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  1. Planting a Tree is Just Not Digging a Hole: Simple tips for planting a fruit tree

    Some places in the country may be able to get away with just digging a hole, putting a tree in and covering it with soil. This is not the average situation by no means. Most homeowners are face with a variety of different soil types and drainage issues. Here are a few simple ideas on what to consider when planting a fruit tree.

    First and most important is drainage. The most common reason for fruit trees to struggle or die is due to poor drainage. The best time to get familiar with your drainage is during the wettest part of winter. Watch the locations in your yard and make note of how long the water stands in any area after a heavy rain. Locations that take over 5-6 hours to drain-off are potential problem areas.

    When drainage is determined to be good with no long-standing water the hole required is not so difficult to dig. The idea of planting a $10.00 tree in a $20.00 hole filled with all sorts of amendments is not recommended anymore. This is for any number of different reasons. The one I like the best is that the tree will have to survive in the native soil that is in your yard, the sooner it gets established in that soil the better. Save your amendments for mulch to cover your surface area.

    The simple hole for areas of good drainage are ones that are dug to the depth of the container or Bare root tree you are planting. The hole should be in the shape of a cone tapering up and out from the center of the hole. Not twice as wide and twice as deep. For bare root a slight mound of soil in the center of the hole to spread the trees roots into and insure that the root space is filled with soil.

    The soil line in the container or on the trunk of the bare root tree should be the soil line that exists when you are done planting. Planting too deep in many soils will result in the death of the tree.

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  2. Unraveling Hydrangeas Pt. II: Woody Types

    Pinky WinkyLet’s look at the three woody types of Hydrangeas, how to best care for them, and what to expect from each.

    Hydrangea paniculata types are the sun loving plants that have woody stems. This group currently up for sale from Nature Hills includes: Fire Light, Quick Fire, Little Lamb, Phantom, Vanilla Strawberry, Pinky Winky, Limelight, Strawberry Sundae, Little Quick Fire, Bobo, Little Lime, Silver Dollar, and Zinfin Doll.

    This group all goes through the same transformation when it comes to the flower colors. Hydrangea paniculata types cannot have their flower changed from pink to blue by growing in acidic soils. No matter what the soils are, they start out with green leaves, flowers form later in June (most areas) and are green to start, open to white. Then as the flowers begin to age, they turn varying colors of pink and will vary wildly depending upon the site, sun exposure, location north and south in the different climates as to the time of year. Some turn very pink like Fire Light, Vanilla Strawberry and Zinfin Doll. The more sun these flowers receive, the more pink and red you will see on the plants. Eventually these flowers will turn brown and this entire transformation of color is normal and will happen each and every year.

    Hydrangea paniculata types should be trimmed back by about one third of the size they are each spring before they start to grow - then leave them alone for the rest of the year. The tree form plants should be pruned back to a rounded form and again removing about one third of the size leaving a neat and uniform head when done. Remember pruning should be done in the spring before they start to grow.

    Hydrangea quercifolia group, or the Oakleaf Hydrangeas, are woody shrubs that have peeling bark on the older stems, and elongated panicle flowers. The three selections that Nature Hills has available now include Gatsby Gal, Gatsby Pink, and Ellen Huff.

    This group is hardy from zones 5-9 and do not perform well in zone 4. The colder zones may see some winter damage in less protected areas. They love full sun to part shade but need to have even moisture throughout the growing season. There is no color changing with this group of Hydrangeas by adjusting the soil pH, just nice pure white, very elongated panicle flowers. The white color fades from white to a light pink as the flowers age - no matter the soil pH. level.

    They bloom on last year’s wood, so if you cut this one down to the ground you will not have any flowers that year. If you selectively remove a few of the older stems every couple of years right down to the ground, you will have flowers each year on the stems that you leave in place. The leaves resemble oak leaves in shape and in the fall, exhibit an incredible purple and red in fall and lasts for a long time. We have seen Oakleaf tolerate a lot of shade quite well, more so than most literature says it will.

