Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for July 2009


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

It’s the time of year when gardeners like to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of their labor, and that’s just what I do… for several minutes every evening. What a pleasure it is to hear the gentle sound of the water from the fountain in my little water garden and to smell the delicate fragrance of the Wave petunias. However, a gardener seldom rests for long, there’s always something needing attention in the garden.

Nasty weeds start growing with a vengeance in hot weather and it’s easy for them to get ahead of you. They compete with garden plants for water, nutrients, space, and sun. There’s always a weed somewhere that should be rogued out.

One reason weeds are so troublesome is that they produce lots of seeds that can stay around for a long time. For example, one common purslane plant can produce 1,800,000 seeds. These purslane seeds can persist in the soil for 20 to 25 years. One plant of puncture vine, an infamous and dastardly weed in our region, can produce 100,000 seeds that will remain viable for three years. By keeping up with the weeds in the garden and landscape, you can help decrease the problems you’ll have with them now and in the future.

I don’t know about you. but I don’t like the task of continually pulling weeds. To help avoid it as much as possible, all my garden beds have a four inch layer of small bark mulch. Mulches help with weed management by preventing light from reaching germinating weeds. Without light they can’t grow. In addition, organic mulches help conserve soil moisture and keep the soil cooler. They also add organic matter to the soil as they decay.

To effectively discourage weed growth, an organic mulch must be thick enough to exclude light. Bark and pine needle mulches should applied in layers 3 to 4 inches thick; grass clippings and shredded leaves 2 to 3 inches thick; newspapers 6 to 7 sheets thick; and bagged sterilized steer manure 1 to 2 inches thick. Compost can be used in a 1 to 3 inch thick layer, but if the compost did not go through adequate heating you may be introducing weed seeds into your garden, not discouraging them. Because organic mulches decompose, they will need to be replaced with time.

Weeds aren’t the only plants that produce seeds. For annual flowers, seed production is their means of surviving from year to year. Once they flower, the plants’ energy is directed towards producing seeds and flowering may slow or stop. That’s why veggies (such as zucchini, summer squash, and beans) should be harvested on a timely basis and why many flowering plants should be deadheaded regularly.

The term “deadheading” sounds so sinister, but it simply means removing spent flowers from your flowering plants. It encourages many flowering plants to keep blooming, plus the garden looks neat and tidy. All you need is a little pair of garden snips. Just clip the flowers off at the first set of leaves beneath the flower. Many newer annual flower cultivars, such as the Wave petunias are “self-deadheading” with the shriveled blossoms dropping off the plant automatically.

So take a little time to relax and enjoy your garden, but don’t get too comfortable. You need to keep up with your summer garden chores.

Published: 7/4/2009 8:50 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I was over the moon with delight the other evening when a pair of gold finches visited the birdbath on my patio. I was sitting just four feet away and was amazed by this feathered duo alighting for a little drink from the birdbath I had refreshed just minutes before. I had hoped that this water feature in my garden would be more than just a decoration!

If you’re trying to encourage bird and insect wildlife in your garden, providing water in our hot dry climate is a definite advantage. While some species of birds get their water from the fruit and other plants they feed on, many species of birds need water for both drinking and taking a bath… thus the name “birdbath.”

I like the decorative aspect of a birdbath with the reflective surface of the water providing a note of tranquility to my patio and garden. However, large flat pot saucers or even an upturned garbage can lid can be used as alternatives to more expensive metal, stone, and pottery birdbaths, according to Margaret Brittingham, Associate Professor of Wildlife at Penn State University.

Whether manufactured or makeshift, Brittingham indicates that a birdbath should be no deeper than three inches in the center with the sides sloping downwards to the deepest point. She also notes that birds need an edge around the rim of the bath to serve as a perch. Smooth glass or plastic surfaces can be slippery, making it hard for birds to hold on. The edge should be rough or you can provide footing by placing flat stones near the edge of bath container.

