Watering Established Landscapes

Since various growing conditions can exist around your home, e.g. sun or shade, damp or dry, sloped or flat land, the best indicators to determine if your plants need water are your fingers!  If a deciduous (leafy) plant is over-watered or under-watered, you can see the signs on the plant.  You may see wilting leaves, fall color, sagging or drooping branches, leaves dropping from the inside or outside of the plant, or the leaves are crispy the soil may be too wet or too dry.  Wouldn’t it be nice if they had a signal and turned orange when they need more water and blue when they don’t?

So, what do you do when you see the plant looks a bit off?  First, start by digging around under the canopy (branches, leavest, etc…) of the plant.  When you dig down about 4-5″, stick  your fingers in the dirt and see if the soil is wet or dry.  Plants that are staying too wet and signaled you, will most likely have pretty foul smelling dirt when you are digging. The soil will be soggy, and really, just icky over-all.  The smell and ickiness is coming from the roots rotting due to lack of oxygen.  The root rot then shuts off water & nutrient flow to the branches (remember the signs look the same – too wet and too dry = not enough water is getting to the branches and leaves).  When you find the soil is too wet, pull back your mulch from under the plant.  Turn irrigation heads away from the plant and let it dry out for a couple days and re-check the soil.

If the soil 4-5″ deep under the plant’s canopy is dry, powdery and crumbly AND your plant shows the stress signs, it means we don’t have enough moisture in the ground and it’s time to water.  Water slowly and at different points around the base of the plant under the canopy, either in the morning (best) or in the evening as it’s cooling down.  Re-check for moisture in a couple days.

If you are unsure if the soil is too wet or too dry, you can leave the pant alone until the next morning.  If the plant perks back up overnight, it could have just been too hot and wilted.  If the plant is still wilted in the morning and the soil is not excessively wet, you should give it a good, slow soak and re-check it in a couple days.

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens



Tree Purchasing

We sell many different sizes of trees and they come in varying methods of containment.  The main types of trees you could purchase are bare root, root-washing, container, grow bag, balled and burlap and spaded.  Today we’ll walk you through the different types and what they could mean for the future of your tree.

Bare root – This term refers to a tree that has no soil on it’s roots when you go to plant.  The major advantage to planting bare root trees is that you have direct root-to-soil contact.  This is important for the root acclimation to its final home.  The direct contact makes caring for the tree easier, as the soil type is the same throughout the roots.  You can see the root flare easily and plant at the proper depth, which is crucial to the future of your tree.  The drawback of planting bare root is the limited season.  Typically you can only plant in the spring and fall.

Root washing – A new method, called root-washing, is currently being explored in the landscape world.  This method is a variation of bare root planting, where the nursery washes the soil off while the tree is leafed out and in an active growing state.  This could be a huge break through in our industry because we know the value and impact of root-to-soil contact, but we feel limited on the seasonality of the installation.

Container – Container planting is really popular now because of the ease of transportation.  You can plant container trees as long as the ground isn’t froze, so the planting season can be around 9 months!  The containers can cause roots to circle and girdle the tree, which is a huge detriment to container planting.  Make sure when you buy a container tree, you remove the tree from the pot and look at the roots.  If there are larger, major roots, that are circling, you’ll need to do some corrective pruning to the roots or you may opt to purchase a different tree.  Container trees will have a soil or soil-less mix around the roots.  This is typically a lighter soil (dries out faster) than your existing landscape soil.  Because of this, initial watering is a little tricky, as your root ball may be dry, but the surrounding dirt is damp.

Grow Bags – The grow bags are gaining popularity due to the ease of transport, like the containers, with minimal root circling.  Yes root circling may still occur, so be sure to check how long the tree has been in the bag.  Root bags are great for the tree roots, as they build a strong fibrous root system critical for the uptake of water and nutrients.  Like containers trees, the tree may have different soil around the roots than your existing landscape, making initial watering tricky.

Balled & Burlap – Trees that are balled and burlap are first dug from the field and set outside the hole and wrapped in burlap and surrounded with either twine or a wire basket.  The trees are dug during the dormant season (evergreens can be harvested in late summer/early fall) and then can be planted throughout the year.  Balled and burlap trees are a way to plant larger trees during the growing season.  Like containers and grow bags, the tree may have different soil around the roots than your existing landscape.

