Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for February 2010


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I’m sitting here today and looking at a thermometer that says it’s 54 degrees outside. I’m not fooled. It’s still winter. We shouldn’t be too eager to get out and about doing our garden chores. Instead, let’s open our 2010 seed catalogs and start planning. I’ve already received a score of catalogs, especially those that specialize in vegetables. Rumor has it that because so many more gardeners are growing veggies than ever before, there could be a shortage of the most popular and the newest varieties. So let’s get busy and get our seed orders in.

One of the first catalogs to arrive at my house was from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They offer 1400 open pollinated heirloom vegetables and flowers. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was started in 1998 by a seventeen year-old young man, Jere Gettle. This young seedsman’s desire was to preserve heirloom seeds. He started modestly, sending out 550 catalogs on newsprint and working out of his own room in his Missouri home. The next year he sent out 7,500 catalogs and was able to get money to build his first store in the Ozark Hills near Mansfield, MO.

This year Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds printed 250,000 catalogs to meet the demand. In just 12 years this seed business offering only heirlooms has grown like “Jack’s beanstalk.” In 2009 they started another seed store “bank” in Petaluma, CA in the historic 1920

s Sonoma County National Bank building. Gettle points out that “millions of people are gardening for the first time, and possibly more young families are gardening than at any time since the Great Depression.”

One of their new tomato offerings is ‘Reisetomate,’also known as the‘Traveler Tomato.’ Gettle says this one is “far-out and groovy ” and I agree. From the distance this looks like a large bunch of cherry tomatoes, but closer inspection reveals that they’re all fused into a big, lumpy mass. “Reise” means “travel” or “journey” in German. It’s believed that the origins of this tomato can be traced to Central America where the natives carried them on trips and ate the tomatoes along their journey. Each lumpy portion of the ‘Reisetomate’ tomato can be broken off and easily eaten without needing to stop and use a knife. The flavor? Gettle says they’re rather sour, strong, and acid. “The perfect tomato for those who love raw lemons.”

Baker Creek has many other very interesting old vegetable and flower varieties. Want to get a copy of their catalog? Go to for a free copy. Gettle says to hurry with your order, as some seeds will only be available for a few more weeks due to demand.

Published: 1/23/2010 3:05 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Next Tuesday on January 19th, I will be leading my thirty-first Master Gardener (MG) training program here in the Tri-Cities. Like always, I’m excited to meet the new trainees and the returning “veteran” MGs. It’s a program where we train volunteers to provide gardening information to area residents, but it’s more than that.

The Master Gardener program is a real social network, not the virtual kind found on computers through Myspace, Facebook, or Twitter. It’s people who share the common interest of gardening, who like to chat about gardening, and who are willing to help others learn how to achieve gardening success. I guess that’s why after thirty years I keep coming back and why the program is still so successful. It’s the people.

You might think that only longtime gardeners participate in the program, but there are also relative novices, like Sarai Williams, a 2009 MG intern, that gets the opportunity to hone their skills alongside longtime gardeners. It’s fun to see the delight of these younger neophytes as they learn from the experienced experts. It paid off for Sarai. You should have tasted the beautiful heirloom tomatoes that she raised in her garden last summer. Drizzled with a balsamic vinegar dressing, these tomatoes were what home gardening is all about.

However, the novices aren’t the only ones that take delight in the new knowledge they gain through the MG program. Last year, Om Parkash came to the program as an enthusiastic and energetic gardener who already excelled in growing all types vegetables, flowers, and just about anything else. You should have seen the five-pound turnip he grew in his garden! Om was very excited to learn the science behind many gardening practices.

Over the years our local MG program has certainly changed. When I started here in 1980, there were about 30 MG volunteers and the program only focused on staffing plant clinics to help local gardeners solve their pest and other gardening problems. Today, there are about 150 MGs in the program. The volunteers still help staff plant clinics, but they’re also charged with helping educate area residents about sustainable gardens and landscapes. No longer are WSU Extension MGs simply telling people how to identify and kill pests. Today, they help local gardeners learn environmentally sound practices for managing pests and growing gardens, lawns, and landscapes.

One big example of this is the 2.6 acre garden that the MGs established in Kennewick behind the Mid-Columbia Library on South Union. The MG volunteers raised all the funds needed to establish the 22 theme gardens, including a rose garden with over 400 rose bushes. It’s definitely a lovely place to visit, but it’s also an outdoor classroom used to teach others about growing herbs, vegetables, native plants, ornamental grasses, perennials flowers, roses and so much more.

