Category Archives: Gardening

Spring Awakening

Spring has officially arrived. Really. Despite the rains and clouds, the crocuses and daffodils are popping up and new green leaves are emerging. As I write this the sun is pushing the clouds away and the temps are reaching for the 50s. The birds are at the feeding stations and have you heard the frogs?  It’s like a symphony in the neighborhood.  The spring awakening is such a special time.

Some things to consider for beautifying your landscape in late March and early April:

  • Now is the best time to purchase perennial plants at the nursery.
  • Continue weeding to prevent seed maturation. If you weed seriously now, summer weeding will be a breeze! And if you are going to use a pre-emergent weed control, now is a good time.
  • Continue baiting for slugs.
  • This is the last good month for transplanting. If a plant is starting to sprout, it might be best to just leave it and wait for next fall to move it.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after the blossoms fade.
  • Trim or shear winter-blooming heathers when the bloom period is finished.
  • Fertilize rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas with compost or, only if necessary, an acid-type fertilizer. (An indicator is that the leaves are yellow)
  • Spread mulch over garden and landscape areas that didn’t get mulched last month.
  • Lawn-mowing begins; set blade ¾ to 1” for bent grass lawns; set blade 1 1/2” to 2 ½” for fine fescue and ryegrasses. In other words, set it as low as you can without damaging the lawn. It will look really shorn. It might take three tries to get it to the level that you want. The grass will be wet and green.
  • First application of lawn fertilizer this year after the first mowing. Our preference is an organic fertilizer (non-petrochemical). (Or, something like 16-5-5).
  • Fertilize cane berries with manure/compost (or, 10-10-10).

Prune out dead wood on blueberries and gooseberries and keep them from getting too big, then spread wood shavings and as needed manure/compost.

Iris unguicularis (Algerian Iris)

I planted our winter-blooming Algerian Iris by our driveway in a gravelly spot in full sun. Bonus: It has a great ability to flower right out there, when few other plants dare do anything. The narrow green strappy leaves, are evergreen and only 18 inches tall, and make a dense deer-resistant clump to about the same distance across. It does not like shade at all and must have very good drainage.

Starting in November (weather permitting), the clumps begin to flower with two-inch, fragrant, light lavender-purple flowers. It is a vigorous plant that slowly spreads by rhizomes (also known as rootstalk, or rootstock – the horizontal stem of a plant from which a variety of individual plants can grow – great for filling in spaces, such as alongside my driveway!). The blooms make good cut flowers arrangements, but if you do not slug bait, all of them will have some chew spots

They can continue to bloom through April (temporarily ceasing when the temperature drops below 15 degrees F). The Royal Horticultural Society named Iris unguicularis as one of the top 200 plants of the last 200 years!

This plant is great for rock gardens, raised beds, banks, slopes and containers. It can even handle coastal gardens. It is one tough plant.  It seems to handle our zone 8 climate with no problem.  I have only seen a little leaf burn when the temps got down to 12 F.

I cut the foliage down to about two inches in the late fall once it is obvious to me that it is starting to bloom. This shows off the flowers better.

It does not like being dug up and disturbed, but sections can be dug up off the sides to give to your friends and family. Be forewarned, thought, it takes more than a year to make it happy again. The center of my clump tends to give out, but I put compost and fertilizer in the middle and it grows back.

I am told that it can cause indigestion if eaten. Do not eat it.

With these few exceptions, I just leave it alone most of the year:

  • Trim back the foliage just before it breaks into bloom.
  • Bait for slugs at the same time.
  • Add a circle around it of compost and manure in March.

 

Euphorbia rigida: All Season Color and Texture in Your Garden

If you’re looking for a plant that will give your garden color and texture all year long; require almost no maintenance, or any augmented watering after its first growing season, perhaps you should consider the Euphorbia rigida.

This shrub is an evergreen perennial in our northwest climate. It originated in what we used to call Yugoslavia (now the 7 independent nations of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia).

Here’s more of what you should know about this plant:

  • It will brighten the late winter months with chartreuse blooms that will last for well over a month.
  • It must be watered the first summer, but it is drought tolerant after that.
  • Its foliage shows gray-blue color in the summer sun and a green-gray color in the winter.
  • It is well mannered: This means it is not prone to seeding around like some of its cousins.
  • Individual plants are about two feet tall and one and a half inch wide in general.
  • Maintenance is simple. After the blooms have been spent, cut that stem all the way down to the ground. The shoots that didn’t bloom this time around will next year.

