What’s the best way to plant my new purchase?

In our last Soils Matter blog post, we discussed creating the best hole, in the best location, for your plant purchases. (https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/is-there-actually-a-right-way-to-dig-a-hole-for-planting/).

Note how large the root mass is for a tomato grown in a properly prepared hole (uncompacted soil). The plant grew twice as large and produced more fruit than one in a poorly prepared hole (compacted soil).

Digging RootSystemContrast_adjusted x1200
Tomato roots grow much larger in rich, compacted soils – which results in a healthier plant and more tomatoes. Credit: C Robinson, P. Scullion

After you’ve dug the best hole, preparing your plant for transplanting can make the most of your plant purchases with some simple steps.

  1. Purchase – before purchasing a plants, you want to verify two things:
    1. Is it the correct plant for your site – this you can tell by reading the label. Is the location you plan to plant it large enough for the mature height and width? Are the sun/shade requirements going to be met in your planned location?
    2. Is it a healthy plant – I recommend a minimum 4-point inspection: Roots, stems, branches, leaves. If you see signs of pests, wilted leaves, etc., you shouldn’t buy the plant.
  2. Water – when you get home, water the pots thoroughly, until water runs from the bottom, and the soil feels moist when you push your finger in about knuckle deep.
  3. Pruning – yes, before you plant your new purchase, you’ll want to consider some pruning. Some roots are damaged during transplanting, so the top growth needs to be pruned to reduce transplant shock. This is more true with annuals than perennials. I always target buds, flowers, and fruit for pruning. If your plant is a perennial, and you still want it to immediately look good in your garden, consider pruning about 50% of the flowers, buds or fruit. It’s worth it to sacrifice part of this year’s fruit or blooms to ensure a long-lasting and high-yielding bush. Cut off any broken branches. For annuals, remove lower leaves so that you can plant deeper. Remove any leaves that are not green and healthy.
  4. Unpotting – gently grasp the plant by the stem near the ground and gently pull the plant out of the pot. If the plant is not root bound, it is ready to be planted. Root bound plants require more effort. Try using your hand or a trowel to tease the roots out from the mass. If that does not work, use a knife to cut through the roots in 2 to 4 places around the outside of the root ball. Then tease the roots out from the root ball.

Plant_rootbound
You’ll want to break up the roots along the sides of a rootbound plant, so they can grow out into the surrounding soil. Credit: C Robinson
  • Planting – gently spread the roots, place the pruned plant in the hole to the depth of the bottom leaves, push the soil into the hole around it, and gently firm the soil against the stem and roots. You’ll want to add any soil and compost to the hole to make sure there are no gaps around your new plant. Refer to my last post for more information about the hole and the soil. For perennials, leave the crown just above the level of the soil.
  • Additions – add compost, grass clippings, or straw around the plant as a mulch. The mulch decreases evaporation, protects the soil surface from raindrop impacts, runoff, and wind, and so limits erosion.
  • ColoradoSpruceAtSunrise - GardenLanscape SFisk
    Investment trees, like this Colorado Spruce in the foreground and Blue Spruce in the background, deserve some special attention when planting. They will then give you years of enjoyment. Credit S. V. Fisk

    For more information on planting your new purchase, ASA and SSSA have developed two videos. One is shorter, and can be found at https://youtu.be/XlKC_TPYbTo. It quickly describes inspecting and transplanting your plants. Another video goes into more depth about many variations your plant, and you how can help it succeed. It can be found at http://agronomy.peachnewmedia.com/store/seminar/seminar.php?seminar=60127. I highly recommend that all serious gardeners and landscapers watch these videos, and protect those garden center investments!

    Answered by Clay Robinson, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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