Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for June 2013


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 5/3/2013

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. Some lucky moms will be the recipient of a beautiful blooming orchid plant on their special day… but then comes the challenge of knowing what to do after the blooms fade. Don’t worry. Most orchids are easy to grow.

You don’t need a greenhouse. Place your orchids in a bright window where they’ll receive indirect sunlight all day. East facing windows are great, but they can also be placed one to three feet away from a south facing window. West windows are too bright and hot, and north ones don’t provide enough light.

Orchids don’t require a warm, tropical atmosphere. Most will do well at normal home indoor temperatures that stay within the 70 degree range during the day and 55 to 65 degrees at night.

The two most critical parts of successful orchid growing are watering and growing media. Orchids don’t have a fibrous root system like that of many other plants. Their roots are thick and fleshy, requiring good drainage and plenty of aeration.

Orchid experts have developed a variety of different growing media that are well aerated, fast draining, and able to retain some water. Many of these media have fir bark as the main ingredient. Each expert tends to use their own special media mix that works well for them, but there are commercial orchid mixes available at garden stores.

It’s important to note that fir bark breaks down over time and when that happens the media fails to provide adequate aeration and can lead to root rot. Orchids should be repotted every year or two to prevent this problem.

I turned to one of our local orchid experts, Betty Wise, to answer common questions novice orchid growers have such as, ‘Why did my last orchid plant die?’ Wise answered, ‘Most orchids die because they are loved too much. By that I mean, they were watered too often and the root system died.’ She suggests that ‘a little benign neglect is better than too much care.’ If you are unsure when your orchid needs to be watered, watering every seven days should be often enough.

Another common question of orchid beginners is what should be done when the long-lasting flowers die? Wise says to cut the stalk just below the bottom most flower. If it’s a phalaenopsis orchid, this may induce the plant to produce another set of flowers. If the stalk is turning brown, cut it off just above the leaves.

Another common problem is with fancy gift orchids that come in decorative pots without any drainage. They are doomed. Wise recommends taking them out of their pretty pots and repotting them in a pot with good drainage and aeration.

What causes the tips of orchid leaves to turn brown? Two of the most likely causes are low humidity or a build up of salts from fertilizer. You can increase the humidity around your plants by placing the plants on trays of moist pebbles, making sure the pots are sitting above the pebbles and water. Salt damage can be prevented by periodically flushing any salts out by taking the plants to your sink and running water through the pot for 30 seconds. Be sure to let them drain thoroughly.

Do you have any orchid questions? You can ask Wise and other local experts those questions at this weekend’s annual Orchid Show sponsored by the South Central Washington Orchid Society.


The South Central Washington Orchid Society is having its annual Orchid Show and Sale on Saturday, May 4, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday, May 5 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The show includes classes on orchid growing, an orchid repotting service, and members answering questions about orchids. Several vendors will also be selling beautiful orchids and orchid growing supplies. The Orchid show is being held at the Tri-Tech Skills Center at 5929 West Metaline in Kennewick.

Published: 5/3/2013 11:34 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 4/26/2013

I recently happened upon an article about the new urban gardener in ‘Today’s Garden Center.’ The article provided seven traits of today’s ‘modern urban gardener.’ Consulting three consumer garden editors and writers, the author gleaned that today’s gardener is younger. That’s not surprising with the graying of the baby boomers… and X and Y generations starting families and developing an interest in local food and a safe, sustainable food supply.

The focus of these younger gardeners is vegetable gardening, but some also have broader food production interests that include growing small fruit, starting a backyard orchard, beekeeping and home poultry flocks. Across the country, interest in community, school and campus gardens is increasing because of these younger gardeners.

One trait that both younger and older gardeners share is smaller vegetable gardens, with some gardening intensively in raised beds and others growing in containers. Older gardeners are down sizing because they want gardens that are less work and don’t require as much bending. Younger gardeners who own newer homes tend to have smaller yards and don’t want to take up a large amount of yard space with their vegetable gardens. Also, a large portion of younger gardeners reside in condos and rentals, making container gardening a popular option.

Young or old, gardeners who decide to grow vegetables in containers will not find it as easy as growing annual flowers. Success depends on container selection, growing media, plant selection, and care.