    Climbing Hydrangea is included because it is a Hydrangea. This is a climbing, woody vine that sits quietly for the first couple of years and once established then will start to put on some nice size. Hydrangea anomala petiolaris is the Latin name for this hydrangea a beautiful clinging vine that attaches to cement, brick, and wood. This woody vine produces lots of large, flat topped lacecap white flowers in June all over the plant. It is so very elegant and is used to cover unsightly or barren cement walls, and will attach to most any rough surface, including tree trunks where they can grow to be quite large. They like sun or shade and have beautiful shiny deep green foliage.

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  3. Unraveling Hydrangeas Pt. I: Planting, Pruning, and Care

    Grateful Red HydrangeaLet’s look at a couple different kinds of Hydrangeas, how to best care for them, and what to expect from each.

    Hydrangea macrophylla types are a part sun loving group that appreciates some relief from the hot afternoon sun especially in warmer climates. The Hydrangea frenzy started with this group and has grown to include many selections too. This group that Nature Hills currently have up for sale include: Endless summer, Big Daddy, Twist and Shout, Blushing Bride, Let’s Dance Moonlight, Cityline Rio, Grateful Red, Cherry Explosion, Next Generation Pistachio, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer Bloomstruck, Edgy Hearts, Cityline Vienna, Tilt-A-Swirl, Nantucket Blue, Cityline Mars, Tiny Tuff Stuff, Cityline Paris, Everlasting Revolution, Wedding Gown, Let's Dance Starlight, Tuff Stuff Mountain, Tuff Stuff Red Mountain, Everlasting Noblesse, Abracadabra, LA Dreamin, Cityline Venice, Everlasting Jade, Everlasting Garnet, Everlasting Ocean, Abracadabra Star, Everlasting Harmony, and Miss Saori.

    This group of Hydrangeas are a bit more tender with hardiness most zones 5 and higher, and a few that are crown hardy in zone 4. In the colder zones they will die back in winter unlike the paniculata types. They love the east side of a house and a nice, evenly moist soil with lots of organic matter and mulch on top of the soil. This whole group can have the flower color changed by growing the plants in a more acidic soil (with a lower soil pH). Pink flowered ones turn blue and the redder ones turn purple. They can have wildly varying colors (even on the same plant exhibiting blues and pinks and everything in between even on the same flower head!) depending upon the soil pH which will vary be site to site and state to state. Aluminum Sulfate or Soil Sulphur can lower the soil pH for this group of Hydrangeas and Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Blueberries and any other plants that might be showing signs of iron chlorosis.

    Typically, you would wait to trim this group of plants in spring when they start to grow so you know what is alive and what is not. In the warmer states, the stems that bloomed last year should be cut down to the ground and the ones without flowers allowed to remain and they will flower first. Morning sun, even moisture, and 2-3” of mulch along with a lower soil pH is best for this group.

    Hydrangea arborescens group is super hardy and carefree. Most of you know the Annabelle Hydrangea which remains one of the hardiest and so very popular in the group today.

    Of the plants that Nature Hills offers in this group includes: Annabelle, Invincibelle Spirit and all the Invincibelle Spirit series, Incrediball, Smooth or Snowhill (H. arborescens ‘Grandiflora’), Ryan Gainey, Invincibelle Wee White, Invincibelle Ruby, Samantha, Incrediball Blush, and Invincibelle Limetta. This group of Hydrangeas basically all re-grow from the ground up each spring. Every spring, trim each stem down to an inch or two before they start to grow. This group is zone 4 and some zone 3 hardy (and warmer) and represent a super carefree type of Hydrangea for sure. This group used to all only be white in color, but more recently there has been introduced some arborescens types that include pink colors too.

    There is no changing the color of this group no matter what the soil pH is. The white flowered selections first open white, and then fade to a sage green color, and eventually the flower heads turn brown as they dry and remain on the plants. The pink flowered selections used to be quite light pink but more pink color has been bred into the newest ones. These flowers open pink and fade to a pink and eventually they too will turn brown and remain on the plant.

    Some of the newest selections can re-bloom sending up new flowers as the season progresses making them great for cutting. Hydrangea arborescens can be grown in full sun if watered, and part shade and sometimes we have seen them growing in lots of shade. These Hydrangeas will appreciate a couple of inches of shredded mulch over the roots, but not up against the stems. Hardy, sun and shade, and carefree.

