First winter for conifers

Connie22(8)August 30, 2012

My first post here so hope to get it right.

I am in Zone 8. The yard is heavy red soil, We have planted 20 pretty large conifers,,, Pine, Fir, Aborvities,redwood and spruce. Some are 10+ feet tall,,, some are 5'.

Every one we planted we dug the hole a little large and put garden soil/mulch (the bags said for trees and shrubs) and an organic starter, that was mixed in with the mulch and some of the local soil. We have watered them like crazy!The ones that were put in late spring are doing great. We still have 11 to go this weekend.

As fall comes on, what suggestions do you have for us? Do we feed them? Extra mulch? Does it matter when they were planted? (some were late spring some will be this weekend)

10 of them were "reduced for quick sale"very tall ones,,, they were very root bound in the pots, but got a good deal!

I really want them to all survive and look great next year so any input as to what will give them a good chance of making it the first winter in the ground would be helpful.

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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Is your soil so heavy that you can mold it into balls in your hand w/o it falling apart? I ask because otherwise (and you're going to get an earful from everyone here) it's not wise to add mulch and garden soil, to any plantings.

There is however an exception in that if it's so sticky and will not "break up" ever then it's OK to add a little bit of peat moss, but, never garden soil in a bag. Garden soil is heavy, like clay. And mulch should never be added during planting. Mulch should only be used as a top dressing for weed control/better water control/keeping the roots cool.

I really don't think you should do anything with the trees you planted thus far, until next year, early spring. That mix you created is going to create a situation where the roots from the trees won't wish to spread to your native soil and the result is that they stay "compressed" in that little area you dug for a planting hole.

Now to address one last thing: roots that you may not have worked correctly on your initial plantings...

When you re-plant next spring, you're going to need to fix any roots that are circling. Think of the situation as hair on someones head that is all twisted and hasn't been washed and starting to turn into dreadlocks. Sure, a strange example, however, you're going to need to straighten all those roots as if you were going to straighten the hair on someone's head. This is very important. As for your current pots that are rootbound, you're going to need to do major surgery on the the roots.

To plant:
Do not use more than 1/3 peat moss with your native soil.

Dig the hole 1.5 or MORE times larger than the diameter of the rootball. With a pick axe, drive it all around the hole to create openings for which the roots will have a place to go, after the planting has been completed.

In your initial hole & with the backfill mix of native soil and peat moss, build a small berm directly in the middle of the hole so that when the untangled mass of roots sits on the berm of soil, it is at the proper planting height, which should be slightly above ground-level. Carefully spread all the roots so they are heading down the berm you created and are not crossing each other. It's OK to pack soil against roots that still want to curl or are not controllable (to hold them in place). Continue until all the root-system is spread evenly and until the planting is complete.


This is a lot of information, I understand.....

It's the only way to fly though.

You've invested not only money, but you've invested in success for many years to come. It would be a shame to see your money and your inexperience bring about failure.

I hope this message greets you well.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 5:34PM
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Thank you for the information,,, the soil will ball in your hands,,, and I did mix native soil with the addtional soil I put in the hole,,, When we purchaed the first ones, we were told to do this because what we purchased was so root bound in the pots,,, like I said they were clearance. and the initial ones I planted did get some great growth on them! it will be great to see what next spring brings for them!!!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 6:57PM
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Beg to differ on the mulch. Mixing a Pine Bark mulch that is the size of a small or medium nugget in the with the existing soil is very beneficial to the health of the soil. It could take 4-5 years to break down. At the end of that process you will have created structure to your soil that the roots will appreciate. I agree that shredded decorative mulch is of no use below ground, but faced with the nasty clay described I would not hesitate to amend at planting.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 6:12AM
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dcsteg(5 Shawnee, KS.)

Buying big in the pot is not a good idea. It is always tempting to have instant gratification from large plantings. Also stay away from clearance plants. They usually bring with them another host of issues. True you got a good deal and have an instant mature plants in your landscape that look good. Along with the good deal came an enemy that will bring you grief. The enemy that came along for a free ride was hidden in the pot.

Correcting this root bound issue is usually very difficult to do. Getting it just right and sorted out without removing to much requires some experience. The bigger the plant he more difficult to do. To much pruning and the plant won't acclimate because of shock. You did not root prune yours so they took off and look good now.

Your problem with the initial plantings remains. Uncorrected root bound issues. If left uncorrected plan on replacing them sometime in the future even though they look good now. Eventually they will choke themselves to death. Amending the planting only without fixing the other is a waste of time.

Follow Dax on his recommendations to fix this this issue to insure that survival will be permanent for a long time to come in your landscape.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 8:07AM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Missed the part about bagged (trees and shrub) amendment. I use the stuff also.

You need to fix those roots!

No fertilizer.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 8:31AM
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Just want to clarify,,, Prior to putting the trees in the holes we did "break up" the root balls,,, put holes in them and cut the bottom of the balls to release the roots,,, what you are saying is to also "drill holes" in the dirt in the hole,,, so like a honeycomb kind of thing?

that is a new concept for me but it does make sense!!! Yes we really don't like our soil! Should see what the dogs look like when it rains!!! ugh

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 10:15AM
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