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Sustainable Horticulture

Horticultural Techniques for Successful Plant Establishment


Site Analysis


Study the following to learn what conditions exist at your site; this will determine what plants will thrive on the site

  • Soil: pH, bulk density, texture, nutrient levels
  • Hydrology and drainage - how water moves through the site
  • Light levels - how they change daily and seasonally
  • Condition of existing vegetation
  • Site uses - how to encourage or discourage them

Plant Inspection


Be sure to do this before you accept a delivery of plants

  • Roots: avoid circling, girdling, or kinked roots. Check for burn or freeze damage as well as death, decay, or disease. Choose plants with symmetrically distributed roots. Remember that surface roots and suckers can be indicative of below ground problems.
  • Shoots: avoid damaged bark, poor pruning (e.g. topping) and diseased materials. Choose plants with good taper, vigor, and normal growth patterns. Inspect the root crown - especially of B & B material - to avoid damaged or rotted trunks, or trunks that have been buried too deeply.

Caring for Plant Material Prior to Planting

  • Keep roots cool and moist.
  • Heel in off-season material to prevent freeze damage.
  • Harden off greenhouse material prior to planting.
  • On site, protect plants from excess light and heat, desiccation, etc.

Planting Hole Preparation

  • Dig a saucer-shaped hole no deeper than the root mass, but at least twice as wide.
  • Build a soil mound in the middle of the hole to help spread the roots evenly.
  • Remove roots, weeds, large rocks, and other debris from the planting hole.
  • Do not add gravel, fertilizers, organic matter, or other amendments to the planting hole.
  • Do not loosen or otherwise disturb the soil at the bottom of the hole.

Site Preparation

Plant Installation
  • Fall planting is generally best in this climate; plants installed in the spring will require more irrigation.
  • For containerized material, remove existing soil from the roots to prevent soil interface problems.
  • Remove all foreign materials - burlap, plastic, tags, etc. before they become permanently embedded in the plant
  • Orient the plant so the shoot-root interface is at or slightly above the soil surface.
  • Prune out dead, damaged, or diseased roots; excessively long roots may be shortened.
  • Prune out damaged, diseased or dead shoots. Do not top prune.
  • Place the plant atop the soil mound and spread the roots out evenly.
  • Backfill with unamended native soil.
  • Water the plant well to help settle the soil; if holes appear, fill with native soil.
  • If needed, build a soil berm around the planting hole to increase water retention.
  • Add a thick layer of well-drained organic mulch atop the root zone, but not within 1-2 inches of plant trunks. Wood chips are best for woody plants.
  • Stake only if necessary; stakes should be loose and low (bottom 1/3 of plant) and removed after one growing season.
  • Fertilize with nitrogen (generally the only deficient nutrient in the Pacific Northwest). Do not use phosphate-containing fertilizers.
  • If needed, use tree shelters or other barriers to keep out herbivores.

After Care

  • Water new transplants during the first 1-2 dry seasons to help them establish.
  • Maintain a mulch layer ~6-8 inches thick.
  • Keep the root zone free of turf and weeds to reduce resource competition.

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