Have you come across the phrase, “heeling the plants in until ready to plant” and wondered what they were talking about? Well here is your chance to learn! “Heeling in” is a quick and temporary way of planting a plant that you can not plant where you want. It gets the plant or plants in the ground but not so perfectly that you can’t easily dig them out in a few days to plant them where you want them permanently. Here’s how you do it.
1. Digging the Plants for Heeling In
First, if you are digging the plants for heeling in, dig enough dirt with their roots to keep as much of the ‘dirt ball’ around the roots as possible. The longer you expect to have the plants heeled in, the larger the root ball you want to keep. This minimizes the shock, and would be true even if you weren’t heeling them in. I moved some iris this September (a very good time to move iris, by the way), and had to heel them in. Due to the location they were coming from(very close to some small, prize shrubs) I could not take much soil around their roots at all. I knew where I wanted to plant them but was in the middle of something that needed them out of where they were before I had time to prepare their new location. So they were there just under a week. If you are expecting to have the plants heeled in for more than a week, it is best to plant them in as close to normal way you can. Then simply transplant them from the ‘heeled in’ bed to their new home.
2. Make a Place Heeling In the Plants
Second step is find an out of the way place in your garden, where you can safely dig and dig a shallow trench long enough for heeling in all the needy plants. How deep and wide depends on the size of the root ball(s) of your plants. For the iris mentioned above, the trench was about 6 inches deep and twice as wide, just big enough to cover the roots. I made it about four feet long but only needed 2 1/2 feet. I set the dirt I dug out of the trench to the east of the trench (I’ll explain that in a minute) in one heap.
3. Heeling in the Plants
Third, place the dug up plants in the trench. Put their roots in the bottom of the trench, and lean their tops away from the removed dirt. The plants should look a little like they are “reclining” with their roots in the trench. For my iris, I didn’t even bother to spread the roots out, I just got them in the trench. I flopped the tops over to the west of the trench, away from the dirt, so as not to bury them with the roots.
The effect was that it looked as if I didn’t care at all how they were being planted-which was largely true! It was a sufficient but temporary ‘storage bin’ for them.
4. Watering and Heeling in Plants
The fourth and final step is this: water the plants you are heeling in very well and if possible keep them from direct sunshine for a day or two at least. WARNING! Do NOT neglect this step! Heeling in plants and then neglecting to water them is to effectively condemn them to death. They have not had the proper care at this point to make it without a liberal supply of water immediately given to them. This watering does several things. It settles the soil around the roots and fills any large air pockets with enough moisture to keep the roots from drying out immediately. When you have watered, check to see that there are no roots showing and that there is enough soil covering each root ball to protect it for the days you expect to leave them there.
Review and Wrap Up
There you have it, four easy steps to heeling in your transplants. Dig them with plenty of dirt left around the roots, plant them shallow and leaning to one side, out of the sun, and water them well. If they will be there more than a week, replant them somewhere and then transplant later. The watering is, again, extremely important for their survival, as is keeping them out of direct sunlight, especially if it turns hot and dry. Now, try it for yourself! Happy heeling in!