Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

When and how should trees and shrubs be planted?

Nursery plants come packaged in four ways: 1. bare rooted with no soil on the roots; 2. balled and burlapped with a soil ball around the roots wrapped in burlap; 3. container grown in plastic or metal containers; and 4. potted plants - plants grown in the field but transferred to pots before sale.

Bare-rooted stock is usually cheaper, but more perishable. It is normally available only during early spring. Before planting bare-root stock, soak the roots overnight or up to 12 hours. If you cannot plant immediately, store bare-root plants in a cool place out of sunlight and wind. Keep the packing material around the roots damp, but not soaking wet.

Larger plants, including most evergreens, are usually sold balled and burlapped. You can plant them at any time, but early spring from April through June, or in the fall from late August into October, is best. Water as needed, and keep balled and burlapped stock in a sheltered location until you plant. Keep the soil ball damp. When planting, you can leave the burlap around the roots as long as it is not plastic burlap, but untie the twine and roll the burlap back so it will be completely covered with soil. Twine left tied around the trunk of the tree can strangle the plant later, so be sure to cut or remove it. Do not leave burlap sticking above the ground, as it will dry out the root ball.

You can plant container-grown and potted plants any time the ground is not frozen. If you do not plant immediately, water and fertilize the plants regularly. After removing the plant from the pot, disturb the root system by cutting and fraying the root ball with your fingers. This encourages fresh root development after planting.

For all plants, make the planting hole at least one foot wider than the plant's root system. Remove any soil on the top of the ball down to the top of the first root. Make the hole extra wide, and no deeper than the height of the remaining root ball. Plant the stock as close to this depth as possible. Do not plant too deeply, as deep planting can cause the plant to slowly die. When planting, set the plant in the hole and place the soil removed from the hole around the plant roots. It is no longer recommended to add large amounts of peat or compost to the planting hole, but organic matter can be worked into the soil surrounding the plant. The diameter of this area may be 3 feet for small plants or up to 6-10 feet for large trees. Water liberally to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Do not pack the soil with your foot, as this can damage roots and compact the soil. Watering will settle the soil around the roots. There is generally no reason to fertilize at the time of planting unless a soil test indicates a need, but a water- soluble starter solution can be used once growth begins.

After planting, mulch around the plant to a depth of 2-4 inches. The mulch will help retain soil moisture, add organic matter as it decomposes, moderate soil temperature and reduce soil compaction. Do not let the mulch touch the plant's trunk, but mulch at least a 2 foot diameter circle for shrubs and a 4-6 foot diameter circle for trees. Shredded bark and wood chips are excellent mulches. Water the newly planted trees and shrubs as often as necessary for the first year or two. Frequency depends upon plant species, soil type, mulching practices, and natural rainfall.

Expect to water once a week or every couple of weeks during dry spells; less frequently when it rains. When you do water, soak the entire root area of the plants well. Watering heavily and less frequently is preferred to frequent light waterings. If you find it difficult to know when to water, get in the habit of digging around the plants with a small trowel to determine the soil's moisture level. If the soil is dry 1 inch below the mulch, it's time to water. If the soil is still damp or wet, wait a few days and then test again.