When it comes to containers, you can pretty much use any vessel that will hold growing media as long as it provides an adequate volume for root growth, has adequate drainage, and doesn’t allow the growing media to dry out too quickly. From standard plastic and pottery pots, to plastic buckets, tubs, and drums, to wooden boxes and crates… to unusual containers such as galvanized livestock troughs, willow baskets, old wheelbarrows, wine barrels, and potting soil bags.

Different vegetable crops require different volumes of growing media for good growth, with larger plants needing more soil than the smaller plants. For growing success, plant tomatoes in 2-5 gallons of media per plant that’s at least 12 inches deep, eggplants in 4-5 gallons of media 8 inches deep, peppers in 2-5 gallons of media 8 inches deep, cucumbers in 3+ gallons of media 8 inches deep, melons in 5+gallons of media 8 inches deep, and summer squash in 5 gallons of media 8 inches deep. Media should be 8 inches deep for beets, lettuce, chard, onions, radishes, turnips, and beans and 12 inches deep for carrots.

Hint: A standard 16 inch pot contains about 5.5 gallons of soil.

What type of soil or growing media? Using plain soil straight from the garden for container growing is not recommended. Lightweight, well drained quality growing media or artificial ‘potting soil’ is best. I prefer those that contain a mix of perlite, peat moss or coconut coir, and fine textured compost. Less expensive mixes often contain larger proportions of coarse compost and undecomposed wood waste and are not well aerated. My favorite potting soil is Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Soil with Controlled Release Fertilizer. It contains Canadian sphagnum peat moss, earthworm castings, compost, perlite and pumice along with a multi-coated fertilizer that should last three to six months.

The next important factors in container veggie success are variety selection and plant care. We’ll talk more about them soon.

Published: 4/26/2013 11:29 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 4/19/2013

I have restrained myself for a while, but after a visit this past week to one of our local shopping centers, I just can’t stop myself from saying something. Have you seen the awful way that trees are pruned in many local shopping centers and commercial landscapes?

It saddens and angers me when I see parking lot trees that have been mangled with a chainsaw. The mutilation involves chopping back the tops of these young trees. They end up looking more like ugly hat racks rather than beautiful trees. All I can do is wonder why this keeps happening?

Chopping back or ‘topping’ the top of a tree is never recommended, whether a tree is large or small. The stumps of the hacked off limbs will not be able to close over, allowing wood decay fungi to infect the tree. In addition, this radical loss of branches weakens the tree by taking away it’s ability to make carbohydrates, the food it needs for growth. This makes the tree more vulnerable to attack by insects and diseases. It drastically shortens a tree’s effective life. Why did the business even bother to plant the trees? My guess is that they don’t care about trees, but were obligated to plant trees as part of their building plan.

Businesses may have several different rationales for mangling their own trees. One reason is that they want potential customers to see their signs and their building. This is a poor decision for three major reasons. First, while concern over the blockage of signs is valid, the problems could have been avoided before the trees were planted with good planning involving the proper selection and siting of the trees. Later, as trees grow strategic pruning can both maintain their beauty and allow for good views of a business and its signs.

Secondly, when you top a tree, the regrowth will be very twiggy and dense, making it even harder to see a sign or a business. Topping is considered high maintenance pruning because once topped, tree it will need pruning again (and again) every few years. This further weakens the tree and places it on a quicker path of decline.

Yet another reason that topping these trees is ill advised for businesses is the impact it can have on their bottom line. Research indicates that shoppers and patrons respond positively to landscapes with healthy and well-maintained trees. The quality of the landscape reflects on the perception of the quality of goods and services a customer will receive.

Surveys indicate that customers are willing to pay from 7 to 20 per cent more for goods and services from a nicely landscaped business with healthy trees. Good businesses pay close attention to the appearance of both the inside and outside of their buildings. They should be just as mindful of the impression that their landscapes and trees give to customers.

Finally, one very bad reason that businesses have their trees topped or badly pruned is that they don’t know any better. They may ask whatever landscape maintenance company that cuts their lawn and weeds their landscape to cut back the trees for them. They need to become better informed. What they should do is hire a well qualified ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) certified arborist to thin the trees or reduce the size of the crowns. If the arborist can not prune the tree to a satisfactory size, then the business owner should consider removing the tree and planting the right tree in a more desirable location.

