result in poor internal structure that leaves huge holes in the shrub if even a single branch is lost. Pruning shrubs into uniform shapes can also rob them of the beauty of their natural form. We pick shrubs not just to provide a desired flower color or fill a space; when we design we take into account the natural shape and texture of a shrub, and if you shear a shrub that isn’t meant to be sheared, you’ll lose its natural beauty. You can also be giving yourself a headache, as some species will fight back with aggressive shoot growth after shearing. If you've ever tried to shear forsythia, you know what I'm talking about.

However, there are times when you want or need the clean formal shapes that a pair of hedge clippers can bring. The following species tolerate shearing well: arborvitae, yew, boxwood, privet*, barberry*, and burning bush*. When shearing a hedge, keep the top slightly narrower than the base. Hedges that are narrower at the bottom often end up thin and scraggly at the bottom because sunlight can't reach the lower branches.

Diagram of proper shrub pruning to reduce overall size. Click to view larger.

So how do you keep other species of shrubs in check if shearing isn't an option? Selective pruning is the process of removing individual branches to control the size and shape of your shrub or promote without destroying its natural shape. Branches can be cut back where they connect to a larger branch or snipped off just above a lower bud. If it seems like the bush is getting too dense and crowded, limbs can be removed all the way down to the ground. Make sure you look twice and cut once so you don't accidentally remove a limb that will leave a bare spot. This may be unavoidable at first if you're switching from shearing to selective pruning, but with time it will be easier. See the diagram on the left for an illustration of selective pruning.

If this seems like a lot of work, don't worry. Once you ditch the shears and pick up the hand pruners, you'll notice that your shrubs need considerably less taming. You will rarely see long, leggy shoots springing up left and right once you switch your methods and stick to it. Instead you'll just be removing the occasional wayward shoot and periodically reducing the shrub's size. If your shrubs have been sheared for so long that you are left with dense growth on the outer few inches and twiggy, leafless growth on the inside, then you may need to resort to renewal or rejuvenation pruning to bring it back to a healthy habit.

Forsythia especially dislikes shearing.  By Rdsmith4 - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

Forsythia especially dislikes shearing.
By Rdsmith4 - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

One last consideration in pruning is timing. Pruning should be done when the plant has the most time to recover, such as early spring or early summer (unless you're cutting just a few stems - you can do that any time without doing the plant any real harm). If you prune in the hottest part of the summer when your shrub is already stressed, you can increase the plant's stress and make it more vulnerable to other problems. Pruning in the fall can encourage new growth that won't have enough time to mature before freezing temperatures arrive, especially if you're shearing a hedge. Flowering shrubs need to be pruned at different times of year depending on when they flower. Spring blooming shrubs usually develop next year's flower buds during the summer, so it's vital that you prune immediately after flowering so you don't remove next year's flower buds. Summer blooming shrubs usually bloom on new growth, so they should be pruned after flowering, but before new growth starts in spring. Some shrubs can be pruned at any time, because they bloom on both new and old stems. Below I've listed some common flowering shrubs by optimum pruning time.

Prune in spring immediately after flowering:

  • Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)

  • Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)

  • Rhododendron and Azalea (Rhododendron species)

  • Thunberg Spirea (Spiraea thunbergii) (varieties include 'Ogon')

  • Lilac (Syringa species)

  • Viburnum (Viburnum species)

  • Weigela (Weigela hybrids)

  • Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla x gardenii)

  • Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia and melanocarpa)

  • Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

  • Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

  • Big Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Prune before spring growth:

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia hybrids and species)

  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa species and hybrids)

  • Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens, varieties include 'Annabelle', 'Incrediball', 'Invincibelle Spirit')

  • Hardy Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata, varieties include 'Limelight', 'Pinky Winky', 'Quick Fire')

  • Sumac (Rhus species)

  • Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

  • Summersweet Clethra (Clethra alnifolia)

  • Bumald Spirea (Spiraea x bumalda, varieties include 'Anthony Waterer')

  • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Prune before or after blooming:

  • Reblooming Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, specific varieties such as Endless Summer series)

  • Knock-Out Roses (Rosa Knock-Out hybrids)

  • Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica, varieties include 'Little Princess', 'Goldflame', 'Magic Carpet')

Azalea Photo by Maria Gulley

Photo by Maria Gulley

Dwarf Fothergilla Photo by Maria Gulley

Dwarf Fothergilla
Photo by Maria Gulley

Smooth Hydrangea Photo by Maria Gulley

Smooth Hydrangea
Photo by Maria Gulley

Knock-Out Rose Photo by Maria Gulley

Knock-Out Rose
Photo by Maria Gulley

I've provided some additional resources on pruning shrubs below. Feel free to direct any other questions you may have to me. Good pruning practices are essential to the long-term health and beauty of your garden, and we’d like to help. Contact us to learn more about what our maintenance team can do for you.

Additional Resources:
Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs (Purdue University Extension)
Shrub Pruning Calendar (Virginia Cooperative Extension)

*Privet, barberry, and burning bush are considered invasive and should be avoided. Privet and barberry are included in Indiana’s newly adopted list of banned invasive plants, and they will not be available for purchase within a few years.

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Pest Alert: Grub Control

Pest Alert: Grub Control

Keeping your lawn healthy and clean is a hassle enough but year after year pests can make it even more difficult. If you've noticed  thinning grass and/or patches in your lawn chances are its time to check for grubs. The easiest way to check for grubs is to simply dig up some soil of about 2 inches deep and examine it.

Pest Alert: Japanese Beetles

Pest Alert: Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are always present in the Indiana landscape, but some years are definitely worse than others. This is one of those years. Are you stumped about how to keep the iridescent pests off of your plants? Today we'll talk about the pros and cons of different strategies.

Lawn Apps Decoded

Lawn Apps Decoded

At 317Grow, our standard lawn application regimen includes five applications spaced throughout the year. If you have a lawn care contract with us, this is probably old news to you, but have you ever wondered what goes into each application? This week on the blog we'll got into detail on each application and what it does for your lawn. For some more general information about our full range of lawn care services, check out last year's interview with Brian, our part owner and maintenance manager.

Cold Snaps and Spring Blooms

Cold Snaps and Spring Blooms

Our temperatures have been all over the place this winter, and we had especially warm weather just a few weeks ago. Most plants use temperature as an important cue in deciding when to break dormancy, so you have probably seen bulbs coming up much earlier than usual.

Fall Garden Cleanup: What to Cut Back When

Fall Garden Cleanup: What to Cut Back When

Now that we have had a few frosts and freezes, your landscape is probably mostly brown for the winter. Around this time of year I start go get a lot of questions about which plants should be cut back and which ones should be left. Fortunately for you, it's hard to go wrong on this. No plant will be hurt by not cutting it back, and most plants won't be bothered by being cut back. The decision-making mostly boils down to how much work you want to do now vs. in the spring, and what sort of look you like through the winter. To help you decide what goes and what stays, I'll break plants down into some helpful categories.

Share the Love: Dividing Perennials

Share the Love: Dividing Perennials

One of my favorite things about gardening is watching the landscape change and mature over the years. As plants start to fill in, they sometimes become overcrowded and need to be thinned or moved. Many perennials respond well to being divided, and then you can spread them to other areas of your yard, or share the joy with friends, family, and neighbors. Today we'll talk about what kinds of plants can be divided, and then we'll go over different methods for splitting and transplanting them.