Embracing the West Coast Garden
Here on the west coast we’re known for our abundant spectacular gardens, as much as for our charming tendencies to put avocado on everything we eat and wear our Birks almost year round. It’s a point of pride for us, to create magnificent gardens that make our east coast friends green with jealousy! Our yards are full of tulips and cherry blossoms while they still haven’t found theirs after the last snowfall. However, as fellow West Coast Gardeners you know that our location can pose some specific challenges. (With 168 days of rain last year in Vancouver, that’s almost half a year of wet gardening!)
There’s a reason it’s called a rainforest…
You know you’re from the west coast when you can name more than 10 words for rain (sprinkle, mist, drizzle, downpour…) Half of North America’s coastal rainforest can be found in BC, and it makes up almost 25% of the world’s temperate rainforests. While this means we have an amazing array of wildlife and no end of hiking options, it also means…well rain. Lots of it. Never fear, West Coast Gardeners! This is actually one of the reasons our gardens are so abundantly beautiful. Plants love this weather, even when we get a bit waterlogged. (No, BC’s provincial flower isn’t Mildew.)
Our west coast spring and summer gardening tip for you is to seize the day! Grab every sunny day you can to get out in the garden and get it summer ready (if you haven’t already). Fix up hedges, borders and garden beds. Clean up last year’s plants and remove anything that didn’t survive the winter. Plant hardy varieties of bushes, trees or plants. There’s no time like the present, especially when there’s always clouds on the horizon! The rain may make the flowers grow, but it’s no fun to be wading in a muddy garden. Read our tips on When To Plant Annuals in BC, as well as other ideas for garden care.
Where is all that west coast rain going?
You’d hate waking up to wet feet every time it pours, right? Well your plants feel the same way. Good drainage in your garden will take the best advantage of all the rain. The first thing to find out is what kind of soil you have in your garden, clay or sandy? Give a handful of moist soil a squeeze to find out. If it stays in a tight ball, you probably have an abundance of clay in your soil. If it falls apart afterwards, you’re probably looking at a sandy composition. What you want is soil that springs back after squeezing, with a loamy feel.
If you’ve got sandy soil (which drains a bit too well) you’ll need to add organic material such as compost or sea soil to your garden to help it retain nutrients and water for your plants. If you’ve got clay try adding peat moss, sea soil or covering it with good quality gardening soil. We recommend using sea soil on any garden, as it can go directly on your garden beds, breaks down slowly to feed your garden the entire season, and includes beneficial microorganisms and fungi. You can read our love-letter to Sea Soil on this blog post.
Making a sun map for your yard
Those sunny days of summer need to be taken full advantage of, especially in the garden. Knowing what areas of your garden get the best brightest light, and which are in shade, is an important part of planting. If you’re uncertain, spend a few days checking your garden and marking down areas that are in full sun and areas that are not during the morning, afternoon and evening. (You can even draw a quick diagram out of your garden, then mark down which areas are getting sun at certain times of the day.) When you go to the nursery to choose your plants, match their sunlight requirements with the places you want to plant them in the garden. Remember, areas that get full sun will need a lot more watering than the shady areas, so plan accordingly.
Read our blog post about Making Your Own Sun Map with examples and ideas.
Growing vegetables and fruit in your west coast garden
Another benefit of our slightly wet weather trends are the amazing crops of fruit and vegetables we can grow. Lettuce, squash, tomatoes…among many many others, all do fantastic with above average rainfall. We love this easy guide by West Coast Seeds for when to plant vegetables in your garden (including when to start the seeds indoors as well as when to cover or transplant your veg).
Slugs are not pets…how to get pests out of your garden
For west coast gardeners slugs are a common garden visitor, if not a permanent resident. Without harming the soil of our garden with pesticides and other solutions, how can we deter these slimy and hungry creatures?
- Lava rocks or stones used around your garden beds can keep slugs away from your prized petunias, as they hate the feeling of such an abrasive surface. Make sure to create a barrier a few inches wide and above the soil.
- Coffee grounds scattered on your soil are another natural deterrent for slugs, as they don’t enjoy the caffeine content (make sure not to use decaffeinated coffee…haha).
- Another option is to attract the slugs elsewhere in your garden, keeping them away from your plants. Overturned pots, with the rim propped up on a rock, will attract those slimy creatures and keep them busy until you can relocate them out of your garden (if you want to stay friends with your neighbours ~ maybe not in their garden).
- Grapefruit halves have the same effect when left in the garden, and you can enjoy the other half for breakfast.
Bees and butterflies galore…how to attract beneficial insects to your BC garden
With the declining bee populations around the world, we look to our gardeners to help with the crisis. Here in BC we have over 450 species of bees, more than enough to share around everyone’s garden! The best way to get these beneficial insects into your garden is to create a paradise they can’t ignore with three staples: water, sun and good food (basically an all inclusive resort). This means keeping a shallow dish of water out for the bees to drink, with rocks placed inside to create dry islands they can perch on. It also means choosing flowers that will flourish in our unique BC environment and attract these winged insects. We have a Guide to a Bee Friendly Garden blog post that includes the best plants to use in your bee garden, ideas for plant pesticides that won’t hurt them, and other great tips.
When they start restricting the water
We deal with it every year, those dreaded water restrictions. Somehow, no matter how much rain and snow we get all winter, we still have to watch our water use during the summer months. Get your specific watering restrictions from the official city website, then add in watering reminders to your phone so that you don’t accidentally miss a day and have to watch your garden wilt.
It’s what smart phone apps were made for, folks! Use the calendar app to plan ahead, especially if you plan on going away on vacation. If you have automatic sprinklers then it’s easy to program in your watering days. Otherwise, try watering your garden in the early morning or late afternoon, avoiding the hot mid-day sun. Read our entire blog post about Hydration Ideas for the Summer Heat here.
Winter is coming…what to do in the garden
Winter means different things throughout BC, from more rain to a few feet of snow. West coast gardeners can keep their gardens in mind as they prepare for the eventual spring weather. Prepping your tools, defending against snow and loosening your soil are just some ideas for keeping the gardening spirit alive during the gloomier months of the year. For more ideas read our Top 5 Winter Gardening Tips.