Modern construction practices have turned the typical home landscape into a man-made "urban" environment.  Our soils in the Pacific Northwest are typically claylike in structure, and they are characterized by the removal of native topsoil, erosion, compaction from construction equipment and foot traffic, altered drainage patterns, and loss of organic material.  Compaction in particular limits the ability of the soil to absorb water and nutrients and makes it difficult for roots to expand.  The absence of organic matter compounds the problem by reducing the plant's access to oxygen, water and essential elements.

Home gardeners therefore face a struggle to establish plant materials in these severely depleted soils. There is no single solution that works in every situation, but most of our soils will benefit from the addition of organic materials to the soil composition.  These soil amendments may be tilled into the soil if the site allows, or added during the planting of trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses.

The key to a healthy plant is its ability to establish a significant root system.  Most roots try to expand laterally, often planting-illustration two to three times greater than the diameter of its crown.  A common mistake when planting is to dig a hole that is too deep and not wide enough.   The primary cause of death in trees and shrubs is planting too deep.  The best thing to do is make the planting hole about twice as wide as the container or root ball, and no deeper than the root ball.

The sides of the planting hole should slope away from the root ball.  Scruff up the bottom of the planting hole.  Slow release organic fertilizer can be added to the bottom of the hole if desired. Shrubs should be planted so the top of the root ball is even with the top of the planting hole.  If the roots are tightly packed and compressed, use a knife or pruners to cut slits along the sides of the root ball.

Trees should be planted about 2-3 inches above ground level.  If the root ball is wrapped in burlap, situate the tree in the planting hole, then cut the twine around the burlap and remove as much of the burlap from the planting hole as possible.  If the tree root ball is contained within a wire basket, so your best to remove the wire basket as you move the tree into the planting hole.

Re-fill the hole with a mixture of approximately 50% native soil with 50% organic soil amendments.  Water in with Vitamin B-1 transplant liquid, (found in the fertilizer section of most garden stores) and additional soil as needed as the soil settles into the hole. Lightly compact the soil around the plant with your boots to assist in the removal of air pockets.

Fertilization should not be necessary for the first year.  Do not prune any leaves or branches unless damaged; the plant needs them for photosynthesis to bring nutrients to the root system.    Do not stake trees unless you are concerned with heavy winds or vandalism, and even then the stakes should be removed within the first year.

Apply organic mulch over the planting area to a depth of 2 inches.  Keep mulch 4 inches away from tree trunks. Keep the soil healthy by re-applying organic mulch on a regular basis, at least every other year.

DIY Landscaping 101