Marianne Binetti

Now's the time for cool season crops but make sure your soil is ready

Grow mint in dry shade or keep it in a pot and you can enjoy the plant's medicinal and culinary benefits - plus never have to replant.
Grow mint in dry shade or keep it in a pot and you can enjoy the plant's medicinal and culinary benefits - plus never have to replant.

The beginning of April means it's time to plant cool season crops such as peas, radish, cabbage and lettuce, but only if your soil is “ready to be worked."

This means you must test the soil by grabbing a handful and giving it a squeeze. If a ball forms or the soil is sticky and heavy, just wait. Waterlogged soil leads to seeds that rot. Well drained soil will fall apart when you open your hand after squeezing a handful.

You do not need to do a soil test to continue planting trees, roses, perennials and berries this week. The cold soil will help your new plants awaken slowly from winter dormancy, so make sure they are happy to find themselves in a new home by improving the soil in the planting area with organic matter.

Western Washington has a unique climate and what grows best here is different from what grows best in other parts of the country. Here are the top five plants to grow for good health in our cool summer climate:

Blueberries

By far the most nutrition for your energy investment – plant once and harvest the healthy berries for decades.

Growing tip: Blueberries love acid soil and plenty of moisture in the summer. Add peat moss and mulch with cedar needle droppings. Fertilize with a rhododendron and azaleas food in the spring once you see signs of new growth. They prefer sun but will adapt to partial shade.

Kale/Swiss chard

Like blueberries, this edible will thrive even in partial shade. The hardy vegetable often survives the winter, so one planting can produce for several years.

Use colorful Swiss chard in the middle of container gardens filled with flowers. Keep the pot close to your kitchen and you can harvest a leaf every few days almost year-round. Eating freshly picked leafy greens is the way nature intended us to get our vitamins.

Garlic chives

I can’t figure out why more people are not growing this perennial chive.

The thin, green shoots can be chopped and added to much more than baked potatoes - soups, stews, salads, sandwiches or anything that needs extra flavor and nutrition.

Now, add the fact that this edible herb blooms with purple, globe-shaped flowers and acts like a perennial and returns year after year and it becomes the perfect plant for lazy farmers, small space gardeners, exterior decorators, health fanatics and foodies.

Pizza herbs

Thyme, oregano, and sage are classic Mediterranean herbs and all three survive in well-drained or rocky soil and do best in a sunny spot. The more you clip and harvest the tops the more herbs you’ll get

These herbs come in dwarf, variegated and creeping forms to use as landscape plants. Plus they are drought-, slug- and deer-resistant. All three can be added to pizza or other meals and can be bought in pots now, enjoyed on the window sill and planted outside once they grow tall and leggy.

Mint

Yes, this “too-easy-to-grow” creeping plant can be very invasive in our rainy climate, but if you grow it in dry shade or keep your mint contained in a pot, you can enjoy the medicinal as well as culinary benefits of mint and never need to replant.

Mint is used to aid digestion, calm the stomach, soothe the throat, quiet coughs and mint leaves are a traditional first aid plant for skin problems. Growing mint is like having your own drug store in a pot.

Adding fresh mint leaves to cocktails and deserts or using it in the place of parsley as a garnish turns any cook into a chef. There are chocolate mints, pineapple mints, variegated mints and dozens of other varieties. Mint also survives our wet winter.

Meet Marianne

Marianne Binetti will speak at 9 a.m. Saturday (April 7) at Windmill Gardens, 16009 60th St. E., Sumner about “Plants for Problem Areas: What will grow on slopes, dry shade, hot sun, poor soil and more." She invites gardeners to raise in their problem areas at the talk. Register at www.windmillgarden.com or phone 253-863-5843 $5 fee

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