Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Plant some crops, but be mindful of the weather

The second week of March means one thing — it is time to plant. Pea seeds can go directly into the ground along with cool season crops such as lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, beets, radishes and spinach.

Don’t even think of planting heat-loving tomatoes, squash or eggplants, and it is still too early to start tomato seeds indoors. If you do, they’ll grow leggy before the weather warms up enough to set them outdoors.

Right now is also an ideal time to add color to your landscape. Plant flowering shrubs such as azaleas, rhodies, viburnums and daphne. Pink, lavender and white heathers and the heavenly and hugely popular hellebores are also available at area nurseries now for filling in empty pots, adding to window boxes or just flinging them about the garden wherever you need a shot of color.

Here’s the most asked questions from beginning vegetable gardeners — read them and reap.

Q. I just bought some vegetable seeds. The directions say to plant the lettuce seeds in early to mid spring. Can you give me an actual planting date?

A. How about today. In Western Washington early spring is usually March 1 until mid April. Seeds are not that particular on the date, it is the warmth and moisture in the soil that counts. Raised beds drain sooner so they can be planted in early March.

Q. I want to grow vegetables on my balcony. It gets lots of afternoon sun. I did well with tomatoes last summer. What else should I try?

A. Grow yourself a summer dinner by adding basil, spaghetti squash, cucumbers, oregano and more tomatoes. Look for compact or bush varieties that won’t take up much room and be sure all your containers have good drainage and that you are using a lightweight potting soil. In a small garden grow what you are most likely to eat. In hot spots with a little room, grow Mediterranean herbs that can handle the heat reflected off the building.

Q. I want to remove some of my front grass and grow food — but I certainly don’t want the neighbors to complain. What are the most attractive vegetables?

A. According to garden legend Ed Hume, the best way to create an attractive vegetable garden is to combine fine, medium and bold leaf textures.

Use the fine texture of carrots, onions and several herbs in the front with beets, lettuce and spinach behind them and backed up with the bold foliage of cabbage, kale, rhubarb and the tall drama of artichoke plants to give a vertical element.

Now keep your edibles weeded, mix in some flowers (this helps bring in pollinators) and share your bounty with the neighbors. You’ll be cheered not jeered for shrinking that lawn.

Q. I want to plant some vegetables but my soil is full of rocks and light in color. Should I add manure? Fertilizer? Topsoil? Please help.

A. Start small your first year and invest in some bags of compost. Visit a local nursery for advice on which bagged compost is best for your soil type. A raised bed of at least six inches of compost surrounded by bricks, rocks or even logs will help contain the compost that you layer on top of your sad soil and then mix in with a hoe or shovel.

Sign up for classes, subscribe to blogs, read books and slowly grow yourself some knowledge on the art of edible gardening. Your local Master Gardeners are full of free advice and also have demonstration gardens for you to visit. My vote is to start with leafy greens that you grow from seed. Spinach, lettuce and kale can be planted now. In June plant beans, and squash.

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