Monday, 12 April 2021

How to: plant a potted plant, into the ground

 How's that for a complicated title?

I had a question this morning, from Ovez:  "Is it possible to plant the Kilmarnock in the ground still in a pot"?

There are two questions, here, and I'm not sure which one Ovez is asking, so I'll answer both of them.

1) If you buy a Salix Kilmarnock in a pot, is it possible to plant it in the ground?


All you have to do is dig a suitable hole, take it out of the plastic pot, and plant it in the ground. Water well, keep an eye on it for the first year, and it should be fine. No, it won't get any taller: it's a grafted tree, as per the explanations in my various posts about Salix Kilmarnock. (Or just type "Kilmarnock" into the search box, top left.) So it will get stouter, over the years, but it won't get taller.

However: and it's a big "however" - it is essential to keep checking the tree to ensure that it hasn't reverted (again, check my previous articles for details on this) otherwise you will end up with a massive Grey Willow tree, taking over your garden and sending roots all over the place. 

If you take care to always rub off any buds, leaves, or signs of growth from below the graft, then planting out a Salix Kilmarnock shouldn't cause any problems with roots etc, but with willows, it's always better to be safe than sorry, so have a care about where you plant it: not too close to the house, not too close to any underground drains, etc.

2) Can you sink a potted plant into the ground, still in the pot?

 This might sound like a daft question, but actually, there is a long history of putting plants in pots into the ground. It's known as "plunging" and it does have a few benefits.

The idea is to take the plant in its plastic pot: then sink the whole thing into the ground, still in the plastic pot. 

Why? Well, it gives the roots protection from extremes of cold, and of heat. It can give stability to a rather top-heavy plant, where the top growth is out of proportion to the roots: it can allow you to give a bed or border a very mature look, instantly, but allows you to move the plants around, if you don't like the arrangement: particularly if  you spread a decorative mulch over the surface, so you can't see the rims of the pots.

It works well for tender plants, that can't stay out all winter, because it's easy to heave them out at the end of summer. And it means you can change your arrangement quickly, if  you need to: for something like a wedding or a garden party, you can plonk a lot of mature plants in pots into the beds, to get the effect you want, then later on, they can be pulled out and either returned (if hired), sold, or planted elsewhere.

Another aspect of this strategy, is to leave the plastic pot in place in order to contain the roots, to stop the plant or tree from spreading: there are two main reasons for this, the first is to stop the spread of rampant plants such as Mint, or Bamboo: the second is to keep the plant small, to bonsai it. ("Bonsai" means "grown in a pot", by the way, it doesn't actually mean "tortured to look like a miniature version of the proper thing")

So it's possible that Ovez is thinking that by leaving his Kilmarnock in the pot before planting it, it won't grow too much.

Well, Ovez is partly right: but in my experience, most trees will bust their way out of the pot, by sending down roots through the drainage holes, then enlarging those roots until they destroy the bottom of the pot. And once they have their roots free, they are off! See this article, about a Bay Tree, for details of a full-sized tree which has escaped from the pot in which it was planted....

And in the case of a Salix Kilmarnock, it won't get any "bigger", ie taller, anyway, so it probably does not need to be restrained in this manner.

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