Whoa. Hold your horses. ‘What’s that?’ you say, you can actually plant in the summer? Well, yes Virginia, summertime is a perfect time to plant shrubs and trees and annuals and perennials. In fact, for the northwest it is a far better time than the spring. Here is why.
Remember back to the month of March. Just in case you forgot, March was a record for being one of the wettest (OK, June wasn’t any better). And if you happen to garden on Glacial Till, which most of us do, then you know full well that when it rains as much as it did in March and you dig a hole, it usually fills up with water all on its own. This is not a good thing. Believe it or not, roots need air too, and if all the pore spaces in our soil are filled with water, then there is no room for air and our little tree roots will suffocate and die. It’s not a pretty sight.
Now fast-forward to the month of August. Our soils are no longer saturated. In fact it may be just the opposite. In many cases they are bone dry. And while it is impossible to remove excess water in the month of March, it is easy to add moisture to our soils in the month of August. Add the fact that the soils are also warm and you have the perfect recipe for transplanting success. Pre-soak the planting hole to thoroughly moisten the bottom and sides of the hole, work in some compost and organic fertilizer and build a temporary watering well for deep watering your new plants and you should have 100 percent success. I know because I have used this technique professionally for over 40 years and have rarely lost a plant.
So don’t be afraid to do some major landscaping in the summer. Professionals do it all the time with consistent success, and homeowners can do the same. Regardless of the time of year we plant, managing the soil moisture is the key to success with too much or too little always being the common denominator for failure. Letting root balls dry out in the first few days or plunging a root system into a pond will spell death every single time, no exceptions.
Also, know the difference between planting a field-grown plant, which will have a clay root ball usually covered with burlap, and a container-grown plant, which will have a compact root ball growing in a bark and compost media. Talk to your nursery professional about how to handle these two polar opposites because again, understanding how to manage the soil moisture will be the difference between success and failure. Once a clay ball dries out it is almost impossible to rehydrate. And if the root system of a container-grown plant isn’t loosened and opened up it will continue to grow in a circle and not knit into the surrounding soil. I believe a good garden center has the responsibility to demonstrate to the gardener how to handle these two types of root balls and the gardener has the responsibility to make sure he/she understands before leaving the nursery and going home to plant. Because once that plant leaves the care of the nursery, it is up to you to make it grow. The same can be said for dogs and cats and goldfish or kids for that matter. Plants are living creatures and they need our love and care to thrive, and if we learn how to do those things then we will be successful.
Good luck and happy summer planting.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.