After watching their garden beds get buried in snow once again, many Inland Northwest gardeners are likely getting eager for winter to fade into spring. If you are new to gardening, it may seem extreme to have it on the brain so soon, but it’s actually the perfect time to start dreaming up your plans for the upcoming growing season.
In and around Spokane, the last frost is usually mid- to late May. The first frost usually comes around mid-September. Although a lot can be grown in this period, the season is maximized by early preparations such as germinating seeds and starting plants indoors. Planning in late winter and early spring gives you time to research and prepare for your gardening needs. Here are some basic considerations to make if you are a beginner gardener looking to start planning for the upcoming growing season.
To start, it is very helpful to understand more about your local climate and geography. This will inform you as to what you can grow where you live, how well it will grow, when to start growing and precautions you need to take during the growing season to keep your plants healthy. Determine which hardiness zone you live in by referencing the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. You can find this online at planthardiness.ars.uda.gov. Hardiness zones are classified by their average annual extreme minimum temperatures, and the Inland Northwest is primarily in Zones 5 and 6.
Once you know what plants thrive in your area, you then want to consider the growing space you have available. Whether you have a large outdoor yard space or just a small patio or window, evaluate how much of it sees sun during the day and how much of it is shaded. Check for other features such as flatness and potential protection from wind. Don’t get discouraged if your space isn’t ideal. Urban gardening has become increasingly popular and you can find a lot of ideas for gardening in small and odd spaces online. If you don’t have access to your own outdoor area, try researching local community gardens that you can use.
If you have a lot of good options, try to choose an area you know you will visit frequently and not neglect.
Now that you have a grasp on the properties of your available space, use this as a guide to determine what you want to grow. If you want to grow vegetables, then you need a space that gets a lot of sunlight, ideally six to eight hours per day. However, many vegetables thrive in partial shade or sun. Plants that can wilt in full sun and extreme heat such as leafy greens or delicate herbs do well in partial shade. Many vegetable plants are shade tolerant, but they just won’t provide as plentiful of a harvest compared with when they are grown in full sun. Consider what you are interested in growing, what will thrive in your available conditions and how much work you are willing to put into watering, weeding and harvesting.
After becoming familiar with what plants you want to grow, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Determine what method you want to use . You can go the traditional route with single-row gardening directly into the ground. If you are interested in maximizing space, working with the natural characteristics of plants, you may want to plan a more intricate permaculture garden. If you’re short on space or can’t dig into the ground, raised bed or container gardens make great options. The type of gardening method you choose will influence a lot, including layout and supplies.
All of this planning can be done while the ground is still frozen and should keep you busy while waiting for spring.