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05 Mar 2018

Spring Planting Tips

Spring Planting Tips

Spring means that the garden centers are packed with people, and car trunks are packed with plants. Everybody has dirt on their knees, dirt under their nails, and are excited about gardening. To make certain that this excitement yields positive results, let’s discuss the basics in this article of spring planting tips.

Installing new plants and having them grow successfully is not difficult, nor is it as complicated as some would have you think. Is it as easy as just digging a hole and setting the plant in? Yes, it certainly can be. I won’t get into bed preparation, as I have covered that in other articles that are available at http://www.freeplants.com

Let’s start with B&B plants. B&B is short for balled in burlap. Closely examine the ball on the plant that you have purchased. Did the diggers wrap twine around the ball to hold the plant secure? If they did, you should at least cut the twine and lay it in the bottom of the hole, or remove it completely. Pay close attention around the stem of the plant where it emerges from the root ball, as diggers often wrap the twine around the stem several times as they tie the ball. This is extremely important because if the string is nylon, it will not rot and will girdle and kill the plant two or three years from now.

When B&B plants are stored in the nursery for extended periods of time it becomes necessary to re-burlap them if the bottom starts to rot before the plants are sold. If the plant that you buy has been re-burlaped it is possible that there could be nylon stings between the two layers of burlap, check the stem carefully. As long as the nylon string is removed from around the stem of the plant, it is actually harmless around the rest of the ball, and you do not have to remove it.

Is the root ball wrapped in genuine burlap or imitation burlap made of a non-biodegradable plastic material?

Genuine burlap will rot quickly underground and does not have to be disturbed before planting. If you’re not sure or suspect a polytype burlap, you don’t have to remove it completely but should loosen it around the stem of the plant and cut some vertical slices around the circumference of the ball.

More spring planting tips . . .

Now here’s the critical part. What kind of soil are you planting in?

If your soil is heavy clay, I highly suggest that you raise the planting bed at least 8” with good rich topsoil. If you can’t do that for some reason, install the plant so that at least 2” or more of the root ball is above the existing grade and mound the soil over the root ball. Keep in mind that plants installed this way could dry out over the summer, but planting them flush with the ground in heavy clay can mean that the roots will be too wet at other times of the year.

The “experts” suggest that when planting in clay soil you dig the hole wider and deeper than the root ball and fill around and under the plant with a loose organic material. That sounds like a really great idea, doesn’t it? Some of these experts also recommend that you dig the hole extra deep and put a few inches of gravel in the bottom for drainage. Where do you suppose they think this water is going to “drain” to?

Keep in mind that most B&B plants are grown in well-drained soil. That means that the soil in the root ball is porous and water can easily pass through. Now imagine if you will, a root ball about 15” in diameter, set in a hole 30” diameter. All around and under that root ball is loose organic matter. Inside of that root ball is porous soil. Now along comes Mother Nature with a torrential downpour. There is water everywhere, and it is not going to soak into that hard packed clay soil, so it is just flowing across the top of the ground searching for the lowest point.

When it reaches our newly planted tree surrounded by loose organic matter, it is going to seep in until the planting hole is completely full of water. (Remember my article on getting rid of standing water and the French drain system?) By using this planting technique we have actually created a French drain around our poor little plant that cannot tolerate its roots being without oxygen for long periods of time. Because the bottom of this hole is clay, even though we’ve added gravel for drainage, there is nowhere for the water to go, and this plant is going to suffer and likely die.

If you can not raise the planting bed with topsoil and are planting in clay soil, I recommend that you install the root ball at least 2” above grade and backfill around the ball with the soil that you removed when you dug the hole. Backfilling with the clay soil that you removed is actually like building a dam to keep excess water from permeating the root ball of your newly planted tree. The plant is not going to thrive in this poor soil, but at least it will have a chance to survive.

More spring planting tips . . .

Once again, raising the bed with good rich topsoil is the best thing you can do to keep your plants healthy and happy.

No matter what kind of soil you have, be careful not to install your plants too deep. They should never be planted any deeper than they were grown in the nursery. Planting too deep is a common problem, and thousands of plants are killed each year by gardeners who just don’t understand how critical planting depth is.

Staking newly planted trees is always a good idea. If your new tree constantly rocks back and forth when the wind blows it will have a very difficult time establishing new roots into the existing soil. Stabilize the tree with a stake. You can use a wooden stake, a fence post, or for small trees, I often use 1/2” electromagnetic tubing, (conduit), available at any hardware store.

