halleulujah, plant. Do so on a cloudy day or in late afternoon, when shade has returned to the site. Water well and if a heat wave arrives, consider rigging some shade (umbrella, crude tent of old sheets) for midday.
Be firm with annuals bought in ice-tray-like packs - roots need to be disturbed. If there is a matted layer of roots at the bottom, tear the bottom root layer in half and splay the bottom of the little root ball before planting. Pinch the main stem of marigolds, zinnias and others with a single stem to make the plants bushier (yes, eliminate the first flower). Temporarily pot the ones you can't promptly plant in the ground; the added root space of a 3- or 4-inch pot will do them wonders.
Liberate potbound perennials. Some roots can be untangled like spaghetti. Others are more fibrous and should be cut: Take four or more generous pinches out of the tightest roots, or even make a slice across the bottom of the root ball about two inches deep (splay it and stuff soil in the wedge).
Treat shrubs like perennials, keeping in mind that potted azaleas are especially prone to matted roots, which should be slit vertically with a knife three or four times around the root ball.
Compensate for soilless potting medium. Many shrubs and perennials are now propagated in a coarse medium of bark chips and perlite that suits commercial setups, but can be a problem in the garden. If you stick such a light, porous root ball undisturbed into garden soil, you'll have an imbalance, particularly in terms of drainage, and the plant may never root into the real soil. Shake and tease a third of the growing medium off without breaking roots; do this directly over the planting hole, then mix the fallen coarse medium into your soil. Though the plant may sulk for a while due to the stress on the roots, it's much better to get the roots growing in real soil.
Likewise heed the current wisdom on amending soil when planting trees - that is, do so minimally. Over time, the roots must grow far into the existing soil; if you dig a 3-foot hole and fill it with compost and/or soil that's lighter and looser than the overall site, the roots will be inhibited from penetrating the undisturbed soil. Back-fill the hole with the soil you dug out. And position the tree such that, after the soil settles from watering, the top of the potted soil is an inch or two above the ground level. Balled-and-burlap specimens should be planted immediately to prevent desiccation. Do not remove traditional natural-fiber burlap; it will decompose. Synthetic burlap must be removed. After placing in the hole, cut the twine around the trunk in several places so there's no chance of girdling the growing tree.
Plant gladiolus corms in succession - at seven- to 10-day intervals - to have an extended bloom period later in the summer.
Sow seeds for bachelor's buttons, nasturtiums, sunflowers in situ. In the vegetable garden: beans, corn, cucumbers, squash, melons.
Delay planting pepper and eggplant seedlings and bedding plants - they prefer more warmth than other vegetables.
Prune lilacs, ornamental quince, azaleas, and other spring bloomers as the blossoms fade. Deadhead lilacs (remove the spent flowers) within two weeks, to encourage more flowers next year; if you wait longer, the only effect is a tidier-looking plant.
Mark narcissus and other bulb clumps that produced few flowers but abundant foliage. They should be divided. That can be done now (fall is the optimum time), but you must take care not to lose any foliage in the process.
Remove suckers from cherry and other ornamental trees. These are vigorous sprouts on the trunk. Very young ones can be rubbed off; otherwise, use a sharp knife or pruning implement.
- Michael Martin Mills