Brittingham also notes that birds are attracted to dripping water, making birdbaths already plumbed and wired as a fountain ideal. Handy gardeners with a drip system can probably devise a little drip emitter for the bird bath.

The presence or absence of cats in your yard is an important factor when considering where to locate a birdbath. A birdbath can be placed on the ground, if cats aren’t around. If you have cats on the prowl, a bath should be elevated on a pedestal or stand of some sort. It’s good to locate a birdbath near a tree or shrub where branches provide the birds with a place to stop and preen before flying off. However, if cats are present, don’t place a birdbath next to shrubs where the cats could lay in wait.

It’s recommended that you keep your birdbath free of algae and prevent it from becoming a breeding zone for mosquitoes. In hot weather replace the water daily. To prevent the buildup of algae, scrub and rinse the bath basin at least once a week. Don’t use chemicals to control the algae. They can be harmful to the birds.

Birds aren’t the only backyard visitors that can benefit from providing a refreshing water source. Honeybees need water too! Experts recommend a large container as a “beebath” since bees find the water by noting the increased humidity above the area. Smaller containers don’t raise the humidity enough to get the attention of the bees.

Deep container like birdbaths can lead to bees drowning. You can prevent this by placing pebbles or small stones in a container and then adding water. The pebbles act as bee perches so the water shouldn’t cover the pebbles. An alternative to pebbles is providing floating surfaces, such as twigs or pieces of wood, in the water for the bees to land on. It’s also important to keep any “beebath” clean with fresh water and scrubbing.

If you don’t have a birdbath or a beebath in your garden, think about adding one. The visits of birds and honey bees are true delights!

Published: 6/27/2009 9:41 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Last week one of my friends mentioned that she was putting her extra milk on the tomatoes in her garden to prevent blossom-end-rot. She was aware that blossom-end-rot, contrary to its name is not a parasitic disease caused by a fungus or bacteria. It is a physiological disorder caused by a lack of adequate calcium in the developing fruit.

Tissues in developing fruit need greater quantities of calcium than other tissues. If there are insufficient quantities of calcium available, the tissues will break down creating a leathery spot on the blossom end of the fruit. Logically it would seem fertilizing with calcium would solve the problem, but in our region blossom-end-rot is seldom caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. It’s most often caused by saturated soil conditions, drought stress, or extreme fluctuations in soil moisture all of which impair the plant’s ability to absorb calcium from the soil.

Blossom-end-rot may also be related to underdeveloped root systems early in the season, especially if there has been an abrupt change from cool spring weather to warmer summer conditions. Plants with growth stimulated by heavy applications of nitrogen are also prone to blossom-end-rot. Damage to roots from enthusiastic cultivation are another cause of blossom-end-rot.

Blossom-end-rot is typically noticed when the fruit is about one half to one third of its full size, starting out as a small water-soaked lesion on the bottom (the blossom end). As the fruit matures, the “rot” spot may stay relatively small or can become considerable in size. The lesions dry out and become a flat tan to black leathery area on the bottom of the fruit. Fruit with blossom-end-rot are safe to eat unless invaded by decay organisms. However, fruit with blossom-end-rot usually ripen early and don’t have good flavor.

Eggplant and peppers, the tomato’s cousins, can also develop blossom-end-rot. On eggplant the “rot” develops in the same way as on tomatoes with a lesion on the blossom end, but on peppers the leathery lesion tends to develop on the side of the fruit near the bottom.

Knowing the causes of blossom-end-rot gives us clues to how to avoid it:

1. First and foremost, the best way to avoid blossom-end-rot is to maintain even soil moisture, not letting plants fluctuate from very dry soil to very wet conditions. A good mulch can help you maintain soil moisture and suppress weed growth.

2. Don’t plant your tomatoes until the soil warms up in the spring. Tomato roots don’t grow well in cold soil and may not be able to absorb the needed amounts of calcium until after the limited root system develops. Early planting can result in “rot” on the first tomatoes of the season.

