Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for February 2011


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Not everything offered for sale in a seed catalog is a seed or a plant. Many seed companies also offer a variety of nifty garden gadgets, equipment, and supplies. Here are some that I found while thumbing through the seed catalogs in my mailbox.

Compost Thermometer: Twice a year I teach a composting class where I talk about the composting process. When built correctly, a compost pile quickly heats up due to the activity of aerobic bacteria working at breaking down the organic matter. The temperature of the pile can go above 150 degrees in just a few days. If the pile gets too hot, above 170 degrees, it will kill off these valuable bacteria. A compost thermometer allows a gardener to take the internal temperature of the pile and decide when to turn it. Made out of stainless steel, the compost thermometer has a long (18-20″) stem and a dial with a range of 0 to 200-220 degrees. These typically cost about $30 to $80. You can find one for $32.50 from Territorial Seed Company (

Soil Thermometer: Also available from Territorial Seed Company is a soil thermometer, a diminutive device compared to a compost thermometer, with a 6.5 inch stem . It comes in handy when you’re starting seeds indoors or directly into the soil outdoors, since soil temperature is critical for good seed germination. Warm season vegetables tend to germinate best if the soil is 65 to 70 degrees. Gardeners are often tempted into thinking things have warmed up enough for planting because of balmy weather. Using a soil thermometer tells you if the soil is warm enough for sowing seed.

You might also want to know that you shouldn’t plant spring flowering bulbs in the fall until the soil temperature drops below 60 degrees; the roots of trees and shrubs will continue to grow until soil temperatures drop below 40 degrees in the fall; crabgrass will start to germinate when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees for four or more days in a row; cool-season grass seed can be planted when the soil temperatures are in the 60 degree range; and seed potatoes tend to rot in cold, wet soils below 50 degrees, sprouting best in soils of 55 to 70 degrees.

Seed Starting Supplies: It’s logical that many seed catalogs also offer all sorts of seed starting equipment from flats, to seed starting potting mix, mini-greenhouses, bottom heat mats, plant labels, hand seeders and more. Rootrainers caught my eye. Thirty-two Rootrainer cells come with a tray. Each of the cells is 1.5 inches square and 5 inches deep, deeper than many other seed starter cells. These deep cells encourage a longer root system and help improve transplant survival. Each set of four cells can be opened up so you can check the progress of the roots and so you can easily remove the seedling for transplanting. These can be found in Park Seed Company’s catalog (

Park Seed Company also has a complete special mini-greenhouse for starting seeds on your windowsill called a “Bio-Dome”. This is a seed flat with 60 individual cells and a plastic dome cover with vents. Each is about 15 inches long and 9.5 inches wide and comes with 60 cells that are 2.25 inches deep. The $25 cost per dome is a bit pricey, but it’s reusable from year to year.

Yes, there are plenty of wonderful seeds for sale in seed catalogs, but there’s also a wealth of other handy gardening treasures to be found.

Published: 1/29/2011 3:42 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Have you ever seen white fabric covering someone’s vegetable garden and wondered what it was all about? Row covers made out of synthetic fabric have been around for a long time, but over the last 15 years they’ve become much more accessible to gardeners. Reemay, Grow Guard, and Agribon are some of the brand names of these polyester or polypropylene spun-bonded and woven fabrics.

Depending on the type and brand of row cover fabric, it can be used to provide protection from frost and wind and even to exclude certain pests. Most of the newer fabrics are UV stabilized so they can be used for several years. The fabrics are also porous, transmitting both water and light. The lightest weight fabrics transmit as much 75 to 90 per cent of light, allowing good plant growth beneath them.

Because row cover fabric transmits sunlight, the soil underneath warms up during the day. At night the fabric slows heat loss from the soil, allowing gardeners to plant one to two weeks earlier in the spring. Row covers aren’t going to protect tender plants from severely cold temperatures, but they will protect them from temperatures several degrees below freezing. Each different brand of fabric is rated for different amounts of frost protection with lighter weight materials only providing a few degrees of protection and others, like ‘Frost Blanket’, protecting plants down to 24-26 degrees.

