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Plant Care & Installation

The following instructions contain basic information on the care of our plant material. The biggest mistakes we find in plant care is watering too much and planting too deep. Please review these instructions and if you do have any questions or concerns regarding care and maintenance of plant material, please call us at the nursery.

The first growing season is very important!The first growing season is very important in getting your new plants established.


We at The Swartz Nurseries, Inc. try to grow & sell the best quality nursery stock possible. This plant material, planted in a good location and with proper growing conditions, should continue to thrive after transplanting. However, we have no control over the plants growing conditions after they leave our nursery. This information tries to list planting & maintenance procedures you should follow to insure your plants will grow well in your home landscape.

SITE SELECTION. Select the right plant to grow in the location you have chosen. Factors such as, locations with heavy clay vs. well drained soil, sun or shade, is the soil wet or dry and is it far enough from structures & other plants when mature, should determine what type of plant you select.

PLANTING-HOLE PREPARATION. Dig a hole at least one foot wider than the root ball. For trees & larger plants being planted in poor soil, a much wider hole is better. A hole twice as wide as the root ball is sometimes recommended. The hole should be dug no deeper than the root ball. It is very important to plant the tree or shrub so that the top of the root ball & ‘root flare’ is at, or slightly above the existing grade. This is very important in poorly drained soils.

plant care tree specClick for larger viewMost plants we sell are container grown or B&B (Balled & Burlaped).

With container grown plants, slide them out of the plastic pot. Use a pointed object to separate or cut & spread out the roots that often circle the root balls exterior.

B&B plants are field dug either by hand or tree spade. The root ball is wrapped in burlap and the trees often have a wire cage for support.

Once the plants are adjusted properly, and the tree or shrub is in the hole, cut all twine. Either cut off the top third of the burlap or tuck it down into the hole. Make sure twine and burlap is completely removed around the trunk. Failure to do so can girdle the tree. Burlap left above the ground will wick moisture away and dry out the root ball. Trees in wire baskets should have the wire, burlap and twine removed from at least the upper third of the root ball. We recommend placing several burlap or tarps on the ground. Place the best soil on one tarp and the poorest subsoil on another. There should be extra soil after the plant is installed and the poor subsoil can then be discarded.

FINISHING PLANTING. back-fill two-thirds of the hole with the existing soil and by cutting- in & widening the top edge of the hole. In general, do not enrich the soil with compost or peat. In extremely sandy soils, peat or compost may be added to increase water retention. Our soils locally are typically clay and do not need such amendments. Because the tree’s roots will eventually spread out much farther than the original hole, amending only the backfill will not solve the soil problems facing the tree if the soil is poor. Add water to the partially filled hole and let it soak in. Next, fill the hole the rest of the way and water again. Fertilizer is not needed at the time of planting.

A slightly raised berm can be left around the outside of the hole on larger trees & shrubs to make watering easier.

Tree wrap is not usually recommended on newly planted trees anymore, but can be useful on trees subject to rabbit & rodent damage.

MULCHING. Mulch helps keep the soil cool, moist, moderate’s temperature, helps prevent mower damage, improves the appearance of the planting area, and reduces weed competition, all of which are important in root growth. Cover the soil around the newly planted tree with a 2-4” layer of organic mulch. Keep mulch 1-2” away from the tree trunk so that heat and moisture are not trapped against the bark of the plant. Leaf litter, bark chips, shredded bark, pine straw, cocoa bean hulls, and compost make excellent mulch materials. While not as desirable, a stone mulch with a porous weed barrier underneath can be used. Care must be taken to be sure there is good drainage around the plant.

WATERING.In areas with heavy clay soil, over watering is the main reason plants do not survive transplanting. You have to check the soil below the surface around your plants to see how moist it is before watering. Most plants cannot tolerate the soil being wet all the time. Small container grown plants may have to be watered every 2-3 days in hot weather for the first several weeks after planting because they are grown in a bark soil mix which can dry out very rapidly. Larger shrubs and most trees should only be watered once per week, taking rainfall into account. It is important to thoroughly soak the ground and then let it dry out before watering again. Each plant should be watered with a hose set at a slow trickle near the base of the plant. You should allow deep moisture penetration without water run off. Depending on the size of the plant material, the plants may need to be watered for several minutes to as much as an hour. Watering may be delayed due to weather, but most plants need a rain of at least one inch to soak the soil deep enough to reach the deeper roots. Be sure to water well into the fall, as maintaining adequate moisture is absolutely essential to survival. Check the soil a couple of times a week to see if more water is needed. The soil should be moist (but not soaking wet) down to a depth of six inches or so. Keep newly transplanted trees well-watered for one to two years after transplant.

Swartz staff can help with plant site selection.FERTILIZING. It is not usually necessary to fertilize, but applications for new transplants can result in stronger, healthier plants. After plants are well established and fairly mature, less fertilizing is needed, unless a nutrient deficiency is observed. Certain plants may have problems because the soils in this area has a high pH. This condition is difficult to reverse, but using sulfur based fertilizers should improve soil conditions.

STAKING. It is not necessary to stake newly planted trees less than four inches in diameter in home landscapes. The tree flexing in the wind strengthens the trunk as it grows. Trees four inches or larger, trees in windy areas, or those at risk for vandalism or mower damage should be staked. We do not recommend staking most plants. The stakes and guy lines often do more damage to the plants than any benefits that may be gained by staking. Stakes and support wires must be removed after one year.

SPRAYING. Most insect & disease problems are mainly cosmetic and do not seriously affect the health of the plants. When spraying is necessary, it is very important to only use the right amount of the appropriate spray at the proper time to avoid the overuse of pesticides. It often is wise to consult a qualified professional for the recommended treatment.

PRUNING. Severe pruning should not be necessary for most plants if the right type of plants were placed in the proper location. It is important to maintain the plants natural form with only light pruning to remove undesirable growth. To prune properly, selective pruning with a hand shears is recommended, rather than regular trimming with a head shears or electric trimmer. Most plants which need major pruning should be trimmed in the early spring.

Spring flowering plants should be trimmed shortly after they flower so as to not affect next year’s flowering.

Some summer blooming plants such as potentilla, hydrangea and many spirea flower better if trimmed back in early spring.

Evergreens should usually be trimmed in early summer when their new growth is still soft and easy to trim. Pruning evergreens in the fall can make them more likely to suffer winter injury.

Most trees are best trimmed in the winter season because it is easier to see what branch structure needs to be removed when their foliage is off. Improper and excessive pruning can greatly affect the appearance of your landscape plants and it is often wise to consult a qualified professional to properly prune your plants. The Kenosha/Racine UW Extension offices are a good source for many publications on how to care for your plants.