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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Questions for the Week

Proper Watering and Care of Newly Established Plants

Has your water bill reached astronomical proportions? Maybe by evaluating how you water will result in more efficiently using available water, and at the same time, reduce the amount you are using.

First, check your application methods. There is no use in applying water any faster than the soil will soak it up. If applied faster than this, the surplus either flows into the street or else floods your neighbor. Sandy soil will usually absorb water almost as fast as it can be applied, but tight, clay soils will absorb water very slowly. Select the method of application that best fits your soil type. Drip irrigation systems for shrubs make the most efficient use of water for beds.

Second, use mulch wherever possible. A good mulch of grass clippings, pine bark or dry leaves conserves moisture, prevents compaction, keeps soil temperature lower and reduces weed population. In case weeds and grass do get a start, they are much easier to pull if mulch has been used. Periodically, check the depth of the mulch material. Organic mulches tend to decompose or sometimes wash away, so frequent checks and replacement when necessary will help conserve moisture.

While night-time watering can be conducive to development of plant diseases, watering is most efficient in the early morning and late evening when evaporation rates are lowest

Last, but by no means least, is the practice of doing a thorough job of watering each time it becomes necessary to irrigate. A thorough watering at 7 to 10-day intervals encourages deep root penetration and full utilization of the available soil moisture. Just because plants happen to wilt during the heat of the day doesn't mean the soil is dry. If plants remain wilted until morning, then the addition of water is warranted.

Regardless of the amount of your water bill, don't stop watering completely as plants can die due to moisture shortage during periods of high temperature and high wind movement. Just remember to use this precious resource as efficiently as possible.

One of the best uses of a valuable resource like water is to insure the survival of recently established plants. Summer is a critical period for recently planted shade trees and ornamental plants. Not yet completely recovered from the effects of transplanting, they often need special care to withstand drought conditions.

Water is the primary need of a recently established plant. Hot summer days and drying winds take a great deal of moisture from the leaves and stems. This water must be replaced through root absorption of soil water. When transplanting a balled-and-burlapped tree (roots of container grown trees and shrubs are not removed), most of its wide-spreading, deep-growing roots are cut. In its new location, the only water that a newly established tree can utilize is the water in the soil close that is to the tree. If this soil area becomes dry, the leaves wilt, turn brown and drop. The death of many branches or even the entire tree or shrub can follow.

For trees planted within the past year, it is wise to water at regular intervals. IF the soil is sandy, water once a week. If it is clay or loam, thorough watering every 10 days or 2 weeks should suffice. Using an open-end hose, regulate the water flow so there is no run-off, and let it flow until the soil around the tree is saturated.

It is also extremely important to control insects. Since even a few insects can cause severe damage to a newly planted tree, control measures should be applied promptly when insects are found. Applications of appropriate insecticides, following label instructions, are useful in controlling pests. Once the tree is established, promote steady vigorous growth of the tree through proper use of fertilizer. If the tree or shrub was worth planting, it is certainly worth the little extra effort required to keep it in good growing condition.

Planting Instructions for the Newly Planted Tree

The fact that thousands of trees die unnecessarily each year is very disturbing. After shelling out hard-earned cash and going to all the effort of digging and planting, many new tree owners then throw the ball game by failing to give proper post-planting care (pruning, mulching, fertilizing and watering).

We'll assume you've just planted, in good soil, an outstanding, well-adapted species such as Texas mountain laurel, Chinese pistache or cedar elm, and have avoided the common trap of the so-called fast-growing but very troublesome trees (those that are either poorly-adapted or subject to many insect and disease problems - examples such as Arizona ash, sycamore and chinaberry are but a few).

Now what are you supposed to do? What steps should you take to ensure your tree survives, re-establishes its root system and grows to be a beautiful specimen- Here's a hint—the first life-saving step involves pruning.

Your main objective with a brand new tree or shrub is to get it stabilized, keep it from going into severe transplant shock, until it can send new feeder roots into the surrounding soil and thus re-establish a viable, functioning root system.

Your biggest threat to survival at this point is that many times the top of your plant will transpire or lose water vapor faster than the new, often severely injured root system can absorb it ? regardless of how much moisture is in the soil. You simply don't have enough functioning roots to absorb the required amount of water. If this happens, the leaves wilt and drop and the plant eventually dies if corrective steps are not taken. The hotter, drier and windier is the weather, the worse the problem.

To prevent this excessive water loss from the top, prune it back to bring it more into balance with the damaged root system. Ideally, this pruning would have been done the same day you planted. It may also need to be done right now for trees planted this spring that are just now starting to wilt and/or scorch on the edges of the leaves. Remove l/3 to l/2 of the top from bare-root trees, as their roots are severely damaged during digging prior to shipment. Balled-and-burlapped (B&B) and container-grown trees are not subjected to such extensive root damage and thus transplant much easier. But even with B&B and container stock, I find that removal of about l/4 of the top aids in re-establishment, particularly during hot, dry weather.

In unusual cases, like planting during the middle of the summer, pruning and providing some form of temporary shade and wind protection, as well as misting their canopies several times daily, helps newly planted trees and shrubs a great deal.

You also need to mulch immediately after planting. Use grass clippings, leaves, straw, hay, compost, etc., to mulch a circle 4 feet in diameter, 4 inches thick. Replenish as required for the next 3 years.

This mulch will promote root growth, during both summer and winter, by moderating soil temperature (root growth slows in extremely cold or hot soils), conserving moisture, and reducing soil crusting after watering. One very important advantage of mulching is that it reduces grass and weed competition - letting grass grow right around new plants severely stunts their growth!

Be aware of this important fact: Many container-grown trees and shrubs are now grown in artificial or soil-less mixes (peat moss, pine bark and sand are the major components) that do a super job in wholesale nursery operations. But, they do need to be handled differently than plants grown in mixes containing actual soil.

First, they must be watered differently. The soil-less root ball may dry out rapidly even though the backfill or surrounding soil may be wet. This is a greater problem in windy weather, either winter or summer. When watering a recently planted tree or shrub, water slowly at the plant trunk to wet the root ball. You may have to water weekly, or even more often, if significant rainfall is not received.

Nutrition in soil-less growing media is often exhausted before the tree or shrub is transplanted. So you should fertilize at the time of planting (this is definitely a change from tradition but one well-founded by research data). Use about 3 tablespoons of a complete fertilizer(19-5-9 slow-release) for each gallon of container capacity (Example: 15 level tablespoons for a 5-gallon container). Approximately 1/3 of this fertilizer should be mixed with the fill soil and the remainder spread evenly around the planted tree or shrub and watered thoroughly.

Then, at monthly intervals through September, side-dress the plant with 1 teaspoon of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) per gallon of container capacity. Scatter fertilizer evenly over the soil surface around the newly planted tree or shrub and water in thoroughly. Don't let fertilizer contact plant stems or trunks.

This new system of plant care will yield amazing results in terms of improved survival, root re-establishment and overall plant growth. But it will work only if you mulch well and water religiously. If you don't water often enough, the roots of your plants may suffer fertilizer "burn."

Use this system correctly and you'll have the finest, fastest growing new trees of their type in the neighborhood.