So You Bought a Shrub, Now What?

It occurs to me that people may be a little unclear about what to do with that cute little plant you just bought/received/acquired. I mean, how hard can it be? 1. Buy. 2. Take out of pot. 3. Put in the ground. 4. Watch it grow.

Well, the answer is, pretty much not hard at all. As long as you’re aware of a few things. As with all living things, the plants you plant in your garden need three things: water, air and food.

Container Grown Plants

Plants that are container grown start as a seed or cutting, or in many cases nowadays, tissue cultures. Once they get to a certain size, they are transplanted into a larger pot that is  suitable for sale. The plant company may then decide to grow the plant, then transplant it again into a larger pot so that it can be sold for more money. Say the difference between a 4 in. pot selling for $4 and a 6 in. pot–a 1-gallon container–selling for $15. It would probably take the best part of a year to get from the seed or cutting or tissue culture stage to a 1-gallon container pot stage.

Always Check the Roots

Now suppose the plant company put that 1-gallon container plant out the day after it was transplanted from the 4″ pot. It would still be a $4 plant now selling for $15. You can tell that by looking at the roots. Can’t see the roots through the solid pot? (What, don’t you have x-ray vision?) So you carefully tip the plant out of the container to see what the quality of the roots are. If you’re a little squeamish about doing that at the garden centre (or Home Depot), you can get a sales staff to do it for you. (And if they won’t, DON’T BUY THE PLANT!) If you don’t see any roots at the edges of the soil, you are paying a 1-gallon price for a 4″ plant.

But on the other hand, suppose the plant company didn’t deliver all its 1-gallon plants this year, and they have to hold on to them until next year. Now you’ve got nice healthy plants growing in a small cramped environment. For a while the plant will be fine, but time will come when it’s beginning to use up the available space. Now it’s going to dry out faster, and the roots will run into the edge of the pot, and start to travel around the outside. So when you check out the roots, if you see them travelling around the edge of the pot, DON’T BUY IT. If it’s the only one there, and you really want it, show the sales staff what you’ve found and make sure you get a discount. (That’s frugal Janet talking!) And when you’re about to plant it, cut through the roots in quarters along the length of the root ball.

Thanks to Henny Penny Rose Cottage for this great pic of root bound plant!

Thanks to Henny Penny Rose Cottage for this great pic of root bound plant!

If you plant the plant like you’ve received it, the roots will continue to grow in the direction they’ve started and will never support healthy growth. It’ll die.

As I often do, here’s a link from Linda Chalker-Scott about plants that are root-bound in their pots. LCS would recommend you actually wash the rootball. I haven’t tried that–I should try it in my research garden!

How Deep?

Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) planted high--you can see roots at the base going into the soil.

Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) planted high–you can see roots at the base going into the soil.

Most plants should be planted at the same level that you find them in their pots. You take it out of the container, put it into a hole that is dug just about the same depth as the rootball, and then backfill the space with the soil you dug out. Definitely trees and shrubs should be planted this way, some perennials can go deeper, and roses can go as deep as you like. (In Ontario I’ve heard recommendations to plant roses 6″ deeper that you find them in their pots.) You’re going to dig only as deep as the rootball, but much wider than the rootball. This way there is lots of loose soil for the roots to travel sideways. And the soil is the same as you dug out, so there’s no “soil interface” problems. That’s when the soil your plants have been living in and the soil you’re planting into are so different the water doesn’t travel from one to the other. Adding compost or manure or something else to the backfill soil (“amending the soil”) will cause a “soil interface” problem. Now you can certainly “top-dress” the plant–a couple inches of compost on top of the soil, away from the stem/crown/trunk of the plant–and the earthworms will work it into the soil.

A couple honourable mentions: Rhodos root very superficially, so you can safely allow the rootball to sit a little higher in the ground than the grade around. And tomatoes should be planted deeper that in the pot–cut the bottom leaves off, with only 4-8 leaves remaining at the tip, and then plant deep enough so that the whole bare stem is covered. The stem will root all along it’s length giving you a great root system.

