Originally Published: August 13, 2010 10 p.m.
This is the best time of year to visit your garden center to experience summer plants in full bloom. Choosing a flowering plant when it's in bloom is better than depending on the microscopic photo on a plant tag. You actually can see, smell and touch what you will be adding to your landscape.
New plants are living, breathing items presenting many of the same challenges as bringing a new dog or cat to live with you. There are different qualities of plants, and stressed or sick plants will not fare well in any landscape. Root bound plants usually don't do well so look for plants that are not overgrown in their pots. Choose plants from garden centers that practice consistent watering. You don't want plants that have been left wanting for water then drenched to make up for having been neglected. "Dehydrate, Drench, and Drown" watering will stunt plant growth. Water-stressed plants are easy to identify because they will have wilting or yellowed leaves.
My most successful plantings are during our summer monsoon season. Yes, even better than my spring plantings. I refer to the monsoon as our second planting season because plants respond so well to the warm soils, increased humidity and all that glorious rain. This is the ideal time to plant shade trees, evergreens, flowering shrubs and summer-blooming perennials.
A planting hole correctly dug and properly amended will result in a healthy, vigorous plant. When I plant in my own yard I use this easy planting technique; it consistently works well at this altitude.
Step 1 - The bowl-shaped hole should be the same depth as the plant's root ball but three times as wide. Plants don't need a deep hole; they thrive when they are able to stretch out just under the soil's surface in search of food and water. That is why a bowl-shaped hole promotes the best root development. Rid the hole of rocks that are larger than a golf ball.
Step 2 - Improve the planting soil by amending it with composted mulch, not with manure, which is too strong for new plants. There are two types of soil in mountain gardens. One is hard clay, which does not drain well; the other is loose granite that water flows through as it flows through sand. Good mulch will keep clay soils loose and aerated and retain water up around the root ball in loose granite.
The amount of mulch per plant should be equal to the size of the root ball. That is the quantity of mulch you will need to blend with the native soil to fill around each plant. If your planting area has so many rocks that once you have removed them there isn't enough native soil left, use a good potting soil instead of mulch. Planting only in mulch is too heavy for most plants, but potting soil will add drainage and encourage healthy roots.
Step 3 - Don't bury the plant; keep the trunk out of the soil. The top of the root ball you see protruding above the soil in the pot should be at the same level of the soil when installed in the ground. I see too many sad examples of plants literally buried to their deaths.
Step 4 - Feed your new plantings with my specially blended plant food. "Ken's All-Purpose Plant Food" is very specific for our difficult mountain landscapes. It is all natural, safe, easy to use and has a large margin for error that other foods do not have. Just sprinkle the granules on top of the root ball and water in well. This slow-release nutrient will feed newly forming roots a little each time you water. There is no easier way to promote a strong root system.
Step 5 - Promote deeper roots with "Root Stimulator." Add this liquid rooting hormone to the water you'll use to saturate the root ball. It causes the plant to form many new root hairs to grow into the surrounding soil. More roots mean a more vigorous plant. Use this root tonic every two weeks until new leaves begin to form.
Bonus steps for reducing water use for all new plantings: First, at the bottom of each hole sprinkle several tablespoons of "Soil Moist" water holding crystals. These polymer crystals hold 300 times their weight in water and keep the water close to the roots in the heat of the day.
Second, top-dress with a 2-3 inch layer of shredded cedar bark. It looks natural, blends into any landscape, but more importantly it keeps the sun from baking newly planted roots. It shades the soil, holds in moisture, attracts worms, repels bad bugs and so much more. With these two extra steps be careful of one thing ... don't over water. You consciously will have to cut back on the amount of water you deliver to your plants.
For exact planting details that include drawings and measurements ask for my "Guide to Mile High Planting" the next time you visit the garden center. You also might like the useful companion piece "Mile High Watering Guide."
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain, "my personal mission is to help local homeowners garden smarter and get our local garden timing right." Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or may be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com