Flowers like this Night Sky petunia appreciate good growing conditions — which means adding compost and organic fertilizer. (Courtesy photo)

Flowers like this Night Sky petunia appreciate good growing conditions — which means adding compost and organic fertilizer. (Courtesy photo)

Spring is here — time to get cracking in the Northwest garden

From planting veggies to deadheading rhodies, here’s what you need to be doing in May.

The weather is finally cooperating for us gardeners to get a bunch of chores done, and I fully intend to work myself into a state of blissful exhaustion.

After the wettest March on record and a very cold and soggy April, it is time to get caught up. Here is what I will be doing over the next 30 days.

Veggies: I prepped my beds a month ago with lots of compost and organic fertilizer, and while I should be enjoying fresh lettuce right now, life got in the way and nothing got planted (this is where the sad face emoji should be).

In the next two weeks, I will be planting my spuds, onions, beets, carrots, peas, and broccoli with joyful anticipation of a delicious harvest of healthy and tasty vegetables — many of which will never actually make it to the dinner table but rather be washed off and eaten right in the garden. There is nothing quite as divine as fresh-grown produce, so sweet that even kids will enjoy it.

Whether you have room for a small raised bed or a 10-by-20-foot plot, plant some veggies this spring. You won’t be sorry. (Happy face emoji here)

Lawns: Talk about a polarized world — it seems like there are two camps on lawns. One group despises them as a waste of resources and a depository for nasty chemicals, and the other sees them as a space to create the perfect, unblemished sea of emerald green, second only to the finest golf courses in Scotland.

There is, of course, a happy medium where we all can enjoy the cool, calming effect of a soft green carpet without the intensive input of time and materials. I will be sharpening my lawn mower blade, raising the height to 2 inches, plucking out or spot-spraying a few weeds, and applying an organic fertilizer, after which I should only have to mow and water weekly for the next several months. Don’t make turf care more complicated than it needs to be.

Pruning: I am never without my pruners when I am in the garden, for there is always something to snip, clip or even hack back vigorously — it’s called “vegetation management.”

This is the month to deadhead rhodies, cut back the spring bloomers like forsythia, remove the spent flowers from daffodils and hellebores, take out the inside weaker branches from the shrubs and trees (this will let more light penetrate down to the understory), and generally tidy and shape all the plants in the yard, especially after the winter snow and freezing temps broke or killed a bunch of stuff.

Whether you are renovating old overgrown shrubs or just lightly thinning out others, May is the month to make it happen. Sharpen your pruners (or better yet, treat yourself to a new pair) and get with the program!

Flowers: It is always a good time to plant flowers, whether they are perennials or annuals, and I firmly believe it is one of the best investments we can make toward maintaining a healthy mental state. Like veggies, we have cool-season flowers and warm-season flowers, but by the time we get to May you can find them all mixed together at the garden center, ready for you to take home and create your own little Giverny.

Also, like veggies, flowers appreciate good growing conditions — which means of course adding compost and organic fertilizer helping you get bigger and brighter blooms, just like you will get bigger and tastier veggies.

If you do most of your flowers in containers, replace all of the soil if the pots are small or just remove 6 to 8 inches and work in some fresh soil if they are large. I like to blend in some organic flower food so it is already down next to the roots and then follow up with a weekly application of a soluble feed that dissolves in water that I can pour over the top of the soil.

Like all things in gardening, whether it is mowing, watering, or feeding, consistency is what makes it all work. You can’t go nuts one weekend a month and then let everything slide for the next 30 days. If it helps, think of your plants as pets that need to be fed and watered daily. They are living creatures and will thrive when we pay attention to them or conversely, fail to thrive if we ignore them. A healthy pet or garden both require the same kinds of awareness on the part of their owners. Take this month to love and care for your garden and you will be richly rewarded all summer long.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

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