Lightweight fabrics, often called “floating row covers,” have become increasingly popular in recent years because of the protection they provide from certain insects and birds. If applied correctly, row covers can exclude insect pests such as leaf miners, aphids, and flea beetles while still allowing plants to grow beneath. They’re the best option when trying to control leaf miners in spinach and beets.

Row cover fabric comes in varying lengths and a standard 72 inch width for use on three to four foot wide garden beds. You can find row cover fabric at local nurseries or through mail-order supply companies. (Territorial Seed Company offers four different brands at You can also purchase pegs, staples or clamps that are available for securing the fabric. However, digging a continuous furrow along the edge of the bed and burying the fabric edges is the best way to secure your row covers in our wind prone region.

Install the fabric on a calm day, as a strong breeze makes the process impossible. Place one of the long edges in the open furrow, securing the fabric using staples and pulling the fabric lengthwise as you go to remove any folds. Then secure the fabric along the opposite side. The material should be loose, not taught, to allow room for plant growth. Secure both ends in the same way. Lastly, fill in with soil. Securing the fabric in this way keeps leaf miner insects and birds out, as well as preventing the wind from lifting up the fabric.

Some gardeners like to use two-by-four lumber to anchor their covers on one side so they can open the bed to check on their plants and to harvest leafy greens. It also allows them access to managing soil moisture and weeds. (Be aware that weeds are able to grow very well under the row cover fabric.)

Row cover fabrics are a handy way to provide some frost protection to your garden plants in the spring and a chemical free way to keep out certain unwanted pests, such as leaf miners and quail. You might want to give them a try.

Published: 1/22/2011 3:30 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Recently, I was on my way to the store when I saw a statue in a front yard. It was a very nice, very large statue but it seemed strangely out of place. I’m a fan of good garden statuary, but some pieces just don’t seem to fit. Like a piece of furniture in your home, statuary has to “fit” with the style and scale of the decor, or in this case with the house and landscape.

Peter C. Cilio, creative director of fine garden accessories for Campania International, says that a common mistake gardeners make when buying garden statuary is the size or number of pieces in the garden. He indicated that the purchasers tend to select pieces that are just too small for the space or they overload their garden with too many pieces. He says, “In garden statuary the guiding principle usually is that less is more.”

Tres Frome, a planning and design specialist, points out that numerous pieces in the landscape create a cluttered and complicated appearance. The eye isn’t able to focus and enjoy each piece. Frome advises “Under the less is more principle, one well-suited piece will create a presence and a focal point, introducing harmony rather than chaos into the garden.”

When you’re selecting a statue or decorative piece for your garden, keep in mind the style, scale and feel of your house, landscape, and garden. If your house and garden resemble a Mediterranean villa, a grand tiled fountain out in front won’t seem out of place, but it probably isn’t a good “fit” in front of a one story modern rambler.

If you’re having trouble picking out tasteful “art” for your landscape, Cilio’s suggests thinking about your landscape as a blank wall in a room. Take cues from the style of your “room” which in your landscape or garden is the size of the space and the arrangement and shapes of the shrubs, trees, and other plants.

I think it’s especially hard to pick out the right statue or artful piece for a front landscape. What people see reflects your personal taste and style. The backyard and garden can allow you to indulge your wild side a little more, especially if your yard is surrounded by a fence or screened by trees and shrubs.

Unlike the front landscape, backyard gardens tend to have multiple different view perspectives often with different themes that invite different types of garden art. A small concrete lop-eared bunny figurine can be tastefully placed in the vegetable garden and that classical Greek goddess might fit in well in the rose garden.

Selecting the right statue or piece of garden art is simply like selecting a painting for your home. Each of us has different likes and dislikes. The important thing is to know what to consider when selecting art for your garden.

My favorite piece of garden art? It was the large concrete sea serpent that used to sit in a Richland front yard. It was whimsical and brought a smile to me every time I drove by. I knew a little about the owners, just by what art they had in their yard.

Published: 1/15/2011 3:23 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Some gardeners have other interests to keep them busy during winter months, some head south for the season, and others wait impatiently for spring to arrive. If you’re in the last group, take a tour of your garden and landscape to look for winter annual weeds that may have already started growing. These are weeds that germinated in the fall, are growing during the warmer parts of winter, and will flower and go to seed in the spring. There are a bunch of these evident in the landscape outside my office!

