Planting a garden is simple when you’ve done some proper garden soil preparation.

And choosing plants is very exciting when you’re looking to create an ecosystem instead of just a collection of pretty flowers.

For a vegetable garden, I like to do a lot of direct seeding, as well as start certain plants inside from seed, and buy a few things from a garden center or market. You can learn about all of these in the Smiling Gardener Academy.

In planting a garden today, I’m just sticking with buying plants, since I’m doing this in one afternoon and I’m kind of trying to make this quick and easy for you – just the basics. I found some healthy plants at a local garden center.

I prefer organic plants but there was nothing this time of year in my area. It’s not the end of the world, but I do prefer it. You want to make sure they’re pest-free and not root-bound.

It’s important to put out your plants before planting so you can determine proper spacing. Be sure to remove the container and slice the roots vertically if they’re thick at the edge of the root ball. Plant so the top of the root ball is level with the top of the soil.

When you’re planting gardens, there is one more step, coming up next time. But if you have any questions about planting a garden, feel free to ask below.

Planting A Garden Video Transcript

Now it’s time to get into choosing your plants and then planting a garden.

When you’re designing an ecosystem instead of just a collection of pretty plants it gets really interesting choosing appropriate plants that work well together to form a nice plant community.

Now today I’m really just adding onto my herb garden so I’m really just trying to find some herbs that I don’t have already, so it’s not quite as big of a deal for plant choice.

But usually what I like to do, is for the vegetable garden I like to do a lot of starting from seed directly in the garden, a little bit of starting seed inside, and sometimes I buy some starts as well from a garden center or a market because especially if I just want one of them like an herb, then I don’t have to go through the trouble of starting it.

And I get into all that stuff in the Academy but today I’m just going to show you how I have half a dozen starts that I’ve purchased.

When you’re buying plants you just want to buy something that looks healthy, that doesn’t have any insect damage or doesn’t have any insects crawling on them because that is an indication that it’s not healthy.

It’s nice if you can get organic herbs – sometimes that’s not possible – or herbs or plants or whatever. It’s pretty tough to find organic trees or shrubs in many places. Sometimes it’s a little bit easier in the spring, especially you can find herbs that are organic.

And then you want to look at the root ball and then ideally you’d like to see some roots on the outside like this, but you don’t want them to be really what is called root bound or pot bound where they’re really circling around the outside and taking up the whole thing.

That means that it was in too small of a container and that’s not ideal. But then other than that it’s pretty easy. So what I’m going to do here is, I’ll show you how to plant.

Now before I get planting a vegetable garden I’ve placed them as I’ve done in my mulch here you can see and that lets me figure out how many plants I can get in there and where to place them and all that. You know it’s tough to just start planting. You kind of want to place them and give them plenty of space.

So when it’s done a garden often looks kind of empty and bare and if it doesn’t look empty it probably means things are planted too close together.

Especially when you get into shrubs and more perennials plants because they need space to grow so you obviously have to give them a lot of room so it looks kind of empty at first.

Right in that spot in the middle there is where I’m going to plant this lemon balm, this beautiful smelling lemon balm here. First I’m just going to take a knife.

This is not too bad for root bound but I’m still going to just kind of slice half an inch in, you know 4-8 times around the outside. Just to encourage the roots to go out into the surrounding soil instead of staying within the pot, maybe once on the bottom there. Something like that. Pretty easy.

So, let me zoom in here. I think I kind of had it placed right in there. So in terms of how to plant a garden, it’s pretty straight forward.

I want to take the pot off always. Maybe do that little cutting, if there’s plenty of roots on the outside and then you know this part is so easy once you’ve improved your soil you could almost do it with your hands. I’ll just stick a little.

Once you’ve put the mulch down that does make it a little bit trickier because you can’t just throw the soil aside, but it’s worthwhile doing it this way. And then you want to plant it so that the top of the soil is level with the top of the existing soil. So top of this, top of that.

And you want it to have a nice firm base there. And that’s all there is to it. And then I’ll water it in. and this is the kind of stuff we get into in the Smiling Gardener Academy.

We really focus a lot on… by the way, sometimes I plant slightly high, only because I like to get a really thick mulch on. You know, like that. So I plant slightly, slightly, high.

So this this is the kind of thing we get into in the Smiling Gardener Academy. Like I said we really focus a lot on the soil because that’s so important, and the soil food web. I do kind of focus on food plants but it still applies the same to flowers and ornamental plants. I do get into trees and stuff, too.

And really, I’ll show you this one. That one’s a little more root bound so I just, just do that. This is a nice sharp knife. Sorry I keep not doing that on camera, don’t I. I can’t watch the camera while I do that. Just like that.

