Prepare the soil, dig a proper planting hole, water and fertilize
Remove weeds and other undesired plants from the planting area. Spread at least four inches of compost on the planting area and incorporate the compost into the soil. If you are installing a plant from a one-gallon container the area should be at least 2 feet by 2 feet in size. Then dig a planting hole that is twice as wide and as deep as the container in the soil that you have loosened.
If you plan to plant in late spring or early summer, fill your planting hole with water. Also submerge the container in a larger bucket of water until the air bubbles stop forming. These procedures will ensure that wet roots are going into wet soil, which helps plants become well established.
Use a slow release or organic fertilizer to mildly spur plant growth and provide nutrients through the course of the growing season.
Provide regular irrigation
Even if you added drought-tolerant plants such as natives and herbs this spring, it is critical that all your plants receive enough water to become established. Apply about one inch of water per week from now until steady rains begin in the fall. Water by hand at the base of the plants or use a soaker hose. In general, water deeply one to two times per week. Overhead watering is an effective way to water a large area; however, know that you will also be watering the weeds and wet foliage can lead to plant diseases.
Remove weeds regularly
A week or so after you prepare soil for planting, weeds will start to germinate and will grow rapidly if they are not removed. New plants are most susceptible to competition from weeds early in their growth cycle, so it is important to manage weeds before they out-compete new plants for light, water and nutrients. So while weeds are still young, remove them by hand or with hand tools. You can also use a scuffle-type hoe to scrape away small weeds just beneath the soil surface.
Apply mulch to the soil surface
Mulch is any material that is placed on top of the soil to help conserve moisture and prevent annual weeds from germinating. Apply 3 to 4 inches of woody materials like bark mulch or arborist's chips in the area between your plants. Keep the mulch 4 to 6 inches away from the base of trees and shrubs and from smothering smaller annual or perennial plants. Make sure to remove weeds before you mulch and also water the plants and mulch thoroughly to help the material settle on the soil surface.
Observe, monitor and record
Go outside on a regular basis to check on your plants. Are they actively growing and looking healthy? If not, do they have the proper growing conditions for that particular kind of plant? Most plant problems are actually caused by improper care, which also make plants more susceptible to damage from pests. Also, know the common pests and diseases of your plants and what to look for as you monitor the garden. Remember to look under the leaves for pesky critters like aphids.
Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive means of pest management that relies on a variety of common-sense practices. Diagnose plant problems to determine the likely cause of the unhappy plants. Determine what options are available to manage the plant problem and the extent to which you are willing to accept minor plant damage. Choose cultural and physical methods like hand squashing insects and pruning shrubs for powdery mildew. If you determine that organic or synthetic pesticides meet your management objectives and you have assessed the potential hazards of products to human health and the environment, choose products that will effectively manage the problem. Make sure to read the label and follow the instructions, particularly the safety precautions and safeguards for the environment.
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