It’s fun to learn about gardening yourself as you create a track record of experiences as you tend your own garden. People who have been gardening for years have probably seen most everything and have learned how to respond to anything. However, it is also nice, maybe even essential, to get advice from the experts when you are a neophyte or an experienced gardener who is confronting something you never experienced before.
With that in mind, here are some do and don’t tips from a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension expert by the name of Sharon Dowdy.
First, the don’ts.
· Don’t leave burlap, straps, ropes or wire cages on newly planted trees or shrub root balls. If left in place, the material could inhibit root growth and create an unhealthy root system called “pot-bound.” Moreover, left over stakes, ties or tags can cause girdling of plant stems.
· Generally speaking, don’t use soil amendments incorrectly when gardening. For example, amendments or compost should not be used as a backfill in a planting hole for new trees or shrubs. Soil amendments respond like a sponge and are either too wet or too dry and drastic changes in soil moisture can result in problems for a plant’s roots. Instead, use soil amendments over larger areas where you have plants. For example, a vegetable garden can use such amendments as a thorough mixture of 2-inches to 3-inches of compost several inches deep.
· Don’t plant trees or shrubs too deep. If planted too deep trees and shrubs can experience root or stem rot, bark cracking and diseases. Instead plant trees or shrubs with their root flare level with the grade around the hole. If you are planting azaleas or plants that need to develop a well-drained root system, then you can plant them slightly higher than the level of the grade around the hole. Make certain that the soil is firm under larger trees to assure they don’t drop after planting.
· Don’t apply too much fertilizer or lime. Using too much fertilizer can burn plants and too many nutrients can cause water pollution. Moreover, fertilizer used at the wrong time can cause weed and disease problems.
· Don’t over water your plants. Too much water can result in root problems or disease. Generally speaking, landscape plants and lawns need only 1-inch of rain every seven to 10 days. If that much or more rain falls in one week, then irrigation should not occur the following week and should not be resumed until there is no longer any rain predicted.
· Don’t top trees. It destroys the tree’s control of the branching as wells as their shape. Improper pruning and topping can kill branches and shorten a tree’s life. If a tree appears to need topping, then it is planted in the wrong location or is growing toward obstructions.
· Don’t plant medium or large trees too close or under utility lines, awnings, or anyplace that will require extensive pruning.
· Don’t use plants that are not recommended for your region of the country. Remember, some plants live for a short time while others live longer. For example, Bradford pear trees live 15 to 20 years, but they have weak branches. So strong winds can cause damage Euonymus shrubs are short-lived because they are often affected by powdery mildew and scale insects. Red tip photinias die as a result of leaf spot disease.
· Don’t place plants too close together or they will shade each other out, compete for water and nutrients and cause diseases to spread more quickly.
· Don’t use too much mulch. It is true that mulch is valuable for preserving soil moisture, protecting tree roots and battling weeds. However, some gardeners apply deep mounds of the stuff at the base of trees. Too much mulch can promote root or stem rot, disease, and insect problems. Instead, apply less than 2-inches to 3-inches of mulch around the root region of trees and shrubs.
· Don’t rake leaves or pine needles into piles at the bottom of trees.
· Don’t use pesticides if there is an alternative.
Now, the dos.
· Research how tall and wide the plants will be and then pick an appropriate space to plant them that has enough room for them to reach their mature size.
· Read and follow the instructions on labels of chemicals or pesticides as well as organic or natural products before using them. All chemicals can damage plants if applied at the wrong rate or time or in the wrong place. Follow safety precautions. Make certain the chemical you are about to use will not damage the plant you will be using it on.
· Test your soil to determine how much fertilizer or lime you will have to apply and when you need to apply it.
If you have any questions about gardening, consult with your local university’s Cooperative Extension office.