Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for February 2012


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

This week’s snow storms are a reminder that it really is winter! Up until now, our winter had been very nice with little rain, snow or ice. Gardeners were hoping an early spring was right around the corner. However, record-breaking warm winter temperatures and little precipitation up until this week means that trees and shrubs may have suffered stress from winter drought.

Evergreens that keep their green leaves through the winter, lose moisture through those leaves. This includes needled evergreens such as arborvitae, pine, spruce, and fir and broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, boxwood, and laurel. If there isn’t enough moisture in the soil to replenish what is lost through their green leaves, the plants will suffer from drought stress and winter burn.

Evergreens aren’t the only trees and shrubs that can suffer from winter drought stress. Shallow rooted deciduous plants may also be injured when their roots become desiccated in the dry soil. Particularly prone to winter drought are birch, silver maple, Norway maple, hybrid maples, linden, and dogwood.

During mild winter weather, gardeners should check the soil moisture (using a trowel or shovel) in their landscapes and water vulnerable plants if the soil is dry. When the soil is dry, it means the laborious task of dragging out and providing trees and shrubs with a good soaking as needed. Plants situated beneath eaves where they don’t receive natural precipitation and trees and shrubs planted within the last two years are especially susceptible to winter drought damage. Water should not be applied if the soil is frozen.

Due to the very mild early winter weather, the buds of many trees and shrubs seem about ready to pop open. That’s worrisome, but there’s not much that can be done about it. Record high winter temperatures have led plants to deacclimate, losing part of their winter hardiness and leading buds to swell as if spring is near. The best we can do is hope for cold weather but no severely cold temperatures. Buds will become more vulnerable to cold damage if temperatures remain higher than normal for any length of time, especially as the days grow longer.

The weather this week may be a clue that NOAA’s seasonal outlook for January, February, and March is accurate. Their information indicates that there are ‘elevated chances for below normal temperatures for the northwest parts of the great basin and the Pacific Northwest’ and ‘enhanced chances for above median precipitation for the parts of the Pacific Northwest.’ I could do without the snow, but if we don’t get more snow in the Cascades, we’ll be looking at a growing season with limited water for irrigation.

Another result of the recent warm weather was overanxious gardeners who wanted to get started with their early spring gardening chores. Now that we’ve been reminded that winter is still here, eager gardeners might want to consider becoming a Master Gardener volunteer.
Published: 1/13/2012 1:33 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Happy New Year! To tell you the truth I’m never been one of those people who makes New Year’s resolutions. It’s because I’m not sure I could keep them. However, here are a few gardening resolutions I’d like to keep… if I made resolutions.

Keeping a Garden Journal: I admire gardeners who keep meticulous records of what varieties they plant where in their gardens, make notes of when they planted seeds or transplants, record the daily or weekly weather, remark on problem pests, and write about garden successes and failures. As much as I’d like to do that and have even procured a very nice garden journal, I haven’t written down one word.

Of course writing a journal with pen and paper is somewhat outdated today. I could journal with an on-line blog, on a Facebook page, or by twittering. I could even take pictures with my phone’s camera to record the good and the bad. I just might do that, but mind you I’m not making it a resolution.

Buying Only the Seed I Need: I don’t buy much seed anymore since much of my garden consists of perennial plants, ornamental grasses, and flowering shrubs, but when I peruse through seed catalogs I almost can’t resist buying veggies and annual flowers I’d like to try. This is a real problem every year for many gardeners. It’s always fun to try something new, but there’s only so much room in anyone’s garden!

I have the same problem when I find an interesting new plant. I want to buy it without thinking about whether I have the space for it or if it will fit into my design. This is the downfall of many gardeners like me who love plants. Last year I resolved not to keep buying plants just because I was smitten. I amazed myself when I was at a local nursery last summer poised to buy this gorgeous Japanese forest grass variety called ‘Beni-kaze.’ My resolve held and I decided to go home and check to see where I could plant it. Couldn’t find a spot, but I’ll be back for it when one opens up.

Soil Testing: One resolution that I am making is to get my soil tested. Even though I recommend that gardeners get their soil tested, I haven’t followed through myself. A soil test checks the levels of the nutrients in the soil that are essential for plant growth. The soils lab that tests the soil will provide me with a report regarding the level of these nutrients in the soil and indicate the amount of fertilizer needed for good plant growth.

Without a soil test, we gardeners are just guessing what nutrients are needed and are probably over applying some and under applying others. Excessive applications of certain nutrients, especially nitrogen and phoshorus, can cause harm to plants and the environment.

