THE FIRST STEP TO A SUCCESSFUL
LANDSCAPE IS TO EDUCATE YOURSELF!
KNOWING YOUR SOIL TYPE
Knowing your soil type is the first step to a successful landscape. Before any planting should be done, you need to know what type of soil you are working with and what plants are best suited to grow there. A Crimson King Maple requires sandy-loam, well drained soils. A Heritage River Birch will tolerate clay soils. Before you pick up a shovel or even pick out a plant, you need to educate yourself first.
What is soil anyway? Soil is made up of two components. Soil is composed of minerals in the form of sand, silt or clay and organic components such as water, air, living organisms, manure or plant material.
What is soil texture? Soil texture is determined by the relative amounts of sand, silt and clay your soil has. The texture can greatly influence your soils drainage and ability to hold nutrients.
How can you determine what your soils type and texture? A general way to determine what type of soil you have is to take a handful of soil that is fairly dry and workable and squeeze it into a lump. Soils high in clay will form a hard clod that won't easily crumble like soils with lots of sand and silt. Get some of the soil wet and rub it between you fingers. Clay soil will feel slippery when wet while sand feels course and rough.
Another home test can be done by collecting a representative sample of your soil. Let it dry out for a few days. Break up the soil and take out and rock or sticks. Fill a clear jar 1/3 of the way with the soil and mark the level on the jar. Fill it with water and shake for a minute to get everything stirred up and floating. It will immediately begin to settle. After one minute, the sand will have settled out - mark this level. Make another mark after one hour to indicate how much silt settled out. After a day or two, the clay will have made up the next level. You may have a small layer on top of the clay, this is your organic matter. Looking at these layers, you can now see, comparatively, just how much sand, silt and clay make up your soil. If the clay layer makes up half or more of your sample, you have heavy clay soil. Soil that is equal parts clay, silt and sand is called loam. Sandy soils have very little clay.
A percolation test can also be done by digging a hole about 2 feet deep and one foot wide. Fill the hole with water and let it drain completely. Now fill the hole again and keep track of how long it takes to drain. If it drains in less than 12 hours, the soil should be able to support plants that require well-drained soil. If it takes 12-24 hours to drain, the soil is best suited to plants that tolerate heavy or clay soils. If it takes more than 24 hours for the hole to completely drain only tree that withstand occasional flooding will survive.
WORKING WITH CLAY SOIL
You have determined that you have clay soil, now what? Clay soil can cause a number of problems. On the positive side, clay isn't necessarily all bad. It has good moisture and nutrition retention, but the same "good" moisture retention can also be a problem. Clay soil drains slowly. So, as snow melts and rains set in, clay soil tends to remain saturated long after average or sandy soils have drained. It is also much slower to warm up in the spring. Clay compacts easily making it hard for the roots to penetrate, resulting in stunted root systems. With clay soil, there are often problems with frost heave and root damage as the soil freezes and thaws during changing weather. More often than not, clay soil is alkaline (has a high pH) and that can be hard on plants too. And worst of all, the stuff is heavy, sticky and hard to work!
Planting Tips for Clay Soil Clay needs extra preparation to help plants grow. The first step is to pick plants that are suited for clay soils. Ask a Turnbull Garden Center Associate what plants will work best for you.
Once plants have been selected, now it is time to prepare your soil. Never work clay soil when it is soggy or bone dry. If the soil is too wet, it will pack into hard clods. If it is bone dry, it will shatter into dust which will turn into mud, then brick. Bone dry soil should be watered with at least an inch of water, then allowed to soak in for 24 hours. Test the soil by squeezing a handful into a lump, then push your thumb into the lump. If it dents like modeling clay, it is too wet. If it crumbles, then it is perfect to work.
Always dig a hole three to five times as wide as the root system or root ball on the plant and about the same depth as the root system or root ball. Digging a deep hole usually causes the plant to settle too deep which leads to crown rot disease. Avoid digging a hole with smooth sides which encourage roots to circle the hole. Chop the sides with the point of the shovel to create slots which force roots to grow into the surrounding soil. Pour a couple of inches of potting soil or planting compost and sand into the hole. Chop it into the bottom so the potting soil and existing soil are mixed. Pour more potting soil or compost onto the pile of soil. Mix it together so it is about 1/4 potting soil or compost and 3/4 existing soil. The potting soil or compost will improve both aeration and drainage.
