Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for December 2010


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

As a garden writer, I occasionally receive garden catalogs and information about new garden products in the mail and I like to share the more interesting tidbits with you. Here are some that have been accumulating over the past few months.

HozeAround: I get mad when the hoses we haul out to deep water our trees end up rolling over and damaging plants in beds near the hose bibs. Decorative hose guides just don’t seem to do the trick of protecting the plants. Perhaps HozeAround is the answer. Basically these gadgets are pieces of powder coated spring steel that are looped at one end and straight on the other end. The entire device is 28 inches long. Directions instruct to stick the straight end into the ground to a depth of 18 inches. Multiple HozeArounds are placed along the edge of the border and then the hose is easily thread through the loops. For more information go to

ScareCrow & CatStop: Some gardeners are already aware of the The ScareCrow®, a motion activated sprinkler that’s designed to act as an animal deterrent around gardens, lawns, and water gardens. The sprinkler goes off when animals approach, hopefully scaring away pesky cats, dogs, herons, racoons, and deer with movement, sudden noise, and a spray of water. It operates on a nine volt battery and only uses two to three cups of water each time it’s activated.

Contech, the maker of The ScareCrow®, also has a product called CatStop® specifically aimed at deterring cats in the garden or a children’s sandbox. Instead of water, this motion activated gadget uses a burst of ultrasonic sound to startle and frighten cats away. Because the cats don’t like the sound, they avoid the area in the future. It’s not disturbing to humans because it’s a frequency that most of us can’t hear. It too works on a nine volt battery and monitors up to a 280 square foot area. You can order the ScareCrow or CatStop directly from Contech at or through various outlets.

Pot Pads: Have you ever moved furniture using mover pads? A similar product is now available for moving large pots on your deck or patio. A Pot Pad™ is a hard plastic dome with a non skid rubber flat base. The rubber base grips the bottom of the pot and allows you to easily move around heavy pots on hard, flat surfaces.

Unlike mover pads, the Pot Pads™ are designed to be left under the pot to keep it raised off the deck or patio surface, allowing for drainage and aeration and helping prevent wood rot on decks. The hard plastic is durable and according to Allsop Home & Garden will “never disintegrate, chip, crumble or leave unsightly marks on your deck surface.”

The Pot Pads™ are packaged in sets of four (four are recommended per pot) and come in four different colors (brown, lime green, red, bright blue). Each of the pads is approximately 2″ wide x 3/4″ thick. The pads can be ordered on-line directly from Allsop Home & Garden at or through various garden supply companies.

Published: 1/1/2011 11:08 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Gardeners are usually pretty down to earth folks who appreciate a quality garden tool or simple gadget that makes gardening easier. The thought of bringing “high tech” into the garden is blasphemy to many who find the simplicity of gardening and working with plants a way to find relief from stressful lives, but they may want to reconsider about these two new high tech gadgets.

One high tech gadget that has me excited is a plant or garden camera called Timelapse PlantCam from Wingscape. This gadget is placed in the garden and takes time-lapse photos or videos of a plant, garden, or whatever else you may want to view. Intervals can be set to take pictures every .5, 1, 5, 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes, every 1, 3, or 6 hours, or once a day. You don’t have to take the pictures, the camera does all the work. When done, the camera will convert the photos into a time-lapse movie that you view on your computer or television. How cool is that?

We’re not talking poor quality photos. The Timelapse PlantCam is a 4.0 megapixel camera that takes nice clear photos in standard formats that can be edited, printed, or shared easily via e-mail. Wingscapes says that their camera has “rugged, weatherproof construction so you can leave it unattended” outdoors in the garden. You can take close-ups (down to 11 inches away) and landscape views (52 degrees) of the garden. It has 16MB of memory with an optional memory card and runs on 4AA batteries. The average price seems to be about $70. A similar camera, the GardenWatchCam from Brinno Incorporated, is a 1.3 Megapixel camera that sells for about $120.

These “plant cams” allow you to actually see a rose bloom, a seed germinate, a tomato ripen, or a pumpkin grow. I’m so excited. I’m putting one on my list of “must haves.”

