Once the danger of frost is past, it becomes the season of slugs. Look for them among your tender young vegetable seedlings (their favorite breakfast) and just-coming-up perennials. Look under mulch or anything lying on the ground in the garden. If you scour every day and drop all you find into a bucket of soapy water, you may make a dent in the population. Our cool wet springs are famous for the banana slug, so you may want to give up and sing its praises instead of killing it off. Or not.
Wait until nighttime temperatures warm up mid-month before setting out annuals for seasonal color. Most won’t appreciate a frost, or even several nights of 50 degrees or lower. Once the soil and the air have warmed, sow zinnias and marigolds and put out transplants of geraniums and coleus.
If you have some sun, look for the new Tidal Wave petunias that grow as much as 18 inches and bloom until frost. Impatiens and begonias are good for shadier areas.
If you feed your annuals with liquid plant food, look for a product that has higher amounts of phosphorus and potassium – the second two numbers in the N/P/K ratio on the package. Look for 4-10-10 or 6-12-12 or a similar ratio. Phosphorus and potassium nourish the flowering and fruiting parts of the plant. Nitrogen, the first number, promotes strong leaf growth.
Perennials are the soldiers of the garden. The beloveds that come back year after year. Some of the best for our region are Shasta daisies, dahlias, sword ferns, cardinal flower, and lupine. Once established all are relatively carefree if kept weeded and fed occasionally.
In established perennial beds, cut back dead growth from last year to make room for new. Cut perennial grasses to about four inches when you can just see new growth starting. Cultivate lightly around plants and refresh mulch.
Deadhead spring flowering bulbs, but leave the foliage until it withers and turns yellow before cutting back.
Feed beds with a balanced fertilizer or a layer of compost this month before summer bloomers show their stuff.
The soil on the west side of the Cascades is generally more acid than most vegetables like. Make sure you get your soil tested and add lime per instructions on the test. One way to tell: if you have hydrangeas in your yard that are a vibrant blue, you know the soil is more acid than your tomatoes will like. So add a generous handful around every tomato or pepper plant. Most greens and beans also like a more neutral soil. Lime also contains calcium, which wards off the dreaded blossom end rot that ruins so many tomatoes.
After all danger of frost is past, set out transplants of heat loving veggies and herbs, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and basil.
Make sure to add lots of flowers to your vegetable garden to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Nasturtiums and marigolds are wonderful for this, as well as for warding off some pests.
Mulch is your best friend in the vegetable garden (although it is a favorite hiding place for slugs, too!) Several inches of wheat straw or hay around new transplants helps keep the weeds down, the moisture in and keeps soil from splashing on the leaves of such vegetables as tomatoes and peppers that contract disease from soil-borne microbes.
If you don’t have much space, think about gardening vertically. Pole beans, sugar peas, vining squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and some melons are among the crops that will climb up netting, teepees or fencing reaching for the sun. It’s also good to keep their fruits up off the ground to avoid (again) slugs, as well as other pests.
If you are just getting started or if you are expanding your garden, consider trying raised beds. Keep them four feet or less wide so you can reach in to the middle. You will have fewer weeds and less need to till because the soil will stay fluffy if you don’t walk on it. Put sections of fencing at each end or along one side to hold up those vertical plants.
Winter can be tough on plants and some may take a while to green back up in the spring. Scratch the bark on a plant you think might have died during the winter. If the flesh underneath the bark shows green and the twigs are flexible, it is probably still alive. Just be patient. Do prune off any broken or obviously dead or damaged wood.
Prune spring flowering shrubs after they flower.
For strong healthy grass, mow it a bit high – 3 or 4 inches – and leave the clippings where they land. They add nitrogen and organic material back to the soil. If you buy a mulching kit for your mower and never cut more than 1/3 the length of the blades of grass, you’ll never have to rake again! Mow frequently.
Dig out broadleaf weeds and aerate the lawn if necessary. Feed with compost or other light organic fertilizer if the lawn seems to need it. Don’t add unnecessary fertilizer if the grass is healthy. Water only if the lawn seems wilted.