I have been spreading the message of ‘Do Not Top Trees’ for years. I wish more people would listen.

Side Bar: April is when communities around the country celebrate Arbor Day. The day was first started 1874 by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska City, Nebraska. It became a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1885 and has since spread around the country and even many parts of the world. Morton is quoted as saying ‘The cultivation of trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful, and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see it become universal.’

Locally, our three cities are also celebrating Arbor Day with official ceremonies and tree plantings. You are welcome to join one or all to celebrate Arbor Day!

Kennewick: Grange Park at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 20th

Pasco: Memorial Park at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 20th

Richland: John Dam Plaza at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, April 26th

Published: 4/19/2013 11:22 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 4/12/2013

We live right in the middle of a major potato growing region of the US. We can get good quality standard variety potatoes fairly inexpensively here, so why waste garden space on growing potatoes? While quality standard potatoes are readily available, there are many varieties that gardeners are missing when they don’t grow their own potatoes.

Before my son graduated from high school he was in 4-H and had a vegetable garden as one of his projects for fair. While he did all the work, I had the job of buying the seed potatoes for his garden. It gave us the opportunity to try some different red and white potatoes that you don’t find on the grocery store shelf. Two of our favorites were Bison and Sangre, red potatoes with a smooth texture.

Because I have limited garden space I haven’t considered growing potatoes at my new home. After browsing through Irish Eyes Garden City Seeds catalog I may reconsider. Located just outside Ellensburg, Irish Eyes specializes in organic seed potatoes, garlic and vegetable seeds. In their catalog and on their website they give directions for building and growing potatoes in a four foot square ‘tower.’ If you grow the potatoes in the tower according to their directions, they indicate you may be able to realize a harvest of 100 pounds of potatoes. Wow!

How does it work? The first 2 foot by 2 foot layer of the tower is constructed out of 2×6 lumber on top of prepared garden soil. (There is no bottom to the tower.) This first layer is filled with soil media and the seed potatoes are planted four inches deep. The height of the tower is increased with additional ‘layers’ of 2x6s and additional soil media as the potatoes grow. Whenever the tops of the plants reach a height of 12 inches, add a new layer and four more inches of soil media. This layering stops when the tower reaches a height of six layers (approximately 33 inches tall.)

Irish Eyes recommends using potato varieties that keep forming new potato producing stolons over a longer time, such as Yellow Finn, Indian Pitt, Red Pontiac, or any of the fingerling types. They also recommend never covering more than one-third of the vine growth at one time and checking the soil moisture frequently because the towers will dry out quickly in warm weather.

You can find directions for constructing a this tower in the Irish Eyes catalog or their website ( If dealing with lumber and construction isn’t your area of expertise, you can buy commercially available potato bags made from polyethylene (although most available aren’t much taller than 12 to 18 inches) or you can make your own easily with cylinder made from wire fencing lined with paper (newsprint or brown craft paper) or landscape fabric.

I would like to recommend using potting soil to fill your potato tower, but because a tower contains as much as 11 cubic feet of soil most gardeners will want to use something less expensive. Less expensive options are compost-amended soil or well-rotted finished compost. The crucial factors to success are having a loose growing media, keeping the soil media moderately moist even through the hottest parts of summer, and using late season potatoes that continue to send out rhizomes and form tubers through the entire season. Maybe I’ll try this if I can find the right potatoes and enough compost-amended soil.

Why grow your own potatoes? It’s fun.


Now that spring is here and you are cleaning up your yard and garden, you are probably wondering what to do with all your garden refuse. Why not compost it so it can be recycled back into the soil? Tomorrow morning from 9:30 a.m. to noon there will be a Composting & Waste Reduction Workshop at the Mid-Columbia Library at 1620 S. Union St. in Kennewick. Marianne Ophardt, Garden Tips columnist and WSU Extension faculty member, will be teaching participants how to compost in your own backyard.

There is no charge for the class and it is open to all residents of Benton and Franklin counties who want to learn how to compost. All those attending the workshop will receive a free compost bin and book on composting at the end of class. The class will is sponsored by the Solid Waste Division of Benton and Franklin counties and the Cities of Kennewick and Richland, WSU Extension, and the Benton Clean Air Authority.