It is better to improve the existing soil with compost or potting soil than to replace it with potting soil. Rich soil will absorb water quickly, but it can't drain away through heavy clay soil. The rich soil will usually be even wetter than heavy clay and root rot is likely. When you improve existing soil, it is easier for water and roots to move from the improved soil to the existing soil. The only exception is if you hit blue clay. Roots will not grow in blue clay because there is no oxygen in it. Replace blue clay with sandy topsoil mixed with the top layer of soil.
The best and easiest time to improve soil is to do an entire area at once, such as when planting a new lawn or landscape. The amendments should be spread evenly over the area and worked into the soil at least ten inches deep. A spade or spading fork works best for small areas. A rotor-tiller handles large areas. For existing beds, the soil can be improved every time something is planted.
Place the plant in the hole and adjust its height so the crown of the plant, the line between the stem and the root, is 3 to 6 inches higher than the original ground level. Shovel the mixed soil from the pile into the hole and use the shovel blade to cut the soil into the hole. This breaks up the big chunks and works the soil down so there are no large air pockets. If there is burlap or twine around the trunk, loosen it so there is at least an inch of room to grow. Completely remove any plastic twine around the trunk.
Level the soil off so the soil is at the crown of the plant. Avoid burying the stem or low branches. You can build up a ridge around the plant to hold water while it soaks in. During wet weather, level the ridge so water doesn't stand around the plant. Watch out that the plant doesn't settle and create a puddle at the base of the plant. That would encourage crown rot disease.
Watering and Maintenance When you water, give it enough water each time so it wets the entire ball of soil in the hole. It is best to do this slowly with the hose on a slow trickle. Then let the surface dry out between watering. During hot weather planting, you may need to water every day, but it is important to let the soil surface dry out between watering so soil disease don't become a problem. After a couple of weeks the plant should need watering less often as the root system grows wider. Always check the moisture content of the surrounding soil before watering. The most common cause of death to a newly planted tree is over-watering! All trees and shrubs perform best with a regular fertilization schedule, beginning in early spring. It is generally best to stop fertilizing in August so that the plant has time to slow down and harden off before winter.
Soil Drainage Drainage and aeration is improved by soil amendments, but there must be some place for the water to go. Yards should be graded so surface water drains off. In mostly flat yards or low areas, subsurface drainage will have to be provided. Perforated plastic drainpipe can be buried at least a foot deep. It is important that drainpipes slope evenly so dirt doesn't clog up the low spots.
PLANTING BARE ROOT TREE & SHRUBS
Handling Bare Root Stock Properly It is important that the plant's roots never dry out before or during planting. Keep them in the wrapping they traveled in from the nursery until you begin the planting process. Hold the plants in the shade or protected cold (but not freezing) place until they can be planted. If this will be more than two days, it is best to let us hold onto the plants for you. Handle them carefully to avoid breaking any limbs or roots.
Prepare for Planting When you are ready to plant, unwrap the plant and check for any broken or damaged roots or branches. These should be pruned off cleanly. After you have finished, soak the roots in a bucket of water (no longer than 12 hours). You can add a root stimulator at the recommended dilution if you like.
Plant Properly Dig your hole large enough to accommodate all the roots without crowding. You never want to bend roots to fit into a hole. Loosen the soil on the sides of the hole. It makes positioning the roots easier if you make a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole and position the plant over it with the roots fanning out around the mound. Look for the flare root (the place where the roots appear to grow out of the trunk) and be sure that this point is at or just below the surface when the hole is filled. Make sure to keep any graft unions above ground level. Planting too deeply is one of the major causes of transplant failure with tree and shrubs. Fill the hole with the soil you removed, or amended soil if planting in clay, being careful to fill in around the roots so that there will not be air pockets. Pack the soil and add more loose soil on top that the moisture can penetrate.
Water and Stake Water the new planting thoroughly to settle the soil. You can use root stimulator for this if you want to. If the plant settles too much when you water it, work it up and down gently while the soil is saturated to resettle it higher. Trees or tall shrubs that will offer wind resistance should be staked. The stakes should be removed after the plant leafs out the next year. Stake kits can be purchased at the garden center.
