new landscape with staked trees (22969 bytes)

Caring for the New Landscape

From Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

A dream home is a dream come true only when the landscape is in and growing.

In the meantime, homeowners need to take some important steps to be sure that landscape gets a healthy start in life.

A new landscape is more susceptible to disease and insect problems, because plants are weakened, and root systems are not well established. Correct watering and control of diseases and insects helps the new landscape thrive during its first important season.

Water, but not too much and not too little. It's difficult to recommend a standard "one-size-fits-all" watering program because of variations in soil conditions, natural precipitation, temperature and a plant's moisture needs. Each situation is different. Overwatering, however, probably is the most common cause of death for newly transplanted trees and shrubs. Correctly transplanted and watered in, a plant usually will not need water for several days.

A simple test can help the new gardener determine when to water. Until you know from experience, dig carefully six to eight inches near the root zone, and squeeze a handful of soil. If it is damp enough to form a ball, no water is necessary. If it falls apart easily, water. Don't worry if the top few inches are dry. Roots need air almost as much as they need moisture. Frequent watering saturates the soil and suffocates the roots. Encourage maximum plant growth by deep but infrequent watering.

Watch trees and shrubs, especially those near lawn sprinklers, for over-watering stress. Leaves may yellow and wilt, just as if they lacked water.

Want a healthy, weed-free lawn? A well-managed watering, fertilizing and mowing program is your key to success. Keep new sod wet, but not saturated, until rooting occurs, usually in about a week. In hot weather, you may need to soak twice-daily during the first few days. But, within a few weeks, wean the lawn to a normal watering pattern ranging from every third day to once a week.

Ideally, soak soil up to eight inches deep and wait to water again as long as possible without causing drought damage. This promotes deep drought-resistant root growth.

Mow to a 2 1/2-to 3-inch height as soon as you can walk on the lawn without ruining its grade. Keep mower blades sharp and mow frequently enough so only one-third of the blade is removed at a mowing. Fertilize the cool-season grass lawn at six to eight week intervals, three or four times during the growing season. The most important fertilization is the last one in October. After the first year, aerate annually to reduce compaction.

New plants need little, if any, pruning during their first season, but pruning needs may increase thereafter.

It's not necessary to fertilize new shrubs after planting; doing so may burn new plant roots. Soil, improved at planting time, usually will supply a plant's nutritional needs the first season. After the first year, fertilize after leaves emerge, but before mid-July. Avoid late-season fertilization; this encourages late, soft growth that is subject to winterkill.

Watch for insect and disease problems. Correct diagnosis and identification is necessary to determine effective treatment. Become familiar with the most common problems specific to each plant, for example, black leaf spot on aspen and spider mites on junipers.

Mulch root zones to reduce temperature extremes and to decrease fluctuations in soil moisture. Mulching helps shallow-rooted young plants survive the winter.

Fall and winter care is especially critical to young plants. Colorado's long Indian summers often create drought conditions followed by sudden deep freezes. With sufficient moisture during extended fall and winter warm periods, plants are less subject to winter kill. Most winter kill is caused by roots freezing in dry soils. Water deeply during prolonged winter dry spells, even when plants are dormant.

In November, wrap trunks of all shade trees less than four inches in diameter. Remove tree wrap in early April. Leave stakes on young trees for a year, until the tree is well-rooted.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010