Diggin it': Gardening in the new year

This pink-flowering crape myrtle is sure to get anyone into the gardening spirit.

Gardening and weather-watching go hand-in-hand. Get a bunch of gardeners together and before long, we’ll be discussing the pros and cons of current weather, past weather or future predictions. We’ll lament the hail that punctured our once-perfect hosta’s leaves or brag about how the sunshine warmed our tomatoes to perfection.

The summer of 2015 —who can forget day after day of sweltering, 90-plus-degree weather? All kinds of records were broken here in western Oregon with what was dubbed an infernally pro-longed heat wave. Experts suggest this could be an ongoing trend and that we should adjust accordingly. For gardeners this means one of two things: Either spend a fortune on water bills or replace some or all of those thirsty, water-loving plants with drought tolerant, heat-loving ones.

While most gardeners enjoy the showy, new plants on the block, there is some-thing to be said for the native stalwarts — those tough plants that have spent decades adapting to the vagaries of weather and, if sited correctly, perform beautifully in our gardens. For example, the native sword fern thrives under the shade of towering Douglas firs so I’ve got several of them planted in the dry shade of my courtyard. The only maintenance required of me is to cut off the old fronds in March before the new fronds uncoil. They look great all year.

Another worthy native plant is ornamental flowering current (Ribes sp.). Not only will it add dramatic color to the early spring gar-den, it will provide a feast for resident bees and humming-birds all without needing a ton of summer water.

But did you know that western Oregon gardens can also host an olive tree, a bottle brush shrub and several different desert-roaming agaves?

Although we’ve never met in per-son, I’ve had many enjoyable online conversations with Paul Bonine, co-owner of Xera Plants, located here in the Willamette Valley. Paul is a native Oregonian and a walking, talking (and writing) encyclopedia of plant knowledge. He is also a self-proclaimed “weather geek” and can rattle off fas-cinating weather factoids that occurred yesterday or 30 years ago. He merges these two talents into dis-covering, testing and then touting high-performance, low-maintenance plants for western Oregon gardens.

One of Paul’s favorite summer-bloomers is crape myrtle, which despite outdated rumors, performs amazingly well in our climate. He’s got several planted in his modestly-sized Portland garden.

If you check out the Xera Plants website, you’ll find hundreds of time-tested perennials, trees, shrubs (and sub-shrubs), vines, ornamental grass-es and succulents suitable for growing in western Oregon. But the website has much more. Got a problem area?Deer issues? If so, you’ll find helpful information including a list of plants that can thrive with low or no summer water. Finally, you can read an excel-lent article demystifying the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. And there are lots of gorgeous photos.

Gardeners needn’t be worried about their gardens with respect to changing weather patterns. We can take advantage of the research and adapt accordingly. And who knows?Maybe the predictions will be wrong and it will rain all summer.

For your online perusal, visit Xera Nursery at xeraplants.com. While you’re at it, visit my gardening blog, gracepete.blogspot.com.

Tips for February:

February is the month when plant nurseries stock bare root trees and berry plants. You can save a lot of money by purchasing your plants bare root. The key to success is to get them planted in the ground or a large pot immediately after purchasing.

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