Euphorbia rigida looks great next to rocks and likes well-drained soil It doesn’t like to get its feet wet, so avoid planting it where it will end up sitting in irrigation water in the summer, or in a place where water pools in the winter rains.

 

Planting and Pruning in a Northwest January

We have all walked into a fresh new year. Much is hoped for amid the rain, wind and chill. Be brave fellow gardener, the weather can be your friend!

Here are some good suggestions to help you get something accomplished in your garden in January:

  • Good time for transplanting (now that this year’s first big freeze has eased).
  • Plant sweet peas or eating peas for that matter if you have a place open in the garden and if your yard isn’t frozen or covered with snow. If you wait for warm weather the insect and fungus enemies of peas will be ready for you. If you plant now, the enemies are asleep and you can get a jump on them. Plant peas where the soil is well drained and workable.
  • It is still too early to start seeds for spring vegetable transplant.
  • Water landscape plants underneath wide eaves and in other spots protected from rain; monitor during the winter.
  • Moss appearing in your lawn means too much shade, low fertility, soil compaction, or a thin stand of grass. Now is the time of the year to decide what to do. Your options are to get rid of the lawn or kill the moss and encourage the lawn. If your trees are getting too big and shady, then the first option to remove considerable amount of lawn might be the best solution.
  • Gather branches of budding quince, forsythia and flowering cherries and bring inside. The warmth of the house will force early blooming for a lovely bouquet.
  • Monitor houseplants for correct watering and feeding; guard against insect infestations, clean dust from leaves. Use a low-level fertilizer like Oxygen Plus.
  • Winter pruning is now upon us. See our last year’s blog on this subject: “Winter Pruning, It’s All About the Timing,” to read up on the particulars.
  • Check online for ideas and follow up with your local garden or nursery stores for seed and seed catalogs to begin planning this year’s veggie garden.
  • For our country friends, watch for field mouse damage on the lower trunks of trees and shrubs. Control measures include approved baits, weed control and traps.

 

It’s Winter, So Let’s Wait

Last week, a client who had contracted for a considerable amount of landscape work, made this comment to us.

“It is the rainy season and it is so cold and wet, I am not sure about having the landscape work done now. Maybe, it would be better to wait till it’s warmer and dryer, possibly in April or May? On second thought, I think that we should go ahead and do the hardscape work, but let’s wait until the spring for the planting work.”

There are three reasons why it would be a good idea to install a new landscape during the rainy season (Fall/Winter):

  • If you have drainage issues, the rains will show you where they are.
  • The ground is soft and malleable now. It’s not difficult to dig for paths, pavers and so on. In the summer months, the ground is like concrete and becomes very difficult to dig.
  • Landscapers need to have work for their employees all year around. We only stop work when the ground is frozen or when there is a blanket of snow.

Here are three reasons why it is better to plant most plants during the rainy season:

  • In the rainy season, new plants are dormant, so they will not grow leaves, but instead will modestly grow new roots. This process allows new plants to begin rooting out into the surrounding soil when there is abundant moisture.
  • Because it is cool and moist weather, leaf transpiration (process of moving water from roots to leaves, where it is evaporated into the air) for evergreen plants is at a minimum. For the deciduous or herbaceous plants, there will be no transpiration at all.
  • It is the best time of the year to transplant existing plants because:
    • they will have minimal new top growth which, would force the damaged/cut roots to supply more moisture to the leaves, which they could not physically do.
    • they will have the opportunity to grow new roots out into the surrounding soil before the onset of the dry season

One reason we get the idea all planting and landscaping needs to take place in the spring is that annuals, veggies and flowering plants are confused with shrubs, trees and perennials, as to when is the best time to plant them.

This is probably because in all but the very esoteric cases, all annuals especially seeds, which most people want to plant, must be planted in the spring to be successful in the western Oregon.

I hope this clears a few things up for you. Here’s another reason to start your landscaping project now – you’ll jump to the top of our list!