Published: 4/12/2013 11:15 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 4/6/2013

It’s very hard to wait to fertilize your grass in the spring when everything else in the yard is turning green, but you should wait. ‘Greening’ your lawn up early in the spring may make you feel good, but it’s not recommended.

Wisdom regarding why you should wait to fertilize until later in spring comes from Dr. Peter Landschoot, the extension turfgrass management specialist at Penn State University. He points out that while marketers may call fertilizer ‘plant food’ the real food that fuels turfgrass are the carbohydrates that grass makes via photosynthesis. Like all green plants, grass uses light energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates.

While fertilizers are nutrients required for plant growth, carbohydrates provide the fuel for growth. Landschoot points out that these self-manufactured carbohydrates are stored in the stem and crown of the grass plant when more are made than are being used. Similar to many other perennial plants, the carbohydrates are stored in the greatest amounts in the fall as plant growth slows. These extra carbohydrates are kept in reserve to help the grass recover when stressed or injured in the coming growing season.

Carbohydrates are used up at a high rate in the spring ‘especially under low mowing heights and high nitrogen fertility,’ says Landscoot. That’s why you should not apply nitrogen fertilizer in early spring or mow below the optimum mowing height. (WSU recommends a mowing height of 1.25 to 2 inches for Kentucky bluegrass lawns.) Turf experts at Cornell University also point out that fertilizing healthy lawns in early spring ‘increases top growth (and mowing chores) at the expense of root growth. ‘

WSU recommends fertilizing your lawn no earlier than May 1 in eastern Washington unless nitrogen deficiency is apparent. Exceptions to the May 1 date are lawns that weren’t fertilized the previous fall or lawns that have sustained winter injury. However, fertilizer should not be applied until the soil temperature has warmed to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is important to note that the very best time of year to fertilize your lawn is early November (November 1–15) when the soil is cooler and the grass plants are recovering from summer heat and growing new roots and tillers.

How much fertilizer should be applied? Kentucky bluegrass, the predominant grass in most local lawns, should receive 2 to 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn. Use the two pound rate, if you have an older lawn or if you are returning your clippings to the lawn with a mulching mower. The four pound rate is recommended for young lawns, lawns on sandy soils, or lawns where the clippings are being removed. Apply only one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per application. The optimal times for applications of nitrogen, in addition to the November and May dates, are mid-June (June 15) and early September (September 1).

As much as you and I want to see that green grass growing in our yards, our wisdom and patience will be rewarded with a healthier, denser lawn that can better resist drought stress, weed invasions, and attack by diseases.

Published: 4/6/2013 11:11 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/29/2013

When it comes to shrubs, gardeners today have so many great choices with new shrubs appearing every year, thanks to plant breeders and purveyors. What I like along with the diversity of choices is that so many new shrub cultivars (cultivated varieties) are smaller or more compact, making them easier to fit into today’s smaller yards and landscapes. Here are just of a few of the new smaller shrubs already here or coming to us soon. Ask about them at your local nursery.

One new little cutie is Mr. Bowling Ball® (Thuja occidentalis ‘Bobazam’) a globe arborvitae that doesn’t look like an arborvitae. It grows into a nice little ball of a shrub that reaches 2.5 feet tall and wide. The foliage looks more like a fine needled juniper in both appearance and texture. Like a juniper, it’s sage green in color and doesn’t need any pruning to keep it in round and small, plus it’s very winter hardy.

Anyone who has an original cultivar of dwarf Alberta spruce, probably wonders why it’s called a dwarf. It’s a slow grower, but it will eventually reach a height 6 to 8 feet and a width of 4 to 5 feet. However, the regular Alberta spruce can reach a height of 40 to 60 feet, definitely qualifying the regular dwarf Alberta as a dwarf. New to the market is a more diminutive dwarf Alberta called ‘Tiny Tower®’ (Picea glauca conica


) which reaches a height of only 4 to 6 feet. Like its relatives, it’s very hardy and has needles that emerge a bright green and turn gray green as they mature.

Forsythia is one of the wonderful harbingers of spring. It’s cheery bright yellow flowers shout that spring is on it’s way, but not everyone likes to include them in their landscape. That’s because they have a tendency to become rangy and unkempt. The perfect solution is ‘Show OffÔ Sugar Baby’ (Forsythia x intermedia


) a very small forsythia that reaches a height of only 30 inches and a width of 36 inches. This cultivar produces oodles of flowers and stays small without pruning.