Take Time to Smell the Flowers: Dedicated gardeners can always find something to keep them busy in the garden and usually fail to relax and enjoy what their hard work and loving attention has created. I think more of us should resolve to forget the deadheading, weeding, and watering for a little while each day and take time out to enjoy our gardens. If you don’t have a garden of your own, take a walk through the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden behind the Kennewick Library on S. Union in Kennewick. There’s always something to see… even in the winter.
Published: 1/6/2012 1:24 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Some of you may already know that I am a fan of reality show competitions like Survivor, Top Chef, and Project Runway. Gardeners love plants and find it hard to edit their gardens, to evaluate what’s working well and what’s not. Perhaps it would be easier to vote plants ‘off’ if we consider our landscapes and gardens as ‘reality competitions’ with the plants as the players. Just as in all the human reality competitions, there are ‘players’ or plants with different personalities that emerge over time.

The most obvious are those plants that are overly assertive and egotistical. Aggressive plants that don’t stay put, taking up more space than you allotted or growing larger than you expected. They try to take over the garden and overwhelm the other plants. They are the bullies that no one really likes. Vote them off or relocate them to a spot where they can’t overpower other plants..

There are also the weak players who aren’t well prepared to play the game and fail to perform well under pressure. As plants, they have weak growth and don’t thrive well under stressful conditions. Before voting these off, you may want to try them in a different part of the yard where you can better meet their needs in regards to soil, moisture, or exposure. If they still don’t thrive, vote them off.

Then there are the ‘needy’ players that are more trouble than they are worth. These needy players are the plants that require constant attention. A needy plant may require multiple applications of a pesticide to keep a disease or insect pest problem in check. It could also be a plant that needs constant deadheading to keep it blooming or needs frequent pruning to keep it in check. You may be a tolerant gardener, but too many needy plants take up time and effort that could be spent on other gardening chores or simply enjoying the garden. If I was you, I’d vote them off.

How about the players for which you have great expectations and then they don’t live up to those expectations, such as plants that don’t flower well or have flowers that aren’t like you pictured; plants that are supposed to produce fruit but never do; or trees that don’t turn the nice fall they were supposed to develop. These are the plants that are ‘flying under the radar.’ They don’t excel but they don’t stick out like sore thumbs, but why keep them if they don’t fulfill your expectations? Vote them off if they have no other redeeming qualities that make them worthy of staying.

On the television reality competitions there’s always a catch phrase when a contestant gets eliminated, such as ‘In the world of fashion, you

re either in or you’re out, and you’re out,” or ‘Please pack your knifes and go.’ Survivor has ‘The tribe has spoken.’ Perhaps our reality garden catchphrase can be, ‘It’s time for you to go.’

The plants that remain in the game are the top players who perform well or even better than you expected. They do their intended job in your design and don’t require lots of attention. Playful analogies aside, it’s important to edit and remove plants that aren’t contributing to the overall appearance of your landscape and garden. What plants are up for elimination in your landscape and garden this year?
Published: 2/27/2012 1:18 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Due to environmental concerns, over the last 10 to 15 years gardeners have lost the use of many familiar ‘tried and true’ garden insecticides, such as diazinon. This left gardeners wondering if their only recourse was surrendering when insects attacked the garden. For devoted gardeners, surrender was not an option and now other options are available to help.

One earth-friendly effective biological pesticide is spinosad. Spinosad, derived from the fermentation by-products of a soil microorganism, must be ingested by insects to be effective. Once ingested, it attacks the insect’s nervous system, causing rapid over-excitation and death in one to two days.

Since it has to be eaten to be effective, spinosad products work best against leaf feeding insects like caterpillars, loopers, leafminers, thrips, sawflies, and leaf beetle larvae. It’s also effective against fruit flies, spider mites and fleas (when used as an oral flea medication) on dogs. It does not appear to harm non-leaf feeding beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and predatory mites.

Spinosad can be found in several home garden product lines including Bonide Captain-Jack’s Deadbug Brew, Monterey Garden Spray, and Bulls-Eye Bioinsecticide.

Neonicotinoid pesticides, a newer category of insecticides, have also become available to home gardeners. Neonicotinoid pesticides are the synthetic versions of the highly toxic natural insecticide, nicotine. Like nicotine, they work by causing excitation of an insect’s nerves, then paralysis, and eventual death.

One of the neonicotinoids that many gardeners know well is imidacloprid which is a systemic material that’s applied to soil and taken up by the roots of trees and shrubs. Imidacloprid has a long period of residual activity and is considered very effective against sucking insects, whiteflies, turf insects, beetles, and a few tree borers. Insects die after sucking or eating the leaves of treated plants. Applied as a drench, it allows gardeners to control insects in large trees without needing special equipment to reach the tops or worrying about wind and the resulting spray drift.