High tech gardening can’t be that bad if it can make tedious mowing a thing of the past. Husqvarna has introduced a series of robot lawnmowers called the Automower™ . Husqvarna says its Automower™ is “like employing a full-time working gardener… Automower™ is the first fully robotic lawnmower.”

Automower™ has an electric motor so it’s quieter than noisy gas powered mowers. It also has large wheels that permit it to keep going on uneven lawn surfaces and it can generally handle inclines of up to 35 per cent. It only weighs 22 pounds and returns automatically to its charging station when it runs low on power. The newest model of Automower™ is solar powered, making it both high tech and green!

Many of us know about the Roomba robot vacuum for indoors, and the Automower™ is similar. If it bumps into a tree or a rock, it will reverse and go in a different direction. But what keeps it from mowing down flowers or escaping down the street? Installation involves placing a wire around the perimeter of the areas to be mowed. Properly installed, the Automower™ should stay in your yard and not mow down flowers. The wire can be buried or staked in place. Husqvarna recommends having a trained dealer install the wire, but also says you can easily install it yourself if you follow the instructions.

The Automowers are a bit pricey with the newest solar powered model selling at $3,000. They won’t fit everyone’s budget, but they are a high tech option for eliminating the tedium of lawn mowing.

Published: 12/25/2010 10:54 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Novice gardeners sometimes hear experienced gardeners talk about Wall O’Waters and wonder what they’re talking about. Does it have something to do with Walla Walla? What is a “Wall of Water” and why do tomato growing gardeners tout their use in the garden?

Wall O’ Waters are cylinders of clear plastic sheeting that has been fused into vertical tubes. A cylinder is set up where a tomato plant will be planted in the garden. The open ends of the tubes are then filled with water, allowing the cylinder to stand up on its own. The water in the tubes absorbs heat during the day via sunlight and then radiates it back to the plant and soil at night.

Unlike old fashioned cloches or plant caps, Wall O’ Waters provide more than just protection from light frost. They often let gardeners plant tomatoes, peppers, and other warm season veggies at least six weeks before the last average date of frost in the area, giving gardeners a jumpstart on the gardening season.

A tomato is a subtropical plant that grows best when temperatures are 65 to 85 degrees. Even when protected from frost, tomatoes won’t grow much when the air and soil temperatures are cooler than the optimum range. Wall O’ Waters warm the soil and warm the air around the plants to allow for early planting and growth.

The manufacturer of the “original” Wall O’ Water recommends the following:

1. Set the Wall O’ Waters up in the garden about a week before you plant so they can warm the soil a bit first. When you do plant, use small, three to four inch tall transplants.

2. Only fill the tubes two thirds full when you set them up. This allows you to tip them together at the top to create a “teepee.” Keep them in the closed teepee configuration both day and night when the plants are small and conditions are cool. Around each plant you’re creating a virtual solar greenhouse. GARDEN TIP: To fill a Wall O’ Water place a five gallon bucket in the center of the cylinder to hold it upright. Remove the bucket once filled.

3. Hopefully, after three to four weeks your plants will start to push their way through the opening of the teepee. At that point you can open the “teepee” and finish filling the tubes up to the top with water.

4. After the average last date of frost, after the weather has warmed, and after the plants have grown to the top, remove the Wall O’ Waters. While directions note that there is no hurry to remove the cylinders, local gardeners suggest removing them before the plant gets much taller and wider than the cylinder, otherwise you’ll have trouble getting them off the plant without causing damage.

Wall O’ Waters are the “original.” The company indicates that their product allows you to “start tomatoes 6-8 weeks earlier…. produce fruit 30-40 days earlier… and protects plants down to 16 degrees… and lasts 3-5 years.” There are other products on the market that copy the Wall O’ Water concept. Kozy Coat Gardening Teepees stand out because these teepees are made out of UV resistant red tinted clear plastic and supposedly produce stockier plants. Whichever you chose, you can use them to get a head start on the season and your gardening friends!

