The Pop-n-Drop method of planting shrubs

One of the planting practices that severely vexes me is the Pop-n-Drop (TM) method, where plants are popped out of the container and dropped into a hole roughly the same size.  When I’m lucky enough to find such installations in progress, I try to take as many photos as possible for later comparisons.  Here’s one such landscape that was installed in this manner:

A row of Pop-n-Drops in 2002

And here’s the same landscape 10 years later:

Two rows of Pop-n-Drops in 2012

Some of the shrubs survived, some did not, and certainly none of them are thriving.  You can see that the shrubs have remained about the same height after a decade of “growth.” Yet this practice continues to be SOP for many landscaping companies all in the name of shaving off a few minutes of labor and making a few more $$.

We GPs can (and do!) disagree about how much root preparation is needed before planting containerized and B&B trees and shrubs.  But I don’t think any of us would recommend NO root preparation.

(Additional note:  the “before” photo is the side of the landscape that faces west.  Those shrubs are gone.  The “after” photo is facing south (this is a corner lot).  All of the landscapes were put in at the same time, in the same fashion.  Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of the south facing landscape when it was put in, and the one that failed on the west was replaced before I knew it had died.  Sorry for not including this explanation initially.)

And here is the 2012 landscape from a closer viewpoint; note the dead shrub on the left end of the lower row.  The others are all failing, in both this row and the upper row:

Foiled again!

A while back I was talking smack with Sandy G. in the comment section of some post – about how I was going to have a ripe tomato before the end of May.  I’ve been coddling a plant of ‘Orange Blossom’  since about March – it’s been planted and dug up twice, spending frosty snaps in the greenhouse. But 90% of its life has been in the soil on the South side of our house – so I think this is a legit garden tomato.

I’ve been cheering along the top tomato – it turned yellow two weeks ago and it was just flushing orange – close enough for government work.  The hot dry weekend really helped things along.

Then, tragedy struck.

Blurry, due to hands shaking with rage.

Apparently, it was also ripe enough for a hen with an appetite for destruction.


So. Close.

A Horticultural Tour of Washington DC

My wife and I were in Washington DC a few weeks back for a wedding.  I’ve been to DC a handful of times and it is one of my all-time favorite places to visit.  I love history so the memorials, monuments and Smithsonian museums are all high on my list.  But DC has a lot to offer plant geeks as well.  In honor of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer vacation season, here are my top three DC Horticultural Highlights.

National Botanic Garden.  Located nearly adjacent to the US Capitol, the Botanic Garden is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.  The garden is comparatively small but offers a nice respite from the hustle and bustle (and interminable school groups) of the rest of the National Mall.  It’s also a cooler oasis to beat the heat if you visit the Mall in the summer and offers some unique views of the Capitol.  The conservatory has great on-going and rotating exhibits.  A current one was on medicinal plants.

The National Arboretum.  The Arboretum is a little more of challenge to get to and probably best if you have a car.  Some highlights include the Gotelli collection of dwarf conifers, the grove of state trees, and The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.  Be sure to check on hours of operation before you go.  The first time I visited the Arboretum I arrived at 4:30 thinking I would have a several hours of prime late afternoon and evening light for pictures, only to find out they closed at 5:00.

Arlington Cemetery. Arlington is a special place is so many ways.  If you’re an American, these are images steeped in our collective consciences; the tomb of the Unknowns, the Kennedy gravesites, the Challenger memorial, and tens of thousands of headstones marking those that gave the last full measure of devotion.  The grounds are wonderfully tended and, like the Botanic Garden, provide a break from the din on the nearby National Mall.  The Cemetery grounds include dozens of memorial trees and several state Champion trees. Motorized trams are available but if you can walk a couple miles it’s a fascinating and moving place for a stroll.  Arlington is easily accessible by DC Metro or walk across the Memorial Bridge at the Lincoln Memorial end of the Mall.

Stuck in the 1950s

Today I’m going to throw up a post that’s a little link-heavy, but I encourage you to follow these links because they show how prevalent the technology is that I discuss.  And a trip to the garden center will quickly show how infrequently this technology is used.

It’s frustrating.

Why the heck do we still buy plants grown in containers using 1950s technology?  I was reading Bert’s post this week about how to treat container grown trees before planting and also considering a somewhat similar experiment which I conducted about a year ago (stats are in and support my points in that article), and I couldn’t help asking, why do we put ourselves through it? 

The technology is out there for us to produce great root systems by using new types of pots that have become available over the last few years. Look up High Caliper Growing System, Rootmakers (which also includes RootTrappers — we’ve been using these for years), Smart Pots, Superoots, — and there are other systems out there too – all of these systems greatly reduce circling roots and are relatively easy to use.

Do we ask for record players or black and white TVs when we go to the electronics store?  No!  We want MP3 players and big flat screens.  So why are we content with plants grown in containers that come straight from 1954 in our garden centers? 

