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May is a month of wonder and excitement in the garden. The weather is warming. The days are lengthening. Flowers are finally in bloom, which brings out the bees and butterflies and maybe even the hummingbirds. It is a time for planting and preparing for the summer to come. In May, we can begin to prepare for summer by mulching and laying down weed protectors. We also plant tomatoes and other warm-weather vegetables. Read on for tips and advice on transplanting those starts into your garden safely. We’ll also discuss the many benefits of using native plants in the garden.
Warm weather veggies are here!
Tomatoes and other warm-weather crops (like squash and eggplant) cannot tolerate the cold nights of the Pacific Northwest. One light frost could kill them so we wait until May to begin planting them. The general guideline among gardeners is to wait until Mother’s Day to plant tomatoes. However, our average last frost date is right around May 20th, if you want to play it extra safe (learn more at http://www.humeseeds.com/frost1.htm#WA).
It is too late to start most of these plants from seed but we have dozens of varieties of tomato starts at Furney’s! With organic, heirloom and hybrid varieties, you are bound to find the plants that are right for your garden- and your taste buds! Before planting, think about what you want to do with your fresh homegrown tomatoes. Do you want to just eat them fresh? Then a good slicing tomato, like Black Plum, or any cherry varieties, like Sungold or Sweet 100, would be right for you. Are you interested in canning or freezing them for sauce or paste? Try a Roma or Amish Paste tomato.
There many other warm-weather vegetables that can be planted in May. All types of cucumbers can go in now, including pickling cukes and the delectable Lemon Cucumber (pictured below), that you can eat just like an apple. Now is the time to plant all your squashes as well, from prolific summer squashes like Yellow Crookneck and Zucchini to the hard-shelled, storable winter squashes like the delicious Delicata and the classic Butternut. Of course, we have pumpkin starts as well. Grow your own for pumpkin pie or for your Halloween jack-o-lanterns!
Furney’s also has several varieties of eggplants, tomatillos and peppers. Plant sweet and spicy peppers in your garden this year!
Once you get your plants home from the nursery, whether they are flower or vegetable, you’ll need to get them into the soil. However, it can be good to give them a day or two to acclimate first. In the meantime, you can decide on plant placement and prepare the soil they will go into. Here is a step-by-step guide to getting annuals safely into the ground:
- Plant at a time when temperatures are mild: not too hot or cold. A warm, gray day is just perfect.
- Dig a hole large enough for the plant to go into. Most starts will come in 4” pots so dig the hole about 5” deep.
- Squeeze the bottom of the container with your fingers, to loosen the soil. Hold the base of the plant, while tipping it out of the pot.
- If the plant is root-bound (a mass of white, tangled roots), squeeze them with your fingers and pull them apart a bit, to loosen them. However, try not to expose the roots to much light; it can damage them.
- Place the plant in the hole and begin scooping the soil around it, right up to the base of the stem. You may even bury the stem a little, up to the first leaves.
- Press very firmly on the soil around the base of the plant. This will help the plant to remain stable and the roots to make contact with their new environment.
- Water deeply, even if rain is predicted. Water helps ease the stress of the transition and gives plants a healthy start.
It’s as easy as that! Check it regularly, to make sure it is adjusting well. Don’t worry if new plants go limp for a day or so; they are just settling in. Some plants may benefit from a top-dressing of compost or light fertilization, to give them an initial boost in their new home. This same process is followed for planting in the garden and in containers. Happy planting!
Mulches and Weed Barriers
With the return of the glorious sunshine and the surge of new spring growth, comes the advent of something slightly less pleasant to the average gardener: weeds. A weed is basically any plant you don’t want growing in a given space. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we battle some fierce competitors: dandelions and clovers but also the nefarious bindweed, the invasive blackberry and more.
One way to keep out the weeds is by suffocating them or not giving them room to grow by laying down mulches and other weed barriers. For more weeding tips, please visit the June page.
Mulch can come from several different materials. We sell a wide selection at the nursery; come see us and we can help you pick the one that is right for you. There are mulches made of organic matter, like bark, compost and wood chips, that will decompose into your garden slowly over time. This adds nutrients back in but it also means that it needs to be replaced periodically. You can add it to your beds, around the base of plants and/or spread it a few inches thick on your pathways, to keep out encroaching weeds.
Inorganic mulches, or weed barriers, are made of durable fabric or plastic and can be laid down in sheets over your beds, with holes cut out for the plants you want to grow through. This method is generally very effective at keeping weeds (and pests!) out of your garden. It can be less aesthetically pleasing to some but, sometimes, that is a less important objective.
Using native plants
We are lucky to live in such a lush, green area of the country, with an exciting assortment of native plants that you can see in abundance in any wooded area in the region. You can also see them used in many yards and gardens in urban and rural areas. Why are they so popular?
Native plants are especially adapted to our wet cool climate. They thrive easily with our long, dark winters and mild summers. They are the ultimate in low-maintenance plants: generally resistant to most pests and they thrive in our native soil. Not only that, there are so many that exhibit unique beauty, gorgeous foliage and becoming blossoms.
Come down to the nursery to see our large selection of native plants that includes (but is not limited to) the following:
Salal (Gaultheria shallon): This native shrub has glossy, evergreen foliage that brightens the landscape year-round. In spring, delicate pink flowers appear, only to be replaced with dark purple berries that are, while a tad fuzzy, completely edible and deliciously sweet.
Ferns (Polypodiaceae): We have several native varieties in stock, including Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), a large evergreen species, as well as more delicate, dainty varieties. Ferns do well in moist, shaded areas. Plant them on a rock wall or under an evergreen tree.
Serviceberry (Amelachier alnifolia): Also called Saskatoon, this lovely emerald shrub does beautifully in the Pacific Northwest climate. It can be found naturally in the understory of open forests. Deciduous and fruit-bearing, Serviceberry can grow quite tall (up to 15 feet) and produces small, white flowers and edible purple fruits (pictured below).