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Spring Planting

Spring Planting

One of the biggest revelations in the horticultural industry has been the introduction of ‘container’ growing. Before this was widespread and garden centres began to develop in the 1960’s, gardeners would order plants from nurseries through catalogues and shows, so that they were delivered from autumn to late winter as ‘bare root’ or ‘field grown’ plants. All sorts of plants from large trees to herbaceous perennials were grown in fields and delivered while they were dormant.

Today we have access to a range of plants that our forbearers could only dream of. We are able to purchase plants that are established and ready to plant from their pots at any time of the year, rather than only when they are dormant. We are also able to see plants in flower, buy them and plant them into the garden for instant colour!

Why plant in the Spring?

  • Your local garden centre will have the widest range of plants available at this time of the year, especially when they are fully stocked for Easter
  • You will get the benefit of the new plants in your garden for the year and they will be well established before next winter

  • Plants supplied from nurseries in spring are usually potted in late summer or autumn of the previous year, so they are well established

  • Herbaceous perennials and grasses will have large crowns (bases) as they are overwintered from last year

  • What do I need?

    Some basic gardening tools are needed for planting. Buy the best that you can afford – stainless steel if possible!

    You can usually get by with a garden fork, garden spade, hand trowel and hand fork. Forks and spades come in two sizes – digging and border. ‘Border’ tools are slightly smaller and easier for ladies to use as well as getting into smaller places between plants. Also make sure that you have a watering can. You will also need a general fertilizer to mix with the planting soil as a ‘base dressing’.


    If you are making a new border, you can dig the whole area over by forking the soil and removing any large stones and roots from perennial weeds such as Dock Leaves, Thistles and Dandilions. Try to dig the soil to at least a forks depth and break up any hard layers (pans) by wiggling the fork tines into them. If your soil is heavy, you may want to add some well rotted garden compost or blended stable manure to help improve it. Once the area is planted, you can add mulch each year to improve the soil and the plants roots will also help to break up heavy soils.

    Purchase the plants that you want to go into your garden. You may be planting a border with a certain theme, say plants for autumn colour, a collection of the same sorts of plants for example Azaleas and Rhododendrons, or just buying plants to fill gaps or make a border with plants to give interest throughout the year.

    Points to remember when choosing your plants

  • Know your soil type and pH (acidity)
  • Is the soil permanently wet or usually dry? Many plants do not like their feet in water all of the time but some will grow quite happily

  • Know the aspect of the area, that is which way it faces and if it is sunny or shady

  • Is the site sheltered or exposed to winds from a certain direction? Cold winds can make it difficult to establish some plants

  • Is the soil permanently wet or usually dry? Many plants do not like their feet in water all of the time but some will grow quite happily

  • Know the aspect of the area, that is which way it faces and if it is sunny or shady

  • The advice above may look complicated but don’t worry – there are plenty of plants that will grow quite happily in most conditions, given well prepared soil and good light levels!

    Getting started

    If you are planting a new area it’s a good idea to lay out the plants first so that you can see how the planting will look when it is finished. Remember to leave plenty of room between large shrubs so that they can fill the space over several years and ‘infill’ with short lived perennials or annuals that can be removed as the main planting establishes. You may prefer to leave the gaps and cover the ground with chipped bark or another mulch layer until the plants have grown.

  • Make sure that your plant is well watered before you put it in
  • Take the plant out of the pot by turning it upside down and tapping the bottom of the pot. If this doesn’t work, carefully roll the pot on the ground to loosen the roots. If all else fails or the plant is too big for the above, you can cut the pot off!

  • Dig a hole which is twice as wide and at least one and a half times the depth of the plants root ball

  • Add a handful of fertilizer to the excavated soil from the hole and mix well

  • Backfill with enough soil and fertilizer mix to bring the plant level with the top of the planting hole. The top of the compost should be just below (5cm or 2”) the finished level of the planting
  • Backfill with the rest of the soil, filling in around the roots to ensure there are no big gaps

  • Gently firm the soil with the heel of your boot and top up with more soil to the correct level

  • Complete the job by watering the plant in well. This will settle the soil around the plant. Finally, remove footprints from the area with a rake or fork for a smart finish!

  • Dos and Don'ts

    DO research the types of plants that are suitable for your garden. If you are not sure, ask advice from the garden centre staff.

    DO leave plenty of room for long lived plants to grow and develop, without being crowded soon after planting.

    DO prepare the soil as well as you can before planting.

    DO water plants in to settle the soil, even if the ground is wet.

    DO use a stake and ties on trees and large shrubs until they are established.

    DON’T plant so that the root ball is higher than the soil level. Plants that are not put in at the correct depth will dry out and may become unstable as they grow.

    DON’T over compact the soil around the roots – this can lead to water logging in heavy soils.

    DON’T forget to add mulch around the base of your plants in spring and again in autumn to improve the soil and add nutrients.