Garden Style: How to plant successfully

Ever wondered why some people have sparkly green fingers and plants that never fail, while yours languish in a corner looking a bit sorry for themselves? Well, the answer is probably in your soil. But don’t worry, there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ soil – you just need to match it up with plants that love what you’ve got. So, relax with a cuppa, and check out our essential planting tips to give that green-fingered goddess next door a run for her money...

Before even buying a plant, check your garden for sunlight. Is your border in sun or shade, or does it get a bit of both during the day? Then look through a plant encyclopedia, check the RHS plant selector online, or ask for help at your local garden centre to find plants that will suit your site. For example, this mix of achilleas and sea hollies love a bright, sunny spot, but will sulk miserably in shade.

Next, get up close and personal with your soil. Take some in your hands and rub it between your fingers – yes, it’s time to get dirty! If it feels gritty and falls apart when you try to roll into a ball, your soil is sandy. This means it drains quickly and is prone to drying out. If, on the other hand, your soil feels smooth and sticky, and rolls into a ball when damp, you have clay. These soils hold lots of water and nutrients, but quickly become waterlogged, are hard to dig, and crack in dry weather. Again, check the sources above for plants that like your type of soil.  You can also improve its texture and nutrient content by digging a couple of large bags of well-rotted farmyard manure into the top 30cm (12in).

Now you have the right plants for your site and soil, get planting. Give each plant a nice long drink before digging a hole twice as wide and a little deeper than the plant pot. Also add some fertilizer, such as Growmore or pelleted chicken manure to the soil you have dug out.

Place your plant into the hole and add or remove soil to ensure it will be at the same depth once planted as it was in its original pot. If you’re planting roses, make sure the graft union – that knobbly bit at the bottom of the main stem – will be below the soil once it’s planted.

Remove the plant from its pot and tease out any congested roots around the edge of the root ball, ensuring that they are not all circling around it. Also, add some Rootgrow to the bottom of the hole. This wonderful stuff is a special fungus that encourages the roots to grow more rapidly. Now place your plant in the hole.

Fill in around the plant with the soil and fertilizer mix, and firm in well. Using a watering can with a rose attached, give your plant a good watering to help settle the soil around the roots. Then add a mulch, which is basically a 5cm (2in) layer of well-rotted manure or compost, around the plant to help conserve moisture. Keep your plant watered from spring to autumn in the first year, until it’s well established, and you should have a very happy and healthy plant.

To find out more about planting techniques check out my book, How to Grow Practically Everything, published by Dorling Kindersley.

[Images: How to Grow Practically Everything, DK; Top image credit, design by Jayne Thomas; second image, design by Catherine MacDonald/Landform]

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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert

View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert