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"Some Advice for the 'Old Days' is No Longer Relevant," by the Whistling Gardener

Back in the “old days” it used to be that once we hit late July and the month of August, planting season was over. Other than a few annuals, garden centers were essentially out of stock when it came to shrubs and trees. Nothing could be farther from the truth these days.
Plant like there is no tomorrow and stay safe! Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

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

Back in the “old days” it used to be that once we hit late July and the month of August, planting season was over. Other than a few annuals, garden centers were essentially out of stock when it came to shrubs and trees.

There was of course lots of harvesting to do in these months with all of our warm season crops like beans, corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes all getting ripe, but as for installing new plants into our landscapes, forget about it until the rains come in the fall.

Nothing could be farther from the truth these days.

Back in the “old days” most shrubs and trees were grown in the ground on farms primarily located in the state of Oregon. These plants could only be dug up from around October through March when they were dormant and not actively growing. They would be dug from the fields and wrapped in burlap, hence the industry term “balled and burlap.”  

We still sell lots of plants that are “balled and burlap” but the vast majority of shrubs and trees that are destined to be installed in a landscape are now grown in containers their entire life.

In other words, they are not “field grown” but are instead “container grown.” This might seem like a technicality for the consumer, but the reality of this is that plants that are “container grown” can be planted any time of the year.  Here’s why…

Field grown plants are dug up from a farm and much of the root system gets left behind in the field. It takes these plants awhile to recover and get their feet back on the ground (or in this case their roots).  

Garden centers like ours will pot up “balled and burlap” plants in the spring in order to start the process of regenerating their root systems. Once potted up, they are then ready to be taken home and planted. No new “balled and burlap” plants will come in again until October, when once again, it is okay to dig from the fields.

With “container grown” plants there is never a situation where roots get left behind in the field. On the contrary, consumers often need to “rough up” these plant’s root systems before planting because they have filled the pots and are now encircling the container. This is a critical step to have a successful transplanting into your yard. 

Virtually all annuals, perennials, and the vast majority of shrubs and trees, are now grown in containers and therefore can be planted throughout the hot months of summer with complete confidence that they will root in and establish themselves properly.

The other advantage of planting in the summer is that you can manipulate the soil moisture so that it is neither too dry nor too sloppy wet. Warm soil is also conducive to growing new roots.

In short, as long as we manage the soil moisture, we should be able to plant all summer long with complete confidence.  

If someone tries to tell you that you need to wait until September or until the rains come, tell them to bugger off. This might have been good advice in the “old days” but it is no longer relevant today.

Plant like there is no tomorrow and stay safe!

Sunnyside will be hosting two free online classes this weekend. “Perennials & Pollinators” on Saturday, August 1st, at 10:00 am; and “Drought Tolerant Gardening” on Sunday, August 2nd, at 11:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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