January 14, 2010 in Washington Voices

Master Gardeners prove great regional source

Pat Munts

Ask Pat

Send gardening questions to Pat Munts at pat@inlandnwgardening.com. In 34 years of growing stuff here, she has seen about all nature has to dish out.

To the west of us is the magical gardening area created by the rains and mild climate of the maritime Northwest. To the east is the more extreme interior continental climate that can blast us with subzero cold in the winter. The Inland Northwest sits between these two opposing climates in what I call the East of the Rain and West of the Cold climate, and we have to deal with both.

The problem is that few regional or national garden information sources address our hybrid climate. We have to translate information written from these other areas to get what we need. Most experienced gardeners here have learned to do this but for those of you who are new to gardening or have moved from other areas, here are some suggestions for good region-specific sources to shorten your learning curve.

The best overall book is still the Sunset Western Garden Book. This has been the bible of gardening in the West for decades. It has lots of practical how to gardening information but its main claim to fame is the extensive encyclopedia that lists thousands of plants, their cultivars and their growing information including growing zone information. While the zone system it uses is different from the USDA system (Sunset lists the Spokane area as zone 2a or 2b instead of zone 5), the Sunset system is much more detailed and takes into account more climatic variables than the current USDA system.

The next best regional source is the publications, classes and other resources of the Washington State University and University of Idaho Master Gardeners. Each county in the region has a program that will offer classes and plant clinics where you can take questions or learn about how to grow different plants. Many of the programs are gearing up for late winter and spring classes so check locally for programs near you.

The Spokane County Master Gardeners have an extensive list of publications written for this region. These include Gardening in the Inland Northwest and Organic Gardening for vegetable gardeners and Landscape Plants for the Inland Northwest and Landscaping with Native Plants for landscape and ornamental gardeners. At their Web site, ( www.spokane-county.wsu.edu/ Spokane/eastside/), they host a month-by-month calendar that can help plan gardening tasks.

For periodicals, Master Gardener Magazine (mastergardeneronline.com) covers topics for the region. Because I am Eastern Washington editor for the magazine, I make sure we address the specifics of gardening in the Eastern part of the state. Some national magazines have columns that give regionalized information, if you are willing to translate.

The staff of the local independent nurseries is another great source of information. These people have gardened here for years and know the specifics of soils, weather and growing conditions gained from years of observation and experience. Some nurseries will even come to your house for a fee to assess your garden.

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