Spring colors

Easy winter in Hood River means early-season planting

The mild winter has brought on a local epidemic of spring fever, and many people seem to be medicating themselves by delving into their gardens.

“People are very anxious this year,” said Erin Swift, nursery manager at Good News Gardening. “We had a lot of people strolling through here before we even had our stock in.” Even the Hood River News couldn’t wait to kick off its seasonal Home & Garden section until April, when it usually starts. We decided to poke around Good News Gardening this week as Swift and the staff were beginning to set out perennials and other things gardeners can plant early, and inquired about some of the options for treating what ails us.

“Now is a great time to plant trees and shrubs,” Swift said. “And also raspberries, strawberries, blueberries — any kind of fruit like that.” Planting so-called “everbearing” varieties of raspberries now means you’ll be picking berries from your patch by summer. Good News Gardening’s staff recommends planting raspberries as far as possible from other cultivated or wild raspberries, and avoiding planting them where you’ve recently grown eggplants, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes or strawberries, which are hosts to raspberry diseases.

It’s not too early to get the vegetable garden going, either, according to Swift. Cool season vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes and asparagus can be planted now — at least in and around town.

“You might want to be a little more careful with those in the Upper Valley,” Swift said. But even at higher elevations, vegetables can be protected with the help of a floating row cover. The cover, made of lightweight spun fabric, is used to protect fledgling crops from insects, but it also guards against frost. It’s ideal for a variety of early-season plantings, according to Swift, because it provides good protection while allowing sun and water in. As plants grow, the lightweight fabric is gently lifted.

Planting seeds for warm season vegetables — including tomatoes, peppers and eggplant — can be done now, according to Swift. In addition, herbs are hearty and can be planted now regardless of possible frost.

“Now is also a good time to get perennials planted,” she said. Perennials are hardier to frost than annuals, and “planting them now gives them time to grow pretty big.” Swift said gardeners shouldn’t think about planting annuals for another month or so, when the potential for frost has passed.

Many gardeners are already looking ahead to weed control. Good News Gardening recommends Down to Earth’s organic corn weed blocker as a pre-emergent weed blocker and slow-release fertilizer.

“It’s all organic, so it can be used anywhere, including vegetable gardens,” Swift said. The blocker is made from corn gluten, and is effective in controlling weeds like crabgrass and dandelions. The product is water-soluble, so it decomposes over time to provide nitrogen and other nutrients to crops, flowers and grass.

The recent heavy rain might pose a problem for gardeners trying to dig deep or rototill, according to Swift.

“It’s a little wet to be digging too much,” she said. “But the good thing about planting now is we’ll have the rain, and the ground is nice and moist.”

No second opinion needed there.

Good News Gardening is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

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