The Plant Man column
for publication week of 03/13/05 - 03/18/05
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
A "planting primer" for trees and shrubs
Right about now, a lot of us are getting ready to plant some new
goodies around our landscape.
Perhaps you visit a garden center or look at an online catalog and see
various intriguing plants but hesitate to make the buying decision
because you're not sure about the correct planting procedure.
Today, we'll look at three ways you can buy plants (from the little
guys up to the most majestic of trees) and have a quick primer on how
to plant each type. If you still need help, send me an e-mail at
Usually, it's the smaller plants that you can buy in pots, but you'll
sometimes find larger shrubs sold that way, and the planting procedure
is the same for all of them. First of all, dig a hole approximately
twice the width and depth of the container, add some organic matter
and refill the hole about halfway with some of the soil.
Tap the pot a few times to loosen the plant and it should slide right
out. Put it into the hole and gently spread the roots out, being
careful not to break them. It's a good tip to seat the plant so it is
about an inch higher than it was in the pot to allow for it to settle.
If it is sitting too deep, simply lift it out and add a bit more soil
underneath it. When it's at the right height, carefully start filling
soil in around the plant, adding water every so often to prevent air
pockets and to keep the roots nicely moistened. Add a little mulch...
stand back and congratulate yourself!
If you've seen the term "bare root" but aren't quite sure what it is,
allow me to explain. Simply, it's a plant, quite often a tree, that
comes to you without any soil attached to the roots. Because it has
been washed free of soil, there is a greatly reduced chance of
carrying soil-bourne diseases to your landscape, and, due to their
light weight, they are very easy to handle while planting.
If I have some bare roots that I can't plant right away, I discard all
the packing materials, lay them on the ground and loosely pile some
damp soil or compost over the root ends to keep them moist but
protected from frost. For bare root trees, about 4 to 6 hours before
planting, uncover the plants and soak the roots in a bucket of water.
Bare root perennials need less of a soak; 30 minutes to an hour should
As with the potted plants, dig a hole that's a bit wider than seems
necessary. This allows the delicate young roots to spread without
trying to force their way through compacted soil. Place the plant
into the hole and hold upright while you fill some of the soil back in
around the base. There's usually no need to add any soil amendments at
Add the rest of the soil around your little tree and press down firmly
but don't pack it too tightly. Add a generous amount of water and once
that has soaked in, add mulch to a depth of about two inches and a
diameter of three feet. Be sure that the mulch is not touching the
trunk! For the first year, make a point of watering it every week to
ten days, depending on weather conditions.
Balled and burlapped
"B and B" plants can be quite bulky and heavy. Always pick up your B
and B by the root ball, not the trunk. When you have dug a hole
plenty big enough for the root ball, remove any strappings, string or
wire. You can do this after you have placed the root ball into the
hole if you prefer. Natural burlap need not be completely removed as
it is biodegradable. Some landscapers leave all of it on the root
ball, while others trim it back, leaving some of it under the plant.
Thoroughly soak the root ball with water then begin filling in the
soil around the root ball, adding more water as you go. Then simply
add a layer of mulch just as you would with a bare root.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org