By David McMullen
Wow! What a great start to summer – plenty of rain and a slow building heat. It reminds me of summers as a kid: hot and bright days followed by heavy dark storms and bright, fresh green pastures. I thought we’d never see such summers again with the last few years of drought.
Our very best plants are really starting to show their elegance at Garden*Hood. Our growers – myself included – have to get new starts potted in April and grown through May to be able to offer the perennials, grasses, ferns, flowering shrubs, succulents and tropicals that savvy gardeners want for their gardens.
The general and pervasive gardening wisdom tells us that planting season is over and therefore planting stops. Au contraire, ornamental plants can be planted at nearly any time of the year – with a few exceptions.
In the past, you could only buy plants that were in the ground. They were dug up and transplanted from nursery to garden. That maneuver was best performed in the cool season when the plant would have the least amount of stress while its severed roots recovered. Bringing to fruition a larger window of planting, the black plastic pot was developed. These tidy black packages, with all of the roots intact, allow you to pop it in the ground, water it sufficiently a few times and then its back into the air-conditioning.
While nearly all container-grown plants will thrive after summer planting, there are a few that will strive.
Perennials: The vast array won’t reach their zenith of varietal availability until early summer, when the growers finally have their crops ready for retail. The choices are much better and summer and fall blooming plants respond quickly and easily to summer heat.
Grasses and ferns: By my observation they have a greater window of success when planted in the heat. Too early and they may rot – too late and they may not make it through the first winter.
Tropicals: Yes, we can plant a broad range of sub-tropical plants that are winter hardy. Gingers, palms, bananas, elephant ears and dozens of other showy and shocking tropical-looking plants do absolutely best when planted in the heat.
Succulents: Cool agaves, yuccas, cacti, echiverias and sedums can be grown in Atlanta. Most like it dry, hot and, like tropicals, need a long summer to establish sufficiently to be winter hardy.
Flowering shrubs: Roses, buddleia, hibiscus and hydrangeas are now in the nurseries and won’t be when fall rolls around. Don’t wait.
The trick to planting in the summer is, of course, water. My system… dig a hole for the plant, then pour a bucket of water into the bottom and let it soak in. Next, place the plant in it, cover the root ball and then pour another bucketful on top. If no rain appears for a few days, check new plants for wilt and soak them again. My experience is that once we have a good soaking rain, new plants can be left pretty much to their own devices with only occasional check-ups throughout the summer. Easy.
David McMullin, an acclaimed garden designer, has owned New Moon Gardens design firm for 20 years. His gardens have been featured on tours, in magazines and on television. David recently ventured into retail, opening Garden*Hood, the newest garden center destination located in Grant Park. For more information, email newmoongardens@gmail.com or call (404) 593-0996

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.