Vandusen Botanical Gardens, pic Amanda Jarrett
Best Planting Practices - Planting Procedures - Bad Planting Symptoms - Staking Trees - After Planting - Troubleshooting
Best Planting Practices
It’s easy to plant a tree, a shrub, or any plant, right? All you have to do is dig a hole, plunk it in, give it a drink or wait for rain and voila – it’s done. So, if that's the case, why is it that some plants die before their time? If a plant dies shortly after being planted, it's a safe bet that it wasn’t done correctly, however what if starts to decline a few years down the road? It takes at least 5 years for trees to show symptoms of bad planting. Insect infestations are usually the first sign. As the tree weakens, the bugs come in for the kill, then it is just downhill from there.
How to plant
Plant early in the morning, late in the day, and/or on a cloudy day. Avoid hot sun, windy days and those days when heat, sun and/or wind are predicted. Autumn is the best time of the year to plant followed by early spring. Summer is the least favourable time due to drought and heat (as well as summer vacations).
“Right plant, right place” is the adage of successful gardeners worldwide. Do your research and keep those plant tags as they often include the botanical name and preferred growing conditions. Look up and down. Watch out for overhead wires, eaves, structures and anything that could impede the plant's natural growth.
Look down. There are all kinds of utilities underground. Call BC One Call to find out what lurks below before planting.
Give plants a bed to grow in not directly in the lawn. Lawn mowers and line trimmers chew up plant stems and severely injure woody trunks even on mature trees. Grass also inhibits plant growth (alleopathic) and increases maintenance as you have to keep the grass at bay. It also looks unsightly. To prevent the grass from encroaching the new bed and for a neat professional look, place edging between the lawn and the new bed. Feel free to plant smaller plants to fill in the beds, such as impatiens and other bedding plants, ground covers, perennials or small shrubs. How about some edibles such as lettuce, carrots or even strawberries?
To further reduce maintenance, add 3 inches of organic mulch on top of the soil. This reduces erosion, insulates the soil from temperature fluctuations, retains moisture, provides nutrients and reduces weeds. Refrain from piling it up against tree trunks and plant crowns, as this results in rotting.
The day before planting, water the plant and the ground. Prepare the planting hole first before removing the plant from its pot. Make the hole the same depth of the roots but 2 to 5 times wider than the rootball. Roots spread out well past the plants canopy. Don't make the hole deeper than the rootball as the plant will settle too deeply in the hole.
Gently tease the roots loose with your fingers but keep the rootball intact. If the plant is pot-bound (dense, circling roots), slice the rootball from top to bottom a few inches apart. Always remove any pots, even fibre and peat ones before planting.
There is no need to add compost or other soil amendments to the hole. Studies have found that roots would rather stay within the planting hole rather that grow into the surrounding soil. Adding bone meal is a good idea as it encourages root growth. Mycorrhizal fungi is another option. Rub it on the root ball as directed to increase water and nutrient absorption. It’s good stuff.
Planting Shrubs, bedding plants & Perennials
Prepare the plants by watering them the day before planting. Prepare the soil the day before by watering the soil and weeding. Arrange the plants that are still in their pots, on the ground in a pleasing design. Make a hole 2 to 5 times wider than the rootball for each plant, but at the same depth as the rootball. Situate the plant so the crown, where the stems and roots join, sits at the soil surface. Loosen roots with your hand especially if they are rootbound. For really tightly bound roots use a knife to cut the roots as directed above. Even petunias and other bedding plants benefit from this simple act. Add bonemeal to the hole as directed in the instructions or rub the appropriate mycorrhizal fungi on plant roots. Since bonemeal kills the fungi, don't use these two products together.
Place the plant firmly in the hole ensuring there is good root to soil contact. Fill the hole with soil ensuring the crown of the plant, where roots and stem meet, is level with the soil surface. Add water gently, but thoroughly soak the ground so the toots get a good drink. Cover the ground with a 3 inch layer of organic mulch, but avoid plant stems and covering plant crowns. Give them another drink. Water again in a day or two. New leaves are an indication that their roots have established themselves into their new home. Reduce watering and watch them grow.
Before purchasing a tree, measure how much space you have. Look up and look down to ensure there are not overhead wires or underground utilities. Make your selection keeping in mind a tree's height and canopy width.
Plant trees so the trunk flare (where the trunk joins the roots) sits just about the soil surface. If you bury the trunk flare the tree will eventually decline slowly over the years. Roots tend to form around the buried trunk and curl around strangling (girdling) it.
Don't place plastic tree guards around the trunks. They are often used to prevent rodents from nibbling the bark and to protect them from lawn mowers and line trimmers. Bugs and rot often grow underneath and they strangle the tree as the trunk expands. Remove all tags and ties from plant stems including tree trunks so they won't girdle (strangle) the plant as it grows.
Bad Planting Symptoms
Symptoms of unhappy roots include: lack of vigor, leaf yellowing, and premature leaf drop during the growing season, autumn colours appearing in late summer rather than the fall, wilting, stunted growth, insect infestations and diseases. Also look for 'branch die-back' as the branches slowly die from the tips of their stems all the way back to the trunk.
Usually there is no need to stake trees. Do so if they are bare root, top heavy and will not stay upright after planting, such as evergreens. Keep the stakes on until the plant no longer wiggles around when the tree is gently pushed; usually about 2 years at most. If after that time it is still unstable, dig it up and find out what is going on down there.
Use soft cloth or rubber strapping to use as ties, not string nor wire. Tie around the plant in a figure 8 making sure it doesn’t cut into the tree trunk or the branches. The tree should be able to sway gently, so it doesn’t become weak and stake dependant. Use two stakes one on each side of the tree with the ends penetrating the surrounding soil, not into the newly dug hole or the rootball. Secure the tree to the stakes using a figure 8 with the ties.
Once trees and shrubs are planted, make a three inch mound of earth around the perimeter of the planting hole. This moat acts as a reservoir to keep the water in place. It's not necessary to do this with annuals and perennials, unless they are on a slope or the conditions are arid.
Hand water to ensure all the roots get a good drink and the soil settles around those buried roots. To stimulate root growth, add transplant or kelp fertilizer to the water. Water well until the soil puddles, then drains, then add water to puddle again. Irrigate every other day until new growth develops, then once or twice a week depending on the weather. Do check the soil with a trowel to make sure you are not under-watering or overwatering. Wilting is not only indicative of under-watering; plants also wilt when they are drowning.
Irrigate less frequently when new growth emerges. It is best to water plants in the morning and keep it off the foliage to prevent diseases. Check plants when it is hot and/or windy as they use more water and don’t forget to add a 3 inch layer of organic mulch as that help retain soil moisture.
Pruning: Remove any broken, dead, diseased growth on trees and shrubs. Don’t remove the lower tree branches and no cutting of the trees (topping) either. It is a good idea to remove all flowers and fruit on all plants so they don’t have to maintain them while establishing their roots into the surrounding soil.
Unhappy plants are often a result of bad planting, usually because the roots have not engaged into the surrounding soil. If a plant is suffering and you can’t figure out why, dig down and take a look. Same thing goes for plants that you know you planted them incorrectly. You might get away with removing excess soil if they have been planted too deeply or add some if planted too high. To remove burlap that has been left on, try to cut if off as far down as you can. Certainly remove any burlap that is still tied around a plant’s trunk or crown. Potbound roots that were not cut or splayed upon planting is a more difficult thing to rectify without digging the plant up and setting the roots free with a knife.
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