The Pacific Northwest gets a bad rap for the rain and overcast skies that shroud the region much of the year. Global warming and climate change aside, a visit to the area necessitates a good raincoat (no umbrella unless you want to be spotted as a tourist or transplant), rubber boots, and a lifetime supply of vitamin D. That is unless you plan your visit between July and October. During the summer months, the celestial faucet turns off and the temperate rainforest trades in its cool ambiance of clouds and mist for clear, blue skies and hot, dry summers.
What this means for plant-lovers is that, barring the onslaught of wild weather events, there are ample opportunities to cultivate and grow a wide variety of plants for much of the year in Cascadia and beyond. Local plant expert and owner of Fox Hollow Creek Nursery in Eugene, Oregon Michael Kaszycki recommends that novice gardeners looking to beautify their properties, decorate their homes, or grow their own veggies think carefully about what they want to do before planting to avoid these common mistakes.
Commitment: Taking on too much.
“A lot of people have situations that they really don’t have the commitment or knowledge to deal with,” Kaszycki has found. Thinking carefully about the amount of time and resources you have to devote to your gardening projects is key. New planting endeavors need to be manageable in order to be successful. Learning is part of the process, but try not to make the learning curve too steep or you’ll get mired in information and either never get the project off the ground or have to troubleshoot often when projects have been launched hastily and without adequate planning, preparation, and forethought.
Variety: Choosing plants that aren’t suited for the area.
Kaszycki pointed out that nurseries may sell plants that don’t grow well where customers live. Though Eugene is known to be one of the premier cities in the country for urban gardening, he sees that happening here as well. “They’ve got apple trees that work all around the country, but they don’t work here. But, they’re [still] selling them here.”
Placement: Putting plants in the wrong place.
“There’s a lot of in-building going on in Eugene right now, so a lot of people who had big lots behind them—empty lots!—all of a sudden, [they’ve] got these big houses behind them. So, that’s gotten to be a big issues here. People always want a little bit of privacy,” Kaszycki commented when asked what common problems novice gardeners come to him with.
“It seems to me what happens here is people come in with situations. My neighbor just built another house. My neighbor put in a hot tub…and I don’t want to see it. I need a shrub, quick.” The guidance a local expert can provide is what kind of shrub will do well in this climate in the specific spot the customer wants to fill in their yard.
He added that even people with years of gardening experience come seeking advice on filling in holes: “Filling in something they lost. That snow made a lot of holes, or changed their property because trees came down. Then all of a sudden their shady area is now a sunny area.”
Care: Not knowing what your plants need.
As mentioned above, it’s important not to overextend when it comes to gardening, just as in any other home improvement project.
A main concern for planting outdoors in the Pacific Northwest is watering. Kaszycki explains, “One of the big challenges are our summers, which are bone dry. Very hot, very dry. So, it’s a real commitment to plant things in the spring. You have to take care of it all summer. It’s a real battle in the summer if you don’t stay on top of the watering.” Kaszycki added that this is something he asks his customers at Fox Hollow Creek Nursery, about their time constraints with regards to watering. This way, he’s able to best guide patrons in making sustainable garden plans, suggest the most suitable plants, and take on projects that fit the time and resources at their disposal.
In addition to staying on top of watering during the hot, dry summers is the problem of not watering correctly. Kaszycki explained the importance of “watering things right.” Trees, for instance, need less frequent, but deep watering so roots will grow. He explained, “You don’t want to water it every day. You want to water it every five days and water deeply, to let the roots start going down.”
Another aspect of plant care that needs to be considered is maintaining the plant correctly. Blueberry plants, for example, need a couple years to become established. Kaszycki recommends removing the fruit during the first two years, so the plant can devote its energy to growing strong. Other pitfalls include not providing the necessary nutrients, the right soil composition, or other aspect of plant maintenance, such as pruning.
So now that we’ve covered some of the “don’ts,” here are some of the “dos” for growing healthy plants for your home or business.
Identify your needs and level of commitment.
What do you want to plant and why? Will your focus be on fruits, vegetables, flowers, shrubs, or trees? Are you looking to decorate or improve your yard, establish a kitchen garden, or create your own apothecary of herbs and edibles?
Choose the right variety.
