Planting Root Bound Trees, Shrubs & Perennials

Planting Root Bound Trees, Shrubs & Perennials

You’ve bought a new plant, you have the supplies to start, but do you know how to properly tend to the roots before planting? A common mistake made by many planters is taking their new plant out of the pot they buy it in and plopping it directly into the ground.

Trees, shrubs and perennials bought at greenhouses and nurseries often sit in the same pot for weeks, if not months. As a result of this they become extremely root bound with nowhere for their roots to grow. A root bound plant means that the roots have filled the entire pot, often creating a tangled mess that forms into a hard clump. Planting this compacted root ball will lead to an insufficient uptake of water and nutrients.

Following these steps before planting will ensure that your plant’s young root system will be able to properly establish itself in its new environment. The success and longevity of your new plant is very much determined by the effort you put into planting them!

Preparing Your Plant

1. Water your tree, shrub or perennial, before you take it out of the pot.

2. Remove the plant from the pot.


3. Brush away excess soil.


4. Carefully place the plant on its side.


5. If the plant is heavily root bound (as pictured), more force is required. Take a sharp, clean tool (like a pruner or knife) to roughen up the outer layer of the root ball. The more root bound the plant, the more force is needed.


6. Dig a hole that is just a little deeper and three times the width of the root ball.

7. Fill the bottom of the hole with a mixture of 80% potting soil and 20% sea soil, to lift the root ball to the right planting level.

jim potting soil and sea soil with percent.jpg

8. The right planting level for a shrub or perennial is the same depth as it is planted in the pot.

The right planting level for a tree (as pictured) is half an inch above the first major root coming from the trunk. The tree might be planted a bit deep in the pot, so ensure you remove excess soil above that level (refer to step 3).

1 inch from first root-01.jpg

9. Place plant in the hole and make sure it is on the right level.

10. Fill with remaining soil mixture and firm to remove air pockets.

11. Mix a solution of 2 tsp (9 g) of earthalive™ Soil Activator and 1 tsp (4.5 g) of Root Rescue for every 7.5 litres of water (average watering can size). Water over surrounding area.


12. Add a shallow layer of mulch, bark or wood chips to help retain soil moisture.

13. Water thoroughly- both around immediate root zone of plant, but also surrounding area to encourage root extension.

14. To establish newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials, our rule of thumb for watering the first growing season is a schedule of twice a week with a gallon of water per foot of growth in height and width. (Adjust accordingly to the weather and your drainage.)

15. Use Nature’s Source fertilizer once a month, with the last application in the beginning of September.


16. Large trees need to be staked with one or more tree stakes for the first season to prevent the root ball from moving.

Foliage Shrubs

Foliage Shrubs

By Christina McDonald

Most novice gardeners tend to fill their urban plots with an array of beautiful blooming but short-lived plants. Gardeners who have been playing the game a little longer often take a closer look at what's available in nurseries and gravitate towards plants with long lives and unusual foliage.

Some claim that foliage is uninteresting. Not at all! A great foliage shrub will add inspiration to your garden for a long stretch of the season, as well as texture and large blocks of colour— important elements in good landscape design. Foliage shrubs can even serve as a background that makes those beloved blooming plants stand out even more.

Diabola Ninebark

'Diabola' ninebark is a relatively new foliage shrub from Europe. Its dark stems support deep purple/burgundy leaves with fuchsia-pink buds opening to soft pink blooms in spring. This shrub is outstanding on its own and also pairs up nicely with gold-toned foliage shrubs such as the lacy-leafed 'Golden Plume' elder for a long-lived show of colour and texture. Or try combining 'Diabola' with the soft pink 'Morden Blush' rose—the dark leaves of the ninebark make the roses jump right out at you.

Cutleaf Stephanandra

Another underused new introduction, Cutleaf Stephanandra has finely textured foliage on long, arching stems that tend to root wherever they touch the soil. This shrub is gorgeous when it winds around rocks or when plopped in front of an Emerald Mound honeysuckle—or, for that matter, any one of the old favourite variegated dogwoods.

Silver and Gold Dogwood

Another new introduction, 'Silver and Gold' dogwood is quite striking with its variegated foliage and bright yellow twigs –– perfect for adding interest to a winter landscape. If you love the look of variegated dogwoods, consider trying 'Madonna' elder, 'Emerald n' Gold'  euonymus, or 'Carol Mackie' daphne.

Compact Trees - Good Things Come in Small Packages

Compact Trees – Good Things Come in Small Packages

By Shane Neufeld and Christina McDonald

In the nursery, customers often ask us to recommend trees small enough to fit an urban landscape. Many have battled with a tree that has overgrown its site – branches endangering power lines and roots invading flowerbeds. However, there are plenty of compact choices with shorter heights, narrower spreads, and more balanced forms than typical trees.

