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Spring is a good time to ...

Struggle to grow: plants that are pot-bound very rarely make good specimen plants

When the weather starts to settle, March is a good month to prepare for planting and replanting.

Wind is the arch enemy in the early part of the month so care should be taken by watching long-term forecasts. The pluses of transplanting/planting and lawn repair at this time is that temperatures are starting to equalise and move upwards and drought is not usually a problem.

Planting correctly will dictate future growth and produce a healthy, vigorous specimen, whereas poor preparation will produce just the opposite.

Before discussing the actual exercise of planting, let us consider the act of purchasing.

Plant sales usually begin with one gallon containers and, depending on the species, will move up as they mature to four, ten and 20-gallon sizes. Whatever size you buy it is important to check out the plant’s appearance — its size vis-à-vis its container.

If the plant is large and in a small pot, it is most probably pot-bound with a strangled root ball. Plants that are pot-bound very rarely make good specimen plants as the root system struggles to grow away from the root ball.

A large plant in a large pot which has stout branches — especially its trunk — could well have been pot-bound in its “early life” and should be avoided.

Shape and structure are also important; branch systems should look symmetrical with good growth and healthy foliage.

When buying a tree, ensure it has a single growing point or leader which is the future essence of the tree.

Preparation of the planting hole will dictate the future of the plant’s growth; a large planting hole enables the plant to develop a good root system. Bermuda’s soil is questionable as to depth and quality, rock being a major problem.

If of a soft nature, a good root system can often survive. However, if a hard rock, one should question whether it is a viable operation — especially if planting a large tree, palm or shrub. The size of hole is therefore dictated by container size.

As a rule of thumb, one gallon ground covers — small shrubs, vines, etc — should have a planting hole of 18 inches round and similar in depth. A four gallon should be 24 inches round and of similar depth.

Trees, palms and large shrubs should have a much larger hole; the root system of a plant can have a similar spread to its top growth.

When installing the plant, fill the hole with good soil to a height which will accommodate the container with the top of the root ball at finished grade. Before you place the plant, level the soil to reduce settlement of the root ball.

Transplanting is an exercise of moving a plant from one location to another with as much undisturbed root ball and leaf loss as possible.

The exercise requires careful planning as it requires several stages in preparation for moving including digging around the root ball so it holds as much soil mass as possible during the exercise.

I always like to do it with sacking or something similar, to hold the soil in place.

Having enough moisture in the root ball to hold the soil particles together during the operation helps.

Root balls on large specimens can be quite large — perhaps five feet round and three feet deep.

In such cases, the excavation of a nine feet round by five feet deep hole would allow for future unimpeded root growth.

The top of the root ball should be approximately at ground level when installed, but do ensure the prepared soil mix is well compacted when it is placed in the hole and around the root system.

This should be done in tandem with watering, to settle and moisten the soil.

As the Bob Dylan song tells us, “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind”, so weather watching is important at this time of year.

February has once again been an up and down month weather-wise. Spring might be “round the corner” but caution is still the byword.