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Aug 202012
 
desert landscaping

Photo courtesy of Desert Water Agency

There is a positive trend toward  utilization of native plants in Idaho home and business landscapes. The goals of this type of landscaping are myriad, including water conservation, reduced maintenance, attraction of wildlife, uniqueness, and expression of personal creativity. Regardless of the reasons, native landscapes can be beautiful and effective if designed and completed properly. Here are some guidelines that will help you successfully design and establish a native landscape. They closely resemble the steps for establishing a traditional landscape, but differ in a few important aspects such as plant materials and maintenance planning.

  1. Complete a yard survey and map the existing landscape. Note problem areas that are difficult to manage and may be appropriate for native landscapes.
  2. Determine the areas to be planted using native or water conservation materials. It is not necessary or desirable to make an entire landscape native. Some areas should be more traditional with good shade, turf for recreation, leisure areas, and flower beds for consistent color. However, the location of native plantings will determine much of the design. Areas removed from public scrutiny, such as property corners and large back yards, can remain informal and will have less demand for maintenance. Native plantings in public areas, such as around the house entrance, can be as pleasing as traditional landscapes, but will require a more elaborate design.
  3. Design the native planting areas in such a way that they provide continuity and flow with the rest of the landscape. Zone the irrigation system to meet the needs of the native plants. Some areas may need less water if xeriscape principles are followed, while other areas (such as water features and lowland plantings) may actually need more water. Recognize that if a native planting is designed for low water use, it may be necessary to add landscape features other than plants, such as rocks or wood objects to maintain season-long interest, color, and texture.
  4. Choose plant materials that will provide balance, color, line, and movement and complement the rest of the landscape while at the same time meeting the goals of the design. Carefully consider transition zones between traditional and native components of the landscape and avoid sudden shifts in plant type. Carefully consider the mature size of all plant materials and arrange plantings accordingly. Do not mix plants with vastly different water or maintenance needs.
  5. Once the design is complete, install the new landscape using procedures outlined in the section above. In the case of a water-conserving landscape, remember that newly established plants are not especially drought tolerant for the first season and may need some supplemental water for several months.

There are some outstanding publications available on-line that provide detailed instructions for establishing a native landscape. Here are a few of the best that are appropriate for Idaho:

Utah State University provides an excellent instruction manual for planning, designing, and establishing native plant landscape.

r. Stephen Love, University of Idaho, has created a list of native plants that are suitable for landscaping in Idaho. Included in his document is contact information on where to purchase the listed plants. This document  is periodically updated.

The Bureau of Land Management published and internet document entitled, Landscaping with Native Plants of the Intermountain Region. It serves as an excellent native plant selection guide, complete with pictures, and also contains information about sources for native plants.

Several photographs utilized in this discussion of landscaping were supplied courtesy of Gizmo Creations, LLC, Merrifeld, Minnesota.

 August 20, 2012
Aug 202012
 

 

Landscaped yardOnce plans are made, it is time to install the new landscape. In some cases, it may be possible to contract installation with a local landscape nursery. This is the simplest and quickest method for completing the plan. It is also the most expensive. Consequently, completion of a landscape may be a long-term project, requiring several months or years. When a project is done piecemeal, it means that each step of the process should result in something attractive and functional. Careful consideration should be given to the implications of each step in the process.

The following order of completion will, as a rule, help you avoid frustration in completing a landscape project around your home. Follow these steps when installing a new landscape or renovating an older one. The sequence can be adjusted according to personal need, abilities, and finances.

  1. Install primary hardscapes: ­ These include sidewalks, driveways, walls, terraces, decks, patios, and ponds. Hardscape features will define your use areas and will prevent future damage to your landscape if done in the beginning.
  2. Install Planting Beds: Amend soils, if necessary, and install weed barriers, if desired.
  3. Plant or Move Trees and Shrubs: Plant and transplant shrubs early in the spring or late fall when plants are dormant and the soil is workable. Do not transplant large trees and shrubs when they are actively growing.
  4. Install the Irrigation System: ­ Make sure it is properly designed with proper head spacing, coverage, and zoning.
  5. Plant Lawn or Ground Covers: Add soil amendments if you have poor soils-especially soils low in organic matter-or plant some type of an annual cover crop to improve the soil before planting. With a long-term plan, this step may need to be moved up in the scheme.
 August 20, 2012
Aug 202012
 
Define Use Areas

You can divide use areas into three major categories. Note: There are no distinct boundaries on these areas, and they will frequently overlap in terms of function and appearance.

  1. Public areas: These are usually associated with the front of your landscape. The primary function of these areas is to provide an aesthetically pleasing entrance to your home.
  2. Private areas: These are the areas used for recreation, family activities, and entertaining.
  3. Service areas: The areas are reserved for the vegetable garden, composting, pet and livestock areas, storage sheds, woodpiles, and other utilitarian functions. They can resolve multiple problems by overlapping with areas that are difficult to maintain, have limited access to water, or have poor soil.

For more discussion on identifying use areas, see this University of Missouri site.

landscape plan

Use areas. Image courtesy of Gizmo Creations

Define Planting Areas

Plot planting zones based on water needs or plant maintenance requirements.

  1. Hydrozone, or group plants with similar water needs in the same areas. To conserve water, do not mix plants that have low water requirements with plants that have high water requirements.
  2. Reduce maintenance activities by grouping plants with similar maintenance requirements together. In general, perennials, shrubs, and trees generally require less frequent maintenance than annuals. For a detailed descriptions of low maintenance landscaping principles, see the publication Low Input Landscaping.
  3. Design planting areas to meet the objectives of your landscape plan. Consider the need for privacy, security, wildlife attraction, etc.
 August 20, 2012
Aug 202012
 
rock garden

Images courtesy of Gizmo Creations

Select plants that meet your design objectives. Important considerations include the following:

  1. Function: ­Select plants that have the appropriate mature size, shape, and structure.
  2. Attractiveness: ­Make sure the plants have the desired color and texture characteristics.
  3. Cold hardiness and/or heat tolerance: Check to make sure the plant is adapted to the temperature zone for your area.
  4. Reduction of maintenance: Select species that require less water and fertilizer inputs. Also avoid plants that require excessive pruning and cleanup.
  5. Safety: This is especially important in areas that children will use. Try to reduce the number of plants that may have poisonous fruits, flowers, or foliage or that have thorns or spines that can cause injuries.
  6. Plantings near utilities: ­Make appropriate selections that will not cause interference.
  7. Economy: Make choices of plant material type and size based on affordability. Planting smaller plants will often allow planting of desired species.
  8. Use of native species: If a natural landscape is desired, native plants may be appropriate because they are better adapted to low maintenance situations within their home region. In Idaho, native plants can be more drought tolerant than nonnative species.
  9. Noxious nature: Noxious weeds are a serious problem in agricultural areas. If you plan to purchase or introduce plants from out of state, contact your local Extension educator for information or the County Weed Control supervisor about noxious weeds in Idaho.

