Best Planting Practices for all Things Green

The secret to planting all things green is a technique called double-digging

It’s a cold, rainy day here in Austin and that means my crew and I have the day off. Trying to remain productive, I’m sitting down to think of a new article I can write that folks might find useful. My long time friend, Chris Winslow, a nurseryman with an incredible knowledge of plants when asked what’s the best way to plant whatever plant the customer has in their hand, will grin and say “green side up.” So let’s go one step beyond that and dig a little deeper. Get it? Okay, so I’m not nearly as funny as Chris but here it goes.

What’s double-digging you ask? Sit back and allow me to tell you all that I know about double-digging.

Let’s assume it’s a 1 gallon plant. That’s more or less 5″ from the bottom of the container to the top of the soil. You take your shovel and remove 5″ of dirt and set it aside. Then dig into the next 5″ of dirt and break it up reasonably well. Add a few inches of compost of your choice. Take the remaining dirt that you have left and mix half of it with equal amounts of compost. Use this mix as back fill around the plant. Use your hands to lightly compact this soil around the plant. Use the other half of the original dirt to form a bowl shape around your plant. This will help collect water and direct it towards the roots. Now, add a couple of inches of mulch. We use hardwood mulch on all our landscape installations unless another kind of mulch is requested. There’s a couple of reasons I prefer hardwood mulch over the others: it tends to hold its form and doesn’t break down as easily from the occasional downpours we get and it’s very durable, needing to be replaced only once per year. Finally, give it a long and slow soaking until the soil is soaked, back up, and appreciate your work.

If you were planting a 5 gallon plant, it typically measures 9″ from bottom of roots to top of soil, you would dig down 9″, removing 9″ of dirt and setting it aside. Dig another 9″, break it up, and mix in your compost. Follow the same instructions as per the 1 gallon.

For the 15 gallon, typical measurements from top to bottom are 12″. You’d use the same technique as mentioned before but if it’s a tree go ahead and dig the hole twice as wide as the rootball (that’s the roots and soil once removed from the container). For best results with trees you should make sure the sides are sloped.  This same double digging-technique should be applied for the larger trees as well. Just measure the rootball from the bottom of container to top of dirt and follow the steps laid out above. That’s double-digging and that is the best way to plant any plant.

This technique can also be used in vegetable gardens but that’s an article for another rainy day.

Examples of container sizes. From left to right: 1 gallon, 5 gallon and 15 gallon
Examples of container sizes. From left to right: 1 gallon, 5 gallon and 15 gallon