Not all roots are created equal

>> Thursday, October 25, 2007

While looking at my desk this morning, my eyes stopped on the stack of reading material that has been growing since, well, the last time I whittled it down to manageable size.

I spotted a planting guide pamphlet and I opened it. There on page 4 was a little box separated from everything else and entitled Root Types.

Okay, now, I know there are basically two types of rooting systems, bulbs, with all of its various shapes, each with its own name, such as rhizomes, tubers, corms and cormels, and then there are, well, roots. But I never realized there are actually five different root types, each with its own method of planting and growing.

When I put a plant into the ground I’ve been concerned only with spreading out the roots, once I’ve pull them out of their little containers, and simply plopping them into a well prepared mix of potting soil and time released fertilizer, and then pressing them in until their crowns are at ground level. And of course watering them well after that.

Now I learn, that since there are five different types of roots, I need to pay a little more attention to how I set the plant into the ground instead of just plopping it in. It seems I may have caused the little buggers some undue stress.

Here’s the lowdown: there are fibrous roots, long taproots, rhizomes, roots with eyes, and fleshy roots. This mix still looks like bulbs and roots to me.

Bulbs are pretty easy to figure out, and curiously missing from this list. Anyway, place them 2-3 times their diameter deep, pointy side up, and cover with soil. Pretty straight forward.

Roots however are a bit more, shall we say, particular. Fibrous roots (carnations, mums, phlox) want to spread downward and not be cramped. Don’t we all. Their crowns want to be at or slightly above the soil. Rhizomes (bearded, Japanese and Lilliput irises) want the same thing, their top should be slightly visible above the soil.

Long taproot plants (hollyhocks, hibiscus, columbine, etc) need to be placed just below soil line so they don’t rot.

Roots with eyes (peonies) and fleshy roots (daylilies and hostas) like to sit on a cone shaped mound with their roots spread around the mound. Roots with eyes should be lightly covered with soil while fleshy roots like to be covered and then firmly pressed in.

I hope my phlox, irises, columbine, hostas, etc will forgive my ‘barbarian’ assault on their roots by planting them all at ground level and firming them in. I don’t think I’m going to go back and replant them just to satisfy these rules. May the plant gods forgive me.

I guess planting perennials is different from planting vegetables. Unless I learn that I have been doing that wrong too. It seems their needs are a bit more refined than vegetables.

Hmmm, I should read a little deeper through this pamphlet and see what else I have been doing wrong. But then, why stress myself? I'll learn as I go.


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