How to Plant
Plant selection and design involves a lot more than simply selecting plants based on aesthetic considerations such as color foliage or flowers. The most important aspect of plant selection is appropriately matching the plant with the planting site. Every plant species has its own cultural requirements including growing space, light, moisture, drainage, soil conditions and many others. Every plant species also has its own climatic or environmental requirements. This includes not only the climate of the specific region, but also the microclimate of the planting site. The vicinity of other structures, neighboring trees, topography, pavement and the proximity to salt spray can all detrimentally impact the success of a plant. In addition, plants are installed to fulfill a desired function, such as creating shade over a patio.
Planting Trees & Shrubs
Trees and Shrubs can be planted at any time during the growing season. Fall and early spring are the most beneficial times of the year to plant. If planted in fall, the warmer soil encourages increased root growth and nutrient uptake. In the fall, roots have the added advantage to begin establishment before the plant goes dormant for the winter, which in turn increases blooms and fruit production the following season. If planted in early spring, before bud break, light, temperature and soil moisture are all at optimal levels for root establishment. If adequately watered and maintained container grown trees can be planted from early spring till late fall. Plants establish most quickly when soil temperatures are warm and moisture availability is adequate, but not excessive. Planting requirements may vary given the plant species and site and soil conditions. The information found below applies to the majority of plant material under normal planting conditions.
At our nursery trees and shrubs are commonly grown in one of two forms. Plants are either found grown in a container or are pre-dug and burlapped. Plants dug from the fields using burlap to hold the integrity of the root mass in place are referred to as balled and burlapped. Planting procedures differ for containerized and balled and burlapped plant material.
Container grown plants may be planted anytime of the year, as long as the soil is workable.
- Dig a hole two to three times as wide as the container and at the same depth as the plant’s root mass.
- Ease the plant out of the container. Examine the root mass of the plant.
- Many containerized plants begin to outgrow the size of the container in which they have become accustomed to growing in. The roots may begin to grow in circles within the container creating a “web” or “knot” of roots. It is therefore imperative to separate and spread the roots outward to prevent the roots from choking vascular tissues. If the roots are densely matted so that they cannot be teased apart by hand, then it is necessary to cut and slice the outside of the root mass. Cut approximately ½ inch vertically, or as necessary depending on the degree of compaction, with a sharp knife in several places to help separate and tease the roots apart.
- Place the plant in the hole.
- The top of the root mass should be visible at the surface of the soil; wherein the root mass is even with respect to the surrounding ground level.
- Backfill the hole with an amended soil mixture (* see Amend the Soil).
- Bring soil surface to ground level and tamp soil lightly. Please be sure to remove any excess soil around the “neck” or root flare of the plant.
- Water deeply and slowly.
- Monitor plants daily and water as needed.
Balled and Burlapped Plants
When trees or shrubs are brought to the nursery excess soil is often collected too high up the trunk. Also, there is often excess rope or burlap that is tied above the root flare due to different production techniques. It is imperative to locate the natural root flare of the plant before planting. The root flare is the transition zone between the main stem and the root system. This area must be exposed. If it is not, the plant may be planted too deeply and may ultimately cause plant mortality. If the plant is planted too deep in the ground or has too much mulch around its base it will cause the roots and the tree trunk to suffocate. This excess soil or mulch will limit the supply of oxygen to the roots and will slow down the conduction of water and other vital nutrient uptake from the roots to the leaves. Therefore, it may be necessary to loosen the burlap and rope at the top of the root ball before the planting hole is dug to properly locate the root flare. It’s vital to properly judge the correct planting depth of the planting hole.
- Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and ideally two to three times the width of the root ball at the soil surface. Slope the hole down to approximately the width of the root ball at the base. If the soil is compacted or of poor quality the hole should be even larger (3 to 4 times the width of the root ball). The most vigorous root growth occurs near the surface because only at the surface is the oxygen and soil moisture the greatest. Did you know that 90 percent of the fine roots that absorb water and minerals are in the upper few inches of soil? Did you also know that an ideal soil for root growth and development comprises approximately 50 percent pore space? That is why it is so beneficial to dig the planting hole exceedingly wider at the top than towards the bottom of the root ball because the majority of root activity happens closer to the surface.
- Place the plant in the hole. The plant must rest on firm ground. Any loose soil below the root ball may cause the plant to settle too deeply in the ground. The bottom of the root flare should be even with or slightly higher than the soil grade at planting.
- Backfill by placing enough of the existing soil around the bottom of the root ball to adequately support the plant in place. Firm, but do not pack, the soil around the base of the ball. Then, remove as much burlap and rope as possible without affecting the integrity of the root ball. If the balled and burlapped plant came with a wire basket it is preferable to cut away the upper one-third to one-half of the basket with bolt cutters to prevent future problems.
