Grow Your Own Landscape Material From Baby Evergreens

Evergreens are expensive, and they have every right to be. A blue spruce six years old ranges between 16″ and 24″ inches. That means six years of pruning, transplanting, and care by the nurseryman.

Seedlings or rooted cuttings can be purchased for less than a tenth of the cost of a mature plant. The only requirement of the grower is time and patience. Transplanting to permanent positions can be expected between 3 and 10 years.

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This is the economical answer: many plants will be needed for hedging, windbreaks, or landscaping.

Give Immediate Attention

The first step after receiving your plants (and don’t be frightened by the postage stamp package 25 or 50 evergreens will arrive) is to give them immediate attention.

If the weather is unfavorable, dig a trench and heel them by covering the roots with soil. If they can be planted promptly, set them in a pail of water while the holes are being dug.

A site with good drainage and full sun is essential to the success of these baby evergreens.

If the soil drains poorly, it may be improved by raising the bed a couple of inches or excavating to a depth of 1′ or 2′ feet and placing a layer of broken bricks or crushed rock at the bottom.

A handful of sand placed beneath the roots of each plant will also aid in perfect drainage. 

Planting Preparation

Soil preparation is essential. Manure—fresh, rotted, dehydrated, any form and lots of it, should be dug deep into the soil.

Seedlings have spaced a minimum of 6″ inches apart and a little deeper than they stood in the nursery.

Spreading types such as the Pfitzer juniper and the yew, Taxus cuspidala, should be spaced far enough apart to allow at least 2 years’ growth between. After planting, mulch with manure and water the well.

A note regarding yews: rabbits love their soft succulent growth. Therefore they should be protected by a short fence of some sort.

We learned this the hard way when we had a whole planting level overnight.

First Summer Care

Care for the first summer consists of frequent, thorough watering and keeping the plants weed-free, preferably by mulching rather than cultivating.

Roots growing close to the surface are easily damaged by close hoeing, but they benefit from mulch which helps keep the surface cool and moist.

Added nourishment should be given once or twice during the growing season, either by dry chemical fertilizer, a soluble fertilizer, or liquid manure.

The essential duty towards putting the evergreen planting to bed for the winter is thorough soaking. Let the hose run in the rows for two or three hours a week before the ground freezes.

Evergreens, known as sunburn or windburn in your area, such as the arbor-vitae group, should have protection. This can be in the form of a screen made by stretching burlap between two stakes.

As the plants increase in size after a few years, it may be wise to cover each plant with a burlap sack.

Seedlings planted in the fall should have a deep mulch of leaves or manure applied after the ground is frozen.

Starting Pruning Program

The year after planting, a pruning program should be started. Evergreens left to grow “wild” will develop a spindly look with but a few hard woody branches quickly.

Such evergreens as junipers, yews, and arborvitaes, which are made of numerous stems and soft foliage, can be pruned without considering buds or shoots. Pruning can be done any time during the late spring and summer.

For the first couple of years, the plants will not show their shape characteristics plainly. Be sure to have the planting labeled so you’re not topping an upright or removing the long horizontal branches of a spreader.

Only the tip should be removed during this time unless there is an unwieldy side branch.

With pines, spruces, and firs, more consideration must be given. Trees of this type grow in whorls or layers and cannot be trained to any shape other than their habit. Pruning these is merely to correct defects and make the tree more compact.

The spruce’s tip buds are nipped just as growth is starting, usually around the middle of May.

This induces buds below the cut to blossom, many of which would have otherwise remained dormant. Each new shoot down the branch will form its buds, pruned the following year.

Never touch the leader. If this leading bud at the top should be broken off or damaged, drive a stake into the ground, select one of the side branches growing nearest the top, and tie this securely to the stake.

By the following year, this branch will take over as the leader, and the tree will show no damage.

In pruning pines, wait until the candle-like spring growth has progressed to a point where the needles are just beginning to spread. Then cut these back partially. This is a necessary practice for the low-growing Mugo pine to have a dense, cushion-like specimen.

Transplanting Evergreens

There are two reasons why seedling evergreens should be transplanted at least once or twice before being set in their permanent position.

First, each time the plant is moved, it is pruned. This gives the plant a short but thick ball of roots rather than long, penetrating roots that would make final transplanting hazardous. And second, fresh soil is offered at each transplant.

Seedlings should be left no longer than four years in the same spot. On average, plan on transplanting them in the third year.

This should be done before growth starts in spring, but be careful to wait until the soil has dried off and can be easily worked.

If the soil is heavy and the distance between positions is not too great, the first transplanting can be done by lifting and carrying each plant to the new spot. Be careful to lose as little soil from around the roots as possible.

At the second transplant, the tree and the root ball will be more enormous. 

This will necessitate burlapping the root ball to keep the soil intact. Half a burlap sack can be used. After the plant is thoroughly wet down, a spade is plunged in around the plant, and the pack is slipped under and around, then tied at the top.

In the new position, after untying, the pack can either be left at the bottom of the hole to decaying, or if the root ball is solid, it can be slipped out and be used again.

After setting the plants in their new positions, water them well and often. Mulch them, too.

It is often not convenient for the grower to transplant because of a lack of space. In that case, root pruning should be carried out by simply thrusting the spade to its full depth around the entire plant.

Although this will not trim the roots out of the spade’s reach, it will still promote a dense root ball and make final moving to the permanent spot easier.

Trees cared for this way should have extra nutrients each year to replenish those taken from the soil.

The Final Move

Only the grower can tell when his trees are ready for their final position. A few may be prepared in only 2 or 3 years if the size is unimportant. Others may take nursery care three times longer.

But remember, caring for evergreens in a row where they can be cultivated and watered all at once is much easier than keeping a dozen individual plants watered and free from choking weeds all summer.

44659 by Pat Shedesky