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Re: What makes the difference?

  • Subject: Re: What makes the difference?
  • From: halinar@open.org
  • Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2001 08:52:18 -0700 (PDT)

Chick:

>but frankly I disagree with Joe.  I'd rather have the big, beat up 
>plant than the small pretty one.

I'll also take the big plant if the price is the same as for a small 
plant.  Given the choice of buying a large hosta for $20 and a smaller 
sized one of the same variety for $5, I'll take the smaller one and 
with the $15 I saved I'll buy three other smaller plants for $5.  Then 
in two years time I'll have four nice large hostas rather then one 
nice large hosta.  To me watching the plant grow and mature is just as 
enjoyable as the instant satisfaction of buying the larger plant.  For 
example, many years ago my neighbor had some small maple trees planted 
out in a wooded area where they just weren't going to do anything.  I 
dug one of them up and planted it next to his deck and now it is a 
large shade tree that greatly enhances the yard.  Everytime I go over 
and visit I can look at that tree and remember what it looked like 
when it was just a small tree.  There is a certain amount of 
satisfaction that comes from watching something grow that you don't 
get when you go the instant satisfaction route.  It's the same reason 
some people prefer to plant seeds of a particular plant instead of 
buying a potted plant.  

Chris:

>I like soil with a ton of peat moss and cow manure that has been 
>mixed in really well.  I have also heard that spreading the roots out 
>helps and that you should unsnarl the roots if necessary.

There use to be an old theory in horticulture that when you planted 
trees you should dig out a nice deep and wide hole and then fill it up 
with a well amended soil mix.  Well, there is something called boundry 
dynamics that isn't well understood, but has a significent effect on 
how plants grow.  Basically, roots don't like to cross well defined 
boundaries.  If you plant a tree in that hole with the well ammended 
soil mix and come by a few years later you will find that most of the 
roots are still within that original hole, and if you don't unsnarl 
the roots it's almost guaranteed that the rootsd will be in that 
original hole.  Another neighbor of mine had planted some juniper 
trees that he bought in one gallon containers.  Well, he just dug a 
small enough hole and put the junipers directly into the hole with out 
doing anything to the roots.  About five years later he noticed that 
they weren't growing and asked me to check them out.  Well, I pulled 
up on one of them and the whole thing came right up and the root ball 
was still the same size as it was 5 years earlier when it was in a 
pot.  Everyone of those plants could have been pulled up and put back 
into a one gallon pot with no effort.  

If you look at hostas that have been potted up, especially large sized 
hostas in small pots, you see the same tangled roots as you get in 
potted trees.  This summer I bought a one gallon pot of Elvis Lives 
that had about 7 fans total.  I recently unpotted it and I could have 
used it as a hockey puck!  Gardeners who don't know better might just 
drop it into a hole just like that and then wonder why the plant isn't 
growing well or increasing.  The roots will continue to grow in a 
tight circle even if they are planted in the ground.  It's very 
important to untangle those roots.  Spreading out the roots will help 
with anchoring the plant, but spreading them out isn't quite as 
critical as just getting them untangled.

As to mixing in a large amount of peat moss or other organic matter, 
don't just mix in the organic matter in the hole where you are going 
to plant the hosta, and make sure there are no sharp boundries for the 
roots to cross.  A number of years ago Charlie Purtymun laid down a 
thick layer of organic mulch on the area next to part of his driveway 
where he planted some hostas.  The hostas grew quite well for awhile 
and then didn't do as well.  Well, what happened is that at first they 
did well in the organic layer, but as summer came along the organic 
layer dried out and the roots never crossed the boundry into the heavy 
clay below the organic layer.  One little tug and the plants came 
right up.  If you put down a thick layer of mulch before planting, it 
is important to make sure you dig it up a little to break up that soil 
- organic layer boundry.

Joe Halinar

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