Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to Your Plant Questions

Let us help you plant, grow, and maintain healthy, beautiful plants. We want your projects to succeed!

Plant Care

How do I water?

Water at the base of the plant, and deep soak the root ball and the area immediately around it. The surrounding ground is going to suck the moisture away from the root ball, so it is important to soak the entire area. Watering in this way will actually cut down on the frequency of visits you have to make with the hose, and is best for your plants.

For the first week or two after planting, you’ll want to keep the soil moist.  After that, most plants like to be thoroughly saturated, then allowed time to drain between waterings. This will draw oxygen into the soil and encourage healthy root growth. Roots that are continually wet will begin to rot. It is very difficult to get a plant healthy again after root rot and fungal problems occur.

How Long Do I Water?

The length of time that you water primarily depends on the size of the plant when you purchased it. Here is a listing of plant container sizes and suggested watering times:

  • 1 Gallon = 2-3 minutes
  • 2 Gallon = 3 minutes
  • 3 Gallon = 3-4 minutes
  • 5 Gallon = 5-7 minutes
  • 7 Gallon = 7-10 minutes
  • 10 Gallon = 10-15 minutes
  • 15 Gallon = 15-20 minutes
  • 20 Gallon = 20-25 minutes
  • 25 Gallon = 25-30 minutes
  • 45 Gallon = 30-40 minutes

These are general guidelines, and it is your responsibility to adjust them to your unique environmental conditions.

When you water your plant, if the water is running all over the ground you need to slow the flow down and shower the surrounding ground to break the surface tension. Then try watering at the base of the plant again. You want the water to soak in, not all run off.

When I pick up my plants, are there any special needs or instructions?

When you pick up your plants, please bring old bed sheets or lightweight cloth tarping if you will be taking plants home in the back of an open bed pickup truck. Plastic tarps are fine in cool weather, but during the summer they trap heat in. Cloth allows air to pass through it and is much better for protecting plants in transit. We’ll use your sheets to wrap your trees so the leaves don’t get wind-burned. Water your plants when you get them home because the windy ride has a way of drying them out.

Also, we happily accept any donations of old sheets, to be loaned out to those who don’t remember to bring their own!

Do plants need fertilizer and when is the best time to do it?

Yes! Plants need fertilizer. Many of our soils are deficient in nutrients, and it is definitely in your best interest to supplement your plants with a good time-release fertilizer like the one we use. It’s good for 8-9 months. It releases nutrients when the temperatures are 70F or higher, which is when your plants are actively growing. It also has micronutrients such as magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, boron, sulfur, calcium and zinc that other fertilizers do not have. You just can’t beat it!

Unlike other places that sell many different varieties of fertilizer, we sell only one kind. That is the formula we use on all of our plants, because we believe in it. We want you to be able to maintain the integrity of the plants you buy here. Time-release fertilizer is wonderful because it frees up time to do other things in the garden. Put it down in early April and let it work all season for you!

Some people like to add a shot of a water soluble fertilizer like Monty’s to the feeding regimen. Apply on May 20, June 20 and July 20 to really get things to pop, if you have the time and ambition. Otherwise time-release fertilizer is enough.

Do plants require care during the winter months?

Yes, sometimes plants do require winter care. To prepare for the dormant season, we recommend that you have 2 inches of pine bark mulch around your plants.  Many people think extremely cold winters kill plants, and some years that seems to happen. However, erratic shifts in temperatures (freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw) are harmful too.  If your plants are properly mulched the ground temperatures will be more stable.

If you have a mid-winter thaw, go out and water your conifers, particularly if they have been in the ground for less than 3 years. This is especially helpful for chamaecyparis. The extra drink will protect the foliage from drying out in the winter winds.

What is winter watering?

For the first two years after planting, water regularly until the ground freezes. Even older plants can benefit from a moderate pre-winter or mid-winter drink to prevent tips from dying back, help evergreens maintain the best color possible, and keep roots properly hydrated. If the ground is moist before freezing, ice forms around the roots and protects them during dry winters.

