House + Home Q + A

Secrets of spring planting from Gary Archer of Soil Service Nursery

Updated: 2013-03-31T01:04:42Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

He’s the grandson of Howard Archer and the second owner of Soil Service Nursery.

“The original owners started it to do the landscaping for the Nelson Gallery,” said Gary Archer, the president of Soil Service Nursery. “My grandfather bought it in 1934. We’re on the fourth generation working here. In July, my son, who is in the Marines in Afghanistan, is getting out and will be working here part time while he goes to college.”

In mid-March, Archer had been unloading a truckload of dwarf conifers before he stopped to chat, and there was a whiff of spring in the air. Out in the plant lot, where a new “shade house” was taking shape, witch hazel shrubs erupted in ruffles of tiny yellow blossoms. Outside the nursery center, pansies and primroses flaunted bright colors in pots beside the door.

People are poised to head outside and spruce things up around their houses. Could you talk a bit about foundation planting. What are the benefits? What’s involved?

Instead of your home looking like a box on the prairie, you nestle it in with trees and shrubs. Typically, one of the things you want to emphasize is the entrance, and you want to soften the corners of the house without hiding the house. When you soften the corners, it makes the house appear larger. Placement is very important. You plant for the future.

Can you offer a few tips?

Foundation plantings should have some consistency. Some houses can get away with a cottage garden look, but most need simple lines, groupings or massings and not too busy.

Put color by the entryways where you want to draw the eye. Plant for exposure, size, texture and color, just like you would inside the house. There’s an ever-expanding palette of choices. Typically you want to choose shrubs that are naturally dwarfed so pruning requirements are less.

What shrubs do you recommend?

There’s good and bad to say about every plant. The yew is naturally resistant to bugs, it’s evergreen and has soft foliage. The basic evergreens are junipers, spruce and pine.

There’s been a huge craze for the Knock Out rose, but the Knock Out gets large. There are other roses such as the Drift and Flower Carpet that don’t require severe pruning.

What about trees?

The biggest benefit to your yard is planting a tree. It will absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. That’s photosynthesis.

A shade tree cools the air as much as four air-conditioning units.

Could you name a few trees that do well here?

Mature oaks, lindens, thornless, podless honey locust, sugar maple and red maple.

What about ornamentals?

Dogwoods and Japanese maples are our biggest sellers, and the new dogwoods are more drought-tolerant.

Kansas City lost a lot of Bradford pear trees in the ice storm of 2002.

The Bradford pear, a cultivar of the Callery pear, was popular. It flowers, has glossy green foliage, it grows in clay soil and is heat- and drought-tolerant. There are some improved cultivars of the Callery pear, including Aristocrat and the Chanticleer or Cleveland Select, with improved branch structure that makes them more resistant to structural damage in storms. The Bradford pear had no fruit. The others do have small fruit that you must clean up in the fall.

And how far from the house should a tree be planted?

Think about where the tree will be in 10 or 15 years. If it will have a 15-foot spread, you want to plant it at least 8 feet from the house. Most people think trees are a problem for foundations, but it’s not the roots pushing against the foundation, it’s the soil. Our clay-based soil expands and contracts.

It seems we’ve had a lot of weather ups and downs.

We are now Zone 6. The USDA came out with a new zone chart putting pretty much the entire state of Missouri in Zone 6, which means you can grow plants hardy to 10 degrees below zero versus plants hardy to 20 degrees below. The shift has expanded our palette into nontraditional plants.

With severe droughts and high heat you need to consider some Southern plants like Heavenly Bamboo or Nandina. It’s a leafy shrub that’s evergreen and comes in different sizes. With some of the new ones, the foliage comes out pink to maroon, and white flower spikes in summer produce red berries in winter that birds love. With some varieties, if you plant them in a sunny location, they take on a red color for winter.

What else is new?

We’re carrying heat-tolerant Bloom-a-Thon and Encore Azaleas. They repeat their blossom throughout the summer. You want to have moist acidic soil, so prepare it by adding soil acidifier and organic matter.

Could you share some pruning basics?

For early spring bloomers, prune after flowering. For summer bloomers, prune in early spring or after flowering. Ideally you don’t prune in fall because it encourages regrowth, and you don’t want that going into winter.

But roses require a bit more special treatment?

With shrub roses and climbers, prune for size and dead wood. Climbers bloom better on wood a year old and more vigorously in their horizontal branches, so you want them to grow sideways.

If you have tea roses, cut them back to 2 feet in the fall and cut 6 to 8 inches more in the spring. Clean out the dead wood and remove any branches that are crossing and rubbing. Ideally, the plant should look like a bowl with an open center to allow air movement. If you find a hole in the center of a cane, you have a borer. Cut it back to solid wood and seal it with a drop of Elmer’s Glue.

Is there a trick to maintaining ornamental shrubs in pots?

A plant in a pot is never established. Add Soil Moist, a granular product that absorbs moisture and releases it slowly back to the plants. It’s like a sponge. If the plant it gets root bound, repot it in a larger pot. If you get five seasons out of a potted plant, you’ve done well.

Is there anything special people should do now to help plants recover from the effects of the drought?

Fertilize and water to help them regain health. When a plant loses its internal water pressure, it becomes more susceptible to insects and disease.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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