Holding nose, jumping in!

GrapeSocks(5b (NE IL))March 9, 2012

Hello all! For several years now, I've used the conifers forum as a trustworthy and reliable source of information (and honestly, sometimes entertainment). I was bit by the conifer bug a while ago, but developed full blown coniferitis after seeing so many incredible and beautiful and weird photos from you this past winter. So, I decided it was time to jump in and I placed a few orders.

Umm, uh oh�.now what? My order arrived today! I realize that's not a bad thing, but I also know I can't plant them right away (partially frozen, partially soggy soil).

Will you please advise me on how to "hold" them until planting? Should I park them in my attached, unheated garage (East window will provide a little light)? Keep the watering to a minimum? I'm guessing I'll plant them at the beginning of May (unless you tell me differently).

Round 1 of acquisitions include:

Picea pungens 'Blue Totem' (3 total)

Picea pungens 'Blue Pearl'

Pinus mugo 'Carstens'

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5



i will yell .. DO NOT WATER THEM .... wet soggy roots are not happy

put one ice cube on each pot.. and let them thaw.. when the temps are right ... snowball if you had snow ...

proper planting time in my z5 is APRIL ... sooner the better.. 6 to 8 weeks before the heat of summer.. and 4 to 6 weeks before they bud out.. hopefully ... they will get those roots working in the mean time ...

dont really care about the window.. they are dormant.. arent they??? where did they come from???

whasss ought to be right up your alley with suggestions ... as should dax..

lets see if they agree ..oh boy.. you got me excited. about enabling a newbie.. lol ..

how about some pix???

do you know what to do with them at planting???

ps: conifers smell real good.. dont hold your nose for to long ...

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 6:35PM
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Plant them when dormant... May here in Northeast Ohio I believe everything will be in full bloom. Your location will be different. As a matter of fact, I will be outside almost all day tomorrow planting my new arrivals. All next week we are in the lower 60's... spring is just around the corner!

Did you get yours from Carters? I'm just guessing here as I ordered the same ones + some more. Any photos?

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 6:49PM
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kbguess(z5 IA)

I agree with ricksample. Midwest seems prime for planting out in the next week. I think your soil will completely thaw with the predicted temps. Good luck


    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 7:08PM
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GrapeSocks(5b (NE IL))

Hi Ken, Rick & Keith ... Thanks for the help!

This order came from Carter's. Since they're from Oregon, I was concerned about (for lack of a better term) zone shock? Next week is supposed to be in the upper 60's and, hey, I'm ready to go. I wasn't sure my new conifers would be, though. I believe they're dormant, but the pics will tell the truth.

Crossing my fingers I do this right:

Meet the triplets -- Picea pungens 'Blue Totem' (19" to 21" tall)

Close up of 'Blue Totem' (should I lose the support stick when planting?)

Pinus mugo 'Carstens' (about 6 1/2" tall) (how long do I keep that grafting wrap on?)

Finally, Picea pungens 'Blue Pearl' (about 3 1/2" tall) (same question about wrap)

Ken, about planting the 'Blue Totem' I'd love your input. Here's my plan: remove grass, chop up the soil a bit in a 2 foot circle per tree, add some dirt from another area of the yard to raise it up a bit (4" to 6"), remove the plant from the pot, gently spread out the roots a bit, add a little more soil on top, then cover with mulch. Since the area where they'll be planted slopes down a bit toward (but not in) a drainage easement, I thought it might be better to keep their feet from getting too wet. The 'Carstens' and 'Blue Pearl' will be planted in existing perennial beds, soon to be replaced with conifers, bwah hah hah (evil laugh)!

Again, thanks for your help. And Ken, as an enabler extraordinaire, LOL, you were supposed to say, "Come on in, the water's fine!" to my "taking the plunge" metaphor! : )

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 8:59PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

As soon as the shovel can get through the soil and the soil is workable (not too wet) make it happen. Of all things rain is your WORST enemy right now so your window of opportunity can be very limited this time of year.

