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Five tips for new plant care

A sapling needs care after its been planted.
May 26, 2015

So, you’ve finished your spring plantings of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Now it’s time to care for them so they get a good start.

“Nothing is plant-it-and-forget-it,” says Doris Taylor, plant information specialist in the Plant Clinic at The Morton Arboretum. Even plants described as “low-maintenance” need some attention until they have had time to grow new roots and become established.

Here are five tips from Taylor for the care of newly installed plants:

  1. Water. Until their roots spread out, new plants don’t have the equipment to absorb enough water just from rainfall. Water them regularly for the entire season for perennials and for the first two or three years for shrubs and trees.
  2. Mulch. An even layer of mulch over the roots will help hold in moisture, protect trees and shrubs from lawnmowers and other power equipment, and begin improving the soil. For trees and shrubs, use chipped or shredded wood or bark. For perennials, use a finer material such as compost.
  3. Don’t overfertilize. Most shrubs and trees don’t need routine fertilizing at all. Most perennials should get enough of a start from the slow-release fertilizer in the potting mix they came in. You might scatter another handful of slow-release fertilizer in a perennial bed, but don’t use a fast-release liquid fertilizer, which would push the plants to grow stems and leaves they don’t have the roots to support.
  4. Weed. Plants that aren’t yet well established can’t handle much competition, so pull all weeds in the vicinity. Come back on a regular basis to pull new weeds.
  5. Be patient. When trees, shrubs, or perennials are transplanted, their first priority is to grow more roots. Only when the root system is well enough established will they start growing stems, branches, and flowers. In perennials, you may see little growth and few flowers for weeks or even months, but the plants will flourish next year. Trees and shrubs may take two or three years to really rev up their growth. The old axiom is: “The first year they sleep; the next year they creep; the third year they leap.”