The First Job of the Roots is to Anchor the Plant

When I instruct clients on how to plant, I tell them, the first job of the root system is to anchor the plant. Then I go on to explain amendments and changing the soil structure and so forth. They always look surprised. They thought the roots were just there to take water up to the rest of the plant. (I’ll be honest, some don’t even know a plant needs water. And, I never know how to respond to that, except to remind myself that my financial planner has seen that seem blank look on my face.)

“Yes,” I say, “the roots do that, too. But, if the plant isn’t anchored, it doesn’t matter. All you have is a dead plant.”

When I moved into my quaint little rental, the trees needed pruning (badly), the path by the picket fence needed finishing, the weeds needed pulling, the grass mowing, the clematis freed, the landscape fabric pulled up, the bluebells separated, and so, that is what I did. I climbed trees and pruned. I dug bulbs and separated. I found irises buried under years of mulch. I weeded and uncovered azaleas. I dug out 24 Firepower Nandinas and gave them away. (What? Was there a sale?) I pulled out old, over grown and shaded abelias, and weedy Rose of Sharon. I mulched, weeded, planted and transplanted. I have neighbors on four sides. They watched from their porches with a sigh of satisfaction and a load of curiosity. Who was the wild woman weeding at night with a giant flashlight by her side?

Me. That’s who.

After the roots get established, then they can be about the business of absorbing nutrients and minerals, transporting water, storing food and helping with erosion control. Then the plant can grow. But, it takes time.

The first job for people isn’t much different than the first job for roots. We’ve got to establish ourselves before we begin expanding. Or maybe I must. Maybe you’re good with the gypsy life. That’s what the madness of cleaning up the yard was about. Putting down roots. Establishing myself. I wasn’t ready to look beyond my boundaries. I wan’t ready to grow.

I generally tell clients to give their new plants an entire growing season to get established before they forget about watering, especially during a drought. Common sense prevails. A growing season is defined as spring to fall, or the time that temperatures are warm enough and rainfall often enough to allow plants to settle in and grow.

The tree isn’t going to provide you with much shade if it’s so stressed the leaves are falling off. 

As for me, the growing season isn’t so easily defined, though I am taking my cues from the shifting of the light that moves me into a different season. Are my roots established? If you’re wondering how you’re shrub is doing, give it a tug. It shouldn’t have a lot of give. Today, I pulled up a yew (densiforma) with nothing more than a slight jerk. It looked healthy. It seemed fine. But, a gentle nudge and it was sideways on the ground. Is my life so easily disturbed? 

Stability isn’t guaranteed, though. Sometimes, winds are so harsh that no root system holds and giant oaks fall. The same with life. Who knows where I’ll be this time next year. Transplanted again? Maybe. But for now, it seems my roots are pretty well established, and so growth can begin. One step at a time.