The Pop-n-Drop method of planting shrubs

One of the planting practices that severely vexes me is the Pop-n-Drop (TM) method, where plants are popped out of the container and dropped into a hole roughly the same size.  When I’m lucky enough to find such installations in progress, I try to take as many photos as possible for later comparisons.  Here’s one such landscape that was installed in this manner:

A row of Pop-n-Drops in 2002

And here’s the same landscape 10 years later:

Two rows of Pop-n-Drops in 2012

Some of the shrubs survived, some did not, and certainly none of them are thriving.  You can see that the shrubs have remained about the same height after a decade of “growth.” Yet this practice continues to be SOP for many landscaping companies all in the name of shaving off a few minutes of labor and making a few more $$.

We GPs can (and do!) disagree about how much root preparation is needed before planting containerized and B&B trees and shrubs.  But I don’t think any of us would recommend NO root preparation.

(Additional note:  the “before” photo is the side of the landscape that faces west.  Those shrubs are gone.  The “after” photo is facing south (this is a corner lot).  All of the landscapes were put in at the same time, in the same fashion.  Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of the south facing landscape when it was put in, and the one that failed on the west was replaced before I knew it had died.  Sorry for not including this explanation initially.)

And here is the 2012 landscape from a closer viewpoint; note the dead shrub on the left end of the lower row.  The others are all failing, in both this row and the upper row:

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

9 thoughts on “The Pop-n-Drop method of planting shrubs”

  1. Linda,

    I always find before and after pictures hugely helpful, but these look bogus and (in my opinion) undermine your argument as a result. The steps are going a different direction in the after, the porch and railing are made of different materials in the after, and the downspout’s in a different place in the after. Is this a different part of the same landscape or have they made MAJOR changes over the last few years or…? I don’t argue your point about root prep being beneficial, but these pictures don’t look like a before and after.

  2. Do you have a different set of pictures to use? I get your explanation, even about the plantings being on different sides of the building, but they don’t even look like the same type of bush? So I can’t see what you’re trying to show me.

  3. Paul and Wes, I’ve added a clarification to the post. Hope that helps. @K, I don’t have any other photos
    , but really the species of shrubs aren’t important. What’s important is that none of them, regardless of species, has done well. (The trees and groundcovers are not part of this discussion.)

  4. “Landscapers” like those who plant using this method are one reason Landscapers like me cannot land jobs due to higher labor costs. Most people want their landscape installation done the cheapest not the best way sad to say. Faster to prune shrubs with a motor than by hand too and it shows.

  5. Hmm. So is this really all that bad?

    Here’s some instructions from a local nursery, where they instruct people to not tease the roots:

    Also, isn’t there research that supports the problem of heterogeneous soil interfaces preventing plant roots from spreading, thus they recommend that as little soil from the ground be disturbed, so that the roots are forced to grow into the native soil?

  6. Maybe you care to elaborate on what method of root prep you prefer? Perhaps your article could have used a link or two…

  7. Adam, use the search function link in the upper right hand corner. There are several previous posts on the blog on root washing, bare-rooting, etc.

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