Planting in mid-summer is risky business

When you ask most gardeners what the ideal time for transplanting is, you’ll likely get spring or fall as the answer. While this is the textbook answer and will ensure your greatest chance of success, I’ve found that you can really add new plants or move existing plants in your garden throughout the growing season, as long as you’re willing to give them plenty of monitoring and water after transplant.

My current cases in point are the two Colocasia (Elephant Ears) I had planted in containers along with several coleus (Solenostemon spp.) and caladium in the birch and redbud shade umbrella of the back border. Early in the growing season, the Colocasia made excellent focal points in the containers (pictured above). But about midway through July, as the heat index topped out around 110°F every day for a couple of weeks, the Colocasia had simply outgrown their containers. Every day when I’d return home, I’d find them flopped over the edges of the containers, thirsty for another drink of water. The amount of soil in the smallish containers was simply not enough to keep these tropical giants satisfied.

So a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of a scorching day, I grabbed my small perennial spade and engaged in horticultural risky business: I moved the Colocasia. Digging them out, I couldn’t believe the scarcity of roots around the bulb. How in the world did these plants get enough water up their arching stems to feed the oversized leaves?

I placed one of the plants in the shade under the dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) and the other nestled in a sunnier location next to a lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the garage border. Every evening after transplant, I gave the Colocasia an extended drink from the hose, and even propped the stems up with a small stack of bricks to keep the foliage from laying on the ground. 

For a week or so, it wasn’t clear if my risk was going to pay off as several leaves withered and died. 

But it now appears that both Colocasia have weathered the heat. Three large leaves of the specimen beneath the willow survived, as did one leaf on the lilac’s neighbor. 

We’re forecast to have more moderate temperatures through the end of August, so I have high hopes that my blatant disregard of transplanting rules won’t result in the early demise of the Colocasia. But I won’t be convinced until they past the true test: sending up new stems and leaves.

Here’s hoping my risky business doesn’t backfire. If it does, just don’t tell anyone.  

Published by Christopher Tidrick

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