Growing Concerns 550: Big tree removed, fertilize, bulb storage


Plant and fertilize carefully to garden where a big tree was removed


Dear Janet,

I'm in the planning and dreaming stage where all gardeners are this time of year! We lost a 60 foot  maple tree in the yard. It provided shade and I will miss that. However, it was also a messy tree and it confined my plant selection to groundcovers and hostas.

After the debris was cleaned up and the stump ground, I was told that I couldn't plant anything but acid loving plants for five years. Is this true? I was hoping to plant roses and sun-loving perennials in the area.


Dear S.B.,

There are even more people in your spot than usual this year, as we plan to replace millions of lost ash trees!

You don't have to wait or restrict your plant choices. But planting right where a big tree was isn't like planting into fallow ground, either.

Where a stump is ground down, what remains isn't soil but sawdust, which is not a good growing medium. Better to plant to one side but if you must plant right where the stump was, remove the top 12 to 18 inches of soil-sawdust mix. Use what you excavate to topdress other beds. Like woodchips, it will break down over time.

Fill excavated planting areas with topsoil mounded several inches above original grade. If you're planting beyond the stump location where it's not necessary to remove sawdust, you should still add several inches of top soil. This extra depth of soil is in anticipation of subsidence -- a lowering of the grade as subterranean tree parts rot away. Watch for it over the next five to ten years and add soil as needed between new plantings. If new plants themselves sink, dig them out, add soil and replant.

All around where a tree was removed, mix in organic, slow release fertilizer such as cottonseed meal and composted manure. Use water soluble fertilizer during the first few years, throughout spring and early summer to make up for the fact that wood-decomposing fungi are locking up nutrients in surrounding and underlying layers as they break down woody roots and sawdust.

Short reports

Do landscape boulders encourage braking?

Rocks at the roadside may seem like a good way to fend car tires from lawn and garden but can do more harm than good. The tire that slides off an icy road won't stop when it hits that rock but it will push it, so you'll have not only compacted soil but a gouge to repair. If your street is tough for cars to navigate in winter, burlap bags of sand can mark the road edge at least as well as rocks and are a better bet for absorbing the impact of stray tires.

Learn from orchardists: prune in winter.

Sharpen your pruners so you can take advantage of January and February thaws. On days that top 40 degrees you can clean up the framework of a shade tree, remove suckers and watersprouts from a fruit tree, crabapple or weeping cherry, prune a hedge, clip back roses and raspberries, and neaten foundation plantings.

Didn't get all those spring bulbs planted?

It's hard to keep tulips, daffodils and other hardy bulbs alive in home storage all winter. Even in the best place, the crisper drawer, some will dry out and rot.

The most successful way to store a bulb is to plant it. Here's an easy way to do that even when the ground is frozen.

Line a milk crate with thick, overlapping sections of newspaper. Put several inches of potting soil into the bottom of the crate. Add a layer of big bulbs such as daffodils, tightly packed. Then add more soil and a close-set layer of smaller bulbs such as crocus. Finish filling the crate with soil.

Keep the crate in an unheated garage. Heft it now and then and water it if it begins to lose weight. When the bulbs sprout, move the crate into the light on a porch or patio. Water and fertilize it. Enjoy the densely packed blooms, then depot the bulbs, separate and transplant them to the garden.


 Green thumbs up

to the transportational qualities of fragrance. Clip a bit of a fragrant plant now -- bruise the cutting to inhale a bit of spring. Keep a sprig of thyme, sage or lavender or a twig of bayberry or blue mist spirea in your pocket. Each time you touch it, the scent that's released will take you away from winter and out into the garden.


Green thumbs down

to those who scoff at a gardener's bird seed expenditures. Birds pay it back in insect control. Lure a chickadee to a feeder each morning and it will scour the shrubbery for aphid eggs all day. Cardinals and others live on seed in winter but switch to insects in nesting season, just in time to stem the spring flood of plant-eating bugs.

Originally published 1/17/04