What grows best where you live? Going against the grain is not a virtue in gardening. For best results, go with what is suited to the climate and terrain of your region.
So what next? You’ve got your focus and your purpose. You know what you want to plant and why. Kaszycki’s response? “YouTube. All of that info is out there. It’s really easy. I used to carry plant books and talk to people about plant books.” Reaching for his cell phone, he continues, “Now I just take this out, and I google it, and I got the answer that they’re asking for.” So research. Find information on placement, watering, and the nutrients needed for the plants you have selected. Also, Google Lens is an excellent tool for identifying plants from a cell phone picture.
“A lot of people have situations that they really don’t have the commitment or knowledge to deal with,” Kaszycki has learned in his more than three decades of gardening. A strong advocate for consultation, he recommends growers find local experts to guide them, help them troubleshoot, and lend their expertise. “A lot of people are buying new houses now in Eugene. So, there’s a landscape in place, but they want to make it their own. They want to change it. Consultation is what they really need so that they put things in the right place.”
Mike Kaszycki’s final thoughts on gardening for success center on having fun. “I ask everybody, you got a hammock? Make sure you got your priorities right. Make it something you enjoy.”
GPP is a website and database of plants for maritime Pacific Northwest gardeners from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia. If you live west of the Cascade Mountains, this is your resource for selecting plant varieties suitable for growing in your home or garden. A list of nurseries, websites, organizations, and a glossary of common terms are also provided to support users in gaining proficiency in the language and culture of plants.
Oregon State University Extension
In addition to providing information on becoming a master gardener, OSU extension offers support to gardeners through its online “ask an expert” email page, by phone via the master gardener hotline, or in person in one of 40 extension offices around the state.
Choose “Gardening, Lawn, and Landscape” from the Topics menu of the website for a wealth of information related to bees and pollinators; berries and fruits; flowers, shrubs and trees; gardening techniques; lawn and turf grass; urban forestry; vegetables; and wildlife, as well as a monthly garden calendar.
Click on the “Browse Resources” link to filter resources by keyword, region, language, and type. Choose among articles, catalog publications, educational documents, featured questions, news stories, online resources, and videos.
Houseplants are more in vogue than ever and Mike Kaszycki has observed this trend in his customer base at Fox Hollow Creek Nursery. “Houseplants got really big recently. Everyone wants houseplants now,” he noted. So, for all of your houseplant questions and queries—whether you’ve been into them since back in the day like freelance journalist, Jane Perrone, or are new to indoor plant care—check out The Houseplant Podcast on Perrone’s site, On The Ledge.
Pacific Northwest gardener and Youtube personality, Misilla, posts videos narrating the progress of her home garden along with links to organic garden products she’s used with success. Her extensive knowledge of plants is shared in a conversational tone, making the information accessible to viewers. Misilla shares her excitement and joy for gardening in an endearing and delightful way, and every so often, you’ll see one or more of her four children helping out in the garden, too!
The Gardening Channel With James Prigioni
James Prigioni has expertise and a down-to-earth, sincere love for working the land. James’s videos chronicle the creation and evolution of his New Jersey suburban “food forest;” he is entertaining and full of genuine passion for gardening and helping others find success in their own planting projects. His videos are focused on practical, general gardening tips applicable to growing in all climates; he wants others to learn from his mistakes as well as his achievements. For information on pruning a common PAC NW crop, check out his video on blackberries.
Other ways to learn about gardening:
And during the winter months, immerse yourself in plant-inspired art, literature, movies, and music:
Michael Kaszycki is the owner of Fox Hollow Creek Nursery in Eugene, Oregon. He moved to Oregon in his early 20s from the east coast and began studying native plants at Lane Community College. He quickly became fascinated with them.
Kaszycki operated a booth at the Eugene Saturday Farmers’ Market for 30 years, before taking over a nursery site and moving his business to its current location. For Kaszycki, planting and running a nursery is a lifestyle—not a job—and the joy he finds in his chosen lifestyle is evident. “People that like plants are nurturing people. They’re pleasant to work with. I like plants; I like plant-lovers,” he shared. After friends vetoed the original name Mike came up with, “Serendipitous Fecundities,” he decided to name his business after the creek in front of his home off of Lorraine Highway. In his words, coming up with this name was “as easy as falling off a log.”