Lo & Behold® ‘Lilac Chip’ (Buddleia x

Lilac Chip

) is a dwarf buddleia (butterfly bush) that stays small, growing only 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide. At this small size they easily fit in the perennial garden or a landscape bed. The soft lavender pink flowers are produced all summer up to frost with no need to deadhead to keep the flowers coming. There is no worry that ‘Lilac Chip’ will become invasive like most of the old types of cultivated butterfly bush (on the noxious weed lists in many states) because it’s sterile and can’t reproduce from seed.

One of my favorite flowering shrubs is Caryopteris, also known as bluebeard. They produce true blue flowers in late summer that are magnets for honeybees. One of the newest Caryopteris is ‘Lil Miss SunshineÔ’ (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Janice’). This new Caryopteris has yellow leaves from spring through fall and deep amethyst blue flowers in late summer. What a contrast! It grows to a height and width of 30 to 36 inches, making it a great fit for smaller landscapes and garden beds.

I have no doubt that there will be more new small shrubs available next year. If you’re tired of wacking back large shrubs to fit your landscape or want some new plants to fill in empty spots here and there, you should consider these and other smaller shrubs.

Published: 3/29/2013 11:07 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/22/2013

At this time of year I’m often asked about when to apply ‘crabgrass preventers’ or pre-emergent herbicides. These herbicides are applied to a lawn before the majority of crabgrass seeds germinate. Is it time yet? Based on phenology, the right time for applying crabgrass preventer is after forsythia (the bright yellow early spring flowering shrub) is in full bloom and before the flowers start to wither.

What is phenology? The USA National Phenology Network (NPN) says that phenology ‘refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.’ Phenology can relate one event with another, like the forsythia’s bloom with crabgrass germination or full bloom of black locust with the emergence of bronze birch borer.

Some groups, like the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the USA NPN, and various universities have undertaken phenology studies. These studies are helping to document the effects of climate change on natural events, particularly vulnerable species like sockeye salmon in the Northwest.

Back to crabgrass… using forsythia as a phenological cue to when to apply crabgrass preventers is not always reliable, especially since there are different varieties of forsythia, some blooming earlier than others. A more accurate way to determine crabgrass germination is using soil temperature or accumulated growing degree days.

Growing degree days (GDDs) are a measurement of the accumulation of heat over time. They are calculated by taking the average daily temperature minus a base temperature. Models for bloom time, germination, or insect emergence often use a base temperature of 50 degrees, but some use 40 or 60 degree bases. For example, on a day when the maximum temperature is 70 degrees and the minimum temperature is 40 degrees, the average temperature is 55 degrees, subtract 50 degrees and you have 5 GDDs.

Now don’t groan about me getting too technical. WSU has you covered with an application that does all this for you and provides you with the minimum and maximum temperatures for each day, plus totals the accumulated GDDs. Just go to on your phone or computer and pick the WSU weather station site closest to you by entering your zip code. Once you select your site you can retrieve all sorts of weather related information including current weather conditions, soil temperature, and GDDs. Amazing!

Using this I can tell you that as of Wednesday at the CBC weather station, the accumulated GDDs (using a 50 degree base) is 38.62 and the soil temperature is 49 degrees. Research indicates that the majority of crabgrass germinates when the accumulated GDDs reach 200 or when the soil temperature reaches 73 degrees, although some of the seeds will start to germinate at 57 to 64 degrees. The best time to apply the crabgrass preventers is before these key times.

The other thing you need to know is that the pre-emergent herbicides contained in many crabgrass preventer products has changed over time, even when though the label name has stayed the same. Many of the newer materials provide control over a longer period of time so that applying them too early is not as great of a concern as it once was. One of these ingredients, dithiopyr, provides both pre-emergent and post-emergent control up to 4 weeks after crabgrass germinates. The label recommends applying dithiopyr when soil temperatures reach 50 degrees and that’s right about now so add this to your chores for this weekend.

