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When planting large plants, like trees or large shrubs, I've always dug a hole larger than the root ball, filled it with water, and then suspended the root ball in the water and used my hand to separate the roots as much as I could. I always thought that this encouraged the roots to push into the surrounding soil and get a good hold rather than the roots circling round and round the ball formed when the plant was in the pot.

Are there other tips on how to ensure the survival of plants when they are being planted or transplanted?

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The suggestions I've seen include:

  1. Make the hole twice as wide as the root ball, but perhaps an inch shallower. You need space on the sides for the roots to grow into, but you don't want the plan to sink and collect water around the plant.

  2. "Tease" the roots in smaller pots, particularly if they aren't root bound. But for larger containers or where there is a lot of roots wrapping around, physically cut several (maybe 8, spaced equally around the root ball) vertical lines with a utility knife.

  3. Add compost around the hole for the roots to grow into.

  4. Mulch around the plant to minimize water loss and weed encroachment. Leave a small ring of mulch near where the root ball ends that is a bit higher to collect water, but make sure water and mulch are not in direct contact with the trunk/stem of the plant (this avoids rot).

  5. Water well, and once the plant appears to be past any transplant shock, gradually change to deep waterings where you give a lot of water, but infrequently, to encourage the roots to grow down and the plant to be more drought tolerant.

  • Excellent tips. I tend to follow all of these when planting from a container except the compost one. I'd also that after setting the plant in the hole, I typically add about half to two-thirds of the dug-out soil back in, then soak it. This acts to settle the soil around the roots. I then add the remainder of the soil and once again water deeply. – Tim Clymer Jul 26 '11 at 2:07
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You may additionally find the information given in this answer, "How and when to plant young grafted apple tree?", to be of some help, eg

Measure from the bottom of the plastic wrap to the top of the soil. That is how deep you want to dig your planting hole. Planting trees too deep will lead to major problems down the road. The trunk flare should be just visible once the tree is planted. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball that is currently wrapped in the plastic.

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