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How to Create New Planting Beds and Amend Your Soil


You will need the following for new homes with clay and fill soil:

  • four (4) bags of soil conditioner (finely ground pine bark) per 100 square feet of bed area

  • quality topsoil (optional) at the rate of 1 cubic yard per 100 square feet of bed area

  • BioTone to add at time of planting (per package directions)


Delineate the bed shape by using a garden hose to create the bed outline. When you are satisfied, mark the bed shape using inverted marking paint. To eliminate any existing grass, spray the bed area with a quality herbicide like Roundup. Wait about a week before tilling. Sometimes a second application may be necessary, depending on the type of grass. Before tilling, cut a smooth edge around the bed area using a flat spade or a bed-edger. The edge should be in the shape of a “V”, about 3-4 inches deep, angled away from the lawn area. When you are ready to till the bed areas, simply spread the soil conditioner and topsoil (if you use it) evenly over the area to be tilled. Then till everything in at one time. Till thoroughly, but don't till around shallow-rooted trees such as dogwoods or Japanese maples, since root damage can lead to potential problems with your trees.

If you need to add topsoil to your bed areas choose sandy, loamy topsoil that will aid in good drainage. To build the bed up by three inches, add topsoil at a rate of one cubic yard per 100 square feet.

Remember; do not pile soil against tree trunks. This can:

  • lead to the development of disease

  • induce rotting of both the outer and inner bark of the tree

  • deprive the tree of food and water and eventually cause tree death

To Create Annual and Perennial Bed Areas

Follow the same technique outlined for creating general bed areas, but for each 50 square feet of bed add:

  • 4-25 Qt. bags of Daddy Pete's Plant Pleaser planting mix (organic)

  • Dynamite or Plant Tone fertilizer by directions on package


  • 1-50 pound bag of cow manure & 1-2 cu.ft. bag of soil conditioner

  • Dynamite or Plant Tone fertilizer by directions on package

Additional Fertilization

Shrubs, trees, perennials, and annuals can be fed Tree and Shrub Fertilizer, Plant Tone, or Dynamite. These slow-release fertilizers are better for your plants because they release nitrogen slowly over a period of several months. This creates healthier plants and a healthier environment, by preventing excess nitrogen from washing into our waterways.

Finishing Touches

To finish all your beds with a professional touch, try this trick. Mulch the bed with pine needles, allowing the needles to extend over the “V” edge you made with the spade before tilling. After mulch has been spread, simply tuck the needles into the “V” with the spade. This technique will give you a neat, professional look. Other mulches can be used to achieve the same finished look.

How to Create New Beds printable

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Mulch examples_correct.jpg

Correct Mulching

Not contacting trunk
2" to 4" deep, not mounded

Mulch examples_incorrect.jpg

Incorrect Mulching

Mounding against trunk risks disease

Mulching has become increasingly popular in our area because of the finished, manicured appearance it provides in the landscape as well as the plant health and weed control benefits it offers Shredded hardwood mulch, pine needles, and mini-nuggets are all popular and pretty much equally effective. The mulch for you largely depends upon personal taste and where you're planning to use it.

Benefits of Mulching

In addition to providing that "finished landscape" look, mulches provide many benefits to plant growth and reduce the demand for landscape maintenance. Mulches help to conserve soil moisture by reducing evaporation—thus reducing the need for irrigation and watering. They also modify soil temperatures in our extreme seasons of hot and cold—lowering soil temperatures in summer, favoring root growth and insulating soils in winter, protecting roots from cold damage. A good layer of mulch is also very effective in preventing weed growth, limiting the germination of weed seeds and inhibiting their growth. When organic mulches decompose, they provide nutrients and add humus to our soils, both improving soil texture and promoting more vigorous plant growth. Mulch also helps to protect tender root systems, cushioning the effects of heavy rains and foot or vehicular traffic, which can cause excessive compaction of both soils and roots. In addition, mulching rings around trees and mulched planting beds naturally prevent physical injuries to landscape plants caused by lawnmowers and mechanical trimmers—injuries which often contribute to the early decline or death of even established plantings.

How To Much

Most mulches should be applied to a depth of two to three inches and maintained at a depth of less than four inches. Annual top dressings may be necessary to maintain that "freshly-finished" look, however, keep in mind that the less you add to an established area the better. When mulching around the base of plants, do not mulch up against the trunks of trees or shrubs. Start mulching just beyond the trunk and gradually taper up to the two to three inches as you get away from the plants. This will prevent excess moisture around the base of the plants which can lead to suffocation and rotting of the roots. Avoid freshly ground sawdust, tree-chippings and any other organic matter that has not been aged or composted. In the process of decomposition these materials will take oxygen and nutrients from the soil and can literally starve nearby plants to death.

