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Wheeler: Tips to help your spring plantings take root
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If the past few days of warm weather have given you a fever to plant shrubs, trees and flowers in the yard, you’re not alone. The promise of spring is in the air, and it is hard to sit still as the days become longer and the temperatures rise. I love days like these and really enjoy getting out and experiencing a new start as plants wake from their winter dormancy.

If you are going to add to the landscape, there are a few things to keep in mind before you dig your first shovel full of dirt. Ideally, take a soil sample before you are ready to plant your new additions. Soil test results from my office will tell you exactly what is needed to provide the best nutrients for your plants.

If lime or fertilizers are recommended, mix in the recommended amounts to the soil dug out to make the hole. Do not add lime or fertilizer at the bottom of the hole, which could burn the plant’s roots.

When you get the trees and shrubs home, keep the root ball moist and out of the sun so it does not dry out and stress the plant. This is especially important if it is going to be a few days before you find a permanent home for it. When you are ready to plant, take a close look at the root ball itself. If the roots are bound up and tangled, take the time to score the root ball and loosen the roots or tease them apart.

When you dig your hole, only make it deep enough so the top of the root ball is level to the top of the soil surface. Be sure to maintain or build a solid base at the bottom so the root ball has a firm place to sit. This will keep the tree or bush from settling deeper into the hole.

Once you have your depth figured, loosen the soil two to three times the diameter of the root ball of the new addition. This will provide it with lots of growing room to explore with its roots and become established quickly.

During that first year, I like to see all of the plant’s efforts focused on becoming established and growing lots of roots. Drought stress can be a transplanted tree or shrub’s biggest killer so do everything you can to give it all the resources it needs to make it through that first season.

Add mulch around the tree to reduce moisture stress and help cool the soil in summer. When you irrigate, be sure to water slowly and deeply about once a week. A soaker hose placed around the drip line of the tree is ideal.

Take time to follow these steps and enjoy your new addition to your landscape for years to come.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the Hall County Extension office. You can contact him at 770-535-8293. His column appears weekly and on

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