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A Gardening Challenge Inland Northwest Gardeners Use An Array Of Tricks To Cope With Region’s Fickle Weather

Sat., May 17, 1997, midnight

Hard winters and a relatively short growing season make gardening in the Inland Northwest a challenge.

Experienced gardeners have learned, often through trial and error, what works well in Spokane and North Idaho.

Those who succeed know the tricks, and there are a lot of them. For instance, roses can be kept alive through the winter if you bury the crowns in 10 inches of soil and then cover that with a foot and a half of pine needles or straw after the soil freezes.

The knowledge it takes to be successful is frequently passed from one gardener to the next. Beginners can learn by asking.

For those who’ve been gardening a long time, changes in plant selection and cultivating styles adds new enthusiasm every spring.

For example, hardly anyone grew herbs years ago. Today, many gardeners are planting more than just parsley. Basil, oregano, tarragon and chives are mainstays in many gardens.

“Ten years ago, when I mentioned an herb, people said, ‘Herb who?”’ said Doris Delatte, who teaches classes through the Community Colleges of Spokane and operates the Herb and Everlasting Farm at Elk.

Delatte said gardeners are simply rediscovering part of their plant heritage.

One of the hottest items in the herb garden is scented geraniums. The leaves have flavors ranging from lemon to peppermint, and were used by early colonists in America, Delatte said.

“It’s actually a chapter out of history,” she said.

Probably the most popular herb now is sweet Italian basil, but it can be hard to grow.

Gardeners often make the mistake of planting basil too early in the season. Memorial Day is the earliest it should transplanted into the soil, and starts should be growing vigorously in their pots without being root-bound, she said.

The experienced gardener knows that many of the best crops need warm soil. They don’t plant tomatoes, peppers or eggplants until late May or even early June. Seed crops of beans, cucumbers, corn and squash can be planted a week or two earlier, but generally not until mid-May. They all thrive in warm weather.

So the answer for people who want to start a garden in April is to plant cool weather crops and enjoy those as they mature in May and June while the tomatoes and other warm-loving plants come on in midsummer.

Some of the plants that could be planted early include peas, lettuce, spinach, greens, broccoli, onions and cabbage.

Carrots can be planted in late April or early May.

Raised beds have been popular. They are simply 4-by-8-foot boxes built out of 2-by-8 lumber and leveled and filled with topsoil.

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