9 November 2010
time to plant
and it should take time.
Gardening atop rubble at the Phoenix means new plants can struggle to establish in the summer-dry conditions so we try and tip the balance in the plant's favour with proper planting at the right time and in the right way. Now the soil is moist with autumn rain it is the perfect time to plant as the roots can get well established long before the soil dries out again next summer. Few plants will make it here if just plonked in and summer-dry gardens are unforgiving of corners cut at this point. To give the best chance of survival I am particular in how we prepare the planting holes and time taken doing this now is time well spent.
Here Peter is clearing a space between a clump of Geranium x oxonianum and the comfrey, Symphytum caucasicum, to dig a hole for a Daisy Bush, Euryops chrysanthemoides. These are both greedy bullies and it would be no good tucking anything in tightly between these thugs so an area 3ft across cleared of their roots is needed (established, the Daisy Bush will stand above them both and be able to hold it's own).
Even without such nasty bedmates to contend with a planting hole needs to be at least twice the size of the new rootball to give room for the new roots to grow. This is especially important on compacted soils. It can take some doing.
Here, having cleared a good space of ivy root, Pauline gets to loosening compacted rubble with a steel bar, to plant...
this too-long-in-the-pot and rather leggy, Buddleja officinalis - early flowering, drought tolerant and borderline hardy (more on this no doubt if it gets through the winter).
From a hole twice the size of the pot came this collection - to add to the ever-growing pile of rubble by the office.
[Remember, most plants don't mind growing in stony soils and the roots simply grow around any rocks or stones, which makes sense, 'the wild' not being stone free. We simply remove those that physically prevent the planting hole being dug - if we took out more the garden would sink dramatically!]
The soil is dug out into a barrow or bucket - much easier than dumping a heap on the ground amongst other plants. It is always surprising how much soil comes out of even a small hole - Pauline's plastic barrow is bulging!
The excavated soil is always mixed with a couple of shovel-loads of compost, compost holds moisture in the soil, provides nutrients and brings the soil to life around the new plant and it good as guarantees success. The plant goes in the hole at the same level it was growing in the pot - deeper and the now-buried stems can rot. The compost-improved soil is filled in round the rootball bit by bit, firming well as we go.
I always go on and on about firming the soil AROUND the rootball and not the rootball itself - all too often a vigorous firming on top of the rootball produces a tearing sound as the roots are ripped off the plant. This obviously defeats the object. We aren't looking to push the plant down into the centre of the earth, it should be at the right depth already (if it isn't take it out and dig a bit deeper!), just firming the in-fill with steady pressure using your knuckles will be enough to remove big spaces and to hold it firm while it roots (taller things, that the wind will rock, will need staking).
I get asked how hard to firm. I say "firmly". This means it shouldn't hurt you or the plant. I dislocated my thumb a couple of years ago firming - now that was definitely too hard!
Then we water. Properly. A whole can for each plant, sometimes two. This takes time to soak in below the rootball so we don't rush. Deep watering encourages the new roots to grow deeply as they follow the moisture down. They will need to root deeply as they will only get another can or two next year as they establish but otherwise will receive no additional watering. Ever.
After watering the plants get a good layer of mulch. This prevents moisture being sucked out of the soil by the wind and competing 'weed' seeds from sprouting like cress.
Finally we pose (to order) for the camera and repeat the magic words - "Grow you bugger!".
[Peter is a Phoenix Garden stalwart and has moved tons of rubble up and down the garden uncomplainingly during the renovations of the last few years with little chance to green his rubble-worn fingers. Looks like he relished the opportunity to repeat the magic words!)