What To Expect From New Plantings

It’s fall (or spring) and you just plunked down a chunk of change for a new landscape (or front foundation planting or perennial bed) and it is looking, well, sad. When you walk around your new garden it isn’t the lush paradise you envisioned. It looks like a pet cemetery or worse, dead. Are you doing something wrong? Were the plants unhealthy when they were planted? Did you just waste a lot of money? What is happening? Read on to better understand the life of a new garden.

Transplant Shock

Transplant shock is a term used to identify stresses seen in newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials. Stressors often seen are scorched, yellowing, or curling leaves, browning blooms, and lack of growth. New plantings may exhibit one or all of these symptoms.

leaves turn brown & curl under: Leaf Scorch

First, plants don’t appreciate moving any more than people do. Going from containers (or ball and burlap) to the wide open space of your landscape seems as though it would make the plants happy. Now their roots, which have been restricted, can spread out and grow. True, but that’s a slow process. Roots require time to grow and establish and while that is happening you may see some leaf scorch.

How long does it take roots to establish?

Roots are considered established when the root system reaches at least as wide as the above-ground canopy of green. For shrubs this takes about 18 months. For trees, it depends on the size of the caliper. If the caliper is 6” in diameter, expect 9 years for roots to be established. If the caliper is 1-2” inches, expect 1.5 to 2 years. Bigger is not always best.

Watering consistently is the biggest factor in the success of the plant once transplanted. For more information on how much to water and how often, read here.

If you have stopped watering, start again but don’t over correct. Don’t go from not watering to drowning the plant. Consistency is the key. You may have to adjust your watering, adding on a day when the weather is this September heatwave and drought, and reducing watering when cooler nights and rains come. Adjust accordingly but still be consistent.

Remember, gardens need an inch of rain a week, otherwise the gardener waters.

Blooms Turn Brown & Die Off

This season the store was filled with gorgeous Hydrangea paniculatas (think ‘Limelight’ or ‘Quickfire’). They were sizable shrubs loaded with white-to-blush-pink blooms, and large, healthy leaves. It was impossible to pass up that “instant happy” for the landscape. But after planting, the blooms turned brown, and died. A big disappointment, yes, but if the plant was watered consistently, as sad as it looked this season, it will come back and perform beautifully in the coming seasons.

Don’t judge a plant in year one or even year two. By year three, when the plant is fully established, expect your instant happy then.

The take-away here? It was a disappointment to see those blooms turn brown, but again, the roots of the plant were not sufficient to supply the whole plant with water, yet.

Some plants grew and others died

I call it the “Cinthia Rule”. Plant three of the same plant and one thrives, one survives, and one dies. There are many reasons why plants—planted right next to each other and watered the exact same—will respond differently to transplanting. One plant may have been stressed prior to planting. There could be unseen drainage issues (or moles and voles, read here on that), or too much sun or shade just a few feet over. Perhaps the one growing like mad is better at multi-tasking than it’s partner (establishing roots while growing shoots). The point to remember is that plants are often like children, they will catch up with each other.

If a plant dies, B.B.Barns has a guarantee. Use it.

Final Points

Does fertilizer help your new plants recover from transplant shock? No. The process for establishing roots is still the process. Extra fertilizer doesn’t speed that up and can, depending on the analysis of the fertilizer, burn the roots that are there. During installation, a product called Bio-Tone is used to help build a stronger root ball. It’s a proven product and has a high success rate. Fertilize your new plants in spring (late February to early March) with either Plant Tone or Holly Tone but for now, let nature work.

Be patient, but ask questions. If only all gardens were like couches. You buy a new couch and that is an instant happy. You don’t have to wait for roots to establish or finicky plants to feel at home. But trust the process of growth in the garden and as noted above, don’t judge the garden on year one or two. Year three is when the garden will really spring to life.

Ask questions. We are appreciative of the money you spend with us (hard earned money!) and we don’t take that lightly. If you’re worried, please contact us. We may suggest that you wait until spring to fully evaluate that Japanese maple before we replace because it’s been a hot, dry Indian summer and some plants especially (Japanese maples, dogwoods, hydrangeas) are really showing the stress. Come spring, if the plant is still unhappy, bring pictures to the store (pictures are helpful) and ask for assistance. We are here to help sort out the problem and replace where necessary.

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.