Planting & Care of New Trees
How to Plant a Tree
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Place your tree in the prepared hole. Take a minute to make sure it’s sitting straight, with the root flare just above the soil surface.
- 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.
- Water and fertilize. Mix a plant starter with water, and thoroughly soak the root ball. Check to make sure the soil hasn’t settled too much. Add soil if necessary.
- 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.
- 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 the next spring. Larger trees may benefit from an extra year of staking support, but make sure the roping 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 consider 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 the leaves emerge. 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 formula) fertilizer later than July. This encourages new growth that will not be hardened off before the first fall frost.
Before planting, soak the plants in their containers to make sure the potting media is wet, and soak again after planting. Most new plants need about an inch of water each week (including rainfall) but could need more in hot and windy weather. Be sure to water the original root ball and the surrounding soil while the plant is becoming established. It can take up to eight weeks for roots to extend beyond the container media and out into the soil. Container media tends to dry out more quickly than soil, so account for that in your watering. Usually about five to seven weeks after being planted new foliage begins to develop, signaling the plant is becoming established. Start to back off on watering but keep an eye on the plant during dry spells. Watering deeply but infrequently will encourage plants to develop strong root systems that can withstand drought. Water requirements vary depending on the type of plant, soil quality, and the amount of sun or shade. Check with our staff for questions on your specific landscape.
Check new trees weekly, they will need more than an inch to establish. Fill a 20-gallon watering bag or run a hose at a trickle on the root ball of the tree for about 30 minutes, or longer if the soil is very dry or the tree is large. Be sure to move the hose to make sure the whole root ball is getting water.
Trees that are established (planted three to five years ago) in lawn areas may be getting enough water from irrigation. It’s best to check the soil every couple of weeks during the summer to make sure the water is moving past the root zone of the lawn and into the tree’s root zone. If the soil is dry, use the watering methods described above.
Shrubs & Perennials
For new plants, water every four to seven days, soaking the root ball and the surrounding soil deeply. Allow to dry out in between waterings, but watch for wilting on hot days.
If your plants are in their second or third season, they may not need this much water. Most well-adapted shrubs and perennials can survive on our average rainfall. Five inches of rain during June, July, and August is enough for many shrubs and perennials.
Apply about an inch of water per week in intervals. Try running sprinklers three times a week, watering a third of an inch each time. Mow higher for more drought-resistant grass. Remember to water early in the morning to prevent fungus problems.
How To Prune
Remove dead, broken, and diseased branches. If branches are crossing and rubbing up against each other, remove one of the branches. Broken or damaged limbs should be pruned as soon as possible after the damage occurs, it’s not necessary to wait until the proper pruning time for the plant.
Cutting / Deadheading
To improve shape or control height, heading cuts can be made ¼ of an inch above a bud, sloping down and away from the bud at a 45 degree angle. The direction of the new growth will follow the direction the bud is pointing, so be sure it is pointed away from other branches. Vary the height of your cuts for a more natural form. Avoid pruning more than a third of the plant.
Improving Air Circulation
If the tree or shrub needs to be thinned to improve air circulation, remove branches just above the parent branch. Be careful not to thin too much, this type of pruning doesn’t stimulate new growth as much as heading cuts do.
Shrubs that grow from canes emerging from the base of the plant rather than a central trunk can be thinned by pruning at the base. Remove up to a third of the canes per year.
Shrubs that are old and need to be rejuvenated can be pruned back hard 10-12 inches from the ground. Dogwood, honeysuckle, hydrangeas, lilacs, altheas, spirea, and St. John’s wort can all be pruned back hard. This should be done in late winter/early spring, but the flowers on the spring-blooming shrubs will be sacrificed for the following season.
Do not prune trees when they are planted. Delay pruning until the first late winter/early spring period after the initial planting season.
Avoid heavy pruning of evergreens, other than varieties intended for hedges. Never prune behind the needles closest to the trunk, evergreens have a hard time producing new growth from old wood so new branches may not emerge past that point.
