A beginner's guide to planting

If you are a gardening enthusiast, and I am sure you are, you may be fully aware of the importance of plants by now. Your shrubs, trees, herbaceous or even annuals can help to attract more wildlife and provide you with short or long-lasting colour and flower display. They can also provide you and your family members and friends with well-deserved harvested fruit.

Planting made fun
Planting made fun

Before we get to the planting, we ask you to pay a close attention to selection of appropriate plant material. Soil conditions such as texture, drainage and pH need to be taken into consideration. First, try to determine what type of topsoil you have in your garden. You can do this by carrying out a squeeze test, undertaking the pH test and sometimes it can be achieved by an observation. 


For more information on soil texture and alterations click here. 


If you would like to find out more about pH click here


To improve soil drainage, click here


Other principles to be considered when choosing plants are aspect, interest and size. Does my garden get enough sunlight? What do I want from my new plant? How large should my plant be? 


These are the questions you might ask yourself before purchase. Careful selection of your plants will eliminate the potentially costly replacement in the future. You can do online research or consult a professional such as Markel Gardens to help with your planting arrangements.

Selection of plants at a garden centre
Selection of plants at a garden centre

On the other hand, correct planting is as important as proper plant selection. It can make a difference between dying, surviving and thriving of your selected plants. 


When to plant your plants? 

In most cases, it is recommended to plant your new plants in the autumn. This time of the year the ground remains warm enough to support the root establishment and is more likely retaining moisture. But the truth is, if you can keep your plants well-watered, you can plant them anytime during the season. Correct planting is more important than seasons of the year.


How to plant your chosen trees and shrubs successfully?  

I trust that your topsoil has been thoroughly prepared for planting. If you are not sure or would like to know more about soil preparation, read the full article here. After the soil preparation, dig up the hole approximately twice the size of the root ball. This will give the roots sufficient space of aerated soil in all levels of the root ball to start development after backfilling the hole. 


Place a small amount of dug up topsoil back in the hole. The amount of topsoil should be sufficient to position the root ball just below the surface level when it’s in. Remove the pot from the root ball. It should come off relatively easily unled the plant is pot bound. If that is the case, carefully cut the pot open and then remove. 

Appropriate size of planting hole
Appropriate size of planting hole

Most garden centres, to maintain their stock to high level, often top-dress the trees and shrubs which results in better appearance. Often, this leads to a new root development appearing on the top of the root ball. But you don’t necessarily need this top layer of the soil or the emerging roots. Gently remove it with your fingers or trout, to avoid any shallow root development. To encourage the lower root system to grow sideways, gently tickle the with your fingers to separate them from the root ball. You can only do this step if the plant is pot bound. 


Place the plant in the middle of the planting hole and refill with the soil to the top of the root ball. Gently shake the plant, holding it by the lower stems (note: only do this if the roots fully support the root ball).  This will encourage the soil to fill remaining large air pockets. Press down the surrounding soil with your hands or feet to further eliminate any unnecessary air pockets. But don’t press the soil down too hard though to make sure it remains permeable. 

Root ball placed in the centre of planting hole
Root ball placed in the centre of planting hole

If the soil level dropped down and you still can see the root ball, refill with soil again. If there is too much excess soil around the plant stems remove it away from the stems. Too much of an excess soil, together with moisture can cause the stem rot in the future resulting in costly replacement.


Water well. Make sure to apply enough water to make sure the roots on all levels get full access to moisture. The roots tend to grow towards moisture and if only the upper layer of roots accesses moisture, this will result in a shallow root system. Bear this in mind when you water your new plants during their first season. 

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Should I use fertiliser? 

We don’t find the use of fertiliser a necessity as your garden topsoil, if well prepared, already contains all the nutrients needed for healthy growth. Furthermore, an extra fertiliser breaks the soil down and can make your plant sink deeper.  


When planting annuals or herbaceous perennials, feel free to apply an additional plant food. Sprinkle a handful over the topsoil before forking in. Generally, these types of plants come in smaller pots, therefore you only need to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball. When the hole is dug up, place the root ball in and refill with soil. Gently press the surrounding soil down using your hands.  


Although it could be advisable, this time you don’t have to remove the excess soil away from stems. Herbaceous and annual don’t contain woody stems that could begin to rot away. 


What else do I need to do? 

After planting, we recommend cutting your newly planted plants back. You only need to remove one third of the new growth if you are dealing with shrubs and trees. As the roots have been contained in a small pot for a longer period, the roots might find it hard to support the development of the upper part of the plant at the beginning. By cutting them back the plant energy will be diverted in the root establishment and the plant growth will follow shortly. In fact, when you see the new growth emerging you can be sure that the roots are expanding. 


Some herbaceous, such as delphiniums or lupins, when purchased, might already be in full bloom. In that case, instead of staking them, cut back the flower including the stem. It might seem like a cruel choice, but your plants will greatly benefit from it. Again, by removing flowers, you will direct plant energy in root development. When the roots expand, the herbaceous are getting stronger which will result in larger flower mass. 


For a similar reason, when planting annuals, we advise to remove any flowers that are in full bloom currently. This will encourage the lateral growth of plants, leading to fuller flower display. 


Correct planting procedure can make a difference between dying, surviving or thriving of your plants. Don’t take this lightly as it can prevent the unnecessary costly replacements in the future. 

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