The cooler nights and daytime temperatures tell us that fall is in the air. Now that some of the hotter days of summer are behind us, intrepid gardeners are filling holes in their gardens and containers with end-of-season plant bargains. Autumn is my favourite time for residential installations.
An important factor when considering fall planting is the condition of the plants you purchase late in the year. Even though nursery-grown plants are healthy and treated well, life in a confined pot is not a happy one, particularly for woody plants. Often, by this time of year, most plants, trees and shrubs you purchase will have been in their pots way too long, making them root bound.
Roots want to grow out and spread. Most container-grown plants at this time of the year have roots that become congested and circle around the inside of the pot. If you just shimmy your plant out of the pot and plant it, root mass and all, there is a good chance it will not survive and thrive.
If these roots are not untangled and regenerated at planting time, you lessen the chances of proper amounts of water, air and nutrients reaching all of the roots. A massive root ball plunked in the ground will not allow optimum water penetration, and generally only the outer roots will be in contact with water and soil and the plant will struggle for life or even die.
Tip your newly purchased plant out of the pot, grasp it by the base of the plant above the soil line, and try and unfurl twisted roots. You want to ensure all sides of the plant are teased out as well as the bottom of the plant it loosened to establish deep root growth. Sometimes this is not an easy job and the root mass is so twisted and tight that you require assistance from tools.
My favourite tool to use when planting root-bound plants is found in the cutlery drawer of your kitchen. I like to use a serrated knife, although a three-pronged planting tool can also be used to help your plant roots to spread.
I take the knife and gently score the edges of the sides of the plant, then use fingers or trowel to pull out those roots. Sometimes along the bottom of the plant, if the roots are so tightly massed, I saw an inch or so of congested roots directly off the plant. This regenerates root endings and encourages new root growth.
I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of planting. Simple steps will ensure you late-season purchases thrive and flourish in years to come.