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Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Posted by fampoula 5 (My Page) on
Mon, Jul 1, 13 at 22:14

Any advice is most appreciated. I am in northern Illinois in zone 5. Bought a limelight hydrangea on Tuesday and planted it Saturday. While it was in the pot, it was loving the full sun location it was in.

This is our first summer in our new house and the soil in the front bed is terrible--only about 2-3 inches of top soil and then clay. I realize now I should have planted annuals while working on amending the soil. In any case, before planting the hydrangea, I dug a hole at least twice as wide as the container and started working in organic matter (Dr. Green's planting mix--later told bad idea because contains peat...), also worked in some top soil (mix of sand and peat--also not good, but didn't know then. In addition to this, even though everything I read said to dig no deeper than the bottom of the root ball, I instead dug deeper than that in order to work more organic matter into the clay below. I then watered and let sit overnight to settle.

So.... on Saturday I went to the local nursery. They advised against anything with peat and recommended cotton burr compost instead. I went home and worked that into the soil conserved for filling the hole. Then, I broke up the rootball of the hydrangea (during which a lot of the soil at the bottom of the hydrangea came out which made it sit lower in the hole). I tried to fill this in with soil, then water, then add more soil, but I had to do everything while holding the hydrangea up and in place, so it was very awkward.

Anyway, I think I may not have gotten enough soil underneath the one side of the plant because it is leaning forward a bit. I need advice on what I should do. The plant will be 72 hours in the hole by tomorrow afternoon, so I don't think it would be too terrible to dig it out (this time with my husband) and re-plant it into the same hole with more soil for support. (At the same time, I could amend the soil more, if necessary--I feel like part of the reason the plant is sagging is because the soil is so heavy when it's wet. Also, I am afraid of root rot). On the other hand, I don't want to stress the plant more. I should mention it also has some yellow leaves at the bottom and it's top leaves are starting to wilt a bit. Thoughts??


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Hydrangeas are tough plants. It is very common to transplant hydrangeas months later because the original location turns out to have too much sun during the summer months.

Feel free to extract the shrub and plant it back in the same place. Add a stake if you wish. But do try to keep the root ball intact.

Wilting is probably due to transplant shock, the arrival of summer, a windy location and/or lack of soil moisture. Water (1 gallon for a new shrub) when a finger inserted to a depth of 4" (not counting the mulch) feels dry or almost dry. If it feels moist or wet, do not water.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

How much of the root ball did you break up? Depending on how much a root ball is broken up could cause additional stress.

As for the depth of the hole you can always add removed soil back into the hole before putting the plant in for the final time - a few inches of loose soil on the bottom of the hole is probably a good thing.

I think GA has the claim to "clay king" and now I rarely dig a hole much bigger than the pot size and sometimes amend the clay dug out with shredded bark (Nature's Helper) or none at all. The plant is going to have to live in that location for the rest of its life (unless I decide it needs to go somewhere else). It also helps to stabilize the plant as well since there isn't as much wiggle room. Water religiously through its first two years and they usually flourish.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Thank you, Luis and hsmcdole for your input. Hsmcdole, when I "broke up" the root ball, I had never planted a shrub before, so I did what I normally do for smaller plants in flats, etc., which is kind of roll the root ball between my hands until the dirt starts to fall out and the roots come free. I probably loosened the entire bottom half, if not bottom 2/3 of the plant. When I got done, I noticed a lot of smaller roots on the ground, so I probably knocked a bunch off while vigorously rolling the plant (I know. Everything I said I did sounds so bad in hindsight!!) One good thing I think I did was fertilize after planting with root and grow (3-10-3), which is supposed to reduce shock.

Anyway, this leads to a follow up question. Because I loosened those bottom roots so much, I wasn't sure how to plant the plant, since I really couldn't rest it into the bottom of the hole as I originally planned. I ended up kind of holding it up in the air to the height it should be and letting the roots dangle into the hole as I covered them with soil. Was that right? If not, can you please let me know what to do differently when I re-plant. Thank you so much!


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

You never want to dig a planting hole deeper than the rootball depth. Loose soil at the bottom of a planting will settle in time and that will cause the plant to settle as well. And planting too deeply is a primary cause of plant failure. This exacerbated greatly when dealing with heavy or clay soils.

It never hurts to plant high - with the rootball even a bit above grade. This is always preferable to planting too deeply. You just bring soil up to the top of the rootball, creating a small mound. This is critical when dealing with heavy, clay or poorly draining soils. What you want is a wide but very shallowly dished planting hole with NO amendments. Adding a lot of amendments to a deep clay planting hole just creates a bucket or bathtub when you water or it rains. That enriched soil holds in the moisture, the roots stay wet and the plant drowns.

Adding amendments to individual planting holes is not a recommended practice in any type of soil but especially with clay. If you need to amend, do so over the largest possible area so that the soil consistency is similar throughout the entire planting bed and down to an appropriate depth (at least 8-10 inches). Otherwise, plant high and add whatever amendments you think you might need as a mulch or topdressing only.