3. Don’t promote excessive growth by over-fertilizing. Fertilize your plants judiciously.

4. While some sources will recommend foliar applications of calcium, these are seldom effective in mitigating blossom-end-rot problems. Other sources recommend adding lime or gypsum to the soil. This is helpful in areas where the soils are acidic or lack adequate calcium, but most soils in our region are alkaline and contain more then enough calcium.

5. If you have a “rot” problem with tomatoes being grown in containers, it’s likely that your containers aren’t large enough, especially if they dry out completely by the end of the day. Use larger pots where the soil can be kept moderately moist. Also, try situating the pots where they will be out of the late day sun and heat.

By the way, milk is not a source of calcium for tomatoes.

Published: 6/20/2009 9:35 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Today’s column is focusing on mowing your lawn. Don’t stop! Keep reading even if you think this mundane subject will bore you to tears. Most lawn and landscape caretakers fail to understand the importance of proper mowing. Trust me, it is important even if it’s not a scintillating subject.

The quality of your lawn is directly related to the quality of your mowing. Mowing the right way … the right height, the right frequency, and the right pattern… encourages a dense stand of grass and gives your lawn the best appearance. Stay with me…

Height: Kentucky bluegrass is the major grass component of most area home lawns. The recommended mowing height for these lawns is 2 to 2.5 inches. Get out there with a ruler and measure the height of your cut. I would bet it’s 3 inches or more. That’s a problem. Did you know that high mowing, not grass clippings contribute significantly to the develop of excessive thatch in your lawn? Consult your mower manual about how to decrease your mowing height.

Frequency: It’s certainly a chore, but it’s important to mow regularly and not let the grass get ahead of you. The universal rule-of-thumb is to remove no more than one-third of the grass height at any one time. That means lawns mowed at the recommended height of 2. 5 inches should be mowed before they reach the height of 3.25 inches.

If you go on vacation or the mower breaks down and the lawn does jump ahead of you, you should take the height down gradually still removing no more than one-third of the grass’s height at any one time. Failure to follow the “rule” will “scalp” the lawn, injuring the grass and causing root growth to stop until the grass recovers.

Pattern: Don’t get in a rut. There is a tendency to always mow in the pattern that’s easiest for the person mowing the lawn. Using the same exact route each time you mow can lead to soil compaction from the mower’s wheels. Also, mowing in the same direction time after time tends to push the grass in one direction. Create several different mowing “routes” or patterns that limit your number of turns and allow you to mow a right angles to the direction your mowed previously. If you have a bumpy lawn area, mowing in different patterns can also help reduce repeated scalping that may occur in those spots.

Mower Blades: Have you heard the old saying of “mow when the blade is sharp?” I haven’t heard that one either, but a sharp mower blade is crucial in proper lawn mowing. A sharp blade correctly installed on your mower is essential in getting a crisp clean cut, especially with lawns that contain the tougher bladed turf-type perennial ryegrass. Dull blades tear grass rather than cut it cleanly. This injury to the grass blades results in mowed lawns developing a whitish cast not long after mowing. A close look at the individual blades reveals the torn and frayed blade ends. Check your mower blade frequently and have it sharpened if needed. It’s always handy to have an extra sharpened set on hand for a switch out.


Grass clippings do not cause thatch. If you don’t have a mulching mower, mow often enough so there are no piles of clipping left on the lawn surface after mowing. Grass clippings contain nutrients (approximately 4 percent nitrogen, .5 percent phosphorus, and 3.5 percent potassium). Left on the lawn, clippings can reduce your lawn’s fertilizer needs by 25 per cent.

Published: 6/13/2009 9:28 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

One insect pest plaguing area gardens are aphids. These little suckers must have been awaiting spring just as much as area gardeners. I can imagine them perched next to buds just before new growth emerged, hungrily drooling with wicked smiles on their little faces.

