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Portland, OR 97236
Although the stereotypical weather in the Pacific Northwest is grey, rainy skies, there is a surprisingly long period of drought every year. Though the skies can sometimes still be a bit grey in June and September, there is no significant rainfall for most of our growing season. If it wasn’t already known to those of us who garden here, the recent fires have made it all too apparent that the dry season in the Northwest is no joke.
While most fruiting plants need a fair amount of water throughout the growing season in order to produce heavy crops, a few come from Mediterranean climates similar to ours that have wet, mild winters and warm or hot, dry summers.
Even for growers who don’t have such a pronounced dry season, planting a Mediterranean garden provides a uniquely beautiful plant palette with no added cost to your water bill. All of the plants presented below will thrive with little to no summer water once they’re established, and many, such as Ceanothus and Manzanitas, require great drainage and no summer water or else they will face a premature death. It’s possible to plant an entire dry garden, or even a just a section of your garden, that receives no summer water once it’s established. Maybe just providing a handful of splashes with the garden hose to keep it looking lush throughout the hot dry months of summer.
For all those wanting to experience the Mediterranean in their own backyard, we have some helpful grow tips below to help get you started!
1. All of the plants listed below love full, hot, all day sun! Planting these in the places on your property that have blasting heat will make them happiest!
2. Plant in well-draining soil and, if necessary, amend with gravel or pumice to increase drainage. Many commonly grown herbs like lavender, thyme and rosemary will have a prolonged life and avoid having dead looking centers or getting extra leggy if they are planted in an area with excellent drainage!
3. Water deeply and infrequently, preferably in the early morning, to establish. Mediterranean plants tend to fail in irrigated gardens or very wet climates. To establish Mediterranean plants you’ll need to water for the first summer or two. After that, only give them 2-3 waterings throughout the growing season to keep them looking lush.
4. Refrain from watering after the first week of September. Though it can be tempting to keep watering and pushing that vigorous new growth through the hot days of September it can cause many woody plants to head into the cold of winter with wood that hasn’t been fully ripened and vascular tissues that haven’t gone dormant. Many of these plants actually have drought-induced dormancy and cutting back on the water late in the season will help them harden off for winter.
5. Fertilize minimally, if at all. Most of these species have all they need in our native soils and fertilizing can cause excessive and weak growth. The recent wind storm was a severe reminder that it is better to have strong branches than fast growth. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were all the olive trees that surrounded it. Also pruning excessively vigorous growth, especially in olives, can help create a tree that is denser, stockier and stronger.
Enjoy the fruits, flavors and aromas of a beautiful dry garden! Many Mediterranean plants actually produce much tastier fruit, figs being a prime example, or more aromatic foliage, such as in lavenders and rosemary, when they haven’t been given any summer water. Life can still be lush in the dry garden!