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Gardening with Tim

Tim Joyce provides insightful stories and tips for gardening in the Pacific Northwest.

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Gardening with Tim

Gardening with Tim: Get planning

If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store hungry, you know you can get yourself into trouble. You buy things that look good– but might not be a good idea for you or your family. The same thing can happen with gardeners when spring comes, you can go a little crazy. This leads to some expensive mistakes at the plant store.  So, before you head to pick out plants or seeds or starts– you might want to spend a little bit of time making a plan for your garden or yard. It might just be your recipie for success.


This is an example of a formal yard/garden plan by a Landscape Architect

“The excitement level is off the charts,” says Allen Larsen with Fred Meyer. Customers meander around the colorful aisles in the sizeable part of transformed parking lot that’s now a lush expanded Garden Center for the spring and summer. Larsen says business there blossoms at his Seattle store in the Ballard neighborhood when the sun comes out. He says remembering that the plants you love– might not love your yard conditions can be hard, but a money saver.

“The benefits of knowing exactly what your square footage is– is that you’re going to not buy plants you don’t need and therefore save a little bit of money.”The good news is that you don’t have to be a landscape architect to make a working plan for the space you have available. A rough sketch with basic measurements will work just fine.

The first step is to measure your yard and the distance between hardscape features like patios, sidewalks or stairs. The rest of the detail can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. If you’re trying to get the sketch to scale, using gridded paper will make everything much easier. The most important thing is which areas are sunny and which get more shade. For experienced gardeners, the time of day can play a role in where you put things too. Hot afternoon sun can make your lettuce wilt, but peppers thrive. There are some free online planning tools too. Better Homes and Gardens’ website ( is one of many online resources where you can plan and plot where things will go. This can be helpful in veggie gardens when you can rotate crops through the summer as you harvest.


Example of a simple garden layout to scale on grid paper.

“Particularly with the veggies, they need the space to grow properly,” says Larsen. He says when you get to the spot of thinning your plants, there is a translation into cash– with each plant you pluck could be worth a quarter to a whole dollar depending on what you overplanted in the first place.  That can add up. “You can save yourself some money with some proper planning,” he says.No matter how much planning you do– I’d always recommend leaving room for something fun to put in the yard. Larsen agrees, “come out here and figure out what captures your attention and captures your imagination.”

One easy high-tech planning solution involves your smart phone. Go out into the middle of your yard and take 360 degrees of photos so you can have the reminders on your phone at the garden center. It can provide you with important reminders about how much sun and how much shade is in your yard/garden. I’d recommend against cutting corners on certain projects. Get solid, accurate measurements if you’re buying materials for example, a raised garden bed. Because of the cost involved, you don’t want to over or under purchase the materials.


Late fall gardening tips

While the season for giving and shopping and jammed parking lots is here, if you need a break from the hustle and bustle the garden might offer a respite.

Believe it or not, because of our climate, there’s plenty you can do in the yard around your house this time of year.

This is especially true when it comes to planting and transplanting things, but remember the golden rule of gardening: The right plant in the right place. That means you need to think long term like how big the plant will get and how much sun it’s going to need.

“I dress in layers,” horticulturist Ingela Wanerstrand said. She’s putting on one of several pairs of gloves she keeps handy for foggy cold mornings and she’s wearing waterproof rain paints to make sure that when she’s kneeling or digging that she stays dry.

“This is an apple tree,” she says as she hands the large pot to me. Our Northwest weather might be soggy in the winter, but we rarely have freezing temperatures which means it’s perfect for planting and transplanting.

“Then they have the whole winter to grow a root system, so that they’re more able to withstand their first dry season,” Wanerstrand said.

After you’ve selected the spot where you’re planting you’ll want to loosen the soil with a strong garden fork. This will allow you to penetrate the ground and go around large stones, which are easier to remove with a fork than a shovel. Roughly measure the hole you’ve dug and you want to make sure it’s a bit wider than the pot the plant came in. You don’t want the hole to be too deep because with our soils the plant can sink after planted and if it’s too deep the whole area will collect water, causing root rot.

“It’s very important to plant it at the depth at which it was in the pot,” Wanerstrand said.

She also demonstrates making a tiny mound in the middle of the hole that allows the gardener some wiggle room in placing the tree or shrub. Then, gently ease the plant out of the contain and in to the hole.

Next, you’ll want to tease the edges of the root ball if they’re pot bound with a sharp tool that could be anything from a knife to a carpet cutter. This will encourage the edges of the roots to expand into the surrounding soil. You’ll then want to backfill with the same dirt you dug out of the hole, but do not pack the soil down.

A stake is a good idea for our winter winds. A little sway is fine since it encourages the plant to grow stronger roots to prop itself up. Due to the nature of some dwarf root stocks of fruit trees, they’ll have to be staked for as long as they live. Biodegradable twine is optimal for fastening the tree to the stake with a figure 8 twisting pattern, so that the stake and the tree don’t touch each other. Since the twine will degrade over time, you don’t have to worry about it choking the plant like some plastic ties can.

A bit of a moat around the tree will direct water to fill the air pockets left behind from where you did not stamp or press down on the ground. A good soaking is going to give the plant much-needed water, it also will fill those air pockets and help bind the soils in the root ball and the surrounding earth.

“The first dry summer and maybe the second summer, too remember to soak the root ball,” Wanerstrand said.

It’s important to remember you can still put edibles in the ground. Things like kale, that you can get as starts from your local nurseriea, and bulb-like plants like garlic can also go into the ground now. Don’t forget about spring ornamentals like tulips and daffodils — a little work now with these plants will mean a host of flowers in the spring.