Transferring a young tree, shrub or rose into the garden sounds simple enough. But sometimes the plant will fail to thrive because it wasn’t planted correctly. Follow our simple guide to make sure your plant has every chance to grow.
Evergreen plants with leaves all year round are grown and sold in pots throughout the year. They are best planted in spring or autumn when the soil is warm and the weather mild. Deciduous plants that lose their leaves in autumn may be sold in pots while in leaf, but are also sold “bare-rooted” in winter. Our guide covers both types of plants.
Choose a planting site, then dig the soil over well to a depth of about 400mm (or deeper depending on the size of the plant). Make sure to break up large lumps and remove weeds and other debris. The planting hole should be at least twice the diameter of the pot or root system to encourage the roots to grow out into surrounding soil as quickly as possible.
If the soil is particularly heavy or sandy, compost may be mixed through the backfill to improve it. A new plant will generally settle in and grow away better when the “native soil” on its own is used, otherwise new roots may simply circle round in the improved soil.
Don’t be tempted to use an auger or post-hole digger to dig a hole the same size as the pot or root ball and just drop the plant in (as is frequently seen on TV garden makeover shows). The roots may never grow beyond the smooth walls of a hole formed in this way.
Add a tablespoon or two of slow or controlled release fertiliser into the base of the prepared planting hole and cover it with a little soil so the plant will be sitting at the correct depth. Check this by placing the pot into the hole so the top of the potting mix is at soil level or by observing the soil level mark on the stem of the bare-root plant.
For a potted plant, now move on to Step 3. for a bare-root plant, go to Step 4.
Carefully remove the plant from the pot keeping as much potting mix around the roots as possible. “Teasing out” the roots is not necessary unless the plant is completely pot-bound, in which case raking down the outside of the roots with secateurs may help roots grow out into the soil.
Place the plant in the hole and again check that the top of the potting mix will be at the same level as the surrounding soil. Backfill with soil previously removed.
Don’t trample the soil, but firm it down and then water in with a weak seaweed solution. If the new plant will need staking, now is the best time to hammer one in even if it won’t be needed for some time. Adding a stake when a plant is established can damage the roots. Now move to Step 5.
This step is for bare rooted plants only.
Remove the wrapping and packing materials from around the roots of your bare-root plant and dip them in a bucket of fresh water or weak seaweed solution. Trim off any damaged or broken roots.
Add a couple of tablespoons of slow or controlled release fertiliser into the base of the planting hole. Add soil to form a mound in the base of the planting hole. Sit the plant on top of it and arrange its roots down and out from the trunk. Add or remove soil from the mound so the nursery soil mark on the main stem is at the same level as the surrounding soil.
Carefully back fill with soil, working it in and around the roots to eliminate any air pockets. Water in with a weak seaweed solution. If a stake may be needed in the future, hammer it in now.
Planting is complete.
In spring or autumn, new plants should be kept moist but not wet for the first few weeks until they have settled in. Bare-root plants put in over winter should not need watering again until growth buds start to swell later in the season.
Add a mulch to keep the weeds down and ensure your plant has every chance to thrive.