Understanding Planting For Beginner

There comes a time in the life of every landscape, when the existing plantings are old, overgrown and have lost their curb appeal and a change is necessary, not only for the health of the landscape, but also to reinvigorate the caretaker whose passion has faded right along with their plantings.

This is an exciting time, as removing the old eyesores brings a refreshing change to the landscape but this process also imparts a great deal of stress on the homeowner, as they’re now responsible for choosing the suitable replacements and, with the hundreds of varieties available, the final decisions can be overwhelming.

If you’re thinking of adding new plantings or totally updating your landscape, don’t make a 10 year mistake by rushing the process and choosing the first plant that catches your eye. Dig in to your surroundings and focus on what makes a plant happy and you’ll find that the answers to your success are right outside your front door.

Get to know your property


All plants have specific needs for sun, shade, soil etc. that must be met in order to achieve success in any landscape. Your first goal is to reacquaint yourself with your planting beds and understand the conditions that occur there on a daily basis.

Do you know if the sun shines on your plants during the day and more importantly, at what time of the day would it be there? For example, areas that get morning sun but afternoon shade are an excellent place for shade tolerant plants like Hosta or Hydrangea Macrophylla as morning sun is a cooler sun and will not harm the tender leaves of shade tolerant plants.

On the other hand, areas in full sun or, morning shade and afternoon sun, must only contain plants that can withstand extreme heat and dry conditions because this sun is hot, and will damage plants that are not suited for these temperatures.

Knowing the conditions that affect different areas of your landscape, allows you to eliminate plantings that will not be successful and save yourself a lot of disappointment and headaches in the future.

Clay is for moulding not your soil

Next we want to dig into the soil where your new plants will live. It’s important not to overlook this step, as your soil is a major factor in your plants future health, good or bad.

Take a shovel of soil from various areas in your planting beds, about 6 inches down, and lightly toss it on the surface. If it stays together in a clump, it probably has a high clay content which is not good, but if it falls apart and is loose, it’s probably mostly sand or a descent organic mix, which is is a better start for your new plants

If your soil contains a lot clay, the reality is, it can sustain life as is, but you’ll spend a lot of time checking on and babysitting your new plants and you’ll probably read the signs the plant is showing you, wrong.

In the spring and fall when Mother Nature makes moisture more available, clay soil drains very slow, so it stays wet longer, reducing oxygen to the roots and binding or locking up fertilizer and other nutrients, inhibiting their use by the plant. The lack of nutrients turns the leaves a sickly yellow color and the lack of oxygen causes the leaves to wilt, giving the appearance that the plant needs water.

What do most of us do when we see a new plant with wilting leaves, we give it water. As you can now see, wilting leaves is also a symptom of too much water in clay and adding more is the wrong thing to do.

In the summer, the high temperatures and dry conditions turn the clay into a rock hard mass which sheds water away and also slows root growth as they cannot penetrate the hard ground. A lack of water will also cause the leaves to wilt but how long do you water to properly saturate the clay soil when most of it is running off and also, when is the proper time to water again to make sure the roots do not continue to sit in water.

It’s awesome, we see Deer everyday

Another very important thing to consider before choosing your plantings, is where you live. If you often see Deer in your neighborhood and your yard is not fenced, this adds another obstacle to your design and severely limits the plants available to you.

Deer will cause major damage to an incredible variety of plants as they wander and forage on anything available. Most of their feeding is done at night, when dogs and people are asleep, so you’ll never see or hear them, but your plants will pay the price. If you see Deer wandering your neighborhood, limit your plant choices to Deer resistant only, you truly have no other option.

Where are your roof downspouts

It’s always a good practice to be aware of where your roof downspouts empty as a tremendous amount of water come out of them during every storm and can affect your landscape in bad ways.

First, any plants close to or directly in front of the downspout will be subject to extremely wet conditions which will cause future problems and possible elimination of the wrong plant. Soil that stays wet, as discussed before, also causes problems with most plants and usually has a bad ending for many.

Water will also erode mulch and soil from plant roots and expose them to the high temps. of summer and also cause a consistent mess in your grass.

If possible, bury your downspouts underground and have them daylight in the grass where the added water is always welcome.

Do you have large trees

If you have large trees on your property and their root zone is part of your planting space, meaning you will or have planted shrubs below them, pay special attention to this area if you are going to install plants.

The root systems in this scenario will quickly steal most of the water and fertilizer added and leave the new plants struggling and wanting for more. You will need to supplement water after installation and also monitor this area thru the years as rain will struggle to penetrate the tree canopy once the leaves fully open.

Plants, plants and more plants

Now its time to start choosing your plants and the sheer varieties available will surely be overwhelming, but the leg work you’ve already done above, allows you to eliminate ones you now know will not work in your unique landscape.

Take your time, look thru books and read about the plants you like. Get hands on, by going to a local nursery to browse and ask questions and also drive your neighborhood and look for plants you find attractive.

