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Techniques : Planting

Preparation for planting | Planting | Watering | Support | Timing

Preparation for planting

Dig the ground, break up lumps and remove large stones to make it easy for the plant roots to grow out into the soil. The addition of organic material, such as well-rotted compost, encourages quick rooting.

If fertiliser is needed, it should always be applied before planting, because the plant will need ready access to food. About 70 grams per square metre of general fertiliser such as 7:6:17, 10:10:20, John Innes Base, Growmore, or General Purpose Fertiliser should be used if the soil not the best, or to get the plants off to a fast start.

Planting

When the ground is ready, take out a hole wide enough to allow the roots to be fully spread out, and deep enough to allow the plant to be at the same depth as before lifting. Place it in the hole, making sure it is upright, spread out the roots, and lightly cover them with good, fine soil.

Planting gladiolus corms

Planting gladiolus corms

If a plant is pot bound – the roots wrapping around the root ball, gently tear out the surface of the root ball to encourage rooting into the surrounding soil. This is especially important for trees and shrubs, particularly evergreens, because the roots can stay wrapped round and offer poor anchorage. Poorly anchored shrubs and trees often blow over when they become top-heavy after a few years of growth.

Firm the covered roots gently. Then fill the hole and firm well, with hands or feet – depending on the size of the plant. Firming makes sure the roots are in contact with the soil, but do not over-
firm.

Watering

Be sure to always water immediately after planting, unless the ground is already moist and the weather is rainy, but even in that case, be prepared to water a few days later should expected rain not materialise. Watering is especially important if the weather is dry or windy.

Apart from helping the roots to settle in, watering, like the priming of a pump, establishes the capillary rise of moisture up through the soil. Avoid planting where water-logging may occur. The roots actually drown for lack of oxygen, and rot, often causing the death of the plant itself.

If in doubt, dig a few test holes about one and half times the depth of the spade and see how the water table behaves. If water fills the holes, and is slow to drain away – taking more than a day or so, it is unwise to plant any species other than those known to like wet soil conditions.

Support

Apart from its role as gatherer of water and plant nutrients, a major function of the plant root system is to anchor it to the soil. When a plant is moved, losing some of its roots, it probably will no longer be adequately anchored.

Young tree well tied to short stake

Young tree well tied to short stake

While small plants can be simply firmed well in the ground, not over-doing the firming, trees and tall shrubs especially need to be staked. The stake should be driven after the hole is dug, but before planting.

Temporary shelter, by means of a screen of hessian or plastic wind break material, is useful for conifers, which tend to blow over. The shelter screening also prevents the tree foliage getting dried out by the wind.

Semi-mature trees will need more than one stake, or they might need to be supported by guy wires that are in turn anchored well to strong short stakes or steel posts, or buried anchors of heavy timber.

Timing

The correct planting times for the various types of plants are given where the plants are described. In general, plants suffer least set-back when moved during dormancy – they have less foliage and the weather is moist and cool. As a result, they do not come under stress so quickly.

When plants are moved while in full growth – bedding plants and vegetable transplants – make the move as quickly as possible, and water before and after. Container and pot-grown plants suffer no damage to their root system, and so can be safely planted at any time – though they should be watered until well established.

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