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Do's and Don'ts of Planting

At Blake Nursery we offer you Montana gardening advice based on many years of experience. Here are some dos and don'ts we'd like to pass on to you, our readers, in hopes they may dispel some gardening myths and/or simply spare you time and energy.

  • Don't dump wood ash onto your soil if you're trying to improve it. Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, wood ash is not recommended for most Montana soils. The reason is that it raises the pH level of soil and in Montana we need to put energy into lowering it. Our Montana soils are generally alkaline and adding wood ash (calcium carbonate/lime) just adds fuel to the fire. Instead if you want to improve your soil pH add acidic soil amendments such as peat moss.

  • Don't use garden soil in plant containers if your want healthy plants. Instead use potting soil. The reasons for this are that garden soil: 1) in containers drains poorly and plants tend to be waterlogged, while on the contrary, potting soils have better aeration; 2) shrinks as it dries and in so doing tends to pull away from the sides of the container; 3) unlike most light-weight potting soils, is heavy, making containers difficult to move.

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  • Don't rush to fertilize your plants when their leaves turn yellow and they look sickly. First be sure they're not suffering from over-watering. Plants need air just as much as they need water. When you over-water you displace air with water and literally drown your plants. Remember that roots require oxygen just as people do.

  • Don't fertilize trees and shrubs beyond mid-July. Nitrogen fertilizer produces lush new growth which is fine in spring and early summer, but plants need plenty of time to harden off before cold weather hits. Fertilizing beyond mid-July can result in severe plant injury when those early September freezes occur.

  • Don't use herbicides without first carefully reading the instructions. Make sure to use them sparingly and that they match the job you are going to use them for. And remember that some plants are extremely sensitive to certain herbicides.

  • Do use organic fertilizers over inorganic ones (usually produced by a chemical company) any time you can. Organic fertilizers attract and hold nutrients, provide better aeration as well as water holding capacity, and build better soil for the long haul. Some good choices are compost (make your own or buy some!) and well-rotted manure. Organic matter such as these make wonderful additions to both clay and sandy soils, aerating one and providing better water-holding capacity to the other. A final highly recommended solution for improving your soil is growing cover crops in your proposed planting beds, especially legumes such as clover, and then turning them under with a tiller in the summer while they are still green.

  • Do contact a landscape designer/architect before you break ground for a new home and have them involved in every step of the planning process. Many permanent errors can be avoided by this one decision, including house siting, placement of driveways, parking and turn-around areas, sidewalks - to mention just a few.
  • Don't paint tree wounds with pruning paints or wound dressings. They add nothing beneficial and can actually cause decay. When you do have a tree wound it's best to let nature do the job - it's effective and free!
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  • Don't make planting holes deeper than the tree root ball. This is a common error made in tree planting - digging a hole that is too deep resulting in the root crown sitting below ground level, a sure-fire way to kill your trees. You should however make planting holes wider than the root ball. Roots tend to grow laterally and loosened soil in that direction, especially when organic matter is added to your soil, will hasten that growth.

  • Don't dig before you line up the locator for underground utilities. Protect yourself from possible disaster by using the One Call Referral number, 1-800-424-5555, whenever you're digging in your yard. Whether it's gas, electric, phone, cable, sewer, or other lines, it's much less stressful making a phone call than dealing with severed lines.

  • Do plant a magnificent Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) if you have plenty of space and believe in leaving a legacy for generations to come. These drought-resistant trees that are native to eastern Montana are the only oaks we see growing successfully in our high pH Montana soils. Don't waste precious time attempting to grow other oak trees because they don't thrive in the long haul here.