Mulch and Don't Fertilize Create a small rim of soil just outside the area dug for the tree. You can fill this "bowl" with mulch. Do not use fertilizer until the plant has been in the ground for a year. Make sure you keep the soil moist, you should also be careful not to over water. Bare root plants use very little water until they are completely leafed out. Once a week, reach under the mulch and check the soil for moisture. If it feels damp don't water. When you water, soak the soil deeply.
PLANTING PLANTS FROM PLASTIC POTS
Preparing the Plant Remove the plant from its container. If the roots are tightly packed or circling around the bottom of the root ball, use a knife or your fingers to free them. Don't worry; you won't hurt the plant! In fact, you're helping the plant! This stops the roots from spiraling around and eventually strangling the plant.
Planting Dig you hole at least twice as big as the container size. Loosen the dirt on the sides and bottom. (For clay soils following direction as previously explained.) Set the plant in the hole, making sure that it is straight. Add some backfill around the roots and then water to help the soil settle quickly. Keep alternating soil and water until the backfill is even with the surrounding soil. Rake the soil level around the planting site. Cover it with 2-4" of mulch. Water the newly planted tree or shrub well, then water as needed.
PLANTING B&B PLANTS
Planting Planting B&B trees and shrubs is basically the same as planting container plants. After digging your hole and preparing the soil, place the plant in the hole. Cut the twine around the base of the trunk or stem. Do not remove the burlap from the root ball, but pull the cloth down around the sides of the root ball so that no burlap will be above the soil level. Make sure to follow all instructions for planting in clay soils! Water the newly planted tree or shrub well, then water as needed.
PLANTING PLANTS FROM BIODEGRADABLE POTS
Planting Follow the same steps for plants in a plastic container, but don't take the plant out of a biodegradable container. The pot will slowly break down just like natural burlap. After digging the hole and preparing the soil, tear or break off the rim of the biodegradable pot. Make sure there is no piece of the pot sticking above the soil surface.
If you would like to transplant a tree or shrub to another location, there are a few guidelines that you should follow. Do it at the right time - plants should be moved while dormant in the early spring or late fall depending on variety. Keep as much of the root system intact - dig a trench around the plant and keep as much of the soil around the root system as possible. A 1" diameter tree or shrub should have at least a 12" root ball. Shallow-rooted plants like rhododendrons require a wide, flat ball. Deep-rooted plants like yews need a root ball with more depth. Make sure to thoroughly water the plant after transplanting, then water as needed.
MAINTENANCE AFTER PLANTING
Watering Plants There is nothing more important than water to the life of your new trees or shrubs. You do not want to keep the soil totally saturated; however, never allow it to completely dry out, especially during the hot, dry periods. Many plants are known as drought tolerant. And they are drought tolerant, but only after they are established. Most trees and shrubs require at least one growing season to become established; many taking as long as three years.
After the plant is established, you should only water plants when they need it. If the plant is drought tolerant, like Yucca, it could go weeks without water. If the plant is moisture loving, like Clethra, it needs about one inch of water per week. This does not mean you have to give it one inch of water each week. If it rains, you won't have to apply as much water.
If you are using an overhead watering system, be sure not to water during the hot, sunny day. This may cause the leaves of the plant to scald. It is best to do it in the late evening. This way the water will have plenty of time to penetrate the soil before the sun starts to dry it out again. If using a garden hose at the base of a plant, be sure to run the water in a slow trickle so that it penetrates the soil. If the water is coming out too fast, the water will run off and the not penetrate the ground where it is needed most, at the roots.
Fertilizing Plants During the first year, newly planted tree and shrubs will not need any fertilizer. Begin to fertilize regularly during the second year. Yearly feedings encourage the growth and flowering of trees and shrubs. Plants need fertilizer like we need food. The nutrients promote strong, sturdy root growth. Vigorously growing plants are more resistant to insect and disease attacks than weak plants with little new growth. Your choice of fertilizer, timing and application method will also affect the plant's development.
Fertilizer labels contain three numbers that express the relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. A fertilizer containing all three elements is referred to as a complete fertilizer. Complete fertilizers can be grouped into categories according to the relative percentage of nitrogen to phosphorus: high-nitrogen or high-phosphorus types.
