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Monday, July 22, 2013

Help! All My Shrubs Died! Steps for the Brown Thumber

Q. I have been having problems with my shrubs and plants growing this year and am hoping you can help. I started planting in April, I planted mostly evergreen shrubs because I like to look at the green all year around. I used top soil to plant them, and they have all died. Is there something I am doing wrong? Can you tell me what evergreens I should plant(ones that stay green all year around), what month I should plant them and exactly how I should plant them? What soil to use? And how often I should water them? I don't have a watering system so I water them myself. I aprreciate it so much and am hopeful you can help me. Thank you.
A. You have asked for a whole book worth of information. It is not something that I could do or explain to you easily. Any planting you want to do now that is summer should be delayed until the end of September to the middle of October, no later. Dig and prepare your holes BEFORE you buy your plants.

Start with trees first. This is a “window shopping” trip. Don’t buy them yet. You will leave with something, but not the trees. When you leave the nursery you should be leaving with the plant, the phosphorus fertilizer, a bag of soil amendment for each plant. Stake the trees. If the tree is really small and you plant it correctly, you may not need to stake it. Shop for trees that will shade the south and west side of your home for some break from the summer heat. For these two spots I would pick trees that don’t get more than 20 to 30 feet tall for a one story house and they should drop their leaves in the fall. Leaf drop in the late fall will allow some winter sun in that can warm the house and reduce you heating costs. Do not plant these trees any closer to the house or themselves than half of their mature height.

Once you have found the trees you want, then go home and dig the holes and take all the soil prepartion stuff with you. All these plants will need to have soil improvement before you plant them. This means you will have to dig each hole about five times wider than the container it comes in. It should be the depth of the container, not much deeper.

Next, remove rocks larger than a golf ball from the soil taken from the hole. When this is done you will mix a “planter mix” soil amendment with the soil removed from the hole. I would also add a phosphorus fertilizer to this soil as well, something like 0-46-0 or similar. About two handfuls of this for each hole will be enough for shrubs and small trees. This is all mixed together and put back into the hole and soak it with water as deep as you can.

The next weekend buy your plants and plant them in this improved soil. Plant them in this hole the same depth as they were in the container. Add water to the hole as you are putting the soil back in around the roots. Make a tall ring around the plant about two feet from the trunk and six inches tall. This will be the basin or container you will use for adding water with your hose. This is important to do. Water twice a week for three weeks. Each time you water, fill the basin twice. Water once a week the same way after this.

Most of the plants you are looking for are sold locally. If you go to a nursery and ask someone for help and explain to them what you are looking for, they will direct you to “foolproof” evergreen plants for your home. There are plants that will be fairly easy to grow and then there are plants that are difficult to grow. They can help guide you. Always buy the smallest plant that is in good health you can get. Why pay the grower more money when you can grow it larger yourself?

Also, if you have been losing plants then you will not want to invest a lot until you get this growing thing down pat.


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