Marianne Binetti

Time to up the watering game in Western Washington gardens

The first week of July should be fireworks of color if you remember to fertilize, deadhead and water your hanging baskets and container gardens.

Cool, early summer weather in Western Washington can make deciding when to water plants a tricky decision. Too much water, and flowers and vegetables can rot and start to droop. An over-watered plant can look a lot like a plant that is wilting from lack of water.

The best way to determine if a container needs water is to poke your finger into the soil up to the knuckle. If the soil feels moist one inch down, you can wait another day to water.

Plants with drinking problems

Most plants sold at garden centers and nurseries are adaptable and adjust to rain and dry spells as long as the soil does not completely dry out. But some plants throw a fit and stop flowering if they go even a short time without a drink. Fuchsias and lobelias, I am pointing the finger at you.

Hanging baskets in the sun also are heavy drinking drama queens. The opposite problem of too much water causes issues as well, especially in Western Washington when lots of rain can severely depress sun-loving plants that hate wet soil.

Listed below are the plants that may be suffering now from too much wet weather. If you leave these potted plants out in the rain, they may look limp after a few days. This is because their roots are rotting. They also hate to sit in drainage water, so raise their pots up a bit by sliding bottle caps under their containers.

Geraniums. All types including ivy geraniums, fragrant geraniums and the classic seed or cutting-grow geraniums — like sunshine and soil on the dry side. They also like to grow in clay pots that are porous and breathe rather than plastic containers that hold in the moisture.

Calibrochoa. These mini petunias with the cheerful bi-color petals really hate the rain. Don’t try to grow them in the ground In Western Washington as their stems will grow soft, rot and fall off. They need to have potting soil in a container with lots of sunshine and fertilizer but not too much water.

Sedums and Succulents. These popular plants store water in their fleshy leaves and do not like moist soil or constant rainfall. They prefer to grow in clay pots or in the ground with lots of gravel or sand worked in to give them better drainage.

Salvia and Sage. These fragrant plants have furry leaves and many have tubular blooms that humming birds love. What they don’t love is rainy days and extra water. Salvias do better in the ground with good drainage than in a container sharing space with other more thirsty plants.

This is because a container will restrict their growth and they like to keep growing larger. This does not ’t mean you can’t grow salvia and sages in a pot - just know they will stay more compact in a pot and make sure there are plenty of drainage holes.

Success on the dry side

Drill extra holes in any container that is growing a plant that needs perfect drainage. If you are worried that your potting soil will fall out of the hole first lay a paper coffee filter in the bottom of the pot. This keeps the soil in but allows the water out.

Move potted plants out of the rain. Use an umbrella over pots too large to move. Look for a clear umbrella with a handle that is straight and not shaped like the letter “U”. Now you can use duct tape to attach the umbrella to a stake and poke into the middle of your container before rain storms.

Add extra Perlite or sand to your potting soil. Any potting soil can be made to drain faster by adding up to one third the volume of the soil with sharp builder’s sand or Perlite, which is light volcanic rock that adds air spaces.

Soils in Western Washington tend to pack down from rain, and this pushes the oxygen out of the soil profile. Adding Perlite opens up the soil and adds air pockets. Perlite can be purchased at a home center or garden center. You may be surprised at how light weight a bag of Perlite is when you pick it up.

All those air pockets are doing their thing.

Reach Marianne Binetti through her website at or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.

Meet Marianne

July 14, noon, Auburn’s Farmers Market, free

July 18, 5-6:30 p.m., Renton Water District 90, “Unthirsty Landscapes: Tips for using less water and still having a beautiful landscape,” call 425-277-9600 for more information about this free seminar.