If we would just start to demand that garden centers and nurseries provide container grown plants with better root systems we’d get them – because they are out there.  But we need to be proactive or we’ll be stuck in the past forever.

Podcast: Subarctic Gardening

Earlier this spring I spoke to the Alaska Master Gardeners at their annual meeting in Anchorage.  I’d not been to Alaska before this, so I was on a steep learning curve most of the time.  It was fantastic.

In any case, I thought it would be fun to do a podcast on gardens and landscapes at high latitudes.  And if you’ve ever wondered what, exactly, you can grow at 51N latitude, you’ll find out

Pest Alert: Red Lily Leaf Beetle

One of the things this blog can do is alert gardeners to the presence of new problems.  This is one such instance.

WSU produces Pest Alerts, and recently the Red lily leaf beetle has been found in the Seattle area.  The state is monitoring the spread of this nonnative pest, so those of you living in Washington please read this and pass it on to your gardening friends.  New Englanders have been dealing with this pest for a while, but any of you outside this region may want to keep your eyes peeled.

Please comment here if you see this insect!

Research in real time

It’s been a busy spring around the Cregg lab.  In many ways, it feels more like mid-summer than mid-May.  One of the items my students and I have been with is installation of the Social Media Designed Tree Transplant Study (SoMeDedTreeS).  As loyal Garden Professor blog readers will recall, we conducted a Survey Monkey poll last fall to help develop a study plan to investigate tree transplanting practices of container-grown trees.  Based on the results of the survey we designed a study to look the effects of root-ball manipulation and post-transplant fertilization on 96 planetrees.  

Well, the time has arrived.  Last week we completed the first of two installations of the study – the second will be installed at the MSU Beaumont nursery soon.  Graduate research assistant Dana Ellison and summer research intern Aniko Gaal finished planting the first 48 trees last week at the MSU Hort Farm.  These two did yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) work in handling the trees, applying the treatments and getting in the trees in the ground.  

Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman…

All of the trees are ‘Bloodgood’ planetrees that we have grown on in 25 gal. containers for past two years. The study was installed as a 3 x 2 factorial in a complete block design.  We have 3 root-ball manipulations: “shaving” the outer 1 in. of the rootball to remove circling roots; “teasing” apart the outer part of the rootball to pull appear circling roots; and “control” just pop off the container and drop ‘em in the hole.  The second part of the design is fertilization; with or without.  This results in 6 combinations (3 root-ball manipulations x 2 fert levels) times 8 reps = 48 trees total. 

Graduate Research Assistant Dana Ellison teases apart a root-ball

Summer Intern Aniko Gaal shaves a root-ball. Step one: remove the ‘pancake’ of roots  from the bottom.

Not to complicate life too much but I am considering a change to the protocol.  We will continue with the original rootball manipulation and fertilization trial at the second installation at Beaumont nursery.  In each test we would have 48 trees and 8 reps, which is better than a lot of landscape tree studies.   But given our recent discussion about mulching, I propose substituting with a mulch vs. without mulch treatment instead of the fert vs no fert at the Hort Farm installation.  We will water the trees once or twice a week to help get them established and then cut off the irrigation after about a month (simulating a city forestry department getting a budget cut and having to lay-off its temporary crews).  We will monitor soil moisture and tree water status in the subsequent months.   

Trees after planting

Before I make the change in the study, however, I’d like to get some feedback from our readers lest anyone feel there’s been a bait and switch.

Truth in advertising, finally.

*drum roll*

Ladies and gentlemen, the latest effort in pinto bean breeding from Seminis Vegetable Seeds:

"beans, beans, good for your heart..."


Windbreaker is an upright, short-vine pinto bean that has produced consistently good yields, especially for the Red River Valley production area. Windbreaker ripens quickly and uniformly with reduced seed weathering. Try Windbreaker in narrow rows for direct harvest.
Relative Days to Maturity: 94-98
Plant Type: Indeterminate, short vine
Color: Brown flecks on buff
Seeds/LB: 1,076
Disease Resistance: BCMV, R (R)

How Much Would You Pay?

OK, here’s a question for you.  How much would you pay for an online course taught by professors (perhaps garden professors?) about plants and gardening including things like fertilizers, pest control, etc.?

Hour long lectures once a week (through Skype or something similar) with an additional 1/2 hour built in for questions?  12 weeks of lectures.  No college credit.

I haven’t talked to the other garden professors about it — this is purely a hypothetical question for now.  I’m just wondering if there is interest in this kind of thing, and if so, how much. 

Thanks for your responses!

Podcast – Better living through chemistry

One of the coolest things about plants is their unlimited ability to manufacture some of the most amazing biochemicals.  This week’s podcast will brief you on some of these phytochemicals in the news – they’re good for you as well as for plants!  We’ll also explore whether natural organic compounds are really all that much safer than synthetic chemicals.  (You can probably already guess the answer to that one.)