Many shrubs are at peak beauty in the high heat of summer (roses, butterfly bushes, hydrangeas), which means when we see them, we’re exceptionally vulnerable to that inspirational itch. All that big beauty makes us want some for ourselves! But there’s a but. But planting in the intensity of summer can be hard on the plants and on our dreams. While shrubs look gorgeous in their nursery pots in the summertime, it can be tough for them to make the transition into the ground or into containers.
It can be so tough in fact that for gardeners in USDA zones 7 and warmer, I regretfully have to recommend that you wait until fall’s cooler temperatures, shorter days, and less intense sun to do your planting. Both you, and the plant, will be happier.
If you do live in a cooler zone, there are a few steps you can take to help ease the stressful transition for your plants and ensure success.
1 - Thoroughly water a few hours (or the night) before planting.
This helps guarantee the plant is going into its new home comfortably. Try not to water immediately before planting, as handling the plant when it’s sopping wet can result in a little soil compaction.
2 - Plant in the morning or at night.
This helps save the plant a bit of stress from being subjected directly to the harsh rays of midday sun. It also means that you’ll be watering it in at a time of day when the water will be best used (less evaporation to heat).
3 - Pay attention to the roots.
If the rootball is very dense and wrapped around itself, gently tease the roots away from the center. If the roots are evenly dispersed or there are very few roots around the outside, disturb them as little as possible.
4 - Apply a 2-3” layer of mulch around the base.
Mulch is the best material for helping retain moisture. Plus, as it degrades over time it will add nutrients to the soil. Note: don’t apply weed suppressing fabric over the rootball area, this creates a variety of bad conditions for the plant.
5 - Water immediately.
Generously apply water at the base of the plant and just outside of the rootball, this encourages the roots to stretch outward. Water even if rain is in the forecast, as you can’t be sure the rainfall will thoroughly wet the planting area.
6 - Plan to water for the rest of the season.
Check the soil moisture regularly and don’t water if it’s still noticeably damp. When you do water, apply it deeply. Plants like to be watered thoroughly, which lets you water less frequently. Plants that are watered lightly and more frequently don’t perform quite as well.
7 - Watch for wilting.
If your plant came with flowers and you notice they just won’t stop wilting, it might be best to snip them off down to the first set of leaves. This will save the plant some energy while it works to get its root system established.