This may sound a bit basic, but get it right at the beginning and you will have better results later on.
If planting a larger plant; then dig a hole wider than the pot, but not too deep you want the base of the plant to be at the same depth of soil as it is in the pot.
Then empty a whole watering can of water into the hole and let it drain away. The plant is tipped out of the pot and the roots that coil round the soil are teased out, to encourage them to branch outwards. If the plant needs staking then put the stake or support in then.
Put the plant in the hole, back fill with soil, firm it down and water the soil again. To secure the plant to the stake, tie it in lower down the stem, but don’t tighten the tie too much around the stem as this will stop it growing properly. Incidentally there are some plants you plant deep and cover the bottoms of the plant stems in soil – Clematis is the most common plant you would do this for.
For smaller plants I make a hole in the ground, water again and let the water drain away, then pop the plant in, refirm the soil around it and give it another water at the end. If your soil is well dug, then this is easy with a hand trowel or hand fork.
Nature does not do regimental straight lines or plant zigzags. The result if you do is artificial and in my opinion rather naff. So when armed with a bag of bulbs, grab a handful and then toss them in the air above the general area you want them in – plant where they fall. Bulbs should be planted pointy end up, and generally the rule is that the depth of the hole is about 3 times the size of the bulb – if you plant large bulbs on the surface, then they won’t survive well, they don’t flower well and you have wasted your money. If your ‘bulb’ doesn’t have a pointy end, then it is probably a corm and these are generally planted just below the surface. If you are plagued by squirrels, who love digging up and nicking bulbs, then you can put a layer of chicken wire on the surface and peg it down – which stops them digging. Once planted, put a marker there so you remember where the bulbs are, or don’t, and be surprised the following year when ‘things’ pop up! Lastly, you plant bulbs in the Autumn, early Winter for them to flower in the Spring, and in the early Spring for plants to flower from Summer through to Autumn.
At the risk of sounding hypocritical, when sowing seeds directly onto soil, sow in short straight lines, this is because once the seedlings start to show, weed seed and your seeds look pretty identical, so by sowing in short lines, you can easily identify those you want and those you don’t.
Scrape a small drill in the soil and water the base of the seed drill. Once the water has drained, sow the seeds and gently push the soil back on top of the drill. As the seeds are sitting on damp ground, don’t then water the soil again to prevent the seeds being washed out of their lines.
Mark the area, as you will forget where things are. Once the seedlings start to grow, you need to be a bit ruthless and thin them out. This means removing the smaller ones and those that are in little groups, try to leave an even spacing between each seedling, this allows them to grow better.
As the plants mature, remove those smaller plants again and you should be left with only the most vigorous and healthy ones left. I know you have spent money on seeds, but if you don’t thin them out, they all vie for the sunlight and nutrition in the soil and none of them grow as well or as fast as you want.
Plants send out millions of seeds each year, but only a few make it to a mature plant, so you are only doing what nature does when you nurture the strongest and chuck away the weakest.
Having spent money on plants seeds and bulbs, it would be a terrible waste of money if you then let everything die or struggle to get going due to poor or inadequate watering.
This may sound blindingly obvious, but when watering, water the soil and not the plant. It is OK to splash the leaves with water from the hose, I mean we all appreciate a shower, but so many people then wander off and splash the leaves of the next plant and neither plant gets what is required.
So when watering, count, large pots get a slow count of 20-30, smaller pots get 10-15 and water the soil at the base of the plant. This has two advantages, firstly, enough water gets onto the surface and as such there is plenty to seep down into the soil before the sun evaporates it.
Secondly, you want to encourage the plant to push its roots deep to find water, if a little water is sprinkled on the surface, then the water roots will grow closer to the surface to find water – but this leaves them more susceptible to drought as the soil surface obviously dries out much more quickly, leaving you needing to water more often.
Newly planted plants will get a really good soaking (20-30 counts) once a week if they are planted in the ground. Pot plants will get watered every day, same count, if the weather is sunny and windy and usually once a week, as the weather cools down. Rarely water any pots in the winter months if they are left outside. Of those that go in the greenhouse, water in the morning if necessary, but not at night (as they sit in cold water and some plants get a bit grumpy at that)
In conclusion then, spend a bit of time getting the ground right, then your plants will thrive and with a little extra care at the start – your garden will begin to look fabulous and you will feel rightly pleased with all your efforts.