Published: 3/22/2013 11:01 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/15/2013

I was glancing at an e-mail advertisement when the name ‘BrazelBerriesÔ ‘ caught my eye. What are BrazelBerriesÔ ? After doing a bit of research, I discovered that BrazelBerriesÔ are a unique line of small fruit developed by Fall Creek Farms in Oregon. Fall Creek Farms has been propagating and growing berry plants for growers since the 1970s. In recent years they have been seeking new berry varieties that are easy for home gardeners to grow in containers, are attractive, and have delicious fruit.

This year Fall Creek Farms is introducing Raspberry ShortcakeÔ as the first raspberry in their BrazelBerriesÔ line. This particular raspberry is thornless and grows into a 2-3

tall and wide dense mounded plant. It is well suited to large patio containers, does not need cross pollination to produce fruit, has sturdy upright canes, and does not require training to a trellis. Plus, it is fully hardy for our region. The very sweet berries are produced in mid-summer. Oregon growers find that the leaves take on a decorative red tint during the summer.

Raspberry ShortcakeÔ is supposedly attractive enough to incorporate into your landscape planting as part of an edible landscape. It’s also great for growing in large patio containers, so even apartment dwellers can enjoy growing them.

Raspberry ShortcakeÔ is not fussy. Fall Creek Farms provides some simple notes on growing it. Plant Raspberry ShortcakeÔ in full sun in well-drained, neutral soil. Fertilize in early spring with a balanced fertilizer and provide moderate watering. If the leaves start to yellow during the summer, apply a balanced liquid fertilizer according to product instructions.

Pruning is easy too. Once the plant finishes fruiting in mid-summer, prune out down to the base all the canes that fruited during the summer. They will not fruit again. Fruit will be produced next year on the new canes produced this year. To develop fruit buds these new canes must go through a winter dormancy period.

Because these are raspberries, be prepared for them spreading a bit if planted in a landscape bed. Keep this in mind when selecting a location for planting or plant them in a large container where spreading is not a worry.

Raspberry ShortcakeÔ is not the first berry in the BrazelBerry line. Forest Creek Farm’s twenty year quest to ‘find berry plants that were simple to grow, exceptionally beautiful and delicious – just for the home gardener’ first yielded two blueberry plants, Peach SorbetÔ and Jelly BeanÔ .

Jelly BeanÔ is a dwarf blueberry that forms a 1-2

spherical mound and produces ‘a bumper crop of large, flavorful blueberries’ in mid‑summer. The leaves are bright green in the summer, turning a reddish hue in the fall.

Not quite as diminutive is Peach SorbetÔ , a 2

compact blueberry with evergreen leaves that are peachy colored in the spring and deep purple over the winter. It also produces a good crop of sweet blueberries in mid-summer. Both grow best in acid soil which is difficult to find in many area gardens. However, these dwarf plants can be grown in containers where you can use an acidic potting soil.

One of the newest gardening trends is growing berries, making the BrazelBerriesÔ line a perfect fit for today’s gardeners. They are easy to grow and are the right size for smaller yards and patio gardens. Ask about them at your favorite nursery. Raspberry ShortcakeÔ is just being introduced this year, so you may have to wait a year or two for it to become available locally.

Published: 3/15/2013 10:58 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/8/2013

Every time you turn around, plant breeders are coming up with new a hydrangea. In the ‘old’ days hydrangeas were beloved, but gardeners had a hard time figuring out how to prune them. That’s because different species are pruned differently. Now with the many new cultivated varieties that breeders are introducing, it’s even more confusing. Thankfully, Tim Wood at Proven Winners has made it much easier.

All you need to know is the size and color of the flowers to know which hydrangea is which species… and then you can figure out how to prune it. If your plant has big pink or blue flowers, it’s a bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). Hydrangeas with round white or pinkish flowers are smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens). Hardy hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) have white, greenish, or pink conical flowers. That makes pruning much easier… if you know what the flowers look like.

According to Wood, bigleaf hydrangeas don’t need much pruning. Prune out a few of the oldest stems down to the ground each year, removing no more than one-third of the total stems in one year. Do this right after they flower in the summer. Don’t prune these in late winter or spring. Bigleaf hydrangeas flower on older wood, so pruning before flowering removes the flower buds.

The smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood or the wood that will develop in the coming season. These should be pruned back to a height of one to two feet in late winter. This helps encourage stronger stems that are less likely to droop over with the weight of big flower heads.

