Let The Planting Begin!

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 010

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We had a taste of spring here yesterday and this morning.  We actually hit 70 F yesterday afternoon!  It was the perfect day for a drive out to the country, and so some loved ones and I took off for destinations west after lunch.

Just over the county line, in the eastern edge of Amelia, Clay Hudgins of  Hudgins Landscape and Nursery, Inc., is preparing for his first spring in his new location. We had visited last fall and been impressed with the excellent condition of the plants and friendliness of his staff.

What else to do on the first 70 degree day of the new year, but go wander through a nursery?  Although I was in search of potted Hellebores, Clay interested me in shrubs instead.   Many of his shrubs were on sale, and most of his Espoma products.  So I stocked up on Holly Tone and Rose Tone; and adopted a gorgeous Rhododendron.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 001~

Our neighbors have successfully grown Rhododendron, even without fencing out the deer; and so we are going to try this one in a spot where a Camellia failed this autumn.  The poor Camellia had been nibbled by deer multiple times during its short life.  Sadly, most of its roots had also been eaten by the voles.  It was too abused to even take a photo of it.

But I’ve learned a trick or two to protect new shrubs since that Camellia went into the ground in 2011.  Today I planted both the Rhodie, and a potted dwarf  Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, which was already growing with Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ spring bulbs, and an Autumn Brilliance fern.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 003

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This is a cool and partially shaded area, part of our fern gardens behind the house.  These plants will get afternoon sun, and should grow very happily here.

The first line of defense to protect a shrub’s roots from vole damage is gravel in the planting hole.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 004

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I dug this hole about 4″ deeper than needed, and about 6-7″ wider.  You may notice a clam shell stuck to the side of the planting hole in the photo.  That is plugging up the main vole tunnel, which is now back-filled with gravel behind that shell.

Like earthworms, voles dig and tunnel through the soil.  My job is to make that as difficult and hazardous as possible.  In addition to gravel, I like to surround the new shrub with poisonous roots.  There were already a few daffodil bulbs growing in front of the deceased Camellia.  You can see their leaves just poking through the soil in the bottom left corner of the photo, if you look closely.  I’ve added a few more daffodils now, planted near the new Redbud, a few feet behind the Rhodie.

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These roots are beautiful; not potbound at all.  I still scored vertical lines in several places around the rootball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any 'girdling' of the roots .

These roots are beautiful; not pot bound at all. I still scored vertical lines in several places around the root ball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any ‘girdling’ of the roots as they grow .

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I’ll plan to plant more daffodils in this area when they come on the market again in fall.  But, until then, I’ve surrounded the Rhodie with seedling Hellebores, spaced about 12″ apart.  Hellebores are one of the most toxic plants we grow.  Every part, including the roots, is highly poisonous.  Once these roots begin to grow and fill in, they will form a poisonous “curtain” of plant matter around the Rhodie’s roots, protecting the root ball as the shrub establishes.  Just for good measure, I’ve laid a light ‘mulch’ of the old Hellebore leaves we pruned this morning.  They will quickly decompose into the soil, and their toxins will offer this area additional protection.

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From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, 'Caramel," a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, ‘Caramel,” a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

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Japanese Painted Ferns are already established in this area.  Their first fronds will unfurl over the next six weeks.  I’ll add additional ferns, and most likely some Wood Anemones to this planting.  It is mulched in pea gravel and some shells at the moment, to further thwart creatures who might want to dig here.

A little Holly Tone is mixed into the bottom of the planting holes and is also dusted over the mulched ground.  Mushroom compost is mixed with the soil used to fill in around the root balls.  Finally, I watered in all of the plants with a generous wash of Neptune’s Harvest.  It smells so foul that hungry creatures give it wide berth.  Just for good measure, I also sprayed the Heuchera and Rhododendron with deer repellent just before going back inside.

Overkill?  Not at all!  I want these plants to get off to a good and healthy start!  I’ll show you the progress here from time to time.  This gorgeous Rhodie is absolutely covered in buds, which will open in a beautiful shade of lavender later in the spring.   I’m so pleased with this shrub, having seen its beautiful roots and abundant growth, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a few more Rhododendrons from this same lot while they are available, and still on sale.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

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