The 'Blue Totem' to the left. I'd suggest clipping out that co-dom to the left. If it here me I'd cut it out now, others will probably say wait until next late winter.

Happy planting!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 9:55PM
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GrapeSocks(5b (NE IL))

Thanks, Whaas, I was concerned about that, too. How far back should I cut that branch? I'd know what to do if it was a shrub, but I'm learning and absorbing all I can about conifers.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 11:17PM
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Thanks for the pics... they look great! My first order from Carters will be in sometime next week. I decided it's about time to try a new company out.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 5:30AM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Cut it all the way off.

All good advice at this post.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 8:01AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Like Dax said all the way off. I just cut one off on the one I got. I bet you'd never be able to tell. I cut off a few of those weak stragglers at the bottom too. More limbed up than I wanted but I'll plant dwarfs near the base to cover it up.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 8:36AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hosta are not conifers ... but back in the day.. i got some early.. and planted them into very cold soil ... and they rotted ... from the roots up ... guessing.. they were leafed out early .. not properly hardened off ... and did NOT appreciate barely thawed soil ... [they came from a warmer zone]

so i would hesitate to plant anything too early ... APRIL IS ALWAYS MY PLANTING TIME ...

the only way i know to tell whether one is fully dormant.. like the grafters do ... is to tip one out of its pot.. and look for white tips at the root ends ... if the roots are actively growing .... they are NOT fully dormant.. and might not appreciate being thrown into 34 degree soil just past the frozen state ...

i dont care what the other GREAT WHITE NORTHERS WOULD DO ... i would not plant until 4/1 ... just to avoid the issue ...

by which time.. they will hold very nicely in the garage .... but keep in mind.. a closed attached garage is probably z7 for us 5'ers ... so i would open the door every morning ... the cement pad.. will keep them chilled on any warm days ...

please.. harden them off.. and let them stabilize from the shipping.. regardless of how bad you have the fever

now all that doesnt mean .. you cant remove grass ... turn soil in holes... and do all the prep work needed to make the actual planting fast and easy ....

as i have been known to say .. just because you have them.. does NOT mean its proper planting time ....


    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 9:30AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

You plant based on the current weather trends. Plant now, don't wait. Before you know it your plants will break bud early and then you will have to wait until after April when the threat of frost is gone.

I planted last week of March last year and that was a late, cold, west spring.

You can bet your ass spring is rolling in early with warm temps. Yes its a forecast but the 10 forecast for my zone 5a calls out upper 50s and low 60s for the next 10 days. You will be warmer and this time of year the air temps are warmer than the soil temps.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 9:57AM
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GrapeSocks(5b (NE IL))

Hey, Rick, since they had such good ratings, I thought I'd try them, too. They were very responsive to emails, order was packed well, and everything looks good. Hope your happy with your order, too.

Thanks, Dax and Whaas. It's gone.

Whaas, mine will also be limbed up a little more than I'd like, but, hey, that's one less place for the rabbits to hide and breed, right?

Ken, those were my fears when I mentioned "zone shock." Of all, only 2 of the 'Blue Totem' are showing the tiniest bit of white on the root ends. (Thanks for that great tip.) I'm getting a little twitchy, so I'll definitely start getting that soil ready, since it's not mushy. For this time of year, it seems pretty dry. There's actually a weather alert this morning for a 'Fire Weather Warning" (that's a new one). Soil should warm up nicely next week, so I'll keep my eye on the forecast for the next few weeks. I agree with Whaas that rain is my worst enemy for new plantings. Do you plant early or late April?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 10:32AM
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Cher(6 SW OH)

Welcome to the forum. Looks like you got you some nice conifers there.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 10:44AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

white tips..

in other words.. they were just about coming out of dormancy at the old home ...

they will now go into suspended animation in their new home .. and i presume they will hold very easily for you ...

here is some logic ... hosta college is the 3rd week of march ... and after going 10 years in a row .. i can tell you.. it is winter before such.. and i will be darned.. spring after.. forget the artificial construct called a calender ... and this is in ADRIAN MI .... zone 5 ... dont know what to tell you about yours ..

