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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardens’ rain delay: Cold, wet conditions prompt local gardeners to hold off on purchases, planting as summer finally arrives

By Julien A. Luebbers The Spokesman-Review

It’s been a tough spring for gardening.

The warm weather has taken its time, drawing late-winter coolness and heavy rains into what should be sunshine season.

While humans can grumble their way through the dreary drizzles, plants depend on the weather to stay healthy. But the cold weather has affected growers at home and in local greenhouses and nurseries.

“Honestly, I feel bad,” said Tourquoise Fitzpatrick, who works at Liberty Park Florist and Greenhouse.

“I was telling everybody as they came in at the beginning of April, May, when we first opened up, that no one should put anything in the ground, because it was way too cold.”

Despite the poor planting conditions, however, customers bought and bought and bought.

“A lot of people bought early” Fitzpatrick said.

Sales grew to point where Liberty Park surpassed even the pandemic-era business boom.

The greenhouses were nearly empty as of Monday, filled with vast flats which had been covered in flowers and plants. Though the weather might have been sour, business was not.

The story at Haase’s Greenhouse on the South Hill was a little different, though things were faring well.

Mike Goodwin, an employee at Haase’s, said that the season usually peaks around Mother’s Day, and tapers off from there.

But this year, sales have been a lot more steady.

“We hear customers come in and say they’re just getting started, just couldn’t get motivated, didn’t get out in their yard because it was wet all the time,” Goodwin said.

At Secret Garden and Greenhouse, Dee Peck, who owns the business with her husband Ed, told a similar story.

The spring has been tough on gardening, but sales appear to have held up.

“I think so,” Peck said. “We’ll see when we’re through.”

Secret Garden closes on Thursday.

Certain plants, like tomatoes, cucumbers and vegetables, are selling below their marks.

By this time of year, Haase’s expects to have sold out of tomato plants, but it still has a good stock.

The end of the selling season, with its accompanying discounts, will likely solve that problem.

While they don’t expect to exceed the numbers of the pandemic gardening boom, Goodwin said he expects Haase’s season sales won’t be harmed by the late spring.

Tim Kohlhauff, Urban Horticulture Coordinator at the Master Gardener program of Washington State University, said the cool, wet spring has slowed down the growth of warm-weather garden staples like tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers and basil that do best with warm temperatures and a lot of sun.

But while cool-season crops are doing well, they too are negatively impacted by “more pest problems this year than in other years,” Kohlhauff said.

The rain is also increasing the number of leaf spot-type diseases, which tend to do well with lots of moisture and humidity, he said.

While cold nights might be on the decline, the National Weather Service forecasts include warmer temperatures to start the week.

Despite the uptick in temperatures, many home gardeners are still dealing with waterlogging from excess rainwater.

To counteract the effects of excess water, Fitzpatrick has been trying slow-release fertilizers and other time-release products.

“You can sprinkle those on top and then let the rain water naturally put it in,” Fitzpatrick said.

“So you’re not watering it, but it’s still getting the water and nutrients that it needs to bloom.”

But nothing can replace warmth and sunlight.

With the coming sunshine, Peck said she’s confident that the season will end up fine.

“We should be able to grow our regular gardens,” Peck said. “Once the soil warms up, they’ll take off.”

Kohlhauff recommended that if people haven’t planted, they should look for vegetables that produce in a short season such as green beans, summer squash, zucchini and short-season tomatoes.

“Don’t try to start them from seed,” he said.

The region’s many local greenhouses can help.

After the weather-induced slow start, many local greenhouses are having season-end sales.

Liberty Park and Haase’s have marked down their plants and Secret Garden will start marking down its perennials this week.