It’s time to grab a spade, or perhaps a fork, and get planting. Autumn is widely viewed as THE best time for planting, but provided you get going fairly early in the year, then trees, shrubs, climbers or herbaceous plants will all have a decent amount of time to get established before the weather gets hotter and drier. If you have noticed that your garden has lacked colour, shape or perhaps perfume over the last few years then take a look at the spaces that need filling and go on a shopping trip.
Start by clearing the soil properly by digging or forking it over and removing pernicious weeds or debris. Next, measure the space you have to offer, as it is important that the plant you choose will not outgrow its new home too quickly. It is worth jotting down the approximate measurements of the gaps you have to fill and at the same time making a note of how sunny or shaded the spot is. It is amazing what you find you have forgotten by the time you are in the garden centre.
If you feel the need for a bit of springtime colour from shrubs you plant, then there should be a good selection to choose from right now – perhaps a flowering currant with flower trusses in red or pink, each up to 10cm (4in) long, a star magnolia, Magnolia stellate, with breathtakingly beautiful white or palest pink star-shaped flowers on bare stems, or, if you have a biggish space, how about one of the amelanchiers, which are truly great value because they have tiny, very pretty white flowers with foliage that turns wonderfully fiery shades come the autumn. On acidic soils or in a good-sized pot full of ericaceous compost, camellias perform well and their large flowers in reds, pinks, yellows and white look great. There is Exochorda macrantha, ‘The Bride’, with delightful arching stems studded with tiny white flowers. The list goes on and on, but take time to wander around a favourite nursery or garden centre and you will be amazed at what is there and how it has the potential to transform you garden this spring and for years to come.
When you have got your purchases home, try to get them planted as soon as possible. Dig a good-sized hole for each, making it several inches wider than the root ball all round, and fork the base and sides of the hole over thoroughly, especially if you garden on clay. On clay soils it is best to do as much soil preparation as possible with a fork, as this will be less likely to cause further compaction of the soil than if you use a spade.
If the soil is either heavy clay or extremely light and sandy, it is well worth digging a much bigger hole, gradually incorporating more of the ‘natural’ soil into the compost or planting mix as you get closer to the sides of the hole.
Before planting, remove the pot and firmly tease out the roots – soaking the root ball in a bucket of water for an hour or two should help if they are quite congested. It is essential that you do this or else the plant may not ever get properly established, as its roots will not move out into their new surroundings. Ideally you’ll not buy a plant that is too pot-bound (I always recommend checking carefully before you buy) but if there are any really large, woody roots encircling the root ball you may need to prune these out, so that you can release the remainder of the roots.
The plant should be planted at the same depth that it was in its pot and make sure that just the roots, and no part of the stem, are below ground level. Watering in is necessary even if the soil seems fairly moist, as it helps to settle the soil around the fine roots.
Stand back and admire your efforts, and at the same time check the stem is good and upright. Make a note of the plant’s precise name and details, or remove the label and keep it somewhere safe – that way you will never be stuck for information about how to look after your plant, or how big it may grow!
By Pippa Greenwood
Visit Pippa’s website (www.pippagreenwood.com) to book Pippa for a gardening talk at your gardening club or as an after-dinner speaker.