8/3/2013 6:01:00 AM Column: Have green-thumb confidence in 6 easy steps
Courtesy photo Tiger Eyes Sumac, a new fern leaf variety with limey yellow foliage, is absolutely animal-proof.
Ken Lain The Mountain Gardener
As you might expect, I hear differing opinions on which of our local seasons is the best for planting. My suggestion is to check your weeds for the answer. It's a fact that, like the weeds coming alive in the rest of the landscape, monsoon-drenched gardens take off with new growth. Rain is the best "natural" nurturer for all plant life.
A full front-yard remodel has taken over the Lain casa, where patios, new irrigation, decorative walls, and soil preparation have been months in the making. Now, with the arrival of the monsoon rains, plants are going into the ground "fast and furious." Dozens of plants have gone into the gardens with confidence that none will fail.
Because of the harsh environment, mountain planting is not easy. That's why shortcuts to the planting process greatly increase a plant's mortality rate. Plant success is completely in the hands of the gardener, and that success often is attributed to a "green thumb," which in turn breeds confidence.
You too can have a green thumb's confidence with these six easy steps.
Step 1: Mountain roots grow just under the soil's surface. Even taproots take a 90-degree turn soon after trying to send a taproot straight down. Don't fight nature; work with it! The width of your planting hole should be three times the size of the plant's root ball and just a little bit deeper. Remove rocks, old roots and other debris from the soil. Any detritus larger than a golf ball should be removed from the planting site. A properly prepared planting hole is the second most overlooked step when planting.
Step 2: Composted mulch is essential in the planting hole. A plant bought from a garden center is grown in a soilless mix and its roots will not take to a yuck-filled, sterile planting hole. Blend together one shovelful of mulch for every three shovels of native soil. Use this mixture to back fill around the plant's roots. A new plant must adapt to the soil in its new landscape, but this blending ratio will insure that roots have a successful transition.
Step 3: The most overlooked step in mountain gardening is guaranteeing new plants a consistent water source. Sprinkle a few "Aqua Boost Crystals" at the bottom of the planting hole and add some to your blended mulch/soil mixture. Water holding crystals will ensure water is accessible to the plant. They also greatly reduce the amount of water needed to keep the plant going. As the water boosting crystals shrink and swell with water they provide roots with the space they must have to breathe and grow.
Step 4: Keep the roots exposed! Roots must breathe, so the roots you see exposed in the grower's pot should remain exposed after planting. Do NOT cover them with any Step 2 planting mixture. Do pack the mixture firmly around the roots to eliminate air pockets.
Step 5 - Happy plants are hungry plants, especially when first planted. For your plant's sake, make sure to stay away from strong synthetic foods. Each of my new plants receives a light dose of "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4, about one tablespoon for each gallon size of plant. For example: Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of 7-4-4- food on top of a 1 gallon-sized planting, 5 tablespoons of 7-4-4 food sprinkled on top of a 5 gallon planting. A simple step to acquiring gardening confidence.
Step 6: Transplanting a plant from its commercial container, nurturing and caring for it its entire life in your landscape is much like the mending and maintenance following the stress of open heart surgery. "Root & Grow" is like a liquid antibiotic for new plantings. It minimizes the stress of transplanting and encourages healthy root growth. Add this rooting liquid to the plants' normal water cycle at two-week intervals until new leaves and flowers make their debuts.
Weed advice: "Weed Beater Complete" is an amazingly effective product that combines weed killing and the prevention of subsequent outbreaks. Simply spread like a dry fertilizer over weed colonies, it means certain death to the nastiest weeds. A weed free yard follows within days of application! This two-in-one product also kills weed seeds at the same time. Most thorough results are noticed when it is applied while weeds are young, small and tender.
Tiger Eyes Sumac is one of the many plants in my newly-planted gardens. Its new growth is a lively chartreuse green that soon changes to yellow, both colors contrasting nicely with the rosy-pink stems. As eye-catching as these knee-high summer colors are, the dramatic effect of yellow, orange, and intense scarlet in autumn is unparalleled. The branches angle upward while the deeply cut leaflets drape downward, giving an oriental look. This great companion plant to the blues of Russian Sage is absolutely animal-proof!
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through wattersgardencenter.com.