A swipe with a sharp hoe will make easy work of these annual weeds, but first take some time to get your favorite hoe in shape. Remove any rust that may be on the hoe’s blade by soaking it vinegar and then using a steel wool cleaning pad with the vinegar to scrub off any rust that remains. Be sure to use rubber gloves to save wear and tear on your hands. There are commercial rust remover products that can be used if the rust is extreme. Avoid those that contain harsh caustic chemicals and look for one that’s non-toxic and non-corrosive.

After the rust is gone, smooth the surface with 80-grit sandpaper. Next use an 8 to 10 inch mill bastard file with a handle to sharpen the blade using “push” strokes directed away from you and following any existing beveled edge. If the blade is in bad shape, sharpening with a grinder or belt sander may be needed. Don’t forget to wear your safety glasses.

After sharpening remove any burrs that have formed on the back of the blade using 300-grit wet-dry sandpaper and then apply a light coating of WD 40 or other high quality oil to the blade. Also, unpainted wooden handles will benefit from a coat of linseed oil to keep the wood from drying out and cracking

Did you know that new garden tools need to be sharpened before use? For obvious reasons, stores find it advantageous not to ship or display tools with sharp blades. So even if your hoe’s blade isn’t rusty, check to make sure the blade is sharp. The sharpening process isn’t difficult, but if the thought of taking on the sharpening task is too daunting, you may be able to find a local sharpening service.

Now is a good time for anxious gardeners to sharpen their trusty hoes. Then on a mild sunny day, go out looking for those winter annual weeds. The sharp blade will make easy work of cutting them off right below the soil.

Best Hoe: The traditional garden hoe is a versatile tool that allows gardeners to chop off big weeds, move soil around, and create furrows for planting. However, many WSU Master Gardeners favor other types of hoes for garden weed patrol. One of their favorites is a stirrup or shuffle hoe, also known as the Hula-Hoe or a scuffle hoe. These hoes have a blade shaped like a stirrup that oscillates when pushed and pulled. The blade slides into the soil at a horizontal angle and cuts off young weeds just below the soil surface. It isn’t effective on big tough weeds, but works well on smaller seedling weeds. This type of hoe doesn’t take as much effort to use, is easier on your back, and does its job with minimal disturbance of the soil.

Published: 1/8/2011 3:10 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Every time I turn around it seems like a new seed or nursery catalog arrives in the mail. Raintree Nursery’s catalog arrived just the other day. Raintree Nursery is located in Morton, Washington and specializes in fruiting plants, although they do offer some ornamentals too. Thumbing through their catalog reminded me that one of the current gardening trends is edible landscaping.

The concept of edible landscaping is to have an attractive landscape where food producing plants are part of the landscape not placed in a separate garden space, such as an orchard or vegetable garden. With a shift towards decreasing home and yard sizes, it makes sense to incorporate edibles – fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, and even edible flowers – into an attractive home landscape.

Experienced local gardeners know that growing traditional tree fruit in our area is not easy as planting a tree and letting it grow. Multiple applications of insecticide are required to keep apples, pears, and cherries from becoming wormy. Because we live in a commercial tree fruit producing region, we can more easily and more economically purchase fruit from local growers.

If you want to apply the edible landscaping concept in your yard, consider different types of fruit that don’t fall victim to these wormy pests. One of these is jujube. These are not the colorful candies you ate as a kid in movie theaters. Jujube, also known as Chinese dates, is a fruit tree with Chinese origins. It has been cultivated in China for over 4,000 years with over 400 cultivars of jujube today. Raintree offers four cultivars.

What’s the fruit like? The fruit resembles a small to large, round to oblong plum. The skin is thin and edible. The flesh is white and sweet, some saying it tastes like a very sweet apple. While the skin turns dark red at maturity, many say the fruit tastes best when eaten while still somewhat yellowish and the flesh is still crisp. When mature, the fruit becomes soft and wrinkled (looking somewhat like a date) and the flesh becomes spongy. Like a plum, the fruit contains a stony pit. Trees are partially self fertile, but will be more productive if cross-pollination is provided by growing two different jujube cultivars.

