Gardening know-how: planting and caring for shrubs

Shrubs are the workhorses of the plant world, providing the structure around which the rest of your garden can be designed. With these handy gardening hints, you can help your shrubs thrive.

Gardening know-how: planting and caring for shrubs

Choosing a shrub

The key to a long-lasting, healthy shrub is buying a good-quality plant in the first place.

  • Avoid plants that are pot-bound with roots spiraling around inside the container, as these will fail to establish when planted.
  • Watch out for signs that a plant has been in the pot for too long, such as faded labels, cracked pots and roots growing through the drainage holes.
  • Check for weeds growing in the pot. They are potential problems.
  • Avoid plants with leaves that are discoloured, wilting or damaged. Make sure the branches are strong and not broken.
  • Buy extra shrubs as tubestock and grow them in pots so you'll always have spare plants on hand.

Planting potted shrubs in containers

Shrubs make good, long-lived container plants. They can be used as a screen, as a backdrop for seasonal colour or to accent an entrance.

  • Transfer a shrub from its nursery pot to a larger container. As it grows, regularly move it into an increasingly larger container.
  • If a shrub is growing in a windy or exposed situation, make sure the pot is large enough to support it.
  • Use pot feet or bricks under the pot to improve drainage, but make sure the plant doesn't send roots down to the earth below.
  • If there is only one drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, use a drill to add more.
  • At planting time, sprinkle a few slow-release fertilizer pellets around the plant.
  • Mulch the top of the pot with either an organic mulch, such as compost, or an inert mulch, such as gravel.

Training your shrub to be an espalier

An espalier is an ornamental shrub or small tree that is trained to grow flat against a wall or other support. The term also refers to the process of training a plant in this way.

  • Choose to espalier a plant when you want to save space or hide an ugly wall or fence.
  • Select a young plant with open, sprawling growth and several horizontal branches.
  • Decide on a type of support. It could be a trellis, a framework made of galvanized wire, or just nails or screws.
  • Plant the shrub about 5–10 centimetres (2–4 inches) out from the wall.
  • Attach the branches to the support in either a formal or informal pattern. Adjust your ties as the plant grows.
  • Prune regularly to achieve the desired effect.

Caring for shrubs

You don't need expensive or dangerous chemicals to protect your shrubs from pests or diseases.

  • Use lime sulphur straight after winter-pruning dormant shrubs to control scale and fungal diseases.
  • Spray aphids with a mild soap solution. Use either pure soap or a soap-based commercial spray.

Shrubs are easy to establish and can generally survive with minimal care, making them the perfect building block for starting a new garden or enhancing an existing one.

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