Here are a few other considerations when buying plants:

  1. To ensure greater adaptability to your area, purchase plants that local seed sources have produced, and
  2. To save money and allow inspection prior to purchase, check local nurseries before purchasing plants via mail order.

The University of Idaho, Washington State University, and Oregon State University have jointly published an outstanding publication listing plant species adapted to Northwest landscapes, PNW 500 Plant Materials for Landscaping.

 August 20, 2012
Aug 172012
 
Purchasing Plants

ornamental grassesBuying established plants is the most common, and probably the best, method of obtaining ornamental grasses. When choosing transplants, it is best to buy from a nursery or garden store staffed with personnel knowledgeable about local growing conditions. This will assure availability of adapted species and varieties. Seek plants with good dark green color, healthy root systems, and no sign of disease or pest problems. Try to find plants that have been hardened off, in order to ease the transition to your yard.

Most ornamental grasses can be transplanted anytime in the spring after soil is dry enough to work. It is best to transplant on a cool, cloudy day with little wind. This will allow acclimation under conditions of limited water loss. After removing a plant from its container, tease roots away from the surface of the root ball. Don’t plant the seedlings too deep. Bury the root ball in a hole sufficiently deep only to bring the soil slightly above the pot soil level. Space the plants according to the instructions on the seed packet or nursery pot label. For the first 7-10 days, water the plants frequently and lightly. For the first few days, the root ball contains all of the roots and is the only source of water. The root ball will need to be wetted as often as it would in the pot until the roots can become established in the surrounding soil.

Dividing Plants

New ornamental grass plants can be obtained by dividing the crown on existing plants. This can be done by digging up the plant, dividing into pieces, then replanting each one, or by using a sharp spade to cut a portion from a plant left in place, then replanting the removed segment. This latter method minimizes disturbance of the original plant.

 August 17, 2012
Aug 172012
 

Proper site selection is critical for success with bulbs. The soil must be well-drained and attention given to proper light conditions (full sun for most bulbs).

Shovels in soil

Bulbs require deeply worked soil

Soil in bulb beds should be heavily amended with organic matter. Well-aged compost works well. Application of organic matter should be followed by deep tillage, at least 12 in. deep. The bed should be leveled and smoothed, but not packed. Just prior to or after planting, it is a good idea to add two or three inches of mulch (wood chips, bark, etc.) to the soil surface. It may also pay dividends to place some type of edging or border around the bed to slow encroachment of grass or other weeds.

Planting

Spring flowering bulbs should be planted in the fall. They require a period of cold weather to bloom and because these plants are generally hardy, the best way to provide cold is let them reside in the soil over winter. In Idaho , the best time to spring plant bulbs is late September through mid-October.

Summer flowering bulbs should generally be planted approximately one week after the last frost. To estimate the last frost date in your area, look at the Idaho chart compiled by Ed Hume Seeds. Some bulbs, such as caladiums and begonias will benefit from being started indoors 6-10 weeks before planting outdoors. They should not be taken outside until all danger of frost is past. In much of Idaho , this typically means 2-3 weeks after the last average frost date. Cornell University Suffolk County Extension has compiled a great discussion of planting and managing summer bulbs.

As a general rule, bulbs should be planted two to three times deeper than the top-to-bottom measurement of the bulb itself. Summer flowering bulbs may be exceptions to this rule and planting instructions should be provided on the purchase package. Planting density varies widely according to species and personal preference. Specific instructions for many species are provided in the Dutch Gardens web site. This site also provides pictures, descriptions, and cultivation techniques for many bulbs.

Before planting, an application of fertilizer should be made. Bonemeal or a high phosphate fertilizer should be placed in the planting hole, followed by the addition of a small amount of soil to prevent direct contact of the fertilizer and the bulb, then the bulb planted. This can be followed up with a small amount of a complete fertilizer (equal to 1 to 2 lb nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft.) at the time the plants emerge. Bonemeal should be used with caution around dogs, who are attracted to the scent and may dig up bulbs planted with bone meal.

Additional planting information can be found in sites sponsored by the Rochester Gardening Club and Iowa State University .

Bulbs are planted in the spring (for summer flowering) or fall (for spring flowering). Most bulbs are planted at least 4-8 inches deep, depending on the size. Fertilization at this time is recommended with a product high in phosphorus. Bone meal is an excellent choice,

Another excellent resource is the University of Illinois Bulbs and More web site.

 August 17, 2012
Aug 172012
 

Four options exist for starting perennial plants. They are:

  1. direct seeding,
  2. indoor production of transplants from seed,
  3. purchasing and transplanting, and
  4. obtaining starts from existing plants.
Direct Seeding

Though the majority of perennials are vegetatively propagated to preserve trueness-to-type, some perennial plants may be grown from seed. Planting seed is the simplest and cheapest propagation method. The advantages of direct seeding are offset by the tendency for plants to be slow and erratic with respect to emergence and early growth. These are usually a problem only in the first year, during which they may delay flowering and shorten the color display of the bloom period.

Plant seed in shallow trenches and cover lightly. Plant extra seed and thin after emergence, if necessary. Refer to the seed package to determine seeding rate. Maintain good moisture at the soil surface by misting lightly until the plants emerge. Once plants are established, deeper irrigation should be applied only after the top 1-2 in. of the soil surface dries out.

