Snow Factoid – there is no better moisture for the landscape than a deep snow. It is unusual for winter to dump an entire season’s worth of snow in one storm, but that’s just what happened to our landscapes. This week’s system will pay out very well for our gardens, as seven inches of snow equals one inch of rain. Snow mirrors what you see on top of the soil, so what you see on top of the garden is how deep it penetrates down into the soil. The deeper the snow, the deeper its moisture will soak into the garden.
If you followed this column’s advice earlier in the month and put your plant foods down before this week’s moisture, your timing couldn’t have been better. The snow will carry your food deep to the roots of your plants and they will explode with new growth in the next few weeks. Your fertilization schedule was perfect.
Deep moisture also will make garden soils easy to work. Your shovel will slip easily into the soil making this the perfect time to plant the larger items in the yard. If you are a DIY kind of gardener the next month is the time to plant large sizes of pine, spruce, shade trees, and privacy screens. This week’s storm just made it easier to dig the hole and new roots will spread easily into the surrounding soil. Even if you have the garden center plant a large plant for you, to avoid stress on your back, deeper-rooted plants still will root out more easily.
This week marked the official start of spring and the planting season. Here are a few planting techniques that ensure plant success in the yard. A few of these steps will be familiar, but others have been adjusted for more successful planting in mountain clay soils. Local landscapes can be a challenge, but these easy to follow planting steps will ensure your plants of a happy, successful start in your garden.
A planting hole correctly dug and properly amended will result in a healthy, vigorous plant. Below is my 6-step planting technique that consistently works for local gardens.
Step 1 – The bowl-shaped hole should be the same depth as the plant’s root ball but three times wider. Plants don’t need a deep hole; they thrive when able to stretch out just under the soil’s surface in search of food and water. That is why a bowl-shaped hole promotes the best root development. Be sure to rid the hole of rocks that are larger than a golf ball.
Step 2 – Check for good drainage by filling the newly-dug hole with water. If after 12 hours the water has not completely drained away, dig a chimney-like hole into the bowl-shaped hole until you reach the next soil band and check the drainage again. All plants need drainage, drainage, drainage.
Step 3 – Improve the planting soil by amending it with composted mulch. NO manure needed; it is too strong for new plants. There are two types of soil in mountain gardens. One is hard clay which does not drain well; the other is loose granite that water flows through as it flows through sand. Good mulch will keep clay soil loose and aerated, and retain water up around the root ball in loose granite.
The amount of mulch per plant should be equal to the size of the root ball. That is the quantity of mulch you will need to blend with native soil to fill in around each plant. Spread a layer of mulch as top dressing to insulate the plant and retain water around the newly forming roots. If you are working with granite soil you should add a 3-inch deep layer of additional mulch on top of the root ball.
If your planting area has so many rocks that once you have removed them there isn’t any native soil left, use a good potting soil instead of mulch. Planting only in mulch is too heavy for most plants, but potting soil will add drainage and encourage healthy roots.
Step 4 – Don’t bury the plant; keep the trunk out of the soil. The top of the root ball you see exposed at the garden center should remain exposed when transplanted into your garden.
Step 5 – Feed your new plantings with ‘All Purpose Plant Food 7-4-4”. This natural food encourages strong root development, but is safe for pets, birds, and young family members. It works well, is easy to use, and has a large margin for error that other foods do not have. Just sprinkle the granules on top of the root ball and water well. This slow-release nutrient will feed newly forming roots a little each time you water. There is no easier way to nurture a strong root system.
Step 6 – Promote deeper roots with ‘Root & Grow’. Tired of cheap rooting substitutes and manufactured short cuts I developed this liquid rooting solution for our local gardens. A plant will push new roots into the surrounding soil when this liquid magic is added directly into the plant’s water source. Use a 2-gallon watering can and add the recommended amount of solution to the water; then generously soak each plant once it’s in the ground. Use this rooting tonic every two weeks until new foliage or flowers appear. This elixir works equally well on flowers, shrubs, or trees.
For exact planting details that include drawings and measurements ask for my ‘Guide to Mile High Planting’ the next time you visit the garden center. You also might like the useful companion piece ‘Mile High Watering Guide’.
Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.