Preparing Soil for Transplants: Soil Science and Preparation
by Don Boekelheide
Clay soils predominate in our neck of the woods.
That’s especially important to know when it’s time to transplant a shrub or tree.
Don’t simply rent an auger and bore a hole in the clay, fill it with rich compost, then plop in your expensive Japanese maple or yet another Daphne (hope springs eternal….)
If you do, you’ll most likely end up with a plant pot bound at best, and at worst dead.
Fortunately, North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Extension Service has an excellent online information sheet titled Planting Techniques for Trees and Shrubs
Be sure to read it for yourself.
Here are a couple of key points focusing on the soil and preparation for any planting:
- Don’t worry about adding anything to the soil, including compost. It’s the digging that makes the big difference. The best soil to use is simply what came out of the hole: “What comes out goes back in….”
- Dig out, not down. NCSU recommends digging a hole the depth of the root ball, and 2-3 times the diameter of the root ball in size. Even better, create a bed for new landscape plantings and work the whole area, as opposed to individual holes.
- Pay attention to drainage. Planting time is infinitely better for addressing this issue than after a plant is in place.
- Don’t plant too deeply. Keep plants high in the hole.
- The best time to move and plant woodies is during the cool months; i.e., between November and February.
I’d also add one design point: be careful about location when installing. For instance, unless you want to block the view, don’t stick that Burford holly right in front of your living room window.
In the same vein, be especially careful when planting fruit trees in your edible landscape, making sure they get lots of sun, enjoy good drainage, and take advantage of microclimates. Remember, however, they are still woody plants and will respond best if you follow the NCSU general planting guidelines.
In the series of articles that accompany this soil science topic we’ll take a closer look at active zone soil preparation: the nuts and bolts of digging a vegetable bed, doing transplant preparation and dealing with buying soil. (Go to www.mastergardenersmecklenburg.org, Garden Articles, and find the articles in this Soil Science & Preparation series.)
For the past five years, Don Boekelheide, has taught a hands-on food gardening class at Central Piedmont Community College, modeled on his Peace Corps training. Don holds a Master of Science degree in agriculture from Cal Poly and formerly served as a Peace Corp Ag teacher in Togo. He is a former Extension Master Gardener for Mecklenburg County, NC.