How to Plant Container-Grown Trees & Shrubs

More and more trees and shrubs these days arrive in containers.
Container-Grown Plants

Starting plants, like this
Lace-cap hydrangea, often grow
better in containers.

Some nurseries raise trees in containers from the outset, and the first time they're ever in the ground and develop roots freely is when you plant them in your yard. Before you purchase a containerized tree or shrub, check to see if it's rootbound. Be suspicious if roots are swelling above the soil level, wrapped around the trunk, or trailing out the bottom of the container. Ask the salesperson to lift the plant out of its container so you can see if the roots are wrapped in circles around the soil ball. Choose a plant that's still comfortable in its pot. It will be less stressed and more willing to wait longer in case planting is delayed.

The idea is to encourage the tree's or shrub's roots to leave their pampered environment of loose, rich container soil and venture forth to find food and water on their own in a strange, more daunting soil. Don't put any special soil amendments in the hole or add them to the fill soil. They might encourage roots to stay put and wrap around themselves.

Withhold fertilizer, which mainly fuels foliage growth, while the tree or shrub concentrates on root growth. Once the planting is established and new stems and foliage appear, sprinkle some granular, slow-acting fertilizer over the root zone and let the rain soak it in. Use lots of organic mulch to keep the soil moist, and give the new tree or shrub plenty of moisture the first year or two. Water it in winter when the ground isn't frozen.

Time to Plant

Fall is the best time to plant many trees and shrubs. But spring is the next best time to plant and transplant and is preferable for certain trees, such as oaks, beeches, birches, and willows. You can plant those that come in containers almost any time the soil isn't frozen.

Continued on page 2:  Steps 1-5