JUNE 9, 1997

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June garden pleasures in the Northwest

gardening by Mary Robson, WSU area extension agent
   Gardeners can debate over what's the best gardening month, but for many Pacific Northwesterners, it's June. The light that comes early and stays late brightens even cloudy days. Whether it's wandering about with a cup of coffee in the morning, or scuffling weeds toward dusk, gardeners in June experience the delights of staying outdoors for hours.
   June's a great planting month. Plant containers for decks using the many ample choices of annuals and perennials in nurseries. Small plants will fill in their pots or garden spaces in about five weeks, giving color from early July right up to frost. So don't hesitate if May went past too fast and the container or deck planting isn't done yet.
   Container plantings of flowers, vegetables, and herbs need regular fertilizer applications to thrive and produce color all summer. Use any liquid fertilizer, applying about every three weeks. Follow label instructions. Some container planting specialists suggest applying a half-strength fertilizer (mixed to 1/2 the concentration recommended on the label) more often, such as every 10 days. Develop a schedule that works for the plants you've chosen. You may wish to alternate liquid fertilizers made from organically-based ingredients (such as fish fertilizer) with applications of chemically processed fertilizer, such as standard 5-10-10 mixes.
   Adding too much fertilizer is as much a trial for plants as adding too little. If too much nitrogen is applied, annuals won't flower well. They'll grow lots of tender green leaves but they will not set good buds. Read the fertilizer package to determine the nitrogen content: Nitrogen will always be represented by the first number on the package. A 5-10-10 for instance, provides 5 parts available nitrogen, 10 parts available phosphorous, and 10 parts available potassium to plants. The highest nitrogen isn't necessarily best for plants in containers.
   The growth of annual plants will indicate how they are responding to fertilizer. If the plant puts out lush, succulent green growth and no buds, reduce the nitrogen amount being applied. If the lower leaves are yellowing and the tip leaves are green, the plant may need nitrogen. If the plant is an even green and setting good flower buds, the fertilizer balance is fine. And one more note on fertilizer: some blooming plants such as annual geraniums do not require a heavily-fertilized mix. Most perennial culinary herbs such as rosemary and oregano also grow better without extra fertilizer.
   Keep hanging baskets well watered. Fuchsia baskets dry out easily, and once the soil has dried, water tends to run over the surface and down the sides of the plant without fully soaking the thirsty roots. If the plant has become dried out, which can happen in an afternoon or two of direct, warm light, take it down and immerse the lower part of the plant in a bucket of water until it recovers and is fully wet throughout.
   Watering throughout the garden becomes a challenge in June. May weather provided adequate rains for most plants, but June's rainfall often averages less than about an inch and a half for the entire month. Cloudy, cool days, which occur frequently, will reduce the garden's loss of moisture but won't replenish supplies.
   Review the garden to determine where supplementary water is really needed. Newly planted or transplanted trees and shrubs will require irrigation for their first two years, at least, even if they are drought-tolerant once established. Vegetable gardens, annual flowers, and many herbaceous perennials also need watering.
   Soaker hoses, particularly if laid out with the hoses parallel to each other and about a foot apart, can do an efficient job of watering. Deep watering, less frequently, is better for gardens than frequent, light sprinkles.
   Vegetable gardeners may be tasting early beets, radishes, and lettuce, though wet soils have made many gardens late this year. Peas will come in. Replant the garden as harvests leave areas empty. Side dress new crops with a 5-10-10 fertilizer once the first crop has been harvested, because the vegetables utilize soil nutrients which must then be renewed. Applying compost helps to increase soil micro-organism activity, increasing the general health of the soil, but fertilizers will still be required in the vegetable garden. Thin out vegetables to allow enough space for full development. This will provide the makings of delicious fresh salads with baby vegetables!
   Remember to appreciate the evening light, the morning bird song, and the garden pleasures of the rare month of June.

Visit WSU's Agriculture Site on the World-Wide Web at http://www.cahe.wsu.edu.