News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

The Canyon Gardener: Garden smarter, not harder – A guide to spring

Linn County Master Gardener

Sunshine at last! How many of us will discover inactive muscles at the end of the day? 

It’s time to start Spring gardening. The grass is growing fast, the dandelions are starting to bloom and birds are singing. 

The Blue Orchard Mason Bees (BOBs) are hatching and finding a few blossoms on shrubs and fruit trees. Warmer days may bring out bumble and honey bees, too. 

Most of the shrubs and trees are a couple of months late to leaf and bloom this year, so let’s hope the pollinators and flowers are out at the same time.

If we plan our gardening spaces before we dig, there can be less work later. The garden should be near a water source to avoid dragging hoses. 

A hot summer is expected and most new plants, berries and vegetables will need at least an inch of water per week. Lay out an irrigation system while the ground is moist and easy to work, placing tees and shutoffs in convenient spots. 

Find a shady storage spot or bury hoses under mulch to keep them from cooking while you are resting in the heat of the day.

Avoid working the soil until it dries out enough to crumble when squeezed in your hand. If it is worked too wet, air cells will be compacted and roots will suffocate. 

Try not to step or walk on soil where plants will grow for the same reason. Make pathways within arm’s reach of planting areas. 

Better yet, dig out the pathways and add the soil to beds to raise the soil level in the planting area. Mulch the pathways and permanent beds to discourage weeds, hold moisture and keep soil cooler. 

Consider adding soil to the surface instead of disturbing ground-level soil. Is there an area soil can be taken from to add to the growing area? Is the soil so poor for growing that it would be easier to bring in good soil or compost and layer it on top? 

Beds raised 4 inches or more will warm sooner in the spring, have better drainage in wet seasons, conserve water in summer, have fewer pests, and are more productive than tilled areas. Raised beds do not need frames; they can be free-form mounds. 

An easy way to start is to spread cardboard on the area to kill active weeds, then cover with a light, well-draining soil medium. By the time the cardboard gets eaten by the worms the weeds will have withered from lack of light. No digging necessary!

Check soil temperature before planting. Even with warmer days wet soil is closer to nighttime temperatures. Different plant species have unique preferred temperatures for seed germination and growth. Charts are available from many sources that list optimum temperatures for popular crops and flowers. 

Root crops and the cabbage family can be planted when soil is over 40 degree F, but tomatoes and peppers will need 70 degree F soil and 50 degrees F nights to grow and be productive. Most seeds will need warmer, less soggy soil than we have this month. They are apt to sit and rot in cold and wet soil conditions. 

As the soil dries out, its temperature rises. While planting, consider how the soil will be kept cool and moist during the heat of summer. Is a light mulch like straw or a shady cover going to help keep moisture in the root zone? Plan ahead.

For more information about building efficient planting areas, check out Raised Bed Gardening FS270 at heep://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu. 

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