Whether this is your first year or your 15th gardening around these parts, you've probably noticed things are a little different west of the...
Whether this is your first year or your 15th gardening around these parts, you’ve probably noticed things are a little different west of the Cascades. You never know when — or whether — the Big Freeze will hit. And, thanks to our waterfront acreage and mountain backdrop, we have enough microclimates to fill a USDA map. Then there are the slugs. But by following our own gardening essentials, we all can grow beautiful plants — and adapt beautifully.
JANUARY: We’re known here for our eco-friendliness, even in our landscapes. Since January is one of the least-busy months for the Green Gardening Program, gather a group of gardeners, call 206-343-9759 (Ext. 101) and schedule a presentation. | Feel free to transplant dormant trees and shrubs on mild days through February. | Keep after those pesky winter weeds, evicting them from mulched areas and garden paths before they go to seed. | Prune deciduous trees and conifers, and clip out storm-damaged branches.
FEBRUARY: If you’re looking for inspiration (or signs of spring), take in our own Northwest Flower & Garden Show, a gigantic garden gala Feb. 8-12. | Groom ornamental perennial grasses by trimming old seeds and stalks. | Prune your roses, traditionally after Presidents Day. Prune hybrid teas heavily, but go easier on English roses and shrubs, removing only a third to half of the branches. | Rake up leaves and twigs and let the light hit your lawn.
MARCH: In some parts of the country, grass won’t peek out for weeks, but here it’s time to evaluate and renovate the home turf. Cut out a 3-inch-square plot and check for old roots and stems. If there’s more than 1 inch accumulated, thatch your lawn. Overseed with a Northwest mix to fill in bare spots. | In sunny spots, add handsome perennials for edible landscaping — rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. | Cut back the spent foliage of your other perennials — daisies, hostas and daylilies all will appreciate the tidying. | Fertilize rhododendrons and azaleas with an acid-based formula just before their buds open.
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APRIL: Look for blooms of our state flower, the rhododendron. Some folks deadhead them; some don’t. Bloom depends more on a steady supply of summer water, anyway. | Manage ravenous slugs with beer traps, handpicking and least-toxic baits. | Early this month, start warm-weather crops of tomatoes, squash and basil indoors. | Trim and prune spring-blooming shrubs such as forsythia and camellia after their flowers fade.
MAY: Choose native shrubs for spring beauty — perhaps salal, a broad-leaf evergreen perennial. In May, its wee pink flowers emerge, attracting butterflies and birds. | Fertilize continual-blooming roses like hybrid teas this month, again in June and once more in July. | Check your irrigation systems, soaker hoses and drip systems to make sure they work efficiently. | Plant summer-blooming dahlia, begonia and gladiola bulbs.
JUNE: Urban gardeners rely on containers, and now’s the time to make them colorful. Make sure the drainage holes on your deck and patio pots work, then fill them with annuals. Try new colors and forms of cosmos, petunias, snapdragons or impatiens for shady spots. | After the soil warms, add 2-3 inches of fertile mulch around your flower and vegetable plants. | For fabulous summer fragrance, try heliotrope, Nicotiana and Oriental lilies. | Set heat-loving vegetables into the garden; protect squash and tomato plants with plastic cloches when nighttime temperatures dip below 50 degrees.
JULY: Northwest gardens grow warm and thirsty this time of year. Newly installed landscapes need regular water, even if the plants will grow up to be waterwise. Random sprinkling is of little use; water slowly and deeply, soaking root zones. | Attract beneficial insects like ladybugs by planting fennel, coriander, dill, yarrow and other herbs. Bonus! You can enjoy their culinary flavors, too. | Groom and water container plantings regularly. Fertilize every two weeks for best growth. | Trim groundcovers and bloomed-out perennial flowers.
AUGUST: Color comes to the maritime Northwest. Watch reds and oranges develop on Japanese maples, vine maples and barberries. Visit nurseries through September to select the brightest. | Turn and water the compost pile. Microorganisms need moisture, too. | Fertilize fall-blooming flowers — dahlias, chrysanthemums, asters and perennial Coreopsis could use a snack now and once more in early September. | Plant leaf vegetable crops — lettuce, spinach and mesclun — in large pots for fall harvests.
SEPTEMBER: Sample the flavors of our fall fruit to decide which trees to grow. Choose apples that ripen well in cool summers, and trees grafted to stay manageable in containers (fruit trees make beautiful patio plants). Order your favorites for late-winter planting. | Add new groundcover, such as native sword fern and bleeding heart, to those tough dry-shade areas under evergreens. | Bring houseplants indoors by month’s end. Check for hitchhiking insects and wash the plants first. | Continue watering vegetables, container plants and the lawn.
OCTOBER: Our climate — like Holland’s — suits spring-blooming bulbs perfectly. Select hardy bulbs — crocus, daffodils, tulips and allium — and plant them now. | Move woody plants, and transplant or install new trees and shrubs. | Plant, plant, plant through February, whenever the ground is frost-free. | Revive your tired lawn by overseeding, but do it by Oct. 15. Sod can go in nearly any time all winter, but be sure the soil drains well.
NOVEMBER: Soggy soil dooms more of our plants than freezing temperatures, so check drainage during rains. To be safe, make plans for the occasional freeze by moving container plants to a protected spot. | Fertilize your lawn with a 3-1-2 formula between Thanksgiving and Dec. 10. | Lift and store summer-blooming bulbs such as dahlias, gladiolus and cannas after frost nips their leaves. | Rake deciduous leaves and spread them 3 inches deep on shrub and tree roots, or add them to your compost.
DECEMBER: We’re surrounded by evergreens year-round, so why not use them? If you bring live evergreens indoors, they’ll need ample water — tuck them into plastic bags and soak them thoroughly outdoors. | Start paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis and other bulbs for indoor color. Ask your nursery for fast-growing “precooled” daffodils and hyacinths. | Take care of your tools. Scrub them under water, then wipe, dry and spritz them with WD-40 or 3-in-1 oil. | Plant leftover spring-blooming bulbs by Dec. 15. It might be a little late, but they’ll do better in the ground than in a bag under the sink.
Compiled by Mary Robson, author of “Month by Month Gardening in Oregon and Washington” (Cool Springs Press, 2006), and Sandy Dunham, Seattle Times desk editor.