Planting Made Easy-Ish

The below is a basic introduction to planting perennials. It's generalized, but you know... We all have to start somewhere.

Trillium kurabayashii
Let's just take a moment to swoon over Sauvie Island Native's trillium kurabayashii.

A) When planting, first things first- roots go into soil! Check where you’re planting to see what the soil quality is looking like. Get a visual to the soil. Is it overly sandy? Chalky? Is the plant you’re about to put in there fit for these conditions? Where is the sun? Are your plants meant for this type of exposure or lack there of? Hopefully they are. If not, stop what you’re doing.

B) Also- is there even soil? Let’s say there was a recent heavy mulching. How far does that mulch go down? You’re roots need to really be in the soil. If you’re planting primarily in mulch- stop what you’re doing and make a plan to raise the soil level to where you need it, or remove some mulch if that is appropriate. If it’s a planter box, for instance, the mulch needs to be taken out and more soil will need to be added for sure (especially as it will sink over time). Roots planted into mulch will meet their maker, and most likely you'll discover this poor plant never really had a chance and it's your fault. Whomp whomp.

The will to live is strong in this one.

C) Okay, so soil is good (or it’s not, and a plan is made to remediate or choose different plants for the area). We pull the plant out of the pot and take a look at the root ball. What’s happening with the roots? Loosen them up. Don't put the root ball in the ground with roots growing as it. Gently tease them apart a little. If it’s a real mess in there, which happens (see photo), use a tool to cut them apart a bit so the plant has a chance to grow outward and away from the rootball.

D) Dig the hole at least 2x the size as the rootball (this is particularly important in compact soil- new soil is less imperative). Loosen up the outside of the hole a bit to allow roots an even easier time of spreading their wings. Soil covered wings. Eh, okay it’s a bad metaphor. But you know what I’m saying.

E) Look around and determine where it’s going in the landscape. Shorter plants should be placed closest to where primary viewing is happening. Taller shrubs and trees are farthest out. Medium shrubs somewhere in the middle. Think equal spacing. Think balance. Think 5 to 10 year growth patterns. Think filling niches and divine dancing of plants and air and rain and sun. And refer to a mapped out plan if there is one.

PNW Native Plants
The beauty of PNW natives? Resiliency. Wildlife benefit galore. Downsides? Not quite as much wow factor at first. The patience will be worth it though!

F) Depending on what you’re planting, you’re going to put a little something something to boost the plant’s health. We generally use some type of mychorrizae mix. Read the label for best practices- different brands recommend different strategies. Generally we shouldn’t be adding fertilizer in right away, but it may be necessary. Test your soil beforehand if you're concerned.

G) Put the root ball into the earth. Is it level with the surface? You may need to dig out the bottom a bit more. Add some soil it and push it down a bit. Add more if it’s below the surface. A teeny bit higher than the surface is okay, because we’re most likely going to add a little mulch around the base and we want to make sure we don’t cover the plants stalk/trunk, etc. Let it air out and be free. But not too free. Medium free.

H) Add soil around the outside, tucking it in like a sleeping baby. Gentle, but firm. All the way around. Over and over, making your way up to the top, preparing a sacred and secure home for this little buddy. Give it a gentle tug and see if you feel movement. If it pulls up, ya failed. Start over.

I) Double check the surface. You shouldn’t be layering on a huge amount of mulch to fill in the gap and make up for the fact you didn't dig a deep enough hole. The plant's surface should not be an odd tower over the ground below it ...although we may bring up all the soil around it, in the form of a berm, to add complexity and dynamic play to the landscape- and improve water retention. Hopefully this is planned. If it's not, maybe pretend like it was.

Building Berms
Our maintenance manager, Richelle, showing perfect form as she intentionally builds up the soil.

J) Add your mulch. Know your mulch. Avoid allopathic wood, like horse chestnut. Embrace chunky bits mixed with conifer needles or decaying leaves. Cackle knowing you are brewing delicious melodies of underground soil communities. Nemotodes, isopods, fungal networks, oh my! Or put on a layer of dark hemlock or fir (don’t put the red stuff on the ground, it’s tacky) and ooh and ahh at the consistent, unnatural and super impermanent color scheme.

K) Water ‘em in! Give them a nice drink, and check to see if your soil is caving in (and if it is, go back to step G.

L) Okay, is it good? Take a step back. Get your photos in. Or video. Add the plant to a spreadsheet because in 4 months you’re going to have no recollection of what they heck this is. Maybe make a tik tok video or whatever you do. You might even tag us and try to prove me wrong that red mulch isn't tacky (it will be).

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