The future success of any new landscape plantings depends heavily on whether or not you plant them correctly. Improperly planted plants are far less able to cope with adverse conditions such as disease, insect attack, and drought. Trees are much less forgiving than perennials, but proper planting techniques apply generally to all plants. Some planting advice has
changed in the last fifty years, so if you learned from Grandpa how to plant a tree, be prepared to be a little bit surprised at some of these recommendations:
Plant at the right time: Early spring through mid May, and September until mid October are ideal planting times in our growing area.
Dig the hole extra wide: The hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball. It is important for any plant to be able to spread its roots out away from the crown or trunk. If the hole is too narrow, these roots will tend to stay in a small mass sometimes circling the plant and actually strangling it (think Boa Constrictor). In garden lingo, this is called
Girdling. It most often happens with trees, but can affect other plants as well.
Do not make the hole too deep: All plants have a spot where the roots begin to flare out. This spot should be even with, or a little above, the soil level. When a plant is too deep in the soil, it becomes susceptible to disease and rot. Some gardeners make the hole deep thinking they want to loosen the soil for the new plant. Then, after watering, the soil settles,
taking the plant with it. Dig the hole wide, not deep. Place the plant on solid ground and backfill around it for best results.
Soak the root ball in a bucket of water while preparing the hole: This gives the plant time to absorb its fill of water which will help reduce the chance of transplant shock.
Untangle the roots: Use your fingers or a hand cultivator and give the roots a "Bad Hair Day". Remove all packaging material such as twine, burlap, and baskets from trees. Some experts are now recommending washing off all the soil and planting it bare root.
New advice for root bound plants: Sometimes you bring a plant home only to find that it is so root bound it is impossible to untangle the roots. The advice on this problem has recently changed. The old advise was to cut three or four slits down the roots from top to bottom. The latest advice is to give the root ball a Box Cut. Take a sharp knife and slice off the
bottom of the root ball. Then make four, flat vertical slices around the edges, so that, in the end, you have a square root ball. This, we are told, will encourage the plant or tree to develop much fuller and healthier roots.
Backfill with the soil that came from the hole: Most experts agree, that, especially in the case of trees, you should not improve the soil in the hole as you backfill. The idea behind the theory is that if the improved soil in the hole is too inviting, the roots will remain tight to the trunk and not spread out properly. Instead of improving the soil in a small hole,
think about improving the overall site before planting. Do a soil test to determine what nutrients are missing, then add organic matter or a fertilizer containing those specific nutrients to the entire site. If you are planting within an established garden and all the soil has been amended with organic matter, this problem is not an issue.
Water Thoroughly: Always water the new plant thoroughly even if the soil is already a little moist. The water helps the soil to settle and eliminate large air pockets which can kill the plant. Water as you backfill, then gently tamp down the disturbed soil around your newly planted perennial, shrub, or tree.
Be sure the plant has a chance to absorb the available water before it runs off. Creating a small berm around your new plant helps direct water towards the roots. If you garden on the side of a hill, you need to do something to level out your planting area. Retaining walls, even as low as six inches high work well and look very attractive. Landscape edging, blocks,
loose laid walls, or even a couple large rocks on the lower side of the plant will hold in soil, and help retain water.
Continue to water weekly through October: A recently moved plant needs consistent water for at least the first year, and maybe more, until it's root system is fully established. In our area, deep watering once a week, beats more frequent shallow watering. Luckily for us, we often get an inch of rain a week throughout most of the year. However, it's a good idea to keep
a rain gauge and check. On the weeks, we don't get enough, get out there and water, even during an especially dry winter.
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