Yes, aphids are little suckers. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts that allow them to pierce plant tissues and tap into sap containing sugars and amino acids. Because the sap is high in sugar content and low in amino acids, the aphids must process large amounts of sap to get the nitrogen they need from the amino acids. They’re not able to utilize all the sugar, so they excrete it as honeydew, a sugary liquid. It’s this “honeydew” excrement that leads to sticky plant leaves and “drippy” trees. In addition to sucking on plant sap, some aphids also inject toxins into the plant tissues on which they are feeding. These toxins cause curled leaves, stunted, and abnormal growth.

It’s amazing how quickly aphids can multiply and become a problem on plants. In just a few weeks a few aphids can become a big problem. Let’s do the math with just one wingless adult female aphid. She is capable of producing 40 to 60 babies. These “babies” mature quickly and in seven to ten days and then start producing baby aphids of their own. In the short span of a few weeks, a dozen aphids can develop into an infestation of thousands of aphids.

Prevent aphids from becoming a big problem by inspecting plants and employing control strategies before their population explodes and causes significant damage to your plants. There are both non-chemical and chemical ways to control aphids:

1. One of the simplest ways to discourage aphids is with a forceful spray of water. Periodic spraying will knock off and kill a number of aphids.

2. Recognize and encourage predators. I’ve already seen ladybird beetle (a.k.a. ladybugs) adults and larvae, syrphid fly (a.k.a. hover flies) larvae, and lacewings at work eating aphids. To protect these beneficial insects, only use “soft” insecticides (such as insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils) that will kill aphids, but leave the beneficial aphid-eating insects alive.

3. There are a number of insecticides on the market that will effectively kill aphids. Some work by direct contact with the aphids. These materials must be sprayed directly on the aphid’s body to be effective. If you use a contact insecticide, keep in mind that most aphids are found on the undersides of the leaves, so be sure to spray the bottoms of leaves too.

Systemic insecticides are sprayed on the leaves and taken into the plant sap, poisoning the aphids as they feed. Some systemics are applied early in the season as a drench to the soil and taken up into the plant by the roots. Systemics applied to the leaves are particularly effective when leaves have already curled around the feeding aphids, protecting them from contact sprays. Before you buy or use an aphid control product, read the label to make sure it can be used on the type of plant where you have an aphid problem. Many systemic insecticides can’t be used on vegetable or fruit crops.

Published: 6/6/2009 9:16 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Want a perennial that will perform in the garden but require little care? You can’t go wrong with daylily, especially some of the newer reblooming types that provide color over several months.

Many gardeners, especially those who have lived in the eastern part of the country, may think that daylilies are a native plant. Not so, they’re actually native to Asia. The orange flowered Hemerocallis fulva was introduced into the US from England in the 17th century as an ornamental. It escaped cultivation and has become naturalized in open areas. Today, there are over 35,000 registered modern hybrid daylilies. These produce plants that are more compact, better flowering, and produce a wide variety of flower forms and colors, including pink, yellow, orange, red, magenta, purple, and more.

With so many different cultivars it’s obvious that daylily fanciers delight in the many different forms and colors available to them, but the everyday gardener who wants to add color to their landscape will probably want to focus on the smaller, more compact reblooming daylilies. “Reblooming” means that a particular cultivar has an extended period of bloom. Some “rebloomers” bloom early in the summer and again in the fall. Others bloom for several months or more with only short pauses between multiple bloom periods.

One of the most popular and extremely common cultivars being used in home and commercial landscapes is ‘Stella de Oro.‘ Some may say it’s overused but it’s a consistent performer. In fact, I’ve used it in my front landscape for its golden yellow flowers, bright green foliage, and its compact dwarf form. It only grows to a height of 12-18 inches and is one of the longest blooming daylilies available on the market. While Stella dominates the market, there are a number of other compact, reblooming daylilies, such ‘Happy Returns’ (18″ height) with lemon yellow flowers, Little Show Stopper (20″ height) with rose-red double blooms, and Strawberry Candy (26″ height) with strawberry pink flowers with a rose red eye.