Transplanting perennial seedlings into a well-prepared bed

Transplanting perennial seedlings into a well-prepared bed

Indoor Seeding and Transplanting

Growing your own transplants has the best features of both direct seeding and purchase of transplants. However, it has the same limitations of availability as direct seeding. The key to success is providing appropriate conditions for germination and early growth of the new seedlings. Soil, temperature, light, and moisture are the most important elements. The soil medium must be free of disease organisms that may cause death of germinating plants. The best soil medium is a commercial potting soil. Containers may range from recycled plastic pots, paper cups, or commercial seed plug trays. Wash and disinfect all containers before using. Temperatures should be warm enough to allow germination (e.g. 60-75 F during the day and slightly cooler at night).

Unless a greenhouse is available, artificial lighting will be required. Even a south facing window does not supply young plants with enough light to keep them from getting ‘leggy’ and weak. Some seedlings may need as much as 18 hours of light each day to remain healthy. Fancy equipment and expensive “grow lights” are not necessary. A standard fluorescent shop light, easily found at home improvement and hardware stores, fitted with one “warm,” and one “cool” tube works very well. Suspend the light fixture 12-18 inches from the plants and raise as growth occurs. It is also important to keep water availability balanced between too wet and too dry. This requires frequent, light irrigations.

Before transplanting, seedlings should be hardened off. This refers to the procedure of adapting the plants to outdoor conditions to reduce transplant shock. This can be done by placing the plants outdoors in full sun for increasing amounts of time each day for the last week or ten days before planting. Hardening the plants will improve survival and increase the early growth rate. The process of transplanting self-produced plants is identical to that described below for purchased plants.

Purchasing Plants

Buying established plants is the most common method of obtaining perennial plants. It is also the most expensive, but transplants will result in quicker establishment and a longer flowering period during the first year.

When choosing transplants, it is best to buy from a nursery or garden store with personnel knowledgeable about local growing conditions. This will assure availability of adapted species and varieties. Do not look for the largest plants, or necessarily, those that are in bloom. You want the perennial to spend it’s bloom period in your garden, not in the nursery! Seek plants with good dark green color, healthy root systems, and no sign of disease or pest problems. Try to find plants that have been hardened off, in order to aid the transition to the yard.

For most perennial plants, timing of transplanting should correspond with a date one week later than the last frost in your region. Even though some perennial seedlings will withstand relatively hard frosts, there is little advantage to early planting given the longevity of these plants. To estimate the last frost date in your area, look at the Idaho chart compiled by Ed Hume Seeds.

It is best to transplant on a cool, cloudy day with little wind. This will allow acclimation under conditions of limited water loss. After removing a plant from its container, tease roots away from the surface of the root ball. Don’t plant the seedlings too deep. Bury the root ball in a hole sufficiently deep only to bring the soil slightly above the pot soil level. Space the plants according to the instruction on the seed packet or nursery pot label. For the first 7-10 days, water the plants frequently and lightly. For the first few days, the root ball holds all of the roots and is the only source of water. The root ball will need to be wetted as often as it would in the pot until the roots can become established in the surrounding soil.

Frequent, light watering is needed after transplanting. Courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Frequent, light watering is needed after transplanting. Courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Obtaining Starts

Depending on the species, vegetative propagation of perennials is probably the most common method commercial growers use for starting new plants. Homeowners can take advantage of propagation techniques to obtain starts of flowers already in place in their own yard and other places. This requires permission from the owner and a little extra work, but may require no purchase.

A few precautions are needed before trying to propagate a perennial plant. First, it is important to inspect the source plant to make sure it is healthy and free of visible disease. Then it is important to obtain adequate knowledge of the best methods and procedures for propagation of the species of interest, including the proper time of year. Here is a description of the most commonly used propagation methods:

Division – Many perennial plants develop a large multiple crown as they age. These can be cut into two or more pieces to create new plants. This can be done by digging up the plant, dividing into pieces, then replanting each one, or by using a sharp spade to cut a portion from a plant left in place, then replanting the removed segment. This latter method minimizes disturbance of the original plant. Perennials commonly divided include Shasta daisies, phlox, daylilies, iris and chrysanthemums.

Stem Cuttings – Some perennials easily grow roots on stems cut from growing plants, allowing the production of new plants. This method is commonly used by nurseries in lieu of planting seed. Stem cutting is usually done indoors and involves removing a stem tip or middle piece of a healthy, green shoot and poking it into sterile, moist growing medium. The new cutting should be kept out of direct sun and covered with clear plastic (plastic cups work well if only a few cuttings are being rooted) to prevent moisture loss. It usually takes 2-3 weeks for cuttings to develop new roots and several more weeks to be ready to transplant. Many soft-stemmed perennials can be successfully stem cut.

Root Cuttings – Perennials with thick, fleshy roots can be propagated by removing a portion of root and replanting in a new location. It is done by simply digging up a portion of root, cutting it into segments, and replanting each piece. Usually, the larger the root cutting the faster a new plant grows and blooms. Root cuttings, as a rule, should be taken when plants are dormant. Perennials that usually respond well to root cutting include peony, baby’s breath, and bleeding heart.

Layering – Some perennials that vine or have long, flexible stems can be layered, This involves bending a stem to lay along the ground, then covering a middle portion with moist soil (use a pot if the plant will be moved a long distance), leaving the tip uncovered. The covered part of the stem will grow roots, after which the stem can be severed from the original, thus creating a new plant. The rooting process may be helped by scratching or gouging the stem on or below the portion that will be covered. Perennial vines can usually be successfully layered.

In his web site, Dr. Leonard Perry, University of Vermont, provides information on the best method for propagating individual perennial species.

 August 17, 2012
Aug 162012
 

Three options exist for starting annual plants. They are:

  1. direct seeding,
  2. indoor seeding and transplanting, and
  3. purchasing and transplanting bedding plants.
Direct Seeding

The simplest and cheapest propagation method is to plant seed directly into the garden site. A wider array of species and varieties are available as seed, providing the gardener with greater choice. The advantages of direct seeding are offset by the tendency for plants to be slow and erratic with respect to emergence and early growth. This may delay flowering and shorten the color display during the blooming period. This is especially true in the short growing season areas of Idaho’s mountainous regions.

Refer to the seed package for recommended date of planting. Plant seed where you would like the flowers to grow in the garden. Place seed in shallow trenches and cover lightly. Plant extra seed and thin after emergence, if necessary. Refer to the seed package again to determine seeding rate and depth. Maintain good moisture at the soil surface by misting lightly until the plants emerge. Once established, deeper irrigation should be applied after the top 1-2 in. of soil dries out.