Clean tools with rubbing alcohol to prevent the spread of disease.
Lawn Care Basics
Seeding New Lawns
As the grass begins to come up, slowly start backing off on the frequency of waterings, but water a little deeper to encourage root growth.
Start to mow the grass when it reaches three or four inches. Mowing a couple of times before winter will help harden off the grass. Give it an extra boost for spring by fertilizing in late October or early November.
Starting a Vegetable Garden
The best gardens take into consideration efficiency, convenience, and beauty. A little prep and planning on the front end can help save time and energy on hot summer days.
Siting & Design
Watch how the sun moves across your property. Fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers) need eight hours of sun for optimal production. Root vegetables like carrots or beets can produce with six hours. Leafy greens can grow with less.
If possible, site the vegetable garden north to south, with taller plants on the north end. This will prevent plants from shading each other as the sun moves across the sky each day. Cool-weather lovers like leafy greens and brassicas can be planted in shady spaces between sun-loving plants.
Raised beds have become a popular choice for gardens. They’re simple to build, provide good drainage, and their long, narrow shape allows gardeners to work their plots without causing soil compaction. Keep them about four feet wide so you can work from both sides without walking in the garden.
To save space and add visual interest, consider trellises for plants like cucumbers and melons to climb. Tuteurs and tipis work well for beans. Planting small, shade-tolerant plants like salad greens in the shade of tall trellised plants can save space without competition between plants.
Nutrient Demands & Companion Planting
Different plants use nutrients in different ways. For an efficient garden, organize plants by nutrient demand. Plants harvested their leaves, like spinach, use high levels of nitrogen. Plants grown for flowers and fruits like broccoli or tomatoes need phosphorus. Root crops like garlic and onions use lots of potassium. Rotating rows each year will prevent nutrient depletion. Beans and peas help replenish nutrients in the soil.
Plants in vegetable gardens form communities, working with (and sometimes against) each other to grow and produce. For example, marigolds can repel squash bugs and tomato hornworms. Use a companion planting chart to create productive plant communities.
A healthy soil community is the foundation of healthy plants and will make the gardener’s job easier. Soils in urban areas, especially newer developments, are often compacted and starved of nutrients. It can take years to build healthy soils, but there are ways to amend and nurture the soils along to grow healthy plants even in the first year of your garden.
Amend heavy clay with compost. Composted manure can add nutrients, but apply in the fall so it doesn’t burn young plants. Raised beds can be filled with good-quality top soil and compost. Consider layering yard waste like leaves with compost and soil, over time these materials will break down and feed the soil.
Healthy soils reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, but if your plants become nutrient deficient, especially in the first few years, they might need a boost. Organic fertilizers will deliver necessary nutrients to the plants and can help build soils to keep your garden productive.
Choose a warm spring day to plant. A few days of overcast weather will help transplanted seedlings adjust to their new home. Sun and wind can be hard on tender seedlings. Planting in the afternoon will also help transition seedlings, letting them adjust overnight. Rake soil up in mounds to create rows or beds of loose soil for the seeds and seedlings.
Refer to the spacing on the seed packet or plant label. Keep plants far enough away from each other to allow air to circulate between plants, but close enough to shade out weeds later in the season.
Seeding or Transplanting
The following plants grow well when sown directly into the ground. Seeds should be planted in the ground at a depth two to three times their width. Water after sowing:
Corn, peas, beans, squash, melon, pumpkins, spinach, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi
These plants grow best when planted as seedlings, whether started indoors or purchased from a nursery. Press soil around the base gently and water in to get rid of air pockets around the roots:
Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, onions
Watering & Mulching
Growing plants need about an inch of water a week. Water plants lightly and frequently when they are young. As plants grow, encourage healthy root systems by watering less often and forcing the roots to seek water deep in the soil.
Keep beds free of weeds while young seedlings are growing. A biodegradable, recycled paper weed barrier covered with mulch will help keep moisture in and weeds from germinating. At the end of the season, the paper can be tilled into the garden to decompose.
