Planting Right

Now is the perfect time to plant tomatoes.

This is a common problem in new landscapes where the soil was not amended. Very few plants will live in a planting hole that fills with water.

After all the rain we had over the past few days, water in the planting hole can be a serious problem. The old saying a “four dollar plant in forty dollar hole” is so true, especially if your soil is clay or very heavy. First and foremost do not plant in a hole like the one above, which was at my son’s house. Here is what we did to plant a nice hydrangea in his yard. First, we dug a hole about twice as deep and about three times as wide as the size of the pot we bought the plant in from the nursery. Then we loosened the soil at the bottom of the hole the best we could by adding a bit of sand to the clay. Following that we added about 3 inches of pea gravel and several inches of a purchased soil mix with sand. Finally, we planted the plant high in the hole after we made sure the hydrangea plant’s roots were loosened from the root ball. We finished by mounding the planting mix-sand mixture around the plant, tapping it in firmly around the root ball to make sure the new soil and native soil connects. Even though everything was damp we watered the plant well to make sure the capillary action was established and the root ball was wet. Easy, no, but if you have bad soil this is what is required for many of our popular plants to thrive. If your vegetable garden is a lump of clay, I suggest tilling it when slightly moist until the soil is well broken up. Add as much organic matter and sand that you can afford; till again, and allow it to sit for a couple of days before planting. Dig a big hole for transplants and do not plant deep, except tomatoes. For seeds, make rounded rows or mounds to sow with a “v” indenture on top for the seeds. Over the years your gardening soil will improve as you add more and more organic matter and mix it with the native soil. But just remember, the bigger the hole the better, and yes that is a lot of work.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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