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Troup extension agent: Hole Digging 101

As the temperatures start to fall, we all get into the mood of improving our landscape or moving plants from one spot to another. Autumn is a good time to do this. Most of the time it requires digging a hole, and this is where we run into trouble.

Our soils are generally Georgia red clay. We have to be careful how we handle this stuff. Just digging a hole can be exhausting. Using a mattock helps much in breaking into the clay. It’s best to work the soil a few days after a rain. That’s if we ever get any.

A good rule of thumb is to make the hole twice as wide as the root ball and one-and-a-half times as deep. This gives roots a chance to spread out. Break up the clods and evenly work some soil amendments into the mixture but not too much. Never add sand to clay. It’s a good way to make bricks. Also, do not directly add soil amendments to the hole, as this will hold too much water next to the roots. This will cause root rot.

Another tool to stay away from for digging holes for plants is a ground auger or a post hole digger. It will glaze the clay side surface just like a clay pot and make the sides of the hole impervious to roots. Even with a shovel, you can glaze the side of the holes. Randy Drinkard, retired extension agent from UGA, recommends using the shovel to break up the side walls.

Break up the root ball and stretch out the roots. This may entail vertically slicing the root ball. If you don’t break up the root ball, the roots may grow inward, upward and around and will not penetrate the sidewalls. The plant will never thrive.

Remove the burlap and cut the metal cages to spread out the roots if the plant comes so equipped. If you can’t remove the metal cage, cut it and it will eventually rust.

Build up the bottom of the hole so that the root collar of the plant is at ground level. You may mix some slow release fertilizers such as Osmacote. Regular fertilizer will burn the roots. Remember that the soil will settle somewhat.

You can also create a slightly elevated ring of soil around the plant that will help slow the runoff and let the water penetrate to the roots. Add a good layer of mulch such as pine straw, bark or other materials around the base of the plant. This will keep the roots moist and discourage weeds.

Immediately water and keep the plant watered for six to eight weeks. If you follow these practice, your plants will get off to a good start. Remember the old adage, dig a $25 hole for a $5 plant.

What’s going on in Extension?

* Jefferson Street Market begins Saturday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon at 625 Jefferson St. just off of Dallis Street.

* Oct. 8: Harvest Fest will be held at Tractor Supply from 8 a.m. to noon. Come on out and support our local farmers and craftsman.

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By Brian Maddy

Contributing columnist

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 15 p.m.