Gift plant care through the winter

Last Updated: 
January 14, 2009

Sometimes people give landscape plants as holiday gifts. When is the
right time to plant that new shrub or tree?

If it is too cold or too wet, you may have to wait for warmer or drier
weather, advised Ross Penhallegon, Oregon State University Extension Service
horticultural agent.

"Container plants can be left outside in the container, in an area
protected from freezing," said Penhallegon. "Sawdust can be packed
around the container to provide insulation. The root balls of plants wrapped
in burlap should be buried in sawdust. Don't water the sawdust unless it
is in an area where it will dry out."

When the weather thaws or dries out, plant the tree or shrub as soon
as possible. First, consider the soil where your new plant will live. If
the soil is heavy, poorly drained clay, the plant may grow poorly. A site
with good, well-drained soil is really important. And in the winter, so
is dryness.

"Wait until the soil is dry enough to crumble rather than forming
a mud ball when squeezed in the hand," he said.

Clear the planting area of grass and weeds. Apply two cups of 15-5-5
lawn fertilizer (without herbicide), plus three cups of lime and one cup
of dolomitic lime for each 100 square feet of bed area or add 10 pounds
of compost or animal manure. Till the fertilizer or organic material into
the soil. Remove the plant from its container or pull the burlap from the
root ball. For container-grown plants, rough up the sides of the root ball
by making small cuts about one-half inch deep.

If the soil is poor, set the plant on top of the soil and form a raised
bed around it with nursery grade bark dust, organic compost or other growing
medium. The bed should be deep enough to cover the existing root ball. Water
thoroughly. Do not pack the soil, or you'll eliminate air space and drainage
holes. A thorough sprinkling will firm the soil sufficiently.

For planting in well-drained areas, plant the perennial at the same depth
as it was in the nursery.

"Plants that are balled in burlap have a visible soil line on the
stem when the burlap is removed," he explained. "Container plants
are planted at the correct depth in the container."

Follow the same fertilizer and lime recommendations for planting in well-drained
soil as those described above for poorly drained soil.

Author: Carol Savonen