There is an adage that says, "Out of sight and out of mind." Unfortunately, we apply this adage to our plants.
We spend a great deal of time and energy worrying about the above-ground portion of our plants. We forget about the part that is out of sight. The root system of a plant will determine how healthy the plant will be, so we need to manage the root system of the plant like we would the top part.
The process for developing a good root system begins before you buy your plants. The first step is to test the soil.
A soil test will tell you the pH and what the nutrient levels are in your soil. Plants have a certain pH that they like to grow in, and it is easier to adjust the soil pH before you plant than after you plant.
The next step is to make a plan of the area that you want to plant. In this plan, you can place plants according to height, width, color and texture. However, the one aspect that most people don't plan on is the water requirements.
Plants can be classified as high, medium and low water-users. You need to plant high water-users together, medium water-users together, and low water-users together. If you mix these plants in the same bed, you could be over-watering some plants and under-watering others.
Now that you have soil tested and developed a plan, it is time to go buy your plants. Again, the adage comes into play. Most people, when they buy plants, never look at the root system at the store. The top of the plant looks good, so we buy the plant.
To make sure that the plant you are buying has a good root system, gently remove it from the container. The root system should have a large number of roots visible. These roots should be white, beige or light brown. Plants that have black, rotted roots should not be purchased.
Once you have purchased your plants that have a good root systems, it is time to start planting them. The best way to prepare for planting is to break up the ground in the area that you are going to plant. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends that you till all of the bed area. This breaks up the soil and improves the root zone of the plants. At this time, you can incorporate organic matter such as compost or fine-ground pine bark to the soil. This needs to be tilled in along with lime if your soil sample called for lime. You need to till the ground as deep as you can.
When you dig the hole for the plant, you need to dig the hole two to three times the diameter of the container, and no deeper than the container. When you take the plant out of the container, you need to loosen the roots out of the circular shape that they were growing in the container. 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 next step is proper placement of the plant in the hole. Most plants are planted too deep. You need to have the top of the root ball even with or slightly above ground level.
Planting plants too deep will reduce the amount of oxygen going to the root system, and the root system will die. Once the plant is planted, water the plant to wet the whole root system and the surrounding soil.
Sometimes, we are not able to till the whole bed area. In that case, we have to change the way we deal with the planting hole. In the area where we tilled the bed area, we added organic matter to the bed. When we are dealing with individual planting holes, we don't add organic matter to the hole. In Columbia County, most of our soils are clay. If you add organic matter, you have created a soil different from the surrounding soil. The roots have a tendency to stay in the hole with the best soil. Also, the organic matter will hold water and will draw water out of the surrounding soil. You need to break up the native soil and place it back in the hole.
The last item that you need to make your plant's root system happy is mulch. A good two- to four-inch layer of mulch will help conserve moisture, help keep the soil loose and help protect the root system from cold and heat.
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