"This is how to plant in the summer," by the Whistling Gardener

The one single trick to being successful this time of year is to plant properly into well-prepared soil and “water-in” plants correctly.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Now that the summer weather has arrived it never fails that someone will ask the perennial question: “Can I still plant now or should I wait until the fall?

For the record, as a landscape contractor in the Sacramento valley where it was routinely 85-105 degrees, I planted all summer long and never lost a single plant. You can have the same success rate by following my directions below.

The one single trick to being successful this time of year is to plant properly into well-prepared soil and “water-in” plants correctly. This “watering-in” step is where most home owners screw up. You have got to water deeply and thoroughly when you first plant. Surrounding a new plant with dry soil is the absolute kiss of death.

Here is how to avoid failure.

Dig your hole just as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Work some compost and organic fertilizer into the soil you have removed from the hole and have it ready to return to the hole.

If the soil is bone dry then fill the hole with water and let it soak into the surrounding soil first (this might take several hours so be patient).

Place your plant in the hole and check to make sure the top of the root ball is level with the existing grade of the landscape. (You may need to rough up the root ball or remove part of the burlap at this time).

Replace half of the soil and firm it up by stepping on it with your feet if it is a big hole or with your hands if it is a small hole. 

Now add several gallons of water to the hole and let it soak in (less if it is just a one gallon or smaller plant).

Again replace the rest of the soil, firm it up like before and make a moat (we call them watering wells) around the plant that you can fill with an inch or two of water. Fill the well once, let it soak in and fill it again and if it soaks in really fast then fill it once more.

The concept here is to saturate the soil surrounding the new root ball so that the plant has enough water to draw from for several days.

When this is done properly you should only have to water once or twice a week and after a month you can remove the watering well, grade out the dirt and finish off with some compost of bark mulch. This process will guarantee you success; I don’t care how hot it gets.

Educational opportunity: Saturday the 20th here at Sunnyside Nursery at 10 am our ever-so-creative greenhouse manager Mary Stole will be sharing with you all her tricks of growing succulents and sedums in all sorts of crazy containers.

This should be lots of fun and give you some wonderful ideas to go home with and play around with.

RSVP is always appreciated.

Also, Saturday is the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens annual plant sale and garden tour. This is a great opportunity to nab some really cheap plants at the sale at Legion Park and/or enjoy the fruits of someone else’s hard work by going on the garden tour. Sunnyside Nursery has tickets for the tour or you can go to the arboretum’s website for other ticket locations.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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