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Archive for Sunday, February 23, 2003

Be careful in selecting perfect plants

February 23, 2003

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Last week, I discussed the steps gardeners should take when selecting trees and shrubs for the landscape. If you did your homework, you now have a list of plants and an appropriate place to plant them. Now you are ready to shop.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you head to the nursery or garden center:

  • Do not be overwhelmed by the extensive selection of landscape plants. Learn to "dig through" the inventory and identify those plants that are keepers and those that should be left behind. If the plant is in a pot, remove the pot and inspect the root ball. If the plant pulls out of the pot with little or no root system, do not buy it. Most likely, these plants have been dug from the field and transplanted into pots for sale.

A tree or shrub with few roots has little chance of survival. If the root system is wound in a ball several pot sizes smaller than the current pot, or the root ball is overgrown and the pot is impossible to remove because roots are going out the bottom, pass on these plants. They are leftover stock from last year and have been repotted in larger pots for a greater price, or have been growing in the same pot for too many years and the roots have become girdled. Girdled roots result in early death of plants.

In either case, these trees and shrubs will not do well. Find plants that have a nice white, fibrous root system that is strong and healthy. Strong healthy roots will help support strong healthy shoots. If the plant is "ball and burlap," check for a solid root ball with fresh burlap that is secure. Better yet, choose plants with small feeder roots growing out the ball. This means the plant has had time to "season" and has a better chance of survival.

  • Inspect the above ground portion of the plant. Check for insects or diseases. Plants that show signs of damage such as broken branches or the bark has been skinned have been handled roughly and should be left in the garden center.
  • Once your plants have made it home, the last critical step is installation. Improper planting kills more plants in their first three years of establishment than any other cause.

To ensure you have success, follow these steps: Dig the planting hole twice as wide and only as deep as the root ball of the plant. Digging deeper and then back-filling will lead to settling. Settling results in a plant that is too deep in the ground causing the roots to die from lack of oxygen. Do not amend the back fill; use the same soil you removed from the hole to fill the area around the root ball. Research shows that amended back fill slows the establishment time of ornamental trees and shrubs. Finally, water wisely. Overwatering and underwatering are two ways to slowly kill a newly planted tree or shrub. They should be watered only when needed for the first full year of establishment -- even next winter.

  • A successful landscape has been proven to increase property value, provide therapeutic relaxation and improve your overall attitude. To help ensure success with your landscape plantings this spring, choose the correct plant for the hole, be willing to pay a premium price for a healthy root system, and water wisely for the first year of establishment.

Complete the job by applying 4 inches of mulch all around the landscape. However, be sure not to pile the mulch against the trunk of trees and shrubs. Good luck and happy gardening.

-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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