Planting Out Large Plants
Planting out bought-in and larger plants
Only vegetables andare usually transplanted while growing strongly; most other plants are better moved while dormant. In either case, the bigger the rootball and the more associated soil that can be transferred undisturbed the better. Some gardeners recommend cutting back woody plants very hard when planting to encourage strong regrowth, but I find it is better to let most plants establish for a year before pruning them back. If a plant has been too long in a small container, it may be root-bound – the roots encircle the base of the pot and do not grow outwards when planted in the soil. In these cases, tease out the roots before planting. If plants have been out of the soil for a long time or have dried out, the roots need a good soak before planting. If they have been under cover or in a protected environment they need to be hardened off.
It is not a good idea to prepare planting holes a long time before your plants arrive, as this may allow the soil to dry out, but it is better to dig the holes early and do a good job than to rush it at the last minute. Water a planting hole well, but let it drain away before planting. If is slow, break up the subsoil in the bottom of the planting hole. Always try to dig a generous hole to give the roots a free run – this breaks up existing root systems and aerates the soil, stimulating the micro-life. This, in turn, encourages the plant to reroot quickly, but the micro-life needs raw materials to convert, so mix compost and rock dusts well in with the planting soil.
The hole for a tree or bush needs to be as big and as deep as you can make it, not just large enough to squeeze the roots in. Deeper is no better than wider; do not mix different soil layers, although breaking up the bottom of the hole with a fork is useful. Mix enriching materials into the top-most layer. Everything added to the planting hole needs to be mixed in well. I have seen many promising trees killed by too muchpacked around them by gardeners enthused by adverts. A layer of peat isolates the roots and dries out the rootball, so that the tree fails in its first summer because capillary moisture doesn’t reach it. Equally important is the firming in of each root so it is in direct capillary contact with an unbroken soil network. For a new plant to establish quickly the soil needs to be firmed around each root and just moist enough to pack well. Too wet is as bad as too dry or frosted – the soil must be friable and moist.
Watering is the next most important part of establishing transplanted plants, especially the slower growing ones. Fast-growingsown in situ with enough soil moisture initially fend for themselves. However, a large newly transplanted woody subject may need watering right through the first season of growth while it builds up a root system in the soil. Herbaceous plants fall between these two extremes – if moved when dormant they can usually look after themselves, but will benefit from watering during dry periods. Mulches will help by retaining moisture, suppressing weeds and aid quick establishment.
Buying Plants Wisely
Market stalls and ‘cheap’ garden centres may not be the best places to buy from. Sadly, most of these stock only fast-moving lines, and offer a poor choice of variety with little, if any, choice of rootstock. Never buy ‘special offer’ large or old plants, as these are slow to establish and would be soon outgrown by vigorous youngsters. Often plants are grown in containers for convenient sale, but this can make for a cramped root system. This is little problem for, small shrubs or most soft fruit, but planting a tree that could live a century or more with its root wound into a circle hardly makes a good anchor. Buy from a reputable nursery, where possible bare rooted, because you can see the roots and ensure that there are no hidden pests. Choose certified, virus-free plants and always order early. Get several catalogues to compare and plan your planting on paper. This is well worthwhile because the plants are of a higher quality, you get more choice and you will often pay much less by mail order.
Catalogues give glowing descriptions of plants, but it is still hard to visualise them – sometimes even when a photo is provided. Going to visit garden centres and gardens, especially those where the plants are well-labelled, provides a much better idea of what plants look like. Visiting regularly – say, once a month – enables you to observe the continuity of colour and foliage though individual plants are out of bloom. Gardens are better for this, because garden centres tend to stock ‘fast movers’ – predominantly plants in flower as these sell most easily.
When ordering through the post, be prepared to send back anything that is poor quality. However, most nurseries send plants that are as good if not better than those offered by garden centres and at a lower price. At a garden centre, though, you can choose which plants you want. Do not always go for the biggest, as these may not grow away so easily. Look for health in plants with plenty of young, strong shoots and avoid anything that looks thin, spindly or sick – no matter how cheap it is. Plants that have been on the shelf too long will have roots coming out the bottom of the pot and weeds growing in the compost. Buying weeds with your plants is like getting litter with your shopping, so if you are assertive enough, remove them and leave them at the point of sale.