Planting seeds too early or too late can complicate the process. The seed packet will give instructions on when to plant inside or direct sow outside, based on the last frost.
Our frost free date is May 9. Beginners should stick close to these dates. Seeds planted too early can outgrow their pots before the weather warms, those planted too late won’t be ready to transplant and will miss valuable growing time outside.
- Early March: Brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, and salad greens
- Mid March: Peppers and eggplants
- Late March: Tomatoes
- Early April: Melons, squash, and cucumbers, though these can also be sown directly into the ground later in the spring.
Read the directions on the seed packets. Check for directions on seed prep, some will need to be scored, chilled, or soaked.
Fill your containers with a seed starting potting mix, leaving half an inch of space at the top of the container. Tamp down the soil, water until it’s uniformly moist, then let it drain. Press the seeds into the containers. Fine seeds generally sit on top of the soil, larger seeds can be covered with soil. Seed depth should be one to two times the width of the seed. Gently water again. The best way to water is to soak the containers, allowing the soil to wick up the water from below. When the soil is moist, remove the containers from water and allow them to drain. Don’t forget to label your plants!
The seed packet will tell you the average time it takes for the seeds to germinate. During this time, the seeds need to be warm and uniformly moist, but not wet. Cover the containers with plastic wrap or a plastic tray cover to create a humid environment, and set them on a heating mat or the top of your refrigerator. Check them every few days for signs of life.
When the seedlings start to emerge, move them to a location with lots of light and slightly cooler temperatures. This will encourage sturdy growth. Seeds will need about 12 hours of good light each day to prevent them from getting leggy. It’s easiest to plug a grow light into a timer and set it appropriately. Grow lights need to start out within a few inches of the seedling, and should be adjusted as the plants grow.
Continue keeping the seedlings evenly moist, and fertilize weekly. When using an all-purpose fertilizer, mix it at one quarter strength so seedlings don’t burn from the nitrogen. Organic fertilizers are usually low strength and work well for young seedlings. If seeds were planted close together, thin them out as they grow until only a few strong seedlings remain.
Seedlings will need to be hardened off before they’re transplanted outside. Two weeks before transplanting, start to back off on water and fertilizer. A week before transplanting, set the seedlings outside in dappled sunlight for a few hours each day so they grow accustomed to natural light. Slowly increase the amount of time they spend in the sun. Continue to protect the seedlings from cold temperatures.
Choosing a Container
Good drainage is essential. Choose a material that works best with your site and the needs of the plant. Clay wicks excess water, glazed pottery and plastic hold onto water, and metal retains heat and water.
Use a shallow patio bowl for lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and other leafy greens, green onions, herbs, and strawberries.
For larger plants like broccoli, celery, eggplants, peppers, squash, and bush-type citrus, use a 5 gallon pot. Beans and cucumbers can also fit into a 5 gallon pot, choose bush varieties or use plant supports to hold up the vines. Potatoes and tomatoes should be in at least 5 gallon pots, but would benefit from more space. Look for determinate tomato plants labelled “patio” for smaller mature sizes, and use a tomato cage to keep the plant upright.
Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and radish need pots deep enough to comfortably grow to their full size under the soil, but should be planted in wide containers with enough space for multiple plants.
Small perennial fruits can also be grown in containers. There are newer varieties that are grown to have smaller mature sizes for patio containers. Plant them in large 10 gallon pots and protect from the winter freeze and thaw cycles.
Most vegetables need six or more hours of sun to produce well. Leafy greens, radishes, beets, peas, and some herbs can produce well with four hours of sun.
Use a light, soilless potting mix to ensure good drainage. Do not use garden soil or top soil.
Tomatoes, peas, pole beans, and vining cucumbers need support to grow vertically. We like using tomato cages that fit directly into the pot.
Use your finger to check the moisture content of the top few inches of soil before watering, and water thoroughly when dry. Water in the morning, and avoid watering foliage to prevent fungus problems. Consistent watering in the heat of the summer is especially important for container grown vegetables. Remember that containers on concrete will get much hotter than containers on grass or wood.