Some years there are winter droughts. Just remember that 7 inches of snow equals only one inch of rain. Many times the ground will seem really wet after a thaw, but ice under the surface may prevent water from soaking in.  In late winter and early spring of dry years, it is critical that you start watering your plants. Without significant moisture, the new spring growth can die.  This not only stresses your plants, it also looks unsightly for the rest of the growing season.


When can I plant?

We plant from the time the ground thaws in the spring until the ground freezes in winter. There is no bad time to plant, in our opinion. If you can get a shovel in the ground, get busy!

How big should my hole be?

Dig broad, not deep. We recommend a hole 2-3 times the diameter of the pot the plant is in. The hole should be 1 inch shallower than the root ball to prevent the plant from settling below grade. If you have heavy clay soil, dig the hole wider and mince your soil as finely as possible. This allows you to spread the roots out, and will permit better drainage.  If you have decent soil you can get by with 2 times the width.

Can I plant in clay?

It won’t be fun, but yes, you can!

We recommend making the planting 2-3 inches above grade and if you have gray clay, 3-5 inches above, depending on how it will affect the aesthetics. Gray clay is the heaviest of all clays. Its soil particles are so fine there is no oxygen and it is very hard for roots to penetrate and establish themselves. If you have soil like this, it is advisable to get a soil test done by the Cooperative Extension Service or a private firm. They will be able to tell you what you should add to the soil to improve the conditions.

Here is what we do. To your indigenous soil, add equal amounts of composted manure, fine Michigan peat, Canadian sphagnum peat, and top soil.  Till this blend into the clay 8 inches deep and make sure you end up with 3-4 inches of soil above grade. This will help ensure good drainage and aeration of the soil.

Fine grade pine bark is an excellent choice to work into clay also. It loosens the texture, lowers the soil pH, and adds nutrients as it breaks down.

What are amendments and which ones do I use?

Amendments are materials that you can add to your garden to improve conditions for your plantings.

Some of my favorite amendments are black soil, brown top soil, Canadian sphagnum peat moss, fine grade or sifted pine bark, and composted manure. The black and brown top soils are a good starting point for any garden. Canadian sphagnum peat and fine grade pine bark are great choices because they lower the soil pH, and a lot of plants seem to prefer a more acidic soil. They are both especially good for use in clay soils because they add much-needed organic material, which improves drainage and aeration.  Composted manure adds organic matter to the soil, too, and its nutrients release slowly and feed your plants. Other excellent amendments to use when developing a new bed include leaf mold, consisting of composted leaves from deciduous trees, and pine needles.

What is a hardiness zone and where are they located?

Hardiness zones are areas on climatic zone maps that indicate the coldest temperatures a geographical area receives. Usually they are indicated in ranges of 10 degrees F.  In northeastern Indiana we are in zone 5, which is (-10) degrees to 20 degrees F.

These charts are very useful in determining whether or not a plant is going to be hardy in a particular area of the country. Most plants do not grow in just one zone but can be grown in at least two zones and often more.  Weigela Florida, for instance, grows in zones 5 to 8.

However, these zones are very subjective. Microclimates exist in which conditions are affected by surroundings, and they may offer protection to a greater number of plants.  For example, houses’ east sides are sheltered from the northwest winter winds, and some tender plants can be grown successfully at the edges of wooded areas.  Many times in northeast Indiana you can grow zone 6 plants in such spaces. An “old school” nurseryman told me a few years ago that a lot of the zones in the literature were actually drawn by people in the UK and on the US northwestern coast, so he didn’t put much stock in their validity for around here.  He was actually growing zone 7 plants in the middle of Michigan!

At Blue River Nursery we generally stick to the plants that are zoned to our area in the literature. We may have a few offerings that aren’t, but we will have plants in the trial garden that support their successfulness.

How do I prune my pine, spruce and fir trees?

Generally a good time to prune your pine spruce and fir trees is in between May 2nd and June 5th. You can prune them later than this. However, your plants will set better buds for the following year if you prune during this small window of time. They will also take on the best shape if pruned during this time.

When should deciduous shrubs (shrubs that lose leaves during the winter) be pruned?

That depends on when it blooms.