Numerous home garden soil applied systemic insecticides contain imidacloprid. Bayer Advanced products initially were the only home garden products that contained imidacloprid because Bayer held the patent. Now that imidacloprid is off patent, it’s appearing in other lines of home garden pesticides. Products include Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed, Monterey Once-a-Year Insect Control, and Ortho Tree & Shrub Insect Control. Imidacloprid can also be found in products that are applied as sprays to plants.

A newer neonicotinoid, clothianidin, is being introduced in the some of the Bayer products, such as Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed Concentrate, that once only contained imidacloprid. Yet another nionicotinoid is acetamiprid. It’s applied as a spray and can be found in various Ortho garden products, such as Ortho Flower, Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer and Ortho Rose & Flower Insect Killer. It’s a systemic applied as a foliar spray for control of aphids, various other sucking insects, beetles, armyworms and other caterpillars of both ornamentals and edible crops.

These new products generally have relatively low toxicity to humans and animals, but this isn’t necessarily true with bees and other wildlife. The neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees and are being blamed in parts of Europe for massive bee die-off. So while we gardeners may have new chemical tools available to assist us in fighting insect attacks, we should always read and follow label directions to protect the beneficial wildlife in our gardens.
Published: 2/10/2012 1:11 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

It’s the time of year when stars of stage and screen get recognized for their excellence in acting, so let’s also give our attention to the new award winning plants for gardens.

All America Selections’ mission is to ‘promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” Seed companies introduce great ‘new’ varieties of vegetables and flowers every year. All America Selections (AAS) tests these new varieties in gardens around the US and Canada to find the best of the best.

One of the 2012 AAS winners is a small yellow watermelon called ‘Faerie’ with a creamy yellow thinly striped rind and sweet, crisp pink-red flesh. This diminutive (for a watermelon) variety is a prolific producer even though the vines only grow to five feet long, taking up less space than most watermelon plants. The fruit are about seven to eight inches in diameter and weigh in at four to six pounds, a good ‘family size’ watermelon. Fruit is ready to harvest about 72 days after planting from seed.

Also getting the nod from AAS in 2012 is a chili pepper called


that’s an easy-to-grow mild tasting chili pepper. The plant is upright and well branched, producing heavy yields of three to four inch long peppers. It’s unique because it has both good cold and heat tolerance, as well as dense foliage that protects the fruit from sunburn.

On the ornamental side, AAS selected ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ as their 2012 Bedding Plant Award Winner. This annual salvia is compact and upright, growing to a height of 10 to 24 inches. The pink flower spikes start two weeks earlier than other annual pink salvias used in the garden, such as ‘Coral Nymph.’ It’s prolific blooms are attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies.

Just like the Golden Globe Awards which are voted upon by the Hollywood foreign press, the Fleuroselect organization represents the international ornamental plants industry which tests and promotes new flower varieties. Their test gardens are spread across Europe. Fleuroselect awards Gold Medals to ‘innovative varieties that clearly surpass the limits in breeding and beauty.’ The medal symbolizes excellence in breeding.

Receiving Gold Medal honors from Fleuroselect in 2012 is an annual flowering hollyhock, ‘Spring Celebrities Crimson.’ While many gardeners would like hollyhock in their gardens, their tall stature and biennial bloom (flowering the second year of growth) are drawbacks. ‘Spring Celebrities Crimson’ is a unique hollyhock with a bushy, dwarf habit that produces sturdy stems and plenty of double large crimson blooms.

The plants grow only to a height of 24 inches and a spread of 10 inches. They can be grown in the garden, as well as in containers, and bloom from late spring until frost. With it’s pretty crimson double hollyhock blooms it should be on every WSU Cougar’s garden shopping list! Go Cougs!

Also receiving a Fleuroselect Gold Medal is ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ a mix of perennial coneflowers that flower from seed the first year. The individual plants are strongly branched and produce abundant flowers in vivid orange, yellow, scarlet, red and rosy-red, purple or cream flowers. Their Gold Medal honor also went to ‘Astello Indigo,’ a hybrid agastache with strong bushy 20 inch tall plants. The beautiful upright flower spikes have fragrant, deep indigo-blue flowers that attract butterflies and honeybees.

The award season may be almost over, but the gardening season is yet to come. You can find seed for most of these plants from Park Seed company at
Published: 2/3/2012 1:08 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