Water

Water your plant a lot. If you’re planting now, it’ll be drying out pretty soon, and your plant will need lots of additional water that you will have to supply. On the other hand, if you don’t buy that plant you want so much until the fall, the cool weather will be easier on the plant, the lack of freezing will allow it to grow roots before it gets too cold, and the rains will do the work of watering so you won’t have to. In coastal BC planting in the fall is the best, and we can do it pretty much up until Christmas! If it’s an “herbaceous perennial”–which means it will die down over the winter and grow again in the spring–make sure you mark where it is so you don’t walk over it, dig it up by mistake, or try to plant bulbs there.

Final Link

I enjoy reading Doug Green’s Garden posts, and today on FB he steals my thunder.

As always, please comment, questions, refute (nicely), share, or otherwise leave feedback.

Unrelalted picture of Aquilegia--Columbine. Very shade tolerant!

Unrelated picture of Aquilegia–Columbine. Very shade tolerant!

First Rose Bloom of the Season

First bloom on Julia Child

First bloom on Julia Child

Any first blooms of the season are exciting, And somehow, roses are up there with the best of them. I have quite a few roses, some I love more than others, but Julia Child, now entering only its 4th year in my garden, is the best of the best. Her growth habit is restrained and shapely–it doesn’t straggle all over the place, it doesn’t just grow straight up, and the size is very manageable.

Julia Child, about 4.5 feet tall May 17, 4 years old.

Julia Child, about 4.5 feet tall on May 17, 4 years old.

She doesn’t suffer from diseases–black spot is the bane of rose growers here in coastal BC–and she blooms reliably until frost. That’s about 5 months of flowering!

Her only downside is that she has no fragrance. I used to think a rose without fragrance was a waste of space, but I’m a little less dogmatic now. I have several roses without fragrance, which actually makes it easier to make a bouquet–mix a fragrant rose and a non-fragrant rose so there’s no competition.

Some thoughts on Roses

So I thought I’d write a little essay on roses. It’s a terrible myth that roses are hard to keep–too much tending, feeding, spraying, pruning (scary!), protecting. Well, all of that is true, and untrue. There’s almost no reason (one–I’ll get to it) you can’t successfully grow roses.

I’ve owned a lot of roses over the years. I’m not exactly Brad Jalbert of Select Roses fame, (although I’ve bought from him), but I’ve been trying to make roses make roses for me for about 20 years. My favourite rose (name lost to the sands of time) was almost blue, unbelievably fragrant, perfect in shape–hybrid tea, classic “dozen red roses” shape–and was such a black spot magnet that all summer it was pretty much just sticks having dropped all its leaves, and would only develop one or two blooms per year because it couldn’t keep leaves long enough to photosynthesize (make sugar). Another, Heritage by David Austin, another fragrance-rich rose, beautifully old-fashioned in shape, considered to be black spot resistant in our area, was anything but. I gave up because I couldn’t keep it looking good. Which leads me to thought #1:

Choose “very disease resistant” roses.

Roses that you might buy at Home Depot or Canadian Tire in little boxes are unlikely to be the best to invest time and money into. They buy them in  bulk of course, and will get the same product for all their stores across the country, regardless whether they are appropriate for the location or not. When you can buy a $5 rose at HD, why pay $25 somewhere else? The answer is “disease resistance”.

Black spot this early in the season bodes ill for the rest of the year. This rose is not long for my garden...

Black spot this early in the season bodes ill for the rest of the year. This rose is not long for my garden…

Now one little problem with choosing disease resistant roses is knowing WHERE they’re disease resistant. Disease resistant in Toronto where the cold kills overwintering diseases and the sun comes out reliably in the spring is not going to be the same as disease resistant here. There’s a rose breeder from Hamburg, Germany (which has very similar weather to ours) whose mandate is to develop roses that need no fungicide to stay disease-free,  so you can be sure that if you get a KORDES rose, you’ve got a VERY disease resistant rose in coastal BC. (On the Select Roses website there is a page of Top Performers that starts with Julia Child and includes several Kordes roses!)

