It’s spring in Portland, and no matter the weather, neighborhoods come alive as families migrate outside to enjoy yards and porches. Join them and try your hand at one local pursuit — gardening! With a growing season of more than 200 days between first and last frost, Portland is an ideal place for it. April showers help plants get plants started off right, so it’s a great time to begin.

Image courtesy Anna Tachouet

Let there be light!

First consider where you’ll put plants. You may take a look at tags for guidance on specific plant needs, but ideally set up your gardening plot in the sunniest corner of your yard or porch. Light helps flowers, fruits and vegetables thrive. 

Put in some sweat equity.

Once you’ve found a good location, loosen the soil with a shovel to add some air and break up any chunks of harder claylike soil. This is best done when the ground is a bit damp, but not too soggy. You may consider amending the soil with some garden mulch or topsoil which can be purchased in a bag or created over time from food and yard scraps.

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What’s the end game?

Next you’re ready to pick some plants and a trip to the local garden store can help you get pointed in the right direction. Take the kids so everyone in the family can explore and follow their own interests. A few nearby favorites are Portland Nursery, Cornell Farms, Loen’s or One Green World.

Summer color

The annual plants section is where you’ll find plants offering bold, long lasting summer color. Some of our family favorites are marigolds, impatiens, cosmos and zinnias. From the colorful seed rack, we grab sweet peas for their soft fragrance or nasturtiums, edible flowers that sit colorfully on top of a summer garden salad. Territorial Seed Company is an Oregon-based go-to for seeds.

Native plants are a great choice that, once established, may require less water and provide rich habitats for local birds and insects. Lupine, columbine or bleeding hearts are attractive flowering options. The OSU Extension Service offers great information if you’d like more ideas on natives.

Let’s eat!

If it’s veggies you’re after, you may want a mix of seeds and small baby plants (“starts”). For green beans, peas, lettuce, kale, parsley, radishes or carrots, seeds work great. We often purchase starts for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and basil since they need a warmer overnight temperature to put in the ground. It’s a personal preference, so experimentation is a good thing!

Kids love putting seeds in rows and later hunting for beans on vines or pulling up carrots to see what’s been happening underground. Zucchini and pumpkins are great options if you have space for a bigger vine to spread out or dangle. Kids and neighbors enjoy watching zucchini explode in size in August and keeping tabs on pumpkins as they turn more orange by the day in October.

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No yard? No problem!

A robust garden can be created in flower pots on your porch, deck or balcony. Use a trowel to add plants to potting soil and let the younger garden helpers take a turn. Seeds can be started in cardboard egg containers near the kitchen window and transplanted to pots once they outgrow their first home. PBS offers simple instructions for this project.

Garden tales

I find that gardeners love to share tips with you, and sometimes their plants as well, so chat with a neighbor. Our family rule of thumb is spring plants in the ground before Memorial Day, but rules are meant to be broken. Whatever you do, get dirty and have fun. The garden is a great place for kids and adults to enjoy scientific trials, successes and mistakes alike!

Love flowers, but no interest in growing your own? Check out our roundup of Spring Blooms in PDX.

Anna Tachouet
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