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Plant care

On this page you’ll find instructions for –

  1. Watering plants
  2. How to determine if watering is necessary
  3. Working with automated irrigation systems
  4. Watering sod
  5. Fertilizing
  6. Mulching
  7. Tree staking
  8. Pruning
  9. Insects
  10. Dead plants

WATERING PLANTS The critical period for watering newly installed plants is the 1st 6-8 weeks after installation. During this time plants are experiencing a transition to a new environment, and in some cases must overcome stress from being transplanted. If plants are allowed to dry out for more than a day or two many varieties may quickly defoliate or die.

During this period following planting water plants 2-3 times per week, except during cool weather or in periods of frequent rainfall when the soil remains moist. As a rule, plants require one inch of water per week, although additional water may be required if rainfall from thunderstorms does not soak into the ground.

After the initial 6-8 week period water every 3-4 days, or as needed depending upon weather conditions. In hot, dry weather regular deep watering is mandatory in the 1st year after installation. In cooler weather one watering per week should be sufficient.

Note – Schip and Otto Luyken laurels, and flowering cherry trees are very susceptible to overwatering and damp soils. Soil in the area of laurels and cherries should be allowed to dry completely prior to watering.

How to determine if irrigation is necessary? Inexpensive moisture meters (right) are helpful in determining when plants require watering.

The most efficient watering method is to apply water so that runoff is minimized. For individual tree plantings a hose should be placed near the trunk with a trickle of water for ½ hour each. Planting bed areas are best watered with a soaker hose. A sprinkler may be used, but should remain in one area until the ground is thoroughly saturated, at least a couple hours. Soaker hoses lose less water to evaporation, and apply the water most directly to the areas where moisture is needed.

The worst watering method is holding a hose, and moving from plant to plant. Very few people have the patience to water plants long enough for the water to soak in. Even a small planting can take hours to water by hand. Plants that are out of reach of a hose can be watered with a five gallon bucket, such as a large paint or drywall bucket. A small hole drilled on the side an inch from the bottom will slowly water plants, and provide enough moisture for trees to get through a drought period.

AUTOMATED IRRIGATION SYSTEMS Irrigation systems are typically set for proper watering of shallow rooted lawns, and not for deeper rooted plants. Moisture meters are particularly helpful for measuring soil moisture to determine if longer or shorter periods of irrigation are needed.

WATERING SOD Newly installed sod should be watered every other day until the sod roots, usually several weeks. Watering should be done with a sprinkler to assure even coverage. It is important to water deeply so that roots are encouraged to go down into the soil, normally a couple hours with a sprinkler.

Failure to water newly installed sod in warm weather will quickly kill sod, since its’ root system is so shallow. After the sod roots watering can be curtailed so that it dries out slightly. During the heat of Summer sod will have to be watched very carefully, but normally watering twice a week will keep it sufficiently moist.

FERTILIZER Additional fertilizer is not required in the first year after planting. Soil amendments incorporated during planting should have enough nutrients for growth during the first year. We sometimes use a plant hormone/ biostimulant with trace amounts of fertilizer called ROOTS. There are other similar products that can help ease the adjustment of a plant through the transplant stage after initial installation.

Plants can be fertilized in the first Spring after installation. A fertilizer such as Mir-Acid or MiracleGro, applied to foliage is very beneficial, but can be quite laborious. Dry and granular fertilizers, in particular organic fertilizers such as HollyTone, are best suited to ease of application. HollyTone works well with the acid loving plants that we typically plant, and has a high margin for error in protecting against over application. Always follow product directions, but err on the side of too little fertilizer rather than too much. Do not apply fertilizer to plants from late August through November, or it may encourage new growth that can be injured by freezing temperatures.

MULCH Shredded hardwood mulch should be maintained at a 2-3 inch thickness on plant beds until plants have covered the area. This will discourage weed growth and conserve soil moisture. Mulch will normally need to be replenished once every year. The choice of mulch type is a personal decision. We use shredded hardwood as a standard because it is most widely accepted in our area. Pine bark chunks, cedar bark, pine needles, and a variety of other materials can also be used to mulch.

Exercise caution when adding mulch not to mulch close to the trunk of trees, and not to mound mulch up against the trunk of any plants. Also, plants such as rhododendron and azaleas do not like to have any more than one inch of mulch over their roots.

TREE STAKING Stakes should remain on trees until they are self supporting, usually up to one year from installation. Be sure to remove wires from trunks or branches so they do girdle the tree. Small trees may not require stakes, or the period they are required may be shorter. Large evergreens with greater wind resistance are the most critical to leave staked for a full year.

PRUNING Occasionally, a plant will require pruning to maintain its’ shape or size. Pruning trees is best performed by a professional, but most shrubs can be pruned without any ill effects. Although pruning can be done with power or manual hedge shears, best results will be achieved by pruning with hand pruners to give a more natural appearance. Pruning deciduous trees is best performed after leaves drop in the Fall. Evergreens and most shrubs are not particular about the time of year they are pruned. However, some flowering plants must be pruned prior to developing flower buds or the bloom for the next year will be diminished.

INSECTS Most insect problems with newly installed plants will involve leaf eating pests such as Japanese Beetles or caterpillars. Spider mites and bagworms can be a problem for plants with needles, and lacebug in azaleas and Pieris. Insect infestations are seldom so severe that they kill an otherwise healthy plant, and many people choose to ignore them in all but the most severe cases. There are a number of natural, organic, and chemical remedies for each pest. Garden centers and local extension agents can be helpful in identifying insects and directing toward the proper treatment.

DEAD PLANTS A near certainty in installing plants is that some will fail to survive or thrive. There are so many challenges, from inclement weather to poor soil conditions, and plants are more vulnerable to problems in their first year. The most common reason for the failure of a newly installed plant is lack of water. Without it, most plants don’t have a chance. The second most common reason for plants dieing is too much water, caused by the poor drainage of clay soil in our area. The extreme temperatures of Winter and Summer also contribute their share of plant losses.

When plants that we have installed die or appear to be dieing call the Landscape Department. Our Customer Service Department will take information needed to determine which plants require replacement. We will normally assign one of our Customer Service representatives to visit within 10 working days to verify the health of the plants in question, and to attempt to gain some insight into why the plant is not performing as we expect. If we see a problem we may suggest making a change in plant variety, adding soil to raise a plant from poorly drained soil, change a plant’s location, or some other remedy.

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