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  4. Low Summer Water Area Fall Fruit Tree Preparation

    Wherever summer watering is necessary, fall preparation can make a tremendous difference with the success of your fruit trees. Choosing the location and digging the hole are very important in considerations for planting fruit trees. Determining how the trees will be cared for will ensure many years of bountiful fruit production.

    At the top of the list is an irrigation system. This is essential in low water climates and is not as expensive or difficult as one might think. Irrigation tubing, drip lines, emitters and a timer (clock) are your basic requirements. The system you create goes together like a child’s toy, pushing connections together, punching holes for drip lines and setting your clock as you would to bake a cake. Your system need not be a work of art, rather a work that functions.

    The initial set up costs should be less than $100 to do a simple system. Once in place, adding additional trees to your yard will be a fraction of the set-up cost, requiring nothing more than the materials needed to reach the additional plantings.

    Your fall planting will also require a layer of mulch be applied. Again, this is a water saving application that is best done at planting time. Four inches of mulch applied to 3 feet of the diameter around the tree should provide all the benefits. It keeps the soils warmer in the fall and winter to help promote root development and then provides cooling and eliminates surface evaporation in the warm spring and summer. Mulch should be applied to within 2 inches of the trunk and tapered quickly to 4 inches deep and 3 feet outside the trees canopy, keeping the mulch from contacting the tree's trunk.

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  5. Move Citrus Indoors for the Winter

    As temperatures begin to get cooler and the days get shorter, all citrus grown in cold climates need to be prepared to be brought in for the winter. This routine needs to be gradual to ensure that the plant does not get shocked by too quick a climate change.

    The most important consideration in transitioning to indoors is watering. As the days get shorter, the plant's growth rate slows considerably. This results in water needs that are quite a bit less than in the spring and summer. Start to pay close attention to how wet the soil is. Do this by checking with your finger pressed into the soil up to the second knuckle. This is the most accurate way to become familiar with soil on the dry side. You want to check the soil just before watering. The soil's moisture content will differ with the conditions that your plant is exposed to and requires your attention and understanding of how it is reacting to watering. Water only when the soil is on the dry side.

    Next, gradually move your plant from its summer location by choosing a place close to the house where it will get radiant heat from the house - porches with good sun exposure or outside walls adjacent to rooms that are typically heated with good sun exposure are some examples of interim locations to acclimate your plant. Keep it in this location until the nighttime temperatures get into the mid- to high-30s. The longer the plant is outdoors with nighttime temperatures above 35 degrees, the better.

    Next, choose a location indoors that has ample exposure to sunlight. Big, bright South to Southwest facing windows are usually good. Keep in mind that this may not be enough and additional lighting may be required. When choosing indoor lighting for indoor winter growing, avoid full spectrum lights that are more for promoting growth. This is contrary to what the plant is doing naturally at this time of year and can be detrimental to acclimating your plant and ripening fruit on your plant. Instead look for LED lights that are in the spectrum for flowering and ripening fruit.

    In addition, the location that you choose should be away for any heat sources such as vents, heaters and wood stoves. The dry conditions indoors lack humidity, which is another challenge in overwintering your citrus tree. In severely dry conditions, humidifiers can help when placed in close proximity to your plants.

    Feeding your plant before bringing it indoor is ideal. Use an organic acid base fertilizer and feed as you begin to adapt your plant to the move indoors. Feed again about 30 days before you move the plant back out.

    It is ok to transplant your citrus into a desired container when you receive it. A 16 inch pot is recommended for a #3. Once planted, DO NOT repot your plant during its time indoors. This almost always results in the loss of the plant. We never recommended this. If repotting is required, wait until late winter, early spring or just as you transition the plant to the outdoors.

    Watch for insect problems which often occur when the plant is brought indoors. Mites and scale are the two most common and if caught early they are easy to care for. Small black bugs coming out of the soil are most often fungus gnats - and a sure sign that you are overwatering.

    Last, yellowing leaves and leaf discoloration are common when bringing plants indoors. The goal is to bring the plant indoors as healthy as possible. A plant brought indoors with foliage discoloration will rarely recover until the following spring. If your plant is discolored when coming inside, follow the instructions above. Resume working on improving the health of the plant the following spring.

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  6. Fall Planting continues, plus a few reminders for fall!

