I have recently had discussions with a couple of clients about planting in the native soils of our area and thought I would pass the discussion on to you folks.

Planting Container Plants:

Most of you don’t realize how much work you have ahead of you when you buy all those new plants at the local nursery. First, you must work with the ground that you have on your property. I’m guessing that it is pretty heavy, therefore, be sure to amend the hole that you dig with some real good stuff.

Basically, anything organic will work, such as rotted leaves, grass or old food. You can also buy professionally composted materials sold at nurseries or sold in bags. Chicken or steer manure is excellent also as most anything will work well in the heavy clay soils of the northwest. If you have your doubts you can have a soil sample sent to a local testing agency and they will recommend nutrients that you can get at local nurseries and supply locations.

It’s a good idea to pay a little extra for a heavy duty shovel to do the job. Once you have your shovel, soil amendments and fertilizers, you are ready to dig the hole.

Now the work begins. As a rule, we always dig the hole at least twice as deep and three times as wide as the actual root ball or structure of the plant. The reason for this is because native soil is very heavy and the plant has been grown in a container with some nice potting soil. Imagine putting on a wet suit and jumping into the ocean. This is what the plant feels when you take it out of the container and place it in a hole that it barley fits into with no drainage.

After your large hole is dug, backfill the bottom of the hole up and compact it with your hands. Next, take a stick and lay it across the hole. The crown of the plant should be above this point so that when you add your mulch to the finished planting area the plant is at its natural height in the soil.

Backfill with your hands compressing the amended soil as you firmly backfill using your foot to pack the soil around the top of the plant – the firmer the better. This will ensure that the wind and water will not erode the new soil.

New plant needs time to develop firm roots. I consult clients time and again about dead or unhealthy plants that just seem to sit there and wilt after they have been planted for a few months. Usually you can reach down and pull them right out of the ground and the root ball looks just like the day it was planted. This does not need to be the case. If properly planted your success rate should be 100%. In time, the roots will break into the clay soils and grow out wide and healthy with the width of the drip line canopy of the plant.

Short List of Things to Remember:

• Compost and fertilizer, whether labeled organic or not is basically all the same. Most anything will do.
• Buy good quality tools (spade/shovel) with strong a handle.
• Dig the hole 2 x 3 – twice as deep and three times as wide.
• Compact firmly around hole.
• Stake and tie larger trees and shrubs to protect from wind.

Quick tip- when fertilizing existing plants, don’t throw the fertilizer on the top of the ground Instead, use a spade, shovel or straight edge and make a slice in the ground pushing the spade into the soil at the drip line canopy of the plant and insert a handful of fertilizer. Not only will the fertilizer last longer, it will get to the root zone faster. Most any lawn or shrub fertilizer will work just make sure it is not weed and feed.

Have fun planting . . . just remember doing it right is a lot of WORK!!


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