Spading – Tree spading is discussed thoroughly in our blog post https://colorgardens.wordpress.com/2020/02/21/tree-relocation

Let us know if you’d like to discuss another topic!

Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens


Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots


Canker in the Landscape

Cankers can be caused by fungal or bacterial bodies.  It can cause distortion, discoloration and cracking in the branch or trunk and can be fatal to the landscape plants.  Most cankers are difficult to control with chemicals and some can be pruned out the plant.  It is important to sanitize your pruners between EVERY cut so you reduce the risk of spreading the canker to the next branch.  We’ve found dogwoods to be one of the most susceptible shrubs to be attacked by canker.  Plants that are weakened by drought, winter damage or other outside factors can make a tree more likely to develop canker.  Some healthy plants are able to fight off canker and are not affected.

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens


Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots

Blight in the Landscape

Blights can be bacterial or fungal in nature.  They cause stunted tips, die back on foliage, stems and/or flowers.  They are commonly caused by wet and humid conditions, though they can appear wherever you have the right pathogen, the right plant and the right conditions.  Some blights may require chemical applications, whereas other blights may only require pruning and better air flow.  They spread rapidly when there is a lack of air flow, so make sure your plants are well-spaced to avoid damage in the landscape.

Pine tip blight is common in our landscapes.  You’ll see the tips of these pines’ needles brown and/or curl, affecting the new growth.  Because the dead, infected pine cones and needles will drop and spread the fungal bodies, it’s important to clear these out of the landscape bed each season.  Chemical can be applied to reduce the spread of the fungal bodies, though, because this fungus attacks older trees you may need a boom-sprayer for the best coverage.  We have limited planting susceptible trees because of the future maintenance and environmental impact.

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens


Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots


Take a whiff of that!  We always feel bad sending our bagged compost home with clients on really hot days…It takes seconds to stink up a car!  Composting is an important step in producing a high-quality landscape and justifies airing out the car 🙂

We have pretty heavy clay soil with tight pores which make growing conditions difficult for many plants.  Compost will help aerate the clay and improve drainage and porosity of the soil.  Once the soil opens up the roots can breath and grow.  This can be especially important on slopes, where, you want the plant to quickly root in and hold the ground.

Compost will help maintain moisture in the soil, helping the plants survive drought situations.  It adds nutrients and in some cases can lower the pH in the soil making existing nutrients available to the plant.  We’ve found when composting, less fertilizer is used in the landscape.  Composting can produce results slower than fertilizer, but will benefit the plant in the long run.  Apply compost when planting new plants or prior to mulching.  Keep compost away from the base of the plant, and work about 2″ into the soil for the best benefits.

One method we started in 2017 is called vertical composting.  This method really helps to open up the soil in existing landscapes.  The concept derived from aerating your lawn, where you’re removing cores from the soil.  Vertical composting takes it up a notch by removing the dirt from the core and replacing it with a coarse grade compost.  We have seen trees make astounding recoveries just through this process!  Contact us if you’d like to learn more about vertical composting 🙂

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens


Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots


Landscape Pre-Emergent

Applying a pre-emergent simply means we are tackling the weeds before they show up in our landscapes and lawns by preventing weed seeds from germinating.  So, if you see the weeds in your landscape, the pre-emergent will not kill them.  Organic and synthetic, liquid and granular pre-emergents are available and may require 2 applications, depending on the weather.  The most common pre-emergent applications are in spring, with the second in fall.  The soil temps should be around 45°-52° F, as this is slightly prior to seed germination.

Crabgrass in the lawns is one of the main reasons we apply a pre-emergent in the spring.  This and other weeds can be difficult to remove after they have sprouted above ground.  Landscape beds will benefit from a pre-emergent as well.  Preventing the weeds in your beds means less competition for your beautiful plants and less time weed pulling!  Think of the pre-emergent as forming a “blanket” over the ground.  If you were to dig in the landscape bed or lawn after the application, you’ll break the barrier and may allow seeds to germinate.

Most of the granular pre-emergent applications should be watered in just after spreading.  If you are banking on rain, you’ll need at least 1/2″ of rain and not in the form of a down-pour which could wash away the product.

