There are as many techniques in planting as there are people. It seems everyone has some twist they employ to get plants started. There are, however, some truisms in planting which always pertain. It is these I will address first:
For New Homes and Sites: (Plants and Trees, Initial Landscaping)
For new homes or businesses, one needs a hole approximately twice the size of the pot the plants is contained in. While excavating, attention needs to be paid to the overall soil quality, especially in new subdivisions where fill was used to establish the overall grade. I mention this because there are fills which are problematic. Rocks and such are endurable, provided they are embedded in soil. But cement debris, chemicals, garbage and the like will not help a young growing plant. Once determined, bear in mind, especially in the case of trees and plants which tend to eventually produce extensive root systems, no matter what amendments one uses to get the plant established, those roots will reach the existing soil.
Below, we plant up new plants and trees using the existing soils combined with just a bit of new stuff.
(enlarge any picture by left clicking)
Current thinking in planting techiniques holds this thought in mind. I personally advise a minimum of amendments, perhaps as much as half new soil, mixed with the existing. There is an element of “sink or swim” here. Unless the soil is insufferable, as mentioned, the plant or tree’s roots will hit the soil and expect to push on. Also bear in mind the condition of the soil. Clay soils may not be applicable to some plants, just as sandier soils may not be for others. There is usually information available indicating which soils are best for certain species. I would use this guideline in selecting a plant or tree. If the soil is extremely hideous, I recommend excavating and reinstalling entirely new soil, paying particular attention to the locations of trees and deeply rooting plants.
For New Or Existing Gardens
Much here depends upon the eventual usage. I see three separate categories used most often, aside from the original plantings of trees and shrubs:
1. Vegetable and food/herb gardens These require extremely nutritious and workable soils. They are tender, generally, and fast growing. Composts, especially one’s own’ are excellent amendments to any soil. A mix of compost, sand and topsoil are usually recommended and I advocate installing about 18 inches worth in depth. Some composts, obviously, are “hot”, especially manures without sufficient time spent curing. There is no need to install anything not already broken down. So, the thrust of my advice means allowing composts to age. Fertilizers are available for all plants, although they are not necessarily good as an “implicit” product. They just boot up progress and can be as destructive in the wrong hands as they are helpful.
Below is a small circular Herb and Flower Garden we installed which has abundant good stuff as a planting medium.
At any rate, these amendments make the soils less dense, in the end, and the compost and topsoil tend to hold moisture for longer, necessitating less watering. Gardening for food is a high intensity maintenance operation, needing attention often. One checks for growth, for diseases and pests, molds and mildews and critters. Watering will need adjusting according to the heat indices. One can, indeed, overwater almost anything. And, naturally, one can under water as well. Another consideration: go easy on the fertilizers! These plants were made to grow. Give them a field they can enjoy and they will. Sometimes, less attention is better than too much, a strange caveat, I guess.
2. Bedding Plants and Annuals These plants need nearly as good a caliber of soil as does a food garden, just not usually as deep. Typically, annuals do not root deep, although there are exceptions in the cases of some tubrous items, like Dahlias, for example (which can also be a perennial, in certain climates). I rarely go deeper than 12″ of totally prepped soil and the quality of said soil can be a slight step less rigorously composted than a food garden. Having said that, care should be taken inasmuch as these plants are always hungry and always thirsty. Once again, these can also be over- or under-watered, but they require tons less maintenance and attention than vegetables and some herbs. Always pay attention to Sun issues. Begonias, for example, are not enamored of tons of Sun. The New Guinea hybrids, which I adore, are particularly shade-loving. Seen as below, mixed with Coleus in a very shady but extremely lush scene, they work marvelously in good soil.
3. Perennials Here we have what must be my favorite category of plants. I use them liberally in all my construction projects since they offer enormous swaths of the brightest colors and tend to bloom for long stretches. They do, however, also require soils which are a step above ‘unadapted’. I typically use a mix of compost and native soil, about 1/3 native and 2/3 compost and sand. I also dig holes for eventual growth. In other words, I make a larger than normal hole first, fill with my amendments, when planting. I think 3 years down the road for perennials and where the roots will be by then. After that, they will either be divided or can readily adapt, literally producing its own bacteria and compost from its own growth and detritus (leaves, root deterioration, etc.). Perennials are low maintenance plants. Another groovy aspect.
Below is a virtual Perennial Garden, clustered around a small pond in Reno, Nevada. Note the blue blooms, a combination of Lavender (which I often use for aromatic as well as aesthetic reasons) and the blue Penstemon (this is also a matter of mid-Summer timing, bloom-wise, since the entire garden begins with a pink and red flourish):
The alkaline soils of Reno were perfect for this gorgeous Desert Penstemon, a native of sorts which stands on its own as a splendid-looking plant who enjoys where it sits.
All in all, soil quality is the be-all and end-all of planting almost anything. Attention should also be paid, in the selection of plants and, consequently the necessary soil work, to native species. Some natives, such as those we find in Nevada actually prefer some pretty nasty, alkaline soil. Inasmuch as they were nursery-grown, of course, they will need some early love, with what I call “introductory soil”: a mix of the closest one can some to native soil with a tad of amendment. This is just to prevent an utter shock zone for the pampered little fellows.