And so I was just kind of saying there, you know, it’s a lot about food and soil. A lot about planning, designing, trying to keep it really practical and hands on. Really going for sustainable practices as much as possible. Learning how to use organic fertilizers and control pests.

And I also like to do it without spending too much money because I just like to be kind of frugal. I spend money where I need it but overall think in the long run about making a garden that kind of takes care of itself without always needing external inputs.

So, that’s all today for this planting a garden. And there is one more step that I’ll get into in the next video.


  1. Joy on October 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Hi Phil, is there any worry that slicing the root ball may damage the roots too much?

    • Phil on October 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      It’s certainly not ideal, but we’ve traditionally always done it because a root-bound plant is potentially worse. What I talk about in the next video probably helps to quickly heal the wounds. There is actually some recent research on trees showing that slicing the roots doesn’t help much, but I still do it with heavily root-bound plants anyway.

      • Jules on January 29, 2015 at 9:23 pm

        I have the same concern with Joy. I would rather wait for the next lesson. Thanks so much Phil.

  2. Ruminantia on February 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Phil, Have you tried the Rootmaker pots and cell packs designed to air root prune that are said to prevent plants becoming root bound?  I heard a lecture by Dr. Carl Whitcomb and have been wanting to try them ever since, but they are a little spendy.  There are off brands that are less expensive and I am wondering if these would as effective.  The Rootmaker by design also is supposed to help prevent shock. I don’t have enough experience to be able to make a real comparison, unless I were to take some of each type and plant them side by side to see what happens in a season.  I guess the health and then yield of a tomato plant or a pepper would give me an idea of the extra expense is worth it. 

    • Phil on February 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm

      I haven’t used them, but some nurseries do. I certainly think the concept makes sense. Not sure if the price would be worth it, and not sure about cheaper brands. I disagree with their notion that a tap root should be cut to encourage side growth. The tree grows that tap for a reason.

      • Manu on January 21, 2014 at 7:19 pm

        Hi, Phil, When talking about fruit trees, the tree grows that tap because it wants to become a large, old (maybe centenary) tree, and it is not worried about spending some more years (than a commercial tree) until it produces fruit. But that’s not what the grower wants – he wants little, handy trees that produce as fast as possible. In fruit trees, vegetative vigor is inversely related to reproductive vigor, so when you cut the tap root you are getting a tree that will grow smaller but produce more.

        • Phil on January 23, 2014 at 2:07 pm

          Absolutely (good explanation by the way). But then when that tree gets infested with pests after 5 years, resulting in a tremendous amount of pesticides being used in orchards, it’s partially because we’ve been excessively pruning that tree (above ground as well as that initial tap root prune), thereby weakening the tree. Trees can definitely take pruning, but that’s not to say it’s good for their health. So yes, perhaps an argument can be made for doing this to produce more food, but ultimately there’s a good chance it’s going to result in sicker trees.

  3. Johnaallen on March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    What about timing relative to temperature esp for tomatoes?If they get some not freezing but in the 40’s weather, will this stunt them?Also, what do you know about grafted tomatoes?

    • Phil on March 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      A little bit of weather in the 40s should be okay, but what’s most important is that the soil has warmed up. There’s no benefit in planting into cold soil, and there’s really no rush to get tomatoes out early.I’ve heard of grafted tomatoes, but never come across them. I tend to stick to more natural methods, but you know, I bet it’s very much worth trying out.

  4. merg on July 3, 2012 at 12:51 am

    never heard of grafted tomatoes !!!! and you call youself a gardener ???

    • Phil on July 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Haha, ya, I’d heard of them, but never seen them in any garden centers in any of the cities I’ve lived in.

  5. Cathy Gotschall on July 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Phil,  what are your thoughts about inoculating the roots with endomychrrhizal fungi before putting them in the ground? 

    • Phil on July 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      Yes, I do it every time just by rubbing a bit of it on the root ball. I talked about that in a previous lesson, perhaps the last lesson.

  6. Cathy Gotschall on July 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Oh yeah, a few of more questions: (1) What do you think  works better — to have the soil in the pot be slightly dry before transplanting so that the plant will drink up when watered after transplanting, or pre-soaking the plants with something like a seaweed-based solution to minimize transplant shock?  (2) What are the benefits of cutting the roots with a sharp knife versus fluffing them up with your fingers, if it’s not overly root bound — it would seem to preserve more root tissue, but maybe the roots respond better to a little light “pruning.”  Thoughts?  And finally (3) After transplanting, do you recommend “watering” the transplant with any special solutions to help avoid transplant shock?  Thanks

    • Phil on July 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      1. Presoak the plants for sure, and then water them in.2. If it’s not overly root bound, I use my fingers like you say. It’s much better in my view.3. I water them in with a mixture of EM and biostimulants such as kelp, molasses and sea minerals.