Generally, we prune spring-blooming deciduous shrubs around June 15 and at the end of July. The reason for this timing is that early-blooming shrubs are usually done flowering by June 15 or so. Pruning at this time tightens up the body of the shrub and promotes dense summer growth. By about the end of July a lot of deciduous shrubbery has lost its tight shape, is showing some long and leggy new growth, and looks better with a light pruning job. It is important not to prune between August and mid-November, because any new growth promoted during that period will not have time to harden off before the frost comes in early October, and it will just get burned. (Ouch!)

If you miss the second summer prune date, you can prune some bushes after the middle of November, after the leaves have fallen and the plants have gone dormant.  Only do this for bushes that bloom on the new wood.  The bushes to avoid pruning in late fall are Lilacs, Weigela, Viburnums, Forsythia and other plants that flower on old wood. If you prune these shrubs in late fall, you will cut off the flower buds for the following year.  Your bushes won’t be hurt, but you won’t have flowers to look at.  It is best to allow these plants to go unpruned, and then prune tightly after flowering is over in the spring.

Hydrangeas and other summer-blooming shrubs such as symphoricarpos (coralberry) or buddlei (butterfly bushes) can be pruned either in the late fall after the leaves drop, or late winter, around April 1.  Don’t prune these shrubs with the June and July timing mentioned above, because that’s when they’re getting ready to flower. Again, your bushes wouldn’t care, but you’d regret it when your neighbor’s hydrangeas are blooming and yours aren’t!

If in doubt, and if you’re not a pruning fanatic, a safe rule of thumb is to prune shortly after the flowering period ends then not again until after it blooms the next year.

Our Services

Is there any guarantee on your plants?

The wonderful world of horticulture is as much an art as a science.  We have no control over weather, soil conditions, how much or how often you water, or how you plant.  To the best of our ability, we promise that the plants you purchase are healthy, correctly named, and hardy in zone 5 or colder regions.

That is our only guarantee.

Can I order by phone?

Yes, you can order by phone and pick up your plants at the nursery.  You can also have your plants delivered almost anywhere in the United States. At this time we do not ship internationally.

Plants are required to be paid in full at time of ordering. If there is a change in your order, store credit will be given. There are no cash or credit card refunds. Plants will not be held for longer than 30 days from ordering, and there is a 25% restocking fee for plants not picked up within 30 days.

We guarantee we will choose our best plants to fill your orders. We may ask a few questions to ensure we select the style of plant you are looking for. We appreciate your trust in our judgment, and will treat your plants as if they were our own.

Do you deliver?

Yes, we do deliver! We have delivered as far as Chicago and into Ohio. If you are out of the local area, call or email us and we will see what we can do to accommodate you. If you want our plants, we will go out of our way to try and get them to you.  We have been doing this for more than 25 years.

Every load is different because of the different shapes and sizes of the plants. When we deliver, all loads will be tarped. We guarantee to get the plants to you in the same condition in which they left the nursery. Occasionally a small branch gets broken on a big tree load, however with most loads everything arrives just fine and unscathed. If anything major were to be damaged in shipping your plants on our truck, we would exchange it and make sure you are happy with the plants you have purchased.

We also ship almost everywhere in the country. In the event something arrives from a freight company in an unsatisfactory state, we recommend you keep the driver there on the spot while you unpack your box. Take pictures of the damaged shipment. File a claim immediately with the company.  Call us and let us know what is going on as well. We do our absolute best to package our plants so they arrive safely. However, we have no control over how shipments are handled after they leave our facility.

Do you do landscaping and design?

Yes, we do custom landscape designing, installation, and maintenance.  Give us your blueprint or a detailed sketch, and we can take your project all the way from Imagination to Finished!  We will create a design tailored to your site and personality.  Our experienced crews thrive on dirt and sweat, and know the proper planting techniques.  And growing plants is our business, so we know how to maintain and care for your finished creation.  Contact us for an appointment, and let us take it from there!  Call the nursery at (260) 244-7420. Leave a message, since we are usually outside, and we will call you back ASAP.

All designs are unique. Your house or professional site will stand out from your neighbors’ cookie cutter appearances!