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens


Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots

Winter Damage in the Landscape

Winter damage in the landscape is pretty common in Nebraska.  We plant the right plants, in the right locations and then Mother Nature proves she has the upper hand.  Winter damage can be desiccation, winter burn, frost/freeze injury, ice or snow loads and salt injury.

Desiccation happens when the plant starts to dry out.  Evergreens will show this readily, as their needles discolor or brown during the winter or early spring.  Don’t necessarily think the evergreen is a lost cause, as they may shed last year’s needles and regenerate as spring rolls around.  Leafy trees and shrubs won’t show their damage until the new buds break and you see the tips of the plants are brittle show no signs of life.   Winter burn is much like desiccation, though we apply this term to the boxwoods, holly, rhododendron and other broad leaf evergreens of the world.

Freeze injury can be so disheartening.  It’s watching your little babies emerge from the ground and then poof! They’re brown, but hopefully not gone.  Freeze injury happens readily in spring and fall.  Early flowering plants, plants on the south side of a home’s foundation and warm temps cause these guys to wake up too soon and are then affected by the freezing temps.  We once saw dwarf burning bush with a fresh crop of tender, new leaves get zapped by frost…they never recovered the entire growing season!  They did make a come back the following year and have been fine ever since.  Freeze injury can also crack the bark on trees.  Don’t cover your trunks, just let mother nature heal herself.

Ice storms and heavy snowfall slow down our lives and a plant’s life.  These events can cause bent or broken branches on trees and shrubs.  You may see critter damage higher in the tree, as the snow rises, too.  In 2018 we had a pretty decent year of snow and at one point had about 1-2′ of snow on the ground for a longer period.  In one landscape, just 2 years into it’s growth, the rabbits went to every evergreen and chewed off the bottom 3′ of the tree to the trunk.  They looked like mushrooms!

We see less salt damage every year due to the availability of different salt melting compounds.   When salt was popular, it would find it’s way into the landscape bed and onto plants surrounding parking lots, streets and sidewalks.  The result was browning leaves or needles in the winter and stunted growth in the spring.  If you find salt has been applied and over-sprayed onto plants, you can try flushing the area and foliage with water.

Some winter damage can be prevented by selecting plants that are hardy to your area.  Maintain adequate moisture to evergreens and suseptible plants in fall and early winter.  Mulch after the first hard freeze in fall to insulate the ground from the rise and fall in winter temps.  Anti-desiccants can be applied to broad-leaf evergreens to prevent browning over the winter months.  Don’t encourage new growth in late summer and fall.

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens


Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots


Landscape Pruning, III

So far we’ve covered pruning tips- how to care for your pruners, how to prune and a general guide on pruning trees, shrubs, evergreens & perennials.  Now let’s get onto the seasonality of pruning.

Did you know that pruning during certain times of year can affect how the plant grows?  You can actually ENCOURAGE diseases and insect infestations by incorrect seasonal pruning.  Here, we’ll guide you on which season is right.

Winter – Dormant pruning is most common.  We handle our “spring” clean ups while the plants are still dormant or just popping out of their winter sleep.  Winter pruning allows us to see the entire skeleton of the tree and accessing the tree without leaves can be a blessing, too.  Most shrubs & evergreens will benefit from dormant pruning, too.  When we want to maximize the fruit from a shrub, dormant pruning allows us to get in there prior to the flowers setting.   If it doesn’t look like we’ll have a late freeze, perennials can be trimmed back in the winter, too.  Most of the time we leave them for the early spring pruning cycle.

Spring/Fall – We typically do not prune plants in spring and fall.  The plant’s energy is focused on growth or storage, not necessarily on recovery.  Because of our typically cool, rainy spring and fall, you could encourage disease spread throughout the landscape.  If you can prune the plant in the really early spring or late fall after the first hard freeze(some might call it early/late winter) that would be the best. If branches break and require pruning in spring or fall, make sure you disinfect your pruners, use the right-sized equipment for the branch and make good, clean cuts.

