Landscaping 101: Fruit Trees
Fruit trees are a rewarding addition to the landscape. Not only do they serve as beautiful spring-flowering ornamentals, they produce a crop of fruit available for picking and eating fresh off the tree. Home-grown produce tastes like nothing you can find in a supermarket, often with more nutritional value.
Unfortunately fruit trees have some pest and disease problems associated with them. Many new hybrids have better resistance to diseases than older varieties, and cultural practices and a well-suited site can help prevent problems. In some cases, a regular spraying schedule will need to be adopted to produce a healthy crop of fruit.
Regular pruning is an important maintenance practice to thin branches in the tree canopy for good air circulation and to make the remaining branches stronger to better support the fruit yield. Pruning also helps prevent pest and disease problems. In late winter, remove damaged or diseased branches, rubbing branches, suckers from the base of the trunk, and watersprouts: branches that grow upright and clutter the center of the tree. Excessive pruning on apple trees can cause more watersprouts, so prune lightly one to two times a year. Once those problems are addressed, prune for aesthetic value.
Some gardeners establish a spraying schedule for their fruit trees if there has been a history of disease or insect infestation. The following is a general schedule, be sure to read all labels before using any chemical to prevent damage to your tree or the surrounding environment.
Winter dormancy: Use a dormant oil in February or March before the tree buds out to prevent damage from scale and spider mites overwintering in the bark of the tree.
Early spring: We recommend using Bonide Fruit Tree & Plant Guard, which controls a wide range of fungal diseases as well as insects like mites, aphids, and scale. Begin treatment with one application when flower buds are visible but still in tight clusters.
Flowering period: Do not spray when the tree is in full bloom, this will affect bees and other pollinators that are necessary for a successful fruit yield.
After flowering: After the petals have fallen from the tree, spray again. Applications can be repeated every 10-14 days throughout the summer. Read the label carefully to determine the proper spraying schedule and the pre-harvest interval. The pre-harvest interval will tell you how long you need to wait between the final application of the product and harvest.
At the end of the season, avoid leaving fruit or old leaves decaying around the base of the tree, this can cause disease and insect infestations. Do not use them as compost!
If you notice problems on your trees, stop in with a sample or photos and we’ll be happy to diagnose and advise you on the best course of action to take for a healthy, productive fruit tree.
Landscaping 101: Bagworms
Bagworms are tiny pests that typically infest evergreens, but can also be found on deciduous plants. They are most obvious in their bag stage on leafless winter trees, but damage from these insects isn’t always apparent until the infestation is heavy. Timing is important in controlling bagworms, so knowledge of their life cycle is necessary.
Bagworms spend the winter as eggs in their characteristic cocoons. They hatch in May or early June, crawl out of their sacks and start snacking on their host plant. This continues for 8-10 weeks until August, when they begin to construct a sack out of silk and bits of their host plant’s foliage. Once the sacks are complete they pupate inside for about 4 weeks. In September or October the males emerge from their sacks as moth-like insects and visit the females in their sacks to mate. Afterwards the females can lay 500+ eggs in their sacks, which they then vacate and die.
One method of control for small infestations is manually picking the bags off of plants during the winter. Be sure to dispose of these pests by sealing them in plastic bags and throwing them in the garbage, or soaking them in water to drown the insects.
For heavily infested plants, bagworms are easiest to control when they are out of their sacks and actively feeding. A yearly tree & shrub drench (like those made by Bonide or Bayer) can be easy and effective to protect your tree against a range of insects. This is usually applied in March just before the tree begins to bud, or just after flowering for trees that are pollinated by insects. Otherwise spray regularly ever three to four weeks starting around mid-June with a product labelled for bagworms. We like Fertilome Natural Guard Spinosad because it is easy on the environment and safe for pollinator populations.
If your tree shows signs of insect damage, or you notice the sacks of bagworms in your landscape, stop in with photos or samples and we will be happy to advise you on the best course of action to take!