High-nitrogen fertilizers (i.e. Schultz Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron 33-11-11) promote dark green color, lush full foliage and stem growth. These types of fertilizer are applied around evergreens, shade trees and other plants grown for their foliage. High-phosphorus fertilizers (Schultz All-purpose Plant Food 20-30-20) have less nitrogen and more phosphorus which promotes flower, fruit and root production. These fertilizers are used more for flowering trees and shrubs or those with ornamental berries or fruits. Feed established plants when they are actively growing. For most tree and shrubs this is during the early spring and mid summer. The best time to fertilize is in early spring before the first flush of new growth. Do not fertilize plants in late summer or early fall. Fertilizing could stimulate new growth, which may not be able to harden off before winter. Please follow all directions on the fertilizer package and use accordingly.
Protecting Plants Plants some time need protection, whether it be from deer, rabbits or from the winter weather. Here are some general guidelines to follow.
Deer Protection Everyone loves Bambi...until the cute little creature decides to dine on your favorite plant in your backyard. Deer are a major nuisance in some areas and they are not easy to control. You can buy repellents to spray on plants or apply to the ground, but some deer seem to ignore them. Fences can be used to keep out deer, but they may not be in your budget. A hungry deer will probably eat almost any kind of plant. But they do have some preferences. If all your deer-proofing attempts have failed, perhaps you should try planting some of Bambi' least favorite foods like: barberry, boxwood, lilac, magnolia, spirea or spruce. Stay away from: arborvitae, apples, cherry, plum, yews & rhododendron.
Rabbit, Mice or Squirrel Protection The tender bark at the base of a fruit tree and other young trees may become winter fare for mice, rabbits and squirrels. Protect this area by placing specialized tree guards or a 2-3' high small meshed fence around the base of the trunk.
Winter Protection Have you ever planted a tree or shrub in spring, then nurtured the plant all summer and fall, only to have it die during the winter? It's very frustrating and discouraging. Why not protect your investment from the harsh winter elements? You can do it, and with very little time or effort. Here are a few guidelines to ensure your plants both new and old, survive winter.
Winter protection should begin before a plant is placed in the ground. Be sure to select plants that can tolerate our winter temperatures. Western New York is a Zone 4 or 5, depending on how close you are to Lake Erie. This means that temperatures in our area can get as low as -30 F in land and -20 F near the lake. Our weather is quite harsh! Always choose plants that are hardy for our zone so that you are one step closer to surviving the winter.
You also want to select the species or variety appropriate for the area around your home; it's critical to the plant's survival. For example, use only shade tolerant plants in shady areas and drought tolerant plants in dry areas. You will also want to chose hardy varieties for valleys and other low-lying areas that form basins that trap cold air. Proper care also has a factor in the plants survival. Plants that are correctly planted, watered and fertilized are better able to withstand the effects of winter. Trees and shrubs begin to prepare for winter in mid-summer by slowing their growth rate and by hardening off their stems. So do your pruning and fertilizing before late July. Any later and your efforts will only stimulate new growth that won't have time to harden off before winter.
Many plants, no matter how well they are cared for, require some type of winter protection. Evergreens, especially broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons, keep their leaves or needles all year. But the sun and wind draw water from the foliage. Plants that face north or west are susceptible to wind damage. Plants facing south or east are susceptible to sun damage. Plants can't replace this water when the ground is frozen and so dry, brown areas (scorch) develop on the leaves.
You can reduce water loss by making sure plants are well watered through the fall. Apply water when necessary during the winter thaws to help prevent scorch. Burlap screens protect sensitive plants from sun and wind. You can also reduce water loss with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf. It forms a waxy coating when sprayed over the leaf surface.
The thin, young bark of newly planted trees is very sensitive. Winter sun can burn the exposed bark, a problem called sun scald. Trees may also suffer frost cracks. The bark of the tree trunk, especially if facing south, splits from the rapid heating and cooling that often occurs on sunny winter days. Prevent both sun scald and frost cracks by wrapping the tree trunk with a paper tree wrap.
Pruning may be needed for many reasons. The main reason is to shape the tree or shrub to the desired form. Damage can occur to the branches from wind, ice, disease or insect problems. These dead or damaged branches should be pruned off to prevent more damage from occurring. This type of pruning should be done only as the need arises, since waiting could allow disease to spread to healthy wood.
