22 April 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Although early spring and fall are best for planting, nurseries lure us at less favorable times, with trees and shrubs beckoning from the crowded aisles of garden centers.
If youre using conventional planting methods, then the end of April is the outer limit in hardiness zones 6 and 7. This means plopping the plant in a hole three times the width of the container or root ball, backfilled with unamended soil, then protected with three inches of mulch, three to six inches from the plant base.
Avoid late season planting, but when you must, bare-root plant. Bare-rooting at planting secures the plants long-term health.
Bonnie Lee Appleton, horticulture professor at Virginia Tech, demonstrated bare-rooting at planting at the February 2009, Piedmont Landscape Association conference. The process seemed familiar, so I consulted with family to confirm that this was how our dad had put in all his transplants.
Dad wanted to control as much of the garden environment as he could, so he replaced the plants soil with his own, the product of years of composted cow, chicken and horse manure, yard-waste, and the local rocky sod.
Whats bare-rooting at planting? Its a process of washing the manufactured earth from roots then planting in the home ground.
Depending on the size of the transplant, prepare a bucket or a stock tank with two-thirds water, allowing any chlorine to vaporize overnight.
The next day, carefully remove all wrappings; cut away the plants container, and immerse the roots in that day-old water, gently swishing away the mud. Prune deformed, dead and circling roots.
When you dont bare-root plant, these hidden distortions remain to slowly strangle, making their crime evident after the warranty expires.
While soaking, dig the hole to the same depth as the vertical roots and three times the reach of the horizontal roots. Next, remove the planting from the water. Drape all the roots over a central mound of moderately packed native soil.
Cover the remaining open spaces with unamended dirt, being careful to shelter the tender, uppermost roots with no more than three inches of earth.
After completing the planting, slowly pour in the muddy rinse, wetting the area with more water until all is evenly moist; then dispose of the buckets bottom muck onto the compost heap, not in the planting hole.
Mulch three inches from the stem or six inches from the trunk. Maintain the recommended watering schedule.
For shallow-rooted shrubs like azalea and mountain laurel, plant one to two inches above grade with additional native soil. Gently shield those sensitive surface roots, top-dressing with screened compost or flaked, aged leaf mold.
Regardless of size, you should see some flare from the trunk or main stem. Dont plant so deep that the flare or graft junction is concealed. Mulch aside, no plant should look like a telephone pole stuck in the dirt.
The only exception is the tomato, which will grow roots from an embedded stem without harm to itself.
Capture those garden center bargains by bare-root planting anytime the ground is workable.
Tip of the Week
Can compost added to the vegetable garden contaminate the harvest with salmonella from composted eggshells? Linda Chalker-Scott says, "If the eggshells are contaminated, and if the compost does not reach the proper temperature (i.e. 135-150 degrees), then yes, you could have a problem. But if it's properly composted, it will not be a problem."