Talking Trees with Scotts

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City Plants:
Thanks for sitting down with us Amy!

Amy Enfield: Thanks for having me!

CP: Tell us a little about your background in gardening.

Amy: I have been a Horticulturist with The Scotts Company for 6 years, but I’ve been working in the green industry for 23 years. My involvement in gardening started over 30 years ago when I joined my local 4-H club where I took classes in flower and vegetable gardening.

Growing up, my family also had a very large vegetable garden where my sisters and I spent hours planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting vegetables.

CP: That sounds like fun! How did you get into the industry as an adult?

Amy: I have my BS and MS in Horticulture from Michigan State University and my PhD in Plant & Environmental Sciences from Clemson University. Prior to joining Scotts in 2012, I was an assistant professor of ornamental horticulture at a college on Long Island. I’ve also worked in 2 different garden centers (one in Michigan and one on Long Island) helping homeowners design gardens and landscapes.

CP: What were the factors you told homeowners to consider as you helped them design their yard?

Amy: First, we would discuss the overall purpose of the planting – was it purely aesthetics, curb appeal, or a screen/buffer between property lines?

Next, we’d talk about the location of the new planting relative to the house and other existing mature trees and landscaping. That way, we could determine whether we needed plants adapted to sun, part sun/shade, or full shade. After we discussed what the growing conditions were like, we would consider the overall size of the planting area.

The last thing we would discuss was the actual plants. We would select plants with complementary colors, varied heights, textures, and seasonal interests so that there would always be something of interest in the planting design.

The biggest reminder we always made when discussing a planting design is allowing enough space for the plants as they grow. Basically: small plants get big!

Landscaping is an investment, and the cost of the plant material can add up quickly. One cost saving measure is to buy a smaller version of the plant – many nurseries will sell the same tree or shrub in several sizes. Smaller plants cost less money but will take longer to reach their final size. Everyone (me included) wants instant gratification when planting a landscape bed, but when incorporating trees and shrubs, it will take several years for that to happen.

CP: What can you do in the meantime?

Amy: You can always add annual flowers to their beds until the trees and shrubs were able to fill in the planting space.

CP: What's your biggest tip for planting a tree properly?

Amy: I have two tips when it comes to planting trees.

First, make sure you know how big the tree will be when it’s full-grown so you can plant it in the right spot in your yard. You don’t want to find out years later that it was planted too close to the house, or power lines, or even your neighbor’s property.

Second, get the soil right before you plant. All plants (trees, shrubs, flowers) want to grow into loose, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. Amending the native soil in your landscape beds with a product like Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Trees & Shrubs before planting your tree will make it easier for new roots to penetrate further into the soil and create a deeper, more expansive root system making it more tolerant to drought conditions in the future.

CP: How would you recommend caring for a newly planted tree, particularly in the first few months?

Amy: The most important thing for a newly planted tree is remembering to water it. Really, in the first several months after planting, there is nothing more important than making sure your tree is properly watered.

The easiest way to water newly planted trees is to form a 3-6 inch tall ring of soil around the planting hole forming a basin. This basin will hold and funnel water deep to the root ball. Simply fill the basin with water once or twice a week. The berm can be removed once the tree has a well-established root system. Until your tree establishes a deep, strong root system, it won’t be able to withstand a lot of stress. Trees can take 2 or more years to establish a strong root system and should be watched closely during periods of drought.

Remember: drought tolerant plants are only drought tolerant after they have an established root system! If they don’t receive enough water while they are establishing their roots, they won’t be drought tolerant in the future.

CP: When is the right time to mulch and fertilize a tree in LA's Mediterranean climate?

Amy: The right time to fertilize trees is as soon as you start to notice the buds swelling and starting to open on your deciduous trees or new growth form on your evergreens. In the LA area, this is usually around early to mid-March. Trees can be fertilized again in early fall.

Once your night temperatures are consistently in the mid-50s (late March through mid-April), it’s a good time to mulch around trees and in landscape beds. A 3-inch layer of natural mulch (like Earthgro® by Scotts® Mulch) helps conserve soil moisture, moderates soil temperature, and prevents weed seeds from sprouting.

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CP: What's the best way to fertilize a tree?

Amy: Young trees planted less than 5 years should be fertilized twice a year – in spring and again in early-fall – to get them established. Tree spikes, like Miracle-Gro® Tree & Shrub Plant Food Spikes or Miracle-Gro® Fruit & Citrus Plant Food Spikes, are a great, easy-to-use option for fertilizing trees. Tree spikes deliver nutrients directly into the root zone of your tree slowly over a long period of time. Once trees have been planted for 5 years and have a well-established root system, they only need to be fed every 2-3 years unless they show signs of nutrient deficiencies.

CP: Trees can be a great anchoring plant for creating a colorful abundant garden. What types of plants do best around trees as they grow?

Amy: The types of plants will vary depending on the tree you planted. Since any plants growing around a tree will be competing with the tree roots for both water and nutrients, drought tolerant plants usually do well. If you’re planting around a large shade tree, select plants that are small, low-growing, and shade-tolerant.

CP: What are your favorite trees on the City Plants delivery list? Why do you like them?

