The green power that increases your property’s value.

There are many things you can do to enhance the value and appearance of your home. One of the easiest, most affordable and dramatic investments is the addition of trees and shrubs to your landscape. When planted in the right place and cared for properly, trees help increase property value, provide shade and conserve energy. If you’re in the market for a new tree or shrub, get it off to a good start by following a few basic guidelines:

Plant Selection and Placement: Doing your homework.

desert flowers

Consider Sun, Shade and Frost

Read the plant tag for sunlight exposure. Whether the exposure is full sun, partial shade, or full shade will determine which plants can grow successfully. Reflected heat from walls may be too extreme for many plants, including some desert natives. Likewise, cold air collects in low areas of your yard, where frost-sensitive plants may be damaged.

Height and Width

Another important factor to consider is the eventual height and width of the plant. Visualize what the growth will be in 10 to 15 years. Many trees grow to overpower or even endanger the homes they’re near. Shrubs that are placed too close to foundations rub against the exterior walls and cause structural damage. Placing the ‘right plant in the right place’ will prevent continual maintenance or replacement.

Smaller is Sometimes Better

Remember that trees and shrubs can take years to develop into the specimens you see in photographs, and there are some species and varieties that grow faster than others. However, a larger specimen doesn’t always guarantee a faster growing plant. Generally a smaller plant will outgrow one from a larger container within a short time span. Plants that grow too quickly may have weak wood, making them vulnerable to wind or storm damage.

Soil Conditions and Temperature

Soils in the Southwest are typically alkaline (salty) with a pH of near 8 and a high clay content. The low humidity levels and high air temperatures cause soils to evaporate rapidly here. Look for plants that can tolerate these soil conditions and temperature extremes.

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Planting: Container-Grown Versus Bare-Root Plants

seedlingNearly all trees and shrubs come from the nursery as container-grown. Some varieties are available for a brief period in the winter as bare-root.

Container-Grown Plants are moved to larger containers at the nursery as they grow, until they are ready for sale. Container sizes from 1 to 15 gallons are economical and the most commonly available, with 24-inch boxes seen occasionally.

Bare Root Plants (often roses) are dormant and should be planted as soon as possible. Soak the roots before planting. If you can’t plant immediately, keep the roots wrapped in moist newspaper or peat moss.

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When to Plant

September to April is Ideal!

pink-muhlyAlthough year-round planting in the Southwest is possible, the ideal planting time is from September to April except for frost-sensitive species. Roots grow throughout the cooler months, allowing the plants to get established before the onset of summer heat. You’ll find a wide selection of plants in garden centers during the September-April timeframe.

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Dig the hole: Not a Path to China.

shovelThe old nurseryman’s saying, “dig a $40 hole for a $20 tree,” is not just a cliché. To reach its fullest potential, a new plant needs room, so now is not the time to cut corners. The following recommendations by university research can bring planting success.

  • Before Digging – Apply water to the digging area several days in advance to make digging much easier. The soil should be moist, but not wet or sticking to the shovel or garden fork. Call your local Blue Stake to find the location of utility lines prior to digging holes.
  • Till the Soil – Till or loosen soil four to five times the diameter and no deeper than the root ball. Roots that absorb water and nutrients grow rapidly in this area allowing your plant to establish quickly
  • Size of the Hole – Remove soil in the center to create a hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball. Leaving the bottom of the hole flat prevents sinking, which can bury the stem or trunk. A bare-root plant will need a hole big enough so that the roots are not crowded.
  • Water Drainage – Check drainage by filling the hole with water. If water can penetrate the soil, so can plant roots. If water has not drained in 24 hours, a chimney can be added for proper drainage
  • Soil – Caliche is a concrete-like soil deposit that occurs in the Southwest. These layered deposits of calcium carbonate restrict roots, increase soil salinity, impede drainage and reduce a plant’s ability to take up iron (an essential nutrient). If your soil contains caliche, break up the layer or remove as many large pieces as possible. A drainage chimney can be added to the planting hole, if necessary.

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Planting and Positioning: Use some T.L.C.

Girl PlantingRemoving the Container – Handle the plant by the container, or gently by the root ball, not the trunk or branches. Remove the plant from the container with minimal disturbance to the root ball by placing the container on its side and tapping the sides and bottom with a hammer or other blunt object. This will usually free the walls allowing you to gently slide out the root ball.

Preparing the Root Ball – If roots are matted or circling, score the root ball with a utility knife by cutting lengthwise one-inch deep in two or three places, trimming any circling roots.

Placing the Plant in the Hole – The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the existing soil surface.

Direction of the Plant – Turn the tree or shrub to face the desired direction. Cacti are often marked to indicate their south side – you should maintain this alignment in your landscape.

Filling the Hole – Place the plant at the same level as it was in its container. Do not pile soil up on the stem or trunk and DO NOT plant too deep. No amendments or fertilizer are necessary at this time. Recent university research recommends refilling the planting hole with the native soil originally removed when digging the planting hole. The result will be a stronger root system and healthier plant.

Special Note for Bare Root Trees and Shrubs – Shape a cone of soil in the bottom of the hole for the roots to rest on. Carefully set the bare roots over the cone and gently tamp down the soil around them.

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Post-Planting Checklist: Heading toward home base

Hand DirtDon’t stop now, you’re almost done! Following the steps below can ensure success, allowing your new plant to become a beautiful and healthy addition to your landscape for years to come:

Pruning is not recommended, except to remove dead or broken branches. Allowing lower branches to remain on the tree for the first year promotes strong trunks and healthy growth – it also reduces the risk of sunburn.

Some deciduous fruit trees may need to be shaped and thinned to promote fruiting. Use bypass pruners, which leave a clean cut. Avoid sealants; leave the wound exposed to the air and the plant will heal itself. Never cut the top off (called topping) a tree. This creates a huge wound resulting in an unsightly and unhealthy tree as well as with weak growth.

Staking a newly planted tree is only necessary if it can’t stand without support. Use two sturdy poles placed outside the root ball in undisturbed soil. Fasten horticultural tape or wire to the poles and create a loop around the trunk to loosely secure the tree. Allowing the trunk to move slightly within the tie promotes formation of strong trunk tissue. Make sure that the wire does not cut into the tree bark by using segments of old garden hose to cushion the cord against the trunk. Inspect and loosen wires periodically as the tree grows. If you’re in an area with high winds, consider staking any new tree. Stakes should be removed after the first year.

Fertilizing a newly planted tree or shrub is often debated. Plants from wholesale growers receive abundant fertilizer making the addition of more at planting time unnecessary. Some plants never need fertilizer – most desert trees, cacti and other natives. Wait at least one year after planting to apply fertilizer to other perennial landscape plants.

Watering is not optional. You must water well when planting. Create an area around the plant to collect water by building up a ridge of soil two to three inches high to serve as a water collection basin. If you have a drip irrigation system, place emitters over the root ball or simply let a hose trickle in the basin. Apply enough water to thoroughly wet the soil to the depth of the root ball. This will remove air pockets without compacting the soil. Remember that as your plant grows, the drip emitters should be moved away from the stem or trunk to below the tips of the branches or “drip line.”

Mulching is simply applying a two- to four-inch layer of organic mulch on top of the soil, keeping away from the stem or trunk. This slows evaporation and keeps the soil cooler, which is important for tender feeder roots located just below the soil surface. And, as an added bonus, organic mulch adds nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes.

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