Shrubs beautify your garden or landscape for years, even decades, bringing long-lasting color and interest to your home. While adding a shrub to your space is one of the easiest ways to brighten it up for years to come, getting it off to a good start is a crucial first step. To really thrive, a brand new shrub deserves a little more attention and, sometimes, an adjustment of expectations. Let’s walk through the entire process of planting a new shrub, what you can expect, and how to troubleshoot problems if something seems off.
It’s easiest for a shrub to get established when the temperatures are mild and sunlight isn’t too intense. For that reason, in the Northern hemisphere, it’s best to plant shrubs in the spring or fall. The intensity of the summer often stresses plants (and gardeners) out more than necessary, so it’s best to avoid it, though it is possible – check out this article for our tips for success. If you’re planting in the fall, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions here.
Plant your shrub the correct way and save yourself time, money, and future headaches. Watch this how-to video that details just what to do with simple step-by-step directions. Here are a few additional tips, in case you haven’t planted yet:
– Before you start digging, check the soil moisture of the potted plant. If it’s dry, water thoroughly, and wait a few hours to plant.
– Plant in the morning or at night when it’s cooler, or on cloudy days.
How to Water a New Shrub
Shrubs appreciate being watered at ground level, below the foliage. Frequent overhead watering increases the humidity around the plant, which can encourage disease. Plus, if the plant has flowers, regularly wetting them can cause premature browning.
Often times the plant will already have been fertilized that season, so you don’t need to apply any fertilizer to a new shrub its first year in the ground. If you’d like to give it a boost*, use an all-purpose granular fertilizer formulated for shrubs, either one for evergreens or one for flowering shrubs, depending on what you plant.
*If you’re planting in fall, don’t apply additional fertilizer, as it can push tender new growth that’s vulnerable to damage from temperature shifts.
Care During the Establishing Period
It takes about a year for a shrub to get established in the garden. During that time you’ll want to do two things:
1 – Check the soil moisture regularly. When the soil is almost dry, thoroughly soak the area around and just outside of the rootball. New shrubs perform best when they are thoroughly watered less frequently, which mimics a rain event. Your instinct may be to water a little bit all the time, but this discourages the plant from growing a deep, extensive root system. If monitoring soil moisture sounds complicated, consider getting a moisture meter; learn how to use one in this video.
2 – Keep an eye on how the plant is performing overall. Its foliage will give you cues if something needs to be adjusted. For example, you’ll see a lot of yellowing foliage if it’s being over-watered, and you’ll see the edges of the leaves turn brown if it’s being under-watered. If the foliage is limp or droopy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the plant needs water. It could just be that it’s a hot day and the plant is losing water from the leaves faster than the roots can absorb it and redistribute it. Always check the soil moisture before watering.
New shrubs don’t perform the same way established shrubs (those that have been planted for at least a year or more) do. They have more places to spend their energy – they’re working on growing a root system, maintaining foliage, and possibly developing flowers. So you may not see much new foliage or as many flowers its first year in the ground, because it’s busy getting a root system established. Be patient and your shrub will be ready to show off in a year or two.
If your plant wilts dramatically like you see in this photo, it is experiencing shock. This will rarely kill a plant, and most often with patience and a little TLC, the plant will rebound. There are two things to do. First, resist the urge to overwater. Regular, even moisture is better. Second, if it’s a really big plant or some of the leaves have gotten crunchy, cut the plant back a bit to conserve its energy. And then wait.
If you planted a shrub with flowers present, you might see them wilt a bit. If you’re watering regularly and the wilting continues, remove the flowers. Again, this saves the plant some energy.
Remember how we mentioned that overhead watering and high humidity can cause problems? These are three that are most common:
If any of these problems occur, try not to worry too much. Adjust your care regimen and decrease watering, or start watering from below. If neither of those are an issue, it’s possible that your plant is located in a spot that doesn’t get good airflow or is planted too close to its companions. You might consider transplanting it to a better spot if the problem keeps recurring. At the end of the season, collect all of the fallen foliage and dispose of it in the trash. This will help keep the plant from getting re-infected.
Planting a shrub should bring about optimism, not anxiety! So long as your new shrub is properly watered and growing in the right conditions (think USDA growing zone, light requirements, etc.), you are headed toward success. Still have questions about your new shrub? Ask in the comments below!