Choosing and planting flowering shrubs
Fragrant lilac, colourful quince and frothy spirea-early spring is one of the best times of the year to select and plant these and other flowering shrubs.
At the nursery, rows and rows of stick-like potted shrubs wave their tags before our eyes, tempting us with full-colour glamour shots of the stunning blossoms they promise to produce in the seasons to come. Selecting a beauty from this bevy of leggy-branched shrubs may seem like an impossible task, but by doing your homework and working up a little sweat, your shrub will soon be the belle of the neighbourhood.
Choosing the right shrub
Before visiting the nursery, decide what kind of shrub is best suited to your garden. Select a plant that will grow into the space you have-not outgrow it. At first, the young shrub may look a little small for the garden but, sooner than you think, its branches will be reaching outwards and upwards to fill the space.
After developing a short-list of shrubs of the right size, find out which ones grow best in the conditions of your yard. If your garden is shady, choose a shade-lover such as serviceberry, dogwood or some of the shade-tolerant honeysuckles. If you have heavy clay soil, forget about growing rhododendrons unless you're prepared to work hard to modify the soil to the liking of these prima donnas.
Once you've decided on the right shrub for your site, it's time to take a hard look at the plants for sale at the nursery. Not all plants are created equal. Look for a good, vase-like shape-these are shrubs with straight branches stretching outward rather than ones with twisted stems or branches that grow into the centre.
Examine the bark, looking for uniform colour; a deeper tone towards the tips of branches and stems usually indicates that they've been affected by the frosts of winter. These dead tips will need to be pruned off after the shrub is planted. If the plant has produced leaves, check that they're a good green colour rather than yellow, and that they show no signs of wilting.
Water, water, water
Before planting, give the shrub a good, long drink of water. Let it soak up the water for a few hours or overnight before removing it from the container.
Digging the hole is one of the most important steps in ensuring the health of your plant. Be generous. The hole should be twice as wide as it is deep, yet deep enough to accommodate the roots of the shrub. To encourage the roots to grow into the surrounding ground, loosen the soil by scoring the sides of the hole with a shovel. At the bottom of the hole, place a few shovels-full of the existing soil mixed with some compost, peat moss or Triple Mix (a commercial combination of topsoil, manure and compost). Sprinkle the bottom with some bonemeal in the proportions recommended on the package. Before placing the shrub into the hole, tease out the roots, spreading them out into the hole. (Plants that are very pot-bound may need to be scored with a knife to loosen the roots.)
Back-fill the hole with the remaining soil mixture so that the shrub sits at the same level as it was growing in the pot-not so high that soil covers the base of the branches and stems, and not so low that the tops of the roots are exposed.
The best head start you can give your newly planted shrub is water. Keep it well watered with long, deep drinks from a soaker hose or sprinkler applied at least once a week for the next four to six weeks. To help the plant conserve water, mulch it with shredded pine bark or leaves.
After giving your shrub all this attention, stand back and watch it show off its fancy foliage and flowers.