What does plant maintenance involve?

You will want to protect and care for your horticultural investment.  Why purchase special plants and do the work to install them, then neglect their health and appearance? Proper care involves fertilizing, pruning, inspecting for pests, treating diseases, regular watering, weed control, and clean-up for winter.  Get out there and commune with Mother Nature, and admire your plant beauties! Call us if you have questions or need advice.  Or let us maintain your gardens for you. We’ll schedule times to be there and keep problems under control, so you don’t have to.  Your neighbors will be green with envy!

When are you open for business?

From spring throughout fall, we are open for business every day.  Normal hours are 9am to 6pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, and noon to 5pm Sunday. We choose to close for a few special holidays, such as Easter, July 4th, Labor Day, and Halloween. From late fall through winter, we are open by appointment only, so we can focus on maintenance projects for our customers and behind-the-scenes upkeep at the nursery.

See current business hours on our Home page.

Where are you located?

Our address is 4484 E Hartman Road, Columbia City, Indiana 46725.  We are located 10-15 minutes west of Fort Wayne, Indiana, 3 miles north off of U.S. Highway 30.  Warsaw, Indiana is about a half hour drive if you’re taking U.S. Highway 30.  Other area towns and small cities within 30 minutes include South Whitley, Rome City, Auburn, Garrett, Albion, Churubusco, and Huntington, Indiana.

Many of our guests come from Ohio as well. Here are some directions for those of you traveling from the Buckeye State:

  • I-469 North to the 930 loop
  • Take 930 all the way around Fort Wayne and veer to your right at U.S. 30
  • Keep heading west on U.S. 30 for about 10-15 minutes
  • Take a right at the light where 300 east intersects
  • Go one mile north on 300 east
  • Turn right on Hartman Road (Aptly named ’13 curves’)
  • The nursery is about 2 miles down the road on the right
Do you recommend using stakes?

Most times we do recommend you stake your trees for two years after planting. It often depends on how top heavy the plant is. We recommend using the trimpro tree staking system, which is the same one we use in our nursery. This system allows trees to move around and cause stress at the root level without allowing the tree to blow over. As a result, trees root in quicker to the ground they are planted in and the trunk diameter increases quicker.

Another benefit of this system is that it only uses one stake to stabilize the tree.  This means it is less visible and does not detract from the aesthetics of your new tree the way other systems using ropes, hoses, and more stakes may.

Staking protects your trees from the high winds we are prone to in the Midwest, so you’re less likely to see your tree lying beside its hole after a storm.  And if you prefer a straight, upright tree rather than one leaning 45 degrees away from the prevailing wind, a stake is your best solution.


What can I do to deter deer from eating my plants?

You can hang Irish Spring soap from a rope and this keeps deer away because it is a strong-smelling human scent. The same can be done with Bounce fabric softener sheets. Reflective items such as blank CDs may be tied up with fishing line and allowed to blow in the wind; the shiny reflections startle deer and keep them moving. This can be especially useful in the fall when the bucks have antlers and are at their most destructive phase.

What plants are deer proof?

There are many different lists of plants that are supposed to be deer resistant.  The key to that is these plants are SUPPOSED to be deer resistant.  This is not a guarantee.  Like people, deer have their own appetites and if they get hungry enough they will eat almost anything.  So this is just a list of some plants that deer don’t usually eat: Candytuft (Iberis), Blue Plumbago, Bearded Iris, Yarrow, Russian Sage, Monkshood (Aconitum), False Indigo (Baptesia), Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Maiden Grass, Blue Oat Grass.

For deer proof, your best bet may be house plants or garden art!

What do you do if you have insect and disease problems on your plants?

I have found that the cooperative extension service is a great source of information on questions regarding insects and diseases of plants. In the Fort Wayne area the phone # is 260-481-6826. You can Google many things and get good information on problems too. For example, type in a search of “what is white coloration on phlox leaves?” and you may have to look at the search results a bit but I am sure you will find powdery mildew in the top ten.

We couldn't be happier with the landscaping they designed and installed!

» Kevin from Warsaw