Keep gardening tasks safe and enjoyable by taking preventive measures. Well-designed tools and comfortable clothing are essential. Here are some other suggestions:


Selecting plants for your landscape is one of the most rewarding elements of creating a garden. You can ensure that your plants will be long-lived and healthy if you first take the steps to properly plant them.

An initial investment of time helps you learn about the requirements of your landscape and the plants you can grow there. Your own enjoyment of the garden will greatly increase when trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and other ornamentals are correctly planted.

It is important you plan your planting so:


Before you begin planting, assess your garden conditions. Begin by determining the type of soil in your landscape. Knowing this will influence your choices about planting and growing decisions.

Soil types vary regionally and geographically and are generally described as: clay, sand and loam.

Types of soil

When starting a new garden, consider the type and texture of your soil. One technique is the “ribbon” test, which you can do by hand:

- Grab a small handful of slightly damp soil.

- As you squeeze it.

- Force out a strip, or ribbon, with your thumb, pressing the soil into a narrow band.

Another technique you can do is the dig-and-fill test.

- Dig a hole about 6-inches deep and 6-inches wide.

- Look at and feel the material as you remove it from the hole; you will notice how moist or dry it is and whether it contains clay, gravel, sand or organic matter.

- Fill the hole with water and observe how quickly the water soaks into the ground.

Try this test in a variety of areas of your property to see if conditions are the same throughout.


Clay soil - Clay particles are the smallest component in soil, less than 0.002 mm in size. Closely packed, these particles comprise a heavy, sticky, often soggy growing medium. Clay soil absorbs water slowly and drains slowly, often causing plant roots to sit in excessively moist conditions that can lead to root rot.

You can improve clay soil by incorporating organic amendments, such as compost, planting mixes or well-rotted manure. The organic matter increases the available nutrients in the clay soil. It also enhances the soil’s ability to hold oxygen and enables water to move through it more freely. Some gardeners have found that incorporating finely-crushed rock (such as one-quarter-minus grade) into clay soil will improve drainage.

Sandy soil - Sandy soil holds few nutrients because the sand particles are the largest component in the soil, ranging from .05 to 2 mm in size. Water and nutrients flow quickly through sand, leaving plants poorly irrigated or nourished. Improve sandy soil by supplementing it with organic material, which provides and stores essential nutrients for plants. Amendments like organic compost will also help hold moisture in the plant’s root zone. You can improve sandy soil over time with annual applications of 3 to 4-inch layers of organic compost on the top of the soil.

Loam – Clearly the most desirable type of planting soil, loam is a combination of sand, silt, clay and organic matter (such as decomposed leaves, bark and manure). Loam not only readily absorbs water, it also retains it. It is this “ideal” soil medium that we all aspire to have in our backyards.


The “root” is generally defined as the underground portion of a plant which anchors the plant to the soil and absorbs water and minerals. Knowing the way roots are formed and grow can help you understand where to place a plant and how to prepare the planting area.

When you purchase a tree, shrub, perennial or annual from a nursery, it will likely come in a plastic pot (sizes typically range from 4-inch on up to 5-gallon). Once you have removed the root ball from the pot, evaluate whether it is healthy-looking or stressed. Healthy roots will be evenly distributed throughout the block of potting soil. Unfortunately, you will often discover root-bound masses that have circled the base of the round or square-shaped pot.

Most roots will need to be loosened up and teased out of their tight clump. You can use a good pair of pruners to slice into the roots, breaking up the clump in at least four sections around the root ball. Pull away excess (often dry or weak) root ends and spread the remaining roots away from the crown of the plant, sunburst-style, so when planted they will come in contact with the soil. When tangled roots are cut off, the plant will be rejuvenated.

Trees and shrubs may be sold in ball-and-burlap packaging. Sometimes the wrapping holds roots packed in a potting soil-like growing medium or in sawdust. Be sure to keep the ball-and-burlap package well-watered until planting (do not allow it to dry out). If the wrapping material on a bare-root plant is plastic or non-biodegradable, be sure to remove and discard it at planting time. Do not leave any of this material in the planting hole or root zone.

Types of root systems include

Fibrous Roots occupy a large volume of relatively shallow soil area around the base of the plant. The “system” of roots consists of many thin, profusely-branched roots—similar to grass roots. These roots remain close to the surface of your garden (generally in the top 12-to 18-inches), capturing water and nutrients quickly before they move through to lower levels of soil. Considering the way fibrous roots spread may influence the quality and extent of soil preparation in the area surrounding your planting hole.

