Learning to Grow: Proper planting techniques start transplants off right

Transplanting is clearly the most popular way to add plants to your home landscape. Woody plants, perennials and vegetables all are available in convenient pots that provide instant satisfaction. For most plants, it is the only way to move them to your yard, all while assuring that you get the exact variety you expect. This is the plant’s introduction into your yard and using proper planting methods can help them adapt and thrive in their new home.

People use the expression “putting down roots” to indicate they plan on staying in one place for a while, and in the case of transplanting, that expression is literally what they need to do. Take a moment to study the plant in pot. If you can pull it out of the pot with all the roots and soil intact (common with many bedding and vegetable seedlings), then you have a plant that is pot bound. This just means that without intervention, the plants roots will try to continue to grow in a circle, and not spread out quickly into the surrounding soil. Simply cut or gently tear the bottom of the root ball halfway up and point the roots outward in the hole. Backfill with the garden soil so that the plant’s soil level matches the garden’s. Press down on the soil gently.

Conversely, many perennials and shrubs can be loose in their pots, and a gentler approach is warranted, so as not to damage the delicate roots. If you just tip over the pot, you might find the bare-root plant in your hands and the soil in a pile. Most nursery pots are made of a thin plastic that can easily be cut with a razor knife. Make some initial cuts at the bottom and halfway up the sides, just keeping the pot intact. Then place the entire pot in the planting hole, slice the sides the rest of the way, remove them quickly and backfill with soil. This way, the plant’s roots were mostly undisturbed and all the soil stays in the hole.

Even containers made of organic matter need to be modified prior to planting. Eco-friendly pots take a while to decompose, so it is best to rip holes or slit these pots so that roots quickly reach the soil. Any wire cages or burlap should be removed from larger stock as well. Following these steps at planting time will help your plants establish roots faster, leading to healthier plants and long-term garden success.

• Jim Stendler is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at uiemg-kane@illinois.edu for more information.