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Easy Planting Tips
by John Harmon
May 25, 2003

This is an exciting time of the year for gardeners. We are only a week or so from being able to put plants outside with some assurance that they will survive the nights. There are a number of things that can be planted now and trees and shrubs are a favorite for many homeowners. A number of folks have asked me about planting out trees and shrubs. When you buy a new tree or shrub here’s some tips for planting them out to give them the best chance to not just survive but thrive.

I love this quote and I've used it many times but it holds true not only with trees but with any plants you buy. "Cheap trees are seldom, if ever, a bargain; the grower should insist on having first class trees and should be willing to pay for them." This little quote is from a book written just after the turn of the century by Paddock and Whipple called "Fruit Growing in Arid Regions". Always buy the best quality you can find.

It just makes good sense to spend the few extra bucks to get the best stock you can. Choose trees or bushes that are extremely hardy and have been proven to grow well in the Yukon. Look around your neighborhood for the nicest trees and shrubs and pick those varieties. Good advice can be obtained from the local garden centres or from the Agriculture Branch on what will grow here and what will not do so well. Locally grown trees and shrubs will do the best.

Most people assume that nursery stock is all ready to go when they buy it. The fact is that most trees and shrubs are dug up and potted or bagged in the fall to be sold the next spring. Even stock dug this spring will need extra care. Some stock is also sold "bare root" instead of potted or with the root ball bagged. When stock is dug they lose 50% to 75% of their feeder roots and a good part of what are called conduit roots. This makes it very hard for the stock to take up enough water to continue to grow and produce new feeder roots without some help from you.

If you’re planting “bare root” stock soak the tree or shrub with clean water for a day or two before it's planted. It gives the plant a chance to "plump up" before it's put in the ground. Use a big tub or a child's swimming pool or a pond if you have one handy. If it's potted leave it in the pot to soak or in the burlap if it's wrapped that way. Small bare root plants like rooted raspberry canes can go in five-gallon buckets full of water for a few days. Change the water daily to keep the oxygen content high.

DO NOT USE FERTILIZER OF ANY KIND TO SOAK NEW STOCK WITH. Trees and other nursery stock cannot use the fertilizer because of the loss of their feeder roots and the contact of the fertilizer with newly developing feeder roots can burn them to a point where they will stop trying to grow.

Dig a good hole. Make it big enough so the roots will have lots of room. When you figure it's big enough go just a little bigger. The procedure is the same if the stock is bagged or potted with a root ball or just bare root. Take off the protective covering or pot around the roots and then spread them out in the hole as much as you can without breaking them up. Never put manure or other fertilizers in the bottom of the hole.

When you dig your hole keep the topsoil in a separate pile to put in the bottom of the hole and the sub-soil in another pile to put on top. This serves a couple of purposes. The topsoil is usually the best and will give the new rootlets the best chance to develop. Any good topsoil with lots of humus and water holding capacity is good for the bottom of the hole. If your soil is not so good you can add peat moss to the mix to help hold water. Once the planting is done the sub-soil or mineral soil you took from the bottom of the hole should go back on top. That will help hold the moisture down at root level where it can be used and the mineral soil is not a good medium for weeds to grow in.

Pack the topsoil firmly around the roots. If the soil is not well packed it leaves too much air space around the roots and prevents good contact. Once the stock is planted water it in. That means soaking it with lots of water to help bring the soil into better contact with the roots. Keep your new stock well watered until the roots have a chance to start growing and spread out. After new growth starts you can begin to feed very lightly.

A little care with new nursery stock can go a long way. The effort you put in at the beginning will give your new stock the best chance to not just survive the shock of transplanting but grow enough this summer to survive the next winter.

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