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How To Establish A New Potted Plant In Your Garden

You have chosen the perfect potted plant, and now you want to know what to do with it. Here is our step by step guide on how to give your potted plant the best start in life.



The best way to do this is by first checking the growing requirements of the plant, these are listed on their label. For example it might need full sun and grow to a width of 1m, so you would plant it in a sunny spot and allow it a decent amount of space to grow into.

Full sun = six hours sun a day.
Full sun to part shade = three to four hours a day.
Shade = Filtered light or one to two hours sun a day.


Plants have evolved in different lighting conditions and so by providing similar conditions you will enable them to prosper. Plants may still grow in the wrong lighting conditions but they will rarely thrive and you won’t get the best flowers from them. For example, some plants require a minimum amount of sunlight in order to set flower.



Before planting, soak the pot in a bucket, and, if you have it handy, add a seaweed nutrient for a bit of extra oomph. You will know the root ball is saturated once the bubbles stop rising to the top.

If your plant has come through mail order, or sat in the hot car on the way home from a nursery, think of how you feel after a long haul flight, you need a good cup of tea and a biscuit before you are ready to face the world again, well it is the same for plants!


To ensure the root ball is completely wet before planting, because it is difficult to do after planting. If you have saturated the root ball before planting then all you have to do is maintain the moisture.

If you plant without soaking it is likely you will have dry pockets within the root ball because of the inherent structure of potting mix. These dry pockets may actually repel moisture which will limit the amount of water the roots can access until they are able to grow out into the soil.



The hole should be dug no deeper than the roots and two or three times wider than the pot. Once you have dug the hole, fill it with water, the water should drain out at a steady pace, once this is done you are ready for planting.


This will loosen the soil around the roots, making it easier for them to penetrate your garden soil.

When a plant is grown in a pot the roots have limited room to grow, so they tend to circle around and encase the soil, this is called the root ball. It takes time for the root ball to put on growth and integrate into the garden soil. Loosening the soil around the root ball will soften it and enable the plant to more easily do this. Once the roots begin to penetrate the surrounding garden soil they can get access to the extra nutrients and water.

Adding water at this time also helps to soften the soil. Adding too much water may jeopardise the soil structure so don’t go too over the top.



Take your plant out of the pot gently. If it has been soaked the plant should slide easily from the pot. Place the plant in the middle of the hole, mounding the soil underneath the root ball so that the point where the stem and the root meet is at the soil level. This will be the same level it was when it was in the pot. Replace the soil into the hole and gently pat down.




This is the key element to establishing your plant.

You need to water for at least four weeks to allow the plant enough time to establish, in this time the plants roots will grow out of the old root ball and into the surrounding soil. Once the roots have penetrated the garden soil they can better stand on their own two feet.

Now, it might seem a bit like molly coddling, especially when a plant is described as ‘tough and hardy’ but this is the time it is forming the foundation for a long and happy life in your garden. A stressed plant is more susceptible to disease and insect attack. If your plant looks like it is wilting, have a dig around the root ball and check that it is getting the moisture it needs.

Gentle hand watering, or a dripping hose around the base of the plant is the best option. This will ensure the water gets to where it needs to go (the roots), and allows you to check on the plant regularly. You still need to water even if it rains as the water needs to get down to the roots. Think of it as if you were watering a plant in a pot (often and deeply), because until the roots grow into the garden soil that is essentially what you are doing.

When you water you should aim for these approximate quantities:

100mm pot 500ml
150mm pot 1L
200mm pot 1.5L
300mm pot 2L

Aim to water two to three times a week and you will need to water more regularly in warm weather.


The growing tips are continually losing moisture through the leaves, so the root ball needs to be kept moist to maintain hydration and keep your plant healthy.

Because the potting mix surrounding the root ball is much coarser than the surrounding garden soil, when you water, it seeps through, and the smaller capillaries of the soil effectively pull the moisture away through the cohesive force of surface tension.

Therefore, with new plants there is no two way street as far as moisture in the soil is concerned. Until the roots have had time to grow out of the old root ball and into the surrounding soil (this takes around four weeks – longer if they were pot bound), the old root ball needs to be kept moist. You should treat the new plant as if it were in a pot and water accordingly – often and deeply. Even if it rains you will need to water. For example if you get 5mm of rain this will only penetrate to around 10mm of soil which means the roots are missing out, you need the deep penetration
of hand or drip watering to establish your plants.

Trees and shrubs take an average of 12-24 months to access the reserves from the soil profile so even after the four weeks will still require extra water over dry periods.



You can add a sprinkle of complete fertiliser to the soil around your plant to help it settle in faster and encourage growth. You are best to use one with a balanced NPK of 6 6 6 with added trace elements. Osmocote, or Yates’ Thrive are examples of complete fertilisers.

Autumn is an ideal time for planting. The soil is still warm, there is good natural rainfall andplants have time to establish before the cold of winter and the heat of summer. Spring is another peak planting time.

We hope this is helpful for you and enables you to enjoy your gardening even more.