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Planting in poorly drained soil

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Planting in poorly drained soil.
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal

Because it is very difficult for many plants to survive in sites where the soil is compacted or poorly drained, it is important to choose trees and shrubs that are adapted to these conditions.

If you want to try your hand with other plants that are not adapted to such sites, you will need to correct the situation by installing a drainage system or reworking the soil. Because all of these operations are usually complicated and very costly, you might like to try another approach: raised beds. 

  1. If your tree or shrub is growing in a container, remove it and prune any root-bound roots.
  2. Open up the top of the root ball to expose the plant’s collar. Measure the height of the root ball to this point. Also measure the width of the root ball.
  3. Dig a hole about 2/3 as deep and three times as wide as the root ball, with sloping sides.
  4. Do not add any amendments or fertilizer to the soil you remove from the hole, and do not place any gravel in the base of the hole.
  5. Place the tree in the planting hole, making sure that it is straight.
  6. Expose the top half of the root ball, if you are planting a balled and burlapped specimen (see the appropriate section).
  7. Stake the tree, if necessary.
  8. Backfill the hole, in layers, using the soil you set aside when you dug it. Add extra soil if necessary to form a small mound, not more than 1/3 the height of the root ball, to prevent the roots from drying out too quickly. Do not cover the collar.
  9. Do not form a saucer to trap water, but do water the plant thoroughly and deeply. Add more soil if necessary.
  10. To avoid aggravating soil aeration and drainage problems, do not add any mulch.
  11. Remove the wrapping and anything on the trunk (twine, tags, etc.).

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