Updated: Dec 31, 2022
I've heard my dad say this all my life and recently heard it from a master gardener friend. "Dig a $10 hole for a 10 cent plant", means no matter the price you paid for your plant take time to make a good home for the plant. Also, dig the hole bigger, wider and better than you think you should.
Making a Hole
No matter what you may be planting from a tiny squash plant to a tree or shrub the general rule of thumb is twice as big and twice as deep. That way you break up and aerate the soil and allow enough space for easy back filling. Have you ever dug the hole the same size as the plant? You can't really get soil between the plant and the wall of the hole can you? By making a larger hole it's so much easier to get your plant in the ground.
Believe it or not for most large plants I prefer a post hole digger to a shovel. Its great exercise and in the hard clay soil of Upstate South Carolina it's almost a must. I get the width of a hole first and then I get the depth right. Then I can use my shovel to clean up the space and break up the soil. For large holes in dense clay soils I even use a pick axe or maddock to loosing things up.
Another trick when I prepare my planting spots is putting at least a Tablespoon of Osmocote time release fertilizer in each hole and mixing it with the soil. Then, my plant gets a jump start on growing and they say it reduces planting shock. You can also add a bit of compost to the soil too. For plants that need drainage place a layer of rock at the base of the hole and you can even mix sand or grit into your hole. If the soil is really bad you can use garden soil from the garden center. I use this for my bare root peonies.
Most times clay and Osmocote are all my plants can hope for when I'm in a hurry. Liquid fertilizer at the time of planting like Miracle-Gro is said to help reduce planting shock.
Hands and Feet
The best tools you have to plant are your hands and feet. After you have a plant put in place use your foot to gently tamp the soil. Make sure not to do it too hard or break the stems. Never do this after you watered though as you will press all of the air out of the soil. For very small transplants, like vegetables, I generally tamp just with my hands. Work gloves and boots are my friends! Also, check out my blog on prepping the roots.
Next, I mulch surround my plants with a nice ring of mulch. This keeps weeds at bay but also helps the soil to retain moisture. My favorite is ground bark but you can also use pine needles especially on plants that like more acidic or ericaceous soils like azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias.
Then, lastly I water in my plants very well and water them every day the first week, twice a week the second and three times the third. Then, I make sure my plants are well watered for the entire first season. By well, I mean, I water them till the soil cannot take any more water the first time I water.
Sun, water, fertilizer and prayer are my recipe for success!
Happy planting from Boots & Bow Ties!