 

Natural Holiday Decorations and December Gardening Tasks

If you have some time to spend outside or just need some time away from the holiday hoopla, here’s our task list for December:

  • This is a great time to transplant, unless the ground is frozen.
  • Protect new landscape plants (they seem to have a sail, don’t they?) from the wind with staking, guy wires, windbreaks or site selection.
  • Poinsettia care: protect from cold; place in sunlight; don’t let leaves touch cold windows; fertilize every three weeks; water just to keep moist.
  • Cut and dip holly for holiday use. If you dip the cut tips of the branch, the berries and the leaves do not wither or fall off. Holly Dip is available at your local nursery.
  • Continually rake leaves off the lawn and hard surfaces (leaves may be left in the beds for an inexpensive mulch that feeds the soil).
  • Before your guests come, cut and remove any ugly stalks of perennial flowers; mulch flowerbeds; and hoe or pull winter weeds, particularly in the parts of the yard that are viewed by the public
  • After the holidays, you may begin working on seriously cutting back all the perennials and ornamental grasses around the yard.
  • Monitor houseplants for adequate watering and humidity. Water and fertilizer requirements are much less in winter.
  • Consider garden-related holiday gifts for the gardeners you know.
  • It is still time to plant spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses; but don’t delay.
  • Watch the yard for wet or non-draining areas. Two possible solutions are: regrading the soil, installation of French drains and/or dry wells.

 

 

Your Garden Still Needs Your Attention In November

As the days shorten and the nights lengthen, we can begin putting the yard and garden to bed for the winter. Here is how to tuck them in properly:

  • Cover any bare ground with bark mulch (such as medium dark hemlock). Weed the space first of course! This will insulate your plants from the cold to come. It prevents erosion and as the mulch breaks down it feeds the plants and composting soil creatures. Some plants, such as fuchsias and cannas, always need a blanket of mulch around their base.
  • Provide winter protection to built-in sprinkler systems by turning off the automatic controller and then turning off the water to the system at the street or at the backflow prevention device and then drain it.
  • Prune roses back about 1/3 height to prevent winter wind damage.
  • If moss is appearing in your lawn it may mean too much shade, poor drainage, low fertility or soil compaction. Use a lawn moss killer if you want to keep the grass looking thick and lush.
  • Prepare the lawnmower and other garden equipment for winter storage.  Clean and oil tools and equipment before storing them away. Store hoses carefully to avoid damage from freezing.
  • Now is the best time to lime the lawn: 50-80 lb. per thousand square feet.
  • Fertilize the lawn with a fall/winter fertilizer if you did not do it last month.
  • Thinking of your indoor seasonal decor?  Purchase some Paperwhite Narcissus and start forcing them. They will bloom in 5 weeks.
  • Plant new landscape trees and shrubs.
  • Prune and transplant shrubs and trees as needed.
  • There is still time to plant your spring-flowering bulbs, but don’t delay.
  • Watch for wet soil and drainage problems in your yard during heavy rains; drains/French drains and ditches are practical solutions.
  • You may lightly fertilize rhododendrons and azaleas now, for better green-up in the spring, with an acid fertilizer formulated for them. Make sure soil is moist.
  • Reduce fertilizer applications to houseplants. Change to Oxygen Plus.
  • Consider supplying food and shelter for attracting wild birds to the garden.
  • Always rake leaves off the lawn as soon as you can and into beds. Leaves left on lawns can damage a lawn!
  • Bait garden and flower beds for slugs during rainy periods.

Advanced Gardening

  • Store your potato crop at about 40 degrees in a dark area with moderate humidity.
  • You still have time to plant garlic for a harvest next summer.
  • Fruit tree sanitation: to prevent possible spread of leaf diseases, rake and destroy leaves from around base of trees.
  • Tie raspberry canes to wires; prune to one foot above the top wire (around four feet tall).
  • This is an appropriate time to cut and root Rhododendrons, Fuchsias and Camellias; root Begonias from leaf cuttings.
  • Place a layer of composted manure or compost over dormant vegetable garden area.
  • Cover rhubarb and asparagus beds with composted manure and or compost.
  • Rake and compost leaves. A three to four-inch layer of leaves spread over the garden plot prevents soil compaction during the rainy season.
  • Consider tying up limbs of Arborvitaes to prevent breakage by snow or ice.
  • You might want to plant a window garden of lettuce and chives.

Lagerstroemia indica hybrid (Crape Myrtle): Tree or Shrub?