The trees offered by Raintree are grafted, growing to 20 feet or more, but they note they can be maintained at even lower heights. The Raintree cultivars are hardy from Zones 6-10, so they should be hardy in our region. Jujubes need a warm, full sun location and do best in well-drained sandy soils, but will tolerate other types of soil including alkaline soils.

Generally the jujube has a drooping or somewhat weeping habit, although this varies from tree to tree with some cultivars having a more upright habit. The leaves are a glossy green, turning bright yellow in the fall before dropping. It also tends to drop small branchlets in the fall.

As good as this tree may sound, it does have two drawbacks. One is the thorns or spines at the base of each leaf. However, there are some cultivars that are thornless or nearly thornless. Another drawback is suckering. The different cultivars are grafted onto thorny rootstocks that tend to produce many suckers. These would have to be cut off regularly to keep the thorny rootstock contained.

Considering an edible landscape? Maybe you’d like to include jujubes or other fruit producing plants. Jujubes are available from Raintree at

Published: 2/5/2011 2:59 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Imagine picking a sweet juicy strawberry straight from your own garden and popping it in your mouth. Delicious! Strawberries are so easy to grow. If you haven’t tried growing strawberries yourself, you should. Here are some tips on getting started.

1. Strawberries are a herbaceous perennial. This means they come back from their roots and crown for successive years. Single plants can live four to five years so do a good job preparing a strawberry bed for planting. Locate the bed in a sunny spot with good drainage. Work the soil up, tilling in some fertilizer and organic matter, such as well rotted compost.

2. What varieties to grow? There are three different types of strawberries. Those called “June-bearing” varieties have a main crop of berries in June or July and produce lots of runners from which new plants are started within the strawberry bed. “Day-neutral” varieties produce few runners but develop fruit throughout the growing season, only stopping during the hottest part of summer. “Everbearing” strawberries produce few runners, but do have two crops of berries, one in June or July and another one in the fall.

I prefer day-neutrals because I can go out and pick a few berries almost anytime during the growing season. My favorites are Tristar and Tribute, but Selva, Tillicum, and Seascape are also fairly good picks. Some of the best June-bearing varieties for eastern Washington gardens are Hood, Shuksan, Benton, and Rainier with Rainier and Shuksan having the best flavor. Some acceptable everbearing varieties are Quinault, Ozark Beauty, and Fort Laramie, but experts say the day-neutrals perform better.

3. Only buy plants that are “certified virus-free.” Don’t use starts from your old plants or from other gardeners’ plants. Over time, strawberries usually become infected with viruses. You can’t tell by looking that plants are infected, but the viruses seriously limit fruit production.

4. Spacing your plants is important. June-bearers are normally grown in a “matted row” where plants are set 15 to 24 inches apart within rows situated 36 to 42 inches apart. Runners are allowed to fill in the spaces between plants and within the row until the “matted row” is 14 to 18 inches wide. Because day-neutrals don’t produce plentiful runners they’re grown in “hills” with plants placed 10 to 18 inches apart. One runner is allowed to start another plant between the two mother plants, keeping plants 8 inches apart.

5. One of the most common mistakes novice growers make with strawberries is at planting time. Look for the swollen base of the plant from which both the leaves and roots originate. This is called the crown. When planted, the middle of the crown should be at soil level with half of the crown above the soil line and half below. The roots should be spread out in the planting hole with the top roots just below the surface of the soil. Be sure to check this again after you water the plants in to settle the soil. If too deep, the crown will rot, and if too shallow, the roots will dry out and die.

6. Another common mistake is watering too much. Excessive water leads to crown and root rot, especially if the crown is set too deep or if drainage is poor. Keep soil moderately moist, not wet.

If you want to plant strawberries and need more information check out the WSU Extension publication EB 1640 “Growing Small Fruits for the Home Garden” available on-line at or the Oregon State Extension publication EC1307 “Growing Strawberries in Your Home Garden” at

Published: 2/12/2011 2:55 PM



Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

WSU Extension, Franklin County, 1016 North 4th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301-3706, 509-545-3511, Contact Us
© 2017 Washington State University | Accessibility | Policies | Copyright | Log in