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How to Plant and Care For Trees & Shrubs

Now that you have come to Nick’s garden Center and found the perfect plant for your landscape here are a few simple rules to guide you in installation and future care. These are rules are a generic guideline and as with the amount of possible options in every yard or landscape there are at least as many variables that will change how to care for your plant.

Planting - When planting a tree or bush in Colorado there are a few basic rules:

Twice the volume -  Dig a vase shaped hole twice the volume of the current root ball. Not twice as wide or deep. It only needs to be a few inches wider. Digging your hole wider won’t hurt your tree, but digging it deeper will.

Place tree or shrub -  Every plant has one side that may be just a little better than another. Set the plant so it is facing the right direction and make sure it is strait. Trying to fix these problems after you plant is extremely hazardous.  Plastic pots can be easily cut off or removed before placing in the hole. Peat pots can be (and usually should be) left on and will deteriorate quickly in the ground. When planting balled and burlapped, called B&B trees, you need to cut the top of the burlap and string from around the tree trunk and if you choose to cut the wire basket AFTER you have positioned it in the hole. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE BEFORE PLACING IN THE HOLE. This will more than likely cause your root ball to break and the tree to eventually die.

Plant it shallow - This means that the root ball or soil level of the pot the new tree or shrub came in should be sitting ABOVE the natural soil level. This is to allow air to get to the root system and prevent the roots from suffocating. Usually about 2” is enough, but if you are planting it in a lawn or other wet areas plant it even higher up to 6”.

Augment your soil - Whether you have thick Colorado clay or sandy soil it is NOT the best for your new tree or shrub for many reasons. Use organic material such as compost, peat moss or Nick’s Premium Potting Mix to break up the poor soil. The Nick’s Potting Mix is Coloradocolorado made compost mixed with a little fertilizer and most importantly which stimulate rapid root growth. Mycorrhizae are naturally occurring fungi that live symbiotically with the roots of nearly ALL plants on Earth. They function to multiply root surface area by thousands allowing for better water and nutrient uptake. Having this already mixed into coloradoyour soil massively promotes root growth. When you are planting your new tree or shrub mix one third to half of your chosen organic material with the native soil when backfilling your hole. DO NOT COMPLETELY REPLACE SOIL. Your new tree or shrub needs to learn to grow in natural soil that exists in your yard. So unless you plan on replacing ALL of your soil up to 6’ deep just stick to this method.

Water - When backfilling your hole around the root system pause when you have filled in about a third of the hole. Use a hose or buckets of water to thoroughly drench the loose soil. This is also when you should be adding Fertilome Root Stimulator on all new plants. Watering will help the loose soil/compost mixture to settle and ensure sufficient watering to the lowest roots. You cannot over water at this time. This is also a good time to double check the position of your tree or shrub as they tend to shift as soil is added. Continue planting and repeat when two thirds and completely planted. Do NOT pack the soil down. Allow soil to settle naturally. This means when you are digging your hole, the wider the better. The general rule is to have your hole at twice the VOLUME of the pot. This does not necessarily mean twice the width. Your new plant really only needs a few more inches around its root ball to get twice the volume, but bigger is almost always better.

Stake -  Almost all young trees should be staked to prevent a strong Colorado burst of wind from shifting it in the now loose soil. It is a ten dollar insurance policy on the beautiful new addition to the yard and all your hard work. At least two stakes should be used and pounded into hard ground (not where you just dug) perpendicular to predominant winds. Straps should be tethered LOOSELY to the tree and stakes to allow some movement. Rubber or nylon straps are an absolute necessity. Never use wire twine or rope directly on the tree trunk as it will score the bark and kill your tree. Stakes and all should be removed after about 18 months.

Regular watering -  THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET. Conditions in everyone’s yard are always different. Over watering is the number one killer of new plants. Especially in Colorado where we have thick soil and frequent run off problems. The BEST way to determine your new tree or shrub’s water needs is to determine how long it takes for the soil to begin to dry FOUR TO SIX INCHES DEEP after your initial watering. Do not just look at the soil at the surface. This means you need to use a garden trowel, screwdriver or some other device to dig down into the soil right next to the root ball to check. Soil is considered dry when you can no longer ball it up and it stay together. Once the soil begins to dry out water it again deeply. This means that you water slowly over longer periods to allow water to trickle through the soil column and reach the bottom of the root ball. One easy method is to turn a hose on just a trickle and allow it to sit directly on top of the root ball right at the base where the tree trunk or stems meet the soil. As stated earlier, how long you need to do this and how often will vary greatly depending on your specific situation and time of year. Larger plants will generally need longer waterings less often where you will need to water smaller plants more frequently. Cooler temperatures in Spring and Fall require less watering as well. All new plants have different water requirements but in general most trees and shrubs like deep infrequent waterings. Unless they are planted in your yard where frequent sprinklers water them. In this case do not add additional water unless you notice the soil is getting dry at the 6 inch deep level.

Fertilize - The first year of most trees’ or shrubs’ life in your yard should be focused on establishing itself through root growth. This means do not use nitrogen rich fertilizers that will promote too much foliage growth. A fertilizer high in phosphorus like Fertilome Root Stimulator will give the new tree or shrub what it needs to establish a healthy root system. Follow these rules in the fall after the first year as well. Nitrogen rich fertilizers should be added in the spring and during the growing season.

Tape your trees -  Young smooth bark trees are susceptible to damage from extreme temperature changes. These are usually caused by the sun hitting trunk on the Southwest side and causing what is appropriately called sun scald. Sun Scald will kill the cambium which is the nutrient and water highway in your tree. With that part dead the side of the tree above it will usually follow with no return. Trees do not heal from the inside out like us. The only growing part of the tree is the thin layer of cambium so this wound can only be healed from the sides which usually takes decades. You can and should protect trees from sun scald cheaply and easily by coming into Nick’s Garden Center and buying tree tape to wrap your young trees with in the fall.

Pruning - Pruning shrubs in the will keep your yard looking manicured rather than wild. Pruning deciduous and leafy shrubs early spring before new growth comes will remove winter kill, leggy branches, and will even out the overall habit of your shrub. It is usually safe to remove 25% of overall size. Do NOT prune lilacs in the spring as it will remove most of the flowering branches. Lilacs should be pruned after they flower. Pines should be pruned after growing starts to allow branches to form new buds and needle expansion to cover cuts. Other conifers should be cut while dormant before growing season starts where new growth will come in and hide cuts. Be careful not to remove too much from conifers as older wood tends to defoliate and when too much is cut off these bare or brown areas will be revealed and take years to fill in. This is especially true with junipers. They tend planted in an area they soon outgrow and are not tended to until the problem is too large. At this point too much of the bush needs to be cut back and will leave those bare spots.


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