The concept of the program is simple, we teach people about gardening so they will teach others. To be part of the program, new Master Gardener volunteers pay a training fee and training deposit of $100 and agree to return 50 hours of service to the community. In return, they receive over 50 hours of quality training, share their gardening passion with other gardeners , and help others in our community learn about gardening.

Published: 1/16/2010 2:57 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

In the “old days” thirty years ago, gardeners were usually more concerned about killing any insect they found on their garden plants. The adage that the “only good bug is a dead bug” prevailed. Thankfully, times have changed. Most of the old chemicals have been banned because of the harm they caused to the environment or to humans. They were applied to plants as a spray and killed a broad spectrum of both harmful and beneficial insects.

Today, there are new environmentally kinder chemicals available. One relatively new material is imidacloprid (IC). There are spray and granular formulations of IC available, but it also comes in a soil drench used for treating trees and shrubs. Because it’s a systemic, IC is absorbed by the roots and moves throughout the plant. It primarily kills insects that suck on plant sap, such as aphids, but can poison some leaf feeding insects, such as root weevils and leaf beetles.

First registered in the US in 1994, IC introduced a new chemistry in pest control. It’s a neonicotinoid. It disrupts an insect’s nervous system by inhibiting certain nervous system receptors, causing paralysis of an insect’s mouth parts and leading to death by starvation. It kills both by contact (spraying the insect) and by ingestion (either by sucking of plant sap or eating leaves.) While IC is considered only moderately toxic to humans, it’s very toxic to bees and some small birds and slightly toxic to fish.

Both foliar and drench formulations of IC are available to home gardeners under the “Bayer Advanced” label. (Bayer CropScience holds the patent for IC.) The drench formulation is a boon to gardeners because it allows them to treat tall trees for aphids and some leaf beetle pests without having them sprayed by a commercial firm or trying to spray the trees by themselves. Controlling insect pests on tall trees is difficult because it requires special equipment to reach the top branches and disperses pesticide throughout the area, killing many non-target insects. The only equipment required for applying an IC drench is a watering can. The product is mixed with water and applied to the soil around the base of a tree’s trunk.

While typically called a systemic “insecticide,” IC’s chemistry is different than past systemic insecticides. It moves in the xylem, the water transporting vascular cells in woody plants. Because it has to move from the roots to the top of a tree, a drench application of IC doesn’t provide immediate protection from insect attack. It can take four to eight weeks for IC to reach its way to the top of a small tree and eight to twelve weeks to become fully effective in larger trees. When targeting spring feeding insects, such as wooly ash aphids on ash trees, an IC drench should be applied in September or early October. If you missed a fall application, try for very early spring. IC has a long residual and can stay effective in the plant for up to a year, so a fall application doesn’t mean that it won’t be effective in the spring when applied in the fall.

IC shows promise in controlling bronze birch borer and root weevils, two difficult to control pests of local landscape plants. If you have a problem with one of them, you just might want to be ready to treat your plants in late winter or early spring. If using an IC drench, follow the label directions for when and how much to apply.

Published: 1/9/2010 2:50 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Last week I shared a few terms that can be confusing when you order seeds and plants from a garden mail-order catalog. Here are a few more to consider when checking out the catalogs that should be arriving in the mail very soon.

Own-Root/Grafted: An increasing number of rose plants are being offered as “own-root” roses. In the recent past, most of the hybrid roses offered to gardeners have been grafted. In this process buds of a desirable variety were grafted onto a vigorous, hardy root stock that differed from the desirable variety. Now, some rose growers are propagating roses vegetatively, so the roots and the top of the plant are genetically identical. No grafting is involved.

These rose growers feel that own-root roses are more winter hardy and have a better chance of surviving severely cold winter temperatures. If killed back to the roots by cold temperatures, the regrowth from the roots of own-root roses is genetically the same as the top of the shrub. Regrowth from the root systems of grafted roses will be totally different from the original.

Rose growers also believe own-root roses are much longer lived than grafted roses, don’t suffer from graft incompatibility, don’t experience as much winter injury, don’t have as many virus problems, and don’ t send up root suckers. The downside is only a limited number of varieties are available as own-root roses. It also takes longer to grow own-root roses into salable sized plants, so their initial expense tends to be higher. It just might be worth it, if the plants last longer.

Bolting: Certain cool season vegetable will “bolt” or go to seed quickly when warm summer weather arrives. The warmer temperatures signal the plant that it’s time to produce flowers and then seed. It’s a common occurrence for lettuce, spinach, beets, cabbage, broccoli, cilantro and basil to bolt. While you can still safely eat the plants after they bolt, they often deteriorate in flavor and quality. They also stop growing.

