Proper Ways to Plant and Care for Garden Shrubs

Tips on Planting Shrubs

The best times for planting trees and shrubs are during fall and spring. When you are moving the shrubs from another location, make sure to dig up all the roots possible. You may do this by digging a circular trench around the plant, thrusting your spade as deep as necessary. Roots normally extend as far out from the plant under the soil as the spread of branches above the soil, and just as moving into another location is a fairly unsettling experience for you, so is the experience of being moved distressful for a plant. Roots are particularly affected by the change but you can make their job easier after the replanting by clipping the branches of moved shrubs by about one-third. If you are planting in heavy soil, you can help drainage by dumping a pail of perlite in the bottom of the hole. Or you can mix the perlite with some of the soil in the hole prior to setting the tree or shrub.

Azalea FestivalCredit: Wikipedia

Trees or shrubs from the nursery may come either "bare root," "balled and burlape" (B & B), or in paper, metal, or plastic containers. Bare root stock has been in cold storage in the winter months and must be planted as soon as possible, but if you can't plant the trees or shrubs within two days, then "heeling in" is called for. This just means digging a trench in a shady spot and setting the roots in, pouring on some water, and covering the roots with soil. All bare rooted nursery stock must be kept out of direct sun until planting time.

If you do not like to dig a trench, place the plants flat on the ground (in the shade), hose down the tops and bottoms completely, and cover with a piece of black plastic. When you're ready to plant, remove the plastic, nip off the tip ends of the roots, and prune off one-third of the top. Don't like to place bare rooted stock in a bucket of water where it'll stay several days. The roots become black and slimy, and plants suffocate from a lack of oxygen. Balled and burlaped nursery stock may be kept alive until you're ready to plant just by covering the soil ball with leaves, peat moss, or compost.

When stock is wrapped in burlap, plant the entire ball, wrap and all. If inside plastic, take out the wrap before planting. Some plastic wraps appear like burlap, so don't let them fool you! Loosen the plastic and use the wrap for a "sling': grip the four comers and place the entire ball into the hole, then slowly pun the plastic out from underneath. Continue to fill in the hole with soil.

Feeding and Watering

Provide plant food to your shrubs at least once a year and water them at least once a week during dry weather. One reason trees, shrubs, and evergreens die in wintertime is the lack of water in the soil. Never allow your plants go into the winter dry. It's seldom that winter cold kills these plants, but drying of the tissues because of wind and sun is damaging. So keep your plants watered. If there's a shortage of water in an area where you live, use laundry water for your plants. Alternate it with clean water and the soaps, ammonia, and detergents will be diluted and harmless.

Pruning Flowering Shrubs

Most flowering shrubs look their best if permitted to grow in their natural shape. However, pruning is often necessary to control size and density so a plant will flower and appear better, and to put new life into a waning plant. Pruning is a stimulating method but try to follow the natural contour of the plant.

When shrubs are pruned at the wrong time of year, flower buds could be cut off. There are two groups of flowering shrubs. Those that flower during spring bear flowers on wood that developed the year before. So, if these shrubs are pruned  immediatley after blossoming, more flowering wood would be produced for the next year.

Rhododendron gardens at Sheringham Park, in the English county of Norfolk.Credit: Wikipedia

Shrubs that flower during summer bear flowers on wood produced the same year. Thus, if they're pruned late fall or in early spring, more flowering wood will be produced.

Examples of spring-flowering shrubs include dogwood,  lilac, azalea, allspice bush (Calycanthus), viburnum, mock orange, beauty bush, flowering quince, daphne, deutzia, forsythia, mountain laurel, honeysuckle, and flowering almond.

Summer blooming shrubs that may be pruned in late summer, fall, or winter include Abelia, Kerria, rose of Sharon, spirea Anthony Waterer, tamarix, Buddleia (butterfly bush or summer lilac), sweet pepperbush, and vitex (chaste tree).

 If your shrubs have become overgrown jungle of stems through neglect, there are two ways to manage them: 1) cut the entire bush back to the ground and allow all new growth to come up, or 2) prune the oldest and poorest branches right back to the ground. It's better to prune than not to prune, and remember, "When pruning, be a barber, not a butcher."

Edging Your Borders

A foundation planting or flower bed will not look its best unless you place a good edge around it. Some gardeners prefer a straight edge, but some prefer one with slight curves. A good edge is to your planting what a neat hem is to a garment. One way to tell what an edged border would look like is to put your garden hose along the planting, in the shape you believe it should be. There is no need for an edge that cuts halfway into your lawn and it doesn't have to be very deep.

When you've laid out the pattern for the edge you like, take a spade or axe and mark the line. Then you can use a dull axe or spade to take away the sod from the bedding area (the bedding side of your defined line). An edge 2 inches deep is sufficient; if deeper, you'll have problems running the lawn mower next to it. A good edge clearly defines your flower bed, evergreen plantings, or individual plant. After the entire border is edged, fill up in the area using your favorite mulch material. A thin layer of mulch in an edged border sets your whole house off and does plenty in keeping weeds down and moisture in the ground.

How to Cut Off Seed Pods

Is it essential to cut off seed pods of flowering shrubs or trees? If you can readily reach the pods and have the time, cut them off, primarily for show. There are variances among shrubs. If the pods are left on lilacs, for instance, they will still bring out a crop of blossoms the following year, despite the drain from seed development. With lilacs, ash, birch, and catalpa it makes no difference, but with shrubs like rhododendrons, magnolias, and mountain laurel, taking away the seed pods is a great benefit. If your seed pods are not removed with care you could remove next year's flowers.