Indoor Seeding

Growing your own transplants has the best features of both direct seeding and purchase of transplants. It gives the cost advantage and plant choice of direct seeding while making it possible to get a head start on the growing season.

The key to success is providing appropriate conditions for germination and early growth of the new seedlings. Soil, temperature, light, and moisture are the most important elements. The soil medium must be free of disease organisms that may cause death of germinating plants. The best soil medium is a commercial potting soil. Containers may range from recycled plastic pots, paper cups, or commercial seed plug trays. Wash and disinfect all containers before using. Temperatures should be warm enough to allow germination (e.g. 60-75º F during the day and slightly cooler at night).

Unless a greenhouse is available, artificial lighting will be required. Even a south facing window does not supply young plants with enough light to keep them from getting ‘leggy’ and weak. Some seedlings may need as much as 18 hours of light to be healthy. Fancy equipment and expensive “grow lights” are not necessary. A standard fluorescent shop light, easily found at home improvement and hardware stores, fitted with one “warm,” and one “cool” tube works very well. Suspend the light fixture 12-18 inches from the plants and raise as growth occurs. It is also important to keep soil moisture balanced between too wet and too dry. This required frequent, light irrigations.

Another important process in producing healthy transplants is called hardening off. This refers to the procedure of adapting the plants to outdoor conditions to reduce transplant shock. This can be done by placing the plants outdoors in full sun for increasing amounts of time each day for a week or ten days prior to planting. Hardening the plants will improve survival and increase the early growth rate. Those fortunate enough to have a cold frame or unheated greenhouse can use these structures for this purpose as well as starting seeds.

Purchasing Bedding Plants

Buying partially-grown plants is the easiest and quickest way to establish annual flowers. It is also the most expensive and provides the least in the way of plant choice. But, transplants will result in quicker blooms and longer flowering periods.

When choosing transplants, it is best to buy from a nursery or garden store having personnel knowledgeable about local growing conditions. This will assure availability of adapted species and varieties. Do not look for the largest plants or necessarily, those in bloom. Seek plants with good dark green color, healthy root systems, and no sign of disease or pest problems. Try to find plants that have been hardened off, in order to aid the transition to the yard.

Another important consideration for growing transplants is the timing initial planting. To properly make this decision for a particular flower, it is essential to know the amount of time needed to produce a transplant and the approximate date of intended transplanting outside.

Transplanting

Whether transplants are purchased or self-grown, the process for placing them outside is the same. The first decision is deciding when to place the plants outdoors. Transplanting date is based on the date of last frost in a given area. Tender annuals should not be planted to the garden until 1 to 2 weeks after the average last frost date. It is, after all, an average and frost will commonly occur after the printed date.

To estimate the last frost date in your area, look at the Idaho chart compiled by Ed Hume Seeds.

Tonie Fitzgerald, from the Spokane, Washington County Extension office compiled a table listing appropriate dates for planting and/or transplanting common annual flowers. The dates should be reasonably accurate for much of northern and south-central Idaho. Dates for the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho will be 2-3 weeks earlier, southeastern Idaho a few days later, and the high country up to 2 weeks later.

frost damage

Frost can damage seedlings or transplants

It is best to transplant on a cool, cloudy day with little wind. This will allow acclimation under conditions of limited water loss. After removing a plant from its container, tease roots away from the surface of the root ball. Don’t plant the seedlings too deep. Bury the root ball in a hole sufficiently deep only to bring the soil slightly above the pot soil level. Space the plants according to the instruction on the seed packet or nursery pot label. For the first 7-10 days, water the plants frequently and lightly. Remember that early on the pot soil holds all of the roots and is the only source of water. The root ball will need to be wetted as often as it would in the pot until the roots can grow into the surrounding soil.

 August 16, 2012
Aug 132012
 

Early spring and early fall are the best times of the year to plant because plant shoot growth is minimal and roots have time to become established after planting. Bare root plants should be planted before bud break in March, April or May. Balled and burlapped and container plants can be planted anytime of the year as long as the soil is not frozen. However, early spring or early fall are still considered the best times to install these types of nursery plants.

Where to Plant

Select plants appropriate for the location in which they’ll be planted. Pay attention to the eventual mature height and spread of a tree or shrub, keeping in mind that some community ordinances may restrict planting of trees near power lines, parking strips, street lights, sewers, traffic control signs and signals, sidewalks and property lines.

Other questions to consider are:
  • Will this tree or shrub drop leaves, flowers, or fruit that may be a nuisance to neighbors?
  • Will this plant receive the sufficient amount of sunlight in this location? Will it shade other plants?
  • Will this plant share moisture requirements with the plants surrounding it? Is it compatible?
  • What kind of care, including pruning, will this plant require?

Many of the resources listed here provide information to help homeowners answer these questions.

 August 13, 2012
Aug 132012
 

Bare root plants should be unpacked carefully and any broken roots should be cleanly pruned off. The roots can be soaked in a bucket of water for up to 4 hours and protected from heat and drying before planting. Do not prune any healthy roots now. Once the hole is dug and the roots spread out, any roots that are too long may be removed at that time to prevent circling or kinking.

Balled and burlapped plants should be handled carefully by the soil ball, not the trunk or branches, to prevent root and trunk damage. Once the plant is in the hole, twine, nails and excess burlap should be removed from the top of the root ball. Synthetic burlap and in-ground fabric bags should be completely removed.

Container plants should be kept in their containers until they are ready to be put in the ground to protect the roots from drying out or getting damaged. Fiber and pulp pots decompose slowly and should be removed completely or sliced before planting to avoid rot and drainage problems. Some plants may be pot bound or have roots that are matted together. To improve root growth into the surrounding soil make 4 to 5 shallow cuts around the root ball and loosen the roots on the sides and bottom of the root ball before planting. For severely pot bound plants, the butterfly method can be used.

 August 13, 2012
Aug 132012
 

Dig the hole only deep enough to hold the root ball. When planting in loam soil, the root flare on the tree or shrub trunk is planted level with the surrounding soil. If you can’t see the root flare, remove soil or burlap until you do. When planting in clay soil, the root flare is planted 1 to 2 inches higher than the surrounding soil (see diagram). Alternatively, you can form a one-inch pedestal at the bottom of the planting hole for the root ball.

planting depth

The planting hole diameter should be two times the diameter of the root ball. The minimum planting hole diameter can be 12 inches wider than the root system and the maximum can be up to five times the root system diameter. The sides of the planting hole should be vertical. If the sides of the planting hole appear shiny or glazed, rough up the edges with a shovel to loosen the soil before planting.

