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Time is ideal for planting trees, shrubs

Posted: March 3, 2013 - 12:07am

It is a great time of the year to plant new additions to the landscape. Planting now gives trees and shrubs a better chance of getting established before the heat of summer hits.

If the weather patterns follow the past two summers, the plants need all the help they can get to survive the heat.

Whether planting a new shade tree to cool the patio or replacing a damaged or diseased shrub in the landscape, always begin with a healthy plant. Selecting quality plants from the garden center will improve your success and the growth of trees and shrubs. Quality plants will have healthy roots, stems and leaves. Close examination of the plants is necessary to assure high quality.

One of the important parts of the plant to inspect is the root system. The health of a plant’s root ball is critical to its survival. Some root ball defects are obvious, while others require careful observation and inspection to discover.

On container-grown plants the root crown or flare should be visible. Avoid plants planted too deep in the container. Avoid root-bound plants.

Scratch the surface to see if there are encircling roots; these will cause problems later. Roots, if visible, should have white tips.

On balled and burlapped (B&B) trees, the rootball should be compact and firm, not loose or broken. The ball should be moist, but not wet. Given the choice, select a plant with natural fiber burlap, not plastic. Handle B&B plants with care.

The next part of the plant to examine is the branches. Examine the overall form of trees or shrub to avoid future problems. A well-formed shade tree will have a strong central trunk with horizontal scaffold branches arranged every 12 to 18 inches up the tree. Shrubs should be uniformly branched in all directions and fairly dense. Avoid leggy shrubs that have no lower branches. This leggy habit means these shrubs likely will remain bare at their base. The branches and foliage can also be an indicator of the growth potential for the plant.

The amount of growth a tree or shrub made in the past season indicates the vigor of the plant. Very short, thin twigs are a sign of a struggling plant with low vigor.

Evergreen trees and shrubs with abundant foliage indicate last year’s growth and vigor. Look for broken or damaged branches or trunks as a clue to how the plants were shipped and handled. Plants that were stressed during the shipping process will not adapt well to their new environment.

When looking over the plant selections, do not forget to be on the lookout for disease and insect problems. Look at the stems and underneath the leaves for insects or their eggs. A stippled or dotted appearance might indicate that insects have fed on the leaves. Be careful not to bring a problem home.

Be an educated consumer this spring and add color and interest to the landscape. Demand top quality plants and you will be rewarded with a nice addition that will last several years.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource extension agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, or trippj@uga.edu.

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