With our gardens coming to life at this time of year we are hopeful that each plant will achieve its full potential during this growing season. But that doesn’t always turn out to be the case and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what exactly went wrong. Growing plants isn’t an exact science. What works over at the neighbor’s yard doesn’t always apply to ours. What are the different factors that makes a plant thrive or just mope along? And how can you plan when one source shows the plant’s size at 6 feet tall while another has that same plant as 8-12 ft tall and just as wide? What’s a gardener to do?
When designing a garden, I take into account the growing conditions such as soil type and fertility, winter low temperature, space and light. All plants need water to carry moisture and nutrients back and forth between the roots and leaves. Some need more water than others to do this but all have their own levels of tolerance. Too little or too much water can be harmful to your plant’s health.
Choosing the right plant for the right spot is another important factor. How do you determine how much light your garden has? In our area a good rule of thumb in deciding if your plant is getting enough or too much sun is to note how many hours of full sun, part sun or bright shade your area is receiving during the middle of the day. it’s not as important what”s going on during the winter but knowing the summer conditions is crucial. Too little light can make plants weak and leggy with few flowers or fruit. Too much sun for a particular plant and the foliage will burn.
Most plants enjoy morning or late afternoon sun. Winter conditions are not always as important as those of the summer. Then again if your area gets no winter sun and your soil is heavy clay that sun-loving native plant might not survive. Sometimes it’s complicated. Sorry, but it’s true.
Allow enough space for your plant to grow. Plants can become stunted without enough room to grow and overcrowded plants often get diseased when air doesn’t freely flow between them. There’s a difference in a plant that just needs a little time to kick in and really start growing and one that is not thriving. Be patient.
Healthy soil provides an anchor for plant roots and helps support the plant in addition to providing nutrients. Healthy soil contains micro organisms and adding organic matter in the form of top mulch will increase your soil’s fertility. Fresh wood chips can rob your soil of carbon and nitrogen as they break down but sometimes that’s all you can get. It’s a trade off.
Plant your new addition correctly. Dig the planting hole at least twice as wide as the container but no deeper than the depth of the root ball. You can loosen the soil around the planting hole even wider if it’s compacted. Leaving the bottom of the hole undisturbed helps prevents the plant from settling too deep .Planting a bit higher than the surrounding soil also allows for a 2 inch thick layer of mulch. Don’t bury the crown of the plant and keep mulch away from the stem or trunk. In soils containing a high percentage of clay, score the sides of the planting hole with a shovel to aid root growth outward.
It’s best not to add soil amendments or fertilizers directly to the planting hole. Wait until new growth is several inches long before applying fertilizer. If you’re planting a bed of annuals you might amend that bed but unless your soil is extreme sand current research has shown that trees, shrubs and perennials do not benefit from soil amendments. Because their roots quickly outgrow the planting hole anyway amended soil could hold too much moisture and rot new roots or the plant roots will just stay within the amended planting hole and not grow wider.
After planting don’t till the soil again allowing the beneficial organisms to re-establish.
If you have a steep hillside, a super sunny, deep shade location or problem soil, the above tips are even more important for your planting success.