Plant Installation and Propagation

With spring here, I figured I’d share with you a booklet I made about Planting and Propagation. It’s great for a beginner and has some information that some gardeners might have forgotten or never heard about.  I hope you like it.

Plant installation would seem to be so easy that instructions shouldn’t be needed.  Just dig a hole, plop in the plant, and water.  Unfortunately, this process causes more problems for owners than they know.  By focusing on the how, they forget the where, when, and the why behind it.  This leads to trees being planted right next to the house, roots invading plumbing, or the plant simply dying “mysteriously”.

Before planting anything, some questions need to be answered:

  • What are the soil requirements?
  • How much sun does it need?
  • How is the drainage in the area?
  • How big will the plant be when fully grown?
  • How will this plant affect other plants around it?
  • What obstacles are in the way?

All of these factor in how well the plant will survive after installation.

Soil requirements:  The PH of the soil needs to match he needs of the plant.  If it doesn’t the plant will not produce the flowers or fruit you want, become weak, have sickly yellow leaves instead of green, and be more susceptible to pests and diseases.



Most plants prefer a neutral PH but some (Azalea, Gardenia, Blueberry) prefer acidic soil while others (Juniper, Austrailian Pine, Iris) prefer alkaline soils.

To acidify the soil, add sulfur.  Add lime to make it more alkaline.

Sun requirements:  It’s important to make sure that the sunlight hitting the area matches the needs of the plant.  Too much sunlight can wash out the leaves, giving them a faded/whitish look.  Too little can mute the colors of variegated leaves.  Luckily, plants come with tags that point out how much sun they need.

Drainage:  The soils ability to drain excess water can help or kill a plant.  Too much drainage will raise the maintenance level of the plant and reduce the effects of liquid fertilizer, while too little drainage will drown the plant.  The average amount of time for water to drain in good soil is roughly a half hour.

You can add clay to soil that drains too fast and sand to soil that drains too slow.

You can also install a plant half way in the ground and mound up soil around it to counter act poor drainage.

Size aka The Clifford syndrome:  One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered is a huge plant in a tiny spot.   I call this “The Clifford Syndrome”.  People see a young plant at the garden center, think it’s cute, and bring it home without realizing that the plant is going to grow into a giant.  (This is why you see Plumbago growing up against the walls of houses.)


When deciding on where to plant you need to take into account not only the height when fully grown, but the spread, and the depth and width of the root system.  (As seen by all the cracked and raised sidewalks around town.)

Effects on other plants:  The new plant can affect the lives of other plants around it by limiting their exposure to sunlight, changing the PH of the soil through leaf drop, and stealing the nutrients through over aggressive root systems.  Some plants are so extreme they can choke out a plant by reproducing offspring that clumps around them.

Obstacles:  Buried electrical lines can ruin you day as well buried gas and water lines.  You should always have the utility company mark where these lines are if you aren’t sure.  Also keep in mind of past hardscapes that became buried.  Nothing’s worse than digging three inches into the ground and hitting a slab of concrete.

Once all of these are taken into consideration, its dig time!

When it comes to digging, you don’t want the hole to evenly match the shape of the pot.  No.  You want the hole twice as wide as the pot holding the plant and about a quarter deeper that the height of the pot.  This will give the plant loose soil to grow into as it establishes itself into the landscape.  After digging to the proper depth, fill in the bottom until the top of the root ball is even with the ground around it.


The extra width of the hole also allows you to mix the good nursery/potting soil with the native soil.  This helps the roots transition into the native soil.  You also get more room for roots after teasing them from the ball.

Teasing is the term used when unwrapping tight roots that have grown around the inner circumference of the pot.  If left alone the roots will girdle and stunt the growth of the plant.  The girdled roots will also severely limit the plants ability to anchor itself against wind and storms as well as limit the area it can get food from.

To tease the roots, you pull them away from the ring shape they grew into.  Sometimes there are so many roots that the plant has become pot bound.  At this point, cutting the roots is required to encourage proper spreading.


After teasing the roots, and setting the plant in its bed, its best if you add a layer of soil around it, water it thoroughly, add more soil, and water again, like a layer cake until the soil reaches the level of the ground around it.  Planting this way will eliminate air pockets that will damage the roots system.


After all this is done, you can add encapsulated, slow release fertilizer if you want.  Any other fertilizer is not recommended until the plant is established because the root ends are tender and the plant itself is stressed from all the teasing, and moving, and soil change.  Regular fertilizer should be added after the plant is established firmly in the bed.

After the installation, the plant needs to be watered every day for the first two weeks, every other day for the next week, every third day for the week after, and so on until it reaches the standard once a week rule.  Building a ring around the plant will help retain the water where the roots are while this happens.  The ring can then be broken and blended in with the top of the soil after a month.

It may seem like a lot of extra work, but following these steps will ensure a healthy, long lived plant in your yard.


You can propagate plants through seed, or cloning.  Seed will give you offspring similar to the parent plant while cloning will give you the exact same plant.

Planting a seed is like planting a plant, but on a smaller scale.

Cloning can be done in many different ways.

Division:  Plants such as areca palms, ginger, mother-in-law tongue, and aloe can all be reproduced just by digging them up, cutting them in half between clumps and then replanting or repotting.  It’s one of the easiest ways to clone.


Layering:  This is done with plants that have long, flexible branches. You scrape off the outer layer of the branch revealing the cambium layer (The light green area sometimes called the inner bark)and bury it under a mound of soil.  By watering this mound you are encouraging roots to grow.  After the roots are formed, you can cut the baby off the parent plant, creating a clone.  (Using rooting hormone – Rootone- helps)


Air layering:  This is done when the branches are too stiff or too high to bend into the ground.  As in layering, you cut the bark or outer layer off the branch to be cloned, you then dust the cambium layer with rooting hormone, take roughly a one liter bottle sized amount of sphagnum peat moss that has been soaked in water and wrap it around the branch. Finally, take some cling wrap or saran wrap and wrap the moss firmly around the moss and the ends of the parent plant and cone to be.  You want the wrap to be tight enough so that air doesn’t escape, but not so tight that you crush the mound of moss.  Once you see roots growing around on the inside of the wrap, you can cut it off the parent plant, unwrap it, and plant in a pot until the roots are strong enough for the outdoors.


Gardening is a great way to get outdoors and help something grow.  It can be both fun and challenging. I hope these steps inspire you to try it out for yourself.

15 thoughts on “Plant Installation and Propagation

  1. Pingback: Plant Installation and Propagation | Thoughts, Ramblings, and Daydreams | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  2. Great reminders as I’ve spent the day hearing the Bobcat that’s grading our new lot before it gets hydroseeded. 🙂 Luckily, the builder didn’t plop the deciduous trees right against the house. But I’m not thrilled with the arbor vitae being right against the porch!

  3. Hmm, maybe we could move them to the east side of the yard as a screen…. Not the west side, though, even though that’s where the winds come from—that side has the mountain view.

  4. Long time since my 8th grade horticulture summer. One of the best classes ever. We were bringing back a city garden that had been ignored due to budget problems. Rec’d a lunch stipend and credit as a intern.

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