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Volume 15, Issue 41 ~ October 11 - October 17, 2007

Welcoming Home New Plants

Give new flora a breath of fresh air

Early fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. The plants have time to establish new roots before the ground freezes in winter, and come spring, the plant is ready to grow. The trick to adopting new plants into your home or landscape is to water consistently but with restraint.

The biggest mistake overzealous gardeners can make is to irrigate daily as excessive watering kill plants. Last week as I sold persimmons at the Deale Farmer’s Market, a gardener told me that she planted a Japanese maple in the spring; it was dead by June. She replaced it with a clump of heritage birch that was dying also. I queried about the drainage around the plant. “Fine,” she said. “Water never stays in the area even after a heavy rain.”

My next question was, how often do you water the plants? She watered every day with a sprinkler at the end of a hose, plus hand-watering in the afternoon, especially on hot says.

Over-watering can be fatal because the roots of plants need oxygen to survive. Air contains 21 percent oxygen; fill the soil with water, and there’s no room left for oxygen to surround the roots. Without oxygen, roots die, especially if the plant is actively growing. Plants that are dormant — as most are from late fall through winter and early spring — can survive with their roots submerged in water. However, as soon as plants begin to grow, their roots must have access to oxygen. Only a few plants — cypress, cattails and buttonbush — can grow with their roots submerged in water.

If you plant in sandy soil, apply a half-inch of water in single applications twice weekly. On a clay or silt loam, apply one inch of water in a single application weekly. By following this watering practice you will be supplying adequate amounts of water and allowing excess water to drain. When you allow air to enter the soil for normal root activity, your plants can breathe easy.

The same rule of thumb applies to bringing plants indoors for the cooler season. Add enough water that five to 10 percent of what you add drains through the bottom of the pot. To keep this overflow from ruining your windowsill, use a saucer or carryout lid under the pot.

Monitor how wet the soil is before you offer a soaking. Too much water will cause them to die and rot, while not enough water will cause them to dehydrate. The ideal condition for growing plants is uniformly moist throughout the rooting medium. This means using a good rooting medium that is rich in organic matter, checking the soil to see if it is dry before applying water and adding sufficient water so that the excess drains through the bottom of each container.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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