Category Archives: Gardening

Paper First, Backhoe Second

When I leave the office to meet a potential client for the first time it has become a happy moment for me. I arrive eager to hear their needs and how I can potentially help them with some possible solutions. Sadly, I often find that the person/persons have already started a project but did not have a clear idea of what they were doing. Often when I arrive, I find partially installed patios, walkways, drainage systems or numerous plants sitting in pots/partially planted.

Sometimes I find the couple has not been able to agree on what they are doing because they had not taken the time to dialog, discuss and draw out a clear vision of what they would like to experience regarding their real estate. Numerous times I have been called in because one person in the household has maimed, or at the extreme, cut down a tree which should have been left alone or at a minimum, pruned correctly.

I have been called when a drainage system was being installed which caused more water damage because it pointed the water to their crawl space. When Blackberries, Bamboo or other invasive pests have become a problem I have been called in. Often the client cannot imagine their world without the plant and they struggle over agreeing how they should go about the task of removal.

I have been asked to help when several plants were purchased, some planted, but the partner did not like the species or where they had been placed. I have been called when a baby was born which changed the wife’s idea of what would be important in the landscape. However, the husband did not want the maintenance level that the wife expected. There was a lot of tension.

It is important when someone owns even a little bit of real estate that there is a vision of how they would like to have the space fit into their lives over time. Some examples include setting up their estate to:

  • make them feel happy when they drive up to the garage.
  • create a space for them to share a meal with family or friends, have it big enough, and have the ambiance level that they want to see, smell and hear.
  • create spaces—that are not in plain view—for storing garbage/recycle bins, kayaks, outdoor furniture, garden tools.
  • create a space outside which could be viewed regularly from inside the house, which would change by itself over the seasons.
  • create a space outside for retreating to:
    • read, swing in a swing seat with grandkids, grill hot dogs over a fire bowl or meditate by a waterfall.

The slower season of the year from November through February is the very best time of the year to ponder, process and dialog through your dreams of what you want your real estate to eventually do for you.

We say:

Paper First: get your plans prepared and set in the order and way that you BOTH want to have things done.

Backhoe Second: you will both then be ready to bring in the tools to make the changes that you want to have happen, as you have the time and the money to do them!

Phil’s Garden Tips and Tricks for August

It is high summer, and the dry season is at its peak! We have only had one significant rain event since April, making ground moisture very low. Many plants are stressed if they have not had some additional water. Even the native plants do not look their best this year. The forests and meadows are tinder dry, so please be vigilant!

To do this month:

  • Weed. Weeds should be few and far between now that the hot weather is upon us and it has been a long time since it has rained. Do not let weeds go to seed in your yard!
  • 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 hot and dry. Beds need half that much.
  • Control caterpillars on leafy vegetables, 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 susceptible ornamentals, hose off foliage once a day for three days, once a month in July, August and September. Arborvitae hedges are the most susceptible.
  • This time of the year fleas can inhabit dusty dry areas where suburban wild creatures such as Raccoons, Skunks and Opossums lurk. Fleas that were left from those animals can very easily jump onto your pets or you. Sometimes just watering these areas can drown the fleas, or, sprinkling some food grade Diatomaceous Earth can cause disruptions in their life cycle.

Ask Phil – Spotted Spurge

This month’s “Ask Phil” question comes from J.W. –

Q: I’ve repeatedly picked out low-lying, flat tiny-leafed weeds I believe are called Spurge. They are tenacious, coming back and spreading rapidly. Any ways to combat them?
Thanks,
J.W.

