My good friend, Stacie, has graciously agreed to lend us some of her horticulture wisdom in a new Urban Natural Homes newsletter article called “Ask a Gardening Guru.”
Welcome Stac! You are currently in the process of completing the Master Gardener program. Will you briefly share your experience with us?
Thank you, Tamara! The Master Gardener Program is offered through WSU Extension with the goal of training volunteers to be community educators of sustainable gardening and related environmental issues such as hazardous waste disposal, water conservation and invasive species. The program consists of a classroom portion (approximately 80 hours) and 2 years of volunteer commitment, with a minimum of 40 hours per year, working in community clinics and demonstration gardens.
The program is open to everybody, regardless of their gardening experience. For example, I had not received any “formal” gardening education prior to the MG program. My experience consisted of trial and error in the microclimates of small suburban yards to watching my dad build nesting boxes for the bees that pollinated the farmers’ fields next door and helping my mom plant, nurture, harvest and process the fruits and veggies we grew in our quaint yard in rural Boise, Idaho. The MG program expanded upon my past experiences through the teaching of basic botany, soil science, plant pathology, entomology, and numerous other topics that cover the intricate world of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend you go to http://mastergardener.wsu.edu/ to find out more information about their Master Gardener program.
With Fall upon us, what are some key gardening tips you would suggest for getting our plants ready for the cooler months ahead?
Ah, Fall. Pumpkin spice lattes, mulled wine, cozy sweaters and fall gardens! My favorite time of year and also a great time to prep your plants and beds for winter. First and foremost, you should help prevent disease and pest problems by cleaning up your beds! Clear all plant waste out of the beds, especially diseased leaves or other plant parts as fungal spores can overwinter on infected plant debris. Place disease-free debris in the compost and diseased waste in the garbage. Make sure the beds are weed free then mulch with either a good quality fertile mulch (avoid piling mulch directly against the base of your plants and trees) or, for veggie gardens, plant a winter cover crop which works well in empty beds. Cover crops are a great way to add green matter to your veggie soil, help control weeds and capture nitrogen which otherwise may have washed away with the rains. For more information on cover crops that do well in western Washington, go to http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS111E/FS111E.pdf
Fall brings still warm soils and dissipating summer heat which makes it a great time to plant trees and perennials whose roots will grow in the warm soil until the first frost (around mid-November, according to the Farmer’s Almanac). You can add compost when planting your trees and perennials but make sure to thoroughly mix it into the existing soil to encourage spreading root growth. This is also the time of year to plant your spring blooming bulbs such as tulips, hyacinth, alliums, crocus and daffodils. Mix and match your bulbs (such as tulips with hyacinth) and plant them in clusters for beautiful spring color!
Finally…’tis the season to get digging in the garden! We Seattleites love our gardens, but ‘gardening’ can mean different things to different people. Some of us may have huge yards or even acres to tend to, while others of us, especially urbanites living closer to the city core where land is scarce, may call our balcony, patio, or even rooftop deck our garden. This type of small space gardening can be just as satisfying—and even provide us with abundant produce—if we’re aware of a few key tips for gardening in containers and small spaces.
I recently spoke with Toni Cross of Seasonal Color Pots and she said that the number one factor to be aware of in small spaces such as balconies is the wind factor. Wind causes plants to lose moisture and ‘burn’ over time. She suggests focusing on plants with smaller leaves that are less likely to catch the wind and therefore less likely to get damaged (it makes total sense when you think about it—but I bet that wasn’t on the top of your list when you were going down the nursery aisle buying plants for your balcony!). She went on to say that plants in containers are essentially like perpetual infants in that they are never able to grow deep roots and are therefore never able to get anything, such as water and nutrients, on their own. It is up to you to take care of them. Initially they should be planted with good potting soil in a container that drains well. They will then need to be watered and fertilized more frequently than plants rooted in the ground. Finally, they will need to be constantly groomed for best results.
Picking the right plant for the right location is also vitally important. Be sure to read the plant care instructions for sun requirements: Partial sun? Full sun? Shade? And watch your gardening area for a full day to properly match it with the right plants. This is especially important if you are considering growing food crops in your small space garden. Tomatoes and peppers, for example, literally won’t produce fruit if they don’t get at least six hours of direct sunshine every day. Herbs can be one of the easiest, and most forgiving, of the food plants to grow—so consider herbs if you are new to growing your own produce. And if you are going to venture off into more ambitious adventures in produce growing, be sure to choose compact or dwarf varieties that will produce a lot in a little space. Finally, try utilizing vertical space in small space gardening by training vining varieties of tomatoes, beans and squash up trellises or stakes where they can hover above other plants. With these few tips in mind, your small space garden should be healthy and thriving all season long!
Seasonal Color Pots
Spring is coming! And with it–gardening season! Are you, however, a frustrated gardener living in an urban location with no place to dig your hands into the soil? Or perhaps you have gardening space, but you’re the social type who wants to share in the glory of growing Mother Nature’s bounty? Well then, community gardening might be just the ticket for you. I will be covering a number of topics related to community gardening over time, but will start with the City of Seattle’s brilliant P-Patch Program.
P-Patches are community neighborhood gardens that are managed by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Growing Program. There are 78 P-Patches distributed throughout the city ranging as far north as Bitter Lake and as far south as Rainier Beach. All totaled they equate approximately 44.5 acres and provide space for 4,400 gardeners. The “P” in P-Patch, by the way, honors the Picardo family who used to farm the land in the Wedgewood area that later became the first P-Patch in 1973.
To participate, all potential applicants need to get on a waitlist for existing gardens or interest list for gardens in development. Yearly fees include a $25 application fee and $12 for each 100sf gardened. The demand for space in P-Patch community gardens has grown significantly in recent years and a number of new gardens are going to be built over the next 2-3 years with community garden levy funds. If you are interested in starting a P-Patch in an unused space in your neighborhood contact the P-Patch program at 206-684-0264.
One last word in regards to accessing P-Patches. In walking by one of these lovely developments, one can’t help but wonder if it’s okay to go check out the fragrant flowers and budding produce. I know that I’m always tempted, but wonder if it’s only for “paying customers.” Well now I know. According to the website “P-Patches are an open space resource for all members of the community, not just for gardeners, and are places to share love of gardening, cultivate friendships, strengthen neighborhoods, increase self-reliance, provide wildlife habitat, foster environmental awareness, relieve hunger, improve nutrition, and enjoy recreational and therapeutic opportunities.” Very cool—I see a lot more strolling through neighborhood P-Patches in my future.
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Growing Program