Here’s another site that will give you a list of suitable David Austin roses for the Pacific Northwest. And since it also has Heritage in the list, just goes to show you can’t expect exactly the same results when there are so many variables to contend with.

Which conveniently segues to thought #2:

Give your rose LOTS of sun.

The best thing you can do for your rose is place it in a place where it will get AT LEAST 6 hours of uninterrupted sun. And sunlight before breakfast and after supper don’t count! So 8 am to 2 pm, or noon to 6 pm, or any 6+ hours in the middle are all good. The right amount of sun will inhibit disease, promote good growth, which together inhibit pests. More sun means more blooms, which means happier grower–you. So before you buy your roses, spend a sunny day identifying where on your property the sun is fully shining (not shining through the leaves of a tree) for 6 hours. If there isn’t such a spot, I’m terribly sorry, roses are not for you. Yes, there are some that say they will tolerate part shade, and I have several of them. They don’t bloom. Rugosa roses have a lot of advantages: disease resistant, fragrance, repeat blooming, and allegedly shade tolerance. But if they don’t get enough sun, they don’t bloom, so I guess you can see the dilemma. Don’t bother, get some other attractive flowering fragrant shrub instead.

Rugosa rose 'Agnes' didn't bloom at all in 4-5 hours of sun, so has been in a pot for two years waiting for a better spot. Apparently delightfully  fragrant, altho' I wouldn't know from experience. Maybe this year I'll find out...

Rugosa rose ‘Agnes’, described as shade-tolerant,  didn’t bloom at all in 4-5 hours/day of sun, so has been languishing in a pot for two years waiting for a better spot. Apparently delightfully fragrant, altho’ I wouldn’t know from experience. Maybe this year I’ll find out…

Feed the Soil, the Soil Feeds the Plant

And now, for feeding the hungry little buggers! I’ve many times heard that roses are hungry, and maybe if what you’re after is show-quality blooms on an extravagant scale, then yes, maybe roses can get hungry. But I don’t think you’re going to be taking your roses to a flower show, or you wouldn’t be reading this somewhat simplistic blog. You want roses that will perform without requiring daily attention. So, Feed the Soil, the Soil Feeds the Plant. Most plants will be satisfied with a meal that can be delivered by a smorgasbord of microbes and earthworms. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor there… “with a smorgasbord delivered by an army of microbes and earthworms.” How’s that? And go back to my post on  Soil Characteristics to learn more about soil health.) Now that’s not necessarily true of all PLANTS, but MOST plants. And most roses will be satisfied with heathy nutritious soil, not needing a lot of extra desserts. Top-dressing (that’s adding on top of the soil under the canopy of the plant, staying 1-2″ away from the stem) with 1-2″ deep compost 1-2 times yearly (spring/fall) will make your soil/microbes/earthworms very happy indeed, and they will feed your roses. Very easy, and pretty easy to remember as well.

Water Them Well the First Year.

You’ll read that a lot on plant labels and information sites. Roses are actually quite drought tolerant–you won’t kill your rose by forgetting to water it through a few weeks of our dry summers–except for the first year. Everything needs a good start, and one key way of giving it is to make sure your rose doesn’t dehydrate that first summer. Needless to say, once the fall rains start, you don’t have to worry about water any more. (Just make sure when you’re planting that you have good drainage, or you will be worrying about those fall/winter rains.)

So there you go, Sun, Compost, Water. Very Disease Resistant. All you REALLY need to know about having roses in your garden. There’re lots of other things you may WANT to know about growing roses in your garden, and likely I’ll be posting about some of those in the future. So stay tuned. Click Follow. Like my FB page. Comment. Ask questions.

