Planting and Planning



The time for transplanting shrubs and trees is past, with few exceptions, until fall. Some trees, like birch, can only be safely dug before leaves emerge in the spring. A few plants, like rhododendron and lilac, can be dug almost any time of the season.

However, and I stress this point, any plant in a pot or balled and burlapped can be planted from now until about the end of October. From experience, the earlier in the season, the better, since it gives a plant more time to root. July and August are fine times to plant, as long as you can water sufficiently. With plenty of available water, plants put on a lot of growth during this period, before going slowly dormant as days grow shorter and temperatures drop.

"It's been cloudy and rainy, so I haven't watered…" Wrong, absolutely wrong. Coming off last year's drought and a hard winter, many plants started this season needing all the help they could get. Cool, damp weather has favored fungus problems. Lack of real rain has caused most people to assume their plants were fine. I have noticed more trees than usual that are still flexible and with green tissue, but without the energy to leaf out due to lack of enough water in the ground.

Due to various soil types, there is no hard rule about how much water is enough. Generally, you should water until the soil retains enough moisture so you see water sitting on the surface for 2-3 minutes. Foliage should not be wet, but, if using a sprinkler is necessary, water in the early morning, before the heat of the day. Watering foliage in the evening promotes fungal problems.

"I just can't get things to grow." From years of observation, not watering enough and planting too deep are why plants die. No soil should be placed on top of the root ball. No bark mulch should be on top of the root ball, except for the barest amount to just color the ground. Absolutely no bark or soil should be against the truck and branches of a tree or shrub. It is extremely common to see years of topdressing with bark mulch cause serious insect problems or, ultimately, the death of plants. If you plan to mulch the planting area, plant somewhat high to allow for leveling the bed with mulch. Water well to settle the bark so that the roots are not exposed.

Planning is important unless you enjoy moving shrubs and cutting trees away from wires and your home. Consult books or your plant source for the information on how large a specimen may get. Most people jam their shrubs two feet from the foundation. Within a few years, they are battling the new growth to keep it from rotting the siding. Or, they have a strange three-sided plant. A very general rule would be to plant at least four feet from a foundation for shrubs. Obviously, lilac or forsythia or large-leaf rhododendron could be 6-8' from the foundation, if used at all. If you do not like the effect of placing your shrubs a proper distance from the foundation, fill in the gaps with perennials, which can be moved as the shrubs grow together.

For trees, it is more crucial to give enough space for wires and homes. If you want immediate shade, choose something like birch or Armstrong maple, which are narrow enough to plant near the house. Don't forget the overhead power lines. Nothing is uglier than a tree that has been butchered because it has been pruned on one side to keep it from touching high-tension lines.

Remember, do not plant something just because you like the species. Match your soil, the size of the area, and your preference for best results. Also, do not plant too deep and do water often.


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Poland Spring, Maine
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