Skip to main content

Selecting & Planting Shrubs

Debra’s work as an estate-gardening supervisor & business owner, contributes to her continued enthusiasm & respect for the natural world.


Make a list

Before heading to your local garden center or nursery, take some time to walk though your landscape with pad and pen and make some notes. In the areas you want to plant some new items, write down the size of the area you want to plant, as well as write down whether that area gets a half a day of sun, full day, or is mostly shade. Also note whether that area dries out quickly or stays wet…this fact will help you have more success in your planting choices. I usually take a spray paint can and mark these areas with circles or rectangles and when finished, walk thru the areas and visually see how everything is laying out.

Picking Out Your Plants

With list in hand, the shopping begins! At most garden centers, shrubs and ornamental trees will come in one to five gallon plastic pots, as well as ball and burlap.

When picking out your plants, check the plant tag to see what the plant requires…in regards to full sun, shade, dry or wet soil and how wide and tall the plant will eventually get.

When choosing a plant, I often will pull the plant away from the others and turn the plant to make sure it looks good from all sides. If buying plants that will be planted in a row, you will want to try to get ones that are close to the same size.

The above steps also apply to ornamental trees…since often times, trees can be be planted out in the open…it is particularly important to check the tag to see if that species will do well with cold, winter wind. An example would be the ornamental dogwood…they prefer being tucked away within a plant bed, next to a building…away from winter wind. On the other hand, some trees do well in full sun, such as your maples. It is always best to look for trees that have come from a nursery in your planting zone…they will usually do better.

Scroll to Continue

Planting Your Selections

First, a note for folks who may not be able to plant your purchases right away…if you will have to wait a few days before planting, store them in a somewhat shady area of your yard. Check daily to see if they are getting dry or are showing signs of wilting…water them thoroughly twice…and check on them at least every other day. Plastics pots dry out plants very quickly and balled and burlap plants can dry out quickly as well…of course, the exceptions would be your succulent plants…check the plant tag for instructions.

When planting, you want to dig a hole that is about twice the width of your root ball. If when you remove your shrub or tree from the container, the roots look crowded and packed too tight, it’s good to take a garden trowel or knife and make some vertical slices every few inches around the root system. They will have a better chance of branching out when growing if this is done.

The depth of your planting hole can be determined by placing the handle of your shovel across the hole and lining up where the stalk or trunk of the plant is level with the shovel handle. Either backfill or remove dirt to achieve the desired height. Before filling in the hole completely, fill up the hole with water…let that soak in, then fill it up again with water. Then fill in your hole with soil …try not to leave any air pockets void of soil…make sure the roots are packed pretty well.

Once your plant is in its new home, during spring, summer, and fall, it will need at least an inch of water per week…either through a good rainfall or hand-watering…if hand-watering, it’s best to water at the soil line, rather than at the top of plant. Remember over-watering can damage any plant, so monitor your new plant and you will soon understand its needs. Watering is best when it’s done in the mornings…this gives the plants time to process the water and can help prevent any fungus problems. Evening watering should be avoided if possible.

It’s always important to remember….that it usually takes a perennial, shrub, or ornamental tree about three years to start looking the way they look in garden magazines and books…be patient and with your care, you will be rewarded in the end!

These are a few tips that I have found to be useful…hope they help you in your gardening journey. Happy Gardening!


Related Articles