This spring my wife and I started to convert the expanse of lawn around our newly purchased ranch house into gardens. While we focus on renovating the insides of the house, the focus for our garden is its infrastructure and bones. To that end, we’ve been smothering several hundred square feet of lawn under cardboard, newspapers, and compost; planting young shrubs to create screens; carefully carving specimens out of overgrown trees; and generally preparing the soil for future garden spaces. Last week we installed several hundred perennials and grasses on the side of our house. During that planting, I remembered the best planting advice I’ve ever received.
I had known how to direct the roots away from the plant using a root hook, or by scoring the sides of the roots with a sharp blade. However, what I did not realize was that root bound plants often become so dense, they will not absorb water. The density of tangled roots in a container plant can make the plant hydrophobic—it literally sheds water. Think about a dry sponge. When you first stick it under the faucet, water bounces off of it. So if you simply place that root bound plant in the ground and water it, water will more than likely run off the root ball and move toward the less dense soil around it. Even if you water it, the plant may not be getting the water.
Want to really baby that plant? Here’s my own little spin on this trick: soak the root ball in a bucket of freshly brewed compost tea. Compost tea is essentially compost-brewed water that is aerated for 24 hours and mixed with a bit of molasses (or other sugar). Compost tea takes the beneficial bacteria and fungus present in compost increases them exponentially by aeration and sugars. These bacteria and fungus are critical in root establishment. Soaking your new plant in compost tea literally loads the root ball with beneficial soil microorganisms right before it gets planted. More on compost tea later.