Bolting is a common problem for area gardeners because we often seem to go from cold spring weather into warm summer weather with a very short spring with moderate weather. For gardeners in areas with climates similar to ours, plant breeders have developed “slow bolting” or “slow to bolt” varieties that don’t bolt as quickly in response to warm temperatures. Area gardeners who want to grow these cool season crops prone to bolting, should look for the slow bolting varieties.

It’s also a good idea to plant these crops as early as recommended in the spring. (Even slow bolting varieties will go to seed when it gets hot in the garden.) You may also want to try planting them where taller crops will provide them with shade for part of the day.

Bulb Size: If you aren’t used to buying tulip and daffodil bulbs via catalogs, you might be surprised to find out that size does matter. The bigger the bulb’s circumference for a specific variety, the better the bloom. For example a 14 to 16 cm. tulip bulb can be expected to produce about 4 to 6 flower buds, a 12 to 14 cm. bulb to produce 3 to 4 buds, and a 10 to 12 cm. bulb only 2 to 3 buds. When ordering the extra large bulbs as listed in a catalog, they will be 12 to 14 cm. in size, medium ones will be 11 to 12 cm., and small ones 10 to 11 cm.

Daffodil size is also measured in circumference. Your top size “double nose bulb” (indicated by DNI) are 16 cm. or larger, DN II bulbs are 14 to 16 cm., and DNIII bulbs are 12 to14 cm. DNI’s produce two, sometimes three, flower stalks. A daffodil graded as a “Number 3 Round” and referred as a “naturalizing or landscaping” bulb is smaller and will produce only one flower.

Published: 1/2/2010 2:39 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Last year I boasted about my gorgeous container gardens. This year, I tried something different and the planters were nothing to brag about. Perhaps it’s karma for last year’s gardening hubris, or maybe it’s simply the yin and yang of gardening.

So what did happen? This past spring I decided to try canna lilies for the tall element in the pots. Two pots had traditional red canna lilies and two others had the exotic Tropicannas (canna lilies too) with gold-salmon flowers and striking red, purple, green, and gold variegated leaves. At the base of the cannas, I planted both dark purple ‘Blackie’ and chartreuse ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vines and purple Wave petunias. I had thought the multicolored Tropicanna foliage would tie everything together.

It should have been a great combination, but all the cannas fizzled. Even though they’re rated as full sun plants, the extremely hot and exposed conditions in front of my west facing house were too much for them. The canna foliage tore in the wind and scorched in the sunny heat. Also, the new drip irrigation set up in the pots may be partially the blame for my failure. I suspect that the drip irrigation may not have moistened the soil as thoroughly as watering by hand did last summer.

Now that fall is here, I plan to dig up the canna rhizomes and try again next year. However, I’ll probably plant the cannas in the pots on my patio where they’ll get a little less sun, heat, and wind than they did in front of the house.

Fall digging of the rhizomes is a must. Cannas are not considered hardy in our USDA hardiness zone (Zone 6) so it’s important to protect the rhizomes from freezing. Some local gardeners say they’ve been successful overwintering them in the ground. This may be explained if they planted their cannas in a warm micro-climate zone in their landscape, perhaps close to the house where the soil temperature doesn’t go below freezing. However, if you want to make sure you have cannas next year, dig them up.

It’s okay to wait to until after frost kills the tops before digging the cannas up. The process involves cutting the stems off, leaving only about two to three inches at the base. Dig up the rhizomes by carefully lifting them out with a garden fork. It’s likely that the rhizomes will break in several places, but that’s okay. Shake or wash off any soil sticking to the rhizomes and then trim off any roots or shriveled portions of rhizome before storing them.

Next, it’s important to let them dry off for a few days. Then place the dry rhizomes in paper bags. Don’t forget to write the flower color on the outside. Store them in a cool (40 to 50 degrees) spot where they won’t freeze.

In the spring, it’s a simple task to divide the rhizomes by cutting them into pieces. The buds that will sprout into the new stems and leaves are located at the base of the old stems. Each newly cut piece should have several buds on it. Allow the cut end to dry a day or two before planting.

I’m already thinking about what to plant in my front pots next year. It definitely should be something bright and bold… and able to withstand heat and wind. Maybe orange Profusion zinnias and bright Inca yellow marigolds would be a good choice. I have all winter to decide.

Published: 10/10/2009 2:27 PM



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