anyway ... back to college ... before such.. the ground is usually frozen.. and within a week or two after its not ... and that is usually my target ... for 10 years.. not some weirdo winter like this] ...

and its all of APRIL ... 6 to 8 weeks before you have heat potential in mid to late may - early june ...

and its not just a warm day.. its when the nights start warming ... warming nights.. means soil is warming.. which means roots and sap are flowing.. which means buds are swelling .... and i want to be done at least 4 weeks before all that.. i want the roots settled in.. and pumping water.. before the real work starts ... bud bursting ...

what i fear.. most of all .. on march 9th ... in my z5 .. would be that the ground would freeze back up.. for two weeks.. and if i planted.. i would have a plethora of water freezing around the roots ... etc ...

can you do it now.. probably ...

should you do it now .. maybe not ...

if you do.. will you just worry for the rest of the season wondering when an EVERGREEN will turn brown .... i swear some of these can be dead for months.. before they brown in august ... i used to have a lot that buds extended.. like some last attempt to live.. only to have them brown in august ...

just make a decision.. and go for it .. i dont like to worry.. so i usually err toward the safer side of things ...


ps: i hate swimming .. thats why i missed your analogy ...

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 1:27PM
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GrapeSocks(5b (NE IL))

Hi Cher! Thanks for the warm welcome. Another one of the many reasons I joined.

Alright, Ken, you found my Achilles heel. I don't like to worry or take risks either! Gah, thinking I could have a dead conifer in August is not a good way to build confidence. That's why I want to be as informed as I can before making these decisions. Also why I appreciate everyone's knowledge, input, experiences, opinions, and whatnot.

So what I'm hearing from you is that it's not the freeze that will kill them, it's all the frozen water around them that will do them in.

Overnight lows here have been at or above freezing (as of March 1st) and the 10-day forecast calls for overnight lows in the upper 40s next week. Daytime highs are forecast to be in the mid to upper 60s with a negligible chance of rain. After that, the average lows are above freezing and should be on the rise.

I sure understand the need to plant before the heat of summer and that the ideal time to plant is in the fall. According to the attached link below, ideal air temperature for planting conifers is between 30 and 65 F. If my weather continues with its current trend, it sounds like it would be a good time to plant, and give these little ones more time to grow roots. We're all so filled with hope and excitement in Spring, right? I just hope it's not smoke and mirrors from Ma Nature just laughing, waiting to prove to me how much smarter than me she is.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plant conifers right/Timing is everything

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 5:51PM
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ladylotus(Z3/4 ND)

Grapesocks, welcome to the forum. It is so nice to see someone new getting into conifers and joining in on the discussion. You are in a warmer zone than I, but I usually plant my trees the last week in April. It really depends on the weather/year though.

Your new plants look great. You purchased some very nice conifers. Good luck in getting them planted up.

I don't know about your zone and maybe those that live closer to your area can advise on this, but I have to cover my newly planted conifers over their first 3 or 4 winters until they are well established or I lose them. Perhaps that is just this very cold, windswept area I live in. Others can comment on getting them to survive their first couple winters for you.

Welcome aboard!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 12:17AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

So what I'm hearing from you is that it's not the freeze that will kill them, it's all the frozen water around them that will do them in.

===>>> of course.. we have no clue about your soil and its draining capacity .. etc ...

I sure understand the need to plant before the heat of summer and that the ideal time to plant is in the fall.

===>>> z5 and colder may be unique in that we have 2 good seasons.. april and october ... presuming just some amount of attention in august .... insuring moist soil in drought ... or high heat ... i was surprised when i learned this

its all about aftercare..


    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 10:24AM
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An awesome welcoming parade folks. This is one hobby in my life where I am have seen such passion from people once they enter it. There is such a thing as a part-time conifer collector but it's a rare species. Many people jump in and are rarely seen again - and when they are sighted, it's usually through a thicket of beautiful and unusual spires of conifer needles!