Amy: I personally love any trees that produce abundant, bright-colored flowers because of the seasonal pop of interest they add to the landscape which is why Redbuds and Crape Myrtles have always been personal favorites. I’m also a fan of trees that provide “off-season” interest, like the London Plane tree and the California Sycamore, which have interesting multi-colored bark. Edible landscaping is also a very popular trend, so trees that serve a dual-purpose in landscapes, like Sweet Bay, are great to incorporate into the landscape. Finally, I also like deciduous trees, like Chinese Pistache, that have a great fall color, even in LA!

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CP: Are there any plant combinations you would suggest to accompany those trees?

Amy: The London Plane tree gets very large when it’s fully grown. It works best in yards with lots of space and should ideally be planted by itself, but keep in mind, when it is fully grown it will cast a lot of shade on the yard and should be planted well away from the house’s foundation and any power lines.

The Redbud is a great understory tree and can be planted beneath larger tree species (for example, within the shade of a mature London Plane tree). However, it also works great as a backdrop for shrubs like camellias, barberry, cotoneaster, dwarf junipers, pittosporum, and even hypericum. Liriope and ajuga also grow well under redbud trees.

Crape myrtles can be incorporated into the landscape in two ways: (1) Plant it with shrubs that will provide an attractive foliage background to the bright colors of the crape myrtle flowers, like pittosporum, sweet olive, abelia, and cotoneaster. (2) Incorporate perennials and ornamental grasses that complement the brightly colored flowers like coreopsis, daylily, liriope, blue fescue, and reed grass (Calamagrostis). You can even grow carpet roses beneath crape myrtle.

A great thing to do with a Sweet Bay is to create a total culinary or edible garden. Plant herbs like rosemary, oregano, or lavender around it. It can even be planted with other “edible” trees like pomegranate, citrus, olive, and fig, just be sure to take into account the size of the trees when they are fully grown to allow proper spacing.

Several shrubs, grasses, and ground covers can be grown beneath Chinese Pistache. Try cotoneaster, sweet olive, pittosporum, sedges, liriope, or mondo grass.

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CP: Do you have any tips for caring for trees surrounded by perennials and annuals?

Amy: The plants you choose to plant beneath a tree should be drought tolerant since they will be competing with the tree’s feeder roots for water. When planting perennials around trees, it’s also better to plant them at the same time you plant your tree so the root systems can grow together (keeping in mind how big your plants will ultimately get and how fast they’ll get there – otherwise you may find yourself redoing your landscape after a few years).

When planting around existing trees, take care not to pile soil on top of the tree’s root system – meaning no raised beds - because you can smother the tree roots. Also, take care when planting around established trees; some trees are more tolerant of damage to their root systems than others.

CP: Your specialty is starting those beautiful blooming plants we love to buy in the nursery. Which are your favorite California Friendly plants and why? How would you suggest taking care of them?

Amy: I love all flowers in general, but I particularly like flowering perennials and ornamental grasses because of the wide variation I can get in color and texture, and I don’t have to replant them every year.

Some of my favorite California Friendly perennials are yarrow, bear’s breech, beard tongue, cardinal flower, gaura, lavender, coral bells, daylily, catmint, coreopsis, and thrift. Among my favorite ornamental grasses are muhly grass, blue oat grass, and big bluestem. I even like small flowering shrubs like rosemary, butterfly bush, and caryopteris. The benefit of Southern California is flowers I consider annuals here in Ohio, like fan flower, lantana, gazania, cosmos, osteospermum, blanket flower, and gloriosa daisy are perennial for you.

Most perennials and ornamental grasses are very easy to care for once they are established. In the spring when they start showing signs of new growth, I feed them with a slow release plant food (like Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Rose & Flower Plant Food or Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tree & Shrub Plant Food). Throughout the growing season, I’ll snip flowers off the perennials as they fade which in some cases promotes more flowers to bloom. And then, in the fall, once they start to die back, I’ll cut them back near the ground. The benefit of many of these plants is once they have a good established root system, they don’t require much water at all, and I’ll only water them when I notice them starting to wilt.

CP: You've dedicated your life to horticulture. In your mind, what is the best part of caring for your garden - or expressing yourself on your own piece of earth?

Amy: I love being able to watch plants grow and reaping the rewards of the effort I put in. For my front landscape, that means seeing how much the plants have grown in the past 3 years since I planted it and also enjoying how nice the front of my house looks when the beds are freshly mulched and weeded. For my vegetable garden, that means being able to enjoy fresh vegetables all summer long. There is something very satisfying about being able to walk outside and pick a juicy, ripe tomato fresh from the vine.

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1. “Eastern Redbud Tree at Ashland” by PEO ACWA, Flickr Creative Commons 2. “Crape Myrtle” by Junpei Abe, Flickr Creative Commons 3. “London Plane” by -JvL-, Flickr Creative Commons 4. “Laurus Nobilis Leaves” by Forest and Kim Starr, Flickr Creative Commons 5. “Chinese Pistache” by PaulGuzie, Flickr Creative Commons 6. “Cercis canadensis & Cercis chinensis, Now York Botanical Garden” by Kristine Paulus, Flickr Creative Commons 7. “Pyracantha Berries” by David Wright, Flickr Creative Commons 8. “Pittosporum glabrum” by David Eickhoff, Flickr Creative Commons 9. “Ajuga” by Indiana Ivy Nature Photographer, Flickr Creative Commons 10. “Liriope” by Houroumono, Flickr Creative Commons 11. “Blue Fescue” by Martha W. McQuade, Flickr Creative Commons 12. “Hypercium species” by Color Line, Flickr Creative Commons

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