Watering Mulching Planting Pruning Fertilizing


WATERING

How do you know when and how much to water your new plants? Sources may differ slightly, everyday, once a week, twice a week? The simple answer to that question is to water only when needed.

If you follow a few important guidelines, keeping your new plant healthy will be easy. A plant needs to have water to survive, but too much water could be harmful. You must get to know your plants; some prefer wet conditions and others might not tolerate as much water. If you water too much it will lower the oxygen level in the soil surrounding its root system. There must be a balance between the water and oxygen levels.



Soil types and weather conditions in your planting areas have a lot of control over how much you need to water. Heavier soil will hold water longer; therefore you may need to water less. If your soil is sandy or light the need for water may be greater. The weather is also a factor in your watering needs. If it just rained for an inch or two, there probably is not a need for you to soak your new plants.

Here are a few ways to test your soil before watering. The best way to do this would be to probe the soil with your hand or a trowel around the base of the plant, about 4-8 inches into the soil. Another way to test your soil for wetness would be to use a stick to push into the soil. You can then see the color of the soil on the stick and judge the level of moisture. If the soil appears to be wet it should hold together when squeezed between your fingers. If that happens you probably do not need to water. If the soil is dry and stays loose when squeezed together then you should water your plants.

When you decide that you do need to water you should water thoroughly and deeply. Watering a minimum of 1 inch per square foot of soil once a week, between rain and other methods will help to establish a deep and healthy root system. It will also help your plant to withstand more environmental stress and grow for many years. In the event that temperatures are high and it is very dry you will need to water more. Short and frequent watering will cause your plants to develop shallow root systems near the surface of the soil.

Over watering is the #1 killer of new plants. This is caused directly by drowning or suffocating the roots. Indirectly, over watering causes stress to the plants and makes them more susceptible to disease and insects. When a plant is getting to much water their leaves will appear dry, but they will not fall from the tree. The best thing to do to avoid over watering is to test your soil and water only when needed.

Just a few more things to keep in mind to ensure that your new plant is watered correctly. The limited root systems of container grown and plants wrapped in burlap are more vulnerable to dry conditions. The soil that is used for potting most plants dries out faster then normal soil. The root balls of trees will dry out more quickly than the surrounding soil. The best way to water these types of trees or shrubs is to run a hose slowly at the base of the plant or use a watering needle for 5-10 minutes each time you water.

Following these guidelines for watering will help to ensure that your plants will thrive and grow for years.

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MULCHING

Mulching is the easiest beneficial thing that you can do for the protection of your new plants. The mulch can be organic or inorganic; both have numerous benefits. Mulching will protect your soil from erosion and conserve moisture levels in the soil, which will reduce the need for watering. It will also help to maintain an even soil temperature by providing a type of insulation. Mulching prevents weed growth and helps keep plants looking cleaner. Best of all it gives your landscape the finished look.

Organic mulches are substances that are produced primarily from plant materials. Some examples include grass clippings, straw, and bark chips. These types of mulches actually improve the condition of the soil. As they decompose it provides nutrients for the plants and produces matter that helps to keep the soil loose. Keep in mind that these nutrient-producing mulches should not be considered a substitute for plant fertilizer.

Inorganic mulches such as stones, chips, gravel, shredded tires, and weed barriers have some uses also. They are used primarily for color or texture change. They have no soil improving qualities, as do the organic mulches.

Knowing when to apply your mulch is very important. Usually it is applied in the spring, after the soil has become warm and has begun to dry from the winter weather. This occurs in mid to late spring. If you mulch too early it will delay the drying of the soil and increase the decay of seeds and seedlings that you have planted. If your area has had more than ample rainfall you may consider waiting until May or June to do your mulching. When adding additional layers to existing beds make sure that the soil around your plants has warmed completely before mulching.

Mulching can also be used for winter protection of your plants. Heaving is a problem some new plants have. Freezing of the soil and then warming in the sun causes heaving. Small and shallow root systems will be heaved out of the ground. This causes root breakage and exposed roots. Wait until late in the fall after the first indication of frost in your area to apply mulch for winter protection. Your material should be loose to insulate the soil without compacting under snow and ice. Some good materials to use would be straw, hay, or pine needles. Be sure to water thoroughly before mulching.

