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Camilla Care

Correct planting of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants – Reading Eagle

Vaseline 1 month ago

For clenched and jute plants, the jute around the root ball should be removed. (Wikimedia Commons)

The goal when planting a plant is to help it build a healthy root system as quickly as possible so that it can nourish all the other processes necessary for its growth.

For best long-term results, test the soil in the area where you plan to plant and follow the advice in the soil report you receive. Smaller plants adapt better to transplanting than larger ones. Smaller holes need to be dug and they are cheaper.

With that in mind, the key to success will be healthy, nutritious soil, which is a whole other topic, but assuming your soil is at least adequate, here’s how to proceed.

Dig a hole two to three times wider than the current mass of your plant’s roots, and at a depth that will support your plant with its green growth safely above soil level and all its roots below.

For trees and shrubs, make sure the root spur – where the bark-covered trunk or stem begins to widen into the root structure – is above the soil line.

In general, you should plant in native soil. Do not create an artificial source of heavily amended soil as this will encourage the young roots to circle in place rather than venture into the native soil.

In heavy soils, adding a small amount, 10-20%, of compost or leaf mulch can help get fine-rooted plants going. Take a moment to cut or loosen the side walls of the planting hole to encourage outward growth of expanding roots.

When the new plant is firmly in place, fill the hole with the soil removed from it, making sure to fill in any air pockets. Firm the soil gently, but do not compact it.

In a larger hole, it is helpful to water lightly while backfilling so that all the soil is moist when you are done. Smaller plantings can be filled in and then watered.

In the case of bare-root plants, gently loosen the roots from any tangles. You may need to create a mound of soil in the bottom of your hole to support the roots without leaving air gaps. Gently pack the soil in and around the roots, spreading them outward as much as possible without damage.

A gardener holds the roots of a plant.  (Pexels)
A gardener holds the roots of a plant. (Pexels)

Potted plants often require an extra step, as they may have become pot-bound, with roots that circle tightly and intertwine into an almost solid mass.

In that case, it can help to gently loosen the roots from the pot mold so that they are free to venture into new soil. With a plant that is firmly in the pot, it may even be necessary to cut off some of the roots with a sharp, clean knife to loosen the compressed mass. Again, the goal is to encourage roots to quickly establish themselves in their new home.

Bold and burlap (B&B) plants should be planted according to the same guidelines, but also require complete or partial removal of the wire cage and the burlap or plastic wrapping around the root ball.

It is usually best to place the plant in the prepared hole so that you can be sure that the root flare can sit at the correct level through the depth. For a smaller plant it may be possible to loosen and remove all wire and wrapping for disposal. Recheck the placement and put additional soil in the bottom of the hole if the plant needs to be jacked up.

For plants that are too heavy to easily manipulate, place the ball in the hole and then cut the string at several points along the perimeter so it can be peeled off and left flat in the bottom of the hole. In the same way, cut away the fabric covering and remove as much as possible, leaving the rest in the bottom of the hole.

Putting a new tree or shrub in the ground does not mean the end of the job. New plantings require more frequent watering than established trees and shrubs. Don’t sabotage the success of your garden by neglecting this important point.

New plantings require more frequent watering than established trees and shrubs.  (Pexels)
New plantings require more frequent watering than established trees and shrubs. (Pexels)

Water daily one to two weeks after planting. Water every two to three days for 3 to 12 weeks after planting. Then water weekly until established. Give your plantings extra loving care for one to two years after putting them in the ground.

If you need further assistance with planting or preparing your soil for planting, please contact the toll-free Master Gardener Garden Hotline at 610-378-1327 or [email protected].

Elizabeth Finlay is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener volunteer.