SOME GENERAL PLANTING GUIDELINES
Here at Oriental Garden Supply, we are often asked about the best way to choose plants and how to put them in the ground properly, so we have come up with some general guidelines to help you along.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:
Different plants have different requirements that we need to pay attention to to insure they thrive in your garden landscape. Knowing the plant’s optimal sun exposure, moisture level and soil condition requirements will go a long way to help them look great. The descriptions on our plant tags are helpful and we are always happy to talk to you directly and help you select the right plants for your location.
Sun: An ideal site for most plants is one with morning to early afternoon sun. Late afternoon sun is hotter and more intense than morning sun. That said, there are plants like conifers that do best in full sun, and others like ferns that want mostly shade. Do your research or ask us.
Moisture: For most plants, an ideal site would be a moist, but well-drained spot. Some plants will thrive in ponds or on the margin, and others, once established, can take dry, exposed spots. Again, check the plant tag or ask us.
Soil: Soils can vary greatly, even in an area as small as your garden. Generally, a sandy loam is best as it gives some fertility, moisture retention, and drainage. Compost can be a great soil modifier as it lends some fertility, improves water retention in sandy soils and helps to reduce water retention in heavier clay soils. Pine bark fines, a soil conditioner, can also be great, as it gives a bit of acidity and drainage to soils.
If you have heavy clay soils, you might consider building a mound of good topsoil to help with drainage (most plants do not like wet feet). If you decide to try this, the height and spread of the mound are important. We recommend a foot in height and 6-8 feet in width for many ornamental plants. Modifying clay soils with peat is generally not recommended since peat, as well as clay, holds water. Digging a larger hole and doing more soil modifications with peat may just end up creating a bigger bathtub in your garden.
Planting depth: A sure way to stress many plants is to plant them too deeply. Roots flare out from the main stem or trunk of a plant - locate this flare and plant the roots just under the soil surface. Planting too deeply can deprive the plant of the oxygen it needs to thrive. It may also rot the bark and underlying cambium layer needed to transport nutrients to and from the leaves.
Container plants: Sometimes a container-grown plant may have roots that are circling inside of the pot. If you take a plant out of its container and the roots are so dense that they still hold the shape of the pot, you should loosen them carefully to allow the roots to work their way into the new soil. Some root masses may be tight, so don’t be afraid to really work them apart, even giving them a little trim if needed, before putting the plant in the ground. The plant will strangle itself and die if the roots continue to grow in this “root cage.” Also, find the root flare as above and plant accordingly.
Ball & Burlap Plants: When you buy a larger plant with a burlap-wrapped root ball, leave the burlap on when you plant it - it will rot away once it is in the ground. Planting depth is important for these plants too. We recommend setting the plant a bit high in the hole, maybe 2-3” above ground level. Tuck in the surrounding soil, then cut the cord wrapped around the trunk only and peel back the burlap. You may cut away this top burlap or simply leave it under any mulch you may apply. After you have peeled back this top burlap, gently dig into the soil to find the root flare of the plant and make sure it is close to the intended soil surface. If it is too deep, you may remove some of the surrounding soil on the root ball. In the worst case, you may have to raise the tree a bit so that it does not sit too low in the planting hole.
Critters: Mice, voles, rabbits, woodchucks, and deer can be quite destructive to the landscape, and sometimes just proper placement or selection can solve the problem. There are many plants at OGS that are “critter-resistant”, meaning that they are generally not tasty to many animals. There are also commercially available products that you can spray on or distribute on the ground near susceptible plants to deter them. And sometimes, you just can’t use a certain plant because of its extreme attractiveness to hungry critters. Ask us if you need any advice!
Mulching: Mulch helps retain moisture in your soil and can provide a decorative weed barrier to set off your plants attractively. However, piling mulch against the trunk of a tree (aka volcano mulching) may cause it to rot. Think of mulching as a process of building a moat around the base of your plant to collect and conserve water. We generally recommend pine bark mulch, which will put nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes, and not the usually available hardwood mulch, which will utilize the nitrogen, a fertilizer that plants need to grow, from your soil in order to decompose.
Care after planting: Not surprisingly, new plants need attention. The first year is especially critical as plants are putting out new roots and establishing themselves. If the weather is dry, extra water will be needed. If it is an especially wet season, check to see that your site is not collecting and retaining water that may cause root rot. Make sure that the plant goes into winter with enough moisture to survive the drying winter winds. Fall drought, even after the leaves have dropped, can damage a plant, even well-established plantings. After the first year it is still important during periods of extended drought, even though the plant may look fine, to keep watering until the ground freezes to avoid the stress that may not show until the following year, or even later. We have seen plants established for 10 years that didn't wake up after a bad drought year, even though they looked fine all season.
A FINAL WORD…
Most plants - if planted correctly, given a moist, well-drained soil, morning to early afternoon sun, protection from the worst of the cold, dry winter winds, and kept free of critters - will do well. Experimenting with plants that are marginally suited to their location can be fun, but costly in many cases. Protect your investment by doing your research, paying attention to conditions throughout the seasons, and your plants will provide a great deal of joy and beauty for many years to come!