How to Plant Trees & Shrubs

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Proper care of your new tree or shrub can make all the difference in its long-term success in the landscape. Below are some tips for soil preparation, planting, fertilization, and watering .

Amend Your Soil | Planting a new tree or shrub always starts with getting your soil right. Most soil in North Carolina contains heavy clay, or even subsoil, especially if you have a newly built home. Due to the fine particle-size of clay, it retains water for a long period of time, and does not allow adequate air and drainage to reach plant roots. Start by digging a hole for your tree or shrub. The hole should be twice as wide as the rootball you are planting, and as deep as the rootball. If you are planting in an area with particularly heavy clay or a wet area, you may want to dig your hole even shallower, planting the rootball a few inches higher than the level of the ground. If you are unsure if your soil is too wet or not, pour water in the prepared hole and time how long it takes for it to drain. If it takes longer than 30 minutes, you should plant high, or consider a different spot.

Mix a high-quality soil conditioner (We recommend Fox Farm’s Happy Frog Soil Conditioner) with the soil you dug out of the hole, so that what you have is a 50-50 mixture of native soil to soil conditioner.

Planting | Remove the tree or shrub from its nursery pot and loosen the roots with your hands or a hand rake. This allows roots that have grown sideways and around the inside of the pot to hang downwards and grow in the correct direction once in the ground. Place the rootball in the hole and backfill with the soil you mixed previously. Compact the soil lightly around the plant to prevent the soil level from dropping when rained upon or watered. Mulch around the plant, being sure not to pile it around the base of the plant, which can cause the plant to rot. Water thoroughly after planting.

Fertilization | Use a root stimulator to encourage your new tree or shrub to take hold faster, and thus become hardier against drought or cold. We recommend either Bonide Root & Grow, or Fox Farm Kangaroots. Both are liquid fertilizers and simply need to be mixed with water according to the label’s directions, then poured around the base of the plant.

Watering | Though it’s tempting to set up a sprinkler next to newly installed trees or shrubs, this is a highly inefficient way to water and will not provide the deep watering needed to establish new woody plants. Hand watering is the best way to ensure success during the first months of planting. Place the open end of a hose at the base of your plant and turn the water on a slow release, and let soak for about 20 minutes two times a week for the first month of planting. If there is a heavy rain of at least one inch of downfall, you may skip one watering. Keep an eye on your plant throughout the first year, especially the first few months, after planting. It is just as common for plants to die of overwatering as underwatering. If you are unsure, dig a small hole 3 inches deep beside the root ball. If the soil is moist 3” below the surface, the plant is not too dry. Once the soil below 3” is dry, it is time to water.

Remember, you can always contact one of our sales associates or email us if you have concerns regarding your new plant. Taking a picture, both of the entire plant and a close up of any areas that look unusual, is especially helpful for diagnosis. Email garden@atlanticgardening.com or call our Tree and Shrub Department at (919) 878-8877.