How To Plant Shrubs - Avoid This Common Mistake -

How To Plant Shrubs – Avoid This Common Mistake


If you're a beginning gardener, or even if you're not, you may be planting various flowers, trees and shrubs every year in your gardens but for some reason, they are not doing well.

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What could be the reason?  Perhaps you're planting them incorrectly.   Today we want to show you how to plant shrubs and do it correctly.

We say the correctly because there is a very common mistake that most homeowners make and if you too are making this blunder, you could kill the plant.

Before we get into the specific process, what is that common mistake? Planting them too deep! How deep is too deep? More on that in a bit. For now, let's get into the details of how to plant shrubs.

Potted Shrubs Vs Balled And Burlapped

The first thing you'll want to determine when planting your shrubs is - were they purchased in pots, or with root balls that have been tied in burlap?

Most of the time, larger root balls are burlapped and smaller ones are potted. This isn't always the case though, but either way, the process is a little different.

How To Plant Shrubs The Correct Way

Despite what you might have heard elsewhere, follow our advice and you'll have success with your shrubs and if they die, it won't be because they were planted incorrectly.

Trust us. We've been doing this for over 20 years and our success rate is nearly 100%.

Digging Your Hole:

When planting shrubs you'll want to dig your hole 2 times the width of the pot. This will give the hole loose soil around the plant which makes it easier for the roots to spread.

As you dig, place the removed soil in a pile next to the hole. We'll tell you why in a minute.

The depth of the hole should be no deeper than the root ball itself. This is the most common mistake we see people make and you must avoid this. Otherwise, the plant could be stressed and not grow well or could actually die.

When planted, the top of the root ball should be even with the ground or slightly above it. The top should NOT be covered in soil. If your plant is in a pot, make sure you brush away any excess soil on top of the root ball before planting.

Planting shrubs too deep could deprive the roots of the oxygen the the plants needs to grow. Although undground, roots can get oxygen from the soil itself.  If the soil is not prepared correctly and compacts too much, it will make it harder for the plant to get that oxygen  One way to avoid this is to prepare your gardens correctly for planting. See our guide to learn how.

Some other advice we've heard from others is to loosen the ground at the bottom of the hole to help roots spread downward.

The problem with this is that as the soil settles, the plant could sink and then be too deep. Athough it depends on the shrub species, most roots will spread more horizontally than down.

In our entire landscaping careers we have never loosened the soil at the bottom of the planting hole and it's never been an issue.

Sometimes we'll throw a little soil amendment into the bottom, but nothing more than that. Don't loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole.

Removing Your Shrub From It's Container:

If you've purchased your shrub in a pot, simply grab it by the base of the trunk and pull it out of the pot. It will usually come out fairly easy but if doesn't, you may need to cut the plastic pot away from the roots using pruners. Whatever you do, don't force it too hard. You may damage the plant.

Some shrubs may be root bound, which you'll notice once the pot is removed. This happens when the roots have grown around themselves into a tangled mess. Not only will it be hard for roots to spread out, but there are so many roots that not much soil is left in the pot. Both are bad for growth.

To remedy this, take your pruners and with a sweeping motion of the sharp pointed end, cut through the roots on the surface of the root ball. You can cut slightly into the ball, say about 1/2 inch in, but not much further. You probably won't be able to cut much beyond the surface anyway because tangled root will be difficult to cut through.

Once you've cut some of the surface roots, using your fingers, grab and spread the roots out from the ball. Then place your shrub in the hole.

If you've purchased your shrub in a tied burlap sack, you don't need to remove the burlap. Instead, cut through the strings that are tying it using your pruners, loosening the burlap. Then, place the plant, burlap and all directly in the hole.

Because the root ball will be large and heavy, you can actually lift the plant by the burlap and place it into the hole.  In case you're wondering, the burlap will decompose over time.

Next you'll be filling in the hole.

Filling The Hole With Soil:

Before back filling the hole with soil, take your soil amendments or compost and dump it into the original pile of soil that you removed from the hole. Use a ratio of about 50% amendments to 50% orginal soil, or a little less amendments to original soil - say, 30% ammendments to 70% original soil.

You don't need to be extremely accurate here.  A little more or less of anything is not going to hurt.  Just estimate the amounts as you're mixing.

Don't remove all the original soil and replace it with all amended soil. You'll always want to use some of the original soil from the garden and mix in your amendments in the ratio noted above.

IMPORTANT: Using some peat moss as part of your amendments helps with soil aeration and we highly recommend it.  For more information on peat moss, please read this article.

A method we like is to take a seperate large bucket and mix together 50% miracle grow garden soil and 50% peat moss. Then, dump this over the original soil in the ratio stated about, 50% mixture and 50% orginal soil.

Now you're ready to backfill.

Scoop the pile of soil into the hole, filling every nook and cranny. As you fill, press down with your hands to compact the soil. Trust us. Using your hand will never compact the soil too much, especially if you've used peat moss and other amendments.

This compaction will help the shrub stay upright and straight, without tipping over because of loose soil.

As you fill the hole, don't put soil on top of the root ball! We've already said it here, but it cannot be overstated.

Mulching Your Shrub After Planting:


It might be tempting, but don't skip this step.

Mulching will help the new soil stay in place during rains, plus it will help the soil stay moist if the temperatures rise and the sun beats down on the ground.

Mulching tips:

It helps to create a raised ring of mulch around the planting hole. This helps water stay within the root ball and drain down to the roots. This is especially important if you're planting on a hill, where water will run off quickly.

It's OK to place some mulch over top the root ball, but just use a little. Don't bury the top of the root ball in mulch.

Notice in the above photo, the japanese holly bush is planted and mulched.  You can see the bottom branches are not laying on the ground, meaning the bush is not planted to deep.

The Final Step In Learning How To Plant Shrubs - Water Well:

After planting, immediately water the plant, and water it well. You'll want to soak the entire root ball. If the bottom is 12 inches down, the water should penetrate at least 12 inches. This will take a lot of water, much more than you probably think.

Don't worry about overwatering. If you've prepared your hole correctly, excess water should drain away and not be an issue for the plant.

Keep your new shrub watered well for the ENTIRE YEAR! That's right, if you don't get frequent rains, you'll need to be diligent in your watering. You see, new shrubs will need to get their roots established in the ground before your can let up with the watering. This could take several months and even more, perhaps an entire growing season.

We want to tell you the real truth here. The 2nd most common reason shrubs don't survive, just behind planting too deep, is not enough water. A light, misty rain is not gonna cut it. Watering for 1 or 2 weeks and then letting mother nature do the rest will probably not cut it either. That's the truth you need to know.

For our clients, we'll often water their newly planted gardens weekly or set up a watering timer to automatically water 1 or 2 times per week.

Here's a video we found to help you visualize how to plant shrubs:

How To Plant Shrubs - The Easy Synopsis

That is our process for planting shrubs. It's a process we've followed over and over again, for client after client and it's never failed us - EVER.

Dig your hole wide enough, use a combination of original soil and amendments, including peat moss, cover with mulch and water.

That's it. Pretty simple once you get into the groove.

Now you know the correct method for how to plant shrubs.  It's now time to go out and do it!

Be sure to leave comments or questions.  We'd love to hear from you.


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