Post Planting Guide

Silver Sage Garden Centers Plant Care Guide

We know that purchasing plant material and maintaining a landscape at home is an investment. The team at Silver Sage Garden Centers has developed this Plant Care Guide for customers to ensure successful establishment and maintenance of newly installed plants.

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All trees and shrubs go through transplant shock

Normal Symptoms of Transplant Shock
The term transplant shock refers to various symptoms of stress caused by a limited root system. Plants need roots to obtain water and nutrients and ultimately to grow, produce leaves, flowers, and fruit. When you purchase a plant, especially trees, they only have a small portion of their natural root system. Upon planting, your plant is struggling to supply water and nutrients through its minimal root system and will show signs of stress. These symptoms are normal and, in most cases, your plants will be fine once they start to establish roots in their new home: your yard!

Normal symptoms of transplant shock are:

    • Wilting or droopy leaves and branches
    • A few brightly colored leaves, yellow or red. Occasionally the entire plant will turn its Fall color
    • Leaf scorch: the tips and edges of leaves brown or entire leaves turn brown and fall off.
    • Evergreen needles may turn brown in various ways due to under or over watering (see below).
    • Leaves fall off the tips of branches or entire branches are bare or produce few leaves.

Alleviating Transplant Shock
The key to alleviating transplant shock is to help your plants establish roots. As a rule of thumb, root establishment takes 1 year for every 1” of trunk diameter. If you purchased a 2” tree, expect your tree to establish its roots in the first two years after planting. While your plants are establishing they will need a little bit of your help!

Keys to establishing roots:

    • Watering – deeply and infrequently
    • Apply mulch or rocks – protects from competing weeds, grass, and lawn mowers!
    • Fertilize – using a root stimulator only
    • Pruning – when and what are key
    • Winter care and wind protection

The key to watering trees and shrubs is to water deeply and infrequently. Water only when it is necessary and soak the soil deeply. A plant’s need for air in the soil is as important as its need for moisture. Over watering kills plants and is caused by the frequency, not the quantity, of water.

When in doubt, use the hand soil moisture test. Until you know from experience, with your particular soil, dig down at edge of soil ball about ½ the depth of the root ball (at least 8” for trees, possibly less for shrubs) to determine the moisture content of your soil. When you find the soil too dry to form a ball when squeezed in the hand, it needs water. If it makes a moist ball, hold off on the watering.

Trees will need 5-10 gallons of water per every 1” of trunk diameter. A recently planted 3” tree needs infrequent but deep watering, about 15-30 gallons at a time. You can supply your plants with water by using a drip irrigation system (most efficient) or by hand-watering with a hose. If you choose to hand-water your tree, the best method is to turn the hose on, decrease the water pressure to the lowest flow possible. This means that water is continuously running out of the hose but just barely, any lower water pressure and it would be dripping instead of a steady stream. Leave the hose running near the base of the trunk for 10-20 minutes. This should provide deep water and is the most efficient hand-watering method.

Be sure to monitor and supplement your plants’ water while the roots are establishing. After they are established, your plants will need little to no supplemental watering. This varies depending on location and species of plant.

Apply wood or bark-chip mulch around the base of the plant to help hold moisture and improve aeration. Mulch protects from weed eater or lawn mower injury and prevents competition from other weeds or grass which results in roots that establish faster! Mulch should start 6” away from the base of the trunk, leaving bare ground all the way around the trunk. The layer of mulch should be 3-4” deep, and spread as wide as the canopy of the branches.

It is unnecessary and possibly detrimental to use commercial fertilizer (nitrogen) where it may come into direct contact with plant roots during planting. It is better to use a root stimulator when planting new plant materials and until plants are established. Different root stimulator products have different instructions for use but in general it can be used monthly during the growing season. After trees or shrubs are established, switch to a slow release organic fertilizer, or fertilizer formulated specifically for woody plants.

Pruning newly planted trees and shrubs is not necessary. Before roots are established, plants need as much of their canopy and leaves as possible to establish a strong root system. If pruning is required, it should be limited to dead branches or minimal structural pruning. In many cases, late winter is an ideal time to prune woody plants – there are some exceptions to this rule, ask a Silver Sage team member for more details on your specific plant.

Winter Care
Watering: Periodically soak all plants, including lawns and especially evergreens, during dry winters. Watering twice per month during the winter is recommended. Don’t forget to use the the hand soil moisture test as described above if you are unsure of the moisture content of your soil.

Tree Wrap: Use tree wrap to protect young deciduous tree trunks (under 4” cal.) from winter sun scalding and anti-dessicant spray to protect delicate leaves from wilting.

References and useful links:

Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association. 2006. Colorado Planting Guide. 6th ed.: 2-12.

Klett, J.E., 2007. Mulches for Home Grounds. Colorado State University Extension. Fact Sheet No. 7.214.

Klett, J.E., Cox, R., 2013. Fall and Winter Watering. Colorado State University Extension. Fact Sheet No. 7.211.

Sillick, J.M., Jacobi, W.R., 2009. Healthy Roots and Healthy Trees. Colorado State University Extension. Fact Sheet No. 2.926.

Whiting, D., 2011. Care of Recently Planted Trees. Colorado State University Extension.

Whiting, D., Cox, R., O’Meara, C., Wilson, C., 2011. Pruning Flowering Shrubs. Colorado State University Extension.

Whiting, D., Jones, J., O’Connor, A., 2011. The Science of Planting Trees. Colorado State University Extension.

Wilson, C., Bauer, M., 2005. Drip Irrigation for Home Gardens. Colorado State University Extension. Fact Sheet No. 4.702.

Like any good tree that one would hope to grow, we must set our roots deep into the ground so that what is real will prosper in the Light of Love.
– Billy Corgan