Here are some simple steps for success with these plants that will be in your landscape for years to come:
Selection trees and shrubs
Besides aesthetics and preferences, selection of plants depends mostly on location and environmental requirements. Always consider how much space the plant will need when fully mature—not just above ground, but the root system as well? If planting near other plants, be sure they all have compatible needs for sun and water, and don’t crowd them together too closely. You’ll need to find out how long it will take the plant to mature and bear fruit or flowers, and what the plant’s life expectancy is. (Life span can vary from 20-100+years for woody perennials.) Take into consideration that a newly planted tree can eventually grow to shade your sun-loving garden, or block a nice view.
It can also put roots through underground utility lines, or clog your gutters with leaves.
Preparation and planning
Gather your tools and amendments before you take the plant from its container. You don’t want the root ball to dry out while you’re sorting your tools and digging holes. Roots are part of the circulatory system of your plant and you want to minimize their exposure to the air. Minimal tools you’ll need will include a spade shovel for digging, a sharp knife for loosening the root ball, clippers for trimming stray roots and dead or broken branches, and a long handled garden fork for loosening and spreading mulch. Have enough loose organic material on hand to put down 3-5 inches depth of mulch and 3-5 feet diameter around each plant, after it is planted.
Dig the hole first, then take the plant from its container. Dig the hole twice as wide for expansion and no deeper than the root ball so that the plant does not sink into the ground. If you’re moving an existing tree or shrub, start digging 3 feet from the trunk to get as much of its root ball as possible. Put the plant into the hole, (I then insert 2 or 3 slow release fertilizer plugs a few inches away from the trunk, but this is optional), cover the root ball with dirt and tamp it down so it’s solid but loose enough to allow drainage. Then cover the dirt with mulch and water well.
If the plant is large and needs support, put a stake in the ground alongside the root ball before you cover it with dirt so that you don’t accidentally injure the roots. Tie the trunk or main stem loosely to the stake, leaving a little slack so the plant can slightly sway in the wind.
This will vary from plant to plant, but some common needs that young plants have are protection from harsh wind and weather and getting enough water to keep roots moist—which will encourage root growth. By spring the plant should be well on the way to establishing itself. For your plant’s specific maintenance needs (water, fertilization and pruning), study the instructions that came with the plant, look it up in your gardening books or on the Internet.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.