Before adding soil back into the planting hole, make sure that roots are not kinked or circling. Start adding soil in three to four inch layers lightly firming the soil between layers by lightly stepping on the soil. Backfill soil may be mixed with organic matter at a rate of 3 parts soil to 1 part organic matter to help improve soil texture of medium or fine textured soil. Adding organic matter to the backfill soil is not always recommended, especially in a heavy clay, since sometimes roots will not leave a richly amended hole to grow into the adjacent inferior soil, and circling of roots may occur. Avoid covering the top of the root ball with backfill soil. Make a 2 to 3 inch soil berm around the edge of the planting hole to form a shallow basin. Water the plant in well by filling the basin with water. In heavy clay soils, watch that this berm drains within a couple of hours. Fertilization is not recommended at time of planting. Once the plant is well watered in, apply a layer of mulch 2 to 3 inches thick to the basin, avoiding placing mulch against the base of the trunk.

 August 13, 2012
Aug 132012
 

Planting Landscape Plants

Landscaping and Utilities: Problems, Prevention, and Plant Selection
Download or order hard copy online

Plant Materials for Landscaping
Download or order hard copy online

Other useful sites on planting trees and shrubs

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Planting and Maintaining Trees & Shrubs
Proper Application of Mulch Around Trees and Shrubs
Selecting and Planting Trees
Hawthorns In The Landscape, HYG-1051-88
Maples in the Landscape, HYG-1057-88
Sexes In Ornamental Plants, HYG-1059-88
Viburnums In The Landscape, HYG-1062-88
Hydrangeas in the Landscape, HYG-1063-03 
Arborvitae For The Home Landscape, HYG-1077-88
Growing Rhododendrons and Azaleas in Ohio, HYG-1078-01
Mulching Landscape Plants, HYG-1083-96
Deciduous Shrubs for Ohio, HYG-1085-02
Functional Uses of Plants in the Landscape, HYG-1134-94
Deciduous Trees and Shrubs With All-Season Interest, HYG-1143-96
Choosing Landscape Evergreens
Blueberries for Home Landscapes
Planting and Transplanting Trees and Shrubs
Trees are Good” Organization

University of Illinois (Plant selection)
woodyplants.nres.uiuc.edu/

University of Minnesota (Plant selection)
http://www.sustland.umn.edu/plant/

Ohio State University (Plant selection)
plantfacts.osu.edu/Plant/

Oregon State University (Plant selection)
oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/
oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/2plants.htm

 August 13, 2012
Aug 102012
 
Choosing Vegetable Seed

Choose seed from a reputable seed company. Carefully select varieties that are adapted to local conditions. Proper variety selection can mean the difference between success and failure in the garden. If you are unfamiliar with varieties that grow well in your locale, ask other successful gardeners, local nurserymen, or a county educator.

For more information about vegetable varieties suitable for growing in Idaho, see the UI publication: Choosing and Growing Adapted Vegetable Varieties
For more additional pertinent information, see the Utah State University publication: Home Vegetable Garden Variety Recommendations for Utah

Planting Vegetable Seeds Outdoors

In order to germinate properly, seed must be planted at the right depth and remain moist. As a general rule, vegetable seeds should be covered about three times their lateral diameter (their width, not their length). However, there are exceptions and directions are usually given on the seed envelope. Shallow-planted seed may be covered with clear plastic film (such as plastic food wrap) or wet burlap to raise the soil temperatures and hold the moisture. The covering material should be removed immediately after emergence to prevent burning or abnormal growth of the new plants.

Deciding when to plant seeds can be confusing because optimal planting times vary from crop to crop. The first step in deciding when to plant is to determine the average last frost date for your area. This date can be found in many publications, web sites, or from your local Extension Office. Ed Hume Seeds company maintains a web site with average last frost dates for many locations in Idaho.

Next step is to schedule planting based on the frost-hardiness of each crop. See the accompanying chart for suggestions on planting times of common vegetables.

Planting times

Once planted, it is imperative that good soil moisture is maintained until the plants begin to emerge. In some years, spring rain and cool weather may make irrigation unnecessary. However, in most years, frequent (up to 2 times a day for the crops seeded shallow and every two or three days for the crops seeded deep), light watering may be required to get the seed off to a good start.

Producing and Establishing Transplants

Transplanting is the process of placing partially grown plants, rather than seed, into the garden. Many vegetable crops benefit from being transplanted rather than direct-seeded into the soil. Transplanting makes weed control simpler, enhances the growth and quality of crops that prefer cool, spring weather (such as broccoli and cauliflower), shortens the time to harvest of many fruit-bearing crops (such as peppers and tomatoes), and allows us to grow many crops that are marginally adapted to short-season climates (such as melons).

Vegetables vary in their response to transplanting. Some are very difficult, others transplant well only if proper precautions are followed, others transplant very easily. See the accompanying table for a listing of vegetables that can be successfully transplanted.


Relative ease of transplanting for common vegetables
Appropriate for transplanting and easy to handle Appropriate for transplanting but require extra care for success Inappropriate for transplanting or do not easily survive the process
Broccoli Celery Bean
Brussel sprouts Cantaloupe* Beet**
Cabbage Corn Carrot**
Cauliflower Cucumber* Pea
Chinese cabbage Pumpkin* Radish**
Eggplant Squash* Rutabaga**
Collard Swiss chard Spinach
Leek Watermelon* Turnip**

Lettuce
Onion
Tomato
Parsley
Pepper

*The vine crops (cucumber, melons, squash, pumpkin) should be transplanted when seedlings are very young (one or two true leaves) and very vigorous. They should be covered and protected from wind and sunburn for about two weeks after transplanting.
**The root crops (beet, carrot, radish, rutabaga, turnip) are easy to transplant but the roots will branch or have other quality problems as a result of root disturbance.


Transplants can be either purchased or grown at home from seed. Growing your own transplants provides some unique advantages such as increasing the availability of unusual varieties, reducing overall cost, and controlling growth so the plants are the right size when you are ready to plant. In spite of the advantages, growing transplants without good greenhouse facilities can be a challenge.