I'd lift the plant as soon as possible. Enlarge the planting hole - width only - to incorporate the excessive amendments over the broadest area. Fill in the base of the planting hole with regular old garden soil and tamp it down firmly, sloping the sides gradually outwards. Resite the plant so that it is NO DEEPER that the current soil level and preferably just a scosh above. If possible, fill in the planting hole with unamended soil and firm securely.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Thank you, gardengal, this is *extremely* helpful. When I am re-planting, how should I settle the plant's roots into the hole? The bottom half of the plant (if not more) has loosened roots. Do I dangle those into the whole and put soil around? Or do I build up the soil to where the plant should sit and then spread the roots out on top? Your advice about planting above the grade makes sense and I am definitely going to try that. When planting above the grade, will the plant require more water, or the same amount?


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Build the soil up to the proper height, set the plant on this mound and gently spread the roots down the sides. It should need no more or no less water than one planted deeper :-))


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

gardengal,

I find your advise quite interesting. The good nurseries around this area (zone 3-5) suggest the exact opposite. They want plants to have soil (clay, as well as other types) amended (equal parts native soil, potting soil, composted bark and composted manure) to twice the pot size and they want you to recess (forming a cup) the root ball about 2" below soil level to help protect against frost and frost heaving. The good nurseries carry a warranty on shrubs and if you don't follow these planting rules they will not provide warranty.

As to the root ball on planting it is suggested that if the plant appears to be root bound take a razor and slice the roots vertically 3 to 4 times around the pot and make an X on the bottom. If not root bound rub the roots to break the direction they are trained.

I am not trying to start a battle on planting techniques as I am trying to learn everyones style and why they do it. I am in a small area and if their advice is skewed I'd like to know why and change my planting technique.

Thanks

SCG


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

The amendments don't bother me but GG's suggestions are the newest way of thinking on that subject. If it is a hole don't add amendments but if it is a big area then amend away. Amendments or not, when the roots hit the clay walls of the hole they will adapt or die.

As for the planting above grade I agree for certain plants - rhododendrons being most critical. For hydrangeas I would plant at grade or a little below so water is allowed to puddle instead of rolling away.

You do have the extra problem of frost heave while we rarely have that issue. Another reason to follow the advice for your area.

Root bound plants (where the roots are circling the pot) definitely should be scored, teased apart, etc. to encourage the roots to spread into the new hole. If the root ball (soil) is falling apart when taken out of the pot then nothing should be done other than trying to keep it intact as much as possible. Sometimes it is best to keep it in the pot until the roots are more developed.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

My advice is based on current horticultural practices derived from extensive scientific trials. Retail nurseries and garden centers are not always up on the most current practices - many still recommend pruning sealers and staking newly planted trees regardless of conditions, as well as the more common myths of the advantages of amending planting holes.

It has been determined that plants establish faster and adapt better if they are planted in native, indigenous soil. The roots of most plants will extend far beyond the planting hole anyway, so that is the soil they will ultimately be growing in. Enriching a planting hole not only tends to delay root development and therefore establishment but the differences in soil textures impede drainage. In clay soils that can be fatal.

I'm not saying never to amend - there are instances where it IS important and beneficial to do so. But do it over the largest possible area you can manage so that the soil consistency is similar throughout.

As to planting high, that is also a well-accepted horticultural tenet. It is far better to err on the side of planting above grade than planting below and with heavy or poorly draining soils, it is critical. One can always sculpt a mulch moat around the mounded rootball to retain irrigation water so it can soak in properly.

I've been a certified consulting horticulturist for a couple of decades and teach classes on soils and soil conditioning. How "new" this advice is is up for some discussion. It was already an accepted practice when I received my degree in horticulture quite a few years ago.

It's hard to imagine how serious frost heave may be anywhere close to the west coast, which would include BC - I know it is not much of a concern in eastern WA and the climates are very similar. Generally, mulching for winter is the recommended solution for concerns about frost heaving.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

I agree with you on the planting hole and amendments or lack of and know the new guidelines have been out for a number of years.

I don't agree on planting above grade though. Maybe for the PNW you need to plant above grade due to all the rain but we often are in drought conditions and often have watering restrictions or worse - total watering bans.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

'All that rain" is not nearly as much as you think - most parts of the PNW receive no more rain than most of the east coast and in some cases, quite a lot less. Average rainfall where I live - the Puget Sound area - is only 36 inches and tends to fall primarily winter into spring. Summers and fall are very dry - a recurring seasonal drought.

Do a search on planting above grade. You'll find a wide number of sites that recommend this practice, including areas that are considered quite arid - Colorado, for example. It is not the location or rainfall that prompts this practice but rather soil conditions - poorly draining soils (clay or other heavy soils) are best accommodated by this planting method. However, just as many sites recommend this practice for ANY planting condition - the top of the rootball located anywhere from 1-2 inches above grade to as much as 1/3 the depth above grade. Heck, I've seen this with the entire rootball above grade and sufficient soil mounded up to secure. This no different from planting on a berm - that is just a larger scale method of planting above grade - so I am not sure why there is such reluctance to accept this as a common and recommended practice regardless of location.