Seeing plants in an actual landscape, gives you first hand knowledge of their true size and assists in choosing the right shrub for crucial areas like your foundation, next to a doorway or along walkway, where space is usually limited . The wrong plant here will greatly increase future maintenance and also ruin the natural beauty of the shrub from the constant pruning.

Now its time to think about your design


When your thinkingof adding new plants, layering means arranging taller plants in the back and shorter plants in the front so you can view every plant from the front. Its that simple.

Do not over plant to get instant effect

Too many times, I see new installations where plants are initially crammed together to achieve the instant effect of a mature landscape. Not only will this increase your initial costs by 30%-40% because of the extra plants, you’ ll increase your maintenance as the plants will quickly grow together and will need to be pruned a lot.

Allow room for natural growth

Always allow sufficient space between each plant at installation so it can slowly mature to full size naturally, overtime. Plants grow together slowly, keeping maintenance limited to light tipping which produces a beautiful, natural plant.

Use Smaller Plants

When installing your new landscape, it’s better to use smaller plants, available in the one, three and five gallon plastic pots, instead of the larger, more mature, balled and burlapped plantings.

The root system in a smaller plant is equal to and comparable to the size of the top growth or the above ground plant. This root system will easily support fast, healthy top growth as the plant matures to its full size..

Larger plants, however, are dug up and transplanted every spring, from where they’d been growing since they were a twig and half of their root system is left back in the field. Instead of getting bigger yearly as they’d done before being transplanted, all their energy in the next 2-3 years is now put back into rebuilding the root system simply to sustain life.

Smaller plants will increase in size much faster than their larger counterparts and usually surpass them and grow a healthier life.

Installing plants

Shrubs and perennials in plastic pots

Since its better to start your landscape with smaller plants, many of the shrubs and perennials you’ll use will be in plastic pots. As these plants have matured overtime, many have been in the same pot for an extended period which can sometimes make it difficult to remove the root ball from the pot.

If the pot does not come off right away by grabbing the lip, inverting and shaking downwards, lay the pot on the ground sideways and push down on the sides as you roll back and forth. This will loosen the grip and free the plant.

Once the root ball is out, use pruners or a razor knife to cut through the roots, about inch deep, from the top to the bottom. Do this on 3 sides and also loosen the roots on the bottom. This process forces new roots to grow out away from the existing circular root mass into the surrounding soil.

How deep should I plant the root ball

The proper way to install any plant or tree is to always keep the top 1/4″ to 1″ of the root ball, above the soil line. The top of the root ball should never be below the soil line but to be safe, 1/4″ should always be above the ground for smaller perennials and shrubs and 1″ for larger plants and trees.

When digging a hole to install a plant or tree, estimate the width by eyeing the size and start digging 2-6 inches wider than estimated. It’s not necessary to dig the hole 2-3 times larger because you want the shrub to acclimate to the surrounding soil and loosening and amending too much right around the root ball makes the new roots remain in the amended soil and not spread out into the surrounding soil which is more than likely, of poorer quality.

Continue digging until you feel the width and depth is close to the size needed. Before you put the plant into the hole, check the depth by inverting the shovel handle and use it as a measuring tool. Stand it vertically in the hole, handle down, and measure depth. Compare to the root ball and adjust as necessary, digging deeper or adding soil back in until satisfied.

Failing to check the final depth is not a big deal until you’re installing a big tree, with a 300-400 hundred pound root ball, and you realize the holes too deep, after you’ve already dropped the plant in.

Plants that are balled n burl aped

Follow the process above for digging and checking depth, and when your good to go, place the plant in the hole with the burlap and string still attached. Backfill the sides, straightening the trunk or shrub as you compact around the edges, leaving the top four inches of the root ball exposed.

Now that the plants is straight and stable, you can begin the process of removing the burlap and string. First, use a razor knife or scissors to remove the twine or string that is around the base of the trunk and make sure you get it all. Now peel the burlap back away from the trunk, being careful as you remove the nails that hold the it together. They are rusty so wear gloves.

Larger trees and shrubs may have a wire cage over the burlap helping to hold the root ball together and you can just bend the top sections to the sides. Cut the burlap off the top, level with the surface, and leave the rest to slowly deteriorate. Backfill the rest of the way, compacting and making sure the trunk is straight and the entire root ball is covered.

Leaving a saucer indentation in the soil around the top of the root ball provides an area for water to fill up and stay as it slowly seeps down to wet the root ball.

Planting in amended soil

The digging is smooth and easy with the loose, nutritious soil making an attractive place for a plant to set up a home or plant its roots.

Planting in an un-amended soil .

The digging is difficult with the sticky, heavy soil slowing down the process. The soil is poor and the plants future will be tough. Just a heads up, most plants will survive when planted in soils are not amended. You can pretty much dig a hole in your existing soil right now, stick a plant in and most will survive . *** As long as the soil does not stay wet for long periods of time, most plants will survive. Will you have to babysit it, will the leaves be off color, will it grow at a normal rate? I don’t know, it all depends on what’s in your soil now and how good your plant knowledge is. Don’t take the chance, amend your soil.

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