By Gary L. Wade
University of Georgia
When it comes to planting in the landscape, you can get cook-book recipes for success from your county University of Georgia Extension Service agent.
But it's just like baking a cake: If you leave out one or more ingredients, the results will be disappointing.
I've seen virtually every violation of the planting rules, from planting too deep to planting too shallow and leaving part of the root ball exposed.
Preplant stressPlants are often stressed when they're held for later planting. For instance, when trees lay in the sun on their sides on a concrete or asphalt surface, they can get severe sunscald and bark damage.
You can avoid this stress by covering the trunks of trees with shade cloth or keeping them in the shade before planting.
Container plants are often allowed to dry out or aren't watered before planting. It's very hard to rewet a dry root ball because the container media is made mainly to drain well and the native soil around the plant holds water better.
Root bluesPot-bound plants often have long-term stress if the root mass isn't opened up. Disturbing the roots of pot-bound plants lets water and nutrients penetrate more freely. It encourages roots to grow outward, too.
Improper spacing is a leading cause of plant stress. If Shore Junipers, for instance, grow 6 feet wide, why plant them 1 foot apart? Horizontal junipers form layer upon layer of foliage when they're planted too closely. The result is a thick, dense mass of green that's a haven for spider mites and foliar diseases.
Routine plant shearing is high maintenance and stresses plants, too. It constantly removes new growth and reduces the leaf area for photosynthesis.
Plant flusterEach time the plant funnels energy into new growth, that new growth is removed. It becomes a landscape captive, like a prisoner being punished with reduced rations.
A growing problem, and a source of severe plant stress in Southeastern landscapes, is the misuse of herbicides.
Roundup, for instance, is widely used to spot-treat weeds around plants that tend to form root suckers, such as crape myrtle, ornamental cherries and ornamental crab apples. Sometimes people accidentally get a little Roundup on a few suckers.
The next spring, new growth is severely distorted and compressed at the bud, a condition called "bud blasting." It may take two or more growing seasons for the plant to grow out of the condition.
There's a long list of man-made stresses commonly imposed on ornamental plants. They include overwatering, overfertilizing, using excess mulches, damaging plants with mowers and other equipment, pruning improperly and burning debris over tree roots.
You can avoid these cultural stresses by planting and caring for plants properly. Your plants will thank you with the unique qualities healthy plants bring to your landscape.
(Gary Wade is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)