Here is a link that might be useful: planting above grade - Google search


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

To each their own I suppose.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Must be a couple schools of thought...the local nursery owner (Ph.D. horticulture) suggests otherwise...Quite possible it is the difference in climate.

I wish I was on the BC coast... we get severe frost here and I lose the odd plant to frost heave...heuchera often is the problem.

Thanks for the discussion... I love to hear both sides of a debate so I can make an informed decision...

You guys rock!!

SCG


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

DBL post

This post was edited by SouthCountryGuy on Wed, Jul 3, 13 at 23:04


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

My dad taught me to plant high, always referencing the following saying:

"Plant them high and they'll survive.
Plant them low and they won't grow."

For as long as I have been gardening, I 've followed this advice. It hasn't let me down yet, regardless of soil type.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

My dad taught me to plant high, always referencing the following saying:

"Plant them high and they'll survive.
Plant them low and they won't grow."

For as long as I have been gardening, I 've followed this advice. It hasn't let me down yet, regardless of soil type or winter frosts.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

I garden in clay, so in addition to the great advice above, I will say that in general you can learn to garden in heavy icky clay and do it well. I planted six hydrangeas last summer and they are all doing splendidly. I did plant high and mulched like crazy. I also amended lightly using coffee grinds just to get some worm activity going on.

In the fall I put down shredded leaves for mulch. This stuff is golden. If you can use leaf mulch in the fall, you won't recognize your soil in the spring. Hang in there. You'll have beautiful hydrangeas in no time.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

I planted about 50 hydrangeas the last 3 years at grade level and they are all doing great in clay. Sometimes mulch, sometimes don't - found out a thick layer of mulch is a good hiding spot for voles and slugs but mulch is aesthetically pleasing and helps conserve moisture so we mulch the front and side yards but the backyard is typically bare.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Out here in Illinois, about 2 miles from Lake Michigan with heavy clay soil, my local nursery recommended planting the trunk flare junction "even with or 1-2" inches above existing grade." I didn't understand what this meant at the time, but I'm thinking it's consistent with planting above grade, so I think I'm going to aim for that. If I'm interpreting the local nursery instructions wrong, please tell me!

Here is a picture of our front bed. There is room to move the hydrangea over to the right and forward (and I think, aesthetically, it would probably be better placed there), so I am planning to do that. That will allow me to dig an entirely new hole, which, this time, I will dig only to the depth of the root ball. Depending on what the soil looks like, I plan on tilling the entire area between the old hole and new hole (or double dig) to combine the soils together. Question: If the soil very over amended, should I still do this? Or would I be better off leaving the overly amended area and just starting over in the new area? I would probably still add some amendment to the new area (adding no amendment at all makes me nervous), but I would only add about 20% cotton burr compost.

And one last question on amending. The plants in the middle of the bed and scattered around are, I think, some type of onion. I am waiting for them to bloom this year, but then plan on transplanting them in our backyard somewhere. Point being: once I dig the onions up in fall, I plan on amending the rest of the bed before the fall. That was my logic for amending only the planting holes right now. Does this make any difference in terms of whether it's a good idea to amend the planting holes?

Thank you, all, for the advice!

(I have now been informed that the marestail at the right which had been serving as a focal point (guffaw!) is, in actuality, an invasive weed). :-)

This post was edited by fampoula on Thu, Jul 4, 13 at 22:53


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

mzdee, I have tons of access to leaves, so I will definitely do the leaf mulching in the fall. Thank you! Does this mean, then, I should not do decorative brown mulch now? I have already laid down additional cotton burr compost as mulch and was planning to add some brown mulch on top of that, but maybe I should omit the brown mulch if it will not decompose by fall? I am pretty new to this.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

Do the brown mulch. Its pretty and will help keep the moisture in your bed. Add the shredded leaves in the Fall. Over the winter it will all blend in.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

I have a 300 foot by 6 foot perennial border in my backyard that consists of clay soil. I have hundreds of perennials including dozens of hydrangeas planted in both minimally amended clay soil and major amended in which I dug the hole and discarded all clay soil and replaced with garden soil full of peat moss with the plants/hydrangeas sitting on at least 4 inches of the mixture....so I have lots of comparisons......the latter method of replacing the clay soil by far produces more superior plants for all different types of perennials including hydrangeas. My hydrangeas thrive using this method. The plants in the minimally amended soil stay alive but that's it....they stay very very small with very few tiny blooms.


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RE: Please help-- newly planted limelight sinking in clay soil

  • Posted by jim1961 5/6 Central Pa. (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 23, 13 at 17:10

Nurseries want to sell you ammendments, etc....

Ammendments within soils will be gone in a few years
and all that will be left is native soil anyhow.
So I agree with Gardengals advice on ammendments...

I do know roses get buried deeper in cold climates.

Own-root roses are recommended to be planted 1"-2" deeper then they were in the pot that they came in. This applies to any climate...

Grafted roses: The graft gets buried up to 5 inches deeper in cold climates.

But planted at soil level or above in warmer climates...

This post was edited by jim1961 on Fri, Aug 23, 13 at 18:08


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