The Crape Myrtle naturally grows as a very large shrub, with lots of twiggy upright branches. However, most people grow this plant as a multi-trunked tree.

This show stopper can be easily pruned as it grows, so that it develops into three to five sturdy trunks. In time, the lower side shoots can be thinned out or pruned off up to around 6-7 feet in height. In about 10 years, you’ll have an interesting and very attractive tree.

The ultimate height of most varieties is around 12-15 feet tall.  I have found that in the northwest only the varieties named after native American tribes are reliably cold hardy and do not develop powdery mildew. For example, we use Zuni, Tuskegee, Tuscarora, Catawba, Seminole, Lipan, Tonto, Sioux and Natchez.

In our climate, the advantages of this amazing tree are:

  • In the late summer and early fall, it puts on massive blooming shows when there are few if any other blooms and color in the landscape. It is available in a myriad of blossom colors, such as white, pink to red, and lilac to purple.
  • In late October and early November, the leaves turn quickly into yellows, oranges and reds. Bonus: those leaves are small and easily composted in the landscape.
  • In winter, the trunks develop shiny cream to tawny smooth colors with streaks and mottles. I would consider growing this tree just for the fall and winter trunk display.
  • In spring the new foliage buds out as a darker color than the summer green foliage, giving it a spring and summer display as well as the bloom, bark and fall leaf color.
  • It grows best and blooms only in hot reflective heat situations where many northwest plants such as rhododendrons, would burn. The center of a hot asphalt parking lot or the side of a south facing building are ideal locations for the Crape Myrtle.
  • Once it is past the first summer, when it should be watered well and deeply once a week, it does not need to be watered. It is very drought tolerant.
  • It does not need any fertilizer after being planted, other than a good three-inch diameter circle of bark mulch kept at about a two-inch depth.
  • When it is young, trimming off the 8-10-inch dead bloom spikes can help to show off the tree bloom better. As it gets older it can be just left alone.

This is not a native tree; however, it fits beautifully in our human landscape ecosystem, where it can fill in locations that no native tree or shrub would be happy.

It’s October Harvest Time

Happy October! We’ve said goodbye to 90+ degree days and a few rains have fallen. It was a very dry and warm summer, but now it’s time to get ready for indoor activities and some basic outdoor maintenance tasks:

  • Plant spring bulbs now.
  • The end of October is usually the time that you can stop mowing, since when it gets cool enough the lawn will stop growing. Occasionally there is a fall when the lawn needs a mow or two into November.
  • Great month to transplant.
  • Bait for slugs during rainy periods. This will keep them from making more babies for spring!
  • Keep leaves raked off lawn to prevent smothering/damaging the grass.
  • Spread bark mulch now over any areas that may be exposed this winter. This will prevent erosion and keep weeds from growing.
  • This is a wonderful time of the year to plant new plants!
  • Mulch tender plants: fuchsias, cannas, dahlias, and callas.

For the more serious gardeners among us:

  • Pick green tomatoes and ripen indoors if frost threatens.
  • Pull and dry onions for storage. Keep at 32-35 degrees F, in a dry area.
  • Harvest sunflower heads; use for birdseed or roast for a healthy, crunchy snack food.
  • Dig and store potatoes; keep in darkness with moderate humidity at around 40 degrees F.
  • Harvest squash and pumpkins as the month progresses; Place them in dry area at 55-60 degrees F.
  • Harvest squash and pumpkins; keep in dry area at 55-60 degrees F.
  • Harvest and immediately dry filberts and walnuts; dry at 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Harvest and store apples; keep at about 40 degrees F with moderate humidity.
  • Spray peach trees for Coryneum blight with copper fungicides; spray cherry and prune trees for bacterial canker with copper spray.
  • Dig and store these annuals; geraniums (Pelargoniums) and tuberous begonias if you do not want to have to purchase them again next year.
  • Propagate chrysanthemum and fuchsia stem-cuttings.
  • Dig and store geraniums and tuberous begonias.
  • Plant garlic for harvesting next summer.
  • Harvest the saffron from your saffron crocuses when they begin blooming late in the month.
  • Begin manipulating light to force Christmas cactus to bloom in late December.
  • Store any garden chemicals and fertilizers in a safe, dry place out of the reach of children.
  • Clean and prepare the greenhouse for winter gardening activities.
  • Bait and trap moles. This is a most challenging undertaking. I have learned that the most technique is using crushing tunnel line traps. Ugh!
  • Rake and destroy the disease-infested leaves of apple, cherry, rose, keep the rest of the leaves as compost.

