Memorial Day Weekend is a great time to plant perennials since, for most of us in the Northeast, the threat of a frost is over. It’s time to go to the garden center and spend a little money. Or a lot of money! Regardless of the amount spent, we all want to protect that investment, and one of the ways to do that is to make sure the plants are planted correctly. The small amount of extra time that it takes to plant a perennial correctly pays off generously in the long-term health of the plant. And it’s very simple, once you know how.
Basically, what you are doing is creating an ideal environment for a new plant to grow in. This means making it easy for it to put out root growth, and giving it enough water deep down so that the roots to grow down, not up. Because if you have a good root system, the plant is much more likely to thrive. Here’s how:
1) Dig a hole about twice as wide as the plant, and maybe 1.5 times its depth. The reason for this is that the soil that you put back in will be looser and it will be easier for the plant to grow roots into. Save the soil that you took out. Once upon a time, it was thought that putting back fresh, enriched soil was the thing to do, but studies have found that it makes such a pleasant place for the plants’ roots to be that they don’t venture into the adjacent soil, causing the it to be less stable. So the soil that you took out should go back in again, except for exceptional circumstances.
2) Take the plant out of its pot and inspect the root system. If the roots look like they are densely packed, or are circling the bottom or sides of the pot, then they need to be loosened up. Scratch all the way around the root area, allowing the roots to spring free from the shape of the pot. If they are really stubborn, use your garden clippers or even a knife to slice them.
3) Backfill some of the removed soil into the hole, and check to make sure that the soil level around the plant is the right height. Place the plant in the hole, and backfill around it until it is about halfway up the sides of the root ball. Water deeply. This ensures that there is plenty of water available at the bottom of the plant, and gets rid of any air pockets that may be lurking in the soil.
4) Backfill the rest of the way. If you can, make a shallow ring around the plant with a little bit of soil so that water gets trapped there and can sink in. Water deeply again.
And there you have it! Your plants’ roots will have an ideal place in which to grow and be well watered. Mulching will help retain water loss, so that’s a good idea as well. Just keep the mulch away from the place where the plant meets the soil, or moisture could settle in and the plants could rot.
So now, you know. Happy planting!