This article focuses on a modern planting method that can be used for many soil types and purposes. Native soil characteristics(1) help determine the correct planting method.
Modern Planting Method for Heavy Clay Soils
Heavy clay soils require special care; digging when wet will destroy soil aggregation and reduce air content. Amend a clay soil with only a few handfuls of compost and/or natural fertilizer applied as directed. An excessively rich planting medium will encourage roots to stay put ( the bathtub effect). Avoid very wet sites.
Modern Planting Method for Loam or Gravely Soils
Loams and sandy or gravely soils can be enriched with a small amount of organic material and fertilizer. Dig the hole at least 1/3 wider but just a few inches deeper than the root ball. Soil in deeply dug holes will eventually settle, creating air pockets or causing the plant to lean.
Amendments, Roots and Backfilling
Thoroughly mix soil with any amendments/fertilizer – place a small amount of the mix in the bottom of the hole (2), position the plant, and carefully backfill around the roots with the mixed soil – tamp lightly. Very important! – position the plant at the same soil level(3) as it grew in the nursery. As much as possible, roots should be placed in a fan pattern, extending outward and downward. Cut with sharp loppers any broken, excessively long, or spiraling roots. When planting potted stock, thoroughly loosen the root ball and direct and trim roots as needed. When the hole is half filled with soil mix, add enough water (1-5 gal.) to penetrate below the root zone – as water drains, gently shake the trunk of the plant to help settle the soil around roots. After initial drainage, complete the backfilling process, leaving a 2″ basin which extends well beyond the dripline of the plant – wide and deep irrigation will encourage roots to continue growing outward and down. Water to fill the basin and again gently shake the trunk.
Modern Planting Method Considerations
Pruning cuts to both the roots and tops should be kept to a minimum – removing growth weakens the plant. Unless the site is extremely exposed and windy, do not support young trees with stakes or wire; movement of the tree in wind encourages the growth of a strong lateral root system, essential for the longevity of the plant. Also, do not wrap the trunk with tree wrap or treat wounds with any form of sealer – these practices actually form cavities where moisture, insects and disease organisms thrive. Finally, create a topsoil environment (4) that will feed the soil over time; compost, manures and other organic material applied two to four inches deep as a mulch will benefit the plant immensely. Spread these materials in as great an area as possible, keeping them six inches away from the trunk.
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About Dan Eskelson
Dan has had his hands in the soil for most of his adult life as a gardener, landscaping contractor, golf course superintendent and landscape designer. When the ground freezes, he builds websites, produces video and plays the hammered dulcimer. Full bio here.