New to Gardening in Central Oregon? Myths & Truths to Get You Growing

Central Oregon Gardening Tips

No one who lives in the High Desert will tell you with a straight face that growing a beautiful, bountiful garden in Bend, Oregon is easy. But, oh! Every local gardener will agree, the rewards of seeing the apple or plum burst into blossom in spring and collecting a bowlful of fresh greens for a summer salad straight from the backyard are beyond compare. If you’re relocating to Central Oregon and are eager to start digging, the gang at Bend Relo is here for you with a heads up about some of the myths and truths of gardening in your new home.

Myth: If I can buy it here, the plant must be suited to the local climate and conditions.

Yeah, this one’s a heartbreaker for every gardener who dreams of replicating the glory of their grandmother’s hydrangea bushes or bougainvillea.

Better to stick to the sage advice of OSU Extension Services horticultural expert, Amy Jo Detweiler, who suggests picking plants that fall into the correct USDA hardiness zone for our area, hardiness defined as the ability of a plant to withstand an average minimum temperature.

Detweiler offers, “When choosing a plant, pick one with a rating that falls within your zone, or one zone colder.” For most of us in Bend, OR, and the surrounding areas, that means selecting plants that are designated for USDA hardiness zones 3-5. This is not to say, however, that one fine day you won’t be romanced by a zone 6 plant at the garden center and want to roll the dice. If your new home in NW Bend sits in a warmer pocket or your backyard in SE Bend has a sufficient windbreak, you might indeed have a friendly microclimate for that gardenia.

Myth: If a little fertilizer and compost is good, a lot is better.

Absolutely, adding organic matter and soil amendments to the garden can help your veggies and flower beds grow, but too much of a good thing can cause problems. An excess of phosphorus or salt can negatively affect plant growth. Best bet? Test the soil. Grab a test kit at a garden supply store, or check out OSU Extension Service resources to find a lab.

Myth: Growing a juicy beefsteak tomato in Central Oregon is the equivalent of finding the Holy Grail, and just as unlikely.

Well, yes and no. New Jersey has a typical growing season of 155 days. California enjoys 270 days between the last and first frosts of the season. Bend, OR? You can count on your fingers and toes how many frost-free days there are in a year, and you might not need your toes.

Not to worry, though, a perfect homegrown BLT can still be yours. Central Oregon gardeners can make the most of our 60-120-day growing season by selecting early maturing plants and using protective measures including row covers, walls-o-water or a greenhouse. Container gardens are another way to cultivate those Early Girls. Just be sure to skip the gravel in the bottom of the pot—that’s another myth. Drainage holes and good-draining soil should do the trick.

Myth: Watering in the heat of the day will burn my plants.

We can debunk this one by the fact that it rains in the summer almost everywhere, and even in equatorial climates, plants seem to thrive. Water, however, is a serious issue in the High Desert, and responsible use of it is key to a sustainable garden and good citizenship. The reason not to water at high noon is that the moisture evaporates too quickly to be of use. Check in with the City of Bend or your utilities company to confirm the days it’s your turn to water and set the sprinklers on a timer. The flip side of this myth is that your landscape does not need to be watered in winter. It does, if we haven’t had appropriate snowfall, and if the soil is thawed enough to take it in.

Ask a local

There’s lots of help and wisdom available locally from people who know how to grow in Central Oregon. Consult the gardening calendar and dig in:

  • Talk to the fine folks at Landsystems Nursery on the Eastside of Bend, and Eastside Gardens and Moonfire & Sun in SE Bend to get the skinny on the best plants for your new home.
  • Pick up a gorgeous hanging basket and some veggie starts at Galveston Gardens Bend on the Westside of town.
  • Follow Central Oregon Gardeners Facebook Page to learn the lore and swap stories with fellow growers.

Whether your idea of a luscious landscape is a High Desert xeriscape or a backyard full of berries, heads of kale, and bushels of green beans, the team at Bend Relo supports you in making your new home in Bend, OR your personal paradise.

Shelby Little is a local writer, maker, mother and business owner who relocated to Central Oregon from Virginia in 2012. When she’s not blogging, she’s vlogging or playing in the parks with her family.

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