You have invested your money and time into having your landscape and garden look beautiful, now you have to protect it and help it to flourish. Here are some helpful tips for plant care and watering.
Watering properly can be the best way to insure your plants thrive and flourish. There is no set watering program that will work universally considering every planting has its own micro-climate. Monitoring moisture levels in your soil is the best way to know when to water. Of course the amount of water a plant might need supplemented in May will greatly differ from what it needs in August. Also, depending on soil type and sun coverage plants will vary in their needs within your planting space. A sandy and sunny spot will require a lot more water then a clay soil shady spot. Figure out which spots dry faster than others and make a note for future watering.
How to determine if plants need water?
Rainfall is never a determining factor. Most rainfalls we receive in Chicago summers do little to provide plants what they ultimately need for water. The best way to determine moisture levels is simple. Insert your finger about an inch or two into the soil at the base of the plant you want to check. If soil feels dry and hot then you need to water for sure. If its still moist then it has sufficient water. Make sure to check different areas of garden doing the same thing to determine where to water. As long as drainage is good then most plants will be fine with excess water so when in doubt go ahead and water.
How to water and how often?
Plant material will benefit from deeper, longer duration soaks compared to short soaks where water only penetrates down 6 inches. Deep watering will ensure deep roots and healthy plants.
Try and water plants without soaking entire plant. Plants drink water through their roots not through their leaves or stems. Watering leaves can result disease and fungus. If you must water entire plant then do it early in the morning so it has time to dry before night. Water sitting on plants overnight will lead to disease and fungus.
The best way I have found to water by hand is to get out the hose and set the water flow to a slow trickle. Set hose at the base of each plant and leave there for 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes longer. Set the trickle so its slow enough to soak in without running off and flooding bed. If done properly this will allow you to water less frequently while assuring deep healthy roots.
Your other watering option is to have us install an irrigation system with drip heads or low spraying heads that will be set up on a timer to ensure consistent watering.
Pruning is very beneficial for most plant material. It will invigorate growth and produce more desirable shapes and sizes. The following information explains the basics of pruning.
Understanding the natural "habit" or shape of shrubs will help you determine how to prune them. All shoots grow outward from their tips. Whenever tips are removed, lower buds are stimulated to grow. Buds are located at nodes, where leaves are attached to twigs and branches. Each node produces from one to three buds, depending on shrub species.
Shrubs have mounding, cane, or tree-like growth habits. Those with mounding habits, such as evergreen azalea and spirea, generally have soft, flexible stems, small leaves, and are often used in mass plantings.
Shrubs with cane habits include forsythia and nandina. These shrubs spread by sending up erect new branches, called canes, from their base.
Tree-like shrubs have woodier, finely divided branches. Witch hazel and rhododendron are examples of shrubs with tree-like habits.
How to Prune
There are two basic types of pruning cuts: heading cuts, and thinning cuts. Heading cuts stimulate growth of buds closest to the wound. The direction in which the top remaining bud is pointing will determine the direction of new growth. Make heading cuts selectively to reduce shrub height and retain natural form. Non-selective heading cuts made indiscriminately will stimulate rapid regrowth from buds below the cut. These vigorous shoots are unattractive and make shrubs bushier, but not smaller. Non- selective heading cuts are only justifiable when using hedge clippers on a hedge or topiaried shrub.
Thinning cuts remove branches at their points of origin or attachment. Used in moderation, thinning cuts reduce shrub density without stimulating regrowth.
Make pruning cuts correctly. For heading cuts, prune 1/4 inch above the bud, sloping down and away from it. Avoid cutting too close, or steep, or the bud may die. When pruning above a node with two or more buds, remove the inward-facing ones. Make thinning cuts just above parent or side branches and roughly parallel to them.
Don't coat pruning cuts on shrubs with paint or wound dressing. These materials won't prevent decay or promote wound closure.
Deciduous shrubs require maintenance pruning to keep them healthy and in scale with their surroundings. Maintenance pruning practices should begin at the time of planting, or after rejuvenation of older shrubs.
Always remove dead, diseased, or broken branches promptly. When pruning dead or diseased branches, make thinning cuts into healthy wood, well below the affected area. Disinfect tools between each cut with products such as "Lysol," "Listerine," or rubbing alcohol. Tests have shown that "Pine-Sol" and household bleach are highly corrosive to metal tools.
To reduce the height of shrubs with a cane habit, first remove the tallest canes by cutting or sawing them out near ground level. Then, thin out any canes crowding the center, as well as those growing in an unwanted or unruly direction.
For height maintenance of mounding-type shrubs, prune only the longest branches. Make thinning cuts well inside the shrub mass where they won't be visible. This method reduces mounding shrubs by up to one-third their size without sacrificing their shape.
The first number is the percentage of nitrogen in the bag. So a bag of 24-8-4 has 24 percent total nitrogen. Nitrogen provides plants with the ability to produce more chlorophyll, which in turn allows plants to grow quickly. With each additional nitrogen application, plants will grow taller and develop a darker green color. So if you want a dark green lawn use a fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen – but then expect to mow more often.
The second number in the analysis is the percentage of phosphorus in the mix. For example, a bag of 24-8-4 would contain 8 percent phosphorus. Phosphorous aids in root development and increases flowering ability and bloom size. Look for something that has a higher phosphorus number then nitrogen number if you want to have bigger and more abundant flowers.
The third number represents the percentage of potassium found in the product. A bag of 24-8-4 has 4 percent potassium in the mix. Potassium has many functions: It guards the plant against diseases and aids in drought protection and cold tolerance. It also serves a role in improving root development and helps in the process of photosynthesis. You might consider using a high-potassium fertilizer at the start of winter and summer to protect crops from temperature extremes or when insects and disease have caused damage to your plants.
Now, if you’re a left-brainer, you’ve probably noticed that the sum of the percentages don’t equal 100 percent. That’s because there are other nutrients and filler product in fertilizer mixtures. This filler helps to apply the nutrients evenly over an area. So no need to double-check the math.
An experienced gardener may recognize a plant’s need for fertilizer. For example, plants that are deficient in nitrogen may start turning light green or yellow. Similarly, purple foliage (on an otherwise green plant) is a telltale sign of phosphorus deficiency. The only true way to determine how much fertilizer a crop needs is to conduct a soil test. Most states offer soil samples through their Cooperative Extension at no charge (or for a small fee). A soil test ensures that the correct amount and type of fertilizer will be used on your plants.
Next time you’re in the garden center selecting fertilizer, don’t let the numbers on the package intimidate you. Just consider what your plants need and match their needs to the numbers. You, and your garden, will be fine!