When planting a new plant, it’s important to follow some key rules if you want them to survive and establish well. The aim is to get new roots to grow as quickly as possible so they can support the leaves, shoots and flowers at the top of the plant during the growing season. Roots are able to grow underground in the winter, even when the top growth is dormant.
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The dormant season (from November to March) is a great time to plant pot-grown and bare-root trees, as long as they are fully hardy and deciduous. If they are borderline hardy or evergreen, wait until late April or May, when there is less risk of severe frost. Whatever the time of year, avoid planting in extreme conditions, such as very cold or very hot weather. Mild, damp conditions are best.
When digging the planting hole, make sure that it is deep enough to accommodate the roots comfortably and at least 10cm wider all the way around the rootball. Use a border fork to loosen the base and sides of the hole to allow the roots to grow into the surrounding soil. As you back fill the hole with compost, firm it down gently with your foot.
Whether you are planting pot-grown or bare-root trees and shrubs, here are six tips to help them get off to a great start.
Soak the pot before planting
Make sure that the compost is thoroughly damp to make it easier to knock the plant from its pot, limiting damage to the roots.
Improve poor soil
Add a little bagged or homemade compost to the planting hole before planting. This will improve drainage on clay soil and encourage moisture retention on sandy soil.
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Tease out the roots
Where roots have coiled around inside the pot, carefully pull them out of the compost to encourage them to grow into the soil.
Use mycorrhizal fungi
These natural soil fungi connect to plant roots, increasing the area over which the plant can take up water and nutrients from the soil.
Mulch after planting
Covering the soil with a 5cm layer of compost around the base of new plants will help retain moisture at the roots.
Water well in the first year
Give new plants a good soak every 10-14 days when they are in leaf – more frequently in hot weather or on dry, sandy soils.
Prune after planting
New plants will benefit from being pruned back by about one third immediately after planting. This will help reduce the amount of top growth that needs to be supplied with water in the first year and make the plant more stable while its roots establish.