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Shrub Care

The term “shrub” is specifically used to describe the particular physical structure of woody plants. A large number of plants can be either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience. In most cases, the only difference between a shrub and a tree is the presence of multiple base stems instead of a single tree trunk and no base stems. Although this is not always the case, a tree may have two or more trunks and/or base stems. Determining whether a woody plant is a shrub or a tree may depend on how it is used in the landscape and whether or not the lower branches have been removed.

Shrubs usually have multiple stems that branch from the base and are typically smaller than a tree. When a shrub has multiple canes or shoots emerging from the ground and none of these are dominant, it may be called a bush. Shrubs can be small or they can grow to 15 20 feet in height! Under favorable conditions, some shrubs may even grow taller than 20 feet. Shrubs can be deciduous or evergreen, meaning they will lose their leaves every fall (deciduous), or they can keep them throughout the winter (evergreen). Shrubs are generally broad leaved deciduous plants. Evergreen shrubs can have broad leaves or needles.

Shrubs are virtually carefree. In the natural style of landscape gardening, they are simply allowed to grow untended. In many landscapes, they are pruned in the spring or fall for ideal shape and to induce more compact growth. Some shrubs may have to be pruned after flowering to prevent cutting of next year’s flower buds. Shrubs are versatile and have many uses. They work great for hedges, screens, and background plantings. They are wonderful for foundation plantings around the house, deck, fence, and swimming pool. You may also use them as a specimen or ascent plant. Evergreen shrubs will provide year round color to the landscape.

Shrubs are an important feature of the landscape. Annuals and perennials are only around for part of the year, and even then, they are usually very small plants. Shrubs give a bulk and distinguished look to landscapes at eye catching level. Shrubs are considered by many to be the most important plants in the landscape!

What is the best time to plant shrubs?

Anytime you want but there are exceptions. If the ground is frozen, you will need to wait until spring when it thaws and it’s not advisable to plant just before you go on summer vacation. If you're not going to be around to water, wait until you get back before you do your planting. Newly planted shrubs require regular watering throughout the first year.

Shrub Planting Instructions and Care

Start by picking the perfect planting location. Make sure that you have planted it where the tag recommends full sun, partial shade, shade.

Planting can take place from spring until fall. The key to successful plant growth is proper planting depth and good soil drainage. The planting depth should be the same depth as it was while grown in the nursery. Planting too low or high will result in poor growth. On poorly drained, clay soils, the planting depth may be raised several inches and the soil should be sloped up to the original soil level of the container or ball.

Adding organic matter such as compost, aged manure or peat moss will improve plant growth especially if you have a poor sandy soil. With heavy clay soils, organic additives may cause the soil to hold too much water. In this case it is best to back fill with the original soil only and skip the use of organic amendments. A high phosphorous fertilizer can be added to the planting hole. If you fertilize at the time of planting follow the instructions on the fertilizer package. Only low levels of fertilizer should be needed until the plant is established, approximately one year after planting.

After you have prepared the planting hole, it’s time to remove the plant from it’s container. The easiest way to do this is to place you hand over the top of the container, and then turn it upside down. Shake the plant until is comes loose from the container. Do not pull the plant out but its stem or you may damage the plant. If the plant does not come out immediately, tap the edge of the container on a hard object and let the weight of the plant ball and gravity do the work.

Once the plant is removed from the container, it is recommended that you loosen the roots on the surface of the root ball. Typically you can do this with you fingers, roughening the roots away from the soil. Sometimes the roots may be so thick and well developed your finger won’t do the job. If this is the case lay the plant the ground, on its side and use a shovel to cut and loosen the roots. This process will not hurt the plant rather it will allow the roots to grow out of the root ball into the surrounding soil.

Now place the root ball in the hole. Double check to make sure it is at the same level as the surrounding soil. Once your plant is situated at the proper depth in the planting hole, firm the soil around the root ball and water the soil thoroughly to remove any air spaces. The addition of an organic surface mulch of 2 3” will help retain soil moisture and reduce weed growth. As with most newly planted shrubs it will take a year or so to become fully established.

Until the plant is well established, make certain that the soil remains evenly moist. Check the soil moisture regularly that first year by probing your finger into the soil. If you feel moisture, all is fine. If the soil feels dry to the touch, then provide water by slowly drenching the root system, allowing the water to seep down to a minimum of 3 inches. There's no benefit in watering the leaves. Once your plant is established, it should require little attention unless you experience a prolonged drought or hot dry spell, if so water accordingly.

Build a Full Bodied, Well Branched Shrub

As for a young shrub it is best to prune or pinch the plant in order to build a full bodied, well branched shrub. If the shrub is leggy when you purchased it, shear the plant back hard by 1/3 to 1/2 its original size. Once it puts on an inch or two of growth, pinch the branch tips to remove just the growing tips, these tips control branching. Once growing tips are removed the buds below it will turn into stems. Once these new branches grow an inch or two, pinch the tips out again. You can repeat this throughout the first growing season as you are tending your garden. Although you will sacrifice blooms, this technique results in a well branched, full bodied shrub that will have more flowers in subsequent years.

If you have other questions regarding shrub care please feel free to contact us.