Daylilies are very easy to grow. They do best in a sunny spot, but will tolerate partial shade where they still get at least six hours of sun. They’re not fussy plants, preferring moist, slightly acid well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter but tolerating less hospitable conditions if the soil is well-drained.

After planting they don’t require much attention. Just remove the dead leaves each spring and fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer in early spring and again in midsummer. You’ll also want to remove spent blossoms and seed pods to encourage rebloom. Once all the flowers on the flowering stalk (scape) are finished blooming, remove it near its base.

Because daylilies are vigorous growers, they will need to be divided every four to seven years. You’ll know it’s time when their flower production starts to decrease. Divide them in late summer or early fall by digging up the entire plant clump and using a sharp knife to separate it into sections, each with several strong fans or crowns. Replant the sections after cutting away dead and broken roots and cutting back the tops to a height of eight to ten inches. Be sure the crown is not set any deeper than one inch. You can also divide and replant in early spring, but you may lose your bloom for that year.

It’s that easy. You just can’t go wrong with daylilies.

Published: 5/16/2009 9:14 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Should you cage or stake your tomatoes? The reason that tomato vines are typically supported by caging or staking is to conserve space and to keep the fruit off the ground, avoiding problems with disease and blemishes. I like caging because it’s easy, less labor intensive, and shades the fruit, protecting them from sunburn and tomato end rot. Staking is a valid method of support, especially in humid, wet climates where foliar and fruit diseases are a common concern.

It’s important to note that there are different types of tomato vine growth. Some varieties are determinate or “self-topping.” These plants have numerous branches with vines only reaching moderate lengths. A flower cluster is produced at the end of each branch. Generally, most of the fruit mature about the same time. Because of their growth habit, they should not be pruned.

Other tomato varieties have indeterminate type growth. They keep growing and growing, producing more leaves and flowers until frost stops them. Caging indeterminate varieties and pruning them lightly or not at all is a common practice. Indeterminate varieties may also be staked and pruned more heavily. Research has shown that yields are typically higher for unpruned caged tomatoes over pruned and staked tomatoes. However, gardeners who properly prune and stake their tomatoes are apt to get larger and earlier fruit than from caged plants.

When you cage indeterminate tomatoes, it’s best to use heavy duty cages that are well anchored in the soil. This is important in our wind prone area. I’ve noticed that some garden centers are selling very colorful tomato cages made of powder coated welded steel. These cages are pricier than the old-fashioned ones made of less sturdy wire, but I suspect they will last a lifetime. Just think, you can have pink, yellow, blue, green, or red tomato cages forever! While tempting, the price of $25 per cage would make my homegrown tomatoes extremely expensive.

If you have lots of tomatoes and want to save money on caging them all, you can make your own cages using concrete reinforcing wire or heavy wire fencing materials. Just make sure the openings are at least six inches wide to allow for picking fruit. A six foot length will make a 21 inch diameter cage. Cages should be three to four feet tall for determinant tomatoes and five feet tall for indeterminate tomatoes. Once established, you don’t have to do much to cages tomatoes except wait for the fruit to develop.

When indeterminate tomatoes are staked, it’s best to use a stake that will be about six feet tall. Sturdy stakes can be made from 2″ x 2″ wood or from rebar. The plants are loosely tied to the stake with soft tying material at eight to ten inch intervals. Staked plants are typically pruned or suckered. This involves pinching out the small shoots that develop along the main stem at the base of each leaf.

WSU Extension Master Gardener Tomato Teams are demonstrating both caging and staking out in the Vegetable Garden in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at 1620 South Union in Kennewick. Stop by later in the season and see how they’re growing.

Published: 5/31/2009 3:40 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Our weather this spring has been a roller coaster ride, some beautiful calm days interspersed with windy ones, rain, and both hot and cold spells. This perverse weather has caused some plant problems that local gardeners are beginning to notice.

