Consider a Drought-Tolerant Garden

There are many plants that will grow in Pacific Northwest Garden zone 8 that are fairly drought tolerant when they are established plants.  Some are native plants, while others are not, but all produce lovely flowers in season and add to the summer garden without running up your water bill.  Here are some that I’ve tried with good success:

-Most anything with grey foliage-this would include lambs’ ears, butterfly bush or buddleja, Dusty miller, wormwood,  santolina and others.

–Bearded Iris–They have beautiful flowers for a short period of time, but then add green leafy spikes to the landscape, which is nice in the heat of summer.  Quite drought tolerant.

–Catmint–these plants have lovely blue flowers, and cats will go after this plant.  It looks wonderful cascading down a wall with Santolina ‘Sweet Carol’ nearby to give a bright yellow accent when in bloom

-Maltese cross, with bright orange-red flowers that hummingbirds love

-Daylilies–these come in beautiful yellows and pinks, and are quite drought tolerant

-Other lilies–Asiatic and Oriental lilies will grow to six and seven feet tall when they are watered here during the summer, yet I grow them in my curb strip, which receives little water besides rainfall, and they grow to 2-3 feet tall and bloom like crazy.

-Hollyhocks–They tend to get rust on the leaves, but if you keep the diseased leaves picked off and give them good air circulation, they will grow tall and bloom well into fall.  They may need staking if you live in a windy area.

–Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber)–This is a wonderful plant that has clusters of red flowers.  Just keep it deadheaded and it will bloom all summer and into fall.  A hummingbird favorite.

–Red-hot poker (Kniphofia)–They come in more than screaming orange flowers, so check online sources.  Hummingbirds like them, and they are very drought tolerant.  They look beautiful planted next to something blue.

–NW Native plants–Oregon grape, Indian plum, Red-flowering currant, and red elderberry are all drought tolerant once established, and they have beautiful spring flowers that are all hummingbird food, and lovely fall foliage that turns colors.

-Spring-blooming bulbs–Daffodils and tulips look great interplanted among any of the above plants, and they do best when they have very dry conditions during the summer months.

Any of these plants will need to be watered regularly the first year you plant them, but after that, their root systems should be established enough that they can survive nicely on the rainfall we get here.

Give them a try–you’ll have a beautiful garden with a fraction of the summertime work and cost.


Happy Summer Solstice!

I hope you get to spend some time today out in your favorite garden, enjoying the plants on this first day of summer!

Chitting Curcurbit Seeds For Better Germination

I have had pretty good luck growing pumpkin and winter squash, and terrible luck the last couple of years growing cucumbers.  I want some cukes this year, so I decided to try some techniques that Steve Solomon advises in his book Gardening When It Counts.

You get some paper towel squares, fold them into quarters, and then dip them in a bowl of tepid water, letting most of the water drip out of the towel.  Then unfold the towel, and along the fold lines place your seeds that you want to presprout, or chit.  Chit 3-4 seeds for every one finished plant you want.  I did this with cuke, pumpkin, and winter squash seeds, but you can also use this technique with bean and pea seeds as well.  Then fold the damp towel back into quarters, and place it in a ziplock bag that you seal shut.  Label the bag with a permanent marker with the name of the seeds inside, and put them somewhere somewhat warm for about three days.  Then start checking the seeds twice a day after that.  You will see a little sprout coming out of the seed.  This is what will turn into the root.

At this stage you can plant the chitted seeds outdoors in soil that’s been prepared and watered a day or two before, because once you put the seeds in the ground you do not want to water until the seed sends its stem up through the earth.   You’ll want to prepare a very fertile soil for these plants.  To do it, pick a spot in the garden that’s been weeded, and dig it up to loosen the soil.  Then dig in about a 1/4 inch of compost and 4-6 quarts of a good complete organic fertilizer into a 100 square foot planting bed–obviously reduce the fertilizer quantity if you are preparing a smaller bed.  Then you are going to create a really fertile hill in which you will plant your chitted curcurbit seeds.  To do this, dump a couple of shovelfuls of compost in a spot, along with a cup of complete organic fertilizer, and dig this into a 12 to 18 inch area.  The center of this is where you will plant your chitted seeds,  2-3 per hill, and then thin to the one best plant as the grow  and mature.

Curcurbit seeds need warm nighttime temperatures for the plants to grow well, so wait until it’s at least 50 degrees at night on a consistent basis before planting these types of seeds out;  with melons, peppers and eggplant, it needs to be 60 degrees at night.    This year we were lucky and it warmed up to the 50’s at night sooner than usual, but it’s usually not warm enough in garden zone 8 to plant these things until June sometime.  Getting up to the 60s at night is a different matter, however.  Since we are almost never consistently that hot here, I usually grow those plants under plastic with pvc pipe hoops to hold the plastic off the plants, and have had good success in this way.  This is a bit of work though, because you will need to cover the plants at night, and then open the plastic during the hot day temperatures.

