A GROWING CONCERN: Get the whole hole story for planting

WITH THE RECENT snow now but a memory, rain and seasonably warm weather are here for the next week.

I have turned my attention to planting.

You and I should have been pruning now for a month.

While standing belly-deep in a massive pit filled with manure for trees, I started thinking about holes.

All of us working that day had been involved in numerous holes — holes for walkway lights, holes for water, holes crafted for future plantings and definitely a hole in the homeowner’s wallet.

This made me realize there is a whole art involving holes, and there are a lot of holes to be dug from now until May.

Everyone on the North Olympic Peninsula must realize that we either live atop a gravel pit or are slowly sliming our way through clay.

Our indigenous soils, for the most part, are poor at best.

They are usually nutrient-poor and either hold water to excess (clay) or retain little moisture and drain out rapidly (gravelly sand).

This is why your planting hole needs a lot of attention.

First, figure out what type of soils you have (along with sunlight and moisture conditions) and preferably select plants suited for that condition.

Native plants

This is why native, indigenous plants can be the best selection because they have evolved in our local soil profiles and are well suited for them.

Many times the native plants require smaller holes because it is not necessary to mix and prepare a lush soil pit.

Otherwise, you need a stick of dynamite, a jackhammer, a backhoe or a 16-year-old in order to get any kind of fair-sized hole into the ground.

Just making the hole is the No. 1 critical factor when preparing a hole for a plant requiring lush, organic, rich, loose, light soil, such as most flowering plants, shrubs and perennials require.

When digging a hole, you are creating an artificial depression that can become the source of numerous problems.

Make it too small and just like the pot the plant came in, the roots can become compacted, thick and tangled as they wrap around the edges of the small hole rather than venturing into compacted, dry or rock infested soil.

Make your holes at two or three times the pot size.

Roses, example, would adore a planting pit 2½ feet across and 3 feet deep — and filled with lots of very old manure.

An area for clematis, creeping honeysuckle or wisteria calls for a backhoe ideally creating a 3- or 4-foot wide and 5-foot long by 3-foot deep trench for optimal growing ability.

When I plant large trees (15 to 20 feet high), I like to make the “5-yard-hole” which is to dig a hole until the 5-yard dump truck is full of debris and then add a new 5 feet of topsoil around the tree.

But as you have heard, size isn’t everything and so it is with holes.

What kind of soil, fertilizer and how to treat the sides of the hole also have significance.

You must know the soil requirements of the item to be planted.

For example, lavender grows wonderfully here and that is because of our poor soils.

If you give a lavender a rich humid topsoil, it will slowly rot away.

This goes to show that gourmet greenhouse blends aren’t always preferred.

When blends are preferred, be careful.

It is extremely difficult to adjust the lower soils once the plant is placed on top, so getting the bottom correct first is a requirement.

I like to add very old manures or compost into the bottom of the hole with lots of bone meal for quick root growth.

Then cultivate that into the native soil well, mixing and chopping it until everything is evenly blended.

This cultivating or shovel-turning helps by breaking up the line between hole and the added soil.

I usually do this with pick-axing or breaking into sidewalks, too.

Do not leave smooth edges so roots can go out and mingle between old and new soils.

Then with a nice organic soil, place the plant in the hole and put soil entirely around it.

Avoid stomping on the soil, which only compacts it, making for very poor water and nutrient movement.

Instead, use the handle end of the shovel to push soil in and around to close the air pockets.

Watering tips

Next, it’s time for a nice heavy watering — several times in the next few days is highly advised.

This further closes air gaps and settles the plant and root ball well into the soil.

Mandatory in finishing off the hole is a top dress of fertilizer, especially at and just outside the drip line (the foliage’s outside edge).

This encourages new outward root growth.

As always, cover with a nice layer of mulch or compost, but do not apply thickly around the exact base of the plant as to smother and kill it.

Remember: When digging a hole in clay, you are making a bathtub in most cases, and a French drain may be required.

This is nothing more than a 4-foot long, 6-inch wide trench filled with rocks that angles down and away from the lowest corner of the hole to drain water away from the bathtub.

With these tips, go out and buy a whole lot of bare-root trees — get roses and shrubs also.

Plant away.

This is the time for it.

By the way, you now can prune away like a madman.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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