Know What You Want

Before you choose a compact tree, try to estimate how large you'd like it to be at its full growth. You should also take into account how much sunlight is available, what your soil conditions are, and what function you would like your tree to accomplish—will it provide shade, screen off unpleasant views, fit in with an existing theme? Do you want fall colour, or an evergreen? By knowing these things before you head to the nursery, you stand a much better chance of finding a plant that suits your garden.

The Short List

These are some of our favourite compact trees. Some of the varieties mentioned here are naturally compact, while others are the result of hybridization programs. All are great choices for gardeners looking for big beauty in a small package. Regardless of your space and design constraints, there are many varieties to meet your needs.

Dwarf Deciduous Shade Trees

Fast-growing and particularly disease resistant, 'Assiniboine' and 'Prairie Sky' poplars are great choices for smaller yards. Also check out 'Bailey's Schubert' chokecherry, 'Snowbird' or 'Toba' hawthorn, 'Advance' mayday, or 'Columnar European Mountain' ash.

Compact Ornamental Fruit Trees

Ornamental fruit trees provide an awesome spring showing of blooms, attractive small fruits and frequently great fall colour. 'Mountain Frost' pear and 'Rosy Glo' or 'Siberian Columnar' crabapples are terrific compact ornamental fruits.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

You don't have to have a huge amount of space to enjoy fresh fruit from your tree. Dwarf apple trees have normal sized fruits of exactly the same variety as full-sized trees, but with more manageable yields. Look for dwarf 'Norland,' 'Norkent,' 'Fall Red,' 'Goodland,' and 'September Ruby.' 


Columnar evergreens are always popular, and 'Brandon,' 'Degroots Spire,' and 'Holmstrup' cedars offer very narrow columnar forms in a variety of heights. Junipers such as 'Blue Arrow,' 'Cologreen,' and 'Grey Gleam' or spruces like 'Cupress,' 'Dwarf Serbian' and 'Iseli Columnar Blue' are definitely varieties worth trying.

Is Big Really Better?

Is Big Really Better?

By Christina McDonald

The latest trend in gardening is to use really large plants and the nursery industry has responded with improved growing and shipping techniques that help to bring a variety of large perennials, trees and shrubs to the marketplace.

Why the trend for big? Not content to purchase a smaller plant and patiently await its maturity, new homeowners seek out plants that fill out their garden immediately. This trend also benefits those replacing a dead plant in an existing mature garden. A new plant no longer has to catch up to the surrounding landscape.

There are advantages to going this route. Aside from having an instant garden, you’ll spend less time guessing how a plant will look at maturity. Often several years old, these are premium plants that have been properly pruned and shaped and come with an intact, healthy root system.

There are also some disadvantages to consider, however. The price, for one, reflects the years of care each plant receives before it arrives at the garden centre. There are times when choosing a large over a small may not be economically advantageous. Fast-growing species that establish quickly may be best purchased in a smaller size and your landscaping dollars saved for bigger, slower growing plants or for those that will give you the instant impact you’re seeking. As well, while handling large perennials and shrubs isn’t too difficult for the average gardener, if you’re looking to bring in a very large tree, you’ll need the services of a specialty nursery or tree moving company.

Just how big are people planting these days? One excavating company in Connecticut handles trees up to 16 m tall with a trimmed and tied root ball measuring up to 4 m wide. Weighing in at almost 14 tonnes, these trees can come with a hefty price tag for the tree and its installation. Trees with the best survival rates are generally six to 12 years old with a caliper measuring 10-15 cm in diameter and a length of 3-6 m, depending on the species being planted. Planting is accomplished with a large machine called a tree spade, which is mounted on a truck. A ratio of 10 to 1 for spade diameter to tree diameter (caliper) is recommended so that the tree retains enough root mass to transplant successfully. Be sure to ask if the tree and its installation are guaranteed and let your landscaper know early on if it’s having problems.

Across North America some of the most popular trees to move and install are ash, apple, maple, chokecherry and evergreens such as spruce, Douglas fir, pine and hemlock. Trees are planted more successfully in the cooler spring and autumn months than in the heat of summer.

Not every property is a candidate for planting a tree this large. Accessibility is key with lots of room to maneuver and no overhead or underground lines and utilities with which to contend Keep in mind that the heavy equipment used can destroy sidewalks, driveways and compress and damage lawns. This type of planting is best done before the rest of a new landscape goes in and prior to the installation of fences. Trees may be installed before a house is constructed, however watch out for heavy equipment compacting the soil around a tree and factor in the cost of having water trucked in.

Whether planting a tree, shrub or perennial, provide an adequate planting hole that is at best 1.5 x 2 times the width of the root ball. Place at the same depth as in the pot. Backfilling adequately is important and building a trench or saucer around the plants root zone really helps to catch and hold moisture, as does adding a layer of mulch. Remember that root development is the goal in the first year and large plants need more water than their smaller counterparts. Make sure to ask how much and how often each plant should be watered and the best fertilizing routine.

