Time to Plant
Time to Plant
Todd Swartz knows how to work the dirt — literally. His love affair with planting began by helping his grandparents, Lawrence and Elsie Swartz, farm the 80 acres they purchased in 1925. Stones Crossing Garden Center (2807 South State Road 135), which Todd and his wife, Jennifer, now own and manage, opened in 1986 and is located on the northwest corner of that property.
His memories of growing up in Center Grove helping his grandparents farm cultivated his passion for horticulture. “It’s what we did to pitch in — to help with both the farming and the store.”
Once spring unfolds, it’s time to plant. According to Todd, April is especially busy for selecting trees because the optimal time to plant is when they’re still dormant. “Last year because of our early spring, we had to rush to get them into the ground. Once trees leaf out, you can’t dig a tree.”
Tree Selection & Planting
When selecting a tree, consider its purpose — whether it’s planted to provide shade, privacy, fruit, or decoration. Also, consider its eventual size and how long the homeowner plans to remain in the home. Todd’s personal favorites include the ornamental Japanese Maple, which thrives in local soil but needs protection from high winds, avoiding the open west side of any property. For shade, he likes the Red Maple, a moderately fast-growing tree that increases in size each year yet remains hardy.
A few years ago, Bradford Pear trees were extremely popular in this area; but because they’re soft, these are often uprooted and splintered due to strong Indiana winds. Todd recommends the hardy Cleveland Select Pear whose coloring, shape, and buds are similar to the Bradford Pear but are one-half its width. The Aristocrat Pear is also more wind-resistant than the Bradford.
Other popular Center Grove-area trees include any maple, flowering trees like the Tulip, and the Prairie Fire Crabapple, which isn’t messy and looks great next to the house. Hardwood maple trees seem to be the most disease resistant, while Todd recommends avoiding soft wood like the Silver Maple.
“Usually disease has a lot to do with the age of the tree or any damage that has been sustained.”
Todd estimates that 50% of his tree business involves not only selling the tree but also planting it. Its size and soil preparation can make this a complex endeavor. He suggests the hole should be dug 10 inches bigger all the way around the root ball. “You need plenty of room to pack soil solidly back into the hole so air pockets can’t form.”
A mistake homeowners often make filling the hole is not breaking down the big lumps of clay into finer soil. Clods of dirt can create air pockets that inhibit root development and, consequently, stunt growth. Todd also suggests placing a little peat moss or organic matter, like leaves and grass, in the bottom of the hole before planting. “Any organic matter only helps the soil right where it’s added. It keeps the clay soil from getting so hard.”
While mulch is recommended as a top layer to keep the soil moist, Todd cautions that piling mulch against the tree trunk inhibits its growth. Trees need breathing space especially when they’re first planted.
Typically, Indiana’s average spring rainfall will be enough water for a newly-planted tree and shrub. His rule of thumb includes checking the soil first. If it’s not moist, provide water. However, during a drought, trees should be watered regularly, preferably twice a week, with a slow trickle from the hose for 20 minutes. Todd notes that method also takes less water yet infiltrates the roots.
Shrubbery Favorites & Care
While shrubbery favorites include boxwoods, evergreens like junipers, privets, burning bushes, and purple plums, only the first two remain green throughout Indiana winters. Todd’s family stocks all the local favorites but will order special varieties as people may desire nostalgia plants that were popular 20-30 years ago.
Todd’s favorite shrub is the burning bush because it provides such vivid color. It’s also hardy since it can be cut back and then return even healthier. Local residents also select flowering shrubs like lilacs, which stay green in winter. Todd prefers the Miss Kim Lilac and Korean Spice by Burnham. If hummingbirds are desired, choose plants with the bigger, trumpet-shaped flowers. Planting flowers adds color to any home but requires more care, especially during drought. Todd recommends the Knock Out® Rose, especially the red one because of its durability and continuous blooming throughout summer. The brightly-colored Gerber Daisy is also a popular choice, but requires feeding when watering to ensure continued blooming.
While fertilizing plants fosters growth, knowing what to use and when is also important. To supplement growth early in the planting season, use any triple 12% fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). Nitrogen, a fundamental nutrient, causes plant growth and greens it up. Phosphorus aids in the plant’s blooming process while potassium strengthens cell wall growth, helping the plant withstand heat, cold, frost, and disease. Todd notes that granule breaks down more quickly than block fertilizer. For flowering plants, using a bloom booster in late spring and early summer enhances frequency of the flowers. These fertilizers contain a higher amount of phosphorus, the middle number. Todd’s wife, Jennifer, prefers Fertiloom’s bloom booster because it’s easy to use and apply.
Last summer’s extreme heat and drought devastated local landscapes and lawns, leading local residents to search for plants that can survive such conditions. Center Grove resident Janet Hommel Mangas, member of the Johnson County Garden Club and The American Horticulture Society, recommends re-thinking plants in which to invest. “The drought-resistant, go-to favorite that I plant every year is the citrus blend Lantana, with bright orange-pink flowers that thrive in the ground. Where I plant, it cascades over the brick wall. Butterflies love it.”
Janet’s hosta garden is filled with several native plants original to our area, like the Blue Wood Phlox, Christmas Fern, Epimedium, and Trillium’s “Roadrunner.” The other go-to plants include Verbenas planted in pots or as ground cover that actually can bloom through December.
Avoid planting too many flowers because they require a lot of water. For a truly low-maintenance garden, flowers should be used sparingly while plants designed for ground cover can provide color with much less work.
Sharpen those shovels and clippers. Spring is a great time to work the dirt, adding color and new life. As King Solomon once said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under Heaven. . . . A time to plant and a time to harvest . . . Yet God has made everything beautiful in its own time.” Ecclesiastes 3 (New Living Translation, Tyndale House, 2007).
Joyce Long, Greenwood Middle School language arts teacher from 1992-2000, has called Center Grove home for the past 25 years. Currently Joyce works as the communications coordinator for Center for Global Impact and is passionate about engaging people to empower the poor.