Princess Alexandra. Resists dying!

Princess Alexandra. Resists dying!

Octavia Hill. Fabulous diminutive shrub with glossy leaves, no fragrance. I love it for the name as well--google Octavia Hill.

Octavia Hill. Fabulous diminutive shrub with glossy leaves, no fragrance. I love it for the name as well–google Octavia Hill.

Looks impressive, but this is the Ingrid Bergman that has such bad black spot already., But you can see why I bought her.

Looks impressive, but this is the Ingrid Bergman that has such bad black spot already. But you can see why I bought her.

Rosemary Harkness--so many lovely ladies. I tried to dispose of her last year--black spot--but she resisted my efforts and is growing again.

Rosemary Harkness–so many lovely ladies. I tried to dispose of her last year–black spot–but she resisted my efforts and is growing again.

PATHS AND STRUCTURE AND MULCH, OH MY!

Five days and untold number of labour-hours later, the mountain of mulch is gone, and a new one has appeared. Most of the mountain has been translocated to a spot behind the carport.

Here’s what it looked like 5 days ago

DSCN1072

A few wheelbarrow-loads have been moved already…

And from the other side, just to get a better perception of how much this is…

It's about 5' high, 10'across. That means probably about 10 cubic yards.

It’s almost 5′ high, 10’across. That means probably about 8 cubic yards.

Further to my post of May 6, my plan was to use as much as I could making paths through the garden. Having done that–and more than I’d originally planned– I’m really happy with the result, because it gives the garden structure. I didn’t even know it lacked structure!

Like most everyone else, I often look with a certain amount of dissatisfaction at the various areas of the garden, and am never completely sure what is missing. Even having studied design for the last several months, nothing really jumped out at me. Yes, I don’t have “rooms”, but neither do I really want them, nor have much space for them. (That remains to be seen…)

But now I feel like the paths give flow and intentionality to the garden, leading from one area to the next, pretty much a complete circle around the yard.

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

The path is to the left, the right is currently potato bed and will be a shrub border in the fall.

 

The path coming from the left, leading to the compost bins and the shed, and continuing along the right...

The path coming from the left, leading to the compost bins and the shed, and continuing along the right…

... where the path then goes along the back with a perennial border next to the fence, and vegetable beds to the right. It meets the back patio.

… where the path then goes along the back with a perennial border next to the fence, and vegetable beds to the right. It meets the back patio.

After leaving the pation, we welk along the west fence, with shrubs to the right and left, and a lot of perennials throughout.

After leaving the pation, we welk along the west fence, with shrubs to the right and left, and a lot of perennials throughout.

...finally meeting up with the "translocated mountain of mulch"!

…finally meeting up with the “translocated mountain of mulch”!

So, if you feel your garden is lacking some kind of … something… consider paths.

 

 

 

Mulches Part II

Bark vs arborist’s wood chips:

Again, I defer to Linda Chalker-Scott: The Myth of Pretty Mulch pretty much 😉 says it all. Using bark mulch has too many disadvantages, whereas wood chips have few.

So  this:

DSCN0908

Lasagna treatment–layering cardboard and then compost over the grass and waiting for the whole lot to compost down to nice rich soil. Unfortunately not enough layers resulted in grass growing through after a nice mild wet winter.

…is now this:

About 6" of wood chip mulch applied on top of the turned-over, partly-decomposed turf.

About 6″ of wood chip mulch applied on top of the turned-over, partly-decomposed turf. Of course, it’ll be few hours more work to fill it up.

As I’ve said in previous posts, my garden is my research field. So I’m going to try to plant vegetables into this area at the end of the month, when the nights will be warm enough to allow the heat-loving plants to finally get out of the house. I’ll keep you posted on how we’re doing.

Incidentally, take a look at how the morning sun GLOWS through the leaves of the lily-of-the-valley. (Click on any pictures for a larger view.) Stay tuned for a post on “making the most of morning and evening light”.

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