Sunburn on garden transplants is one of these problems. Sunburn damage shows up as white to tan areas on leaves. It’s most commonly noted on the leaves of recently planted tomatoes. Garden transplants should be “hardened” before they’re placed out in garden and exposed to full sun and wind. The hardening process is needed when plants are grown indoors, in a greenhouse, or are kept in a protected spot where they aren’t exposed to direct sun and wind.

The first step in the hardening process is to slow growth by decreasing watering and stopping fertilization. The process then involves gradually exposing the plants to the harsh outdoor elements in short increments, placing them in the sun and wind for several hours a day and gradually increasing that amount of time to a full day within a period of about a week or two. Plants should not be brought back indoors into a warm house at night, but placed where they’re protected from freezing temperatures

Hardening physically changes the plants, toughening up plant tissues and increasing the cuticle or waxy layer covering the leaves and stems. The process also results in more carbohydrates being available for rapid root growth… a plus for transplants. Compact hardened transplants with dark green leaves will be less stressed by planting out into the garden. Unhardened plants with light green leaves and lush succulent growth are more subject to stress and damage from wind, heat, and sun.

Our windy weather has also resulted in damage to the leaves of plants in our garden and landscape. I have already planted some variegated canna lilies in my front planters . Recent winds tore the largest leaves to shreds. In the same planters were some ornamental sweet potatoes. Buffeted by the winds and sunburned, these transplants looked pathetic with crispy, brown torn leaves. However, the plants seem to be recovering and have started to put out new growth and should be fine before too long.

Tree and shrub leaves can also experience significant wind damage early in the season when the leaves are young and tender. Forceful winds whip the leaves against the twigs and surrounding leaves causing them to tatter or tear. Small tears may look like insect damage as the leaf grows and a hole develops as the tear expands. This is a common problem on maples, especially Norway maples.

Thwarting anxious gardeners has been our long spell of cooler than normal spring weather that has slowed the growth of many of our plants, but it has also resulted in one good thing. Codling moth and cherry fruit flies have been slow to emerge. Usually gardeners who have cherry, apple, crab apple, and pear trees must start around Mother’s Day applying sprays of insecticides to control these two wormy pests. Because of the cool weather, the emergence of these pests was delayed, but they’re now being found in traps. Insecticide applications to control these pests should be started now, if you haven’t already.

If you’re unsure of what to spray, call the Extension office at 735-3551 and ask for one of our home orchard pest management charts that outlines what and when sprays should be applied. You can also easily download one from the Benton-Franklin Counties WSU Extension website at

Published: 5/23/2009 3:19 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

The secret is out. More people are growing their own vegetables than ever before. According to the Garden Writers Association, American gardeners will be spending more money on growing veggies than on lawn care this year. Lawn care had taken the top dollar award for several years.

While home gardeners will be growing more veggies, they will probably be looking for ways to conserve space in the garden, since the average size of yards has declined in recent years. So what can be done to make the most of the both space and time?

Square Foot Gardening: This vegetable gardening concept especially appeals to both engineers and gardeners who want to make the very most of their gardening space. This intensive gardening concept was developed by Mel Bartholomew, a retired civil engineer who introduced the concept in his 1981 book, Square Foot Gardening. Instead of planting in rows, Mel divides the garden space into a grid of one foot squares. Plants are placed based on the space they need in this square foot scheme, such as one tomato plant or eight pole beans in one square foot. Cool, season crops like spinach are planted first, harvested and then replaced later with warm season crops, like tomatoes and squash.

The concept includes raised beds that are 4×4 feet, 4×8 feet, or even 4×12 feet. The raised beds are supposed to eliminate the need to till every year and also make weed management easier. While it’s intensive gardening, Bartholomew designed it to be efficient, requiring both less labor and less space than traditional row crop gardening while producing more veggies per square foot of garden area. You can find out more at or look for his newest book, All New Square Foot Gardening. You can see square foot gardening in action in the WSU Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in Kennewick. One of the raised beds in the Vegetable Theme Garden is a square-foot garden.

