Can you guess what gardening question I hear most frequently? At the top of the list is "What can I do about rabbits?" followed by preventing tomato blight and the best times to prune. Not far down the garden question list: "Is it too late to plant?"
The last question is easier to solve than the rabbit dilemma. Just ask Elmer Fudd, especially since an elderly gentleman running through the neighborhood waving a shotgun after Bugs Bunny is no longer considered appropriate behavior.
It's seldom too late to plant trees, shrubs and perennials, assuming we don't procrastinate until January. In the old days, most nursery stock was sold bare-root, and had a limited storage and salable life, making spring planting the norm. After the invention of the plastic nursery pot, plants could be kept growing all season at garden centers, which could offer plants for sale spring, summer and fall.
Spring will likely remain the most popular planting season, but many of us don't get everything planted during the busy spring months. Besides spring, I've had equally good success planting trees, shrubs and perennials in summer and fall.
The following tips will increase planting success in midsummer:
• When shopping for plants, use visual cues to select the healthiest. Attractive, deep green, non-yellowing foliage indicates plants have been well-fertilized and nutritionally well-fed. Towards autumn, though, it's natural for potted trees, shrubs and perennials to begin "hardening off," and this toughening-up for winter is often accompanied by fall-like coloration.
• When planting in midsummer, avoid the hottest days, if possible, or at least plant in the cool of the evening.
• Prepare the planting hole in advance, so the operation can go as quickly as possible.
• Before removing the plant from its pot, test the depth of the planting hole. When finished, your soil should just cover the pot's soil. If the pot's soil isn't sufficiently covered with backfilled soil, moisture can wick out of the rootball, quickly dehydrating the roots.
• Trees should be planted so the flared portion of the lower trunk is visible above ground after planting.
• Roses are an exception to planting rules. Plant deeply so the crown, the junction between stem and roots is about 3 inches or more below soil surface, which increases winter survival.
• Water the potted item thoroughly several hours before planting, giving the tree, shrub or perennial time to hydrate.
• Most items will slide out of their pot at planting time. If the pot resists removal, cut down two sides.
• After removing the pot, quickly examine the roots. If the rootball is tightly woven with large circling roots, slice down in four quadrants to sever these potentially strangling roots.
• Disturb the root system as little as possible and avoid exposing roots to air for more than a few seconds.
• Quickly set the plant in the pre-dug hole, backfill with soil and water thoroughly immediately after planting. I like to use a 5-gallon bucket so I know how much I'm applying. Slowly pour an entire bucket on new trees, and 2 or 3 gallons on shrubs and perennials.