    As we have been telling you, fall planting works so incredibly well because the soil has had all summer long to absorb the heat from the sun. When you plant new plants, you want them to make new roots into your soil as soon as possible.

    There is good reason that Fall planting is so great and the most obvious one is the warm soil. Think about planting first thing in the spring and just how much cooler the soil may be compared with now. In the fall the warm soils coax those new roots to form almost immediately.

    The cooler air temperatures slow down the top growth of the plants and many that we are shipping are showing fall color. So, cool air, and warm soil = new roots! Yay, new roots!

    New roots can form very late into the fall or even early winter. It takes a long time for the cold temperatures to go down into the soil and newly planted plants are going to take advantage of that long extended root producing season.

    Adding a two to three-inch layer of shredded mulch over the roots of the plants after planting this fall extends that root development season even longer. The addition of mulch prevents the cold from going into the soil as it insulates the soil a bit later into the season. The mulch also conserves moisture and can prevent some weed growth even this fall.

    Fall planting is also a great time of the year when moisture is many times more plentiful in a lot of areas and the plants themselves begin to start using less moisture, so it allows the plants to better establish. Fall planted plants that have time to make new roots will act like a plant that has been in the ground for a whole year next spring when it begins to grow. Fall planting = jump on spring. Win – win.

    Another benefit is that Nature Hills has partnered with some growers that produce bare root plants for us. If you are not familiar with bare root plants, they are plants dug from the fields by shaking off all the soil from the roots. Those plants are then stored in huge coolers where they can be shipped from now until next spring. The coolers keep the plants dormant and we then water the roots and the humidity is kept very high. Check with our staff or on our website to see when bare root plants can be shipped.

    The beauty of bare root planting is that the plants are less expensive, easy to handle and to plant. Again, the fall planting of bare root plants going in the ground will stall make new roots and those plants will take off next spring like they have been in the ground for a whole year. Consider bare root this fall or next spring.

    Anything that you planted new in your landscape this year from early spring right up until now would love some attention. Watering new plantings is super important right up until the plants go dormant for winter.

    Trees and shrubs continue to make new roots and if they are not getting sufficient water, it is important to add additional water to keep the plants hydrated right to the end of the season.

    Some plants are native to wetter or are more of a lowland species and those plants will particularly appreciate the extra care to see that they have enough moisture. Some plants that do appreciate having good soil moisture right up until the ground freezes include Ash, Birch, Larch, Red Maples, Cottonless Cottonwood, Black Walnut, Swamp White and Pin Oaks, Redbud, Sweet Gum, Tuliptree and Ginkgo, plus remember some shrubs like Viburnum, Red Twigged Dogwood. Arborvitae and really any evergreen or broadleaved evergreens (especially if newly planted) will appreciate having excellent soil moisture right up until the ground freezes.

    Siouxland Cottonwood

    So, before you put that hose away for the winter…. take a bit of time to water the roots of your newly planted plant materials to insure good survivability.

    There is still plenty of time to plant spring flowering bulbs and nothing could be easier than planting our new bulb pads with perfect combinations and super variety. Check them out here.

    Don’t forget too there is still time to bust open a few heads of garlic into individual cloves and plant them about 2-3 inches deep in a sunny location for an excellent crop of garlic next June. Don’t use the cloves from the store but from your local markets where they have not been treated (for best results).

    Rose care should be delayed as you do want your rose bushes to be exposed to the cold and frosts to help those plants to go dormant before you do any winter protection. Have a few bags of shredded mulch ready to go for the best overwintering rose tips to be covered in our next blog.

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  7. How Do You Select and Plant a Fruit Tree?

    Methley Plum Tree

    Wherever you live, the basic rules for selecting and planting a fruit trees are similar. First and foremost is selecting the right variety for where you live. Many varieties of fruit are widely adaptable like the Santa Rosa Plum. But the question is: will your favorite do well in your yard?

    Popular newer varieties like the Honeycrisp Apple or the Flavor King Pluot are the greatest, but they can be a challenge in some locations. The Honeycrisp Apple, for instance, was developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 1974. It is a fine quality apple that is perfectly suited for colder climates. However, it can be a challenge in dry climates with low humidity. In regions with low summer humidity, Honeycrisp can drop its crop with the occasional heat spikes. In drier areas, Gala would be a much better choice. With that said, the Flavor King Pluot is an outstanding plum-like piece of fruit introduced in the 1980’s by Zaiger Hybrids and is limited to areas where apricots do well. If you are unaware of apricots in your area, a selection like the Methley plum would be a better choice. The point is to make sure to pay attention to where the variety you are selecting is recommended.