Plant Profile: Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are easy to care for, thriving in a range of soils. There are varieties available for sunny or shady areas. The key to a beautiful specimen is selecting the right variety for your spot, and understanding how the plant grows. Pruning questions are the most common questions we hear about hydrangeas in our garden centers. To answer these questions, knowing which variety of hydrangea you have is important. Some hydrangeas bloom on old wood, which means pruning in the fall or early spring will destroy the next season’s flowers. Others bloom on new wood that develops in the spring, producing buds in the same season the flowers appear. For all hydrangeas, its best to let them grow the first couple of years without pruning. When you do prune, cut them back to a foot from the ground.
Bigleaf Hydrangeas (H. macrophylla)
Bloomstruck, Endless Summer, Grateful Red
Prune these varieties after the flowers fade in the summer. Buds for next year’s flowers will form in the fall, so avoid pruning later than August 1st. Dead wood can be cut away in the fall or very early spring. If your plant has been neglected, it’s ok to prune all the stems to the base of the plant. If you do this, you’ll lose the blossoms for the year, but your plant will be rejuvenated and healthier.
Endless Summer can be manipulated to produce different colors! For species like Endless Summer, apply granulated aluminum sulfate to lower the ph of the soil to turn flowers blue, or hydrated lime to raise the ph and turn the flowers pink. It can take several weeks or even longer to correct color, so be patient! Endless Summer prefers shade in the afternoon.
Oakleaf Hydrangeas (H. quercifolia)
Munchin, PeeWee Oakleaf, Pinky Winky, Ruby Slippers, Sikes Dwarf Oakleaf, Snow Queen
These varieties are known for their hardiness, oak-shaped leaves, and beautiful burgundy fall color. Flowers deepen in color and last on the stems all winter. These varieties don’t need to be pruned, except for broken, crossing, or damaged branches.
Panicle Hydrangeas (H. paniculata)
Bobo, Bombshell, Diamond Rouge, Late Blooming, Limelight, Little Lime, Pinky Winky, Pee Wee, Late Blooming, Quick Fire, Silver Dollar, Unique
Panicle hydrangeas have giant, cone-shaped blossoms. If needed, prune these in late winter, before the new growth occurs in the spring. Trim back dead branches, but avoid pruning to shape the plant. Flowers are reliable year after year, and don’t need special care.
Smooth Hydrangeas (H. arborescens)
Annabelle, Incrediball, Invincibelle Spirit
These are commonly called “Snowball Hydrangeas,” with big white pom-pom flowers. Like the panicles, prune smooth hydrangeas only occasionally when they need to be rejuvenated, taking them down to 18 inches from the ground. They prefer afternoon shade.
Plant Profile: Clematis
Clematis are small flowering vines that add a gorgeous display of color to the landscape. They come in a range of whites, pinks, reds, and purples. They flower at different times of the year, depending on the variety. They are an old-fashioned cottage garden favorite, with new hybrids featuring large, sometimes double flowers in bright colors. We love using them on decorative wrought iron trellises, arbors, obelisks, and tuteurs to add vertical interest in small gardens. They also look beautiful intertwined with climbing roses.
There are three different pruning types for clematis, depending on the where the flower buds form. Buds that grow on old wood will form in the fall. Buds that grow on new wood will emerge with the new spring growth. There are some varieties that produce buds on both old and new wood. Incorrect pruning rarely damages Clematis, the worst that can happen is loss of flowers for a year. But for the best display of blossoms, determine when your clematis blooms, and prune accordingly:
Group 1: “Old Wood”
These are typically the varieties that are the earliest to flower in the spring. This group doesn’t need a lot of pruning, just trim lightly to remove and dead stems. It’s ok to take old, tangled plants down to the base of the wood to rejuvenate them. Do this just after flowering finishes in the spring so the plants have time to regrow during the summer.
Group 2: “Old and New Wood”
Cherokee, Diamantina, Nelly Moser, Multiblue, Rebecca, Rouge Cardinal, Toki, Vancouver Starry Nights
These varieties usually flower profusely in the spring, followed by rebloom in late summer or fall. Lightly prune weak or dead stems back to a healthy set of buds, clearing out tangles after the spring flush of flowers is done. Old, tangled plants can occasionally be cut back by a third or more to reinvigorate the plant, but doing this will compromise the flowering in the next season. Large and double flowers will bloom on older wood.
