Planting & Initial Care Reference Guide

How to Handle Upon Arrival

* Trees and Shrubs Bare Rooted *

Take care of your nursery stock immediately upon its arrival. If dried out in transit, soak the entire plant in water for a few hours or bury it in wet soil. If possible, plant at once when shipment is received. If the weather is too cold for planting, put the box or bundle in a cool but ‘frostproof’ place. It is best to unpack the material, sprinkle tops and all with water, cover the roots with damp packing and cover with sacks or canvas. If the weather is warm and you are not ready to plant, heel the stock in.

* Balled Material: *


* Potted and Container Material *

Place containers in a protected environment with sunlight until suitable weather returns. This could mean a greenhouse, a naturally lit room, or a combination of inside/outside locations with container movement during sufficiently warm days. Be sure to keep plants watered until time of setting out.

* Rooted Cuttings *

Carefully remove your cuttings from the package. For larger cuttings, branches may have been bent to fit within the box. Do not be dismayed if cuttings have broken branches. Plants are resilient and will grow back with vigor. Leaves may appear tattered. Do not fret! Cuttings will produce new leaves upon acclimation. Late fall and winter plants are may be dormant for some species. These species will not have leaves. Cuttings purchased in early spring and winter will often arrive before spring weather is stable enough to support planting. Monitor weather forecasts to protect your new plants from damaging frost and freeze until spring arrives. Use old burlap, sheets, boxes, etc. to cover and protect your new plants from these events or simply carry the plant(s) inside. Cuttings purchased between late spring and early fall will not be suitable to immediately plant in full sun. Cuttings during this time have been inside a dark box for anywhere from 2 to 5 days. The leaves will burn if exposed to a full sun environment, and the plants are more likely to perish. It is best to gradually move potted cuttings from shade to sun. Cuttings can take up to one month to sufficiently acclimate to full sun lighting.

Heeling-In Trees and Shrubs

Heel-in your trees in a place where they will have protection from the sun and wind, and their development will be retarded. All packing material and grass that might harbor mice should be removed. Spread out roots and fill in with pulverized earth rather firmly over them. Keep earth moist.


How to Prepare the Ground for Planting

Prepare for planting by deep spading or plowing. On hillsides where the beds would wash or when set as specimens in lawns, shrubs and trees may be set in well dug holes in the sod, but for good growth the sod must be kept spaded two or three feet around the plant and this area kept cultivated or mulched.


Hole should be large enough so that bare roots are not crowded and so that 6 to 8 inches of space will surround balled or container material. Soil at bottom of hole should be loosened to 8 inch depth. Provide good soil and humus (peat moss, leaf-mold or rotted cow manure) mixture for back-fill. Fertilizing newly set material is not desirable.

How to Plant Balled & Burlapped Stock

Balled and burlapped trees and shrubs are plants that have been grown in nursery fields, dug with the much of the root ball and soil intact, wrapped with burlap, and secured with either twine, rope, or wire caging. Plants sold as balled and burlapped (B&B) are typically large and are often suitable for fast transplanting. Like all plants, they typically transplant best during dormancy around late fall and early winter. The root ball of B&B plants is often pruned at the nursery to consolidate the root system. It is especially important to always carry B&B plant stock by the wrapped portion of the root ball and never by the trunk or stem. When choosing your B&B stock, be sure to inspect the root ball carefully, as broken and loose soil often indicates root damage to the plant. Do not allow the B&B root ball dry out or be exposed freezing winter temperatures for an extended period of time before planting.

When preparing to plant, the burlap and twine should not be removed unless it is made from synthetic material. (Often burning a small piece of the wrapping material can help in this identification as synthetic materials when typically melt while natural materials will not.) Next, remove any burlap from the top of the root ball as exposed burlap will often remove moisture from the soil. Do not remove the wire basket or supporting wires as doing so could potentially damage the root ball. Dig a a generous sized hole to about the same level as the top of the plant’s root ball. After positioning the B&B plant in the hole, water generously before hole is completely back-filled to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Subsequent cultural care is the same as for planting by other methods but immediate effect and growth is usually faster because the plant has had a minimum of shock in the transplanting process.

