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Proper planting techniques and cultural practices are two important ways to ease a plant through transplanting and help ensure the long-term health of the plant. General guidelines for planting and maintaining the health of a plant are outlined below. It is important to be aware of the fact that not all plants are the same and there may be specific planting and cultural requirements for a particular tree, shrub or perennial. It is always a good idea to ask a nursery professional for specific instructions in these circumstances.

Step 1 Plant Preparation

Thoroughly water the container or balled and burlapped plant.

Step 2 Measure Root-Ball Size

To determine the appropriate size hole to be dug.

Container Plants: Measure the root-ball size while the plant is still in the container. Take the first measurement from the bottom of the container to the top of the soil line; this will be the approximate hole depth. Next, take a measurement across the container for the diameter to determine how wide to make the hole. In general, the width of the hole should be a foot wider than the diameter of the root ball.

Balled and Burlapped Plants: Measure the height of the root-ball to determine approximate hole depth and measure diameter of the root ball to determine width of the hole. The width of the hole should be a foot wider than the root-ball diameter.

Step 3 Hole Preparation

The hole can now be dug according to measurements. The hole should be no deeper than the calculated depth and at least a foot wider than the diameter.  If  needed, amend the removed native soil with compost or a soil conditioner and mix thoroughly. If you have a question regarding the condition of your soil, contact your local agricultural extension service.

Step 4 Planting

Container Plants: Carefully remove the plant from its container and inspect the root ball for circling and matted roots. The roots should be loosened and teased apart so they will be able to grow out into surrounding soil. The plant can now be placed in the hole, checking for proper depth and back fill with some soil to stabilize. The top of the root ball should be level or slightly above the soil line. Make sure the plant is straight and finish back filling with remaining soil. Settle soil down by gently stepping or pressing down with hands around root ball to hold plant in place.

Balled and Burlapped Plants: Plants typically come from the nursery wrapped in a piece of burlap and in some cases there may also be twine or a wire cage around the root system. In most cases burlap and material supporting the root ball should be left on when placing the plant in the hole to minimize the amount of disturbance to the root system. Once in the hole and at the appropriate depth, the plant should be stabilized by covering half the root ball with soil and the burlap on the root ball can be cut and folded down exposing the upper half of the root system. At this point if there is any twine securing the root ball, it can be cut and tucked down in the hole or pulled out. For most cases those plants that have a wire cage around their root ball should be placed in the hole with the cage left on. Once in the hole at the proper planting depth, any twine should be cut and removed and the wire cage should be cut with wire cutters and folded down with the burlap exposing about half the root system of the plant. Back filling can now be completed, making sure there are no air pockets by gently stepping around the root ball. Water the plant in thoroughly to further settle the soil around the root system.

Watering: After planting, watering becomes an important balancing act. Every plant has unique watering needs and there are many variables that need to be taken into consideration. The type of plant, site location, soil conditions and weather can determine the amount of water needed. Over watering can be just as detrimental as under watering. It is important to water evenly and thoroughly, especially during the first growing season. Plants in areas of poorly drained soils will require less water than those that are planted in well-drained sites. Weather conditions can also play a role in the amount of water a plant needs. Plants are more stressed during hot/dry periods and may require more water. A well established plant will be able to sustain itself longer than a newly planted one, but they should never be allowed to become water stressed. Good watering techniques involve paying attention to the plant and monitoring for changes in soil moisture around the plant. “The Finger Test” works well for checking soil moisture. You can get an idea if a plant needs water by sticking a finger a few inches down in the soil around a plant; the soil should be consistently moist. Typically new plantings require about two inches of water per week. The soil around a plant should be kept moist but not excessively wet. If possible watering is best done in the morning and by hand rather than with a sprinkler; the typical sprinkler produces about 1 inch of water per hour.

Mulching is equally as important to the health of a plant as watering. Mulch can help regulate soil temperatures, help to retain soil moisture, suppress weeds and can add organic matter to the soil. Mulch helps define a “bed” around a plant, protecting it from mowers and string trimmers. Rock mulch and other non-organic mulches can be used although they will not break down and add organic matter to the soil. Organic mulches are an ideal choice for mulching a plant. The mulch should be 2-3 inches deep covering the root system and should not be piled up against the plant’s stem; the mulch should be left thin around the base of the stem. Mulch piled up around a plant can create excess moisture contributing to rotting and fungus as well as inviting small mammals who may chew on the stems.