Basic Planting Guide: Trees and Shrubs

Oct 27, 2023 | Gardening Advice

Things you will need:
Composted Manure (or compost) Water
Peat Moss Measuring Tape
Mulch: Bark mulch, compost, shredded leaf mold Spade, Maddox
Fertilizer: Blood Meal, Bone Meal, Cottonseed Meal, Tarp
Hollytone for acid-loving trees and shrubs For trees: Stakes, wire, old garden hose.

1. Check Plant Requirements. Look up the plants you will be planting in the Surry Gardens catalog. What sun, soil, and drainage requirements do they have? Ultimate height and width determines how far apart to plant. Generally, allow about 2/3 the ultimate height as a distance to plant. Hedges are planted closer, shade plantings farther apart. If planting in hardpan see the note below.
2. Designate a Location For Each Plant. It is most helpful to plant according to a plan. In any case, mark the site of each hole with a stake. Is every thing just where you want it?
3. Dig The Holes. Usually a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the container or root ball is ample. As you dig, separate the sod, top soil, and sub soil onto a tarp. This protects the lawn and facilitates clean up.
4. Remove Rocks. If rocks can’t be moved you may need to move the hole.
5. Loosen the Subsoil. With a spade, loosen the subsoil at the bottom of the hole to improve drainage.
6. Check drainage. Fill the hole with water noting how fast the water drains out. A poorly drained site will take several minutes to completely drain. Unless your tree or shrub is a lover of wet soils (such as Willow), you are best advised to find a new site.
7. Line the Bottom of the Hole. Upside-down sods can be laid in the bottom of the hole. This is a good source of essential nutrients and will not hinder drainage.
8. Improve Half of the Topsoil. If your soil is not rich in organic matter, incorporate into half of the topsoil you’ve removed from the hole a mixture of equal parts composted cow manure (or compost) and peat moss to achieve a loose, humus soil mix. 1 cup each of blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, and ½ cup lime should also be added to part of this topsoil; more or less according to the plant’s needs and site. Mix in soil amendments thoroughly.
9. Put the Improved Topsoil containing the chemicals in the Hole. The best soil goes under the plant so that the roots will reach downward for nourishment. Step on this layer to firm it well. If you are handling a plant that has not become established in its container yet, make a cone shaped mound of the soil mix around which the roots can be arranged.
10. Put Unimproved Topsoil Into the Hole. A 2″ layer of plain topsoil will protect the roots from the effects of the fertilizers and soil supplements you have added to the previous layer. Firm well.
11. Prepare the Plant. If containerized, remove it from its container. Cut the container away if necessary. Remove the top of any burlap, but leave the rest in place. Cut away cords that may encircle the rootball, stem, or trunk.
12. Make Adjustments. Lightly brush away the soil near the trunk to remove any extra that has built up since the plant was dug. Handling the plant by its root ball (not the stem), set it in the hole. Adjust soil level so that when you have finished planting the plant will be slightly higher than the surrounding soil to allow for settling. In very dry weather, fill the hole with water and allow it to drain.
13. Loosen the Roots. If the plant has been in a container for several seasons you should loosen the roots and direct them outward. A light “scoring” of the root ball with a sharp knife promotes the formation of new feeder roots.
14. Set the Stakes (for trees). Consider from which direction the prevailing wind comes across the site. Stake that side especially.
15. Backfill Halfway Up. Use improved topsoil without the chemical fertilizers..
16. Complete Backfill. At ground level, leave a circular depression both around the stem and around the outer edge of the backfilled hole. This directs water to the roots rather than allowing it to run off.
17. Apply Mulch. A 2-3″ layer of bark (or other) mulch looks attractive and serves to keep the soil cool and evenly moist. It also keeps the weeds down. Leave a 2-3″ space around the stem or trunk.
18. Water Thoroughly. Two to four gallons of water will be needed for each shrub or tree.
19. Water Regularly Thereafter. During the first season it will be necessary to water thoroughly at twice a week, more often in the first few weeks after planting, or during dry weather. A sprinkle with the hose is not sufficient — be sure to water deeply, thoroughly, and evenly to encourage strong roots. Plan on watering during summer drought for the next 2-3 years. Don’t water so much that the area becomes perpetually water logged, since this can cause the death of trees and shrubs.

Plants grow best if properly fed, too much fertilizer can do irreparable damage. Until newly planted material becomes established it is wise to refrain from fertilizing, except as recommended at planting time, or in very diluted solutions. Every spring additional blood meal, bone meal and cottonseed meal (Hollytone for acid-lovers) may be scratched in around the drip line of the plant. Fertilizers that are to be mixed with water should usually be less than full strength. A feeding with Peter’s or Miracle-gro is excellent at two week intervals. For established trees and shrubs: Fertilize in late April or early May, again in mid-June, and lightly in early August. Do not fertilize later in the season. This allows the plant to harden-off for winter.

Even the gardens of the most skillful gardeners are not immune to attacks by insects and larger animals, fungus and disease. Problems are kept to a minimum by keeping the plants growing strongly, by consistent cleanup of debris, and by prompt action when symptoms are first noticed. Some gardeners have success with companion planting, organic gardening practices, and home remedies. Certainly it is worthwhile pursuing alternatives to the use of chemical preparations, for the sake of safety, health, and the environment. However, there are numerous chemical products that enable the home gardener to keep pest and disease in check, and sometimes these chemicals are more reliable than safer methods. We carry the environmentally safe Safer line of insecticides and fungicides. We advise selecting, storing, and using any chemical preparation strictly according to the manufacture’s label. Dispose of the empty container properly, please. Keep all such products OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN.

Special arrangements will be needed to plant in blue clay. Be sure your selected plant is clay tolerant. Add enough decent top soil over the clay to berm, or build, up the planting area to allow enough depth for the rootball. The grade should be gently tapered into the surrounding ground, so it looks natural. Then proceed from step 7.

* Wrap new trees for winter in November. Remove the wrap in April.
* Treat newly planted broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendron, Pieris, Ilex, etc.) with an anti- desiccant in November, to protect them from drying out in winter winds.
* Treat the plants with a deer repellant, if deer are a problem in your area. Be sure to read the label instructions. Netting may be necessary in areas with large herds of deer.


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