When to Apply

Mulch can be applied at any time of the year, but the most effective times are early spring (before the leaves open) and in the late fall after we have had several frosts. Avoid mulching in late summer- early fall because mulching at this time can keep soil temperatures too high for plants to harden off.

Mulching 101 printable

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Proper pruning is the most important task you can undertake to have healthy, long-lived trees and shrubs. Proper pruning involves when to prune, what to prune, how to prune, and if to prune.

Shrubs to be Pruned Before The Buds Show Green

Shrubs that form flowers on wood grown the same season should be pruned when the plant is dormant.

  • Abelia x grandiflora

  • Abelia schumannii

  • Acanthopanax (five leaved aralia)

  • Althea, shrubby (Rose of Sharon)

  • Amorpha (indigo bush)

  • Aralia elata (Japanese angelica)

  • Artemisia (sagebush, southernwood, Wormwood)

  • Baccharis (groundsel shrub)

  • Berberis (barberry)

  • Buddleia (butterfly bush, except for B. alternifolia)

  • Callicarpa (beautyberry)

  • Caryopteris (bluebeard)

  • Ceanothus

  • Cephalanthus (buttonbush)

  • Clethra (sweet pepper bush)

  • Cytisus nigricans (broom)

  • Diervilla sessilifolia (bush honeysuckle)

  • Euonymous kiautschovica (spreading euonymous)

  • Fatsia japonica (Japanese fatsia)

  • Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin tree)

  • Garrya (silk-tassel)

  • Hammamelis virginiana (witch hazel)

  • Hibiscus

  • Holodiscus discolor (ocean-spray)

  • Hydrangea arborescens 'Grandiflora'

  • Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora'

  • Hypericum (St. John’s Wort)

  • Indigofera (indigo)

  • Kerria

  • Lagerstroemia (crepe myrtle)

  • Lespedeza (bush clover)

  • Ligustrum (privet)

  • Lilac japonica (tree lilac)

  • Lonicera (berried honeysuckle)

  • Lycium (matrimony vine)

  • Rhamnus frangula (alder, buckthorn)

  • Rhus (sumac, smoke tree)

  • Roses (garden bush varieties)

  • Rubus odoratus (flowering raspberry)

  • Salix (willow)

  • Salvia greggii (autumn sage)

  • Sambucus canadensis (American elder)

  • Sorbaria (false spirea)

  • Spiraea (all summer-blooming spirea)

  • Staphylea (bladdernut)

  • Stephanandra

  • Symphoricarpos (coralberry, snowberry)

  • Tamarix odessana (late-flowering tamarisk)

  • Viburnum (berry-bearing)

  • Vitex (chaste tree)

printable list

Shrubs to be Pruned after Blooming

The best time to prune these shrubs that bloom on year-old wood is just after the blossoms have faded. Then the shrub will grow new branches and form the flower buds that will bloom the following year. For example, if you prune your azaleas in February, you’ll have no blooms come springtime, because their buds grew on the wood you’re cutting off. (And please bear with us: these lists may tend to ignore the distinctions between shrubs, small trees, and even vines and groundcover-type plants.)

  • Akebia

  • Amelanchier (shadblow)

  • Azalea

  • Benzoin (spice bush)

  • Berberis (barberry)

  • Buddleia alternifolia (butterfly bush)

  • Calycanthus floridus (sweet shrub, strawberry shrub)

  • Caragana (Siberian pea)

  • Celastrus (bittersweet)

  • Cercis (Judas tree, redbud)

  • Chaenomeles (flowering quince)

  • Chionanthus (white fringe)

  • Cornus (dogwood, without berries)

  • Cotinus coggyria (smoke tree)

  • Crataegus oxyacantha (English hawthome)

  • Cydonia (Japanese quince)

  • Cytisus (broom)

  • Daphne (garland flower)

  • Deutzia

  • Exochorda (pearlbush)

  • Forsythia (goldenbell)

  • Hydrangea hortensia

  • Jasminum (jasmine)

  • Kalmia (laurel)

  • Kerria japonica (Japanese rose)

  • Kolwitzia amabilis (beautybush)