    Drainage is the next consideration. The #1 reason people lose fruit trees is due to poor drainage. The problem is most often not over watering, rather suffocation in the root zone brought on by standing water throughout the wintertime. Recovery in the spring is difficult because once spring begins, irrigation begins as well. This does not allow the tree to dry out in the root zone and it struggles. In the Midwest, Northeast and South - where the rainy season extends into the summer months - a poor draining location will often never allow the tree to adapt. Some have no other choice but to plant in a location that drains poorly. In this case, a raised bed planting is recommended. The dimensions for a raised bed need not be any more than 3 x 3 x 12 inches tall and can be done with any material that will last. A simple mound can satisfy the need to elevate, but it needs to be at least 24 inches high by 4 feet wide to ensure that the mound will settle to 2 feet high.

    Digging a hole can be the easiest task of all. The hole need not be any deeper than the depth of the root you are planting. In the case of a #3 gallon tree, the depth would only be 12 inches. The width of the hole should be 3 times the width of the root or container, and dug in a cone-like shape. Place the tree in the center of the hole (cone) cover with soil packing the root as you cover to ensure no air pockets are remaining. In most situations, there is no need to amend the soil except in the most extreme conditions where there is an obvious lack of organic material present. It is to the benefit of the tree to get established in the soil that it will live in as soon as possible. If you are planting in a raised bed whether due to poor drainage or for ornamental reasons, use native soil and don’t worry about digging a hole. Place your tree in the center of your raised bed and fill and pack.

    Mulching, in the eyes of the experts, has become one off the most important additions required to growing almost anything successfully. This is particularly the case with fruit trees. Mulch provides winter protection to the root, keeps the root cool in the heat of the summer and when regularly replenished, provides nutrients to the tree. This means that the overall expense of mulch begins to pay you back right away with a more consistent growing environment for your tree. Mulching should be done to 3 feet from the trunk after planting. This includes the raised bed when one is used. In colder climates - like those that can occur in Zone 4a through 5b - it is recommended that the mulch cover the outside of the raised bed. Place the mulch within 5 inches of the trunk of the tree and taper it away from the trunk so it does not cover it. Make sure it raises quickly to 3 to 4 inches going out to 3 feet from the newly planted tree.

    Irrigation systems for dry climates are an important addition to fruit tree maintenance. A dripline with emitters and a clock allows for the more consistent control of water distribution, making it easier to adjust watering needs throughout the year.

    Container or bareroot is a choice most often about timing. Bareroot is available from early January until June. The largest variety of fruit trees becomes available in the winter with the delivery of the current crop of fruit trees. Growers send one crop a year of bareroot harvested in fall and delivered throughout the winter and spring. It is now that most container fruit trees are planted up to become available as the bareroot winds down. The containers are typically available throughout the season and some will roll into the next year. Both are great choices, with containers being there anytime you are ready to plant.

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  8. The Forgotten Season: Fall Planting is Ideal For Many

    Mandarin

    Fall is an amazing time of the year to plant many kinds of plants for your yard. Warm soils, and cool air combined with the possibility of better moisture makes for the opportunity for incredible root production. Lots of new roots in fall makes your plant ready to roll in the spring.

    Now, the plants … we are always broadening our palate of plants by working with the finest growers. As some of you may already know, Nature Hills has partnered with some of the best growers in many different parts of the country; quality plants are being grown in the best regions for a particular palate of plants.

    We have done this so that we can offer a broad array. Our citrus trees are grown in California - where they should be. Our Maple trees and Lilacs grown in Wisconsin so they are super hardy and can withstand the cold winters of the northern states. Our Magnolias and Dogwood trees are grown in Tennessee and Florida where they do best. Many shrubs and perennials are produced in Kansas where they get the heat to thrive. And let’s not forget an Alabama location that rocks out some beautiful southern shrubs, trees and perennials.

