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by Peggy Gannon

It's important to give your new shrub or tree the right start to insure that it will live and thrive. Remember, plants are living things; in order to do their best, they need a little TLC from their owner. Follow these simple directions to protect your investment.


  • Allow space!  Know the mature size of your plant and be sure to leave enough room around it for it to fill out at maturity. Shrubs planted too close to foundations will interfere with maintenance and repair of the structure later. Shrubs planted too close to each other will be crowded in a few years, and difficult to move. Avoid mistakes...plan ahead!

  • Water thoroughly!   Give your new plant two or three deep waterings in the first week (depending on rainfall), not several sprinkles. Frequent light watering won't reach deep into the root zone where it's needed—instead, it encourages shallow rooting. Roots need to go deep to establish the plant and guard against winter kill. After the first week, we recommend a 5-gallon bucket weekly through midsummer. Pour slowly and let it penetrate.

  • Prune! Most shrubs and fruit trees benefit from annual pruning to keep them shapely, full, and productive. Many plants are low-maintenance, but almost all will benefit from a little trimming each year. Excellent pruning guides are available from your county Extension Service.


Prepare the ground by digging a hole twice as wide and about as deep as the root ball. Loosening this soil will help your plant get established quickly. Place your plant in the hole; the point where the stem or trunk meets the soil should be level with or just slightly below the surrounding ground level. In other words, the plant should be no higher or lower than the level of soil where it is planted. When the depth is right, place the plant in the hole.

If roots are balled in burlap, remove any wire, or cut and remove twine. Cut away excess burlap at top, but leave burlap around the ball; it will degrade and the roots will grow through it. Tearing the burlap off will only damage the young feeder roots. If your plant is potted, carefully remove the pot before placing plant in the hole.

Walk around your plant to make sure it is straight and even. Now backfill half the soil into the hole, tamp gently, and water thoroughly. When the water is absorbed, finish backfilling, tamp gently again, water thoroughly once more. The soil around the base of the plant should be level or slightly cup-shaped...not mounded up. Water thoroughly twice a week for the first two weeks, then weekly at least through midsummer. A mulch applied around the base of the plant will help keep soil moist and prevent weed competition.

It's OK to add soil amendments (peat moss, compost) to backfilled soil in moderation. You may wish to feed your new plant monthly through the end of July. Always withhold fertilizer in late summer; too much tender new growth late in the season is apt to winter kill. Exception: evergreens may be fertilized in October to give them a boost the following spring.


The instructions for evergreens also apply to deciduous plants, the ones that drop their leaves in fall. Please note these differences.

Most fruit trees and shade trees are grafted onto a rootstock. You will see a knob about 6" above the base of the trunk; this is the graft union. It's important to plant your tree at the same level it is now growing—do not bury the graft union. Prune away any growth that originates below the graft union—these are suckers from the rootstock. They are not productive and will drain energy from your plant. Exception: Roses are hardier if the graft union is buried. Plant your roses deep!

If you find that roots are circling in a nursery pot, use a knife to score the bottom third of the root system in several places. Cutting them will stop their circling and encourage them to make new growth.

Experts differ on when to prune young fruit trees. Some advise pruning immediately after planting; others suggest you wait until the second spring. Either way, fruit trees must be pruned to keep them shapely and to encourage branching and fruit production. Late winter (February-March) is a good time for pruning fruit trees, though old-timers will tell you to prune whenever your knife is sharp. Excellent guides are available from your county Cooperative Extension Service.

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