How to plant

By Shaun Moser, Conservation Garden Park

The real workhorse of any good landscape is its perennial flowers. And the health of those perennials is greatly affected by the way they are planted. People tend to fall into one of two camps when planting flowers: those who treat planting like it doesn’t matter and those who do way too much. Here is a breakdown of the do’s and the don’ts.

Do:

Have a master plan. Working off a master design for your landscape gives you the powerful advantage of knowing exactly where that plant is going to be planted. It means you’ve already considered mature plant size, light and water requirements, and given it a spot that provides it the best chance for survival.

Don’t:

Buy plants on impulse. Those big, bright, colorful flowers can be a strong lure. But unless it’s already on your master plan, resist the urge. Buying on impulse is a good recipe for a plant that is hastily placed, or worse, dies on your porch while you decide where to plant it. The hidden benefit of sticking to the plan: when you see a plant on your master list that isn’t in bloom, you can sometimes pick them up for a discount.

Do:

Break up that root ball. Use pruners or a weed knife to really tease out and rough up those roots. It seems harsh, but tough love here really is the best approach. You want the roots to no longer look like they were living in a pot. This will set the plants to the task of replacing those roots needed to establish that plant in its new location.

Don’t:

Plant the largest plant you can find. Even small potted perennials, planted correctly, will catch up within just a couple of growing seasons. They are less expensive and more adaptable to a new location.

Do:

Soak the roots after planting. This isn’t just a matter of giving your plant a needed drink of water, called Watering In, this is dissolving some of the surface soil and pushing it deeper into the planting hole giving the soil better contact with the roots. Even a good rain afterwards doesn’t get this job done. Be sure to give it a good soaking.

Don’t:

Fertilize. Direct fertilization will encourage too much green leaf growth, in place of roots. Hold off on the fertilizer until the plant is more established.

Do:

Add a thick layer of compost. A good layer of compost will hold in the soil moisture, feed the surrounding microorganisms and discourage competing weeds from popping up.

Don’t:

Overly amend the soil (add stuff in). Most of the time the compost on top of the soil is enough—just let the microorganisms work it in for you. Too many amendments change the texture between the area around the roots and the native soil, which can cause drainage problems. Too much organic matter in the hole can also be a problem—the roots won’t spread out because nutrients are too available in that hole. This can cause roots to behave like they are still in a pot. Use native soil for the backfill.

To learn more about designing and planting water-efficient landscapes, visit conservationgardenpark.org.

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