Plant Skyrocket Juniper timing

vladn2000March 8, 2010

Hi All,

I am planning to plant 14 Skyrocket junipers around March 15. I am just south of Denver (6100 elevation) -- junipers will be planted on the south side with plenty of sun and pretty warm microclimate.

I ordered them from Evergreen Nursery ( and they do offer an option to hold on your order and ship it at leater date. They ship plants kind of bare root, but with a little more soil attached to roots compared to "pure" bare root.

I am planting too early ? Should I wait a couple of weeks ?

Thanks for your help !

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Dan Staley

Your soil will tell you when you can plant. If it is all gloppy and gooey (technical terms ;o) ) and does not crumble in your hand, it is too early. Cold clays can foster rots in fine roots and set transplants back or occasionally injure/kill them.

[/Mr Cautious ex-landscaper]


    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 2:33PM
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I am afraid it will be too difficult for me distinguish if the soil is gloppy and gooey from recent snowstorm or if it's an indication that I am planting my junipers too early, I am not that technical :)

Is there a better indication when it might be the right time to plant -- a date maybe, technically I am pretty good with dates :)

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 3:16PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

LOL, Im not sure IÂm gonna be much more help than Dan then, but let me try!

On another thread I replaced DanÂs "gloppy and gooey" technical terms with my own technical term: mud balls! In other words, go out to where youÂre going to plant them, dig down in a little bitÂseveral inchesÂand take some soil out of the hole. If you wind up with a mud ballÂor worseÂin your hands, itÂs TOO wet! When you can take some soil out of the hole and squeeze it between your fingers and it easily crumbles, then the soil is dry enough to plant in. So I just said the same thing Dan did, but does it help at all saying it that way? ItÂs kinda just one of those things you need to get a "feel" for. As I also said on the other thread, if youÂre not sure the soil is dry enough when you do the "mud or crumble" test, wait at least a week and test it again.

Recent wet weather and melting snow around here would lead me to believe your soil is probably too wet at this point. Mine is too wet up here on the north end, and you usually get considerably more snow down south of Denver than I do up here. With the cool weather weÂre expecting for this next week, if you can delay shipment for a couple weeks, IÂd probably recommend doing that. If you get them now, or whenever you get them, you can store them in a cold (but not freezing hard) place until youÂre able to plant them out, so if you do get them and the soilÂor weatherÂmakes it difficult to impossible to plant them right away, all is not lost.

When you are getting ready to plant, I recommend testing your soil in several places where youÂre going to plant since planting that many will obviously cover a pretty large area, and since the soil can vary a lot from area to area.

Did that help at all?

P.S. If it didnÂt, how can we try to help moreÂbut a specific date isnÂt gonna happen since nobody knows what our wild and wacky Rocky Mountain weather is gonna do.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 4:33PM
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Your post indeed helped a lot -- I think I now understand the reasoning for need to be cautious with "gloppy and gooey" soil -- while we are still "freezing at night" type of weather, the gooey soil is more likely to freeze and damage the roots. Am I right here ?

Following your advice I delayed shipment by 3 weeks (ETA 4/2) -- I am still going to do the gooey soil test, but since we are almost out of "below 0" nights at this point (early April), I think it should be pretty safe to plant even if do have a bit of gooey soil, did I get it right ?

If I may ask one more question: do these rules apply to all trees/bushes ? We are going to be planting 30 Austrian pines (1 foot seedlings) in very early April (we have a big property) -- we also just picked up about a dozen hybrid tea rose bushes at Lowes (nicely priced BTW). Should we use the same "crumbling test" for Austirans and roses as well ?

Thanks for your help !

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 5:14PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Close, but no cigar! The main reason for not planting in soil thats too wet is because the soil particles in wet soil pack together much more tightly than they do with moist soil, and that excludes the "air pockets" that are needed in the soil for the rootsplant roots need air as much as we do! ;-)

Heres how I put it in that other thread: If you work in the area and plant when its too wet, itll become badly compacted, and when it dries out youll wind up with something akin to concrete.