  7. Laurent Courcelles on August 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I notice that the straw you’re using is very loosely placed. I’ve been using mulches for several years and I tend to get straw that has been through a bailer (Which chops it somewhat) and I then also ran the straw through the lawn mower (with a bag attachment) so that the straw is not in mats when I put it down on the soil. It ends up being fairly fine though. Is that a problem? My main reason (but certainly not the only one) for using mulch is to keep weeds down. Would it not be too easy for weeds to grow through the loosely spread straw. Needless to say I put down my mulch AFTER I plant, unlike you recommend.   

    • Phil on August 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      I don’t have big weed problems. Mostly it’s the few seeds that come with the straw. But I wouldn’t mind it if my straw were chopped up smaller. It would probably be a bit better. But in my mind, it’s too much work to have to pre-chop it all up.

  8. vjrama on March 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Phil , this year we started with seeds in last week of Feb, all the salad greens came out very delicately thin and long. and they are falling to sides. should we wait little longer, are they good for planting in the garden at all ? please give some tips.

    • Phil on April 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm

      Sounds like they didn’t have enough light. Do you use a supplemental light source? They should be discarded and you can start again.

  9. Barb on May 3, 2013 at 4:13 am

    just wondering on your experience with what depth to plant veggie seedlings, like chard or spinach. Do you remove cotyledon if turning yellow? and do you plant up to or past cotyledon if removed?

    • Phil on May 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      I basically plant small seeds like many greens about 1/4″ deep, and bigger seeds like beans as deep as 1 inch. I don’t sweat it too much. No, just leave the cotyledons there – the plant knows when it is through with them and will discard them on its own. I plant most things at the same depth as they were in the pot/tray. I do plant tomatoes and peppers up to the cotyledons, based on the traditional advice given, although I’ve never confirmed if this is a great idea or not. But it seems to work well.

  10. thoomfoote on August 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Herb, with the “h” pronounced, is a man’s name. Herb, with a silent “h”, is a plant. Other than this, a good presentation.

  11. thoomfoote on August 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    What can you say about you Brits. lol

  12. The OG Gardener on August 29, 2013 at 5:36 am

    Thanks I have learned so much from you Phil.

  13. Moeketsi Mnazaren on November 23, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    hi phil, i want a full course on this gardening

  14. AussieMeg on December 23, 2013 at 4:42 am

    What a great way to deal with slightly root bound plants or just simply to stimulate new root growth to go outward. It looks like a much better method than trying to tease out the roots, less brutal to the root ball. I am differently going to give this a try. Wonderful learnt another new thing. Loving it.

  15. medicine on July 17, 2014 at 3:38 am

    What out about the new idea planting TOMATOES sideways in our woodchi Back to EDEN Garden?

  16. medicine on July 17, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Woodchips should always be around the drip line with soil around the plants as with the fertilizer and plant food just watering should be directly at base of plants never watering the leaves except to clean them with Lemon joy dish soap for natural Organic Insecticide and Copper-Fungicide for prevention of plant diseaeses.

  17. medicine on July 17, 2014 at 3:53 am

    In answer to root ball guestion I think I watched Alan P Smith where he said all you have to do is carefully loosen the rootball of plants on the bottom but also the crown up top where the four corners meet.Hopefully that helps!Thx medicine

  18. medicine on July 17, 2014 at 3:57 am

    Vertical cutting of all your plants are the best way for them to heal by the sun and for them to receive rain this helps them grow better too. Thx medicine

  19. Paul Dass on September 22, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Hi Phil, Thank you so much for all your written notes, instructions as well the video demonstrations. They are so useful and simple way of understanding. Since I work in India with rural development, these are so precious tools to teach our people. I keep looking forward for more instructions. Thank You once again.

  20. jw on February 8, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Would it not be better to just roll the root ball between your two ha nds and loosen rather than cutting roots and shocking them.I really do not know

  21. dandj31 on February 11, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Thank you so much for all the great information.

  22. Mary on May 3, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Phil, this was SO helpful: It guides by SUGGESTION. ( ask myself, “did I follow all of Phil’s steps?)
    It encouraged via SPECIFICS ( confronting the root ball thoughtfully; even checking if my knife is sharp for the task)
    Furthermore, I will now replace a careless habit of not examining the root ball with your essential guideline)
    THANK YOU for being our COMPANION along this pathway to a productive garden. The garden itself is grateful!

  23. Brew Tie Dusterhoft on June 20, 2018 at 10:10 am

    What kind of mulch do you recommend,
    I till in the fall and spring

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