Planting & Watering Guide
We have the best tips and tricks for making your garden really stand out.
Plant survival is directly related to the care plants receive after they leave the Nursery. One of the most basic concepts is adequate moisture. Without it plants cannot survive. Water requirements for newly installed plants are fairly simple: the roots should never become completely dry or waterlogged. If necessary the soil should be amended to solve drainage or moisture retention problems. Planting according to our guidelines ensures that the ground around new plantings is saturated and roots are off to a good start. The crucial part of supplying “adequate moisture” is to complement natural rainfall on an ongoing basis through the following steps.
1. Soil sampling: Dig down 2–4” just outside the root mass of the plant and water only if the soil feels dry to the touch. Feeling the soil for moisture content is the BEST method for gauging dryness. Only sampling can tell you when the soil is adequately moist, too dry, or too wet.
2. Corralling the water: “Well” all newly installed plants by creating a circular berm of soil (a 3” or 4” high saucer edge) around each plant. This allows both for easy measurement and placement of water at the root zone.
3. Keeping track of water volume: Apply measured amounts of water depending on the size of the root ball. The following chart is a guideline for the amounts of water needed by newly planted trees and shrubs based upon plant size. Plant species have varying water requirements. Before watering according to the chart, check actual soil moisture and the moisture requirements of your plants.
Water measurements are made by using a watering can, bucket, water meter, or by calculating the gallons per minute flowing through the hose at a known setting. When watering with a hose, turn on the water at a low setting, take note of the setting, and count the amount of time it takes the water to fill a one gallon container. Multiply that amount of time by the number of gallons you need for your plant. That total provides the amount of time you need to run the hose (at noted setting) in order to adequately water your plants. For example, if it takes 5 minutes to fill a gallon jug at a slow trickle and you need to water a “larger” tree (see the watering guidelines chart below).
Next, you need to let the water trickle over the root mass for 50 to 75 minutes each time you water (5 minutes x 10 to 15 gal. needed per application = 50 to 75 minutes.
4. Evaluate Frequency: Newly installed shrubs and trees should be checked and watered every other day for two weeks, taking into account any rain. This will ensure that the soil is soaked thoroughly. Once the soil is saturated, limit watering to once a week if less than one inch of rain falls during the week. Your plants need to be watered throughout their first full growing cycle in order to establish roots into new soil and put on top growth. A full growing cycle includes a fall and spring season. Late fall watering, until the ground is fully frozen, is essential for the survival of newly planted trees and shrubs.
5. Mulch: Maintaining a 2–4” layer of organic mulch greatly reduces water lost to evaporation. Mulch should be tapered to and not touching the plant base.
6. CAUTION! These are only general recommendations. Each site is different (i. e., soil type, sun and wind exposure, topography) and different plants have different water needs. You must adjust your watering routine to compensate for those factors as well as the weather. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER WATER. A plant may also be “killed with kindness” from over watering as easily as it may die from lack of water.
Ground Covers and Perennials: In order for these tender plants to become established and spread, they must be watered every other day for the first month, and then once a week thereafter for the next two months. If planted in spring or summer, watering may be needed on a daily basis. A rotary sprinkler works best for large areas. Overhead watering should be used only in the morning or late afternoon. Wet foliage in the middle of the day or late evening can promote fungal diseases.
Sod: After installing sod, soak the root area daily for the next week. After the first week, water every two to three days. If sod shows signs of drying or turning brown, it should be soaked immediately. If the edges of the sod show signs of drying or turning brown along driveways or walks, a hand soaking may be required along those edges. Over watering will inhibit rooting. Sod should root into the soil in two to three weeks.