    Nature Hills sees the need to have these plants produced where they will be planted so they will acclimate quickly to their new home in your yard no matter where you live. This broad range of growing conditions at our production areas allows us to offer a massive variety of plants for sale.

    So, how can Nature Hills offer so many different kinds of plants for your home? We can successfully do so because we put the expertise of growing the best plants back to the nurseries that we have partnered with to bring you the best varieties, the broadest selection, and quality that you might not expect.

    Let’s plant this fall! Many people forget about benefits of fall planting.

    All of our plants are coming right from our growers. They are not old, overgrown, rootbound plants that garden centers are trying to unload before winter. We are selling a fresh new crop of plants right from the production areas. Nursery stock that is grown outside under natural conditions.

    As mentioned earlier, the warm soils make fall plantings so successful. Warm soil quickly allows new roots to grow and develop so quickly and the quicker your plants make new roots, the sooner they become less dependent upon you to care for them. New roots continue to develop late into fall.

    Watering is important for any new planting at any time of the year. In the fall, watering becomes easier because the plants are starting to use less water as the plants start to shed their leaves. The night temps are cooler and the daytime length is shorter.

    In spring, those plants installed in the fall will have a HUGE advantage and really act more like plants that have been in the ground for an entire year and not just a month or two.

    As our fall weather changes in our production areas, we will be seeing frosts and plants are starting to shut down. Some plants shut down earlier than others and the same holds true at our nurseries. We also group some of our plant close together so they can better winter. Sometimes the leaves will have some leaf spotting and some are turning yellow, red or brown. There is no reason for concern as these plants begin to go dormant.

    Green leaves make food for the plants to store. When the leaves have done their job, the shorter days and changes in temperatures let the leaves know they have done their job – and they can stop making chlorophyll (what keeps them green). When that happens, they start turning color.

    Remember the colder weather and frosts may cause some leaves, flowers to turn brown. Plants like Hydrangeas that might have beautiful white, pink, blue or red flowers on them will also be turning brown. Customers always call about the brown flowers on the Hydrangeas still and just know that is a very normal occurrence – especially at this time of the year.

    As mentioned earlier, our nursery production areas are outside growing in the natural elements. Our nursery stock in not mass produced coming out of greenhouses.

    For our fall shipments, please know that our plants can be in varying stages of going dormant. A rose or Spiraea shrub may look perfectly normal, but an Annabelle Hydrangea may have brown flower heads on them so just know that is normal for fall.

    Another interesting offering from Nature Hills is supplying BARE ROOT PLANTS. What is a bare root plant and why would you want one?

    Bare root plants are dug from our nursery with a digging machine like a potato digger – a big blade that goes under the roots and lifts the plants out of the ground shaking off all of the soil from the plants. We just started digging some of our bare root nursery stock in the more dormant areas.

    Bare root plants get dug, soil shaken off, and they go into our huge cooler facility where the plants are kept dormant. These fresh dug bare root plants can be held dormant from now until about mid-June. We do not offer all of our plants bare root, but we do have a great selection of trees and many shrubs. We also grow all other plants in either pots or grow bags that get shipped year-round.

    Why would you want to buy bare root? Bare root plants are lightweight, cheaper to ship, less expensive and easy to handle. Bare root plants have excellent roots and root hairs intact making them transplant beautifully.

    Bare root plants are most simply handled by digging a hole deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the roots shipped with the plants. Use all of the soil that was removed from the hole to back fill in and around the roots. Water extremely well and the water will settle the soil in around the roots. Never plant your plants deeper than they were grown at the nursery or in the pots.

    Bare root plants shipped in fall many times still have leaves attached that may be dry or brown and that is very normal and no reason to have concerns. The leaves will drop when it is time.

    There is no better time to renovate or update your landscape than this fall. Get a jump on the spring planting and get some of your plants bought this fall. You will be pleased you did.

    Don’t forget fall planting of spring flowering bulbs made easy with our new Easy Bloom Pads. Spring flowering bulbs planted in groups of 8 at a time are making quite an impact in your landscape. Check them out HERE.

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  9. It’s Fall and Fall is the Time to Plant Fruit Trees

    Donald Wyman Crabapple

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  10. Fruit Trees Benefit From Fall Planting in the Mid West and East

    Tree mulch

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