Preparing the soil in your flower or vegetable bed is essential to the growth of your plants. I try to do this the weekend before I plan to plant so I don’t kill myself doing it all at once, and so it is all ready for the plants when they arrive.
Work up the whole area you’re going to plant, don’t try to just dig a hole for each plant in hard, un-worked soil. Use a rototiller if you have one, or treat your body like a tiller if you don’t. Dig your spade in deeply, turn and chop the soil until it’s all nice and crumbly. Spread 2 to 3 inches of compost over the worked area and then turn and chop again until it is evenly worked in. If the soil is still muddy-wet, it is too early and you must wait until the soil dries out more, or you will turn it into a hard-packed mess.
When you’re starting the actual planting, be gentle with the roots. Turn the plant upside down, holding it with one hand while you squeeze the pot to release its roots with the other. In other words, don’t grab the top of the plant and try to pull it out against gravity. I’ve found many people have the mistaken impression that they should break up the roots a lot. That’s fine for Juniper bushes, but bedding plants and vegetable starts have probably only just recently grown enough roots to support themselves. Don’t break them up or rip them off, just very gently loosen the edges. Full-sized perennial plants will have thicker, stronger root systems and may need to have more roots pulled apart and untangled from each other than baby veggies or zinnias, but still, as much as possible, you want to avoid removing roots.
Put a good sprinkle of fertilizer, either a continuous-release type like Proven Winners or Osmocote, or an organic blend like E.B.Stone, in the bottom of the hole. Be sure not to bury the plants deeper than the top of their root balls, nor to leave the top of the root ball sticking up above the surrounding soil. Then water them in thoroughly, going all the way around each plant with a gentle stream of water from a hand-held hose. This settles the soil thoroughly – just putting a sprinkler on the area will not accomplish that. A final caution: if you don’t really see much roots when you push a plant out of its pot, then you don’t have a good, healthy plant. You’re not often going to find that at Egan Gardens, but if you do, let me know and I’ll get you better ones.