The hardy hydrangeas are pruned back to the ground or, if you want taller plants, prune back to within one to three feet from the ground.. They also bloom on new wood.

Many of the new hydrangeas on the market originally come from Spring Meadow Nursery that specializes in the propagation of ‘new and superior ornamental flowering shrubs’ and introduces them to gardeners through the Proven Winners marketing program.

To make things even more confusing Spring Meadow Nursery has developed a line of ‘reblooming’ largeleaf hydrangeas. Their line of ‘Let’s Dance’ hydrangeas bloom on both new and old wood. Right after flowering, deadhead spent flowers by cutting back to the first set of leaves beneath the flower head. After bloom, prune out any dead, thin or weak wood down to the ground.

New to the ‘Let’s Dance’ line this year is Let’s Dance Diva. Diva has a huge flower head made up of flowers with baby pink petals (actually sepals) as big as the size of your hand. Another new Spring Meadow rebloomer is Paraplu with large candy pink to hot pink mophead flowers. The individual flowers (called florets) are double, giving it a unique softer look. Paraplu supposedly holds up well in summer heat. It also has a compact habit reaching only two and half to three feet tall and wide, making a neat little hydrangea shrub.

In my landscape I have Incrediball, a Spring Meadow introduction. It’s a smooth hydrangea with gigantic white flower heads that can reach one foot in diameter. One flower looks like an entire bouquet. The round flower heads are definitely incredible. The shrub grows to 48-60 inches tall and wide.

I’m anxious to try some of the reblooming hydrangeas. How about you? Look for these and other great new hydrangeas at your favorite nursery.

Published: 3/8/2013 10:54 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/1/2013

It seems like spring has arrived… primroses are for sale at the garden store, daffodils and tulips are starting to pop out of the ground, and buds are swelling on the trees. Keep in mind it’s only the beginning of March. The average date for the last spring frost in our area is between May 1 to 15. Even if you’re itching to get planting, most things should wait. However, there’s plenty of garden jobs to do right now to get ready for when spring truly arrives.

Water: Gardeners who have been out working in their gardens have noted that the soil is dry. Because of this, it’s advisable to haul out your hoses and water trees and shrubs, especially the evergreen ones. Provide them with a deep soaking in their root zone. It’s also a good idea to water your perennial flowers and emerging bulbs.

Perennial Flowers: If you didn’t cut them back in the fall, now is a good time to get perennial plants in shape. Before new growth begins, cut your perennials back to within 2 to 3 inches from the crown. For this job, I like to use ratchet hand pruners. There are lots of cuts to make and the ratchet action makes it much easier on my hand. Remove any leaves that have piled up around the base of the plants during our winter winds.

Last fall I labeled all of my perennial flowers, to remind me which plant is which. I also noted on the tags if I wanted to divide them or remove them from the garden this spring. I have a few that haven’t lived up to my expectations and I want to replace them with something new.

Planting Trees & Shrubs: Planning on planting any new trees and shrubs? Early spring is the best time to plant. It’s also when you’ll find the best selection at your local nursery. Carefully consider what you want to plant. Before choosing, consider the plant’s mature height and width. It may look like a cute little thing at the nursery but grow to gargantuan proportions with time. Why fight it when you can try to find a cultivar that won’t outgrow the space. Other things to check out are potential pest problems and seasonal interest, like spring flowers, fall color, and interesting bark.

Ornamental Grasses: I’m so happy that I have a number of ornamental grasses in my landscape. They provide interest to the landscape over the dreary winter months and spring is the only season that they require much care. Before new growth gets started, cut back the tops to about 4 to 6 inches from the base of the plant. Waiting delays growth several weeks because the crown does not warm up as quickly. It’s also difficult to cut them back adequately after new growth begins without risking injuring the new growth.

The chore of cutting back grasses sounds easy, but it isn’t. I recommend tying an upright clump of grass together with twine or an old belt and then cutting it back using a small chain saw, heavy duty hedge trimmer, or serrated knife, depending on the toughness and size of the clump. Be sure to wear heavy duty gloves to protect your hands.

Don’t cut back grasses that are partially green, like blue fescue. Use gloved hands to ‘comb out’ dead leaves.

Warmer days have arrived and gardeners can get outside and get started on this year’s gardens and landscapes. Hooray!

Published: 3/1/2013 10:49 AM

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