The most important factors for producing healthy transplants are light, soil mix, irrigation, proper size and growth stage, and hardening. During production, more homegrown seedlings are lost to inadequate light than to any other factor. Vegetable seedlings grown under low light conditions are likely to be spindly and weak. They frequently damp-off (a disease that causes young seedlings to tip over and die). If they survive the early growth phase, these plants are often too tender to survive the move outside into the garden. For these reasons, transplants should be grown under conditions that include or mimic full daylight for at least 10 hours each day.

closeup of leafy green plants and soilIf you do not have a sunny room or back porch with a southern exposure, you will need supplemental lights. Grow-lights are available that supply a good spectrum of light to the plants. The lights should be mounted right over and nearly touching the plants.

It is best to use a soilless planting media containing peat to start seedlings. Soilless mixes are usually free of disease organisms that can cause damping-off. They also hold a large amount of water and maintain the integrity of the rootball when it comes time to transplant. Potting soil can be purchased premixed or you can mix your own soilless media if you prefer; 50 percent vermiculite or perlite and 50 percent fine sphagnum peat (plus a little fertilizer) is excellent for starting seeds.

Timing seed planting to begin transplant production can be a little tricky. Two pieces of information are needed to plan a planting schedule for vegetable transplants. One is the number of days needed to produce an appropriate-sized transplant (see the accompanying table). The other is the date the transplants will be taken to the garden. This can be calculated by knowing the last average frost date for you locale. The cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, etc.) and onions can be transplanted 2 to 3 weeks before the last average frost. Most of the salad crops (lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, etc.) should be transplanted a week or so prior to the last average frost. The tender crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, etc.) should not be transplanted until about one or two weeks after the last average frost and only then if the weather forecast is for reasonably warm and stable conditions. If appropriate protective measures (hot caps, row covers, etc.) are used, the transplant dates can sometimes be earlier by a week or two.

About a week before the transplants are scheduled to go to the garden, they should be “hardened-off”. This is a process of slowly adapting the plants to outside conditions and is necessary for reducing transplant shock and frequency of death. Harden off the plants over a one-week period by moving them outdoors for increasing amounts of time, starting with less than an hour and eventually leaving them outside for much of the day. Move the transplants indoors at night (unless it is forecast to be a warm night) and during inclement weather (especially if it is windy). Water use of the transplants will increase while they are outside, so irrigate accordingly.


Number of weeks required to produce transplants from seed for commonly transplanted vegetable crops
Crop Weeks to produce a transplant from seed*
Broccoli 5 to 7
Brussel sprouts 5 to 7
Cabbage 5 to 7
Cantaloupe 3 to 4
Cauliflower 5 to 7
Celery 8 to 10
Collard 5 to 7
Corn, sweet 3 to 4
Cucumber 3 to 4
Eggplant 6 to 8
Endive 4 to 8
Kohlrabi 5 to 7
Leek 4 to 6
Lettuce 3 to 5
Onion 6 to 8
Parsley 6 to 8
Pepper 6 to 8
Pumpkin 3 to 4
Squash 3 to 4
Tomato 5 to 9

*The number of weeks needed to produce a transplant is based on growth at near room temperature.


Here are a few additional tips for successfully transplanting vegetables into the garden:

Soil Preparation

Have garden soil prepared before transplanting. All additives that require time to break down, such as aged manures, sulfur, limestone, rock fertilizers, and green manures, should be incorporated during the prior fall, or at least several weeks before planting.

Weather Conditions

Transplant on an overcast day, in late afternoon, or in early evening to prevent or reduce wilting. Be sure to water the potted plants thoroughly just prior to transplanting.

Handling

Handle plants carefully. Avoid disturbing the roots or bruising the stems.

covered raised bedPlanting

Dig a hole large enough to hold the roots of the plants. Set vegetable plants only very slightly deeper than previously planted. Tomatoes are an exception. They will develop roots all along the stems, and you can plant deeply enough to leave only two or three sets of leaves exposed. Press soil lightly around the roots of transplants and thoroughly water them in. Pour a cup of liquid starter fertilizer solution around each plant, mixed at about ½ of the concentration recommended on the label.

Protection

Protect plants from wind and sun for a few days after transplanting by placing newspaper or cardboard on the south side of the plant, or by covering them with commercially available devices, milk jugs, baskets, or up-side-down flower pots (opaque plastic so the sun can get in).

Irrigation

Water the plants once or twice each day for about one week. Then schedule watering two or three times over the next week before going to a normal irrigation routine. Overwatering can cause transplants to suffer from root rots, so don’t overdo it.

 August 10, 2012
Aug 102012
 

When it comes time to plant a fruit tree, patience pays for itself many times over. Most of the problems we see with tree fruits come from two sources: failing to select appropriate crops for a site and failing to prepare the site before planting. We dealt with crop selection in Tree Fruits: Crops to Grow. Now let’s consider site preparation.

 August 10, 2012
Aug 092012
 
How Do I Transplant Existing Trees?

Do you have a shrub or tree that is planted in the wrong place in your yard? Does your neighbor have a tree that they will let you have, if you move it yourself? Have you wondered how to move a tree and keep it alive? If a tree or shrub is not too big, you can transplant it yourself and save the cost of having it done professionally. Be prepared for some hard work, and take the time to learn how to do it properly. If you work carefully, you can expect a high probability of success in keeping the tree alive and growing after transplanting is complete. The following information will guide you in the transplanting procedure. Recognize that this process can be used for all woody plants, trees, shrubs, or vines. Due to size, trees are the hardest to move, so they will be used as the example

When Should I Transplant?

Transplant early in the spring, after soil frost is gone but before new growth occurs. Once the buds start to break and grow, transplant survival decreases drastically. Plants dug during, or soon after bud break, are intolerant of transplanting especially evergreen trees, but all trees will do better if moved when they are dormant.

What Basic Transplanting Method Should I Use?

Plan to use a ball-and-burlap method for moving a tree. This technique involves moving a large ball of undisturbed soil along with the roots. Keeping soil around the roots is important for survival of trees that have grown unrestricted or unpruned in a yard or landscape situation. The method for digging a root ball will be described in detail below.

