Whether you are starting herbs from seeds, cuttings, or division, or purchasing plants from a garden center or mail-order supplier, your plants will grow best if they’re properly planted. This is especially important for shrubs and trees, which are usually a larger financial investment than annuals and perennials.
Ease young herbs’ transition to the garden to avoid any setback in their growth.
STEP 1: To transplant herbs such as basil, dig a hole deeper and wider than the size of the seedling’s container.
STEP 2: After removing the plant from its container, place it in the hole so that the tops of the roots are level with the soil surface.
STEP 3: Fill in the hole, cover the roots with soil, pressing down firmly to eliminate any air pockets.
STEP 4: Water well, so that the soil is soaked, ensuring that the roots receive enough water to encourage new growth.
Plant annuals, such as basil, in your garden after the last expected spring frost date; perennials can be planted 1 or 2 weeks earlier. If possible, plant on an overcast day or during the late afternoon or evening, when sunlight is less intense, to reduce stress on your plants. Water annuals and perennials several hours before you transplant them. Also soak the roots of bareroot plants for an hour or two prior to transplanting.
Prepare the site before planting by mixing compost, limestone, and other necessary amendments uniformly throughout the soil. To plant seedlings of annuals and perennials, dig a hole slightly deeper and wider than the container. Next, remove the plants by inverting their containers and gently pushing from the bottom. If the roots have become compacted within the pot, use the tip of a trowel to make shallow vertical cuts into the outside of the rootball. This will encourage new root growth into the surrounding soil after planting. Avoid holding seedlings by their tender stems or leaves, which can put unnecessary stress on these fragile plant parts. Instead, grasp the root ball.
Set the plants into the holes so the tops of the roots are level with the ground. Cover the roots with soil, pressing down firmly to eliminate any air pockets around the roots. Water the plants immediately. When working with plants grown in peat pots or peat pellets, place the entire container directly into the ground — the plant’s roots will grow right through the walls of the pot, which will disintegrate. Be sure to cover the tops of peat pots completely, or tear off their top lips. An edge sticking out of the soil can act as a wick, drawing water away from the plant’s roots.
To help plants recover from the shock of being transplanted, soak them well and then shelter them from wind and sun for a few days by covering them with a flowerpot, basket, or small tree branch with leaves. If rainfall is insufficient the first week after transplanting, water the plants daily. During the second week after transplanting, water the plants every other day, and then every third day the third week. Steady watering is especially important for seedlings because their roots haven’t developed enough to reach deep soil moisture.
Planting Shrubs and Trees
Shrubs and trees are sold in one of three forms: balled-and-burlapped (also called B&B), containerized, or bareroot. Most mail-order nurseries ship deciduous trees, bushes, and roses in bareroot form, wrapped in sphagnum moss, to reduce shipping charges. When bareroot plants arrive by mail, unpack them as soon as possible and soak the roots in water for several hours.
Plant shrubs and trees as soon as possible after you receive them in the mail or buy them at a nursery. If immediate planting isn’t possible, hold the plants temporarily in a shady spot; cover bare roots with moist soil, sand, or peat moss. Moisten the soil of B&B or containerized plants that you are unable to plant immediately.
The best time to plant shrubs and trees is at the end or the very beginning of the growing season, when they are most likely to generate new roots and least likely to lose moisture through their leaves. The bareroot stock shipped by mail-order nurseries is usually dormant (without leaves), and could be small in size. Smaller shrubs and trees are usually more economical than larger plants. They also adapt more quickly to their surroundings, are less likely to suffer transplant shock, and quickly catch up to larger plants.
Before planting, be sure to site shrubs and trees far enough from foundations and paths so that, when fully grown, these plants will not block windows, crowd or damage buildings, or interfere with foot traffic. Once you’ve chosen your spot, dig a hole twice as wide but only as deep as the plant’s roots (or its pot).
Containing Invasive Herbs
Certain herbs grow so enthusiastically that they can take over a garden if not monitored. Mint, which sends out rhizomes below the surface of the soil, can sneak through a garden and choke out other plants. Horseradish, sweet woodruff, and tarragon can spread similarly. Prolific seeders such as borage, catnip, lemon balm, and mugwort generously spread their offspring all around a garden.
To keep creeping herbs such as mint under control, plant them in containers sunk into the soil, but leave a bit of the containers’ rims above the ground. Pull up a pot periodically and check to make sure the roots of the plant have not escaped through a drainage hole. If they have, pull the roots gently out of the soil, getting as much of them as possible, and remove them from the bottom of the pot. Aboveground, you may have to remove plants as they spread out of the pot and begin to colonize the surrounding area. In addition, to help reduce the spread of borage, catnip, lemon balm, and other prolific seeders, remove their flower heads before they go to seed.
For potted and bareroot plants: If the plant is in a container, ease it out and then use clean, sharp pruning shears to remove any damaged or diseased roots. Place the roots or rootball in the hole. When planted, the top of the roots or rootball should be level or slightly above the surface of the surrounding ground.
For B&B plants: Pull the burlap off of the root-ball, leaving it in the hole. If the rootball is enclosed in a wire basket, cut the wires so they are below the surface of the soil and will not interfere with raking or cultivation.
Fill the hole three-quarters full with soil. Make sure the plant is standing up straight, and then gently press down the soil around it. Add water to eliminate any air pockets, and then fill the hole to ground level. Use additional soil to build a ring, or berm, about 6 inches from the outside edge of the hole. Water heavily again.
Finally, add a 2- or 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as bark chips or shredded leaves, around the base of the plant to reduce moisture loss and discourage weed growth. Do not let the mulch come in direct contact with the trunk, however; this can damage the bark and encourage insect and disease troubles. In addition, a big pyramid of mulch around a tree can limit gas exchange in the soil, cutting off its supply of air and harming its growth. (For more, see “The Magic of Mulch.”)
During the first growing season, water shrubs and trees once a week if there is no rain, slowly soaking the soil. The water should reach the top of the berm so it will penetrate deeply and encourage root development. Watering is particularly crucial for B&B and container-grown shrubs and trees. In the nursery, the roots of these plants become concentrated in a small cluster. Until the roots are able to spread into the surrounding soil, these plants draw water mostly from their rootballs, which will dry out more quickly than the soil around them.