Thats especially true out here where most of us have some degree of clay, which, because of the nature of the clay particles, tends to naturally pack together much more tightly than the soil in, say, the Midwest where they have nice loamy black soil. So mostly youre just trying to keep from creating a bunch of clay bricksunless youre trying to build a house, that is! And as I implied above, you dont want to be walking around too much in areas where youre gonna plant when the soil is really wet either since that just tends to pack the whole area down, potentially making it harder to work in when you start digging.

The cold could be a factor, but for the most part I think that as long as the plants are well hardened off that wouldnt be as much of a problem as compacted soil would be, tho I agree with Dan that if something was planted and then just sitting in cold, wet clay soil for too long it could cause problems. If your soil is dry enough when you plant them, they should be just fine even if it stays cold out. When you plant them, water them in well, and then dont water again until the soil just BELOW the bottom of the roots "crumbles." Dig down into the soil right NEXT TO where theyre planted to do the crumble test to figure out when they need to be watered again after theyre planted (dont dig into the backfill soil). If you keep the surface of the soil on the level of the existing roots wet all the time, the roots have no incentive to grow deeper in search of water, so your watering pattern should be to gradually stretch out more and more between waterings as they start to grow. That promotes new, deep root growth, which is what will make them good, healthy plants/trees, and will make them as drought tolerant is possible.

And, yes! The "dry enough" soil rule applies to anything and everything youre going to plant. The "crumble test" is a really good way not only to determine when the soils dry enough to plant in it, but its also a great test to decide when plants need to be watered, as I explained above. It works really well when people are having watering problems and cant figure out when or how much to water.

To establish good watering timing, dig down into the soil in the area in question, either to the approximate bottom of the existing roots or 6-8" downwhichever comes first. Take some soil out of the bottom of the hole and squeeze it in your hand.

~ If it packs together and doesnt easily crumble, the soil is wet enough. Wait several days and dig againin a new spot.

~ If it packs together and then easily crumbles between your fingers, its about time to waterdeeply.

~ If it doesnt pack together at all, its way, way too dry. Water deeply, wait 24 hours and repeat.

When you do this 2 or 3 times in a particular area, youll get a pretty good feel for how often you need to water to keep the deep soil wet enough and let the top several inches of the soil dry out enough to establish healthy plants.

And to water most of our clay soils "deeply" you need to water slowly, which means either with a sprinkler with a fine spray, or watering for short (10-15 minute) periods of time and waiting an hour or two between the short periods. If the water is put down too quickly much of it will run off and not really soak inagain, because of the microscopic nature of clay soil.

If you want to find out if youve watered deeply enough, wait 24 hours after watering and then do the dig-down-and-check-your-crumble test again, always digging in a different spot since loosened soil wont accurately reflect the moisture in the "undug" soil. If it doesnt crumble any differently than it did before you watered, you didnt water deeply enough. If its adequately watered, it shouldnt crumble easily anymore.

Since youre going to be planting so much I just thought I may as well post the whole "lesson!" Let me know if something isnt clear.

It sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you this year! Happy digging!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 7:14PM
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"Close, but no cigar!" should be as good as it gets since I don't smoke :)

Essentially what you are saying is: do not plant when the soil is too wet, regardless of the season, and during cold season in particular. Totally understand the reasoning for that, though my computer mind (I do software programming for living) says: but you are going to soak it up with water anyway after planting !!!

I do, however, wonder if "gloppy and gooey" soil issue can be addressed by:

1. Digging the hole 2-3 days before planting and allowing both hole and filler soil to dry out into crumbling state.
2. Adding polymer into filler soil, this should theoretically expand while sucking out the moisture, then contract and leave good air pockets.

As far as checking for moisture by doing dig out tests. I don't think it will be practical due to the number of plants. I have this moisture meter device which seems to work very nicely:

Any reason I should not use it in lieu of dig out test ?

Thanks again for taking time to answer my questions !

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 2:27PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

~ "Essentially what you are saying is: do not plant when the soil is too wet, regardless of the season, and during cold season in particular. "

Oh, yeah! You get the cigar this timeeven if youre not gonna smoke it! ;-)

~ "Totally understand the reasoning for that, though my computer mind (I do software programming for living) says: but you are going to soak it up with water anyway after planting !!!"

How about this!

IF: you plant them when the soil is too wet
THEN: when you backfill the hole youll be compacting it without even realizing it because that "just happens" with wet clay soil.

