Growing plants in SE Utah is not easy. Our soils are somewhat alkaline; average rainfall is 6 – 10 inches annually; summers are hot; and winters can be quite cold. Over the past 20 years and hundreds of plant installations we have found some methods that help ensure plants start off in the best possible conditions.
The following instructions for installing plants in the Moab area are based on our experience in Moab and are intended as a basic guide for landscape plant installation. For additional information about soil amending (or not), special considerations for trees, planting a ball and burlap tree in our area, irrigation or other topics please explore our website or ask us for more information.
1. Dig your hole
Dig a hole that is at least 2 x wider than the root ball of your plant. You also want the hole JUST SLIGHTLY deeper than your root ball. Don’t dig too deep, though, because as the soil settles after planting the plant may end up with soil covering the root crown, where the stem emerges from the root. Do not bury the root crown, but rather grade the surrounding soil to be level with the top of the root ball. Check the hole depth by placing the potted plant into the before removing it from the pot. Remember the soil depth in the pot is usually at least an inch lower than the top of the pot.
Pay attention when you dig your hole. If you place the excavated material in a pile next to the hole, backfilling and final grade will be easier. If digging on a slope, pile the dirt on the downhill side of the hole. If you are digging in tight conditions, or the ground is completely flat, use an empty pot larger than your plant’s container to hold your dirt. This makes for easy clean up and final grading after planting.
2. Add amendments if you are going to do so
If you are adding soil amendment, only add a small amount — fill a pot the same size as the container your plant is in and add that to your backfill material. Mix the amendment thoroughly with the material you will use to fill around your plant’s roots. Please see our website for information about top soil, soil amending and mulching in SE Utah.
3. Water the hole
Before you plant, fill the hole with water and let it soak in. In some locations with clay soils this can take some time. If you are planting several plants dig your first hole and fill it with water so it can drain as you dig other holes. If you are only planting a few plants, dig your holes and fill them with water and sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea, or go run an errand, and come back.
If you are planting in sandy soil the holes will drain very rapidly, and you may want to fill the hole with water several times before planting to build up some water in the soil around your new plant. If you are planting in clay soils you will only want to do this once or twice.
Over the years we have found that priming the planting hole can dramatically reduce how much water you need to give your new plant in the first weeks after planting. Often the soil is so dry here that the water given to a newly planted plant is wicked away by the surrounding dry soil faster than the plant can absorb water in its roots. Once the plant grows some roots into the surrounding soil this is less of an issue.
4. Remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole
Carefully remove the plant from the pot. This can be tricky with cactus or larger plants (you can cut the pot if necessary or use newspaper to help protect you from the spines). With small plants, turn the pot upside down and support the rim and soil with your hands. Gently shake and tap the pot to loosen the soil from the sides of the pot. Try not to yank the plant out of the pot by its stem(s) as this can damage the roots. With trees and larger plants you may need someone to help you get the plant out of the pot.
Make sure the hole and the roots are able to have good contact and place the plant in the hole. Backfill halfway up the root ball, gently pushing the soil into any voids around the roots. Fill the hole with water again and let it drain.
There are some situations when it is important to loosen roots that have become root bound, or are growing in circles. This can be particularly important when planting trees and larger woody shrubs. Wildland Scapes works hard to monitor root development and sell plants when this is not necessary, but root washing or pruning can be important for the long term survival of your plants. It is EXTREMELY important, however, to not disturb the roots of most native plants that we sell. Please see our information about root washing and root pruning for more details on this topic.
5. Finish grade
After the half backfilled hole drains, finish backfilling the hole creating a very slight depression around the plant. Ideally if you are on a slope a very slight berm on the downslope side of the plant can be built, and in a flat location the plant looks like it is in the middle of a dinner plate or large saucer. Over time this very slight final grading will fade into the surrounding grade, but it is very important in the first year or two after planting. This is the time when the roots will only be very close to the plant’s above ground stems and so it is important to make sure any irrigation water goes to those roots.
6. Water again
Once your plant is installed and the area backfilled and graded water the plant again. In summer you may want to do this three or four times the day you plant to be sure to get a good reservoir of water in the dirt around the new plant.
During the final watering, check that the water stays near the plant rather than running all over the place. Once the water has drained, check the level of the soil around the plant. A plant that is too high will have roots exposed and will dry out too quickly and will have a hard time establishing through the heat of summer. A plant planted too deeply may rot above the root crown (this is especially important with trees) causing the plant to die in a few years.
No matter what season you choose to plant, getting making sure your plant gets a good transition from container to landscape is important. Make sure to monitor your new plants daily for at least the first week or two and expect to water more frequently in the first season after installation than in the future. See our watering and irrigation information for watering information to establish and maintain your plants!