WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The dog days of summer are far from ideal for planting, but it can be done with some special care and monitoring.
Perhaps you just found a fantastic plant you have been searching for, or, maybe you just didn’t get around to planting those perennials or shrubs you bought earlier in the season.
The best practice is to plant when the days are warm and the nights are cool. These conditions promote the best root development and cause the least stress to plants. When are these ideal times? In the Northeast, it’s mid to late spring, very early summer, and early fall. You want to plant late enough in the spring to avoid hard frosts, or early enough in the fall to give plants at least six weeks in the ground before hard frost.
So, should you plant now? If you can, wait until early fall. Vacations have killed many a newly-planted plant - if you are going away and you don’t have someone to water, don’t plant in the summer. If you decide that you simply must plant in the heat of the summer, here are some tips to increase your chances of success:
- Plant in the evening – especially in areas that get full sun.
- Plant on a cloudy day when there is little chance of sunshine.
- Water plants in extremely well immediately after planting.
- Ensure that any new plants get a good drenching 2 or 3 times a week from you or Mother Nature (don’t over-water plants that like drier soil)
- Water early in the day to allow foliage to dry off to avoid fungal diseases.
- Water the roots, not the foliage, either by hand, with a soaker hose or drip irrigation.
- Select larger plant material. Larger pots of plants will often have a higher survival rate than plugs or small pots, especially in hot weather.
- Avoid buying overly-fertilized plants that are loaded with salts – they are highly susceptible to drought.
- Buy plants that are potted in real soil, not a soilless mix – these will be much more drought-tolerant.
- Choose regional native plants that are organically grown – they will be better adapted to your landscape conditions.
- Don’t add traditional fertilizer when planting, which is often loaded with drying salts. Instead, toss a handful of compost in the planting hole to increase water retention (except for plants that don’t like fertile soil, such as most native grasses)
- For trees and shrubs, add a biostimulant to help water and nutrient uptake (I suggest Bio-Magic from North Country Organics).
- Mulch around newly planted plants with a 50/50 mix of an organic mulch (like shredded bark mulch) and organic compost. This helps to increase water retention around the plants
- Monitor, monitor, monitor. Plant mortality can occur much more quickly on oppressively hot days.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial. When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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