IF: you plant them in soil thats dry enough to work with
THEN: when you water them in well the water will cause the soil to settle some, but there wont be any actual "force" (your hands or shovel) compacting it, and the water by itself wont be enough of a force to actually squeeze all the air out of the soilsettling the soil is different than compacting it.

So if you
DO: the crumble test when youre planting, the roots will get both the water and the air the roots need, so your plants will be a lot happier!

~ "As far as checking for moisture by doing dig out tests. I don't think it will be practical due to the number of plants."

Well the scope of your planting increased exponentially while I was posting that last response! Right after I posted it I saw your THIRTY tree thread! For the scale youre talking about now, no, the moisture test isnt gonna be very useful, but its still a good thing to know for your gardening in general so you can get an idea of if youre plants are getting enough waterespecially if you start having problems, since the large majority of gardening problems are caused by too much or too little water. So tuck it away in a data file somewhere and hang onto it!

~ "I have this moisture meter device which seems to work very nicely"

I didnt used to have much confidence in moisture meters, but that was a long time ago and I think theyve probably come out with some more accurate and usable ones by now, so that could work out pretty well, as long as you can stick it into the soil more than a couple inches. Whats happening in the top few inches of soil is pretty much irrelevant to the moisture level down where the roots are. I very much agree with the theory, if its working, dont knock it, soif it working for you.........

I still recommend doing the crumble test in a couple spots before you start planting. Since clay soil can differ SO much, a meter isnt going to tell you how friable your particular clay is, and the crumble factor is more important than the actual degree of moisture.

~ Re: "Digging the hole 2-3 days before planting and allowing both hole and filler soil to dry out into crumbling state."

Id recommend against that for a couple reasons, but David actually recommended it on the other thread, so Im gonna go over there and read what he said again when I finish here! Id recommend against it because the very fact that youre digging in the soil when its "too wet" will compact it, and I suspect youll find that the soil you dig out of the hole and have sitting next to it will harden into hard, unusable lumps after a few days. At least thats whats happened to me in the past when I started turning over my veggie garden when the soil was still too wet. But then again, that happens in part of my veggie garden where the clay is heavier, and not so much in other parts, so it all gets back down to the nature of the clay soil that you happen to have. Maybe Ill develop a split personality and change my opinion when I go over and reread Davids post! But I know for sure I wont be digging in my veggie garden anymore till it gets to the crumble point. It was just too hard to try to un-lump the hard lumps once they got hard, and I actually wound up throwing most of the bigger ones in the dumpster.

Im gonna comment on the polymer issue too, but Im gonna do that over on the "enlarged scope" thread!


    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 7:27PM
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david52 Zone 6

Soil drainage is reasonably site specific, and there's a difference between tiny seedlings and larger, potted up trees.

So when I talk about pre-digging holes, the best time to do it is in the fall - I try to do this with the bigger potted fruit trees, but largely because 'that perfect spot' turns out to have some gigantic rock 6" underground, or as I said, its a 40 mph wind and sleet the day you want to plant them. Depending on the size of the root ball, this can also turn out to be a lot more work than it seems. I always get a kick out of watching those gardening shows where the star effortlessly digs down into two feet of top soil and within 30 seconds, has some huge hole. Here, I need pry bars, sledges, and an hour.

With these Soil Conservancy pine trees, we're talking a root ball thats 1.5" square at the top, maybe 8" deep - so its more a question of removing a shovel full of dirt, putting it to the side, plopping in the seedling, and as often as not, the removed soil dries out into some indestructible clod, so its easy to just scrape a bit of top soil in to fill the hole. Even then, dig 30 of them, and there will be surprises.

My place has ridiculous drainage - I forget and leave an irrigation hose on, come out the next morning and there's a foot of water, turn off the hose, and its gone in 15 minutes. So I'll defer to those with more experience on the front range. :-)

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 9:09AM
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Skybird, David !

Thanks a lot for taking your time to teach us newbs ! :)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 2:35PM
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Vladn2000, how did your skyrockets take? I was going to get some this year. I'd prefer getting them locally but would have had a hard time finding them in the small size. Did you look locally? I guess though if yours are doing well, no need to worry.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 9:50PM
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