Fibrous Roots
Fibrous Roots

Tap Roots are formed by one or two long roots that grow quickly and move straight down into the soil to draw moisture and nutrients from deep within the earth. This type of root system serves particularly well as an "anchor" to hold the plant in windy or exposed sites. Many conifers are anchored by deep tap roots, although these roots will develop horizontal branches .A carrot is essentially the (edible) tap root of the plant.

Tap Roots
Tap Roots

While not a root system, it is important to understand how plants with Rhizome and Runner systems grow:

If a plant spreads in such a manner above or below the soil, it can quickly grow to occupy more of your garden than you originally planned. Determine if the plant you choose grows by runner or rhizome. Plants like strawberries or vinca have modified stems that rapidly spread in this manner.


Planting Zones

Knowing your garden’s hardiness zone will help you when choosing the right plants that are appropriate for your garden. Reputable nurseries in your area make the task easier by stocking plants suitable for your zone.

Planting and gardening is not an exact science because there are so many variables. Keep in mind that your garden is likely to have pockets where the temperatures are warmer or cooler than the general zone for your area. A south-facing stucco wall might elevate temperatures—and the planting zone—by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where to plant:

Think about your garden’s place in the larger landscape of your neighbourhood and region. Is it in full sun, full shade, part-sun or part-shade? Use your powers of observation to notice how the climate moves through your property. You can take inventory from season-to-season. In doing so, you will make better choices about placement of plants and structures. Take note of the following:

Where to plant
  1. 1. How does sunlight travel through your landscape? You might find it helpful to sketch a plan of your garden showing where the sunny and shady areas are from morning to afternoon:
    • When a plant tag reads "full sun", it generally refers to 6 hours or more of sunlight;
    • "shade" means a plant can grow with fewer than three hours of direct sunlight.
    • In between is "part sun" or "part shade", which means a range of 4 to 5 hours of sun daily.
    Some plants grow successfully in more than one range of sun exposure. Note that afternoon sun is stronger than morning and can be harsher on plants.
  2. Observe factors that are out of your control. These can include a neighbour's trees or construction activity. Even if your garden is south-facing, a 2-story home located next door can throw a lot of shade over that supposedly sunny garden.
  3. Watch climate patterns. Observe how wind travels through your landscape. If you are in an exposed area, choose durable plants that can handle regular buffeting from strong breezes. Sheltered areas of the garden (such as beneath a deep, overhanging roof) can protect tender plants from extreme climates.
  4. Watch how your property drains. Look for areas of your garden that are not draining well and devise a solution. You will not want to plant in a place where there is bad drainage or standing water. The poor drainage could be caused by compacted soil that needs to be amended or soil with high clay content.

When to plant:

Busy gardeners joke that you should plant whenever there is time to plant. Give your plants the best chance of succeeding in the landscape by planning ahead for the optimum times of the year. In general, colder areas require that you plant in springtime, while in milder climates you can plant in fall or early spring.

Whenever you plant, make sure that the soil is neither frozen nor too wet. In the springtime, you should plant after the ground has thawed. Even in cooler climates, new plants require steady moisture, so unless you’re willing to spend more on your water bill, do not start a garden at the height of a dry or hot season.

Planting in large areas versus single-hole planting: When gardening in a large area (such as a bed or border), improve all of the soil at once—before adding any plants. The benefit of thoroughly amending a plant area cannot be discounted, as it will enrich all of the soil where roots will grow and eventually spread as they extend outwards from the root ball and original planting area.

Single-hole planting
Single-hole planting

Many of us who learned to garden from parents or grandparents may want to add lots of peat moss or compost to one-hole-at-a-time when planting. This method has been discounted by research; especially for woody plants like trees and shrubs. When you enrich a single hole with amendments, the trees and shrubs tend not to extend beyond the isolated environment of the planting hole into native soils. This leads to weak and unstable roots.

Planting in large areas
Planting in large areas

If you are planting in a large bed or border, begin by loosening thesoil by hand or with a tiller at least down 8-inches and throughout the planting area, removing any large rocks. Amend the soil throughout the entire planting area with organic compost or fully-composted manure (fresh manure may burn new plant roots).

If your soil is sandy, mix in compost before planting, spreading over the planting area and mixing in again. If you have clay soil, choose compost that contains more woody material, such as a mixture of manure composted with sawdust or bark. This will improve drainage conditions. Rake the area smooth and water it or allow rain to help it settle for a week or so before planting.

