Planting higher in clay soil

jenn(SoCal 9/19)May 24, 2011

I just read somewhere that plants should be placed higher in clay soil so that the root ball sits about a 1/2 inch above the ground. We have clay soil but I don't tend to plant high.

I'm assuming that half inch would be covered by mulch to protect any surface roots --- is that correct?

Rather than leave the top 1/2 inch exposed, wouldn't it be better to plant in a low mound and cover the entire root ball?

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My 2 nurseries both state to plant 1 inch above especially natives. Theodore Payne also advises it.
I've never had a problem with surface roots but most of my property is sloped so that could be why.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 12:30AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Its called 'planting proud' and has been done for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 12:46AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Not a universal recommendation for all types of plants, but generally good advice for plants that don't like wet feet, prefer better draining soils than clay, or are known to be prone to basal rots without an exposed trunk. It is almost always the preferred planting method with South African or Australian plants in the Proteaceae or Ericaceae families, as well as many California natives.

For some plants that resent going dry at the roots between waterings as new plants, it can be the kiss of death, especially if planted with exposed root crown in hotter weather. It is definitely safer to plant as you suggest on a mound with all roots covered if planting sensitive plants outside the ideal rainy season planting window in most of California.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 1:55AM
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I continue to be surprised at how resilient plants can be. Last year while moving a path I dug up a native Heuchera maxima and just set it aside on top of the soil, and forgot about it. When I did notice it, it gave a good impression of a dead plant, so I just did nothing and just wrote it off. A few days ago I happened to notice this green healthy looking plant looking like it had just returned from a winter vacation. If it wants to live that bad I ran a dripper over to it. Al

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 10:24AM
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I think it's only mildly useful advice, it won't save your drought resistant natives from drowning if they sit in a depression and it will increase water stress if the plant is on a raised, drier selection of the yard. I still prefer to engineer my drainage and transplant so the top of the rootball is flush with ground level.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 1:36PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

So.... based on the replies so far, I understand that it is a *general* practice that:

* Has around for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years...
* Doesn't apply to all plants...
* Not a good practice if planting in hot weather
* May or may not work

Logically it doesn't make sense to leave 1/2 inch of the root crown totally exposed if planting in hot dry weather --- especially in a direct sun exposure --- during summer months without rainfall. I can see lots of people following this advice without taking all these factors into consideration, and then wondering why their plantings are wilting in the hot sun, or altogether dying.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 2:52PM
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Jenn Planting in the summer in the hotter parts of California, with no chance of rain or cool weather for months is a recipe for losing plants, ANY kind of plants. One reason so many references suggest planting high is many container grown shrubs or trees are too deep in their container. It is not unusual with a five gallon container to find the top roots four to six inches below the surface in the container. If planted in the ground at the same level it is too deep. The soil above the roots should always be removed to find just where the top of the roots begin and make that the level you plant in the ground. Al

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 9:15AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Thanks Al. With very few exceptions (e.g. pots in shade) I never plant in summer, definitely not into direct sun, and don't even like planting later than May since that's so close to summer. Anyway, it sounds like the suggestion I read in the gardening magazine needs a lot more supporting information to fill in between the lines. A newbie gardener with little or no experience will not know the exceptions and only-ifs and other pieces of information shared here. A whole article could be written on the subject.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 2:19PM
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