Tips for Sowing Seeds, Planting Out and Seedlings
Planting out need not be the boring job it is often considered to be. It is one of the most important garden operations and, where trees and shrubs are concerned, the initial planting is like the first down payment on an investment that will declare increasingly valuable dividends for many years to come. This does not mean that you should not take advantage of any methods that will allow you to cut down on the work involved.
Time and disappointment can be saved by planting out seedlings in suitableand weather conditions. Ideally, the soil should be moist but not soggy. A good test is to pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it gently; it should retain its shape when pressure is released but break down easily at a touch.
If it can be avoided, seedlings should never be transplanted during long spells of dry weather. Planting out in moist showery conditions will cut down considerably on the time and trouble involved in watering the seedlings to get them established. In any case, artificial watering never does as much good as rain, which creates conditions of atmospheric moisture as well as wetting the soil. It is these conditions, together with warmth, that encourage rapid plant growth and help to ensure success with your seedlings.
The time taken in planting out can also be reduced considerably by using a dibber. This tool consists of a short length of wood, tapered to a point at one end and preferably furnished with a handle at the other, that you push into the soil at appropriate intervals to make the planting holes for the seedlings. You can buy one ready-made or make your own from the handle of a worn-out spade or fork. For most types of seedling, a dibber makes a better planting tool than a trowel. All you have to do is drop the seedling into the hole and firm it in with your knuckles.
Bedding plants and perennials
For larger subjects, such as bedding-out plants and perennials, a trowel will be necessary. Get one with a sharp blade, made of stainless steel if possible. Keep it clean when it is not being used. A lot of time can be saved by making the hole and planting in a single operation. You push the blade of the trowel into the soil and press it backwards, dropping the plant into the narrow hole thus formed. Removing the trowel and firming in the plant with your free hand completes the operation. Alternatively, use the blade of the trowel to firm in the plant. When planting it is essential to plant firmly and avoid leaving any air space.
One useful and labour-saving type of trowel on the market has a self-coiling tape measure recessed into the handle, conveniently to hand for measuring planting distances or easily removable for use elsewhere in the garden. The stainless steel blade also has an embossed depth gauge to simplify planting operations.
Container Grown Garden Plants
One of the most revolutionary horticultural developments of the past twenty years or so is the garden centre. This has proved a great stimulus to many people who might otherwise never have taken their gardening seriously. At these garden ‘takeaways’, container-grown plants are obtainable for putting in at almost any time of the year. Also, instead of having to take plant descriptions on trust from the nurserymen’s catalogues, you can now examine the plants themselves in their full beauty of flower, foliage or berry. By this means, you can achieve the satisfying results of ‘instant’ gardening.
This mushrooming of garden centres all over the country has inevitably led to the exploitation of the gardening public by a few unscrupulous operators who lack the know-how of the professional nurserymen and are cashing in on the current gardening boom. If you are a newcomer to gardening, it is wise to restrict your garden shopping to reliable nurseries with a proven reputation for quality and expertise.
The most striking development in container-grown plants is among trees and shrubs. Instead of planting being restricted to a few months during their dormant period, it can now be done at any time. This saves labour since it is easier to plant container-grown subjects, you can choose the best planting weather and your planting programme can be spread out over a longer period.
There are, however, certain precautions necessary when planting container-grown plants. Shrubs and conifers must be kept well watered, particularly in dry weather, until their roots have had a chance to establish themselves in their new environment. When evergreens, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and conifers, are being planted, care must be taken not to break up or disturb the ball of fibrous roots.
Sometimes plants are obtained from the nursery with the roots wrapped up in sacking. If the soil round the roots is intact, cut the string and carefully remove the wrapping. Do not disturb the roots when planting. If the soil round the roots shows signs of crumbling, cut the string and plant the shrub with the sacking intact – this will eventually disintegrate in the soil.
The more carefully the planting holes are prepared, the faster new growth will get going; it is vital to ensure that the hole is both wide and deep enough. A few handfuls of a slow-acting organic fertilizer, such as bonemeal or steamed bone flour, will provide sufficient nourishment for the first few months after planting. Provide a stake if necessary, but always make sure that the soil round the base of the plant is well firmed down so that the plant will not ‘rock’ in the wind. Frosts can also loosen the soil round plants, even of well established ones, so it pays to check them regularly.
Newly planted container-grown subjects will benefit greatly from a mulch. This will help to retain moisture and cut down on watering. You must remember, however, to rake the mulching material away from the base of the plants when you do water, so that the moisture can penetrate to their roots.