If you are not able to plant in a large area, or if you are adding a plant to an already planted border, take these steps: Dig a hole 2 to 3 times wider than the plant’s width, and as deep as the plant’s root depth. Rest the root ball on firm ground so the plant does not sink lower than it should. If transplanting from nursery containers, slide the plant out and check its root condition.

You can plant directly into the well-loosened native soil you have just removed from the hole. If necessary, add a small amount of organic compost to the hole, mixing it thoroughly with the native soil (use no more than a 1:3 ratio of compost to native soil). This technique is not recommended for woody plants (trees or shrubs), but can be used with annuals and perennials. Be careful not to plant too deeply; overly deep planting can cause eventual plant decline.

General guidelines for watering new plants:

Even if a plant is considered "drought tolerant", it will require regular irrigation until it is established by the second or third growing season. Here are some guidelines to remember:

Watering root zone
Watering root zone


When you plant a tree or shrub, you are investing in the permanent structure and stately beauty of the landscape. Keep in mind that most trees and shrubs grow relatively slower than perennials and other herbaceous plants; the sooner you plant them, the sooner you will enjoy their attractive forms in the garden. When selecting a tree or shrub, take note of its mature size and think about how it will occupy the garden’s available space. Most trees, even those requiring decades to reach full size, will look handsome and fully-established in ten year's time. Shrubs are woody plants that have many tree-like features, but most are multi-stemmed and at maturity will reach less than 12-feet in size. Take note of the grower’s recommended spacing distances; resist the temptation to place trees close together while young—otherwise in ten year's time, you will have trees that are too crowded. Also be sure to leave trees and shrubs enough growing space when planted adjacent to your home’s foundation.

Follow sun recommendations and any soil preferences listed on the label or in reference guides. Consider the ideal time for planting trees or shrubs. While it is possible to plant at the peak of summer, it is not always the best time and your trees and shrubs will experience greater stress in the heat. When planting trees, notice the “trunk flare.” This is the point at the trunk’s base where it begins to curve outward; it should not be buried by soil or mulch.

Whether planting bare root, ball-and-burlap or container-grown trees, make sure your soil is well-prepared and has adequate drainage.

Here are some specifics to consider:

Bare root trees and shrubs should only be planted in earliest spring (before new growth starts). Immediately upon arriving in the mail or coming home with you from the nursery, the tree or shrub should be prepared for planting:

Remove any packaging such as sawdust. Soak the roots 4 to 6 hours in plain water (soaking longer may damage the roots). Lower the roots into the planting area or hole, taking care to keep roots spread evenly around the full circumference of the planting hole, placing native soil carefully to avoid leaving air pockets around roots.

Tamp down soil and water thoroughly after planting. Moisten the root ball of ball-and bur lap trees and shrubs before removing any twine or packing material. Settle the root ball into the planting hole and make sure that the top of the ball rests level with the ground, or an inch higher. Avoid planting too deeply. After the plant is in the hole, remove and fold down all the burlap packing and pull it away; carefully cut it loose and pull it out of the hole. Fill the hole with native soil, tamp it down and water well.

Follow guidelines outlined in Chapter 3 to prepare the roots and plant container grown trees and shrubs. Make sure the plant remains level with—or even slightly higher than—the ground. Do not pile soil up over the roots or crown of the plant near the trunk. Water thoroughly. One recommended technique is to form a shallow “saucer” outside the root area, mounding soil up about 2- inches to contain water above the root zone. Fill this space two or three times, allowing the water to drain into the roots.

Apply mulch lightly over the new planting, placing 2-inches of finely composted material over the soil surface. Keep mulch out of contact with the trunk as the plant can suffer disease problems from mulch piled against it.


The term conifer encompasses woody trees and shrubs that bear cones and generally produce needle or scale-like foliage. All but a few conifers are evergreen, which makes them highly desired in the winter landscape.

Conifers in general prefer full sun to grow best. Choose a location where the plant will receive at least six hours of full sun each day. Soil should be amended to improve drainage. You can plant conifers using the same techniques recommended for trees and shrubs. Spring is an ideal time to plant a hedge, once the soil is workable, after the last frost.

Conifers are sold in plastic containers or packaged in ball-and-burlap. Carefully remove the root ball from a plastic nursery pot and loosen or trim away roots that have wound themselves around the inside. If the plant is wrapped in burlap, lower the root ball into the planting hole before cutting away twine and packing material, removing all non-biodegradable material that can obstruct root growth.

