April is a key month for planting up a new border or moving favourite plants around to create a new design for the summer. But there is more to successful planting than just digging a hole.
Buy a healthy specimen: for herbaceous plants remember that you are really buying the roots and crown not the top growth – in spring you may appear to be buying a pot of compost. With trees and shrubs look for a balanced shape in the top growth with no crossing stems and with healthy leaves – or buds if it is deciduous. All plants should have a strong root system but not be pot bound: avoid any with big roots pushing out through the drainage holes or where there are no roots visible if you tap the plant carefully out of its pot. Also avoid plants that are obviously under stress, where the pot is very light – indicating lack of water – and where the surface of the compost is covered with weeds. You want the nursery or garden centre to care for the plants you are going to buy.
Give it a good bed: Whether preparing a new planting area or reorganising an existing bed, soil preparation is vital to the long term health of a plant. Plants take all their nutrients in through tiny root hairs which need to be in contact with the soil water. This means a fine, crumbly soil texture with small particles and equally small holes for air and water to penetrate. Huge clods of clay need to be broken up and supplemented with organic matter. Equally light sandy soils need organic matter added to increase moisture & nutrient retention. After such a wet winter even my soil with its heavy underlying clay will have leached a lot of nutrients so a balanced fertiliser as well as organic mulch will help feed new (and existing) planting.
Dig a big hole: finally it is time to dig that hole. Make it twice as wide and deep as the pot the plant is coming out of and mix soil and compost to a fine texture. Put most of the mixture back into the hole, place the plant at the same depth as it was in the pot and back fill, firming the soil gently down the sides of the rootball. I always use mycorrhizal fungi when planting trees and shrubs to supplement their own root system. Then water in well and keep all newly planted areas watered throughout their first summer.