Planting Nursery Plants

by Bruce Gaudette
May 7, 2008

When you bring your plants home from the nursery do you plant them immediately? If so, good for you! If not, here are a few tips that will help your plants survive the transition.

The pots that new plants come in are often black or dark colored plastic pots. Don’t let our mild Puget Sound air temperatures fool you. If left in the sun, the pot temperatures can easily reach 120°. This will literally bake the roots and kill the plant. Place your new plants in a partially shady location unless the plants require full shade. If possible, place mulch like bark or wood chips (not grass clippings!) around the pots for insulation. Water liberally and often. Twice a day if the temperatures are high.

When you are ready to transplant your new plants prepare them with a good drink of water before you dig the hole. Allow the excess water to drain off through the pot holes. This will give the plant time to absorb the water and the soil will more readily adhere to the roots when you remove the plant from the container.

Next, dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot and half again as deep. Backfill the hole to the proper height for the plant with loose soil, preferably a compost-soil mixture. It is better to place the plant a little too high than too deep. Keep in mind that the soil under the plant has been disturbed and will settle. Moisten the hole, but don’t make a mud puddle.

When you remove the plant from the container check the roots for matting or circling. If this has occurred, gently separate the roots. If the plant has become root bound, slice the roots with scissors, a hand trowel, or a shovel, depending on the size of the plant. Don’t get carried away, a few slices is all that is required to encourage new roots to spread out.

Place the plant in the hole and back fill with a loose compost-soil mixture. This will encourage the plant to send out new roots. Water-in the loose soil to remove any air pockets. Light pressure can be applied by hand to small plants for a tighter fit, but too much pressure can damage roots.

If you are planting a tree, do not stake the tree unless it is having trouble staying up. If you need to stake the tree, use rope or twine through a rubber hose around the trunk. A cushion between the rope and the trunk is necessary to prevent the bark from being damaged. Do not have the rope so tight that the tree cannot move, it’s natural for the tree to sway in the breeze, and it can break if it can not flex. Do not leave the supports on for more than two seasons.

Finally, apply a moderate amount of transplanting fertilizer, then place a mulch around your new planting to prevent weeds and help retain water. Feather-out the thickness of the bark as you get under the plant, and do not place the mulch up against the base of the plant’s stem or trunk as this will encourage fungal rotting of the lower areas of bark. This is especially so with rhododendrons, one of this region’s favorite plants!

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