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Planting Shrubs / Pruning Shrubs Instructions




  • Site Location for Planting your Shrubs

          Proper placement of shrubs is critical for your enjoyment and their long-term survival. Before planting your shrub, consider the shrub's mature size. When the shrub nears maturity, will it be too close to your house or other structures? Be considerate of your neighbors. Will it provide too much shade for your vegetable and flower gardens? Most vegetables and many flowers require considerable amounts of sun. If you intend to grow these plants, consider how the placement of shrubs will affect these gardens. Will it obstruct driveways or sidewalks? Will it cause problems for buried or overhead utilities?


  • Planting Shrubs

          A properly planted and maintained shrub will grow faster and live longer than one that is incorrectly planted. Shrubs can be planted almost any time of the year as long as the ground is not frozen. Late summer or early fall is the optimum time to plant shrubs in many areas. This gives the shrub a chance to establish new roots before winter arrives and the ground freezes. When spring arrives, the shrub is ready to grow. The second choice for planting is late winter or early spring. Planting in hot summer weather should be avoided. Planting in frozen soil during the winter is difficult and tough on shrub roots. When the shrub is dormant and the ground is frozen, there is no opportunity for the growth of new roots.

          Shrubs are purchased as container grown, balled and burlapped (B&B), and bare root. Generally, container grown are the easiest to plant and successfully establish in any season, including summer. With container grown stock, the plant has been growing in a container for a period of time. When planting container grown plants, little damage is done to the roots as the plant is transferred to the soil. Container grown shrubs range in size from very small plants in gallon pots up to large shrubs in huge pots. B&B plants frequently have been dug from a nursery, wrapped in burlap, and kept in the nursery for an additional period of time, giving the roots opportunity to regenerate. B&B plants can be quite large. Bare root shrubs require special care. Because there is no soil on the roots, they must be planted when they are dormant to avoid drying out. The roots must be kept moist until planted. Bare root plants should be planted as soon as possible upon arrival.


          Carefully follow the planting instructions that come with your shrub. If specific instructions are not available, follow these tips:


  • Dig a hole twice as wide as, and slightly shallower than, the root ball. Roughen the sides and bottom of the hole with a pick or shovel so that roots can penetrate the soil.

  • With a potted shrub, gently remove the shrub from the container. Lay the shrub on its side with the container end near the planting hole. Hit the bottom and sides of the container until the root ball is loosened. If roots are growing in a circular pattern around the root ball, slice through the roots on a couple of sides of the root ball. With shrubs wrapped in burlap, remove the string or wire that holds the burlap to the root crown. It is unnecessary to completely remove the burlap. Plastic wraps must be completely removed. Gently separate circling roots on the root ball. Shorten exceptionally long roots, and guide the shortened roots downward and outward. Root tips die quickly when exposed to light and air, so don't waste time.

  • Place the root ball in the hole. Leave the top of the root ball (where the roots end and the trunk begins) 1/2 to 1 inch above the surrounding soil, making sure not to cover it unless roots are exposed. For bare root plants, make a mound of soil in the middle of the hole and spread plant roots out evenly over mound. Do not set shrubs too deep. As you add soil to fill in around the shrub, lightly tamp the soil to collapse air pockets, or add water to help settle the soil. Form a temporary water basin around the base of the shrub to encourage water penetration, and water thoroughly after planting. A shrub with a dry root ball cannot absorb water; if the root ball is extremely dry, allow water to trickle into the soil by placing the hose at the base of the shrub.

  • Mulch around the shrub. A 3-foot diameter circle of mulch is common.


  • Shrub Maintenance

          For the first year or two, especially after a week or so of especially hot or dry weather, watch your shrubs closely for signs of moisture stress. If you see leaf wilting or hard, caked soil, water the shrubs well and slowly enough to allow the water to soak in. This will encourage deep root growth. Keep the area under the shrubs mulched.

          Some species of evergreen shrubs may need protection against winter sun and wind. A thorough watering in the fall before the ground freezes is recommended. Spray solutions are available to help prevent drying of foliage during the winter.

          Fertilization is usually not needed for newly planted shrubs. Depending on soil and growing conditions, fertilizer may be beneficial at a later time.


  • Pruning Shrubs

          Usually, pruning is not needed on newly planted shrubs. As the shrub grows, lower branches may be pruned to provide clearance above the ground, or to remove dead or damaged limbs or suckers that sprout from the trunk. Sometimes larger shrubs need pruning to allow more light to enter the canopy. Small branches can be removed easily with pruners. Large branches should be removed with a pruning saw. All cuts should be vertical. This will allow the shrub to heal quickly without the use of sealants. Major pruning should be done in late winter or early spring. At this time the shrub is more likely to "bleed" as sap is rising through the plant. This is actually healthy and will help prevent invasion by many disease organisms. Heavy pruning in the late summer or fall may reduce the shrub's winter hardiness. Removal of large branches can be hazardous. If in doubt about your ability to prune properly, contact a professional with the proper equipment.

          Under no circumstance should shrubs be topped. Not only does this practice ruin the natural shape of the shrub, but it increases susceptibility to diseases and results in very narrow crotch angles, the angle between the trunk and the side branch. Narrow crotch angles are weaker than wide ones and more susceptible to damage from wind and ice. If a large shrub requires major reduction in height or size, contact a professionally trained arborist. There are other methods to selectively remove large branches without sacrificing the health or beauty of the shrub.



    Resources: Flowering Shrubs
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