  • Lonicera fragrantissima (bush honeysuckle)

  • Magnolia

  • Philadelphus (mock-orange)

  • Physocarpus (ninebark)

  • Pieris (andromeda)

  • Potentilla (cinquefoil)

  • Prunus (flowering almond, cherry, plum)

  • Rhododendron

  • Ribes (flowering currant)

  • Rosa (climbers, species types)

  • Spiraea (bridal wreath)

  • Spiraea thunbergii

  • Spiraea van Houtei

  • Syringa (lilac)

  • Tamarix (spring-flowering)

  • Viburnum carlesi, V. lantana (snowball)

  • Viburnum opulus (highbush cranberry)

  • Weigela

 printable list

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What to Prune

Water sprouts.jpg

Water Sprouts

Water sprouts are the rapidly growing, thick, soft shoots that appear after a tree suffers an abrupt, major change. They commonly appear after heavy pruning. They are not, however, strongly attached branches and rarely make good substitutes for the slower growing existing branches. Usually, water sprouts that do not fill a hole in the tree's framework are removed.

  • Dead wood
  • Old wood (shrubs)
  • The worst of crossing or rubbing branches
  • Suckers & Water sprouts
  • Branches that touch the ground
  • The worst of wrong-way
  • Branches that head back toward the center
  • The worst of branches that head too far up or down
  • Parallel branches when you want more definition

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How to Prune


Proper placement of cuts for pruning

Renovation of Older Plants

Reserve this task for late winter or early spring to minimize the length of time the plant is thin due to heavy pruning

  • Thin out up to 1/3 of existing limbs to allow light into center of the plant to promote new growth on the interior branches. Allow at least 1 year for the interior foliage to form before reducing size of remaining outer limbs.


  • Make severe size reduction all at once, this works well on many large-leaf hollies, azaleas, ligustrum.

Pruning plants that consist of Canes

(Mahonias, Nandina, Forsythia, Aucuba, etc.)
For older shrubs, thin out oldest, woodiest canes, up to 1/3 of total canes yearly to encourage new basal growth.

Pruning Ornamental Grasses

(Miscanthus, Fountain Grass, Liriope, etc.)
Prune back prior to spring growth, or when plants no longer have "winter interest". Cut plants 2-3" above ground level. Time-saving tip: With a length of rope, tie up grasses 1'-2' above ground level. This enables grass to be cut more easily by pulling the stems tightly together. Once cut, all the stems are bundled for easy disposal.

Pruning Spring Flowering Shrubs

(Azaleas, Forsythia, Rhododendron, etc.)
These plants bloom on last year's wood and set flower buds 1-2 months after blooming. To avoid pruning off next year's flowers prune as soon as possible after blooms fade.

Pruning Summer Flowering Shrubs

(Buddleia, Crape Myrtle, Vitex, etc.)
These plants bloom on new growth-prune immediately after flowering or before growth begins in spring.

Pruning Crape Myrtle

Remove twiggy branches smaller than a little finger back to the connecting branch. Head back twiggy tips to the point they are a little-finger in diameter. Remove crossing branches from the interior. Do not head them to the main trunk. It is a common, but incorrect pruning method for Crape Myrtles.

Pruning Basics printable

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Pruning vs. Shearing

Hand Pruning

  • Produces a more natural appearance
  • Creates a looser canopy of foliage to work with
  • Is healthier for normal plant growth


  • Produces tight balls or squares
  • Produces a hard woody shell with little foliage
  • Repetitive shearing is stressful to the shrub

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Ornamental Plants with Special Considerations

  • Amelanchier (shadbush): Prune only to shape, as either bush or tree.

  • Carpinus betulus (European hombeam): Prune to tree form.

  • Carpinus orientalis (Oriental hornbeam): Prune to tree form.

  • Cassia fistula (golden-shower, senna): Cut back season‘s growth to short spurs after blooming.

  • Cercis (redbud): Prune after blooming if necessary.

  • Cornus florida, Cornus Kousa (flowering dogwood, Kousa dogwood): Prune as little as possible; heals slowly.

  • Cotinus obovatus (American smoke tree): Prune to grow as bush or small tree; cut off fading flowers.

  • Crataegus (hawthom): Prune to shape in late winter, renew branches if necessary;

  • Elaeagnus (Russian olive): Prune only to control size, if necessary, in late winter.

  • Euonymous atropurpurea (burning bush): Prune in late winter, only if necessary.

  • Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin tree): Prune to tree form.

  • Halesia monticola (silver-bell): Needs pruning rarely.

  • Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora' (peegee hydrangea): Prune in late winter.

  • Loelreuteria paniculata (golden rain tree): Prune to shape when young.

  • Labumum anagyroides (golden chain): Prune after blooming.

  • Magnolia (magnolia): Prune just after blooming.

  • Mulus (flowering crab apple): Prune to shape, renew old wood if necessary.

  • Myrica cerifera (wax myrtle): Prune to remove winter injury, or to shape, in late winter.

  • Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry): Prune to remove suckers, winter injury.

  • Oxydendiym arboreum (sourwood): Needs pruning early.

  • Prunus (flowering almond, apricot, cherry, peach, plum): Prune to shape in late winter.

  • Rhamnus davurica (buckthom): Prune to shape in late winter.

  • Sorbus (mountain ash): Prune to tree form in late winter.

  • Symplocos paniculata (sweetleaf, sapphire-berry): Prune to shape, renew old branches.

  • Syringa reticulata (Japanese tree lilac): Prune right after blooming, if necessary.

  • Viburnum (cranberry bush, nannyberry, black haw): Prune in late winter only, as necessary.

printable list

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Pruning-Branch collar.jpg
Pruning-large branch.jpg

Want to lop off some branches of that maple tree over there to give you a better view? The best way to do it is to cut back the branches to where they join the trunk or a larger (or smaller) branch. Don't leave a stub sticking out, but don’t cut into the trunk wood either. You'll see a bulge or collar of wood at the base of the branch. Cut just to that point, leaving the collar intact. Also, don't paint the scar to promote healing. The tree will ward off future rot and insect infestations with internal barriers of its own. If you're taking down a big branch, do it in three cuts: Somewhat farther out on the branch, make bottom cut about halfway through, then a top cut that doesn't quite match up, The limb will fold to the ground and you can make a final cut without tearing bark


Trees: To Prune or not to Prune?

Look for the following characteristics to determine if a limb should be pruned:

  • Dead Limbs-Easiest to detect during growing season when leaves are present-or should be.
  • Diseased or Insect Damaged-These need to be removed at least 1’ past the point of infection, or to the proper length for the shape of the tree, whichever is greater.
  • In the Way-Limbs touching the house or that causes you to duck to mow under.
  • Limbs that Cross-These are limbs that rub against each other. Choose the strongest and best located one for the overall shape of the tree.
  • Prune to the natural shape of the tree-forcing it into an unnatural shape (or size) means more pruning!
  • Never top any tree for any reason. It is unsafe and unsightly.
  • Trees can be pruned almost any time except during spring bud break or leaf expansion. Prune flowering trees 2-3 weeks after blooming to prevent cutting off next year’s flowers.
  • Trees that "bleed" can still be cut the same time as other trees can; the bleeding is more unsightly than damaging. To lessen sap flow, prune trees prone to bleeding when dormant (Jan.-Feb.)

Typical needs of an unpruned tree: crowded foliage, asymmetrical shape, broken and diseased branches. Other reasons for pruning include controlling size and increasing the amount of sunlight to a window or to plants in the shade of the tree.


If you regularly prune to remove broken, diseased, crossing and asymmetrical (or out-of-place) branches, then you will reduce future problems and have a healthy, attractive tree.

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Do you Need to Prune?

Just because it’s "x" month doesn’t mean you have to go prune your __ shrub. Is it healthy and growing well? Is it a good size for its surroundings, with room to grow? Not growing into the house? Does the shape allow for light and air to penetrate to the interior? Maybe you don’t need to prune this year.

What if the job is too big for you, a big tree for instance? Large pruning projects on trees require equipment and special training-a professional tree service.

If you decide to hire a professional tree service, ask them the following questions:

  1. Ask them to top your trees. If they don’t try to talk you out of it or refuse to do it, they are not a quality company.

  2. Are they are insured and bonded? Ask for references.

  3. How will they access the tree? Unless the tree is to be removed, climbing spikes or gaffs should not be used on a live tree as it can cause severe damage. A rope system should be used instead.

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  • Prepare site by digging hole twice the width and for trees & shrubs, not quite as deep as root ball. For perennials plant level w/ surrounding soil.

  • Remove plant from pot and loosen roots well. If Balled and Burlap (B&B) remove all strings or strapping and cut burlap off the top of the plant. Any wires from the B&B basket sticking up can be bent down into the hole.