Published: 12/18/2010 10:47 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Most gardeners that I know appreciate useful gadgets and treasure good quality gardening tools. If you’re considering gifting a gardener with something they will cherish, I have some ideas.

One tool I have found especially useful this past gardening season is a Hori Hori knife. Originating in Japan, the Hori Hori (meaning Dig Dig) is not a heavy duty pocket knife. It’s a versatile garden tool with a wide beveled blade that’s typically serrated on one edge and sharp on the other edge. Not only is it used for digging like a trowel, it’s also handy for weeding, transplanting, and dividing perennials. The blades of many Hori Hori knives are engraved with depth measurements to make planting easier.

In purchasing a garden knife or Hori-Hori, look for one with strong handle construction and a sturdy blade made out of polished stainless steel or carbon steel. Because of the sharp edges these blades often come with a sheath to keep you and the blade protected. Good idea! You can find true Japanese Hori Hori knives with hardwood handles or there are mass produced “garden knife” versions with plastic grip handles from well known companies like Fiskars and Oxo.

I always seem to be snipping, cutting, or pruning something in the garden so I carry around three indispensable tools for the job. For “snipping” of delicate stems and flowers, I use Fiskars Softouch Micro-Tip Pruning Snips. The micro snip blades are stainless steel. It comes with 5-inch ergonomic handles that work well in small hands like mine. These little snips work well when deadheading flowers or cutting herbs. I’ve put mine through some pretty rigorous testing for the last seven years and I’m just beginning to think about getting a new pair.

For cutting, I turn to another Fiskars implement, Fiskars garden shears. I like them because they’re tough and take abuse. The garden shears take over where the little snips leave off. I use them for cutting somewhat woody twigs and flower stems along with other cutting tasks in the garden, such as cutting apart plastic plant packs and pots, opening bags of potting soil, or cutting back ornamental grasses. With the ergonomic orange handles and curved, notched cutting blade, they’re up to the task. They also prevent me from mistreating my household shears. You’ll find there are also other brands of garden scissors available. The ColorStorm Garden Scissors are designed to reduce carpel tunnel syndrome and may be worth a try.

When pruning in the garden, I like a pair of ratchet hand pruners with an anvil blade. I use Florian Ratchet-Cut Pruners. Without straining my hand, the ratchet mechanism allows me to cut woody stuff that’s too tough for snips or scissors. The teflon coated, high carbon steel blades will cut branches and twigs up to 3/4 inch in diameter. This pair of pruners is both sturdy and light, made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon. I especially like their bright yellow handles that help me find them when I put them down in the garden.

My final recommendation for a great gardening gift is a stainless steel transplant shovel, loop or stirrup hoe, or a Haws watering can from Lee Valley Tools. They’re not in my tool shed yet, but I wish they were.

Published: 12/11/2010 10:38 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

The older I get, the more I realize that there are no easy answers. The other day I came across an article from ScienceDaily that reported a research team from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Syracuse, NY had determined the right mix of urban trees to help fight global warming in their region. For years I’ve been an ardent tree enthusiast, urging tree planting for their many benefits. One of those many benefits is the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) and sequestration or “tying-up”of its carbon.

Now, it’s not so simple as just planting a tree. It has to be the right “mix” of trees. Apparently some trees do a better job of sequestering carbon than others. Generally you want fast growing, long-lived (with a life span of 50 years or more) large (25 feet tall or more when mature) tree with dense wood. A tree that’s not prone to attack by health compromising insects or disease is best, as well as a tree with broadleaves instead of needles.

Some of the trees recommended by the SUNY study for the central New York area included American basswood (linden), dogwood, Eastern white pine, Eastern red cedar, red maple and river birch. Other trees deemed to be good at tying-up carbon include sycamore, sweet gum, and tulip tree. They recommend avoiding invasive trees like Tree-of-Heaven, fast growing trees with weak wood like silver maple, and trees with dense shade that prevents grass growth underneath like Norway maple.

