Planting a patio garden? Here are some things to consider
The beginning of May is time to celebrate the incredible edibles that thrive in our Western Washington climate.
You don’t need a vegetable patch or even a bit of ground to dig in to grow your own fresh food. Many of the easiest and most nutritious edibles can be grown in containers and harvested all summer.
Leafy greens such Swiss Chard, kale and spinach can all be seeded directly into the soil now or purchase young starts and add them to your container gardens. And, yes, it is perfectly safe to grow edibles in the same pot as your flowering plants.
You can use the same fertilizer on food as you can on flowers, just avoid using pesticides. Pesticides are products that kill insects or disease. Fertilizers are products that provide nutrients to help plants grow.
Here are some suggestions:
For the most nutrition and the least amount of work: Grow blueberries.
Plant once and harvest these super healthy berries for generations. Just be sure you pick a spot where the blueberries get at least six hours of sun for maximum production.
Blueberries will survive in a partially shaded spot but have less fruit. Blueberries love our naturally acidic soil in Western Washington, but to make them really happy add peat moss to the soil when you plant. Fertilize with a rhododendron and azaleas food or use the highly acid soybean meal or cottonseed meal as a fertilizer each spring. Blueberries love moisture so water well and mulch with sawdust, wood chips, or pine needles to keep the soil cool and acidic.
Harvest Tip: Don’t pick your blueberries when they turn blue. Let them hang on the shrub to sweeten up and then tickle the clusters so you gather only the ripest berries. Be sure to wrap the entire shrub in netting right before the harvest. The birds are waiting and will beat you to the berries once they ripen.
Plant more than one variety. You cannot only extend your harvest by planting early-bearing blueberries, mid-season and late varieties, but cross pollination will make your shrubs bear more fruit. There are even dwarf blueberry varieties perfect for containers or small gardens. Check local nurseries for the blueberries that do best in our area.
GREENS, GREENS, GREENS
Grow more greens: Swiss Chard, kale, spinach and other leafy greens love our climate.
If you haven’t yet planted seeds of leafy greens, now is the time to get these vitamin-packed veggies into the ground — or add a few plants to your container gardens.
Use the colorful leaves of Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ in the center of a container garden. Or edge the lawn with a row of leafy greens and enjoy getting your vitamins the way nature intended.
These “super greens” are super high in vitamins C, D, and K and rich in calcium and beta carotenes. As a bonus, leafy greens are one of the few vegetables that do not demand full sun to thrive.
The most popular vegetable for home gardens: Tomatoes.
The most common home gardener mistake: Planting tomatoes too early.
The early part of May is still too early to allow tomato plants to spend the night outdoors. Cool nights can stunt heat-loving tomatoes, and purple leaves and slow-growing plants will be the result of your enthusiasm to get a head start on the season. The patient gardener will wait until June when the night temperatures are above 50 degrees.
Pick the hottest spot in your garden, preferably up against a west- or south-facing wall. Keeping the foliage of your tomatoes dry by growing plants under the eaves of the house. Dry foliage will prevent the dreaded late blight disease. Black plastic pots that absorb heat and a location near heat-absorbing concrete also makes tomatoes happy.
Look for early-ripening tomato varieties chosen for cool summers. Dependable varieties are Early Girl, Oregon Spring, Sun Gold and Sweet 100. The smaller cherry or patio tomato plants ripen sooner and have a sweet flavor, and the compact plants make for a tidy display on patios or a sunny balcony.
More tomato growing tips in June, the month when you should be planting tomatoes.
Sunday, May 12, 11 a.m., Herronswood Nursery, “Plants I Have Loved,” a garden open day at Herronswood with plant sales and vendors. All mothers can visit the gardens for free.