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Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator


Spring is a good time to be planting trees, shrubs and evergreens in the home landscape. We have lost so many trees to the Emerald Ash borer, other wood boring insects and diseases lately that some communities look bare, especially when all the street and parkway trees were ash. Since the drought in 2012, needled evergreens have not fared too well either. Arborvitae and Spruce have taken a hard hit as have Austrian pine. There are needle cast blights that have really established themselves, especially on older mature or stressed evergreens. Our recent cold winter weather has added more stress by desiccating needles too.

While we have the opportunity to replant, we also have the chance to buy a different species, locate the replacement in a different spot in the yard. While we are in the selection process, we can narrow down the potential list of plants by plugging in other plant attributes that we like. Size at maturity is often overlooked and that will lead to maintenance issues later. Larger trees can dramatically change the sun/shade pattern in the yard. A tree that has a dense full canopy can be troublesome for growing grass below. Tree shape should also be a factor to consider. Does it compliment the home architecture or appear in stark contrast. For smaller lots, smaller statured trees may be more appropriate, especially for a one story home. There are many smaller ornamental and shade trees available. Many of these smaller trees have great fall color or flower and later have a berry, nut, or seed that feed the wildlife.

When replacing foundation plantings, there is often a need to re-design beds to accommodate the growth of plants that are thriving as well as leaving enough area for new replacements to grow naturally, minimizing pruning. If the plants you have now are growing out and away from the home, they were planted too close to the home years ago. Today there are far more choices of dwarf and compact versions of plants past. There is also no rule that says you are limited to all evergreens along the foundation. Plantings today are a mixture of flowering shrubs, evergreens, perennial flowers and ornamental grasses.

Shrubs and smaller evergreen plants will recover in just a couple of years from being transplanted into your home landscape. Larger trees will take longer to recover. A general rule of thumb states that for every inch of trunk diameter, it will take a year for recovery. For example if you would plant a 2 ½ inch caliper tree, you can expect at least a 3 year recovery before you see a return to normal sized leaves, a better rate of annual growth and normal sized vegetative buds. This longer recovery also holds for plants that would be considered large shrubs or a small tree. Multiple stem large shrubs will also have a longer period of recovery.

During the entire recovery period, gardeners will need to continue to water as needed and watch for insects that would take advantage of tree recovering from transplant shock. Wood boring insects like to target stressed trees and that is what a newly planted tree is... stressed.