Planting trees and shrubs around your home increases the value of your property and the enjoyment you receive from your surroundings. Proper selection and planting can lead to years of enjoyment from your landscaping. Improper planting can ruin your investment and cause your plants to be sickly or even to die. Following these simple tips will improve the chances for your trees and shrubs, as well as save you time, energy, and money.
Plants are generally available from nurseries two ways. The first is container grown. These plants have spent most or all of their lives in a pot. Most shrubs are sold this way for ease of production and handling. Some smaller trees are also sold this way. The other way plants are sold is "b&b," or balled and burlapped. This is the way most trees are sold. Lack of a container allows for almost infinite size for the plant. The plants are grown in a field, then dug up and their roots are wrapped with burlap to protect them and to contain the soil and hold it around the roots. Container plants are available any time, but b&b material is subject to some digging restrictions at certain times of the year.
Preparing the Planting Hole
One of the keys to plant survival is digging the proper hole. The hole should be dug twice the diameter of the root ball in width to accommodate the ball and allow for easy back-filling. The hole should, however, be no deeper than the original depth at which the plant has been growing. Leave the soil at the bottom of the hole undisturbed. This will prevent settling that can cause the plant to sink too deep in the hole. For shallow-rooted, drainage-sensitive plants like azaleas and rhododendrons, the plant should actually be an inch or two out of the ground to promote good drainage in our heavy soils.
Remove the soil from the hole and pile it around the rim of the hole. Remove any large stones, roots, or other debris from the soil. Research has demonstrated that plants will perform best if planted directly into the native soil in your yard. The old practice of adding lots of organic matter to the backfill soil is out-dated and should be avoided, except when installing an entire bed. For planting in prepared beds, where all of the soil is amended (not just in the planting hole), the organic matter is of great benefit to the plants. This only holds true for preparing beds. For individual planting holes, just put back what you took out.
Planting Container Plants
Begin by removing the plant from the container. Turn the plant on its side and place the base of the trunk between your fingers, with your hand spread over the top of the root ball. Gently tip the plant out of the pot and into your hand. If the plant doesn't come out freely, press down on the side of the pot with your hand or your foot to loosen the ball from the pot. If the plant is particularly stubborn, cut the pot away with a knife or pruning shears.
Once the plant is free from the container, loosen or score the roots on the outside of the root ball. This will encourage the roots to expand out into the surrounding soil, instead of continuing to wrap around the outside of the old root ball. This can also improve the penetration of water into the root ball from the surrounding soil.
Place the plant in the bottom of the hole. Turn the plant to get the best side to the most prominent view. Carefully backfill the hole with the soil you took out. Make sure to fill all the cavities around the root ball. Air pockets left in the hole can cause drying of the roots and root death. When the hole is full, gradually slope the soil away from the top of the root ball. Never pile soil on top of the root ball. This can kill the plant.
Once the hole is filled, water the plant thoroughly. This will help to settle the soil around the roots, as well as giving the new plant an ample supply of moisture in its new home. A good additive to the irrigation water for this first watering is RootMaster. This will help the new plant tolerate the stresses of transplanting and help boost the root system as it begins to develop.
Mulch your new plant with three inches of good mulch. Pine bark or hardwood are equally good. Be sure not to pile mulch around the trunk of the plant. Start with about half an inch at the trunk, and work up to three inches as you get about six to eight inches away from the trunk. This will help prevent decay and insect/animal damage to the base of the trunk.
Balled & Burlapped Plants
Planting for balled and burlapped plants is basically the same as for container plants, with the exception of the container. Place the plant in the hole, burlap and all. Once in the hole, cut all twine that ties the burlap around the root ball. Be extra careful to get all the string from around the trunk. String left in place, particularly plastic or nylon twine, will kill the tree. Once the twine is removed, loosen the burlap from the top of the ball. Peel it back from the trunk and tuck the loose ends down into the hole. If the burlap is a synthetic material, it is best to cut away the wrapping or remove it from the hole altogether. Make sure the burlap is all down below the surface of the soil. The exposed burlap will act as a wick and draw moisture out of the soil and away from the plant. Backfill and so forth as outlined above for container plants.
Stakes are only necessary and advised when the plants are being planted in an exposed area where wind is likely to blow them over. Larger trees are particularly susceptible to being blown over in the wind. Be careful not to stake the tree too tightly, or it won't be able to move at all in the wind. This leads to a weak trunk later in life. Thread the staking material through old garden hose to prevent rubbing and cutting of the bark. Remove the stakes after one year.
The RootMaster discussed above is generally all the fertilizer a plant needs for the first year. After that, a good balanced fertilizer such as Azalea, Camellia & Rhododendron Food or All-Purpose Plant Food once or twice a year is perfect.