Our tree management practices can negatively offset the sequestering benefits we attain from our planting the right trees. The SUNY report recommends avoiding trees that require high maintenance using fossil-fueled equipment, such as chain saws, leaf-blowers, and chippers.

Another consideration is what happens to the tree when it eventually dies. In a forest, it will decompose, releasing it’s carbon back into the atmosphere. In urban situations, dead or declining trees are removed and then chipped or burned, again releasing the carbon. No net benefit there. However, if the tree is kept as wood in the form of lumber or wood products, the carbon continues to be stored.

Last year one of my colleagues had to cut down several walnuts on her property that had been attacked by the walnut twig borer. She was able to offset the cost of removal by selling the wood for its use as lumber.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that trees provide additional benefits in reducing CO2 with their proper placement to provide shade that reduces energy needs for cooling in the summer. Of course, that’s assuming that the energy being used is generated with the help of fossil fuels.

The SUNY study recommended a specific mix of 31 trees for the city of Syracuse to help increase carbon sequestration by their urban forest. Their recommendations included a mix of different trees with no more that 10 per cent of one species, no more than 20 per cent of one genus, and no more than 30 per cent of one family. The recommended mix will eventually increase carbon sequestration by 86 per cent, but it may take up to 40 years for the city to fully realize these benefits. These benefits will be even greater if more longer lived shade trees are planted and provided with proper management to keep them healthy and alive.

As I mentioned earlier, there are no easy answers, but planting the right trees, like a red maple or even a sycamore, can help.

Published: 12/4/2010 11:49 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Here it is the last week of November and snow is falling outside and there’s at least six inches of the white stuff blanketing the ground. It’s hard for me to reconcile that last week we were raking up leaves and this week we’re shoveling snow.

Apparently, La Nina is strengthening over the Pacific Ocean and meteorologists are prognosticating that we won’t have as mild of a winter as we experienced last year. Some long range forecasters are predicting that the Pacific Northwest will be getting the worst of the country’s winter cold and snow along with the northern Plains and the western Great Lakes.

However, the Oregon State Department of Agriculture (OSDA) predicts that there will be above normal mountain snow with wet and stormy conditions statewide through December. OSDA also predicts cooler than normal westside temperatures and milder conditions on the eastside through the winter. The good news is that they’re predicting above normal snowpack in the mountains.

I’m talking about the weather because the abnormally early frigid air this week could damage some of our garden and landscape plants because its coming so early after a period of fairly mild weather. Plants go through a physiological process in the fall that prepares their tissues for winter’s cold temperatures. Their tissues gradually “harden” or acclimatize themselves to cooler temperatures, attaining their maximum hardiness in mid-winter when the coldest temperatures normally occur. Keep in mind this region’s average low temperature for November is 36 degrees while our average low for December and January is about 28 degrees. November temperatures in the 20

s is certainly not normal, but the blanket of snow during this cold weather should provide some insulation to plants that aren’t any more ready for winter than I am!

Weather is a common topic of conversation for many, but especially for gardeners who worry about their plants. Here are two frequently asked winter “weather” questions asked by gardeners:

Question: Is wind chill a concern when it comes to trees, shrubs, and perennials?

Answer: The wind chill index was developed in terms of warm blooded animals, like humans, to indicate heat loss based on the factors of air temperature and wind. Since plants aren’t warm blooded and can’t feel, the wind chill factor does not affect plants. If the air temperature is 5 degrees and the wind chill factor is -15 degrees, it’s only the 5 degree temperature that affects a plant.

Question: When gardeners talk about “Hardiness Zones” what do they mean?

Answer: USDA developed a map to help gardeners know which landscape plants could be planted in different parts of the country and survive the average coldest winter temperatures experienced in those regions. The USDA map divides North America into 11 different zones. Based on climate data for the average annual minimum temperatures, each zone is ten degrees warmer or cooler than the adjacent zone.