Summer – Some trees like birch, locust and aspens are pruned in mid-late summer after their new growth has hardened off.  Remember, if you have a fruit-bearing tree, trimming in the summer will reduce the fruit…not an entirely bad thing if your tree can’t support the bounty!  Most shrubs can be trimmed in the summer.  In early summer, you could tidy up the late-blooming lilacs and some of the early blooming hydrangea.  Dead-head your perennials during the summer months to encourage new blooms and / or healthy foliage.

Let us know if this guide was helpful!  Subscribe to this blog if you want to hear more about all things landscaping 🙂

Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens

Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots


Landscape Pruning, II

In the last post we talked about the general tips to keep in mind when pruning.  Today we’ll go over broad category guides.  Be sure to let us know if you have any questions on pruning we haven’t covered!

Pruning on a plant encourages new growth as well as help maintain a certain size of plant.  It can reduce the risk of disease and insect damage.  Knowing what your are pruning will help with knowing how and when to prune.   You can reduce the spread of diseases and insect infestations by pruning during different times of the year.

Trees – Prune your trees either during dormancy or after the new spring growth has “hardened off”.  Dormant pruning allows you to see the structure of the tree (crossing branches, branches too close together, etc…).  If you prune over the winter, you may see the tree “bleed” in spring from the open wound, which is normal.  If you have spring flowering trees,  if you wait to prune in the summer, you may prune off the tree’s fruit.  Wait to prune birch, locust and aspen until July.

Shrubs – Base your timing on how the plants flower and the season.  Avoid pruning during the active growing season of the spring and in the fall.  Shrubs that bloom on old wood (some lilacs & hydrangea) should be pruned within 30-days of seeing dead blooms.  Shrubs like spirea and roses can be pruned throughout the growing season, which in some, will encourage a second round of blooms.

Evergreens – When planting evergreen trees, locate them in the landscape so they would require only maintenance pruning (removing diseased or crossing branches and multiple leader issues).  Shrubby evergreens can be pruned much like shrubs, heading, thinning and shaping.

Perennials – Iris and peonies are typically cut back in the late fall to prevent overwintering insects and diseases.  Perennials will have a prettier shape when the spent bloom stems are cut all the way down to the base of the plant.  This can help conserve energy to the foliage and maintain a healthier plants.

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Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens

Unique Landscape, Home Grown Roots

Landscape Pruning, I

We prune landscape plants for a lot of different reasons.  They can be shaped and thinned;  you can remove dead, diseased, crossing, low or overhanging branches; suckers can be removed; flowers may need dead-heading…and the list goes on…

Today we’re writing about the general techniques and tips for pruning.  Our next few posts will feature plant specific pruning tips just for you!

Disinfecting pruners – So many pathogens are passed through pruning.  It’s important to keep your pruners disinfected, at a minimum, between plants.  Some pruners should be disinfected between each cut!   If you make one cut into an infected area of a branch, then immediately cut into another branch, there is a good possibility you’ll transfer the disease.  What could have been a contained disease (cut, disinfect, cut, disinfect…) has now infected multiple plants and  you’re looking for replacements!

Sharpening pruners – Every time you make a cut, you wound the plant.  Ouch.  The plant now has to recover from the wound and can do so more easily when it is a clean cut.  Trees actually form a compartment around the wound, to prevent diseases and insects from gaining access through the cut.  Mother Nature is so cool…said the plant nerd 🙂  Really, though, this is the reason you should not use a pruning seal on the branch.

Shearing – Just like with sheep, shearing is removing the outer layers of a plant.  The shearing method is great for creating hedges or shapes.  Keep 2/3 of the plant intact, only to remove 1/3 of the branches.

The single cut – Make sure your pruning equipment matches the size of the project.  Using a pruner too small for a branch will cause the cells to be “pinched” and can harm branch.  Cut branches at a 45° angle, just above the bud. This method will create a natural-looking shrub or tree.

Heading back – Use the single cut (preferred) method or shearing to reduce the overall size of the plant.  Select different lengths of branch for your cut to create a natural landscape vibe.

Dead-heading – Spent flower removal can promote re-blooming in some plants.  With coneflowers, this can be a way to remove the boring insect that eats the blooms, allowing the secondary blooms to thrive.

If you’d like to discover pruning habits in more detail, check out our next few posts!

Nebraska Nursery & Color Gardens

Unique Landscapes, Home Grown Roots