June is the month to plant a vegetable garden in Western Washington.
The soil is finally warm enough to plant the seeds and starts of warm season crops such as beans, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. The cool season veggies such as peas, lettuce and radishes also can go into the ground if you have not yet planted them. We typically have another six weeks of cool weather before the real summer hits.
June is also the month to notice your planting mistakes, as overly ambitious plants begin to steal real estate from their neighbors. (There is more than just bamboo out there causing lawsuits.) Here is a guide for what not to plant, and what to use instead.
For the shade
Plant this: For a weed-blocking ground cover in the shade, plant ajuga, black mondo grass, Japanese Forest grass and the gorgeous golden lamium “Aurea” or “Golden Anniversary.” The reason is that these well-behaved ground covers will not take over and jump into other beds. Okay, sometimes the ajuga can get a bit enthusiastic, but if you plant the more compact or variegated ajuga varieties such as “Chocolate Chip” or “Burgundy Glow,” you’ll have a more attractive, yet slower-growing ajuga ground cover.
Not that: Gardeners in Western Washington most often complain about shade-loving English ivy, lamium galeobdolan (also known as “Arch Angel” lamium) and many types of vinca. These evergreen ground covers are considered invasive in most parts of Western Washington as they crowd out native plants. Often you don’t even plant these aggressive shade lovers. They can escape nearby gardens or fall from hanging baskets to invade woodlands. English Ivy is an especially dangerous plant as birds spread the seeds to wooded areas and then the ivy slowly chokes out all other plants, even the trees.
Tip: Spanish Bluebells are another bed-hopping plant that is hard to eradicate because the bulbs hide below the soil and the plant survives even if you pull every last fading flower stalk of the bell-shaped blue blooms. If you can’t fight the spread of bluebells, hide the mess instead. Add large-leaved hostas in the bed where the bluebells are spreading and the hosta foliage will spread out to not only hide the fading bulb foliage but also compete with the underground bulbs for water and nutrients — and the hosta will win. Two big hosta to try are the varieties “Sum and Substance” that can spread to 6 feet wide and the hosta “Great Expectations” with creamy yellow and green leaves.
Plant this: Blueberries and Swiss chard or kale are the most nutritious and easiest to grow edible plants for our unique Western Washington climate. They thrive in moist soil so don’t mind our rain, and will produce with just a half day of sunshine. You can grow both blueberries and Swiss Chard in containers if all you have is a balcony or patio.
The Swiss Chard called “Bright Lights” has multi-colored stems and is ornamental enough to grow in the middle of a pot surrounded with flowering annuals.
Not that: When it comes to edibles, growing corn in our climate is one of the most challenging. Not only does corn like long, hot summers but it does best when planted in a block of 20 to 25 plants. So you need a lot of room, a lot of sun and fertile soil. All that and corn is not even close to having the nutrient-rich vitamins provided by leafy greens and easy-to-grow blueberries. Buy beautiful sweet corn from your local farmers market instead.
Plant this: Tomatoes that ripen early and have been bred for cool climates do best here. Early Girl, Stupice, and Oregon Pride are examples. Don’t plant tomatoes until June as the cold nights in May will stunt the plants. Small tomatoes such as the cherry tomatoes like Sun Gold, Yellow Pear, Sweet 100, Sweet Million and Red Cherry also do well in our cool summer climate.
Not that: In our climate, large fruited tomatoes such as Beefsteak and Beef Master may not ripen before winter sets in. Look for varieties that say “cool-summer” or “short season” for the best chance of a successful tomato harvest.
Tip: Tomatoes love the extra heat from being set against a brick or stone wall that faces south or west or the added heat from a concrete driveway.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.