We're blessed to have a wide range of personalities and expertise on these forums. There are newer collectors, more seasoned, knowledgable collectors and on the extreme end we're blessed to have about a half dozen people that are so knowledgable in this hobby that they can recall cultivar origins, stories and growing advice for thousands of different plants. There are guys on these forums that have the knowledge of botanist professors and some collectors/nurserymen(women?) that have been involved in the trade since the day I was born - or before!

Grapesocks, I'd say ask as MANY questions as you can and perhaps you can avoid some of the mistakes that some of us have experienced first hand. Have fun! :)


    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 12:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

of course.. all that said is based on 10 years of PAST experience .....

this might be the one summer where it hits the 80's [what i call the heat of summer] ... in early may ... and you are already past the 8 weeks prior to such ...

but again.. its about night temps where a babe can recover...

i think it is now up to you.. to decide when it all happens .. good luck with that ...

do NOT let them dry for 2 years ... but do NOT drown them.. insert finger to second digit.. once per week.. to see how it all works in your soil.. it should be cool and moist under your mulch ... if its moist and hot ... it will be dry tomorrow ... let them nearly dry in between waterings ... [and all that is very tricky in clay based soils] ....

and all that means you do not put the hose away in sept.. and hope they do NOT dry out.. before ground freeze in dec or so ... keep checking right thru thxgvg .... but do not water unless DRY ... they wont be needing all that much late in the season.. just to avoid late drought


    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 10:53AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I planted the hell out of the what I had holding over. The soil was of the consistency of what you'd see during a dry May. The only area not plantable was the northside near the house.

I have a sandier loam soil so I'd be dumb not to plant right now based upon the temps coming up over the next 10 days.

Its going to be in the 70s these week... pray it doesn't persist or we're going to have issues.

If you didn't plant this weekend keep them in the coolest/shadiest spot in your house or outside your house this coming week.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 11:54AM
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Wow, 70s this week Will, incredible. Again this easily illustrates the gigantic differences in climates between the Midwest and West. I've had daffodils blooming for about a week(opening soooo slowly), so 'Spring' may have started, but it will be some three months before any spruce push and perhaps July before we see a single day over 70 degrees. Our daytime highs in May can be similar t the daytime highs we have in February, depending on the year.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 12:15PM
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GrapeSocks(5b (NE IL))

Hi LadyLotus and Firefighter Will! Thanks for the warm welcome. FF Will, I whole-heartedly agree with every word you said up there.

So, real life kept me busy for a few days, but I'm back to give you the 411 on my soil. This is what I've found so far:

When digging out and amending some perennial beds in the yard, the top 8 to 12 inches is a pretty well-drained clay loam, but below that is some pretty solid orangey-brown super hard clay. Along the house foundation, it's the same thing but there's a lot of rocks in that clay. My property is graded so that the water flows away from the house along the sides of the property down to a drainage easement at the rear of the property. When our Ash tree was taken out at the end of April a few years ago, you could see a lot of water about 2 feet down. The tree was maybe 2 or 3 feet up from the drainage easement along the rear of the property. This is not a major slope; my house sits only 3 feet higher than that rear easement.

The intended area to plant the three 'Blue Totem' is along the side of the property (probably about 2 1/2 to 3 feet in from the fence) but about 12 feet up from the back easement. It's seems to be high up enough that the grass is not too spongey there in the spring.

This all led me to geek out a bit and research how the roots grow on a spruce. It turns out that they grow surface roots as opposed to a tap root. Now I don't know how deep surface roots actually go, but the roots should do fine until they hit that hardpan. But then again, you see trees growing in rocky hillsides, so roots obviously have a way to find an opening and squeak in.

Which leads me back to the statement about "it's not the freeze, it's the frozen water around them." Logically, anything closer to the surface will be more vulnerable. Sounds like I need to mulch heavily and take Ladylotus' advice and protect them for the first year. Based on what I've read around here, a smaller plant will have a better shot at acclimating to this environment.

Can you tell I've put a lot of thought into their location? Now I'm just waiting for the utility lines to be marked. Hope you all will let me know if I'm about to make a big mistake. Failure is not an option!!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 11:24AM
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