A: Hi J.W., it is good to hear from you. Spotted Spurge is a difficult weed to control. It is almost impossible to eradicate as the seeds are very tiny and can last several seasons in the soil, waiting to sprout. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are into non-herbicide weeding, I suggest regular use of the Hula Hoe or similar method on a dry sunny day, before they set seed. That way you can leave them lying there and they will dry up. They set seed when they are bigger, and it is hotter. It is hard to tell if they are setting seed unless you get down and look at them up closely. If they are setting seed, then carefully pull them up and place them in your garbage container and do NOT place them on the ground to dry up.
  • This is a warm-season weed. If you are into herbicide spraying I would suggest using a lawn weed spray with a little Dawn soap in the mix to coat the foliage better. That should kill them, but it must be done repeatedly and do not do this around vegetables or fruits that you will eat. If they are seeding, then it will do NO good, because the seeds are still viable, and will all sprout this summer and next season.
  • Lastly, Spotted Spurge only gets about 2″ tall at most, so it cannot cover up plants that you want. They are just annoying flat to the ground weeds.

Phil’s Garden Tips & Tricks for July

Summer came more softly this year, it seemed. The days in the 70s and 80s with low humidity and the warmer nights have seemed just perfect for enjoying one’s yard and garden. 

Here are some things to do around your garden this month…

  • Prune shrubs only after they have bloomed unless you are on a rejuvenation project.
  • If the weed is not seeding, you may just leave the up rooted plant right there, most days, and it will dry up and turn into mulch!
  • This is the month that we fertilize lawns with an organic/natural fertilizer.
  • Check for root weevil adult damage on the leaves of rhododendrons and azaleas and decide whether you should use nematodes for their larvae or sticky traps for the adults.
  • Mulch, if you have not already, to conserve soil moisture. This is best done with one of the bark products, or compost.
  • Watch for signs of spider mites on arborvitae hedges (dusty looking foliage, loss of color, presence of tiny mites). These pests can kill a whole hedge. Here is a simple non-chemical method – pick a block of time when you can spray water on the foliage of the plants once a day for three days in a row. Repeat this same practice each month during the dry season. In other words, act like a heavy summer rain and wash them off the foliage!
  • You may cut off the foliage of the Spring bulbs when the tops have browned. If overcrowded, dig, divide and store to replant this fall.
  • Lawns probably need one inch of water per week this month. Beds need ½ inch per week.
  • Stake tall growing annuals or perennials if needed. Dahlias need it!
  • Check for scale insects on camellias, holly, and maple trees.
  • Encourage beneficial insects by planting members of the sunflower family – including zinnias, marigolds, Jerusalem artichokes and others.
  • Stake tomatoes, watch for blight, prune for air circulation, pick off affected leaves.
  • Cover blueberry bushes with netting to keep the robins off.
  • Check leafy vegetables for caterpillar attack.
  • This is the time to begin mid-summer plantings of beets, bush beans, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, kale.
  • End of month: prune the spent fruiting stems of raspberries, boysenberries and other cane berries after harvest.

Phil’s Garden Tips & Tricks for June

Summer starts around the 21st of this month, which means that the sunshine is most effective. Sunshine is the food of photosynthesizing plants! On the 21st the sun is close to vertical in the sky during the day, giving the most food possible to the plants. After the 21st it slowly drops from vertical every day. Always remember that no matter what the TV advertisers say, fertilizer is not, and has never been, food for plants.

  • This is the best month to plant the warm season annuals—flowers or vegetables:  Petunias, Impatiens, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Peppers, Corn, Basil, Cucumbers, etc.
  • Mow regularly: set your lawn mower at the highest setting for the rest of the summer until October. The longer grass helps to shade the roots and keeps the grass greener and healthier.
  • Keep on top of the weeds. The rainy season is over, and it will soon be less work. You can toss the weeds out in the sunny part of the bed (but only those not going to seed!) and they will dry up by the end of the day and not reroot, like they might in the rainy season.
  • Water as needed: one inch per week at least on the lawn, and about half an inch on the shrubs, is a standard rule of thumb.
  • Slug bait is still important. Try to use pet-safe bait.
  • If it is needed, prune flowering shrubs or perennials after they bloom.
  • Check the Rhodies and Azaleas to see if you need to do any weevil control such as nematodes or insect tape. Also, check to see if you have lace bug damage on the leaves. It usually shows up later in the summer.  They suck the Chlorophyll out of the leaf cells and make the leaves look hideous.  They can be somewhat controlled by a predator called Green or Brown Lace Wings, which may be purchased locally.
  • If you want to make your Rhodies bloom more and look neater, it is time to dead head them.
  • Check for Aphids and cabbage worms and act, if needed, on veggies or roses.

