During the past couple of weekends, there have been many commercial plant nurseries that have had sales. Many gardeners purchased plants at great prices.
These sales come at a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Fall and winter are the best times to plant. The water demands of a plant are less during the fall and winter as the air temperature drops. The cooler temperatures slow down the top growth of the plant.
Also, the soil temperature in our area allows the root system to grow all winter, and by the beginning of the summer you will have a plant that has an established root system.
The last reason why it is best to plant in the fall and winter is this is the time of year when we get the majority of our rain. Therefore, you don't have to water the plants as much.
The most important aspect of planting plants is the hole. The best planting hole is two to three times the diameter of the root ball of the plant. If you are planting a container plant, the hole should not be deeper than the root ball. If the hole is deeper than the root ball, you are planting too deep. When a plant is too deep, it will die because of the change in the amount of oxygen the root system is receiving. It is better to have some of the root ball above ground than to have it too deep.
When you make the hole two to three times wider than the root ball, you give the roots plenty of room to grow. With our clay soils, a narrow planting hole will constrict the roots and the plant will be slower to establish.
Instead of digging individual holes, 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 Service recommends you till all of the bed area you are going to plant. This breaks up the soil and improves the root zone.
You also can incorporate organic matter such as compost or fine ground pine bark into the soil. This needs to be tilled in along with lime if your soil sample calls for it. Till the ground as deep as you can.
If you add organic matter to the bed area, I do not recommend adding organic matter to individual planting holes.
The reason for this is that the organic matter is 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 so you can have a pot-bound plant.
The next question that I get all the time is do I put fertilizer in the planting hole? You can add slow release fertilizers. The type and amount of fertilizer applied to the planting hole would depend upon your soil sample results. Slow-release fertilizers will slowly feed the plants. This will prevent excessive growth of the plant, which increases its water demand.
When you take the plant out of the container, loosen the roots out of the circular shape that they were growing in 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.
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 them.
To finish the planting job, mulch the plants. You can use any kind of mulch. Research has shown that there is little difference in the different types of mulch. Put three to four inches around the plants. Leave a small gap between the plant and the mulch.
After putting out the mulch, water the plants well.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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