A Necessary Evil

By Nikki Tilley | May 5, 2022
Image by nadiasphoto
by Nikki Tilley
May 5, 2022

While I wouldn’t recommend it, especially with larger sized plants like shrubs and trees, summer transplanting is certainly possible if you’re mindful of keeping the plants well watered.

Transplanting in Summer Heat

Spring and fall are the most ideal times for transplanting in the garden. In fact, at the time of this writing, the beginning of spring season, I spent two days transplanting shrubs and trees in the landscape. By the time summer arrives, and the unbearable heat with it, these plants will have had plenty of time to adjust. No worries. Ordinarily, I would prefer the crisper weather that fall transplanting provides, but since I was unable to get around to the project due to unusually warmer temperatures, I opted for the cooler temps of early spring instead – and lately that doesn’t last long. There are, however, times when moving plants in the summer becomes necessary.

Last year, for example, I was busy putting in a new bed in an area where we had some trees removed. In order to get a jump on growth and fill the bed quicker, and more cheaply, transplanting perennials from other garden areas was a must. I had also gotten a bunch of large hosta clumps from my father-in-law after he had dug them up to discard. No way was I gonna let those go! So, while it was in the middle of hot, sticky summer and not the most ideal time for planting anything, on this occasion it turned out to be a necessary evil. The key to its success came with its aftercare.

Watering Transplanted Shrubs

Once getting the holes dug and working up a good sweat, I took a much needed water break. It’s important when doing any strenuous activity outdoors in the heat that you stay hydrated”¦ this is just as important for plants too. First, I added some water to the holes, which is especially vital if it’s been really dry. Then I sat in the shade for a spell while waiting for the water to drain as I sipped on some water myself. When I was ready to start back, I dug up the plants I wanted and broke apart the moistened hosta clumps that had been resting in the shade. I then transplanted them in their new homes. I always take care to tamp the surrounding soil to remove any air pockets when planting, and moving plants in the summer is no different so I made sure to do the same. Once in the ground, the plants got a thorough watering and I crossed my fingers (there may have been some praying too).

I continued to keep the plants watered once a day, sometimes twice depending on the weather, for at least the first couple weeks. You can usually tell how well they’re adjusting just by looking at them. Are they wilted or perky, droopy or upright? Are they yellowing or retaining their natural color? Is there any new growth? These can all be clues. At least ninety percent of the time summer transplanting works out for me, but on occasion a few plants will succumb to the heat. And more often than not there will be some loss of foliage so cutting back what I can within reason helps. I’m still anxiously waiting for the outcome of last summer’s planting, but thus far I’ve already noticed new growth on many of them this spring, so I’m hopeful.

Transplanting in summer heat isn’t fun! There’s no doubt about it. It’s not my favorite time of year and certainly not what I’d recommend, but it’s possible when you have to. Still, I’d prefer the cooler weather that spring or fall transplanting provides even though it’s getting harder to differentiate these seasons nowadays.

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