Phil’s Garden Tips and Tricks for May

May is the month that has inspired so many poets and song writers over hundreds of years, mostly because here in the Northern Hemisphere it is when many of the deciduous plants put out their foliage and many of the evergreens like Rhododendrons and Camellias put out their blooms. There are many perennials such as Peonies, Campanulas and Dianthus which begin blooming this month. Most of the bulbs of March and April are now finished and the warmer days have returned.

Those who are not so aware of the seasons might think that now is the best time to plant everything. But that is not true. It is the time to plant the vegetable garden, the lettuces, cucumbers and so on. However, the tomatoes and peppers should wait ’till June to really do well, that is when the real, regular warmer weather shows up.

The time to plant shrubs and trees is best done in the latter half of October through March when it is cooler and the rainy season descends. For now, if one plants shrubs and trees, they will need to be babied through this first summer or they will die because we are going into the dry season of our year. As a business we plant all year long because we have jobs all year long, but we have found that planting is the most successful if done in October through March.

The time to plant lawns by seed is April/May and September/October, but these seeds also need to be babied to get rooted and grow. July/August is often very hot and difficult (if not impossible), to get lawns to grow from seed, and the months of November through March are often too cold and wet and the seeds just rot. Often the best alternative is the more expensive but quicker method, laying down sod. Sod can be placed almost anytime of the year in our climate.

There is a cycle to the seasons and a best time for each gardening activity. May is the month for incredible growth of both weeds, (unwanted plants) and wanted plants! Therefore, it is the month to be diligent, but do not allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Simply make sure that the weeds which are preparing to set seed now, are the first to be pulled, and those who are still just thinking about it can be left for next week. Those plants which are going to seed should be put in the debris container. Never throw them on the ground! They will simply place your weed seeds there. The other weeds, which are just green growth and not going to seed, may be placed back in the bed behind some of your plants which you want, as long as the air is dry and they can shrivel. They will then just turn into mulch! If you allow yourself the luxury of NOT pulling the weeds going to seed and play a video game instead, you will be preparing for an even BIGGER onslaught of weeds next year.

Here is the list of Phil’s garden tasks for May…

    • Buy tender annuals and plant outside in your pots or flower beds if you are going to have blooming flowers such as Petunias and Impatiens. When a plant just lives through the growing season it is called an annual.
    • Begin moderate watering of lawns and beds. They begin drying out much more quickly this time of the year. Soak once every two weeks, more often if dry.
    • Fertilize lawn with a natural fertilizer (non-petrochemical).
    • Mow regularly. Set your lawn mower one more setting higher.
    • Thatch and renovate lawn only if you actually need it. If you use totally natural fertilizer, and not petroleum derivatives, you probably will never need to do this step as the earthworms will take care of your thatch and keep your ground, free-draining.
    • Weed.
    • If you have notches in your Rhodie and Azalea leaves you can Begin root weevil control. Safe alternatives are the use nematodes, DE (diatomaceous earth) or sticky traps on trunks of plants.
    • This is the time of the year to fertilize rhododendrons, azaleas and all shrubs that actually need it. If they look good and green and you mulch them they may not need any additional fertilizer. If you are into the neat and tidy look then it is the time to remove spent blossoms on shrubs like Rhodies, which have finished blooming.
    • Prune plants that need it after they flower this month, such as a Rhododendron, if it actually needs it.
    • Plant chrysanthemums now for perennial fall color.
    • Control aphids by washing foliage with soap suds, removing by hand, by pesticides, or by promoting natural predators, such as Ladybugs.
    • Tiny holes in foliage and the appearance of shiny, black beetles on cabbage, and potatoes indicate flea beetle attack or possibly cabbage butterflies. Treat the ground around the stems with DE, spray with BT (bacillus Thuringensis), soapy water; pick them off if you can find them, or all of the above.
    • Control slugs with bait, salt, or by smashing.
    • Begin liquid fertilizing of your new annuals. annuals. Natural organic fertilizer is best. Every two weeks is optimal right after you water.
    • Later in the month, plant these warm season vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, snap and lima beans, Brussels sprouts, slicing and pickling cucumbers, dill, kale, pumpkins, summer and winter squash, onions, potatoes.
    • Spray fruit, nut, and shade trees for tent caterpillars, if present.

