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Raised beds help gardeners bypass root, weed and soil issues

Conversation about gardening is common in the Statesman newsroom during the summer, as I’m sure it is in offices across the Treasure Valley.

We’re all growing something.

Enthusiasm for growing things doesn’t necessarily parallel the size or quality of one’s garden, as no one can touch Editor Jason Lantz’s exuberance over his lone tomato plant, Paul.

I look forward to his weekly updates on Paul, who has reportedly been growing in a bathroom that gets a lot of light. I can hear some of you saying: “Katy, one plant growing in a bathroom is not a garden.”

To that I say: You gotta start somewhere.

Photojournalist Katherine Jones has a more traditional backyard garden at the Boise home where she’s been living about 20 years with partner Glenn Oakley.

“I think I’ve been gardening all my life in some form or the other,” she said. Her prized tomato plants are already as tall, or taller, than she is.

Katherine graciously allowed us to feature her garden in this week’s Dig In garden video. The giant blue spruce trees in her yard “create a whole lot of shade and a whole lot of roots,” she said.

New this year: Raised beds.

“This allows us to have a garden where we want it,” Katherine said. They’d previously planted in an upper corner of the yard where the roots weren’t as big of a problem.

This was something of a revelation for me, as I’d always thought people chose raised beds for aesthetics — they’re defined, neat, orderly — or for their ease of use (particularly important for those with bad knees, arthritis or other physical challenges). Turns out, there are many reasons to consider raised beds.

Tired of battling bindweed? Have poor soil? Don’t have a lot of space? Raised beds could help.

They can be built just about anywhere, including patios and balconies (keep drainage in mind). They can be any size, any height and just about any material (wood, stone, straw bales or even cinder blocks). Want something more creative than a box? Check out “15 Cheap and Easy DIY Raised Garden Beds” in Your House & Garden online.

Among the benefits that raised bed gardeners tout: They’re less weedy, and the soil is easier to mix. They also prevent damage to plants and beneficial bugs caused by daily tromping around the garden, Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith said.

“Compacting soil is how you kill all the microorganisms, the billions that live in there,” Debbie said. She added that prepping the soil for the next season of planting is a lot easier.

If you put raised beds in your yard, you’ll still have to be vigilant about roots and weeds. Katherine used weed barrier fabric at the bottom of her beds (placed before the soil is added) to slow encroachment.

Pro tip: Weed barrier isn’t always advised or necessary, Debbie said. It can add extra expense and could affect drainage and soil health (beneficial organisms).

Katherine is thrilled so far by how well her plants are doing in the four garden beds that she and Glenn constructed with lumber from Home Depot (they had soil trucked in). Her greens, potatoes, eggplants, peppers and 20 tomato plants are all thriving.

“My idea of a garden is having enough tomatoes to can,” she said. “We’ve had tomatoes in previous years but not ever enough to can. I’m really excited.”

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

Summer isn’t over but plant sales starting now

It’s a good time of year to buy plants because nurseries and stores are offering deep discounts. We saw some slashed up 75 percent last weekend. Some looked sad but there were also some great deals.

Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith’s tips on what to look for:

▪  Look for long-season flowering perennials, plants that bloom spring-summer or summer-fall.

▪  Check the roots. Gently pull the plant from the pot. If the roots are circled tight, or you can’t even get it out of the pot, it is pot-bound. If the plant is pot-bound, and you don’t want to trim the roots, skip it.

▪  Select plants with hardiness zone 6, 5 or 4. While the hardiness zone in the Boise area can range up to 7, selecting lower helps ensure the odds that the plant will survive the winter.

On sale now: North End Organic Nursery’s “Made in the Shade” sale, which runs through Monday, Aug. 1. They’re offering 40 percent off Japanese Maples, hostas, azaleas, clematis and others. 3777 W. Chinden Boulevard in Garden City.

Mark your calendar: Perennials at Edwards Greenhouse will be marked 50 percent of on Aug. 25 to Sept. 5.

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