Monday, December 2, 2013

Preparing your new plant for planting

One of the great things about being a beginner at something is that you have nowhere to go but up. Here's my second attempt at creating short how-to garden videos. Notice that I did listen to your gentle suggestions, please keep them coming. Still way too serious for my own good but you will notice Milo walk by in the first few seconds to lighten things up. The South Pasadena parrots were also an interesting distraction. Continues to take a ridiculous amount of time to do but, like I said, it can only get better.



Emily Green said...

Hi Barbara -- I normally agree with you and am devoted to this website, but having switched to bare-rooting plants, I would never go back to planting a nursery plant in nursery rather than site soil. Perhaps the only time you will get to see a plant's roots other than after it's dead is when planting bare-root. The condition of those roots will tell you a lot about whether the plant will thrive or not. When planting bare root, first dig a hole about twice the size of the pot and fill it with water and allow this to infiltrate so the surrounding soil is hydrated, but keep the backfill soil dry. One needs to work in the cool of morning or evening, very fast and never when the nursery soil around the root ball is wet but bordering on dry so you can tease the soil out without the weight of it tearing roots. Water is weight. You want to get up to the area around the root crown where there can be -- even from really good CNPS sale plants -- secondary pot-bound conditions from one inch seed start pots. Once you open the roots, carefully and gently and quickly teasing out almost 5/6ths of the crumbly, light nursery soil, you plant it in a watered well but using dry native soil infill -- dry not to tear the exposed and now well arrayed roots. Work swiftly so the roots don't dry out and gradually move the site soil in so the exposed roots are seated evenly and the root crown is at grade or a whisker proud.. Water as you fill the new soil in then tamp it down. Then that evening, slow water overhead with a sprinkler to even out general soil water conditions. I do encourage you to try it and compare it with the conventional method in the video. When I started bare-rooting in my new garden 3 years ago, I had such success it now seems hard to believe that I planted any other way. Thanks for inviting debate in the presentation.

Anonymous said...

I liked your video. Keep it up. Very informative.

I see Emily Green's points, and have planted both ways, but both work.

I say do what works for the individual gardener. Prisk plants were mostly planted as is with gardening soil pretty much intact, so
looking at Prisk overall one can see that this works 98% of the time.

I've also lost lots of soil sometimes in planting out a plant so that it resembles a bare root in planting. Especially if I plunge a plant into a well full of water. And that has worked, too.

Hey, gardening is art and experience, not science and rigidity! (No matter how Bert Wilson sounds, sometimes!) :)

Barbara E said...

@Emily. I hosed off the soil from a lime tree that I planted years ago. I was gentle but not all plants could have taken it. I did it so I could see the entire root structure and the plant has done amazingly well.

I will try your technique some more, though a few things worry me a little. First, since the potting soil needs to be dry so it doesn't cling to the roots, the plant will be somewhat "droughty," - low on water. Ideally it would be great to have the roots dryish, with the upper part of the plant fully hydrated. Not sure where the sweet spot is. Usually - and I forgot to mention this in the video - I water plants thoroughly the day before planting. This way they aren't soaking wet and soil falls off more easily but the plant is hydrated. (To be perfectly honest, I'm not always as careful on all of this as I should be. Sometimes I soak them an hour before planting.)

As you mention, by thoroughly exposing the roots to air, you have to work quickly to get them out of the air. I am not sure a Dendromecon (tree poppy), would take this treatment. When I planted one last year I noticed how easily the roots fell apart.

@Mike. Gardening is definitely an art - too many variables to have easy, pat answers. Even when experiments are set up to compare techniques, the experiments have to hold certain conditions constant to make sure that differences noted are really due to the variable (e.g., planting technique) being tested. It is better than nothing but in the end we learn a lot anecdotally - from those who have done it a lot and who we trust. It is what makes gardening fun.

Emily Green said...

Good points … it has to be demonstrated or described more carefully. Droughtyness is not a problem because the potted plants are not allowed to dry out, they're lightly moist. When shaking the soil off them the amount of time that the roots are exposed is probably under a minute and then they are watered in and ready to hydrate instead of already saturated. It's very, very time sensitive. I got into it when a local arborist, Rebecca Latta, mentioned that a Ventura-based UC extension plant pathologist named Jim Downer had been advocating it. I called him and other soil pathologists and each made convincing arguments to avoid planting in nursery soil -- disintegration of nursery soil, disease, circularized roots. But I only tried it because I was planting a new garden and standing faced with a large haul of 1 gallons from TPF, Rancho and Matilija thought, "If not now, when?" I then used it experimentally with ceanothuses, mountain mahoganies, manzanitas, toyons, coffee berries and pretty much everything else I put in and had resounding success. Dave Fross was interested when I mentioned it to him and said he would do a controlled experiment in Arroyo Grande, but I don't know if he ever did. Bart listened with some interest. Lili Singer urged me not to talk about it lest people try it but, say, answer the phone in the middle of the procedure. I can see being worried about any plant death when your job is to sell native plants or advocate native plant use. It's quite possibly not a process for a 1st day gardener. But Jim Downer reckons the only reason that we don't all plant this way is that received wisdom has dictated otherwise, that it's not science but habit. I really don't know. I've planted without doing it and had plants do fine, but I'm convinced that with untangled roots and 100% site soil they do much better. I also wonder how our planting methods affect what we perceive as the plants' average longevity. Only a pretty much perfect success rate bare-rooting has made me an advocate but I think the ultimate test will be with longevity and performance over time. Oh, dear, I digress. Thank you for getting the conversation rolling!

Barbara E said...

Wow! Thank you, Emily! Who would have thought that a topic that I originally covered using the following words: "Dig a hole and stick it in" would be so much more interesting?

A common reason that I see for plants failing in their first and second years is the decomposition of nursery soil around the root ball. Whenever I see a plant struggling at this time, I get down and feel around the rootball to check for pockets. Clearly this does not happen with your planting protocol.

Also, as you mention, removing foreign potting media reduces the possibility of introducing microbial and other diseases.

The biggest concern, in my mind, is damaging root tips and drying out plants if there aren't planted quickly.

Still, worth a more thorough trial - and I will do just that. I am thinking about whether (and how) to employ this for the nature park planting in February. Will give that more thought.

Anonymous said...

I always do two things: do lots of pressing around the plant when I plant it, and TONS of watering as I press, to make sure all the air pockets are out. I keep the plants moist for a good while, depending on the rains, and then back off.

There is NO overwatering when you first plant a plant, except for a few plants (you may know them, e.g. Penstemon palmeri, Trichostema, Fremontodendron, many Asclepias, etc.) and this is a la Bert Wilson's dictum. "Float the mulch," as he says. I've been doing that from the get-go. It works.

There you go. Always enjoy your blog, though I may not always comment.

sima bernstein said...

I've always loosened the soil arount the roots. I may be crazy but I feel I'm giving the roots a chance to spread and breathe before they go into the ground. I keep thinking how stiff they been when they're in the pot. I know there are some plants that do not want they're roots disturbed at all eg, Matillija Poppy. And I make sure the planting hole has been watered before planting.
Great video. Keep them coming.