How to Plant Bare Root Stock

Many failures of newly transplanted stock are due to the lack of proper pruning. When trees are dug, some of the feeding roots are cut off; therefore, when transplanting it, it is necessary to restore the balance between the roots and the top by removing part of the tops through heading back, thinning, and spacing of the branches.

When pruning, make a clean sharp cut. Do not leave stub ends when removing branches. All tools should be sharp.


In planting, dig generous sized holes with perpendicular sides (never saucer shaped). Put the good surface dirt to one side so that it can be used around the roots. Loosen up the soil in the bottom of the hole. Set trees one or two inches deeper than they stood in the nursery; set shrubs at about the same depth they stood in the nursery or slightly deeper. Spread roots out naturally and work soil well over and around them. Keep putting in the dirt with alternate layers of peat or compost until the hole is nearly full, tramping the dirt firmly about the roots. Fill the hole with water. Finally fill up the hole with loose dirt which should not be tramped, leaving a saucer like depression to retain water. A 2 inch mulch of peat or strawy manure on top is beneficial. Do not fertilize until second year when feeding roots are established.

* Shade Trees *

Prune away about one-third to one-half of top depending upon the number of roots lost in digging. Prune to keep the normal shape of the plant. Cut just above a bud or close to a twig, branch, or trunk. Remove small and crowding branches and try to form a well developed head with a strong leader and branches at wide, not close angles. Never cut out the central leader. Cut off all broken roots. Plant as directed. Trees over 8 feet tall should be staked or guyed to brace them against wind pressure. Run wires through loops of rubber hose to avoid cutting into bark. Some smooth barked trees varieties need wrapping with good commercial tree wrap to prevent some scald.

* Fruit Trees *

With branched fruit trees such as peach, cherry, plum, apple and pear trees, select three to five side branches on different sides of the trunk and 6 to 8 inches apart and cut back one third their length. Select one of the top upright branches and cut it back in proportion to the side branches. Cut off all other branches close to the truck.

With Fruit Tree Whips having no side branches, simply cut off the top just above a bud 2 to 2 1/2 feet from ground.
Protect young fruit trees trunks from rodent and rabbit damage with collars of hardware cloth 6 inches to 8 inches in diameter and 2 feet high.

* Dwarf Fruit Trees *

Plant with bud union at least 4 inches above the ground. Trucks should be tied to permanent steaks.

To plant follow same procedure as given for Fruit Trees.


Fruit trees should always be protected against bark girdling by mice and rabbits. Two foot links of a galvanized wire screen (hardware cloth) formed into an 8 inch circle about the young trunks is a reliable protection.

* Shrubs *

Cut off damaged or frayed roots before planting. Thin out tops of many branched shrubs, removing the old wood. Cut tops back one-third to one-half. Never allow roots to become dry.

To plant follow same procedure as given above.

* ‘Groundcovers’ *

When planting ‘groundcovers,’ start at the farthest point away in the area you are about to plant and distribute the ‘groundcover’ evenly and outwards (like painting yourself into a corner). Water well, and remember to water regularly until they have started to grow.

* Hedges *


Plant small shrubs which are to form a hedge less than 2 feet in height 10 to 12 inches apart on centers. Medium-sized bushes, 12 to 18 inches apart on centers. Set tall shrubs or trees for high hedges 2 to 4 feet apart.


For the latter it is often more practicable to dig individual holes then to set by the trench method. A double staggered row of plants makes the most effective hedge.

Prune tops back to 6 inches to 12 inches above the ground. Each spring the hedge can be trimmed back to the desired height and width. Frequent trimming during early summer will make the hedge grow dense. Trim both the sides and the top or else hedge will grow wider at the top and become open at the bottom.

How to Plant Broad-Leaved Evergreens, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Camellias, Etc.

These plants require an acid soil (about pH 5) either maintained or created artificially, a moist situation but one with excellent drainage, and a light soil with a high proportion of humus. As they are shallow rooted, plant them high, maintain at least a 3 inch mulch around them and never cultivate. Where winter protection is necessary, spraying the foliage with plastic spray is helpful.