Selecting hedge plants:

There are many plants, both evergreen and deciduous, that can create a hedge. Conifers provide good screening in all four seasons. Look for trees or shrubs that are well-centered in the container, which reflects an evenly-growing root system. If you begin with young, healthy plants (those with stems and shoots growing evenly along the trunk to its base), you will discover that the hedge will grow more fully and uniformly.

Be sure to consider both the mature width and the mature height of hedge plants. If you select a tall-growing plant, your maintenance will increase. Columnar-shaped conifers, such as American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) or types of yews (Taxus species), are ideal hedge plants.

Planting a hedge:

Growing a hedge takes patience. A good way to visualize how a finished hedge might look is to place 4-foot stakes in the ground, every few feet, to mimic its shape and height. Hedge plants can be spaced closer together than if planted as individual specimen trees or shrubs. Hedge plants should grow together in three to four years; plant them close enough to eventually touch but not crush each other’s branches. Crowded plants will eventually suffer due to poor air circulation and lack of light reaching the inner branches.

All conifers will benefit from the addition of two to three inches of organic mulch over the root area after planting.

Hedge plants should grow together in three to four years
Hedge plants should grow together in three to four years

Spacing tips:

Follow planting recommendations based on the mature width of the hedge material you choose. In general, plants selected for a sheared, formal hedge can be planted closer together. Shrubs that form an informal, natural hedge can be spaced further apart.

Mark the planting location along a straight or curved line, depending upon the hedge pattern you desire. Follow measurements accurately to ensure an evenly-planted hedge. Hedge plants can be allowed to grow naturally or they can be sheared, which creates a more formal appearance. If you choose a sheared hedge, you will need to maintain the shape by pruning or shearing plants annually or as needed to maintain desired shape.


Often referred to as bedding plants or “spot color,” annuals are plants that experience their entire life cycle in one year. An annual germinates from seed, matures, blooms and sets new seed in one growing season, before dying with the arrival of winter frost.
A perennial is any plant that completes its full life cycle in three years or more, so technically, trees and shrubs are also perennials.

However, most gardeners think of perennials to include herbaceous plants, woody herbs, ornamental grasses, deciduous and evergreen vines and evergreen perennials.

Annuals from a nursery generally come in 4-inch pots or in 6-pack style pots (the tiny root balls are called “cells”). Planting can begin after the last frost. Most plant tags will indicate a recommended measurement for spacing annual plants. You can plant directly into a prepared bed or border, or use annuals as “fillers” in containers or hanging baskets. Help annuals establish quickly by incorporating an organic fertilizer into the planting bed. Use a small trowel to dig just the right size hole for the annual and be sure to pack the soil firmly around the newly-installed plant.

If you want to fill a window box, hanging basket or flowerpot with an explosion of annuals, use a good quality potting mix. It is okay to disregard the spacing guidelines and pack plenty of plants for a profusion of bloom and color. As long as you continue to water, lightly feed the plants and trim away flowers after they have bloomed. Annuals will look great for the season, usually until frost arrives.

Guidelines for planting perennials, ornamental grasses and vines:

You can find perennials, ornamental grasses and vines in 4-inch to 1-gallon size nursery pots (or occasionally, even larger containers). Follow guidelines to loosen tightly-wound roots or trim damaged roots.

Doubledig method
"Doubledig" method

First prepare the planting area, following general guidelines in Chapter 3. Be sure to remove larger rocks and stones as you loosen soil. Use a round point shovel to turn the soil. Then you can use a fork to break up any clumps and remove rocks. Some gardeners prefer the “doubledig” method, which involves digging up 6- to 8-inch deep “trenches” and tossing the dirt into the next row until you have dug up an entire planting area.

The goal is to incorporate oxygen into the soil, improve drainage and help the soil accommodate the new roots of your herbaceous plants. If your soil is relatively healthy, you can bypass the double-dig method and add organic matter, such as composted yard waste or well-composted manure, by working it into the planting area with a fork or rake. A good ratio is to add one-third by volume.

If you are not able to prepare an entire planting area, you can dig a hole to the depth of the nursery pot and at least twice as wide. Be sure to situate the plant so that the top of the soil in the nursery pot is level with your garden soil. Enrich each planted area by adding organic compost over the native soil. The compost will also help keep soil cool and retain moisture, improving growing conditions for roots.


Most roses require 6 hours of full sun daily during the growing season. Each region of the country has proven roses for its area. It is best to check with reputable nurseries to find rose cultivars best adapted to your area.

Follow soil preparation guidelines. Roses require loose, well-drained soil that’s been amended with ample quantities of organic matter. They need oxygen around the roots, so if you have soil that is compacted or has high clay content, you will need to amend the planting area thoroughly.

