"Frequently Asked Questions," by the Whistling Gardener

At the end of every column the Whistling Gardener writes is an invitation for you to send in your questions about gardening issues about which you would like answers. Here are three common questions he receives every year.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

At the end of every column I write, is an invitation, to send in your questions about gardening issues you would like answers for. Here are three common ones I receive every year.

Question:Is it okay to plant when it is this hot?”

Answer:  Absolutely, as long as you water-in properly. Before moving to the northwest, I was a landscape contractor in the Sacramento valley of California where it is hotter than you-know-what in the summer. We planted all summer long and never lost a plant, simply because we watered-in properly.

By “watering-in” I mean the following: after you have dug the hole, fill it to the top with water and let it soak in thoroughly. After the water has soaked in, place your plant in the hole and backfill halfway with the appropriate mix of fertilizer and compost then add another gallon or two of water and let that soak in.

Finally, replace the rest of the soil, tamp it down, and build a moat or “watering well” around the plant that you can fill with at least an inch of water. Fill it up two to three times and you should be in good shape for several days or longer. Leave the watering well up for a month before you level off the ground.

Question:Is it okay to water in the middle of the day?”

Answer: The best time to water is early in the morning and the second best time to water is when you have the time to do it! Early morning watering is the most efficient because it produces the least amount of evaporation and evening watering is about the same, except that for some plants, having water on their foliage all night may encourage disease.

The old wives tale about a droplet of water turning into a magnifying glass and burning the foliage is a highly improbable event, although possible. If the leaf surface is smooth then it won’t happen, but if the leaf surface is hairy and the drop is suspended above the surface then theoretically it could happen. In reality the water will usually evaporate before any damage occurs.

Question:Steve, what is your favorite plant?”

Answer: My favorite plant is a constantly moving target that depends mostly on the time of the year. In January, it would be my sweet little Winter Aconites that bloom every winter in a lovely drift of yellow underneath a Fireglow Japanese Maple.

In late February, my most favorite plant is the Winter Daphne that blooms with intense fragrance just underneath our living room windows.

In the summer, I absolutely adore my billowy clumps of ‘All Gold’ Japanese Forest Grass that are scattered throughout the shadier parts of the garden.

There are so many plants that bring me joy and pleasure during the year that it would be impossible to narrow the list down to just a handful. The fact is that the list would change as I discovered new and exciting varieties.

One such discovery for me is a new introduction called Aralia cordata “Sun King.” This is an incredible perennial with golden foliage that will reach six feet tall in one season and then disappear for the winter, only to come back the following spring bigger and better. The foliage is bold and robust and Sun King makes a dramatic statement in a light to filtered shade location. Try one out and see if it doesn’t end up on your list of favorites.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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