Trees that are planted for their flowers or fruit production may need careful pruning to enhance the production. Removing weak and crossed or rubbing branches and thinning excessive growth will result in larger and better fruit or flower production.
Shrubs Shrubs that are not grown for their flowers or those that flower late (generally after June 15) in the season can be pruned any time of the year, although early spring before new growth is best.
Shrubs that bloom earlier than June 15 will generally bloom on the previous season's growth. These should not be pruned in the fall, winter or spring before they bloom, because this would remove the flower buds. These shrubs should be pruned immediately after they have finished blossoming (i.e. Azalea, Rhododendron, Forsythia, Lilac, Pieris, Viburnum, Honeysuckle, Mockorange and Quince.)
Hypericum, Caryopteris, Butterfly Bush and some Hydrangea may experience dieback in the winter. Prune off dead branches on these shrubs in the spring after the new growth starts.
Potentilla and Spirea do best when pruned annually. The keep the plants looking full and bushy, remove 1/3 of the stems to the ground and the entire plant back by 1/3 in late winter or early spring. A light trimming of a few inches after they flower will usually provide a new display of flowers in a few weeks. Weigela, if pruned immediately after blossoming, will also display a second set of blossoms.
Althea or Rose-Of-Sharon, are one of the latest shrubs to leaf out in the spring. Be careful to wait until new growth appears before pruning as to not remove branches that are in fact alive.
Evergreens In general, most evergreens require very little pruning. It is important to choose the correct size evergreen for its location when planning a landscape, as it is nearly impossible to correct an overgrown evergreen by pruning. Spruce and Firs can be trimmed when young to produce a fuller tree by pruning the new growth by 1/3 to 1/2. This should be done after the new growth has hardened off in July. Pines can be made fuller by trimming candles (new growth) back by 1/3 to 1/2, however do not trim into last year's growth, as they do not posses the dormant buds that the Firs and Spruce do and will not replace the branches removed.
Arborvitae and Juniper can also be kept more compact by cutting back new growth. These plants tend to have a "dead zone", or interior area where there is no foliage, so cutting back too far exposes the dead zone and is very unsightly. Severe pruning should be done in the early spring so the new growth will fill in the exposed area.
Yews can be trimmed to maintain a formal shape if desired. Their new growth can be trimmed as needed in mid-June. Yews can also have a second light pruning in late September. Do not over prune late in the year.
Trees Trees are best shaped while young, as the branches are smaller and pruning at this time leaves smaller wounds that heal quicker, minimizing the chances for disease or insect damage of the wound. Once established they need minimal care to maintain their shape. It is important to develop a good branching habit in a young tree. Prune to develop one central leader and branches that have wide angles where they join the trunk. The closer the lateral branches are to 90 degrees, the stronger the attachment at the branch.
For most trees, pruning should be done before growth begins in spring. Some species like Maples, Walnuts and Birch tend to bleed sap from the wound. This will not harm the tree. To prevent bleeding of sap, prune these trees in late spring to early summer. Remember that wounds made after July do not heal well for the remainder of the season. Oak trees should only be pruned from November to March. This is a protection against the spread of Oak Wilt. The insects that spread Oak Wilt are attracted to the sap, so pruning when dormant stop the spread of the disease.
ARE YOU OVERWATERING YOUR PLANTS?
One of the most common causes for plant fatality is overwatering. Proper watering is essential for healthy plants. Too much water, especially in poorly drained soils, can be damaging. The roots of the plants can literally rot off of the plant from excessive water. You should only apply water as fast as the soils can absorb it. The best way is to use a soaker hose or trickle and drip system. This way the water is absorbed slowly and you will not get puddling. It is best to water early in the morning. You want to soak the entire root zone of the plant slowly, then let the soil dry out before another application. A small or newly planted shrub or tree will need watering about every 3-7 days. Once the plant is established, less frequent, deep watering with dry period in between will encourage deep root growth. Make sure you pay attention to Mother Nature. If we are receiving regular rain fall, there should be little need for you to water a plant manually. Also, pay attention to the type of plant you are watering. A Rhododendron for example, takes considerably less watering than a Spirea would. If you are unsure of when and how much you should be watering, feel free to "Ask Ken" the next time you are visiting Turnbull Nursery Garden Center!