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Saturday, August 15, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Later frosts mean more time to garden

Pigeon Red Flowering Cabbage, pictured here, is a hearty plant with great color. The plant’s leaves come in purple, green, yellow and white. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Pigeon Red Flowering Cabbage, pictured here, is a hearty plant with great color. The plant’s leaves come in purple, green, yellow and white. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Pat Munts

There was a time not so long ago that our region didn’t have a fall gardening season. The frosts usually showed up by the middle of September and finished off the garden. Since about 2000 however, frosts have been coming much later into September and even as late as the end of October. It’s still a gamble, though, but one worth taking if you plan ahead.

That said, I have to put a disclaimer in here. Many of the low areas around Spokane have already experienced light frosts. Places like Latah Valley and valleys leading down from Mount Spokane and Mica Peak probably got nailed recently as cold air drained down from higher elevations. If you live in one of these areas, get your frost protection covers out and staged in the garden ready for that 10 p.m. dash to the garden should the National Weather Service call for low temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s. Given these lows from the NWS, temperatures in these low areas can easily get to freezing.

There is probably time for one more quick crop of radishes and kale. Both tolerate cool temperatures and the soil is still warm enough to get a quick germination. The kale will get sweeter with a couple of frosts.

For some fall color, pick up some flowering cabbage at the garden center. The plant’s leaves come in purple, green, yellow and white and make a nice contrast to the changing fall colors. Their color intensifies with the cold. And no, you can’t eat them. You can try, but the leaves tend to be very tough.

Spring bulbs will be in the garden centers shortly. To create a naturalized bulb garden purchase several dozen different types of bulbs. Dig a 2- to 3-foot-wide, flat-bottomed hole that is as deep as three times the height of the largest bulb. For daffodils or tulips that may be 6 inches. Place the largest bulbs about 6 inches apart and fill the hole half full of dirt. Then place another layer of smaller bulbs like small alliums, scilla and crocus 4 or 5 inches apart on this layer of dirt and finish filling the hole. Mark the location with stakes so you don’t dig in the area accidentally.

Pick up some of the colorful chrysanthemums and replace your summer pot plantings with them. Leave them in their original pots and after the frosts take them down, just pull them out of the container and stick them, pot and all, in a nursery bed for the winter. In the spring you can pull them out and divide them. Next fall you will have a nice show without having to buy more.

Check out the nursery sales that are starting now. You can plant your finds in the garden for at least the next month and they will have some time to grow roots. Mulch them with a couple inches of shredded pine needles or leaves to reduce frost heaving over the winter.

Pat Munts is co-author, with Susan Mulvihill, of the “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnw

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