James Freeman, crew leader and plant expert extraordinaire for BB Barns Landscape, explains that while planting may seem a routine thing, there really is a right way to do it. Improper planting can shorten the life of a plant from literally a day to a few years less than we’d planned for. Taking care of our plants begins with planting correctly, and since fall is a great time to plant, let’s talk how.


The absolute wrong way to plant a B&B. The straps of this B&B were left behind. (Maybe they thought they could switch out the tree when they wanted?) It leaves an unsightly mess and it isn’t good for the tree’s roots or crown.

James demonstrates good planting in the video below, so be sure to watch that, but here’s a list for those who like bullet points. (You can download the pdf of bullet points here.)

  • Call 811 before you start any garden project that requires digging. This is how you find out where phone, cable, internet lines, etc. are located. Here’s how that works. (And, yes, you do need to do this step.)

  • Grab the proper tools before planting. No one wants to be getting up and down, going back and forth to the garden shed or garage, once they’ve started the chore. You’ll need the appropriate shovel or trowel, planting knife (something to score roots with), soil amendments, Bio-tone (we’ll talk about that in a second), work gloves, a water source (garden hose or watering can), deadheaders and mulch.

  • Dig the hole the depth of the container and double the width (to allow for the amendment you’ll add).

  • Remove plant from the container. If it is a ball and burlap (field grown shrub or tree) you do not remove the burlap or the cage that is holding the root ball together.

  • Score the roots. This is important. When plants are in containers, every time the roots hit the container wall, the plant root prunes itself and the roots dive downward in the pot, creating a circle of roots. We call this root bound, and the longer the plant is in a container the more the roots are tangled in a circle at the bottom of the pot. Roots won’t naturally unwind once put into the ground, making this step crucial. The roots of a plant should look like the spokes on a wheel if we dig it up. Encourage them in that direction by using a planting knife to score the roots or pull them apart with your hands.

  • If you have a ball and burlap tree or shrub, you will untie or cut off the cord holding the burlap in place, after the tree is in the ground, and pull the cage or burlap back to the edge of the root ball.

  • Make sure you have a good flat bottom for your plant.

  • Place plant at a depth that is higher than you would naturally. Most of us want to bury our plants. Always go higher, keeping the crown up and not covered in dirt.

  • Bio-Tone is a great root starter for plants. It has a beneficial fungi called mycorrhizae in it. The fungi attaches itself to the roots, extending the roots as the plant feeds it sugars. Add this to the planting hole per the instructions.

  • Begin by adding the soil and amendment back to the hole. A 50/50 mix of native soil and the good stuff is perfect. (We sell several types of amendment under the brand name Daddy Pete’s.)

  • As you are layering the soil around the plant, be sure to eliminate air pockets. Pack the soil firmly, but not tightly.

  • Spread mulch, but not more than 1-2″ and never on top of the crown of any plant.

  • Deadhead spent flowers and prune back any dead wood.

  • Water the plant at soil level, making a circle around the plant as you water. Do not water it over head where leaf cover could interrupt water flow to the roots, and wet leaves are a host for fungal issues. Water daily for 2 weeks, then back it off to 3-4x a week. The size of the plant determines the water needs. Obviously, trees need more, so water them longer, perennials need less. The goal is to water deeply, encouraging roots to go deep.

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, and blog writer..

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.