Another trend in vegetable gardening is “edible landscapes” or incorporating edibles amongst landscape and flowering ornamentals. Many vegetables can be quite ornamental and even exotic looking, such as “Bright Lights” swiss chard with dark green crinkled leaves contrasted by their bright yellow, pink, and purple stems. One particularly ornamental vegetable is rhubarb, especially the variety with red stalks. I’m growing one in my landscape just for it’s large dark green leaves.

Even a bush zucchini squash can look intriguing with its large green mottled leaves. Consider bush forms of veggies with colorful fruit, such as purple-podded bush beans or golden peppers, to add color to the landscape. Herbs, like sage and rosemary, also tend to be very ornamental and fit particularly well in to low-water-use landscapes.

Edible landscapes can also include fruit growing, such as planting a plum tree for one of your smaller flowering trees. There are also ornamental groundcover strawberries that have small edible fruit. Grapes can provide both an attractive arbor or pergola cover while also producing fruit.

So as you plant your garden this year, consider ways that you can make the most of the growing space you have available… without having to plow up large areas of ground for a labor intensive garden.

Published: 5/9/2009 3:09 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

The other day while shopping at a local garden store, I saw a beautiful blooming orchid plant in someone’s cart. I surmised that it was going to be a gift for some lucky person or someone might have been treating themselves. It was definitely a more creative and exotic choice than a traditional potted plant or bouquet of flowers. Did you know one of the newest gardening trends is growing exotic indoor plants, like orchids, ferns, and succulents? Did you also know that you can grow orchids at home even if you aren’t an expert at growing indoor plants and profess not to have a green thumb?

You don’t need a green thumb to grow orchids, but you do need enough light. Orchids can survive without lots of light, but to flower they need a good amount of light. A place where they can get sufficient natural light in an east, west, or south facing window will work. If you lack this type of situation, you can still grow orchids using fluorescent lighting.

The orchid that I saw going home was a pretty big one, but smaller homes and size limitations for many home growers have led orchid breeders to produce miniature orchids. The miniatures vary in size from less than three inches to over 12 inches in height. These more diminutive plants allow home gardeners to easily find spots for them on windowsills or small plant stands.

Orchids also do best with higher humidity than you’ll find in our local homes. However, you don’t need to buy a humidifier or a greenhouse to make them happy. You simply group the plants and place them on trays filled with moist gravel, raising the humidity in the immediate area of the orchids. It’s simple.

While easy to grow, orchids do have some different growing requirements than the typical indoor plant. Luckily, we have the South Central Orchid Society, a local group of orchid enthusiasts who would like to share their excitement about orchids and help us learn to grow them. In fact , today and tomorrow the South Central Washington Orchid Society is holding their annual Orchid Show and Sale at The Manor at Canyon Lakes ( 2802 W. 35th Avenue in Kennewick) You can stop in and ask the hosting members about growing orchids, plus there will be information sheets available on growing orchids. (Admission costs $3.00.)

They’re also holding two classes today, Orchids 101 at 1:00 p.m. or Everything You Wanted to Know (About Orchids) but Were Afraid to Ask at 2:30 p.m. Even if you can’t make the classes, you can stop by, ask questions and pick up the information sheets. There will also be hundreds of miniature orchid plants available for purchase… Potinara, Laeliacattleya, Phalaneopsis, Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, Bulbophyllum and other orchids suitable for growing indoors.

This show and sale gives you a great opportunity to explore the wonderful world of orchids and find miniatures that are right for your space and growing conditions. I’m so excited about the show. I’m planning on stopping by and buying one or two miniature orchids to try. I have some perfect window sills with good light that should make it easy. I know the members will help me find the orchids that fit my growing conditions to assure my success. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Published: 5/2/2009 3:00 PM

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