How do I Decide if a Tree is Moveable?

The most important consideration for assessing ability to transplant a tree is size. Small trees survive transplanting better than large trees, so the smaller the better. Also, the bigger the tree, the larger the soil ball that should be maintained around roots. A bigger root ball means more weight that must be moved. You must match necessary weight with personal physical ability and tools available for transplanting.

A 24-inch diameter root ball dug to 16 inches deep will weigh anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds, so tree size quickly restricts what is physically possible.

Due simply to the weight involved, it is probably wise to avoid moving trees whose trunks are larger than 2.5 inches in diameter. Alternately, they should simply be cut down or moved with the help of a professional using a mechanical tree spade.

How do I Determine Proper Root Ball Size?

First, figure out the proper diameter for the root ball. As a general rule, for every ONE inch of trunk diameter (measured at 4 inches above the ground), the soil root ball should be 12 inches in diameter. So, if you have a tree whose trunk is 2 inches in diameter at 4 inches above the ground, the root ball should be dug so that it is 24 inches in diameter (with the trunk in the center). Keep in mind that tree height is NOT a factor here. The root ball diameter should be based on the trunk diameter.

Root ball size 1

Diameter less than 20 in. Depth not less than 75% of diameter or 3/4 of width.

Root ball size 2

Diameter 20 to 30 in. Depth not less than 66-2/3% or 2/3 of width.

Root ball size 3

Diameter 31 to 48 in. Depth not less than 60% or 3/5 of width. Balls with a diameter of 30 in. or more should be drum laced.

Next, you will need to decide how deep to dig the root ball for the trees by using the following information:

  • If the root ball diameter < 20 inches: root ball depth should be 75% of the diameter.
  • If the root ball diameter is > 20 inches but < 30 inches: root ball depth should be 66% of the diameter.
Detailed Instructions for Transplanting a Tree
  1. Digging materialsGather tools to complete the transplanting job. A sharp shovel or spade is required. Burlap is used to hold the soil ball together, and nails can be used to “pin” the burlap in place to hold the material on the root ball. Twine can be used to provide extra support to hold the soil ball together. Hand pruners and a sharp pocket knife can be used to prune or cut branches or roots as needed.
  2. Root ball diameterCheck the trunk diameter 4 inches above the ground. Determine the proper root ball diameter and depth using the rules given above. Once you know the diameter then roughly mark a circle of the proper diameter on the ground around the tree with the trunk in the center.
  3. Dig at least one or two inches further out than the mark for the root ball. Use the BACK of the shovel toward the trunk, and push the shovel straight into the ground. Once the shovel sinks into the soil as far as you can comfortably push it, then lift it STRAIGHT OUT of the ground. DO NOT push on the shovel toward the root ball since you can break up the root ball. The idea is to keep the root ball intact without cracking it.
  4. Once you have dug all the way around the trunk by pushing a SHARP shovel into the soil, then you can use the shovel OUTSIDE of your vertical cuts to remove soil. In this way, you are starting to make a vertical cylinder of soil – the root ball – around the trunk. As you remove the soil, avoid putting pressure on the vertical cylinder of soil (here after called the root ball) so that you avoid cracking it. You want the root ball intact.
  5. After removing the excess soil outside of your cut lines, put the BACK of the shovel against the root ball again and dig deeper this time, digging all the way around the root ball and keeping the shovel straight vertically as you dig. Again, avoid putting pressure on the root ball so that you avoid cracking it. After digging deeper all the way around the root ball, remove the soil outside of your cuts so that you have room to dig deeper again.
  6. To make your digging easier, you should probably clear about 8 inches (or more) of soil away from your vertical cuts so that you have room to dig deeper. The more soil you remove to the outside of your cuts, the easier you can dig down, BUT moving that soil out requires plenty of space and your energy to dig it and move it out.
  7. Root ball depthAs you make vertical cuts for the sides of the root ball and dig deeper, you can begin to taper the root ball, perhaps angling your cuts 1 to 2 inches toward the center of the ball for every 12 inches deep that you dig. In this way, you will have a root ball that is wider at the top and tapered to its base. Since you also should have started the root ball a few inches wider than was necessary, you can make vertical cuts to make your root ball smaller while tapering its shape toward the bottom of the ball. As you make the vertical cuts on the soil cylinder/root ball, you may encounter some very thick roots. If your shovel is sharp enough, it should cut the root(s) with a few good hard strokes or pushes. If the root is either too large or your shovel too dull, AVOID continually hitting or slamming the root with the shovel, since this practice causes excess root damage and will probably help break the root ball. Instead, have a sharp pair of loppers (or other sharp pruning tool) with you to cut the root so that you can continue digging after the root is cut.
  8. Once you dig deep enough, based on the depths provided above, you should start to undercut the root ball. This procedure involves using your shovel to make/cut the bottom of the root ball. You will need to cut under the cylinder of soil from the outside, so this procedure is more readily accomplished (but not necessarily easily accomplished) if you removed the soil from a large area outside of the root ball. Undercutting the root ball must be done carefully since you can easily crack the root ball and ruin all your efforts to this point. The goal of undercutting is to cut roots that may be growing vertically (such as the taproot) or close to vertical. To undercut, use the shovel in the regular way (shovel face now toward the tree) and push the blade toward the center of the root ball going around the ball several times. Digging the root ball (soil cylinder) a little deeper than needed (according to the nursery stock standards) will enable you to remove soil – after making some horizontal cuts – at the bottom and ensure that vertical roots are cut. Trying to move the soil ball with a few roots intact under the root ball (particularly the taproot) will nearly always break open the ball.
  9. Once you have dug under the root ball and cut all the roots, you will need to protect the root system so that the soil holds together and the ball does not crack when trying to move the soil. Typically, burlap is used for holding the root ball together, but other types of material can be used as long as the material is strong enough not stretch and break when trying to tie it around the soil ball. You will need different sized squares of material to hold the soil together depending on the ball size. For example, a 24-inch diameter root ball may require a 36-inch by 36-inch square piece of burlap.
  10. Once the root ball is cut free in the bottom of the hole, take the burlap square and fold a corner of it down so that it goes to the bottom of the hole. Fold about one-quarter to one third of the burlap down. Next, the long diagonal (from corner to corner) of the burlap is tied around the root ball, using the burlap as a band to hold the soil in place. If you are unable to tie the material around the root ball, use a larger piece of material. After tying the burlap tightly around the root ball, shift the root ball (carefully) so that you can grab the folded down corner of material and pull it under the root ball. In this way, you will have the material under the root ball and can cover the bottom and sides of the ball. Once you grab the corner of the material and cover the bottom of the ball, you may need to re-tie the material around the root ball. As you complete these procedures, be careful to avoid breaking the root ball.
  11. Once the burlap or supporting material is all around the root ball, you can pull the root ball out of the hole by lifting on the soil root ball NOT the tree trunk. Once the root ball is out of the hole you can shift or re-tie the burlap or supporting material as needed. Usually nursery professionals use pinning nails to make the burlap tight on the ball. Also, for root balls larger than 30 inches in diameter, supporting material, such as twine, wire baskets, or even chicken fencing are recommend for supporting the soil ball since it can break easily.
What do I do next?
  1. The shrub or tree should be replanted to its new location as soon as possible, hopefully within one week. In the mean time, prevent the root ball from drying out and try to keep the roots cool. If the root ball must remain out of the soil for more than a week, consider burying the ball in an organic mulch to retain moisture and reduce the soil temperature.
  2. Finally, plant the tree in its new location. Dig the new planting hole for your tree or shrub to the same depth as the root ball. Do not bury it too deep. See the planting instructions under the Trees, Shrubs, and Vines section of this web site for more details.
 August 9, 2012
Aug 062012
 