You can secure the tree to the stake with a single wrap of duct tape. In about six months or a year, the sun will dry the glue on the duct tape and it will fall off. Check the tape to make sure that it has fallen off. You don’t want to girdle the tree with the tape.

More spring planting tips . . .

Container-grown plants are much easier. Follow the rules for depth of planting as described earlier. Before gently removing the plant from the container check the drain holes in the bottom of the container for roots that might be growing out the holes. If so cut them off so they will not make it difficult to get the plant out of the container.

The easiest way to remove the plant from the container is to place your hand on the top of the container and turn it completely upside down and give it a gentle shake. The plant should slide right into your hand.

Examine the root mass as you hold it in your hand. Sometimes when plants have been growing in a container for a long time the roots start to grow in a circular pattern around the root mass. This is not good, and you should disturb these roots before planting so you can break this circular pattern. You can take a knife and actually make about three vertical slices from the top of the root mass to the bottom. This will stimulate new roots that will grow outward into the soil of your garden. Or you can just take your fingers and loosen the roots that are circling the root mass and force them outward before you plant them.

What about fertilizer, bone meal, peat moss, and all those other additives they are going to try and sell you at the garden center?

Raise your planting beds with good rich topsoil and forget about the additives. Be very careful with fertilizers, they can do more harm than good. I landscaped my house 14 years ago and I haven’t got around to fertilizing the plants yet, and have no intention of doing so. They look great.

As far as bone meal and all those other soil additives are concerned, don’t get too caught up in all that stuff. The only thing that I know for sure is that they will make your wallet thinner, but I don’t think you’ll see a difference in your plants. Over the years I’ve landscaped several hundred homes with fantastic results, and I never added any of these additives to my planting beds.

Did I mention planting in good rich topsoil? That’s the secret!

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by, http://gardening-articles.com. If you use this article the above two links must be active.

05 Mar 2018

Summer Gardening Tips

Tips for Gardening in Summer.

In Summer don’t be afraid to trim those flowering shrubs and trees that need it. Failure to prune is probably the biggest gardening mistake a person can make. I spent 20 years landscaping homes and businesses, and I watched people make the investment in my services, then they failed to prune when the plants needed it, and before you know it their landscape looks terrible.

If you make a mistake pruning, don’t worry about it. It’s like a bad haircut, it will grow out. Of course, use common sense and read the previous articles that I’ve written on pruning.

Summer gardening tips . . .

Along with summertime comes high humidity. High humidity can cause a lot of problems with the plants in your garden and around your house. One of the simple things you can do is don’t water just before dark. Make sure your plants are nice and dry when you tuck them in for the night and you can cut down of the chance fungus being a problem.

One of the more common fungi that I get asked about a lot is powdery mildew. This appears as a white film on the leaves of ornamental plants. Dogwoods and Purple Sandcherry are often the victims of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew isn’t extremely harmful to the plants, it’s just that the foliage is damaged, and little growth takes place once it sets in. Your local garden center will have a general fungicide you can spray if you’d like to try and control it. Usually, once the plant defoliates in the fall the plant is back to normal.

Summer gardening tips . . .

If you have Perennial Rye Grass in your lawn, and you probably do if you’re in the north, you must be careful not to leave your grass wet at night. There is a fungus known as Pythium Blight that appears in very humid conditions. This fungus attacks and kills perennial ryegrasses. Here in the north most of our lawns are a blend of fescues, perennial ryes, and Kentucky Blue Grass.

If you have problems with Pythium blight you will lose the perennial ryegrass in large areas of your lawn, and even though the other grasses will still be there and fill in, your lawn will have areas that are much darker green than the rest of the lawn because you will then have concentrations of Kentucky Bluegrass.

You can see this fungus in the early morning. It looks like white cotton candy laying on top of your lawn. It usually appears along walks and driveways where the soil is the wet if you have been watering. To prevent pythium blight, water as early in the day as possible.

Summer gardening tips . . .

Another nasty little blight that likes summer time is Fire Blight. Fire Blight attacks ornamentals, especially Apple trees, Crabapple trees, Cotoneasters, and Pyracantha. You know you have Fire Blight when a branch on one of your plants dies and turns almost red. The leaves usually hang on but turn reddish brown. The damage usually starts out near the end of the branch and works its way toward the main stem of the plant. There is little you can do except prune out the affected branch, cutting it as far back as possible.

Fire Blight is very contagious to plants so you should burn the branches you prune out. You should also dip or wash your pruning shears in rubbing alcohol after each cut to keep from spreading this deadly fungus.

