Did you receive a plant as a Christmas present this year? Are you wondering if it the right time to plant it?
The answer is...possibly!
This depends on a number of factors the first of which is the weather. If your ground is soaking wet then do not plant, as you will destroy the structure of the soil, compacting it and reducing the valuable air content, subsequently destroying the comforting environment for roots to spread.
So how do you know if the ground is too wet? It could be as obvious as ‘standing water’ (Pictured below right)
If water comes out of the ground around your boots as you walk get off the ground and leave it be, you will be compacting the soil. If this is not the case, good, let’s start digging a planting hole. If the soil is sticking to your spade and your boots then it is still too wet.
While talking about planting holes there are a few points to bear in mind, first square holes these days are considered better than round ones, roots can penetrate the corners more easily than round sided holes, avoiding the roots spiralling round a circular hole. 'Is it imperative?' I hear you ask...well no, but it is considered to be the best approach for root establishment.
Don’t be tempted to put fresh manure in a planting hole as it can damage new roots due to the high concentration of nitrates and other compounds. Garden compost and well-rotted manure mixed with the back fill soil will help tremendously. Remember the old adage ‘Dig a 5 guinea hole for a 1 guinea plant’, so giving the plant a good spacious well prepared hole to settle into. This extra effort in preparation represents the difference we might experience between living in a bedsit with a one ring baby belling, or a palace!
A second consideration before looking to plant would be to avoid extremes in temperature. Just like in summer when it can be too hot and dry to plant, do not plant when the soil is frosted or frozen. Frozen soil reincorporated into the planting hole will break the insulated seal that the top layer of soils forms, chilling the roots of your new plant. This can keep the root zone of the plant cold and if the temperature is kept below 6o C then root growth will not continue and colder still, it may die.
So if the ground is not too cold and wet then you are good to plant.
‘Are there any other things I should consider?’, I here you cry.
One is fairly obvious do not plant out non hardy plants until the average temperature (especially at night) increases. Generally, the third week in May is given as the safe time to plant bedding plants and tender plants outside, though it is often possible (with little risk) to do so earlier. Do a little research to check that the plant you’ve been given is actually a garden plant and not a house or conservatory plant otherwise it is like putting a tropical fish in a garden pond and being surprised when you next see it belly up on the surface!
Another consideration is the size of the plant. If it is well-rooted and in a good sized pot plant away! Sometimes plants arrive that are on the small side (usually from a mail order company trying to cut costs) Planting these, this time of year is not advised as an inclement spell of weather can kill them as they don’t have the resources to survive, rather like a mountaineer heading for a mountain in trainers, shorts and a t-shirt in the winter it is just asking for trouble!
Right, so you have looked at the planting situation and have decided that now is NOT the time to plant, what should you do with your plant? If you have a cold greenhouse or a cool, sheltered porch available that is an ideal environment to keep a young garden plant. Of course, not all of us are so lucky in which case a cool room will be fine. In both situations do remember to check on the moisture content of the pot as the compost will slowly dry out even if the plant is not growing, similarly, the emphasis is on ‘cool’ room, too much heat and you can cause considerable damage to your plant.
After the weather improves, or following positive responses to the considerations highlighted previously, we are ready to plant. We have mixed our compost with the planting soil, the plant is out of the pot (It has been known for people to neglect that step and then wonder why the plant has not grown!) Now, place the plant in the planting hole making sure that the top of plant’s rootball (compost level) is at the same level as the top of the planting hole. If you plant too deep, you will kill most plants, especially trees and shrubs that can rot if the soil level is raised around the base of their stems.
Pictured left is a recently planted shrub in my garden. As you can see, the plant has just a smidgen of compost showing so it is at the correct level all it needs now is a little bark mulch around the base of the plant to keep the weeds at bay and keep in the moisture during any dry periods. Though it might not be essential if planting at this time of the year, it is also worth reminding you that watering is critical to a plant's establishment and survival and no more important than during the first year in the ground. Don't forget to water it regularly when it starts to grow, or even now if you have naturally dry soil.
A point to any one who can tell us the name of the plant (unfortunately, in this case points don’t mean prizes!)
If you need any advice don’t hesitate to call!
So keep warm and have fun in your garden.