I answer a LOT of gardening questions. It is interesting to see the questions change as the season progresses. There’s one misconception that crops up every summer... the difference between “planting” and “transplanting”. Here’s a typical situation: A customer is looking at the selection of flowering shrubs that are on sale and seems like they want to purchase some but then they’ll say this, “I should probably wait though.” Then I’ll ask, “Why?” “I heard that you shouldn’t transplant shrubs during summer.”
Over the years, I’ve heard this many, many times before and, quite literally speaking, the statement is true but that isn’t what they are talking about...there’s a major difference between “planting” and “transplanting”.
When you’re digging up and moving an already established tree or shrub, that’s called “transplanting”. If you attempt this during the long hot days of summer when the plant is in the full flush of growth, you run a very real risk of sending the plant into fatal shock. “Transplanting” is best done while the plant is dormant during late fall or very early spring as soon as the soil can be worked.
When you shop in your local nursery or garden center, you are buying plants that were dug and balled or potted much earlier when the plant was still dormant. What you are doing when you bring your new shrub or perennial home is “planting” not “transplanting”. Don’t you think trees at the garden center would be happier planted in the cool, dark earth rather than sitting on the ground in their pots or balls in the heat until fall? Many folks put off their planting until fall because they think that they shouldn’t do it now. If you have PLANTING to do, do it as soon as you can. Planting in July is better than August; and August is better than September and so on. Think about it...if it wasn’t possible to plant in summer, landscapers would be out of business.
OK, now that we’ve cleared up that bit of confusion, let’s look at how to properly plant a shrub or tree to avoid a mistake many folks make.
Make the planting hole a little bit wider than the root ball. Dig the hole only as deep as the root ball or the pot that contains the roots. You must avoid suffocating the tree by NOT burying the trunk or stem under the soil. The spot on the tree trunk where the soil is in the pot or ball needs to be visible after planting. The easiest way to check this is to lay a stick (the handle of your shovel works) across the planting hole and make sure that the top of the root ball is level with the ground.
If the plant is too low, remove it from the hole and add soil to the bottom to raise it up until you get it at the proper level. This seems trivial, but it can make all the difference to the plants’ health and survival.
When you dig a hole, then fill it with a large root ball, there’s going to be soil left over. What do we do with it? Use the extra soil to build a dish-shaped dike or berm out away from the stem of the plant. This will collect water and direct it down to the root system below. Finally, water heavily after planting to remove any air pockets from the soil.
You should also take care when applying bark and other mulches not to pile them up against the stems and trunks of plants. I’m always (sadly) amazed when I see trees with bark mulch piled in a smothering, deadly volcano shaped mound around the trunks of trees. Thanks for the read!