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"May is not the only month we can plant," by the Whistling Gardener

Lupines are here! Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Lupines are here! Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Never in my 30 years of operating my garden center have I seen such an influx of customers come in all at the same time. Last weekend was like a feeding frenzy for gardeners where they were feeding on new and exciting plants, bags of compost, trellises for their beans, chicken-print boots to keep their feet dry, fertilizer for their dahlia bulbs, and of course pretty much anything that was in color.

There is something about our long and excessively wet winters that drives us to this state of manic nursery shopping.

As a garden center owner, I am thrilled to see everyone return for another season, but I always feel compelled to remind everyone that we can plant almost year around in the northwest. Don’t feel like you have to do it all in the next couple of weeks. There is plenty of time.

Back in the “old days,” the rule of thumb was not to plant your garden (the warm season stuff like beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes), until after Memorial Day. Nowadays, gardeners are chomping at the bit to get it all planted in April.

While some plants like tomatoes will tolerate this early planting, cucumbers and basil will simply rot away in a matter of minutes. If you tried planting these in April, you probably know what I am talking about.

You can still plant root crops like potatoes, carrots, onions, and maybe cabbage and broccoli, but lettuce and spinach will tend to go to seed before you can harvest them unless you place them in some shade. In the end, whether you succeed or fail, it is always fun to experiment and see what you get.

May and June are great months to plant a new lawn. Normally, I would recommend April, but the last two years have simply been too wet to do so. Now that the soils are finally drying out, get your ground worked up and sow some seed. A blend of perennial rye and fine fescues sown at a rate of six to eight pounds/1000 square feet is perfect. In as little as five to seven days you could see new blades of grass emerging.

While most of us like to buy plants that are in full bloom, many early spring bloomers are already finished up. There is no need to shy away from these sad looking guys. Plants like candy tuft and lungwort can be clipped back and the spent flowers removed before planting, they will go nuts once they are in the ground. Giving them a happy home will make both you and the plants smile.

It’s only a matter of days now before a customer is going to come up to me and ask the perennial question: “Is it too late to plant?” All it will take is a week of dry weather before it happens. Again, I must repeat myself: “We can plant year around in the northwest.

The trick to planting later into the spring and summer is to dig the hole, fill it with water, and let it soak in before you plant your new treasure. Once you have tucked it into its new home, build a watering well around it (think of a moat), and fill it up two to three times with an inch of water. It’s really that easy.

So slow down and enjoy the season. We can plant all summer long.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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