Watering Guidelines /Plant Size /Amount of water per application
Small shrubs (<3 feet)
Large shrubs (>3 feet)
Small trees (<2” caliper)
Larger trees (>2” caliper)
Balled and Burlapped (B&B) Trees and Shrubs
(Scroll down for Container-grown Trees and Shrubs Guide)
When considering the planting and maintenance of woody plants, many established cultural guidelines practiced by landscape professionals have undergone scrutiny in recent years. Based on research findings and field observations, many of these practices have been modified to improve overall plant health in a landscape setting. Research has shown that improper planting technique, particularly planting too deep, is a major cause of tree and shrub mortality in maintained landscapes. In addition, research has shown that accepted practices governing the size and shape of the planting hole and the nature of the backfill mixture require some modification.
Site Evaluation : Before choosing and planting trees and shrubs, careful attention should be given to the site itself. Each site should be evaluated for the following:
Slope, Amount of light, Hardiness Zone, Drainage, Soil Type, Space or size, Exposure and Soil pH
Plant Selection: After site evaluation, choose plant material that will adapt well to that particular location. Match the needs of the plant to the site. When choosing plant material, it is also important to consider growth habit and ultimate size, maintenance needs, pest resistance and function.
Site Preparation: Because the fibrous or absorbing roots of most woody ornamentals are within the top 10–12” of the soil, it is recommended that the planting hole be dug no deeper than the rootball as measured from the trunk flare to the bottom of the ball. Holes dug deeper than the rootball often result in settling of the plant to a point above the trunk flare. Because root development often extends beyond the canopy or dripline, it is now
recommended that the planting area be loosened and aerated at least three times and, where possible, as much as five times the diameter of the rootball.
Planting Hole Preparation: One of the most common errors in planting is that the rootball is planted either too deep or too high, both of which cause serious problems. To properly plant B&B plant material, start by locating the point at which the trunk flare begins. Measuring from this point to the bottom of the ball will give you the depth of the hole. Dig the hole one or two inches less than this measurement so that the trunk flare junction will be slightly higher than the existing grade level when the planting is complete. In some cases, the trunk flare junction may be buried in the top of the rootball soil and it will be necessary to loosen the burlap at the top of the ball to locate the junction. Try to keep the rootball intact until it is secure in the hole. If some of the soil falls away from the roots, simply proceed with the planting, taking care to ensure that the roots do not dry from sun or wind. The hole should be dug approximately three times the width of the ball with sloped sides as shown in the diagram.
Setting the Plant: Carefully set the plant in the hole so that the trunk flare is one or two inches above the existing grade. Once it is properly set, cut away all visible rope and burlap. If the rootball appears in danger of completely collapsing, only remove twine and burlap from one-third of the ball. Although still subject to debate, it is recommended that the top 8–16” of the wire basket be removed once the ball is stable in the planting hole. This can be done with a small set of bolt cutters, being careful not to leave any protruding points of wire which could cause injury. Do not try to remove the wire basket by pulling the rootball out because the ball will likely be destroyed in the process.
Backfilling the Plant Hole: According to current research, backfilling with soil dug from the planting hole is preferable to mixing the soil with large amounts of organic soil amendments such as peat moss, compost, etc. The addition of organic soil amendments may be necessary if the existing soil is of poor quality (i.e., excessively sandy, heavy clay or other undesirable material). Alternatively, quality topsoil, similar in texture to the existing soil, may be brought in and used for backfill. While backfilling, tamp the soil lightly to avoid leaving air pockets but not so firmly as to drive out all the fine air spaces needed for a well-aerated soil. An alternative procedure to avoid packing the soil too firmly is to water the soil halfway through the backfill process and allow it to drain. When the water has drained away, resume backfilling and water again thoroughly. To complete backfilling, smooth the surface soil with your hands or a rake and check to ensure that the trunk flare is completely exposed and that the top of the rootball is not covered with soil. It is advisable, especially where watering is difficult, to build a“saucer” at the outer edge of the hole to retain water and allow it to soak down to the roots.
