The warm weather has everyone flocking to the garden centers to buy plants. Most people like to buy plants now because the spring flowering plants are in bloom. This allows you to see the color of the blooms without looking at a picture.
Another reason that people like to buy plants now is that they have been unable to do much gardening because of the cold weather. Before heading to the garden center, though, you need some basic information, such as how many plants are needed, where will they be planted and what growing conditions they like.
There are other factors to think about , such as getting the soil fertility right. 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.
Also, the test will recommend what analysis of starter fertilizer to use and a fertilizer schedule to follow.
The best way to prepare for planting is to break up the ground in the area that will be planted. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends tilling all of the bed area instead of digging a planting hole. This breaks up the soil and improves the root zone of the plants. In our clay soils, this helps the roots of the plant grow and spread faster.
Incorporate organic matter, such as compost or fine ground pine bark, to the soil. This will help keep the soil loose and gives a better rooting zone for the plant. If a soil sample called for lime, the organic matter needs to be tilled in along with the lime.
Till the ground as deeply as possible to help the plant have a deeper root system. When digging the hole for the plant, dig it two to three times the diameter of the container but no deeper than the container.
When taking the plant out of the container, loosen the roots out of the circular shape that they were growing in the container. If the roots are allowed to continue in that 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. The top of the root ball should be even with or slightly above ground level. One of the major problems that I see with plants is improper planting depth. Most are planted too deep, which reduces the amount of oxygen going to the root system and can kill it.
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. With individual planting holes, we don't add organic matter.
In Columbia County, most of our soils are clay. If you add organic matter to the hole, 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 draw water out of the surrounding soil and hold it. This will cause the plant to drown or develop root rot. To avoid this, break up the native soil and place it back in the hole.
To determine if your soil is holding too much water, you can to do a simple percolation test. Dig a hole 10 inches to 12 inches deep. Fill it with water. If the hole has no water in it after 12 hours, you have good drainage. If you have poor drainage, use plants that will tolerate this moisture or build up the soil. If you build up the soil, it should be 8 inches to 12 inches above the existing soil. This will give the roots plenty of depth and keep them above the wet soils.
Once the plant is in the ground, water the plant to wet the whole root system and the surrounding soil. This will settle the soil and remove air pockets that can dry out the plant. Then, water the plant regularly for the first month. By this time, the plant should be sending out new roots.
The last item to make your plant's root system happy is mulch.
A good 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch will help conserve moisture, keep the soil loose and protect the root system from cold and heat. The type of mulch that you use is not important. All mulches work the same way.
Spring brings gardeners the desire to plant. If you prepare and plant properly, you will have better results.
Reach Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips at (706) 868-3413 or email@example.com. The extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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