Whether you are beginning a landscape, or adding to an existing one, your major expenses will probably be in purchasing trees and shrubs.

Whether you are beginning a landscape, or adding to an existing one, your major expenses will probably be in purchasing trees and shrubs.  It’s important that you know how to take care of new shrubbery from the day you bring it home from the nursery.  First and foremost, this means correct planting methods.  In fact, the way you plant new trees and shrubs has a lot to do with the way they’ll look for many years to come.

A common question about planting trees and shrubs is when is the best time to plant?  Generally speaking, late fall and winter are the recommended time for adding new plants to the landscape.  If you’re thinking about getting some new shrubs into your landscape, now’s the time to do it.  There are a few exceptions to this general rule some evergreens, for example, are best planted in August or early September, and the best time to transplant palms is during the summer months when we are getting high rainfall.

Planting time and procedure can also vary depending on how the plant is grown and packaged at the nursery.  Plants are usually prepared for shipping in one of four ways:  they may be bare-root, which is when, the root and bare of all soil.  They may be balled and burlapped where most of the root and soil mass is dug intact and wrapped in burlap or the plant may come as a package bare-root, in which case, all the soil is removed from the root, and the roots are then wrapped in sawdust, bark, or peat moss.  The fourth variation is the container grown plant, where the root system is not disturbed until planting time.  Container grown plants can successfully be transplanted any time of year.

A plant may be prepared in any of these four ways.  The exact method of packaging will depend on the characteristics of each particular plant, as well as production and shipping consideration.  For the most part, bareroot, packaged bare-root, and balled and burlapped plants will have a higher survival rate if they are planted during the winter months.

You should prepare the site well in advance so that it will be ready for the new plant as soon as you bring it home.  You’ll want to get the plant in the ground as soon as possible.

One important step in preparation is digging the hole.  Make sure you dig the whole deep enough.  It should be at least six inches deeper and wider on all sides than the root mass of the plant.  Keep the sides of the hole going straight up and down, rather than sloped.  At the bottom, loosen several inches of soil to allow for root development.

Before you can plant, you’ll probably need to add some amendments to the soil.  Soil amendments are things like compost, peat moss, or pine bark.  In Florida’s sandy soils, they are added to help the soil hold water and nutrients better.  About one part soil amendment should be thoroughly mixed with every two parts of soil that go back into the hole with the plant.  Remember that the hole was dug about six inches deeper and wider that the roots mass of the plant.  So start by putting about six inches of the mended soil in the bottom of the hole.  Pack it down well so that the plant won’t settle after you’re finished

Stand the plant upright in the center of the hole and turn it so that its best side is most prominent.  Make sure that the roots are naturally spread, with no cramping or twisting.  If you’re working with a bare-root plant, make a cone shaped mound of soil in the hole and arrange the roots around it.  For balled and burlapped or container grown plants, handle the soil ball carefully so that it doesn’t break.

An important step now is to make sure the plant is all right growing level.  Planting too shallow can cause the roots to dry out.  On the other hand, planting too deeply can suffocate roots and cause the base of the trunk to rot.  Bare-root plants usually show the right soil level by a color change at the base of the trunk.  With balled and burlapped or container grown plants.  Line up the top of the soil ball with the soil surface.

Now you can fill up the hole with amended soil.  If you have a balled and burlapped plant, untie the burlap but don’t try to remove it.  It will soon decay on its own.  You only need to roll it down away from the soil ball.  Fill up the hole about three-fourths of the way, keeping the plant in an upright position.  Get rid of all air pockets, and water thoroughly.  Let the water settle and fill the remainder of the hole with more soil, water again.  Finally, make a rim of soil a few inches high in a two or three foot circle around the plant.  This saucer shaped basin will hold water and direct it to the roots of the plant.

For more information on garden fertilization contact the Gulf County Extension Service at 639-3200 or visit our website:  http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see Publication ENH 856 & ENH 1129.