The Benefits and Beauty of Native Plant Species

Back to Basics
The Benefits and Beauty of Native Plant Species

By Karina Low

In an ideal garden, watering would be optional, applying fertilizers unnecessary, colours would abound from the early spring until the fall and with those first snowflakes of winter the gardener wouldn’t be wondering what plants will make it through this year.

Of course, there are gardeners who love to fuss over their plants, and there are certainly unique plants worth pampering. But most people with a yard and garden want time to enjoy other summer activities, so beautiful and low- maintenance plants are just what they are looking for. Thousands of years of plant evolution has created this modern ideal: unique and colourful plants that thrive in our climate and soil.

Bob Stadnyk, Perennials Manager at Hole’s, has seen a trend towards native plants and thinks more people are turning to these plants as they get frustrated with new plant varieties and the extra care they require. “They are going back to the basics,” says Bob. “They want something that looks good and survives.”

A native plant is defined as a plant the evolved naturally in the region. Edmonton. Alberta is in the Parkland Natural Region, characterized by forests, clearings and wetlands. Because these plants have adapted to growing here, they don’t need or want our attention once they are established. A little compost, leaf mould or bark mulch to recreate a natural setting helps, but commercial fertilizers will make the soil too rich for most native plants. Rain should provide
enough water for a native plant after the first year. In times of drought, the plant will simply go dormant. Native plants aren’t entirely perfect – they still require weeding just like regular perennials. As for designing a garden with native plants, you can use them on their own or mix them in with regular perennials and annuals.

“With native plants you can have any look you want, you just have to choose the right species,” says Cherry Dodd with the Edmonton Naturalization Group. “You can have a neat, tidy and orderly garden, or a riot of colour.”

For a sunny location, there is a wide range of choice as many flowering native plants grow naturally in open meadow locations. The Slender Blue Beardtongue (penstemon procerus) is one of Dodd’s favourites. With intense blue-purple flowers, this low and compact plant stands out. It blooms early in the season and prefers a location with full sun.

Another sun loving flower is the Blanket Flower or Brown-Eyed Susan (gaillardia aristata). This one brings a yellow and rusty orange-red colour to a garden through the middle summer months. It grows naturally in sandy and stony soils, but will do fine in any well-drained garden soil. Butterflies love these large, cheerful flowers too.

For a pink colour in a sunny and moist location, Wild Bergamot, also known as Bee Balm (monarda fistulosa), blooms through the middle summer months. This medium height native plant forms a colourful patch that will draw hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. Though several cultivated varieties of monarda are available, this native one is best suited to our local climate.

The icon of summer, the sunflower, also has a couple native relatives. The Common Tall Sunflower (helianthus nuttallii) and the Rhombic-leaved Sunflower (helianthus subrhomboideus) are both native to our region. The first one grows up to six feet tall and grows naturally in wetlands and wet meadows. Though it prefers a wet area, it will adapt well to regular garden moisture levels. The flowers are smaller but more plentiful than the cultivated annual sunflower and bloom through the late summer into the fall months. The second native sunflower has similar flowers in size and bloom time, but is shorter, growing between one
and four feet tall. It grows naturally in meadows and does very well in a garden. It spreads quickly though, so may need to be contained with lawn edging. Both native sunflowers like locations with lots of sun.

For those areas of your garden with a little shade, there are native plants that will thrive. Northern Bedstraw (galium boreale) puts on a show of tiny white flowers in woodland and semi-shaded areas, as well as in sunny locations. It blooms throughout the summer and grows up to two feet tall. The Giant Hyssop (agastache foeniculum) prefers sun, but will do well with some shade, too. This medium-tall plant, up to three feet high, has distinctive light blue to purple flowers through the middle summer months. It grows in a clump, so will fit in well with a
traditional perennial garden.

Gardeners with evergreen trees usually have to deal with a bare zone under the tree where nothing seems to grow. The native groundcover Small-leaved Everlasting, or Pussy-toes (antennaria parvifolia) grows naturally in dry, open areas, but doesn’t mind the semi-shaded area near an evergreen tree. This small plant creates a mat of soft silvery leaves and cream coloured flowers blooming throughout the summer.

Since grasses naturally cover a large part of the Parkland Natural Region, they also make a unique addition to any garden or yard. Some grow in clumps, other spread out to fill in a space. Blue Grama Grass (bouteloua gracillis) is a short grass that can be used as a ground cover or lawn. Give it an open location with no competition and it will reward you with a show of blue-green curled leaves and seed heads that look like eyelashes. For interesting variety in a garden, Canada Wild Rye (elymus candadensis) is a tall clump forming grass with a graceful appearance. It grows naturally in stony and sandy soils, but will grow anywhere with lots of sun. The bristly seed-heads change from green to golden through the summer. Native grasses abound here, so there is likely one that will suit your garden style.

Though it may be tempting to find and collect native plants on your own from the wild, both Bob and Cherry emphasize the need to refrain from doing this. You may be uprooting the last of that plant in the area, and many won’t even survive the damage and shock of moving. Native plants can be grown from seed and can be purchased from a garden centre when they are young.