Using a round point shovel, dig a planting hole 2-feet deep-by-2-feet wide. Use some of the soil you have removed from the planting hole to build up a “cone-shaped” mound inside the base, as tall as the hole is deep. This mound will support the natural downward and outward growth pattern of the rose plant’s roots, stabilizing the plant and supporting top growth.

You can purchase roses bare root, packaged in a plastic bag, cardboard box or a plastic nursery pot. Select a plant with a large bud union, three or more thumb-sized canes 12- to 15-inches long and preferably with one or more new main canes starting to emerge from the bud union. A bud union is a noticeable bump about 2- to 3-inches in diameter, just above the roots. The best time to plant roses is early to mid-spring (after the last frost), preferably on a relatively cool or overcast day. You can also plant roses in the autumn in milder regions of the country.

Bare root roses
Bare root roses

As soon as you purchase a rose remove all the packing material. Sometimes “boxed” roses come with labels indicating the cardboard container can be planted in the Bud Union of Bare-Root Rose ground, but avoid this method, as cardboard may not degrade quickly enough to allow roots to spread. Similarly, it is best to remove a rose from a peat pot before planting .While peat pots are biodegradable, they may dry out and prevent moisture and nutrients from getting to the rose.

Bare root roses:

Submerge a bare root rose in a bucket of water to which a few tablespoons of a transplant solution, such as Vitamin B-1, have been added. Soak the entire plant at least 12 hours to rehydrate its root system.

Before planting, trim off any broken roots. Lower the roots into the planting hole, taking care to center them evenly over the mounded cone and spreading the roots around the full circumference of the plant. Replace soil carefully around the roots to avoid leaving air pockets around roots. Tamp down soil and water thoroughly after planting.

Container-grown roses:

Most hybrid roses are grafted to a standard root stock. The grafted point (or bud union) serves as a guide as to how deeply the rose should be planted. In milder regions plant so the bud union is visible, just above the soil surface. In colder regions plant with the bud union below the soil surface, about 2-inches. In extreme conditions where it may not be possible to protect the rose in winter, you can plant the bud union as deep as 3- to 4-inches below the soil surface.

Remove any excess soil from the root ball so you can inspect the roots and make sure they appear healthy and evenly developed. Trim off any broken or twisted roots. Lower the roots into the planting hole and spread them evenly throughout the hole. Replace soil carefully around the roots to avoid leaving air pockets around roots. Tamp down soil and water thoroughly after planting.

After planting your roses, cover the entire area with a 1- to 2-inch layer of organic mulch to help retain moisture and keep the roots cool.


Plants classified as ground covers range from horizontally spreading or dwarf forms of our favorite evergreen shrubs to glossy-leaf vines and perennials. A ground cover is generally considered a plant that grows to provide continual coverage of soil, appearing seamless and interconnected with adjacent plants.

To prepare a large planting area for ground covers, remove any vegetation (sod, weeds, old plants) using a shovel or spade. Loosen the soil 6- to 8-inches down, screening out root clumps and rocks. Add 2- to 3-inches of organic matter, such as compost or composted manure, spreading it evenly across the area. After amending the soil, add a granular nitrogen fertilizer, working it into the ground to the level of the plants’ root zone using a cultivator or fork (follow the package recommendations for fertilizer quantity-per-square-foot of planting area). Organic matter and fertilizer will give any ground cover you plant an excellent start at getting established.

Check spacing requirements given for the specific ground cover you are planting. Do not plant too close together. While tempting to “fill in” an area quickly, this can potentially crowd plants and lead to disease due to poor air circulation. Herbaceous plants generally cover an area more quickly than woody plants.

Ground covers in nursery pots.
Ground covers in nursery pots.

Most ground covers are purchased in nursery pots, measuring 4-inches to 1- gallon in size. Be sure tofollow root care guidelines noted in Chapter 2, teasing out tightly wound roots or thinning plants that seem root-bound in the pots. Some small ground covers, such as Woolly Thyme and Blue Star Creeper, are sold in planting flats.

If you are planting flat-grown ground covers, gently slide Staggered Ground each plant out of its section, taking care to separate roots so they are evenly distributed in the planting hole. Rather than planting even rows of ground covers, offset each row so that you are creating a staggered pattern, much like a brick wall. The plants will fill in and look more natural this way. Be sure to dig the planting hole deep enough so that the soil level in the pot is the same as the ground. A spade or trowel is usually the best tool for the job.

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