Assuming you have normally fertile soils, fruit trees are not usually fertilized at the time of planting or during the first growing season. A soil test is your best resource in determining this and helping you to spot trends in fertility over time. Some Idaho soils, however, are deficient in available phosphorus. You can safely add a cupful of steamed bone meal or 0-45-0 fertilizer to the bottom of a planting hole, mix it with a handful of soil, and plant your tree in the hole. Never add fertilizers containing nitrogen, potassium, or boron to planting holes.

 August 6, 2012
Aug 062012
 

Ensure that the soil around the tree does not become dry, but avoid overwatering. Your goal should be to keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. Some gardeners like to build a shallow saucer around newly-planted trees by creating a raised lip of soil about 12 to 24 inches in diameter. This practice can be helpful on soils that drain well until the tree becomes established. On heavier-textured soils, building such saucers can cause problems with the trees. As a general rule, if you build a tree saucer and fill it with water, the water should have drained completely away within an hour or so. If not, remove the saucer. Check newly-planted trees twice weekly to ensure proper irrigation.

 August 6, 2012
Aug 062012
 

When planting a fruit tree, dig a hole large enough to hold all of the roots without cutting any of them off and without bending the roots to fit into the hole. A good strategy is to dig the hole, then build a pyramid-shaped mound in the center of the hole and drape the roots over the mound. Be very careful to ensure that, after the soil has settled, the tree is at the same depth it grew in the nursery. Planting trees too deeply often results in collar and root rot and tree death. Also avoid planting too shallowly, which creates an unstable tree and exposes the collar and roots to excessive drying.

Most fruit trees are sold bare root or may come in pots up to about five gallons in size. Plant bare root trees as described above. Container-grown trees are planted similarly, but take particular care to inspect the root ball after the pot is removed and before planting. Use sharp pruning shears to cut through roots that circle around the root ball or cluster on the bottom of the ball. These could result in eventual girdling of the trunk. Be careful not to drop the tree, twist the trunk or root ball, or break open the root ball. Doing so can break off small feeder roots. Always lift trees from the bottoms of the root balls. Never lift a tree and pot or tree and root ball by the trunk.

A simple rule is that the only soil that goes back into a planting hole is the soil that came out of it. Never replace the soil with compost, peat moss, or potting soil. Never create a blend of soil and compost to fill a planting hole. Doing so creates a barrier at the sides and bottom of the hole that makes it very difficult for water or roots to penetrate to the soil outside the planting hole. Essentially, you create a pot without a hole in the bottom. If you want to amend the soil, before digging, apply up to six inches of amendment and till it into the soil across a five- to ten-foot diameter area centered where the planting hole will be.

 August 6, 2012
Aug 062012
 

Gardeners like to improve their soils, and often do so by adding composts, manures, straw, sawdust, or other organic materials. There are both benefits and risks associated with soil amendments. Perhaps the greatest advantages to organic soil amendments are that they can increase water and nutrient holding capacities on light-textured soils and can be sources of plant nutrients.

Amendments also carry risks. Weeds, pests, and diseases can easily be brought into your garden through contaminated organic materials. Woody materials, such as straw, bark, and sawdust, can create severe nitrogen deficiencies in the soil as they decompose. Woody materials are broken down by microorganisms in the soil. These microorganisms take nitrogen from the soil to use for proteins and other compounds in their bodies. Until the woody material is decomposed and the microorganisms die, the nitrogen is unavailable to plants. An excellent strategy to avoid importing weeds, pests, and diseases and to avoid depleting your soil nitrogen is to thoroughly compost organic amendments before adding them to your garden.

Learn more about composting here.

 August 6, 2012
Aug 062012
 

Poor soil drainage is a very common cause of problems in a home orchard. Fruit trees on wet soils often fail to thrive, growing slowly, and eventually succumbing to root diseases. Peaches and other stone fruits are especially prone to problems on poorly drained sites.

Gardeners often add compost or other organic matter to heavy soils to improve drainage. In reality, most organic materials have high water-holding capacities and increase drainage problems when added to already heavy soils. Likewise, adding sand to soils on a low-lying site does nothing to improve drainage unless there is a way for water to drain away from the site.

Drainage tiles (buried pipes with holes along the sides) can be used to drain excess water away from a planting site, provided you have a lower-lying area for the water to drain to. For one or a few trees, raised planting beds twelve inches or more high can significantly improve drainage, particularly when heavy native soils are amended with sand or a lighter-textured soil is brought in to create the beds. For a fruit tree, a bed ten feet in diameter should suffice. The beds can be contained within walls or sloped from the centers outward. Apples and pears on dwarfing rootstocks and peach genetic dwarfs have been successfully grown in large (approximately 20 to 50 gallon) containers. Container culture requires great care to ensure adequate irrigation and fertilization, and to prevent girdling roots.

 August 6, 2012