The Garden Life: Work is never done in ever-changing garden




Gardening is not a static endeavor. The plant material we work with is changing even as we shape the direction of its growth. We mow our lawn with the expectation that it will immediately begin to grow again. When we put a tree in the ground, our work is just beginning. All new plants need water, fresh air, sunlight and nutrition to flourish. It is part of the gardener’s job to see that our plants get what they need

There is always some reward to look forward to when we set out to work in the garden. For the gardener and cook, mid-spring jobs for the kitchen garden include planting onion sets, asparagus crowns and potatoes. Plant out vegetable seedlings such as cabbages, lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli. Plant out new strawberries if older crops have become unproductive. Strawberries, Fragaria ananassa spp., are one of the best small fruit crops for the Washington climate. Try a mix of Benton, Rainier and Tristar for season-long fruit.

While you are out in the garden, check to make sure that no plants are standing in water. One of the most important safeguards to successful planting in the Northwest is to ensure good drainage. Plants can overcome many difficult situations but few plants will survive with their roots consistently immersed in wet soil. Plants might even make it through spring and summer in these conditions but succumb to fungal root rot exacerbated by chilly, wet winter soil next year. These conditions need to be corrected to avoid losing a plant to death by virtual drowning or suffocation.

Move the plants to a well drained area of the garden or remedy the problem by installing some form of drainage and by digging organic matter into the planting area. Always check for good drainage before planting or transplanting large trees and shrubs. The best way to test for drainage is to dig a hole one foot deep and two feet wide in the area where you would like to plant. Fill the hole with water and see how long it takes to dry out. If less than ten minutes, it’s sharply drained. If less than four hours, it’s well drained. If over four hours, drainage is likely to be poor.

You may want to consider what colors the different plant pollinators prefer before selecting plants for your garden. Yellow, blue and purple attract bees. Butterflies choose red, orange, yellow and pink. Flies are drawn to green, lime, white and cream. For hummingbirds, plant red, orange and purple-red. The once-simple yellow daylily now comes in multi-colored, twice-blooming, variegated picotee and tetraploid varieties.

With our ever-growing interest in gardening as a hobby and a lifestyle, commercial growers make every effort to entice us with new plant introductions. Show your appreciation by encouraging local nurseries to carry a wide selection of plants and by giving your business to those with helpful, knowledgeable staff and healthy plants. Now we can plant the perennials we desire as we cater to our garden’s beneficial pollinators.

Almost every book or magazine on general gardening has a list of monthly garden chores. My theory on the topic of garden maintenance is quite general. The best time to do any garden chore is when you have the time, the inclination and the right tool in hand. Without over analyzing, I take care of the work that needs to be done, when I can. This way of thinking allows me the leeway to miss a few deadlines and still get back into garden trim in a timely manner.

In May, the last remnants of early spring bulbs die down to the ground. Let this be a reminder to plant out tender summer-blooming bulbs, corms and tubers. Cannas and calla lilies can be planted in the garden or in large pots. Bring the last tender dahlias and begonias out of storage if you packed them away for winter. Gladiolas are also ready to be planted directly in the garden.

The window of opportunity on garden chores varies with the season and the job itself. Clearly, some chores get in your face and shout to be done. Ripening fruit needs to be picked or it will rot on the vine. Weeds need to be pulled before they flower and set seeds for the next generation. On the other hand, if you wait too long to deadhead your daisies after blooming, you might miss a second flush of flowers but you stand a better chance of encouraging new seedlings in the coming year.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at