Love Your Shrubs
By Felicity Rixmann, Master Gardener
I think Lilacs are one of my favorite spring blooms with their wonderful fragrance and colors ranging from deepest purple to white. On the other hand, Weigela, with its colors from dark red to the palest pink, runs a pretty close second. I have a Kerria Japonica which bears orange pompoms about 1 to 1 ½ inch diameter. It flowers in the spring and several more times through the summer and early fall. Forsythia is always a joy which is usually the first to bloom. There is also the Snowball bush with its white “snowballs.” These and many others do well in the midwest, and once they are established, they need little maintenance. They make a good screen throughout the summer.
Decide what you want and where to put it. Good soil preparation is a must. If you are going to plant a hedge, dig a trench rather than digging many holes. For individual plantings, dig a hole at least 1/3 wider than the plant root ball. Remove any debris such as old roots and building materials from the area. You need to ensure that it drains well. If the soil is clay, dig the hole deeper than the root and work in either peat moss or well-rotted manure. Also add a starter fertilizer. Planting is best in the fall or early spring when the plant is dormant.
Most shrubs benefit from mulching. Both organic and inorganic mulch inhibit the growth of weeds, prevent extreme temperature fluctuations reaching the roots, keep the soil from drying out and reduce erosion. As organic mulches slowly decompose, they release nutrients into the soil and have a more natural look.
Newly planted shrubs require about one inch of water a week during the first two growing seasons. Fertilizer should be applied twice a year in the spring and again in the fall. Use a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or 12-12-12), and follow the instructions on the bag completely. The rule “if some is good, more is better” does NOT apply! Too much can burn the roots and kill the plant. Do not apply late in the fall as this can cause a growth spurt which could kill the plant over the winter. Pruning may not be necessary unless there are signs of disease, insect infestation, or dead or damaged wood. Remove any branches that are rubbing against each other. Remove suckers to encourage good growth. Most shrubs flower on last year’s wood.
It’s fun to propagate shrubs, either from seeds (this takes ages) or by taking cuttings. Often, you can use suckers if they have formed their own root system. You just need to pot them and keep moist. With cuttings, just cut the wood at an angle, moisten and shake off any excess water. Dip this into a good rooting compound, and then place in a pot of soil. It should form roots within the next two months.
Remember, the Master Gardener Plant Swap is April 23 from 8:00 a.m. until noon in the Nashville Library parking lot. This is also the last day of the Library book sale. Hope to see you there.