After all, a landscape can become an extension of the home. It is another area to sit and read a book in the shade, or to watch the birds, or enjoy the flowers.
At our house, we like to cook our meals on an old chimney smoker with friends and family – each taking a seat around the garden to enjoy the food. It is our LIVING room.
Each year, I like to change it up just a bit.
Choose a healthy plant
Fall is typically the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Winter and very early spring are favorable as well. As containerized shrubs and trees have become more common than bareroot plants, planting can be done most times during the year with a little forethought.
One advantage to containerized shrubs and trees is the root ball. Grown or transplanted into the container, all the roots come with the plant – as opposed to plants that are dug and sold.
This can give the plant a root up when it’s planted.
However, there is always a disadvantage. If the plant has been grown in the container too long, it may be root-bound. This means the roots have gotten so long that they have nowhere left to go. They will start to grow around and around in the container.
This can lead to problems when the plant is in the ground, such as slow growth and girdling of the roots.
While some of this can be corrected at planting, it is best to check the container plant before purchasing. Make sure the roots are not circling around themselves.
Also check for healthy roots. Healthy roots will be white or pale tan. Unhealthy roots will be slimy or darkened.
On the other end of the plant, check for discolored leaves and insects. Discolored leaves may be the result of a nutrient deficiency, a pest problem, or even wind and sun damage. Crispy or wilting leaves are usually the result of drought stress.
Keep it healthy
If it is going to be a few days before you plant your new tree or shrub, keep it in a sheltered area to protect it from wind-burn.
Keep up with the water! The growing medium used for container plants is usually pine bark and a sand-type mixture. This soilless media can dry out very fast, especially in the heat of the day.
If the top couple of inches starts to dry, it is time to water again. If there are sufficient drainage holes in the container, you should not have to worry about root rot.
Prepare the ground
A lot of us (me) have a habit of impulse buying. I see a plant I need and bring it home. A couple of weeks later, I am usually furiously trying to get holes dug to get the plants in the ground. This is really the wrong way to do it.
You want your new plant to be there for many years to come. Preparing the ground properly will get the plants off to a good, healthy start.
It has become a trend to dig a small hole and fill it with compost or other organic materials. The premise is that the rich soil amendment will provide the roots with favorable soil conditions.
While it sounds like a good idea, it’s not the best idea. This type of soil amending actually creates another pot for the plant to grow in. The roots may love the organic matter, but once they reach the native soil, they circle back around the planting hole –very much like they would in a container.
This will create problems. It may take a couple of years, but eventually the plant may start to digress. As the organic matter decomposes, air pockets form, and water can sit in the hole, rotting the roots.
If you’re only planting one or two plants, refilling the holes with native soil is the way to go.
Dig a really big hole
When planting trees and shrubs, remember that wider is always better. Standard recommendations call for a hole three times the diameter of the new plant. That is the minimum amount; wider is better. Most roots grow sideways, not down.
In fact, the planting hole should be slightly shallower than the size of the rootball, so the plant is actually a couple of inches above ground. This helps with root rot, and takes into account the fact that the ground will settle.
Now what about those amendments? I agree that some soils, whether clay or sand, need amending. Some drain too fast, and some do not drain at all.
If the area needs amending, mix the organic matter with the native soil. You will want to do this over a large area – anywhere roots may venture. This may mean amending a 100-square-foot area when planting one tree.
To make life easier for myself, I usually amend large areas at one time and plant several shrubs in the planting area.
Once the plant is removed from the container, water the roots well.
Wash off as much of the potting medium from the roots as you can. The potting medium will eventually decompose and leave air pockets underground.
Spread out the roots. If the roots are starting to circle one another, use something to score the roots so they can be spread out.
Once the plant is in the ground, a nice mulch will help control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Water deeply a couple of times of week. Your newly planted shrub does not have deep roots yet, so a couple of weeks of frequent watering will be necessary to get it off to a good start.
Enjoy your new room.
Dani Carroll is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For more information, contact your local county Extension office or visit www.aces.edu.