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Planting Tips

June 3rd, 2007

Planting Tips

Planting TipsPlanting TipsOften we spend absurd amount of money on plants and then don't take time or have the knowledge to correctly plant them. The first step of planting is the most critical for long term success and survivability. Below are a few tips on our versions of the correct planting techniques.

The Siamese Twin Technique
Plants that are grown in containers (especially those with tightly wound rootballs) should be loosened and the soil shaken off the roots prior to planting. I know this is hard to comprehend and probably contrary to everything that you have learned...especially when I watch everyone planting to the contrary. The plant roots need to be in contact with the soil in which they will be growing...not the mix that was used at the nursery. Nursery growing mixes are generally bark based, and are formulated to dry out quickly, to prevent over watering in a nursery container. Most nurseries irrigate 1-3 times daily, and if the soil isn't completely dry at each irrigation, the plant will drown. If you leave this root ball intact after the plant is planted, the roots still dry quickly, as the plant still thinks it's in a pot. When planted with the soil ball intact, the roots can begin to die in just a couple of days, while the surrounding native soil may still appear damp for weeks. Plants can be virtually dead within a week, and still have green leaves for several years...sort of a horticultural virtual reality.

Have you ever pulled up a plant that died several years after planting, only to find the roots had never left the original root ball. Well, now you know why that happened. The plant was actually dead several days after it was planted. These plants often will have enough stored reserves to hold onto their green leaves for several years after "virtual death".

There are probably many of you that are saying..."I never do that, and my plants grow fine". It is true that under ideal circumstances...great soil preparation, perfect weather, and very vigorous plants that the plants will grow out of the potting soil and into the surrounding ground and thrive despite our best efforts to the contrary. I am addressing the times when all conditions are not perfect.

The root ball discombobulation is best accomplished by beating the root ball on any nearby solid object (including garden helpers). If this doesn't work, try washing the root ball with a high pressure water hose. I know everyone used to use a knife to cut the root ball, and while that technique works, I'll leave the "mad slasher" method to those so violently inclined. It is not necessary to get all the soil off the roots, just enough to stretch the roots out and allow them to reach into the planting medium.

The Hole
The primary purpose of a good planting area is to provide sufficient air to the plant roots. As a general rule, if you are planting trees and shrubs in individual holes, do not add any soil amendments...simply fluff the existing soil. Removing the native soil and replacing it with soil amendments causes problems with water movement in and out of the root zone. Repeated long term studies have verified this recommendation. In individual holes, problems have also been seen when holes were dug with tractor augers in wet clay where the sides of the holes actually became impermeable to water movement. In this case, the sides should be broken up with a shovel or pick.

Perennials, however with less extensive root systems may indeed benefit however from the addition of organic amendments to the native soil, since their root systems remain confined to a smaller area. Never replace the native soil with an artificial one.

If you are planting in large beds, use all of the organic amendments that you can afford. These should be thoroughly mixed with the existing soil, and not simply piled on top. This allows for an extensive well prepared root zone in which the plant roots will remain for most of their lives. This way, hole size and depth of soil mounding becomes relatively insignificant.

As for mounding up or making raised beds, this is an excellent way to allow more aeration of the planting area. Folks, however use this as an excuse for not preparing the compacted soil underneath the mound. When this happens, plants are never able to anchor well, and are much more likely to be uprooted during storms. Also, vertical water movement is interrupted when a loose soil is piled on top of a compacted soil. While these plants may grow wonderful for a short time, long term results are usually disastrous.

A similar problem that occurs when folks put gravel in the bottom of a bed to increase drainage. In reality, it decreases drainage, as water moving vertically thru soils, stops when it reaches a different layer, even if the layer is more permeable. Only after the soil reaches saturation capacity, will the water move through the gravel. Some plant will die if the soil becomes saturated for even a short period. This is especially true when plants are actively growing and in need of a regular supply of oxygen to their roots.

In planting large trees, remember to dig a hole that is at least a third wider than the root ball of the plant. The hole need not be deeper than the root ball, since roots spread outward and don't grow down. If anyone doubts this, take a look that those trees uprooted by the storm.

This is an interesting comment regarding the above article.