Summer gardening tips . . .

Unfortunately, I’ve got one more summertime culprit to warn you about. It’s a handy little fungus that grows in mulch. Actually, there are all kinds of fungi that tend to grow in mulches, and most of them are really disgusting looking. But this little gem is unique in the fact that as it grows it tends to swell. Then somehow it manages to explode, and it will spatter your house with tiny brown specks. The experts have appropriately named this one “Shotgun Fungus”. Isn’t that a cute name?

These tiny little brown specks will fly as high as eight feet into the air, and once they stick to your house or windows, they stick like glue. I know that right now there are people hollering across the house at their spouse, “Hey, remember those brown specks all over the house? I know what they are. It’s from the mulch!” Tell me I’m wrong, but I know I’m not.

A lot of people are victims of this nasty little fungus, but they don’t know it. All they know is that there are tiny brown specks on the house that look like paint. So far they have blamed everything from spiders to aliens.

There’s not a lot you can do to prevent this fungus. I have found that if you keep the mulch loose so air can circulate it is less likely to grow fungi. Don’t just keep adding layer after layer to the mulch around your house. You should skip at least every other year and just loosen the mulch you already have down. If you loosen it and then rake it flat it will look like you’ve just mulched. Mulch is great, just don’t let it get packed down hard. Loosen it up at least once a year.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by http://gardening-articles.com. If you use this article the above two links must be active

05 Mar 2018

Training Beautiful Flowering Shrubs into Unique Ornamental Trees

Training a flowering shrub to grow into a single stem tree.

There is nothing more beautiful than a flowering shrub in full bloom, except maybe a flowering shrub in full bloom that has been trained to grow as a single stem tree. Imagine having a fragrant Viburnum Tree next to your patio or outside your bedroom window, waking up to such a wonderful aroma.

Don’t confuse what I am about to explain here with the common technique of grafting flowering shrubs on to the tall stem of some sort of rootstock. Grafting is very effective, but not so easy to do. This is much easier. Not only that, when you train the shrub to grow into a single stem tree, you can end up with some very interesting plants.

Training a flowering shrub to grow into a single stem tree is actually pretty simple. The younger the shrub you start with, the easier it is to train. I have a friend who grows thousands of Tree Hydrangeas a year, and this is how he trains them. The variety that he grows for this purpose is P.G. Hydrangea. (hydrangea paniculata grandiflora) This is the one with the huge white snowball blooms.

He starts with rooted cuttings and lines them out in the field about 30” apart. The first year he allows them to grow untouched as multi-stem shrubs. Being a fast growing shrub, they typically produce 3 to 4 branches that grow to a height of about 3 to 4’ that first season. The following spring he goes into the field, examines each plant and selects the one stem that is the straightest and is likely to grow straight up from the roots if tied to a stake.

He then clips all of the other branches as close to the main stem as possible. Then he pounds a stake in the ground as close to the main stem as possible and clips the tip off the single stem that is left. This forces the plant to set lateral buds just below where he clipped the top off, rather than continue growing straight up. These lateral buds will grow into branches that will form the head of the tree. He then ties the stem to the stake.

As it begins to grow, any buds that appear below that top group of buds are picked off to keep the single stem tree form. That’s all there is to it. You can use almost anything as a stake, and just tie the stem to the stake with a piece of cloth. I also anchor plants to stakes with a single wrap of duct tape. I find that if I only wrap the tape once, the sun will dry the glue and the tape will fall off by itself in about 12 months. ½” electrical tubing (conduit) also makes a good stake and is just a couple of bucks for a 10-foot piece.

You can do the same thing with an older established shrub if you can find one branch that can be tied to a vertical stake. The stem is likely to be crooked and not too smooth because of the wounds from where the branches were removed, but that doesn’t mean that you can not create an interesting plant. Some of the shrubs that make beautiful and unique ornamental trees are many varieties of Viburnums, Burning Bush, Winged Burning Bush, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwoods, Weigelia, Mockorange, Rose of Sharon, and Flowering Almond.

I’m sure there are many more. My favorite shrub to train into a single stem tree is Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. In shrub form, this plant is extremely interesting with it’s twisted and contorted branches. The new growth is reminiscent of a pig’s tail. Using the same technique as described above I select a single stem, tie it to a stake, and train it to grow as a single stem tree. The effect is totally unique.

Call your local garden stores and ask them if they have a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick plant. Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll have fun as well as create some very interesting plants for your landscape.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by http://gardening-articles.com. If you use this article the above two links must be active.