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Plant and replant like a pro

There is more to planting and replanting than simply digging a hole in the ground. We have 8 top tips to help you prepare your soil and plant new flowers and trees with ease.

Tip 1: Never put a R100 plant into a R2 hole!

Preparing the perfect planting hole for a new shrub or tree that you have so proudly brought home is probably the most important action in successful gardening. Keep in mind that you will only have one opportunity, unless you want to tackle the big job of replanting a mature shrub or tree a few years later! One of the most common garden questions we are asked hinges on problems caused by the hole in the ground, which has not been prepared with care or has been dug in the wrong place.

Tip 2: Digging the hole

When planting a shrub, make the planting hole at least twice the size of the nursery container. If you are planting a young tree dig a bigger hole, of at least 1m deep and wide. There is a difference of opinion whether the hole should be round or square, but we would recommend that you make it square with straight sides. This makes it easier for the roots to penetrate and anchor in the soil. If the hole is too small and rounded, the tree’s roots can simply keep on growing around the root ball, not taking up soil nutrients and therefore weakening its chances of withstanding strong wind.

Tip 3: Check out the drainage in your hole

Before actually planting your shrub or tree, fill the hole with water to check out whether it drains well. If there is still water standing in it after a day or two, there is a drainage problem. This can be rectified by making the hole deeper and adding a layer of stones and sharp river sand.

Tip 4: Add the good stuff

After preparing planting holes, add copious amounts of quality compost and a handful of bonemeal to the excavated soil and mix it in very well. You can also use superphosphate as a root fertiliser but be aware that if it is not mixed in well it can burn roots. When dealing with a large tree hole, keep the topsoil and excavated subsoil on separate heaps. Add compost and fertiliser to both, and backfill the hole with the topsoil to planting level, keeping the other heap to finally fill up the hole around the new tree.

Tip 5: Always on the same level

When planting out a shrub or tree, keep it at the same soil level as it was in the nursery container. Any deeper and you might have a problem with rotting.

Tip 6: Tease a bit

If you notice a thick root ball with little soil around it when taking your plant out of its nursery container, gently tease out the roots. Make a small soil heap in the planting hole and gently spread out the loosened roots on it before filling the hole.

Tip 7: Stake before you plant

Young trees and large-growing shrubs will need staking to help keep them upright for the first few years. Plant the stakes before you start backfilling the hole to place the plant. Adding them afterward by hammering them into the soil can damage the plant’s roots and the stakes will not be all that sturdy.

Tip 8: Complete the job

After planting, fashion a good-sized soil basin around the main stem and fill it to the brim with water. Watering into a basin ensures water reaching the root system where it is needed. Add a layer of mulch such as compost, peach pips or bark chips around and away from the main stem to keep the soil moist and cool and to prevent weeds.

Replanting tricks

It is sometimes necessary to move a tree or shrub planted in the wrong place. This is normally done in late autumn or just before spring.

Remove about half of the plant’s volume before digging it out, leaving as much of the root ball intact as possible. Taking away the top growth will make up for the loss of roots when the plant is dug up.

Before moving a plant, ensure that its new planting hole is prepared and ready for immediate replanting.

Mark the side of the plant that has received the most sun with a spot of paint to orientate it correctly in the new spot. You don’t want what has been on the shady side now exposed to the sunny side as this can cause the plant to take longer to adapt to its new home.

Water the replanted tree regularly, but don’t overdo it, as this can cause damaged roots that are trying to recover to rot.

Something to remember:

If you have heavy clay soil it is not a good idea to simply backfill the hole
after planting with compost or loamy soil as this will create a sump in the clay and the plant’s roots will drown. Rather mix the excavated clay soil well with coarse compost and fertiliser, and use it as backfill.

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The Gardener