Bush Fruits

* Blueberries *

High-bush Blueberries are a worthwhile addition to the home fruit garden if soil requirements are right. Soil should be moist, light textured, contain a high proportion of organic matter, test acidity from pH 4.0 to 4.5. Set bushes 6 feet each way. Mulch every year with 3 to 4 inches of sawdust or peat. Alternate shallowly because of shallow root system. Plant in sun for good yields.

* Currants and Gooseberries *

Set 2 or 3 inches deeper than in nursery. Cut off half the tops. Plant 4 or 5 feet apart. Most currant or gooseberry pests can be controlled by dusting or spraying with Seven. Always cut out infested canes.

* Red and Black Raspberries and Blackberries *

Plant in good garden soil 3 to 5 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Set Red Raspberry plants 1 to 2 inches deeper than they were in the nursery and Black Raspberry 1 inch deeper. Firm soil over roots, and then water. Cut back all plants to about 6 inches in height. Don’t let any fruit set the first year. Allowed new shoots to make rows 6 to 8 inches wide.

After fruiting each year, cut old canes and burn, leaving a few vigorous new ones to grow for fruiting the following year. These fruiting canes should be cut back to about 2 1/2 feet early in the spring to encourage fruiting laterals. Mulching always pays. In the spring, spray raspberries and blackberries just before the buds open, with lime sulfur or Bordeaux mixture.

How to Plant from Containers

Plants sold in containers of various types made of tin, treated paper, clay, molded organic material, etc. may be planted at any time of year outdoor soil conditions are favorable (even if in full leaf or flower) because such plants can be set into the soil without disturbing the roots or normal growth processes of the plant.


Plastic material should be removed from around the root (earth) ball of the plant before planting. Tin or clay containers with tapered sides may be inverted and tapped on edge lightly against something solid letting the root ball slide out into the hand.

Straight sided containers should be slit or cut from top to bottom. Other tops may be set directly into soil without removing and will eventually disintegrate. Follow the directions specific for the type of container used, but always take care that the growing roots are not disturbed through crackling or crumbling of the earth around them, or the benefits of such merchandising are destroyed. If the soil in the container is fairly moist, the ball will hold together better and when handling the plant, always lift it by the container or earth ball, not by the plant top.

Plant in a generous sized hole to about the same level as plant was in container. Water generously before hole is completely back-filled to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Subsequent cultural care is the same as for planting by other methods but immediate effect and growth is usually faster because the plant has had a minimum of shock in the transplanting process.

How to plant Rooted Cuttings

Regardless of when your cuttings arrive, it is imperative that you grow your cuttings in a suitable container for their first 6 to 8 weeks. If your order arrives during the late spring, summer, or early fall months, this is easy enough to do. If your cuttings arrive in the late fall, winter, or early spring, we strongly suggest that potted cuttings be stored in a protected environment with sunlight until suitable weather returns. This could mean a greenhouse, a naturally lit room, or a combination of inside/outside locations with container movement during sufficiently warm days. Once the plants break dormancy, grow the cuttings for 6-8 weeks before transplanting into a permanent location. Use Miracle-Gro ® Performance soil for best results. Dig a hole 6-12 inches in diameter, with a depth no deeper than the original soil line on the stem. Place the cutting in the hole and fill; lightly compact the fill dirt. Do not over compact the soil. Water the plant heavily to seal the soil around the roots and remove air pockets. To increase the odds of success, plant the cuttings under cover, in the evening, or on a sufficiently overcast day. Be sure to break up the ground soil to the finest consistency possible, and follow the aforementioned instructions for hole depth, placement, and watering. As before, supplement your soil using Miracle-Gro ® Performance soil. Do not fertilize the soil until the plants are established (3-6 weeks). Fertilize according to the recommendation of local agriculture extension offices or based on personal experience. Avoid over watering! Saturate the ground only once every 10-14 days. Container plants may need water more frequently.

How to Plant Seeds

* Japanese Maple Seeds *

Soak in hot tap water. Let stand in water for 24 hours (repeat process on seed that did not imbibe). This process is called scarification. Next, stratify the seeds for 120 days. Finally, allow the seeds to germinate by sowing the seeds 1/8″ deep. Tamp the soil and mulch the seed bed.