The current USDA Hardiness Zone Map uses temperature data from 1974 to 1986 for the US. On the USDA map, the Tri-Cities is in Zone 6 with minimum temperatures from 0 to -10 degrees. The Arbor Day Foundation has used more recent temperature data to reflect climate changes. On their map we are in Zone 7 with minimum temperatures from 0 to 10 degrees. Trees, shrubs, and perennial plants are rated as to their hardiness, such as flowering dogwood which is rated as hardy in Zones 5-8.

Well, our plants can’t sit inside with a cup of tea and a blanket, but we can. Stay warm!

Published: 11/27/2010 11:41 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Last week I touched on a few of my container garden “winners and losers” from Proven Winners marketing. This week I want to tell you about some plants from one of the newest marketing programs called “Hort Couture.”

Hort Couture is an “upscale” marketing program targeted specifically at women who make up 84% of the consumers who purchase color for their gardens. Hort Couture is marketing new plants from the “world’s best breeders and plants people.” This company isn’t just about the plants though, it’s packaging is targeted at Generation X women who are interested in style and color.

This spring, I received a package from Hort Couture with several small plant starts. One I didn’t hold out much hope for was a Calibrachoa named ‘Paris.’ I’ve tried calibrochoa over the years without much success, maybe it was just too hot and sunny for them in my planters.

‘Paris’ is from what they call their Calibrachoa “Ready to Wear” collection. Collection is the right word to describe ‘Paris,’ as each cell in a pack includes one cutting each of three “Catwalk” colors, Blue Jean (purple), Bouquet Red (deep pink) and Bouquet Yellow (yellow).

As ‘Paris’ grows you get what looks like one plant with purple, pink, and yellow flowers. I planted these small ‘Paris’ cells in my big planters, not expecting much. I was surprised when they grew into sizable plants with a season long abundance of flowers. Other Calibrachoa Ready to Wear collections offer different color combinations, Milan comes with white, pink, and purple flowers, Tokyo with yellow, purple, and orange, and New York with red, yellow, and white.

Hort Couture also sent me plants of ‘La Crema’ sage, a member of their Culinary Couture collection. It’s a heavily variegated form of Berggarten Sage with a strong sage fragrance and flavor. It’s great for decorative kitchen gardens, perennial borders, or in container gardens mixed with brightly colored flowers. The plants are perennials and will reach a height and width of 18 to 24 inches.

Hort Couture will also be marketing several other herbs in the coming year. One of those is a garden basil called ‘Pesto Perpetuo.’ This spring I picked up this basil at one of our local nurseries (not under the Hort Couture brand). It has light green leaves with creamy white variegation along the edges, making a nice contrast with the common basil and cinnamon basil that I had planted in the same pot. The plant is columnar in form, growing from 36 to 48 inches tall.

I was so please with ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ that I plan to get several plants next year. Not only was it ornamental and heat tolerant, but it’s also non-blooming, so no pinching was required to remove spent flowerheads! It’s basil flavor was excellent and I used my entire plant to make pesto at the end of the season.

Other Hort Couture herbs to look for are a variety of basils including Aristotle, Blue Spice, Greek Columnar, Italian Largeleaf, Lemon, Lime, and Siam Queen and a selection of other herbs including Slow Bolt cilantro, Fernleaf dill, Hot & Spicy variegated oregano, and Gold Dust rosemary.

I’m not from Generation X, so that’s probably why I find the Hort Couture marketing ploy with silhouettes of stylish shapely women in 1950

s fashion and wide brimmed sun hats a bit kitschy. However, their line of plants includes some unique and interesting flower, herb, and vegetable varieties worth a try.

Published: 11/20/2010 11:21 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Well now that the garden is at rest for the season, I can take some time to evaluate this year’s container gardens. As a garden writer, I sometimes receive free plants for evaluation from different horticulture marketing companies. Of course, they hope that the garden writers receiving plants will extol their virtues in their columns, blogs, and facebook pages.

Free or not, I enjoy trying new plants and sharing my successes along with my failures with you.

One company that sent me plants this year was Proven Winners. This “brand” was created in 1993 by three of the major plant propagating companies in the U.S. Their goal is to “introduce the best, most unique high performing plants, … and to market the plants innovatively.” They put their plants through a rigorous selection process so that you and I can usually trust that a Proven Winner will usually perform well in our gardens..

