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Proper plants need proper planting

Posted: June 16, 2012 - 11:13pm

The rain we received in the past few weeks has been great.

In my area, most of the rain soaked into the earth and did not run off. These rains also made the soil easier to dig in.

With some recent big plant sales, there will be plenty in need of planting. In order for these plants to do their best, they need a proper start, which means planting them properly.

Proper planting starts with a soil sample, which will tell if lime is needed and what fertilizer will be best to use on the plants.

The most important aspect of planting plants is the planting hole. The best planting hole is two to three times the diameter of the root ball of the plant. Also, the hole does not need to be deeper than the root ball. When a plant is planted too deep, it will die due to a change in the amount of oxygen the root system receives. It is better to have some of the root ball above ground than to have it too deep.

When the hole is dug two to three times wider than the root ball, the roots have plenty of loose soil in which to grow. With clay soils, a narrow planting hole will constrict the roots and the plant will be slow to establish.

Instead of digging individual holes, the best way to prepare for planting is to break up the ground in the area to be used. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends tilling the bed area. This breaks up the soil and improves the root zone of the plants.

If the whole bed is tilled, then organic matter, such as compost or fine ground pine bark, can be tilled into the soil. This needs to be tilled in along with lime if the soil sample called for it. The bed area needs to be tilled as deep as possible.

It is best not to add organic matter to an individual planting hole. The reason for this is that the organic matter has a different texture than the surrounding clay soil.

In dry conditions, the clay will pull the water out of the hole with organic matter in it. The opposite occurs when we have plenty of rain. The hole will fill with water and the plant will drown. Also, if the soil in the planting hole is amended, the roots of the plant will tend to stay in the better soil. This can cause the plant to be pot bound, even though it is not in a container.

Certain types of fertilizer can be added to the planting hole. This would be slow-release fertilizers. The type and amount of fertilizer applied to the planting hole would depend upon the soil sample results. The slow-release fertilizers will slowly feed the plants and not cause excessive growth of the plant, which increases the water demand.

After the soil has been prepared and the planting hole has been dug, take the plant out of the container. The roots will be in a circular shape. If the roots are allowed to continue in this circular pattern, they can form girdling roots that over time can damage or kill the plant. The roots need to be loosened to help them get out of the circular shape.

Some of the plants will have root systems that are pot bound. These might have to be cut into order for them to start spreading into the surrounding soil.

Also, make sure that the center of the root ball is wet. If the bark mix that the plant is growing in dries out, it is next to impossible to wet the root ball when it is in the ground. I like to soak my plants in water before planting.

The last thing that needs to be done is to mulch the plants. Any kind of mulch will work.

Research has shown that there is little difference in types of mulch. Put 3 to 4 inches around the plants. Leave a small gap between the plant and the mulch.

After putting out the mulch, make sure to water the plants well.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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