Decide where you want the plants positioned and perhaps this is a good time to use sticks or any type of marker to pinpoint the placement of each plant. This way you can fiddle around with the markers until you decide upon a desirable arrangement. Make sure to space the plants correctly as indicated by the accompanying tag or ask your nurseryman. The next task is to dig a hole for each specimen and the most common mistake is to make it too deep or too narrow. For depth use the soil mark on the stem as your guide. For the width take the span of the largest roots and add a few extra inches. With lifted plants do not remove the soil which may be present but do stretch out the roots which stick out from beyond the soil ball. When planting keep all the specimens covered to protect from drying winds. Don't plant during the day if possible wait until the evening or early morning.
Pre-packaged or lifted plants: If this is the first time you are planting and not exactly sure about the depth then set a board across the top of the hole to ensure correct planting depth.
The hole should be deep enough to allow the old soil mark to be at or just below the soil surface at planting. The old soil mark on the stem or stems should be level with the bottom of the board.
The hole should be wide enough to allow the roots to be spread evenly.
With your little gardening shovel work a bit of the planting mixture around the roots. Shake the plant gently up and down and add a little more planting mixture. Firm this around the roots with your fingers. Do not press too hard.
Some people use their fists but I prefer placing all my plants with firm fingertips. This system is efficient and eliminates excessive time planting flats of annuals. With a bit of practice you will become most proficient using this technique.
Half fill the hole with more planting mixture and firm it down. Depending on the size of the plant, do this by gentle treading or by pressing with fingers.
Do not tread heavily as this would destroy the soil structure. Treading is usually performed when planting trees and larger shrubs.
With smaller containers always use your fingers, as this is enough pressure to set the plant.
Start firming at the outer edge of the planting hole, working gradually towards the centre.
Add more planting mixture until the hole is full. Firm once again and then loosen the surface.
Spread a little soil around the stem so that the surface forms a low dome.
When planting is finished you can build a shallow ring of soil around the planting hole. It will form a water retaining basin.
This completes the procedure for planting pre-packaged or lifted plants with roots beyond the soil ball.
Container-grown plants: If the environment around the soil ball is not right the roots will not grow out into the garden soil. This means that it is not enough to dig a hole, drop the plant and replace the earth. Mark the planting sites and dig a planting hole which is large enough for the soil ball to be surrounded by a two to four inch layer of planting material.
The hole should be deep enough to ensure that the top of the soil ball will be about an inch below the soil surface after planting.
With lifted plants or container-grown plants cut down the side of the container when it is stood on the base of the hole. Another way to remove the container is to turn the pot on its side and push hard with your palms or use your foot (for large containers) until the soil loosens.
Sometimes you can gently tap the plant out of the pot and stand the soil ball on the base of the hole. To get an idea of the depth set the plant in the hole and continue digging until desired depth is obtained.
Examine the exposed surface of the soil ball. Very gently cut away circling roots but never break up the soil ball. However if the soil loosens, don't worry just make sure you use that loosened soil directly underneath the plant when you set in the hole.
This is why I like to plant when all the containers are dry. This usually eliminates the problem of the soil breaking apart and in my opinion makes the planting portion of gardening much simpler.
Fill the space between the soil ball and the sides of the hole with planting mixture. Do not use ordinary soil, roots may not move from a peat-based compost into mineral soil. Firm down the planting mixture with your fingers and do not press too hard. Just enough to set the plant in position but not so much that you damage the roots, break up soil or ruin any parts of the plant.
Proper planting is critical to the overall performance. With a little practice you will be planting hundreds of species quickly, efficiently and on your way to boasting beautiful gardens.