It may be time for your landscape to receive a mini-makeover and to get a new look.  Perhaps some strategically placed shrubs will be what makes an outdoor living space pop.  Proper selection and installation is key to the future health of new shrubs.


There are several factors that need to be considered before installing new shrubs to the landscape.  Selecting plants carefully, based on the following points, will help with long-term success of the plant:

Climate – Be sure that the species are climate appropriate for your home. Here in Northeastern Tennessee/Southwest Virginia, we range from Zone 5B in the high mountains to 7A in the open plateau areas around Greenville. Keep in mind that a Zone 7 tolerant tree is not going to grow well in a chilly Zone 5 mountainside. I have seen Zone 7 plants grow successfully in Kingsport close to Eastman.


Environment  – Study the light level, acidity, and drainage of the planting site. All three of these factors are going to have a impact on the success of your new plants. Research your plants to make sure you are providing the correct setting for them. A shrub that loves sun is not going to perform well in an area with heavy shade. On that same note, a tree that loves wet feet is going to suffer in the heat of the summer if it doesn't receive adequate water.


Space – Account for the mature size of the plant before planting. This will eliminate the possible need for plant removal if the space is not adequate. Remember! They are babies today but they will grow up and out!


Inspect the plant – Check for mechanical injury (scars and open wounds), cold injury, condition and shape of the canopy, and examine the root system.


Now that essential considerations have been made, it is time to give the shrub the best chance for survival with proper installation techniques.  Fall and winter is an ideal time for planting shrubs.  The roots can develop before the tops begin to grow in spring.  The following are keys to proper establishment of container shrubs.

Root ball preparation – Remove the container from the root ball and inspect for circling roots.  If there are circling roots than make three or four cuts vertically to cut the roots.  I like to use a serrated bread knife or small saw to make my cuts. Pull some of the roots away so they will take on a new growth direction (massage the roots).  Also find the top most roots, sometimes they are covered by extra potting media.  Remove the extra potting media so the top most roots are exposed and become the top of the root ball.

Wider is better – Dig the hole two or three times the diameter of the root ball.

Proper depth – Make sure to dig the hole 10% less than the height of the root ball.  In poorly drained soils dig the hole 25% less than the height of the root ball.  The top most roots should be slightly above the native soils. More plants die of transplant death due to their owners burying them too deep when they are plants. I recommend leaving about an inch of the plant above the hole.

Planting the Plant – First and foremost, have some organic soil conditioner to use for your back fill. Good soil conditioners improve the structure of the soil by increasing the capacity to hold water, increasing aeration and adding nutrients; as well as releasing nutrients present in the existing soil and supplying food for microorganisms. This gives your new plants a leg up in getting roots established quickly. Make a mix of the soil conditioner with the soil from the hole (1/2 soil conditioner & 1/2 existing soil) to use for your backfill.


Mix up a batch of Ferti-Lome Root Stimulator and Plant Starter Solution 4-10-3 when you first plant your new trees & shrubs. This helps your new plants and transplants grow greener and with more vigor by using a combination of hormone type root stimulator and fertilizer. This stimulator promotes early root formation which in turn leads to stronger roots. It also lessens transplant shock. Mix according to the directions for the plant you are transplanting. Pour the diluted solution over the soil as the roots are being covered, making sure that the roots are wet with the solution.


Fill the hole with the soil mix half way and tamp the soil to settle.  Pour some root stimulator Fill the rest of the hole with the rest of the soil mix and tamp again to settle the soil.  Do not place any backfill soil or mulch on top of the root ball as it is crucial that water and air are able to be in contact with the roots.


Most important, create a "donut" reservoir for watering. You will want to leave your backfill just a bit lower than the rootball and the hole wall. This allows water to get directly to the new plant when it rains or when you give it a good soaking.


Mulch - Dress with your choice of mulch. Remember not to cover up the root ball and keep mulch away from the trunk of the plant. Mulch acts as an insulator providing warmth in the cold and coolness in the heat. It also helps to retain moisture that will aid in getting the new baby roots on their way.

Aftercare – Check your soil daily! If it's consistently dry, daily watering is a necessity, but otherwise, every other day should cover it. For the next two months, you'll only need to check two to three times a week and water accordingly. Adequate water is essential for newly planted shrubs and trees, but overwatering is one of the biggest reasons new plantings fail! Just be sure to check before you water.