Mulching: Mulching is a cultural practice that can benefit the landscape when done correctly. Mulching will reduce weeds, moderate soil temperatures, conserve soil moisture in the root zone, and add an aesthetic quality to the landscape. Improper mulching can impair plant health and lead to the decline of the plant material. Mulch should be placed in a wide band, approximately 3 times the diameter of the rootball, over the root zone and no more than 2–4” deep, tapering to, but not touching, the trunk. Mulch piled up against the trunk may cause rotting of the bark and can create entry points for insects or disease organisms. While there are many types of decorative mulches on the market, we recommend the use of untreated, shredded pine or hemlock mulch. Organic mulches, such as ground leaves, can also be used although they are not generally commercially available. Peat moss should never be used as mulch because it can form a mat that will prevent water from draining through to the root system. Under no circumstances should fresh mulch be mixed in with the soil.
Staking: While there are many opinions on the method and value of staking trees at planting time, most experts agree that staking is not necessary for all trees. Research has shown that staked trees may develop a smaller root system and decreased trunk taper. If the rootball is not stable in the soil, the trunk should be braced as low as possible to keep the root ball stable while allowing the trunk to sway slightly.
In most cases, stakes should be removed after one growing season.
Watering: Water is critical to the successful establishment of plants. Excess or insufficient water impedes the formation and elongation of new roots. After planting, water the planting area deeply. Newly planted trees and shrubs must receive adequate water weekly during the first growing season to become established. In general, rainfall does not provide adequate moisture until after several growing seasons. Please see our "WATERING GUIDELINES" page.
Container-grown Trees and Shrubs
A container-grown plant is, quite simply, one which has been produced and offered for sale in some form of container, often a plastic pot. Generally, the plant is grown in a “soil-less” planting mix composed of bark mulch, sand, and organic matter such as leaf compost. The advantage to this type of culture is that the root system develops entirely in the container, thus minimizing the transplant shock possible with B&B material. The disadvantage is that the pot tends to limit the size the plant can achieve before becoming ‘pot bound’, which occurs when the roots begin to fill the pot. Plants grown in containers can be planted successfully throughout the entire planting season provided that you follow proper planting procedures and pay attention to a few instructions unique to plants which have been container-grown.
Care Prior to Planting: Container-grown plants can be maintained for an indefinite period prior to planting but can be severely damaged if the soil mix is allowed to dry out. During the growing season, the plant should be checked daily and watered to keep the soil mix damp but not soaking wet.
Site Preparation: As with a B&B plant, dig a wide hole with sloped sides. Container-grown plants are often shrubs or ground covers so the trunk flare does not exist or is difficult to find. The depth of the hole is determined by measuring the actual height of the rootball within the container. When completely planted, the plant should be no deeper than it was in the container.
Setting the Plant in the Hole: Handle the plant by lifting the container rather than the plant itself. To remove the plant from the container, turn the pot on its side and gently tap the container until the root system slides out. Once the plant is removed from the pot, allowing it to dry out can easily damage the root system. Complete the planting quickly or cover the roots with a moist cloth or burlap.
Preparing the Root System: It is critical that roots begin growing as soon as possible in their new location. To encourage this root development, always free up the root ends and loosen some of the outer container media. This will enable the roots to come in direct contact with the new backfill soil. Most well-grown plants will only require a gentle loosening up of the roots in the outer one-half inch of the ball, but if the roots appear more severely matted, it may be necessary to use a knife or small hand rake to open them up. The methods used in this process can vary based on individual success. If planting many container-grown plants, you may wish to ask one of our staff for a demonstration of technique.
Backfilling the Planting Hole: It is preferable to backfill with soil from the planting hole rather than to use heavily amended soils. Because container growing mixes tend to dry out more easily, however, we recommend that where the surrounding soil is very sandy or gravelly, reasonable topsoil be mixed with the backfill to aid in water retention and prevent the container mix from drying out.
Watering: Because of the different soil structures of the rootball, the backfill and the existing soil, water will have a difficult time moving into the root system from the surrounding soil during the first growing season. It’s critical, therefore, that the container-grown plant be mulched with 2–4” of shredded pine or organic mulch and watered at least once weekly during the first growing season. This watering must be done in a way which ensures that the root system and soil-less growing mix receives the moisture. Generally speaking, rainfall will not provide adequate moisture until after several growing seasons.