Group 3: “New Wood”
Cassis, Cherokee, Edda, Endellion, Ernest Markham, Etiole Violette, Jackmanii, Sally, Sweet Autumn, Sweet Summer Love
These Clematis are usually summer or fall bloomers. Cut these varieties down to 8-12” from the ground in late winter. New shoots will emerge from the crown of the plant in the spring, loaded with flower buds.
Landscaping 101: How to Plant a Tree (and what to do next!)
Planting a tree seems basic, but correct planting and proper care in the first few weeks can make all the difference in the life of your tree. To get your landscape off to a good start, here are some tips from Jason on our planting crew about how to plant a tree:
1. Choose your site. Your tree will have the best chance of survival if you pick the right plant for the right place. Be sure to account for levels of sunlight and water the tree will receive, as well as checking for overhead or underground power and gas lines, and private irrigation lines.
2. Dig a hole. It should be no deeper than the tree sits in its nursery pot, and about twice as wide as the pot. Work the edges of the hole so the soil is loose.
3. Remove your tree from its container. Gently pull the roots free if they’re circling, or slice them with a sharp, clean knife in a few places if they are pot bound. It’s important that the roots are trained to spread outward rather than circling.
4. Place your tree in its hole. Take a minute to make sure it’s sitting straight, with the root flare just above the soil surface.
5. Backfill your hole. We recommend mixing the existing soil from the hole with 50% compost to provide a space for the roots to spread outward and get used to our tough clay soils. Mound the soil up over the root ball (not over the root flare) so when it settles after watering it sinks down level with the ground.
6. Water and fertilize. We apply Bonide Plant Starter to every tree we plant to give it a head start. Mix the product with water, thoroughly soaking the root ball. Check to make sure the soil hasn’t settled too much.
7. Mulch. To help conserve moisture, you can lay mulch up to two inches deep around the base of your tree. Keep it away from the root flare to help prevent fungal issues. This mulch will break down over time and help nourish the soil. It will need to be replenished every year or two.
8. Stake. Whether you use a staking kit or a DIY post and roping, make sure the material used to tie the tree to the stake is loose enough that it won’t girdle the tree as the trunk increases in diameter. When staked, the tree should be able to move with the wind, so make sure the roping gives a little. The staking can be removed from small trees next spring. Larger trees may benefit from an extra year of staking, but make sure the roping used is not rubbing the trunk.
The best way to determine if your tree needs water is to pull the mulch back from around the center of the plant and pick up a handful of soil. Squeeze it in your hand to form a ball. If the soil is sticky and muddy, there is too much water and it needs to dry out for several days. With the proper amount of moisture, the soil will form a ball but won’t feel muddy or sticky. If this is the case, check back in a few days before watering. If the soil doesn’t form a ball at all, it’s dry and needs to be watered. When the tree is ready to be watered, lay a garden hose at the center of the plant and allow water to trickle out for half an hour. Make sure to lay the hose in different places around the base of the tree so the tree is watered evenly. There are also self-watering tree bags available to make this process a little easier!
New trees should be checked for water every seven to ten days during their first year. Extended periods of heat and high winds will dry trees out quickly, but be sure to take into account how much rain we get and irrigation from your sprinklers. We have more problems with people OVER watering than under-watering their plants. Keep in mind that turf grass requires more water than most other plants, so the regular setting on your sprinklers may be too much for new trees. In late fall, deep water new trees to give them enough moisture to get them through the winter.
An application of Plant Starter is all your tree needs this year. The tree will need a balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) to start off the next growing season. You can apply it in the fall once the tree has gone dormant, or early in the spring before it leafs out. You can continue to use the fertilizer throughout the growing season as often as directed on the label, but avoid using a high nitrogen (the first of the three numbers on the label) fertilizer later than July. This encourages new growth that will not be hardened off before the first fall frost.
If the health of your tree begins to decline or you aren’t sure how to care for it, call or stop in and talk to one of our experienced nursery staff. We’re happy to coach you through any problems.
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