Giving a New Plant a Good Home Planting Basics

Simon's Simple Hydroponics Plans

Hydroponic Gardening

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No matter what you're planting, what you do when you put it in the ground can affect the well-being of the plant for its entire life. Digging a hole and shoving a plant into it is only the beginning. As with many aspects of horticulture, some of the common knowledge about planting is wrong. Here's how to do it right, step by step (check out Figure 16-3):

Plants like to be planted a little high, so make your hole about 1 inch shallower than the depth of the root ball (2 inches shallower for larger plants) and twice as wide as the root ball. Don't overexcavate and then refill the bottom of the hole with loose soil; put your plant directly on undisturbed soil. Beat up the sides of the hole so the roots can get out into the surrounding soil; a smooth-sided hole creates circling roots. If you're planting on a slope, make the hole perpendicular to the face of the slope, as shown in Figure 16-3; this technique prevents upslope soil from collapsing onto the plant.

2. Prepare the backfill soil (soil that will fill the hole).

Refer to the soils section earlier in this chapter for information on amending and improving soils. Add any appropriate materials as necessary and gently mix them in, being careful not to overwork the soil and destroy its structure. In most cases, you don't need to add soil amendments other than perhaps a bit of compost.

3. Remove the plant from its container.

For plants in nursery pots, turn the plant upside down, holding the soil in place with your hand. Give the rim a downward tap; the plant should slide out of the pot. For larger containers, place the plant on its side and gently pull it from the pot. Cut the container off if necessary, but don't break the root ball. Place balled and burlapped plants (plants wrapped in burlap instead of being in a pot) in the hole and then uncover the top half of the root ball, allowing the burlap to remain in the soil, where it eventually decomposes.

4. Examine the root ball.

If the plant has circling roots, gently dislodge them and spread them out. For a normal root ball with roots just touching the outside, no action is necessary, though you can stimulate root development by lightly scratching the ball with your hands. Discard or return any plant that's seriously root bound, with many circling roots; it will never succeed.

5. Put the plant into the hole.

Check the depth, remembering to plant a little bit high. Center the plant in the hole. For bare root plants, spread the roots out on a cone of soil you've made in the center of the hole. Place the backfill soil about halfway up the root ball and gently compact it to eliminate any air pockets. Add some water to soak the backfill soil. Backfill and compact more soil the rest of the way to the surface, and use the remaining soil to make a small, temporary basin around the plant so you can flood it with water a few times.

6. Apply mulch.

Place mulch around the plant as shown in the illustration. See the later section "Mulching: The Sustainable Garden Miracle" for information on the benefits of mulch.

Even the toughest plants need babying when they're first planted. Pay close attention to watering, keeping the soil (especially the root ball) constantly moist but not soggy. Poke a finger into the soil to test for moisture. As the plants mature, water longer and less frequently, because the root system will be more extensive.

Don't try to hurry plants along with strong doses of fertilizer; allow them to develop in their own time. Watch for pests and diseases, and take action immediately, knowing that young plants have few reserves to protect them. Maintain a good cover of mulch to keep moisture in and weeds down. Finally, get after those weeds pronto, because they can outcompete your plants quickly.

Figure 16-3:

Planting small plants on slopes and level ground.

Mulch will be 2 inches back from trunk, and will encircle entire plant

Bring backfill soil to exposed edge of root ball

Drip irrigation emitter

At top of hole only: 3/8 inch crushed rock

Mulch will be 2 inches back from trunk, and will encircle entire plant

Drip irrigation emitter

At top of hole only: 3/8 inch crushed rock

Bring backfill soil to exposed edge of root ball

Root ball sits directly on undisturbed soil

Mulch will be 2 inches back from trunk, and will encircle entire plant

Backfill mix consists of native soil, mycorrhizal innoculum, and organic fertilizer

Undisturbed native soil

Root ball sits directly on undisturbed soil

Backfill mix consists of native soil, mycorrhizal innoculum, and organic fertilizer

Root ball sits directly on undisturbed soil

Undisturbed native soil

Mulch will be 2 inches back from trunk, and will encircle entire plant

Backfill mix consists of native soil, mycorrhizal innoculum, and organic fertilizer

Undisturbed native soil

Root ball sits directly on undisturbed soil

Backfill mix consists of native soil, mycorrhizal innoculum, and organic fertilizer

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