  • Amend excavated soil w/ compost or soil conditioner (1:4 ratio) and BioTone (follow package directions based on plant size).

  • Backfill, avoiding air pockets. Do not cover top of root ball at this point.

  • Apply 2-3" of good quality mulch, keeping mulch from contacting trunk or stem of the plant.


  • Water well using a slow trickle so root ball is thoroughly soaked.

  • Water as above about every 3 days for the first two weeks (less if it has rained significantly, possibly more if drought conditions), then water the equivalent to 1" of rain per week.

  • For most plants, thorough watering weekly is preferable to light surface watering more frequently. Exceptions are shallow rooted plants such as dogwood, Japanese maples, azalea & rhododendron.

  • Overwatering as just as detrimental as under watering, and symptoms are similar. Monitor automatic irrigation systems closely to avoid both situations.

  • New plantings need water in fall and winter also, but usually only half the amount needed in spring/summer.


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Rabbit Trouble?


Stuffed rabbits are a kid's favorite huggable. Cartoon rabbits are ‘Wascally’ and adorable. Greeting card bunnies are sometimes just too cute for words. Even the Easter Bunny is a revered icon in American life. And in real life, rabbits are pretty lovable critters, too — soft, fuzzy, cute as, well, a bunny— until you spot one munching your precious (and expensive!) landscape plantings. (Think Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor.)

Before you resort to drastic measures, read these words of advice from Scott R. Craven, Extension Wildlife Specialist of the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. It is possible to "peacefully coexist" with rabbits.

Know Your Enemy

How do you spot rabbit damage? lt’s cleanly cut rather than torn away. Deer damage, on the other hand, has a jagged appearance.

Eastern cottontail rabbits feed just before sunrise and just after sunset, but they may also be active during the day. The Eastern Cottontail is the most common type of rabbit in this area.

Rabbits like to eat a variety of plants, especially those that are young, tender, and green. Many customers complain of rabbits eating their pansies, petunias, clematis, lettuce, and phlox. There are a few plants which have been said to repel rabbits, but we haven't found solid research to back up that claim. These plants include rosemary, dusty miller, marigolds, daffodils, lemon grass, garlic, peppers, and ornamental  strawberries. lt may be worth a try to edge your area with some of these plants. If you want more reliable  results in warding off rabbits, read on . . .

Damage Prevention and Control Methods


Rabbit fencing.jpg

One of the best ways to protect a backyard garden or berry patch is to put up a fence. It does not have to be particularly tall or sturdy - a two-foot high fence of chicken wire or 1/4" hardware mesh (with the bottom buried 3 inches to prevent burrowing) is sufficient. Be sure the mesh is an inch or smaller, so young rabbits will not be able to get through it. You can protect your trees with cylinders of 1/4" wire mesh set firmly in the ground surrounding the trunk. The cylinders should be at least 18 to 24 inches high. (Commercial tree wraps and plastic guards also work.)


For best results, repellents are most effective before damage occurs or at the first sign of damage. There are several types of repellents to discourage rabbit browsing. Among these are chemical repellents like organic "I Must Garden" Rabbit Repellent. Their residual effects work a little longer than those of odor or taste repellents.

Most rabbit repellents are taste repellents or contact repellents, which make the treated plant distasteful to the rabbit. These repellents, such as Hot Pepper Wax spray, protect only the part of the plant they contact; new growth that emerges after application may not be protected. Heavy rains may necessitate reapplication of some repellents. Taste repellents are usually more effective than odor repellents. The degree of effectiveness, however, is highly variable, depending on the behavior and number of rabbits and alternative food sources available to them. When rabbits are abundant and hungry, use other control techniques along with chemical repellents.

Nonlethal Control

You can reduce the rabbits' habitat by removing brush piles, weed patches, dumps, stone piles, and other debris. Vegetation control along ditch banks and fence rows should help. Family pets, such as dogs and cats, may also help.


Trapping is the best way to remove rabbits. The first step is to get a well-designed and well-built live trap. Several excellent styles of commercial traps are available. Most are made of wire and last indefinitely with proper care. Live trapping with a "Havahart" trap is an effective method for removing rabbits. The traps should be baited with apple slices and set in dense, brushy areas. The captured animals should be transported at least five miles away from the trapping site to discourage their return.

So don't despair! There’s room for all of us if we'll simply make some adaptations. (After all, we‘re the ones who've encroached on the rabbits’ habitat.)

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