The weather has been uncooperative, but a couple of sunny days will put gardeners back on track. (Getty Images)

The weather has been uncooperative, but a couple of sunny days will put gardeners back on track. (Getty Images)

Why is the Whistling Gardener still wearing a turtleneck?

A cool, rainy May is making life difficult and frustrating for the Northwest gardener.

It was 17 years ago in early June when I wrote a column titled “Are you cranky too?” It started out like this: “WARNING: Nothing in this week’s column is of horticultural value. The reason is because I am in a totally cranky mood. You might be feeling the same too.”

Well, here we are in the second week of May and I find myself feeling the same way I did all those years ago. I am still wearing a turtleneck and long pants and wondering if the mercury is ever going to get up into the 60s. We have already exceeded our monthly total of rainfall and there seems to be no end in sight. Last week I dug several holes in my new garden to plant some peonies and they promptly filled with water before I could finish the project. I have been trying to spray some weeds and I can’t seem to find a window of opportunity where it is both sunny and calm. It is totally exasperating, to say the least. But unlike 17 years ago when I stated there would be nothing of horticultural value, this time I will attempt to at least leave you with some sage advice.

Gardeners live and breathe on the whims of the weather. When it cooperates, we can get chores done in a timely manner and stay on top of everything in the yard. When it doesn’t, things can go to hell in a hand basket very quickly — that is kind of where we are heading currently. When we have all this extra moisture in the air, fungus spores just go nuts. I can guarantee we will see cherry trees with blossom and twig blight, lilacs with lilac blight, and quite possibly peonies with peony blight. Dogwood trees will have anthracnose, roses will have black spot and lawns will have red thread. Don’t worry, these issues are all manageable, but it is imperative to try to apply some sort of control to protect new emerging growth. Natural products like copper, sulfur, neem oil or even baking soda will help, but may need to be reapplied weekly. Synthetic formulations like Bonide Infuse, Fung-onil or Rose Shield can give your plants longer-lasting protection. No matter which products you choose, proactivity is definitely the way to go.

Slugs are of course living the dream and need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Sluggo is a safe (iron based) product that will help control them. Place it under a pot or board where slugs tend to hide and away from birds and other creatures. A little bit goes a long way, so don’t overdo it.

Try not to let the lawn get away from you. Taking off more than a third of the leaf blade when mowing can severely stress a lawn and open the door for invasive weeds. So find those gaps in the weather to get outside and maintain the lawn.

On a positive note, this cold wet weather is perfect for planting and/or transplanting plants (as long as they’re not budding or blooming) in the garden — assuming the soil is not saturated. When moving plants, be sure to add some transplanter fertilizer or even a product that contains a rooting hormone like IBA to help them really settle in. And as always, incorporate some fresh compost into the planting hole and on top as a mulch.

This cooler weather has also had another benefit: My tulips bulbs have been in bloom for over a month, something that would never have happened if it had been sunny and in the 60s to 70s. So, I guess you could call that the silver lining of what is otherwise a miserable weather pattern.

No matter how uncooperative the weather is, there is grace in the fact that just a day or two of sunshine is all it takes to get us back on track. Hang in there and get ready, the sun is coming. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith represents Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, and can be reached at

Free class

Sunnyside Nursery’s next free online class will be “Thrillers, Fillers & Spillers” at 10 a.m. May 21, paired with a Free Container Planting Day in the nursery that same day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, go to

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