Q. We got to purchase our first home earlier this year and tried our hand at gardening. The house had a few old, dead shrubs that we removed. When we went shopping we found a couple of small oleander plants that seemed like they’d fit the space and from the description, thought they’d be what we were looking for since they flowered. Well, they haven’t lived and when we went to pull them out, the root ball looked just like it did when we planted it. You could have slid the dirt part directly back into the container, no change at all! What did we do wrong and any suggestions on trying again? – Mr. & Mrs W.S., Albuquerque
Now don’t go getting disenchanted about the landscaping, you can – and I predict – will do better. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw.
Two thoughts come to mind about the plantings. First, were the receiving holes dug at least twice as wide as the container that held the oleanders? Or were they sort of snug, having just enough room to slide the root balls in the hole?
Then the often-asked question: Did you add any soil amendments to the soil that would offer the plants added nutrition?
Let’s say that yes, you dug the holes wide enough and did mix in amendment, so you’re ahead of the game in that sense.
Next, and I don’t think I mention this often enough, did you tease or “tickle” the root balls to gently splay the roots out? That usually helps the plant want to spread its gripping roots and keep them more convinced to not continue to grow in a circle. That way they are more able to find food and water.
Since you say the dead plants came up looking just like they did when you planted, I’m convinced the roots weren’t “tickled” at all. My bad for not reminding everyone to tickle the roots a bit to untangle them. This goes for anything you’re planting too, not just shrubs. Wee annual plants, the perennials, shrubs and trees will all benefit from a gentle but convincingly firm tickling of the roots as you plant.
Next I’m most curious as to the time of year you planted and how the new treasures were watered. It was wicked hot this year and if planted in June, July or August, the plants would have had a difficult time settling in.
Were the plantings watered by hand, filling up a moat that encircled the plants? If there is a drip system involved, does each plant have more than one emitter offered? Think about it. Suppose you have a drip system, each plant has a one gallon per hour emitter offered and you run the system, let’s say twice a week for 15 minutes at a time. That’s only one-fourth of a gallon or one quart of water offered at each watering. Not very much when you truly think about it.
I’d recommend at least two, better three, drip emitters per shrub, and having the system run for longer. An hour at a time would give the plants a better, deeper watering for sure. Those are the few things I thought might be the reasons the oleander failed.
As the season changes to autumn, know that in reality, it’s the best time of year to plant. The only “bad” thing about planting in the fall is the selection certainly isn’t as grand as it is in the spring. But it’s not so hot and the plants don’t have to work as hard to settle in.
Just remember to dig wider, amend the soil, tickle the roots a bit as you plant and offer enough water. You can be successful as long as you dedicate yourselves.
Historically, rose pruning is done around here the last two weeks in March.
Now, if your roses have gotten out of hand and are in the way, or have any canes or branches that are damaged, you should do a bit of pruning now. For any damaged cane or arm, you need to inspect closely and cut below the damage. Your aim is essentially amputation of the hurt piece. If the roses have grown onto a path or sidewalk, visualize the spot on the cane where it could be shortened, making the path safer. It’s recommended to cut at an angle just above a bud spot where leaves would grow from next season.
I’ve said it before, roses are sometimes peculiar, meaning if you go ahead and give them a good pruning this time of year, they just might think “Wow, I just got a hair cut, so I need to grow now!” Wait until next spring for the roses’ sake.
Water throughout the dormant season surely, but as far as pruning, WAIT.
Happy Diggin’ In.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.