My favorite new Proven Winner this year was Goldilocks Rocks or Bidens (Bidens ferulifolia). I didn’t realize that this plant with bright gold one inch daisy-like flowers would soon overwhelm the other plants in my big 30 inch pot. This low maintenance, full sun plant grows both 14 inches tall and wide with an upright mounded habit that will spill over the edges of a pot.

Goldilocks Rocks is both heat tolerant and drought tolerant, low maintenance and doesn’t require deadheading. This plant is so vigorous it will fill up an entire hanging basket or even a 30 inch pot! However, there was one drawback with Goldilocks Rocks. The seeds of the dried flowers were like sharp tiny needles that stuck in my clothes after brushing against the plant. This didn’t cause great problems, but it certainly made it difficult to cut back the huge plant after frost. Ouch!

Another winner for me was Laguna Heavenly Lilac lobelia (Lobelia erinus). I’ve never had much luck with lobelia in the past, but this one was different. Laguna Heavenly Lilac is a low maintenance lobelia with light lavender flowers that didn’t disappear as soon as the hot weather arrived. It should work well as a trailing filler in containers, hanging baskets, and window boxes. I would recommend placing it where it won’t get the full heat of afternoon sun.

Ever since it was introduced by Proven Winners over ten years ago, I’ve been a fan of Bacopa, a super filler for container gardens and hanging baskets. A new outstanding Proven Winner filler is GoldDust, a Mecardonia hybrid with abundant dainty little bright yellow nemsia-like flowers and a trailing habit. GoldDust is heat tolerant, low maintenance (no deadheading), and grows about five inches tall..

One loser for me was the much anticipated Supertunia Pretty Much Picasso. This distinctive petunia has pink-violet purple flowers edged in lime green. A show-stopper, it’s supposed to be a heat tolerant, drought tolerant, low maintenance trailing petunia. I planted it in a pot along with one of the Wave petunias to compare the two. There was no comparison. Pretty Much Picasso sat there while the Wave petunia thrived, taking over the pot. I plan to try again next year to give it a second chance. Maybe I did something wrong?

Next week, I’ll share more garden winners and losers with you, including one of the highly esteemed Wave petunias that I wouldn’t recommend.

Published: 11/13/2010 11:11 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Do you have any “naked ladies” in your garden? I’m pretty sure you would know if you did, but I’m talking about some fall flowering bulbs that are called “naked ladies.” They’re also known by the name of colchicum. While fall is typically the time that we’re thinking of planting spring flowering bulbs, there are actually some fall blooming bulbs that gardeners might want to consider planting in the fall too.

Colchicum (Colchicum sp.) flowers in September and October and looks very much like a crocus. Depending on the species and the variety, “naked ladies” come in various shades of light lilac, purple, pink, yellow, and white. The “naked” name is probably due to the fact that they bloom without leaves in the fall. Their leaves are produced in the spring and then fade by mid-summer. They grow about 4 to 10 inches tall and their corms are planted six to eight inches deep in the fall. They’ll do best in a spot that has well drained soil, adequate soil moisture, and shade in the summer. Plant them in clumps under deciduous shrubs or amongst your perennials.

One interesting feature of this plant is that it contains an alkaloid known as colchicine. Colchicine can cause spontaneous mutations in the number of chromosomes within a plant and is used in some pharmaceuticals. Because of this alkaloid, all parts of colchicum is poisonous to animals and humans.

There are about 30 species of colchicum native to Europe and Asia. Colchicum autumnale, native to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, is one of the first to flower in September with small purplish pink blooms. Gardeners favor Crocus speciosum as the best colchicum for planting in gardens, producing purple-pink rounded flowers in September. I think


colchicum would be particularly lovely with its pretty double, lilac pink flowers… making it look much like a waterlily.

