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Planting at the Proper Depth

August 29, 2012

Fall is a great time for planting! Planting at the proper depth is more important than you may think. When a problem occurs in the garden, most people assume that the issue is connected to pests or disease, since these are common problems we have all dealt with. But actually, an even more common problem that people do not often consider, is completely preventable planting at the improper soil depth. Planting something at the improper depth, either too deep or too shallow, can be fatal in itself to the plant. Or, the plant will become stressed and weak, which makes the plant more vulnerable to your common pests and diseases. This general rule applies to all plants, woody trees or shrubs, or herbaceous perennials or annuals. The key is to know where the very top of a plants root structure or root flare meets the main stems or trunk. The hole should only be deep enough so the plant is at the exact top or the root ball is perfectly level with the surrounding soil in your bed, or level with the soil in your container if planting in a pot. Even planting something like a small annual flower just an inch too deep can stress out the plant. For woody trees and shrubs, when they are planted even just a few inches too deep, it can cause the base of the stems or the trunk to rot. The rotting will occur where the bottom part of the stems or trunk is partially buried under some soil. That part of the plant is not made of the same type of tissues that a plants root structure is made of and will never develop into that type of tissue. Because, of course, a plants roots are adapted to be wet, not the trunk! Another problem with planting too deep is it may cause the roots to girdle. This is where the roots will wrap themselves around parts of the base of the trunk or stem instead of branching out into the soil, which then restricts the flow of the plants vascular system that moves water and nutrients in tie plant. A popular bed seen in some yards is a raised bed several inches high around the base of an already existing tree or shrub. This is not a good thing to do. This may cause the base of the trunk to rot away for some plants. Instead, build a raised bed first and then after the soil has settled, plant the very top of the root system level with the top of the beds soil surface.


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  1. Shelly Orenstein on September 11, 2012 said:

    What happens if a perennial isn’t planted deeply enough? I’ve suspected recently that a few of my plants are having a problem as a result of this.

  2. Josh Miller on September 11, 2012 said:

    Hi Shelly!

    If your hardy perennial isn’t planted deeply enough, you may run the risk of not having a substantial portion of the root system in the ground, and depending on the maturity of your plant, it will fail to establish, then dry out. If this is a Fall planting, then you run the risk of the crown (where the roots meet the shoots) of the plant being unprotected from Winter weather and dessication. Also, the freezing and thawing in Winter may push your unestablished plant out of the ground.


  3. Shelley Crossley on September 20, 2012 said:

    Can you suggest some perenials to plant now, that would add color and interest to a planting bed on the north and east side of our homeless shelter. Our residents help with the maintance of these plants.

    We have a nursery donating plants and mulch and don’t know what to select.

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