The average depth of a mulching material is 2 to 2.5 inches. Depth will vary depending upon the type of material used. This depth allows for the basic principles of mulching (weed control, moisture conservation, and temperature control). The application of too much mulch (3-6") or more will reduce or eliminate the drying of the soil. This will damage a number of plants. Avoid applying mulch directly to the stem or trunk of a plant. Excess mulch directly around the base of a plant leads to constantly wet bark and becomes a favorable place for disease development. When reapplying existing beds make sure that the total depth of mulch does not exceed 3 inches.

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PLANTING

Before you begin planting you should check with the authorities in your area to determine if there are restrictions on where you may place trees. Some things to consider are sidewalks, roads, and power lines. Also you want to know the mature size of the tree that you are going to plant. Make sure that when the tree grows it is not going to block sun from other plants.

Planting techniques can often determine whether your tree will thrive or die within a few years of transplanting. Following proper guidelines will help in your efforts to maintain a healthy tree. Trees can be planted anytime as long as the ground is not frozen. The best time to plant is in the late summer or early fall. This gives the tree time to establish a good root system before the ground freezes. When the ground is frozen, it is too tough on the roots and they have no opportunity to establish new roots. Planting a tree in the hot, dry summer months should be avoided if possible.

When planting a tree there are some steps that you need to follow. First you need to call your local utilities to check for underground wires. Next measure the height and diameter of the root system. When you dig the hole, it should be two times as wide and just a little bit shallower than the roots. The next step will be to remove the tree from the container or burlap. When the roots are exposed, check to see if they are circling the ball, if so, then cut through the root. Gently separate the roots shortening the extra long ones. Remember that root tips die very quickly when exposed to light and air, so do this rather quickly. Next place the root ball in the hole with the top 1/2 to 1 inch above the ground. If you live in an area with very heavy or poorly draining soil you may place the ball slightly higher. When planting bare root plants, make sure that all of the roots are spread out evenly. Next you want to backfill the hole with a mixture of the soil that you removed and some sort of organic fertilizer (2:1). Pack the soil lightly around the tree to remove air pockets. A ring should be formed around the base of the tree with the soil to allow water to penetrate into the root system instead of around the ball. Mulch should then be applied. It should be an average of 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep, and about 3 feet in diameter. Some trees may need to have some support in the form of stakes. Once the trees are strong and healthy stakes must be removed to avoid causing damage to the tree. Trees should then be pruned to remove broken or dead branches. Be sure not to remove more than 1/3 of the leaf-bearing surface at one time. Finally you need to water the root system thoroughly and slowly to allow water to reach all the roots.

Here are just a few more things that you should keep in mind when planting. When you are planting trees with bare roots, the roots need to stay moist until placed in the soil. With container grown trees, the roots need to be pruned before planting. Balled and burlaped trees need to have the wires and nails completely removed and the burlap should be removed from at least the top 1/3 of the root system.

CONTAINER GROWN PLANTS AND BUSHES

When you are planting containerized plants and bushes there are just a few different guidelines to follow. When digging the hole it needs to be only 1/3 larger than the original container. The hole needs to be no deeper than the root system itself. You want to make sure that the plant is placed as it was grown in the nursery. The wall of the pit should be roughed a little to aid in the establishment of the root system. Always remove the container before placing it in the hole. Doing this will prevent the roots from circling or girdling the plant. When you remove the pot, if the roots are already circling, you must straighten or cut them to spread them out evenly. This needs to be done right before planting as the roots will dry very quickly. When you backfill the hole make sure all the air pockets are removed by lightly tramping the soil. It is also very important to cover the top of the potting soil with mulch or soil removed from the hole because it will dry out much more quickly than the surrounding soil.

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PRUNING

Pruning, when done correctly, will help keep your plants and shrubs beautiful. Incorrect methods will leave your plants damaged and/or deformed. The reasons for pruning will vary depending on your wants and needs. Removing dead or damaged parts of the tree is one reason for pruning. Others would be to keep the size and shape you prefer, and also to improve the quality and quantity of flower blooms.

The first step to take when you begin pruning is to remove the dead or broken limbs. You need to cut these back to the point of growth or back to a strong branch. Next you want to make some cuts to shape the plant. Cut back branches to make or maintain a desired shape, to fill in damaged areas, or to keep your plants the to the size that you prefer. When making your cuts, be sure not to change the natural shape of the tree or bush. You can also make cuts to eliminate weak or narrow connections between branches. The last thing you want to do is remove water sprouts from the tree or bush.