In addition to colchicum, there are also fall blooming crocus. Who knew? In fact, there are about 30 species of fall blooming crocus. Most resemble spring blooming crocuses, but instead flower in the fall. They’re planted eight inches deep in late summer, July to August. Like colchicum, they produce “naked” blooms with their leaves developing in the spring.

One of the most popular fall blooming crocuses is Crocus sativus. In the fall it blooms with clusters of four inch lilac-purple flowers. Not only is Crocus sativus prized for its bright fall blooms, but it’s also known as the saffron crocus. This is the flower from which the prized spice of saffron comes.

There are three red stigmas or “threads” in the center of each flower. These are harvested and dried to produce saffron. It’s a tedious process to pinch out the threads with tweezers, but you can grow and harvest your own saffron. Once you try harvesting it yourself, you’ll learn why it’s so expensive to buy. Keep in mind that to produce a pound of dried saffron requires over 50,000 flowers!

Contact the Extension office for instructions on how to harvest the saffron. It’s important that you only harvest the stigmas from Crocus sativus and not from any other crocuses or colchicum which is poisonous. To keep your saffron crop coming back and getting bigger each year, protect the six to twelve inch grass-like leaves that grow in the spring until they fade by the middle of summer.

Next year think of the fun you’ll have telling your friends about the naked ladies and the saffron fall crocus you’ve planted to brighten your fall garden.

Published: 11/6/2010 10:40 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

There are “mom-isms” that many of us have heard when growing up. One of them is “Don’t point, it’s not polite.” Another is “You can learn from your mistakes.” These mom-isms tend to be true, thus the internal struggle I’m having about pointing out common errors gardeners make when they plant bulbs. Perhaps “Learn from the mistakes of other gardeners.” could be a garden-ism.

Planting bulbs in straight rows is a common mistake that novice gardeners make. Spring flowering bulbs put on the best display when planted in what seems like a natural or haphazard arrangement. Don’t line them up in rows like soldiers, place them in a random clusters. You can do this by tossing them into the area you want to plant them and repositioning as needed to keep enough space between bulbs.

Another mistake sometimes made by very novice bulb gardeners is planting the bulbs upside down. Tulips and daffodils have one pointed end and one broader, flatter end. The pointy end goes up. However, some “bulbs” are different. The “pointy” end of crocus bulbs, or actually corms, is not as obvious. The bottom is flat and the top is slightly pointed.

I sometimes get calls in November or even December and January from gardeners who bought bulbs and then forgot to plant them. Oops! They ask if it’s too late to plant them. The experts say it’s best to plant the bulbs six weeks before hard frost is expected in the area, making early to mid-September a good time to plant. The same experts also say to plant them when the average nighttime temperatures stay in the range of 40 to 50 degrees. That would usually be sometime in October for our area.

So when is the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs here? The bulbs need to be planted late enough to allow the soil to cool a bit, but early enough to allow for root establishment before cold winter temperatures arrives. Our fall weather tends to be unpredictable from year to year, but mid-October is usually a good time for planting bulbs.

Planting bulbs late in November or even December? The bulbs won’t keep until next year, so plant them anyhow. What have you got to lose? If you do plant late, consider mulching the bed with compost or another type of loose mulch to insulate the bulbs some and encourage root growth.

Another mistake made by gardeners is not digging a deep enough holes for their bulbs. The gardener’s rule of thumb is that the hole should be two or three times as deep as the height of the bulb, with a minimum depth of two inches for very small bulbs. This means that large bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, should be planted in holes that are six to eight inches deep, and smaller bulbs, such as crocus, should be three to four inches deep. If bulbs aren’t planted deep enough they won’t develop adequate roots and they’ll be at greater risk from cold temperatures.

Our area often experiences mild late fall and even winter weather without much, if any, significant precipitation. Bulbs need moisture for root development. Be sure to water your bulbs in after planting and then water them periodically during mild fall and winter weather, keeping in mind that their roots are developing as deep as eight inches.

Finally, “Bloom where you are planted,” another good garden-ism to ponder when you’re planting spring flowering bulbs.

Published: 10/23/2010 10:34 AM



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