Saturday, 20 November 2010

Gardening ~ sourcing your plants and getting them planted

Buying them:
Even the most resourceful of gardeners is likely to buy plants from time to time.  When you do so you may wish to consider the following:
  • Check the base of containers when picking them out.  Look at the relative height of the seedlings and the size of the pot or bag they are in.  If the plant is disproportionately tall, or if there are roots coming out of the bottom of the container they may be pot-bound so it could be sensible to look for others which are not.
  • Plants which are being sold cheaply are likely to include those which have become a bit pot-bound!
  • Make sure you choose a good healthy specimen which you really like the look of.
  • Staff are there to help and can provide helpful advice.
  • A number of gardening shops offer loyalty cards which provide worthwhile discounts over time. 
I always remove plant labels as I don't want my garden to look like a shop but I keep them all together in a folder.  The date they've been planted can be written on the label or it can be stapled to paper on which details can be jotted.  These can be surprisingly useful in years to come.  

Planting from pots and containers:
Allow plenty of time for this.  I invariably find that planting takes far longer than I expect or find reasonable.
  • Choose cool day and a time when there is good cloud cover or its close to evening.  This will give your plants time to recover before having to deal with heat and direct sunlight. 
  • Line up your plants along with a spade, large fork, small trowel and secateurs, scissors and a bucket of water with a scoop in it.  I always have my trusty gardening knife to hand as well.
  • I place my plants out on the garden to get a sense of where to situate them. 
  • Dig a hole which is larger than your plant's container. Place the plant in its container into the hole to check that it's big enough.
  • To get a plant out of its container squeeze the container gently and grasp the plant carefully around its base and then turn it on its side.  If it's small and fragile, place your fingers on either side of the plant to support the earth around the roots rather than grasping the plant itself.  Hopefully it will then come out fairly easily.  If the plant or seedling is of substantial size and seems stuck place the container on the ground on its side and roll it firmly while pressing the topmost side as you do so.  This will loosen the plant which should then come out without difficulty.  If it's still stuck I poke my knife in through the holes in the base of the container and give it a good push.  If a plant has been in a bag for a while the simplest way is often to cut the bag off them. 
  • Examine what you can see of the roots and snip off any that have made a shape around the sides where they've been confined to their containers.  I often loosen the roots a little with the point of my gardening knife.  New root growth needs to be able to grow outwards as well as downwards if it's to be able to grow vigorously.
  • Decide which way around the plant looks best. I'm very fussy about this as I've found it does make a difference, sometimes a big one.
  • Fill your hole with a scoop of water.  I was taught to do this but have never known anyone else to do so.  Most people leave watering until after planting is complete which I find surprising.  This initial pool of water drenches the roots and the earth they are going into and helps the earth and the new plant to get properly in contact. 
  • Fill in the hole with earth, adjusting the height of the plant as you go to make sure that it's right: planting it too shallow can leave it unstable and with upper roots vulnerable to becoming exposed during watering; planting it too deep can cause it to rot around the base of the stem or developing tree trunk.  It's easier to put your plant in a little deep than to have it too shallow.  This is where your fork comes in handy as you can gently ease it up to the right height without straining the base of the plant.  Once you're happy with the height pack the earth in around the roots firmly.
  • Press the top of the earth down firmly.  If it's a young tree you can tread the earth down. A seedling which is likely to be affected by wind can be supported by a couple of stakes on either side and some carefully tied garden twine.
  • After you've completed planting water the whole area with the hose.
  • In the first fortnight or so they will need more water than usual while they are getting their roots in right relationship with their new home.  Be careful to ensure that there is sufficient moisture without the ground being soggy.  
Transplanting whole plants: 
First decide on the plant's destination and prepare the site, then move the plant from one place to the other as swiftly as possibly, taking as much of the original earth as possible.  For those plants with long trailing roots careful digging all the way round can be not only helpful but necessary.  Often it's fine to trim excessive trailing roots somewhat as it won't help them to bury the extra length awkwardly.  With some plants the earth simply falls off and one has to make the best of things.  In either case get the roots into their new location in as natural a placing as possible, following the same routine as given for planting above.

Other ways of filling up your garden:
Without the interference of sprays and excessive weeding seedlings of plants you are likely to find useful will pop up fairly often.  These sorts of seedlings have provided the bulk of the plants I have in my present garden, along with a fairly large proportion of plants that other gardeners didn't want.
     The following notes on how to manage these are just that - only notes, and I encourage you to find your own sources for fuller guidelines.

Dividing plants:
Again, replant the separated parts immediately if you can, rather than leaving them sitting around or moving them into a pot.  It can be helpful for the divided pieces to have any flower heads or excess growth snipped off at this point so that the root system has an economical amount of work to do adjusting to its new state while it draws up the necessary moisture. Straggling roots can also be trimmed a little.

Many plants can be grown from cuttings.  I've found  planting cutting directly into the ground the most successful approach - far more so than placing them in jars of water and the like.  Again, plant these as soon as possible.  Different sorts of plants require different methods of propagation.  The most common method is to cut a portion perhaps six inches long from the parent plant, snip the main stem diagonally and pinch out the growing tip leaving only two or three sprouting 'branches' or leaves.  You will need a number of inches of stem to place into the ground in most instances.  Roses and climbers require a different technique.

Re-potting pot plants:
Do consider completely re-potting once a year.  When you do so, remove as much of the earth as feels safe.  You may wish to trim the roots to some degree.  Even so, a larger pot may be needed.  There should be room enough in the bottom of your pot for there to be an inch or so of potting mix for the plants roots to grown down into, and a similar amount of space around the sides.  Your pot plants will thrive on the extra care and nourishment and give you much more pleasure than if left in stale earth year after year.  If your plants are fragile or too large to tip upside-down and manage the process by yourself ask a friend to help.  As with plants in the garden tamp the earth down firmly after you're done.

A word about potting mix:
It would be natural to assume that bags labelled 'Potting mix" would be ideal for potted plants.  This is not necessarily so at all.  Possibly the best use for this product is in getting very young plants started, but for anything else it's too porous and light.
     I use 'Shrub and tub mix' for all the plants I have in pots, including those which I'm holding for some later project.  While most plants do better in the ground this isn't always practicable, and if they have to be in pots  tucking them up with Shrub and tub mix works well.  It's much more satisfactory than earth from the garden which, in my garden anyway, is too heavy.
     These details are particular to New Zealand products.  Elsewhere knowledgeable sales people will be able to advise you.

Seeds - saving and sowing:
Seed saving is the topic of one of my earlier articles.
The best way of sowing them will vary from plant to plant.  My own rule of thumb is attempt to stick as closely as possible to how they are likely to germinate if left to their own devices, and to consider what degree of water saturation is likely to help.  Fine seeds such as one finds in poppies require only to be sprinkled, whereas larger seeds such as beans or corn kernels may benefit from soaking before being tucked in at the depth stipulated by seed producers.

Finally: take photos!  Keep a journal even!
These can be very helpful for record-keeping and useful to look back over in years to come.  You'll be able to see how far you and your gardens have come.

Additional resources ~ how other people do it:
I find 5 fun and a good resource.  I didn't find exactly what I was looking for to add to this article but the video below is a good one and linked to other how-to gardening videos which you might find useful:
     My irises are flowering fit to bust just now, and over the past three years have formed dense roots. They certainly will need to be split and re-planted after they finish flowering so I was pleased to find these guidelines which show how to go about it:

My next article is about experimenting with hypertufa and making my birdbath.

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