You will want to put something in place for the cukes to grow up rather than sprawl on the ground.  Two metal fence posts with a string grid can work, or wooden or metal trellises also are good.  Pumpkins and squash that put out long vines can be kept more compact by spiraling them around the center stem on the plant, and then holding it in place with metal garden staples.

I will let you know how it worked out this year.  I am at the stage where I am checking my seeds in bags twice a day, and hope to plant out in my prepared hills anyday now!

Planting Tomatoes

The weather is being cooperative here in Garden zone 8, and thus I am beginning to get the tomato plants into their respective beds.  This is how I do it:

  • I weed the bed and redig it
  • I then add my own compost that I made over the winter, plus complete organic fertilizer, and dig it all in well, breaking up any remaining large soil clumps
  • I rake it smooth
  • Then I gather a couple of supplies.  These include more complete organic fertilizer, and compost tea.  This I make myself in a large plastic container with a lid.   I put a bucketful of my compost in the container and fill it with water, then I let it sit for a week.  Then it’s ready to use, and I take a bucketful of the stuff along with a quart measure to where I am planting tomatoes.
  • In the prepared bed, I dig a deep hole, then I put three handfuls of the complete organic fertilizer in and cover it with a bit of backfill soil.  The COF contains lime, which tomatoes need to help prevent blossom end rot from occurring.
  • I put the tomato plant in the hole, and I take a quart of the compost tea and pour it around the plant’s roots.  I then quickly backfill the hole with the dirt to fill it.  This is a technique that I learned from Steve Solomon’s excellent book, Gardening When It Counts, and it helps to prevent transplant shock in newly transplanted plants,because the moisture goes right to the root zone, and the backfill becomes a muddy slurry which conforms perfectly to the plant’s roots, so the roots don’t become stressed.

I put a tomato cage over the freshly planted tomato, create a little moat around the plant to help keep the water in place, and then I water the plant.

That’s all there is to it!  We’ll see how soon it will be to the first ripe tomato!

First Swallowtail of the Summer!

I saw a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly flitting through the roses yesterday. Nice to have them back again.  I’m also seeing a lot of dragonflies in the garden as well.

Working At The Farmers’ Market Today

If you are fortunate enough to have a farmers’ market where you live, I encourage you to go and check it out!  It offers you a great way to purchase some of your food from local growers, and it helps to support local agriculture and farming in your area.

Today I’m volunteering at the Master Gardener’s Answer Clinic at the market.  People can come up and ask questions about gardening, and it’s always a lot of fun because you never know what people will ask!  We keep reference materials on hand, and there’s usually more than one Master Gardener working, so with combined brains and books we do our best to come up with answers!

Delphinium Summer

The delphiniums are in full bloom right now.  They are particularly striking when paired with the roses, with the cool blues and purples of the delphiniums contrasting nicely with the full, plump pinks, reds  and yellows of the roses.

All of my delphinium, with only one exception, I started myself from seed last year.  Delphiniums, in order to germinate, need very light seed starting mix and also require darkness for germination.  I start the seeds in March,  covering them with soil and a piece of newspaper to keep the light out.  After they germinate, I grow them under lights until it warms up in June, and then I plant them outside after hardening off.  They usually bloom a little bit even that first year in August and September, then take the winter off and come back in full effect the following spring and summer.  You will get better germination as well if you are using fresh rather than old seed.  You can save your own seed and use that, or purchase seed.  If you save your own, you can sort them by color, so you can plant the starts together in more pleasing color arrangements because you know what color they will bloom, which is not usually possible with store-bought seed that typically comes in mixed colors.

I have noticed that the delphiniums seem to appreciate a cold winter.  I did cover mine with plastic last December because we had over a foot of snow at our place, rather unusual for this area.  However, after the snow melted the plastic came off, and the plants can back nicely this spring.

Roses Supreme

The roses are in full bloom right now.  I have a particularly nice combination on the front stoop of the house.  There are columns that are completely covered with a wonderful Old Garden rambling rose named ‘Phylis Bide.’  This rose is a shrimp-color at first, and then fades to more of a pink.  Growing with it are two clematis in containers, one being ‘Daniel Deronda,’ a dark purple beauty, and ‘Louise Rowe,’ a lavender clematis that produces double and single blooms at the same time.  Lavender and peach colors look very good together.  Along with these, I have an abutilon, or a flowering maple, with chartreuse leaves and orange blooms.  It all is looking quite fetching together at the moment.