The days are getting longer, and depending on where you live, there may already be signs of spring around – some early blossoms on hardy trees, or bulbs pushing through the ground. With spring coming, our minds turn to our gardens, and top on the list for many is planting trees and shrubs. If you are developing or renewing your garden, then planting a hedge or screen could easily be top of your list, and in that case, you are probably thinking about Thuja Green Giant, because it is the most popular evergreen in the country for hedges and screens, in all but the coldest or driest areas.
Is Spring a Good Planting Season?
There are two prime seasons for planting – spring and fall. Both have their good and bad points, but for evergreens in most of the country, spring is the best time. Evergreens keep their leaves through winter – and so they continue to lose water from them in winter too. This means that newly-planted trees can get into difficulty in winter, because their roots have not yet reached into deeper soil, where they can get plenty of water to satisfy the leaves, even when much of the ground is frozen solid. Evergreens planted in fall are already at a disadvantage, especially in cold areas.
The main advantage to spring planting is that your new plants have a whole growing season ahead of them before the onset of winter. They will be much better established, and the risk of winter damage is greatly reduced.
The one drawback to spring planting is cold wet soil, which encourages disease and slows rooting. The best indicator that your soil is warm enough for planting is signs of new growth on your plants – not just the occasional early-starter, but the majority of plants. In warmer, active soil, your new Thuja Green Giant will get off to a flying start and start to show signs of growth almost immediately. Delay your planting until you see that the soil is warm enough.
What is the Value of Soil Preparation?
While waiting for your new plants to arrive, put some time into soil preparation. There is nothing you can do that with a bigger pay-back, or that will make a bigger difference to the speed of growth, general health, and longevity of your plants. Well-prepared soil encourages rapid, deep rooting, and leads to quicker establishment. It also provides the nutrients and soil volume needed to maximize growth. If you want to see 3 feet of growth each year, for those vital first few years, then good soil preparation is the essential first step.
Soil preparation for planting has two main goals. The first is to open up the soil, especially the deeper layers, to exploring roots. The bigger the volume of soil available, the greater the amount of nutrients and water that will be available. It’s like growing a plant in a pot. If the pot is small, the plant’s growth will be stunted. If you make a small planting hole in hard ground, then the roots cannot spread, just like being in a pot.
The second goal of soil preparation is soil improvement. This has indirect benefits to the plant, as a major improvement we look for is drainage and aeration. This means that water moves more quickly out of the soil, but it doesn’t mean the soil becomes drier faster. That sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. In between the solid parts of the soil, made up of minerals and clay, are spaces. Large spaces allow water to flow out under the pull of gravity. Smaller spaces hold water under the pull of capillary action – that effect that pulls water up a narrow glass tube you probably learned about in school. An ‘improved’ soil has large spaces added, so more water flows out, to be replaced by air and oxygen that the roots need for growth. The smaller spaces are still there, and they continue to hold water for the plant to use. As well, the material you add works like a sponge, holding water, but not blocking drainage.
Also, improving air and water movement stimulates the micro-organisms that turn organic material into plant nutrients, so more are available, and your plants grow better. Some sources of organic material are richer in potential nutrients than others, and a richer material – such as animal manure – will feed those micro-organisms much better, and so make more nutrients available. But even low nutrient materials, like peat moss, will do a lot for your soil. You can always add more nutrients directly if needed, by using a fertilizer.
Soil Preparation for Thuja Green Giant
The best way to improve any soil, from dusty sand to heavy clay, is with organic material. You can use almost anything, from rotted animal manure to peat moss, but don’t use woody material that has not been thoroughly composted. The best material is coarse and textured, because we want a material that will first of all last in the soil, and secondly create big spaces. Very fine materials decompose too quickly, so the effect is short-lived. Ask around your neighborhood and see what is available locally. Stop at the best garden you see and ask them. Gardeners love to help each other! Your local garden center is also a good place to ask for advice.
If there is lawn on the area you are planting, set your mower very low and cut as short as you can. You don’t need to remove the old grass. Your local garden center should have ‘starter fertilizer’ for hedges and evergreens. Find one that is granules, not a liquid, and use that as directed on the bag. An alternative is superphosphate or bone meal. Whatever organic material you are using, spread a layer at least 2 inches deep over the ground. If you are planting a hedge or screen, spread these materials along the area in a strip at least 3 feet wide.
Now rent the biggest roto-tiller you can find (and handle) and go to it. Go over the ground two or three times, until you are as deep as you can go, and everything is mixed up. It is best to do this a while before planting, and if it rains in between, all the better. You will also need to rake the area level, and walk over it a few times, to even out the soil, so you don’t get area sinking after you plant.
Now You’re Set to Go!
That’s it – you are ready to plant. We will make that the subject of a blog in a few weeks, when we are closer to the best season. You can prepare the ground as soon as it isn’t frozen, so that job can be done and out of the way, while you wait for your plants to arrive.
If your soil is poor, then a product that adds micro-organisms and stimulates root growth can be a great extra to use. These are usually added as you plant, rather than during soil preparation, but they can be ordered from many suppliers along with your plants.