- Continue backfilling the hole halfway with amended soil (* See Amend the Soil).
- Once backfilled halfway, water the soil to remove any large air pockets and allow the water to drain.
- Continue adding the amended soil mixture until the hole is filled to ground level. Lightly tamp the soil surface to minimize remaining air pockets. Water deeply and slowly after backfilling.
- We recommend mounding the soil into a berm beyond the outer edge of the root ball when the site is sloped and drainage issues are a larger factor. The berm aids in collecting water to minimize erosion and to more effectively water a larger portion of the root zone.
- Monitor plants daily and water as needed.
Refer to the Tree Planting Illustration (right).
Planting Perennials & Annuals
Soil for most perennials and annuals should be amended with several inches of organic compost. Wildwood suggests using Coast of Maine® Premium Lobster Compost.
- Dig a hole in the amended soil wide enough and deep enough to contain the plant.
- Gently remove the plant from its pot by inverting and supporting the root mass. If roots are compacted to the shape of the container then gently feather and pull the roots apart. This will allow new roots to grow out into the fresh amended soil.
- Place the plant in the hole.
- Backfill the hole with amended soil and bring to ground level. Be sure no excess soil is compacted around the “neck” or base of the plant.
- Water thoroughly.
- Monitor plants daily and water as needed.
Amend the Soil
The relationship between the plants root system and the characteristics of the soils in which they grow has the greatest influence on plant health and performance than any other factor. Amend the backfill soil at a rate of two-thirds native soil to one-third organic matter. Native soil is the result of thousands of years of biological, chemical and physical weathering. If the soil characteristics and soil condition has significantly altered due to construction then it is critical that additional beneficial planting mix be added as the backfill. Wildwood recommends using Coast of Maine® Compost & Peat Complete Planting Mix, which consists of an adequate mixture of organic compost and peat moss. The organic compost is a blend of all natural ingredients. These ingredients improve soil's natural ability to retain moisture, aerates soil, promotes strong root development and plant yield (flowers, fruit and vegetables).
Pruning directly following planting should be limited. A plant will establish and grow more quickly if pruning is minimized at planting. Although structural pruning of young plants can be beneficial to the success and the longevity of the plant it is preferable to start theses procedures only after the plant has been established in the ground for a year or more. The only pruning that is suggested at planting is the removal of broken or damaged branches.
Staking & Guying
Staking of newly planted trees is typically unnecessary. Staking can have negative effects on tree development. Staked trees will commonly develop a smaller root system because the tree accustoms itself to having added support in the form of stakes, rather than a deeper and more stabilizing root system. After the stakes are removed the tree is more subjected to breaking or tipping over. Staked trees are also shown to produce smaller caliper trunks with less trunk taper. Staking may be necessary with specific site conditions. For example, staking is more necessary on a windy site involving a tree with a tall heavy canopy with a less than adequate sized root ball. Staking may prove more beneficial than not staking if it will aid in reducing movement of the root ball and therefore potentially reducing damage to the fine, absorbing roots. If staking must be used the material used to attach the tree to the stake should be smooth, strong and somewhat elastic. Support stakes or guy wires should generally be removed after one growing season to prevent girdling injury.
The area around the tree or shrub should be mulched with approximately 3 inches of organic mulch. Mulch conserves soil moisture, moderates soil temperature extremes and helps reduce competition from weeds and grasses. Commonly, the wider the mulched area the better, however, the deeper the mulched area, the worse it can be for the plant. Mulch must not be placed against the stem or bark of the tree or shrub. Excess mulch around the root collar of the plant causes bark suffocation and crown rot due to excess moisture build up. Excess mulch on top of the root zone restricts oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and water availability to the roots, potentially leading to root rot. Do not use plastic or landscape fabric under the mulch. These materials will restrict water movement and oxygen exchange to the roots. Wildwood recommends using one of the fine organic mulches from Coast of Maine®. Coast of Maine® Pine & Spruce, Dark Bark, Hemlock or Natural Cedar is recommended for use around trees and shrubs. Coast of Maine® Enriching Mulch with Seaweed is recommended for mulching around perennial and gardening beds.
Fertilization during the initial planting for trees or shrubs is not recommended. The root system of a newly planted tree or shrub is limited. The plant must reestablish a sufficient enough root system to sustain itself. A smaller root system means that fewer roots will be able to absorb water and transport available nutrients into the plant. Therefore, excessive fertilizer salts in the root zone that are unable to be taken up by the tree due to the lack of absorbing roots can actually burn the plant and have unfavorable effects on its establishment. If a fertilizer is used in the first growing season, a slow-release fertilizer that provides a slow rate of nitrogen is suggested.