Around Winterbloom

Here’s another herald of fall – we’ve wrapped up the harvest of our luscious Goji berries (Lycium barbarum). Gojis set little purplish blooms in summer and mature their fruit in mid-late summer and early fall here in the Willamette Valley.  Apparently, the summer heat helps them to have a good fruit set. The fruit is sweet and mild tasting. It’s very easy to pick, and when they’re in full fruit the tall canes brighten up our garden with their hanging orange red berries. They remind me of small peppers, and in fact, as a member of the Solanaceae family, Goji berries are related to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers.

The Goji is self-fruitful, which means it doesn’t need two varieties to set fruit. It also loves full sun, so survey your garden before planting. Avoid any shade at all.

The northwest Goji is from China and can grow in poor dry soil. I have found that it does not need much water in our climate; however, watering does help the fruit to stay nice and plump. like many berries, the growth does need to be staked. I prune out the canes that drape over to the ground in the spring, and tie them to a 10 feet tall pole for an eye-pleasing fountain of foliage. Since the tips of the canes seem to be where the fruit sets; tying it up works for me, since it allows the canes to hang down to where the berries can be easily reached for picking.   

I find that Goji responds well to compost. Having a good surface mulch helps to hold in the compost and moisture, and keep down the weeds. I water deeply once a week or about twice a month in the summer. It is deciduous in the winter and looks like a giant witch’s broom. I do not think that the plant itself is beautiful, however a cane in full fruit is stunning!

 

 

 

Late Summer in Oregon Means Keep Watering

As I write this the news of the day is the historical total solar eclipse. Here in Tigard, we’re experiencing more than 99% of totality for two minutes.

Lacking most of the sunlight for two minutes won’t stunt the growth of your plantings, for sure, but lack of rainfall during this time of the year definitely could. it is particularly important to water your potted plants every day. They dry out much more quickly than your “grounded” flora.

Our vegetable garden loves all this heat and we’ve been harvesting. This year, we are growing tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, asparagus, rhubarb, golden berries, goji berries, figs, raspberries and herbs.

The biochar that we’ve been using along with natural fertilizers has caused our garden to really produce. We are very happy with the results.

Here I am about to spread some biochar on the rhubarb

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other late August gardening chores

  • Yes, keep weeding.
  • Mow regularly.
  • Don’t forget to water. The best time to water is in the early morning using approximately one inch a week on the lawn. Use more if it has been really hot and dry. Beds need half that much.
  • Monitor veggie garden irrigation closely so crops do not dry out.
  • Fertilize cucumbers, summer squash, and broccoli, while harvesting to maintain production. Harvest vegetables when edible to stimulate further production.
  • Control caterpillars on leafy vegetables or geraniums and petunias, as needed, with Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). It is a natural product
  • Use mulch to protect ornamentals and garden plants from hot weather damage. For spider mite control on some ornamentals, hose off foliage once a day for three days once a month. Arborvitae hedges are the most susceptible.
  • You may want to control fleas in lawns with spray this month if you have outdoor pets.Well, speaking of heat and lack of rain, here are a few plants that actually like such conditions: Crape Myrtle (a China native), Pomegranates (thought to have originated in Iran) and Hesperaloe parviflora (native to the Southwest). Pomegranates grow well here, where they can bake, but they don’t produce fruit. They do produce orange flowers, and bright yellow foliage in the fall.

Around Winterbloom:

Well, speaking of heat and lack of rain, here are a few plants that actually like such conditions: Crape Myrtle (a China native), Pomegranates (thought to have originated in Iran) and Hesperaloe parviflora (native to the Southwest).

The Crape Myrtle tree has amazing bark, most commonly bright pink. Its blossoms usually burst forth in late August or September. The leaves turn to orange yellow flame in the fall. Crapes hate shade during the growing season.

Pomegranates grow well here, where they can bake, but they don’t produce fruit. They do produce orange flowers, and bright yellow foliage in the fall.

 

 

Please enjoy this glimpse of our Hesperaloe parviflora. It thrives during our dry Oregon summers, tempting hummingbirds with wands of coral blooms and pleasing our eyes with evergreen foliage.