Be fearless, oh real estate/property owner! Tackle your land and bring it under control. Doing so can easily take the place of paying a gym to work out and it is right there at your finger-tips!

An Invasive Violet for Western Oregon

It is not uncommon for people to ask me about violets which seem to be taking over their yard.

Violets come up in planting beds and lawns in the early spring, with purplish-blue flowers and purple leaves in the sun but darker-green leaves in the shade. They can grow here in Western OR, even in gravely, dry soil where not much else will grow. They are not fragrant.

European Dog Violet
European Dog Violet

This is the European Dog Violet or technically, Viola riviniana ‘Purpurea Group’.  Sometimes V. riviniana plants are sold as Viola labradorica purpurea and sometimes even Viola hederacea, but I am told that those plants are not generally sold or even found growing in the NW.  Buyer beware!

V. riviniana can spread from its running fleshy roots which can plunge rather deeply, making this plant quite drought tolerant.

These plants can out compete smaller plants such as Mentha requenni  and can mar the look of a stand of slightly taller plants such as Ophiopogon p. ‘nigrescens’.  However bigger plants can comingle with no problems.  For instance, the currently invasive common exotic ivy, Hedera helix, can easily quash this violet but then who wants a groundcover of ivy?

V. riviniana can spread easily by seed as they shoot their seeds explosively, up to 8’ away when they are brown and ripe. Therefore, once established, they can become very numerous. On top of that fact, the seeds may stay viable for up to 5 years in the ground.

Some suggested methods of removal are:

  • Covering a densely growing area, where they are to be removed, with cardboard and 2” of bark mulch. Anything that dares to come up from far flung seeds, immediately remove with your handy Hori-Hori! This may take more than one year.
  • Hori Hori
    Phil’s trusty Hori-Hori

    I personally have removed all of my V. riviniana with only a hoe over the past 15 years. If I see one riding piggy back in the potting soil around a plant from a nursery, I immediately dispose of that violet in the garbage, not the compost pile! I wait to plant it in the ground, watching the potted plant and digging out any other unwanted Violets over the course of a year. I have seen several come up around a piggy-backed plant from a nursery!

  • There was a location in my garden, after the 10th year, where violets repeatedly came up from seed or old roots around the base of my largest old Azalea. Ultimately, I crawled on my hands and knees and surgically removed them with my Hori-Hori. They have not returned since.

Plants from the Genus Viola that you may want to cultivate in Western Oregon.   

viola sempervirens
Viola Sempervirens

We have some lovely native violets here in the Pacific NW, but many are robust growing as well. Try them where they will not cover smaller plants and you will be fine. You may find different species on-line. I have grown (and particularly like) a yellow one that is local and evergreen, Viola sempervirens. It is cheery in the spring. It spreads by stolons as well as seeds.

There are plenty of other lovely exotic violets that are not invasive. These Violas include the plants which we commonly call Violas and Pansies  in the nurseries. They have been bred to have large blooms and are available in many colors.

From what I have read, the most fragrant form of this plant is Viola odorata ‘Rosea’,  which is a bright pink form.

Final thoughts:

Clearing a property of Viola riviniana is not a task for the faint of heart.  It requires persistence and boldness and a ready willingness to dig in the rainy season, because that is when it is easiest to pull/dig out of the ground.  In the dry season of summer, it can be almost impossible to extract this Viola from the concrete-like dry ground. Your Hori-Hori is your best friend if you would like to rid yourself of these invasive plants.

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.