Q: Is it true that I should cut the roots of plants before I plant them, especially if they’re rootbound?
A: Good question. This one gets debated a lot. You know you’ve got a rootbound plant when you tip it out of its container and matted roots are more prevalent than soil. Wrapped in a tight ball, the roots usually circle the bottom of the plant because they’ve had no place else to go and the soil around them has broken down. It is best to separate the roots as best you can before planting, and that probably means cutting out some of the most matted parts.
Being rootbound puts a lot of stress on growing plants because they lack the nutrients they need to thrive. If you don’t try to correct the situation at planting time, those plants are likely to be stunted. They may even fail to grow much at all or even die. The debate comes in over whether to slice the roots on the sides of container-grown plants whether they are rootbound or not. Studies have indicated that the practice doesn’t help but many gardeners think it does. So you might want to try experimenting with that yourself.
How to get a repeat performance out of tulips is always a hot topic in the spring. The truth is, most hybrid tulips just don’t come back year after year the way we’d like them to. That’s why some gardeners treat tulips as annuals, planting them in the fall and digging them up and tossing them into the compost pile once the blooms fade.Read More»
This time of year, many homeowners and county forestry departments move quickly to remove dead, dying, and diseased trees. Years ago it was common practice to pull stumps, but now grinding is a more popular strategy.
Grinding is nice because the stump is gone and the surrounding area goes unscathed for the most part. The only problem is that if the stump is not fully removed, there can be a lot of dead wood left in the ground. As it decays, microbes in the soil will multiply rapidly to feed on the decaying matter. This increase in microbes causes more and more nitrogen to be used up, temporarily depriving grass and other plants of the nutrients they need. Keep an eye on this and fertilize if need be.
If a stump is not ground out deeply enough, you can hasten the decomposition process by removing as much of the bark, grindings, and sawdust as possible. You can also try adding additional nitrogen to the area, which will help speed up decomposition and reduce the amount of yellowing and stunted growth on surrounding plants. Even with added nitrogen, though, it is unlikely that grass will grow well in that spot for several years.
As you can see by the title this column is all about shearing and how taking time to do it will keep garden plants from doing a face plant in late summer. But first, I want to send out a little public service announcement. As you may know, when shopping for perennials you want to look for plants marked as being hardy in our unbelievably cold Zone 4 (-30 degrees F) climate. Otherwise, you can’t count on seeing them the following year.
Some gardeners are willing to take a chance on a Zone 5 plant they really love like Japanese maple, say, or butterfly bush, figuring if it dies it dies but if it lives — great! But you shouldn’t have to take a risk if you don’t want to, and that’s exactly what’s happening when we buy plants with misleading tags. Truthfully, no season goes by that I don’t see some mislabeled plants at garden centers, even really good ones. But this year I’ve been hearing from many gardeners that there are a LOT of mislabeled plants out on shelves, particularly at big-box stores where plants are often shipped in from the South.Read More»
Spring is the time for trying new things. And since grass does not grow well under most trees, some gardeners wonder if they can replace their struggling grass. The answer is yes, but be careful.
Like grass, any plant will have a difficult time trying to survive beneath a tree. One of the biggest reasons is those plants have to compete with the tree’s extensive root system for nutrients and water.
Many plants will do just fine in that tough environment, as long as they get some extra water and fertilizer. But when planting, be careful not to damage the tree’s roots. A lot of people think tree roots are deep in the ground, but the reality is that 90 percent of a tree’s roots are located in the top 3 feet of soil under and around the canopy.
Shade-loving annuals like impatiens might add color under a shade tree, but if you plant them you have to disturb roots every year. That’s why it’s better to go with perennials under trees if you can, and just tuck in a few annuals for color.
If you have to remove grass, hand dig as carefully as you can. Try not to cut through roots larger than 2 inches thick as those are more vital than smaller roots. Use a garden hose to determine the shape of your bed rather than going with a standard circle, which looks less natural. And choose plants that can tolerate the dry, shady conditions of an understory, such as barrenwort, bleeding heart, ferns, and Solomon’s seal.