IT’S NO SECRET THAT SUMMERS IN ATLANTA CAN BE CHALLENGING FOR EVERYONE, BUT DID YOU KNOW YOUR PLANTS FEEL THE STRESS JUST AS MUCH AS YOU DO?
READ ON FOR SOME TIPS ON HOW TO MAINTAIN A HAPPY GARDEN THROUGHOUT THE SEASON
One of the best ways to ensure long-term success in gardening is to practice good planting techniques. During the summer, it’s especially important to make sure you do everything possible to get your plants started on the right root!
DIGGING - When you dig your hole, you want to focus on the width rather than the depth. Dig your hole at least twice as wide as the pot it is currently in. You want to make sure your plant has nice soft soil to push its tender new roots into. Width is more important than depth because in the first year of growth your plant is going to be pushing most of its roots out, not down.
AMENDING - When planting, it’s always a good idea to amend your soil, especially if you have red clay. Compost, expanded shale (sold as Permatill), and soil conditioners are common soil additives that add nutrients and improve drainage. Pre-mixed soil amendments such as the Mr. Natural line of products are available for purchase at most nurseries and are worth every penny.
Once you hole is dug, mix your amendments 50-50 with the native soil (yes, the clay!). The idea here is not to remove all the clay, it’s to break up the compacted layers to improve drainage and to add small amounts of nutrients and minerals. Take care to break up any large clumps and make sure to integrate the amendments thoroughly until you have a nice, fluffy planting mix.
PLANTING - To remove your plant from the pot, turn it on its side, gently push on the sides of the pot to loosen it, grasp the base of the stem where the plant meets the soil, and gently wiggle off the pot (remove the pot from the plant, not the plant from the pot!). Once you have removed the pot, gently massage the roots to loosen up the root ball, rubbing your fingers around all sides and the bottom of the rootball. Place some of your amended soil in the bottom of the hole so when you place the plant in the top of the rootball sits just above ground-level. Use the remaining planting mix to fill in the rest of the hole. You want to make sure soil is completely tucked in around the root ball, but not compacted. If planting on a slope, build up a small berm around the downhill side of the hole to direct water into the planting hole rather than allowing it to run off. When you are done, your plant should look like it’s sitting on top of a slight mound that’s surrounded by a little berm (picture the inside of a tea saucer). Over time as the plant settles it will sit level with the ground. This method also helps with watering by allowing the water to roll down to the bottom of the mound where the new roots will be pushing out and looking for a drink!
NEW PLANTINGS - As a general rule of thumb, it takes about a year for a new plant to become fully established. During that time, you will need to provide supplemental water, especially during the summer and the dry months of fall (October is the driest month of the year here in Atlanta). New plants should be thoroughly soaked at least twice each week, potentially bumping that up as needed (use your best judgement) depending on how hot, dry, and windy the weather is. Rain is always helpful, but don’t overestimate how much rainfall is actually getting to your plants. The best way to tell? Stick your finger down into the soil up to your second knuckle. If your finger comes out dry, it’s time for a soak.
It’s important to allow your plants to dry out a bit in between waterings. Plants can be damaged just as severely through over-watering as by neglect. A plant that stays too wet will be susceptible to rot, disease, and fungus. Just remember - you can always add water, but you can’t take it away! Early signs of over-watering are very similar to the signs of under-watering (wilting, yellow leaves), so make sure to check the soil before making an assessment.
As summer transitions into fall, we commonly experience drought-like conditions. September and October are notoriously dry months here in Atlanta. It is crucial during this time to make sure your new plants stay adequately hydrated in order to prepare them for the potentially damaging extremes that we experience during winter (20 degrees and icy one day, then 60 degrees and sunny the next). A lot of good plants have been lost to the unforgiving conditions of late summer. Stay vigilant!
GOOD IDEA - A layer of mulch can be your best friend during the summer months. Not only is it attractive, mulch will help regulate soil temperature and moisture by providing an intermediate layer between the sun and the soil. There are many kinds of mulch; we suggest selecting natural, undyed options such as pine bark mini nuggets or pine straw (stay away from dyed mulch and synthetic mulch). Mulch can be applied any time of year and there are varieties to fit every budget.
BAD IDEA - Mind the depth. It is very easy to get carried away and lay out a 6” layer of mulch around your plants. When you are spreading mulch, make sure you don’t bury any part of the plant that is above ground or mound up the mulch around the stems or trunks. Prolonged exposure to excess moisture directly around the base of the plant will ultimately lead to fungal infections, crown rot, and general decline. Mulch should be 1”-2” thick around the roots of the plant, but pulled back from the stalks. Mulch that is laid too thickly can also lead to underdeveloped, shallow, or weak root systems that will significantly decrease the lifespan of your plant. Luckily, thick mulch is easy to fix. If you think it’s too deep, just spread it out and cover more ground!