Let trees establish roots before much fertilization

Garden Q&A

April 26, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld

This weekend, I plan to plant a row of evergreens using soil from the hole mixed 50/50 with peat moss. Do I fertilize at this time?

Use much less organic matter in the planting hole. Ten percent is plenty. In order for plant roots to grow outward, the soil in the hole must be similar to the surrounding soil. A hole with too much organic matter encourages the roots to stay in the hole, circling around. Peat moss actually repels water when it is dry and is fairly expensive. Compost is a better choice.

Young trees should establish roots for a couple of years before much fertilizing. High nitrogen fertilizer encourages tender growth, which is attractive to insects, at the expense of drought and disease resistance. One possible exception would be if they are planted in a very sandy, low-fertility soil. To get trees off to a good start, keep them well watered, spring to fall, for two years. Mulch to conserve soil moisture and keep down weed competition.

What are those white flowering trees that were the first thing to bloom along the highways? I want to get some.

Sadly, we can no longer recommend Bradford pear or any other ornamental pear. As you see, they are spreading at an alarming rate and out-competing native plants that our wildlife needs. A great idea gone awry, the original Bradford pear, an Asian tree, was supposed to be sterile in order to control its invasive qualities. When Bradfords began breaking apart from their weak branch structure, more Callery pear trees were introduced and sterility was lost. Bradfords produce berry-size "pears" that quickly take over disturbed or neglected areas. Where you see one wild Bradford, you soon see many. We urge residents to remove wild Bradfords and replace planted Bradfords with another species. Serviceberry tree is a comparable native with very early white blossoms.

Checklist

Use latex surgical gloves for precise work, such as pulling tiny weed seedlings, when regular gardening gloves are too bulky.

Dig planting holes wider but no deeper than the plant's rootball, so your plant stays at its depth in the container. Plants that sink in loose soil can slowly die from being too deep.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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