Pruning can be done at anytime of the year, although recommended times may vary depending upon the plant type. The best time to prune would be in the late winter or early spring before new growth starts. The worst time to prune would be after new growth begins. This may cause significant dwarfing of the plant. You should also keep in mind that damaged limbs should be pruned as soon as possible.

When making your cuts be sure that they are clean and smooth, don't leave stubs, and avoid tearing the bark. The cuts that you make should be slanted, which helps in the healing process. When cutting large branches there are a few things to keep in mind. First you want to make an undercut 6 to 12 inches from the trunk 1/3 of the way through the branch. Then 3 inches further from the undercut make a cut on the top until the branch falls. Finally cut the stem back to the collar not the trunk.

Pruning equipment is an important part of getting the job done right. You need to make sure that all of the shears and clippers that you will be using are kept sharp. They need to be disinfected after pruning diseased plants. This can be done using alcohol or bleach mixed with water at a ratio of 1:9. Oil your equipment regularly to avoid rusting. Make sure that you are using the right piece of equipment for the branches you want to cut. Hand pruning shears are good for branches up to 1/2 inch. Lopping shears can be used for branches up to 2 inches. Anything larger should be cut using a tree saw.

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FERTILIZING

Before planting it is recommended that you have a soil analysis performed. It is easier to correct soil imbalances at this time. Fertilizing before planting is usually not necessary unless your soil analysis reports show that the soil is lacking in some nutrients. If you feel that you need to fertilize be sure to use a complete fertilizer. The best method for this type of fertilizing is the broadcast method. This spreads the fertilizer over the top of the soil. This should then be mixed with the soil by either tilling or raking. After it is mixed you should water thoroughly to help evenly distribute the fertilizer.

Fertilizing when planting is one of the things that you can do to help a plant respond well to its new environment. You want to use a slow release formula that is high in phosphorus. Phosphorus is the main ingredient that helps in the development of a healthy root system. Mix the fertilizer thoroughly with the soil and place some in the hole under the plant. The rest of the mixture should be used to backfill. Never put the fertilizer directly on the roots of the plant.

There are a few different ways that you can fertilize after planting.
  1. Sidedressing- When fertilizing using this method you need to move the soil from around the plant without damaging the roots. Place your fertilizer in the soil and then cover up again. Water thoroughly to distribute the fertilizer.
  2. Fertigation- This method is using a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer through watering. This is not the best method as it has substantial run-off. Using a slow trickling stream of water will help get the fertilizer much closer to the root system.
  3. Soil Injection- There are many systems available today for this type of fertilization. Most are called root feeder systems. This type of fertilization system requires the use of a probe to penetrate the soil. When making the holes with the probe you need to be careful not to scar or puncture any roots that are near. Once you have made your hole with the probe, then a liquid fertilizer is injected into them.
  4. Fertilizer Spikes- This may be the easiest and widely used method for fertilizing small garden plants. It requires no preparation or clean up. The spikes are placed in the ground at the plants drip line. The best thing to remember with the spikes is that a plants feeder root lay further out from the plant than other roots, so place the spikes where they will be most beneficial to the plant. A fertilizer spike, when placed in the ground, will release nutrients into the soil when they become wet.
  5. Direct Injection- This method of fertilization is only recommended to be applied by a trained professional. It requires some extensive knowledge of plants to be done correctly. The fertilizer must be injected at the right location on the inside of a tree or plant. When applying it is possible to penetrate too far and will damage the vascular system of the plant, causing damage or even death. Also, the use of this type of system will leave an open wound on the plant requiring care and caution to avoid disease and insect infestation.
  6. Foliar- Foliar fertilization is applying a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer directly to the leaves of a plant. When applied during daylight hours it has the greatest chance of being absorbed due to a higher absorption rate of a plant during that time. This fertilizer is to be used as a boost for your plants rather than a complete fertilizer. Frequent applications are necessary for your plant to benefit from this type of fertilizer.

When and how much you fertilize your plants is also an important thing to keep in mind to keep your plants healthy. Fertilizing yearly with a complete fertilizer is recommended for plants in normal conditions. Light or sandy soils may need a second application of fertilizer. The best time to fertilize your plants is in autumn before the soil freezes. The next best time would be between February and April. It is not recommended that you fertilize after the beginning of July because this will delay the necessary adjustments plants make for the winter months.

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