Sunday, July 25, 2010

Transplanting in Summer

Ideally plants should go into the ground in the spring. The temperatures are cool, there's lots of moisture in the ground and once in the ground the plants have all spring, summer and fall to grow some strong roots and prepare themselves for the coming winter.  When you purchase plants in the spring they are likely to be just out of the greenhouse and quite healthy.  The downside is that everyone is in a rush in spring to purchase plants and nursuries know this. The prices at times can be steep. Especially if you're looking for a particular specimen. I purchased only one shrub and a few annuals and tomatoes at nurseries this spring as I simply could not afford to pay nursery prices. And though I love my lilac I regret that purchase because it was, quite simply, too much money for a common lilac. The bulk of my spring purchases came from local perennnial sales where I found many staple items such as hosta and lady's mantle for as little as a dollar a piece.

In mid-summer you're more likely to catch a break on the prices of plants but it isn't the ideal time for planting.  However, with a little care these plants will do just as well as any other.  The main issue is heat.  If you have a shady spot you can hold plants there in their pots until fall when the weather is a little more accommodating, making sure to water regularly.  If you'd like to plant them right away do so but put a layer of mulch around them to keep the ground cool and water frequently.  This will go a long way to helping them adjust.

One of the problems with buying plants 'out of season' is that these poor guys have been sitting on store shelves for months now. That means they are more than likely root bound. What does a root bound plant look like?
It ain't pretty. But with a bit of patience it's workable. Try soaking the rootball in a bucket of water to loosen things up. Then sit down with your plant and get acquainted. You can try a variety of measures to pull the roots apart. Use your fingers or your pruners to pull and tease roots out from the ball. Cut the roots as necessary. Yes that's allowed!! It's amazing what a plant will recover from.  Your root ball should look more like this by the time you're done.
Why do you want to pull the roots apart?  Well if the roots are left in this state they will simply continue growing in a tight little circle.  They don't realize they've been released from the freedom of the pot.   That tight circle will eventually cause them to strangle themselves.  So it's really important to make sure those roots are pulled out and placed in a nice wide hole for them to expand in.  It's time consuming but worth it for the health of your plant.


  1. One of the few things I manage to consistently do as a very poor gardener.

    Oh and I love hostas.

  2. Always a good tip. I generally soak all my plants in water before I plant them, from late spring on. It gives them such a needed drink before the hard work of getting acquainted with the land.

  3. Great tutorial on how to loosen up the roots. I often plant in late summer -- a time when there are also good bargains to be had and when there is still enough time for plants to get settled in before the serious cold comes. Since I'm often digging new flower beds during the summer, late summer is also the time of year when I have them ready for plants. If I'm lucky, the plants get in their "sleep" root-growing phase during the fall and are ready to "creep" in their first full garden season and to "leap" in their second season. -Jean

  4. LifesHighway - if you only do this then pat yourself on the back! When I first started gardening I didn't even bother, just plonked the poor guys in the hole. I've slowly managed to change my ways.

    Laura - good idea, I usually give them a water so they're easier to get out of the container.

    Jean - When I was in a warmer zone I used to plant whenever and never thought about it but I worried about planting too late in the year now that I'm in Zone 5. Good to know your experience. Thanks.

  5. This was a very nice post as I tend to avoid summer planting due to the intensive watering needed to sustain them. I liked the way you described untangling the rootball and 'and get acquainted' with the plant. This is the difference between gardners who see plants as subjects rather than ornamental objects. Nice.


  6. Soaking the root ball is a great tip. I've done a lot of planting at summer's end because there are so many good plant sales - and I almost always have to prune and loosen up the roots. Usually I have good success. Sometimes I'll put my own potted plants in the ground at the end of the summer and will have to loosen those roots.
    Nice illustrating pictures, too!