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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

Most shrubs and trees sold in nurseries are grown and sold in containers. It is interesting to note that before World War Two ended plants were not sold in containers. When you bought shrubs and trees then you either bought plants bare root during the winter dormant season, or you bought them balled and burlaped. They were grown in the ground, dug up during the dormant season and the roots were wrapped in burlap, which helped to extend the selling season beyond the dormant time. These balled and burlaped plants had to have the burlap part buried in a temporary holding bin of sawdust until purchased. They were then sold, removed, and taken to the planting site.

The end of the war found nurserymen with millions of cans left over from food rations that were no longer needed. The enterprising nurserypeople punched holes in the bottom of these containers and started to grow the nurerystock right in the can. This increased the time available to sell these plants from the dormant season to year round. The nursery trade also started to create special soil mixes to put in the can. This mix created the perfect environment to grow plants. This was the beginning of the modern practices that have allowed us to plant year round, without having to dig the plant out of the ground to sell. What a long way we’ve come.

Before you purchase a containerized tree or shrub, make sure it is not rootbound. If roots are swelling above the soil level, wrapped around the trunk, or coming out the holes in the bottom of the can you might want to pass on that plant. Plants that are not rootbound establish better than rootbound ones.

When digging the hole, dig it just as deep as the container, but about three times wider. Slope the holes side just a bit so that the hole is wider near the top to encourage the roots to grow outward into the soil. Next slide the rootball out of the container. If it’s hard to get out try laying the can on its side and try tapping on the side of the container. This will loosen the rootball just enough to slide out. It wasn’t that long ago when you had to cut the sides of the metal can’s to allow the removal of the rootball. I remember many cut fingers from the sharp metal sides.

Loosen and untangle any circling roots. Remember we’re not tearing the rootball apart, just loosening it. Set the plant in the empty hole and check the depth. The top of the rootball should be even or just slightly above the surrounding ground. Fill the hole with the native soil that has been blended with at least fifty percent quality planting mix. Add a starter fertilizer high in phosphorus at this time. Firm the soil around the buried rootball to remove air pockets that would dry out the roots. Create a water berm several inches high just beyond the rootball. Water thoroughly, filling the bermed reservoir and letting it drain. Repeat this process several times waiting for the water to drain each time.

Stake trees at this time if they might blow over in the wind. Insert two stakes into the soil on either side of the tree, at least a foot from the trunk. Tie the tree with tree ties loosely, allowing the tree to move in the wind, but not blow over. Finally, mulch the soil with a two to three inch layer of fir mulch or shredded red cedar. Don’t let the mulch sit against the trunk, but put enough on to cover the drip line of the tree.

Planting shrubs and trees nowadays is so much easier than in the past. Just be sure to follow the above guidelines to ensue a healthy, thriving plant that will give years of pleasure.

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