Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for September 2013


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 8/22/2013

I’m always looking for new garden gadgets and ideas that can make gardening easier or more fun. With that in mind, I recently came across a couple of items that have piqued my interest.

The first item is a bit capricious… melon and squash cradles. These are 5 inch plastic cradles for propping up small (8 pounds or less) melons or squash to keep them off the ground, preventing rot where they touch the ground. Their round concave design keeps the fruit from becoming misshapen. They are designed for smaller fruited round melons like cantaloupe and squash like delicata. There is a 3.75 inch spike on the bottom of each cradle that sticks into the soil.

The cradles come six to a package and are available from Gardener’s Supply at The cradles are reusable and nest together for compact storage. On-line reviewers indicate that they work well and the design is great, but they are not big enough for large melons like water melon and squash like pumpkins.

While the cradles are not expensive, one gardener suggested trying inexpensive concave plastic food baskets found in stores in the summertime. They wouldn’t be propped up by a stake but they would keep the fruit from touching the soil. If they have a solid bottom it would be imperative to drill holes in it for drainage. Gardeners who grow giant melons, squash, and pumpkins often protect the fruit from contact with the soil by placing them on boards or tiles.

Another gadget that could come in very handy is the Kombi tool. As their website indicates, this is a ‘shovel with an attitude.’ As the story goes, the tool’s creator, Theodor Fugel, from Georgia was a frugal man that did not want to throw away his worn out shovel. In 1987 he decided to simply cut out the bad areas of the shove blade. He ended up with a tool with several large sharp teeth instead of a rounded blade. Friends and family liked his recycled shovel and asked him to make one for them and the Kombi business was born.

The Fugel family now manufactures and sells these shovels that look more like a weapon than a shovel. They offer six styles of the Kombi tools, including a hand trowel. They can be found at

On-line reviewers indicate that the Kombi is an indispensable tool for the toughest digging chores in the garden. It works well for cutting through woody roots and dividing perennials. It works well in heavy soil and as an edger. I would caution gardeners to make sure they wear heavy duty boot and gloves when using a Kombi since the teeth could cut easily into feet and do serious damage.

Too many gardeners don’t wear good foot protection in the garden. A while back I mentioned some good garden clogs and boots called Lawngrips, but I didn’t have any personal experience with them. One of our local Master Gardeners ordered a pair after a twig punctured the bottom of his foot through an ordinary garden clog. He indicated that the Lawngrips are comfortable and are much better protection for his feet in the garden. Both the men’s and women’s Classic and PRO styles protect feet with a steel toe and tough rubber sole. They are also designed for good traction on wet grass. You can find them at

Reminder: If you are finally being deluged with too many tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons from your garden, remember you can share your bounty with others by taking your extra produce to any of the local food banks. It will be appreciated.

Published: 8/22/2013 12:59 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 8/1/2013

I must admit that I’m a bit tired of having to water my large flower pots and container vegetables almost every night. After a month of very hot weather, it has becomes a tedious chore. This is the time of year when gardeners like me would like to sit back and enjoy our gardens, but there is always something to do. Here are some of those gardening ‘to-dos.’

One task I put off during hot weather was deadheading my perennial flowers. I plan to get out there soon and get rid of the many faded flowers. It should make the garden look more tidy and a bit less ragged.

I can’t reach the back of my beds easily with flower shears, so last year I bought a three foot long-reach pruner. It allows me to extend my reach to the back of the bed and cut off the spent flowers there. The ‘cut and hold’ feature of the pruner lets me snip off the stem and hold onto it for retrieval.

Individual cuts for deadheading perennials with lots of stems, such as lavender, is too tiresome of a task for hand shears or a long-reach pruner. To take care of the multitude of flowers stems on perennials like lavender and salvia, I deadhead using a small rechargeable electric hedge trimmer.

Isn’t it amazing how fast some weeds grow in hot weather? I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with weeding even during the hot weather, although some weeds were sneaky and hid under other garden plants. Whatever annual weeds have escaped your past scrutiny, they should now be pulled to prevent them from dropping their seed that will become next year’s weeds. Do not put annual weeds that have already flowered and gone to seed in the compost pile.

Speaking of weeds, do you mulch your perennials and landscape beds? I use shredded bark mulch. A three to four inch layer of an organic mulch like bark provides good weed control and helps conserve soil moisture. Late summer is a good time to think about renewing your mulch if it has decayed to a depth of less than three inches.

Last year at this time of year I was so proud of myself for buying plastic labels and labeling all of my perennials. I could never remember what perennial was coming up where in the garden. This spring I went out to my garden and found that the permanent pen that I had used wasn’t permanent on the labels. I was disheartened to find that the labels were all blank.

Now I have to label my plants all over again. This time I’m going to try a ‘Garden Marker’ pen that is designed for marking plant labels with ink that is UV resistant to reduce fading. There are more expensive labels that I could buy where you engrave the plant names on an aluminum or I could print out names from a label maker. I’ll let you know how it goes. Tip: An even less expensive way to label your plants is to cut off sections of old plastic mini-blinds to use as labels.

Not only is late summer a good time to label your plants, it’s also a good time to assess your garden and see if there are any plants you want to replace or perhaps some empty spaces you need to fill. I have some empty spots thanks to a pesky gopher that killed several plants. The gopher is gone and now I get the chance to try something different.

Even if your garden looks a little worse for wear after our hot spell, the gardening season isn’t over yet. I may be tired of watering, but I am enjoying all the delights of my garden, the flowers, the finches, the dragon flies, and the honeybees. How about you?

Published: 8/1/2013 11:34 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 8/15/2013

You might think that a ‘garden expert’ like me never experiences garden disasters or makes mistakes. I do. Here are a few my ‘learning opportunities’ for this year.

I planted two large plastic pots in the front of my house with dark purple and lavender veined Easy Wave petunias, chartreuse sweet potatoes, green variegated sweet potatoes, and ‘Wasabi,’ a new lime green heat-tolerant coleus. They were looking awesome until the very hot weather started. I was puzzled when the petunias in one pot started to wilt even though they were being watered regularly.

With a little investigation I discovered that the problem wasn’t a lack of water, it was too much water. The bottom of one of the six year old pots had bowed outwards, preventing water from draining. The petunias wilted because their saturated roots couldn’t function without air. Once I raised the pot up with a set of ‘pot feet,’ the container was able to drain. The petunias succumbed, but luckily the other plants made it through the’flood.’ After planting some replacement petunias, the container is now looking almost as good as its companion… and I plan to put feet under my other pots.

Another problem this season has been my summer squash and cucumbers that I am growing in two large pots on the back patio. I filled the lower one-third of the pots with coconut coir fiber and the top two-thirds with a brand name potting mix. This potting mix contained fertilizer that was supposed to last for ‘six months.’

While the squash grew well early in the season, before long the oldest leaves started turning yellow. They then turned brown and died. I checked to make sure it wasn’t a problem with drainage, watering, or squash bugs. Because the plants were still growing and putting on new green leaves, I wondered if the problem might be a nitrogen deficiency. However, the potting mix was supposed to have enough nitrogen for six months. The estimated timing of a slow-release fertilizer depends on temperature and watering practices and can vary quite a bit. Knowing this, I applied some nitrogen fertilizer. The new growth on my squash plants has rebounded and is looking healthy and green.

Another disappointment has been my tomatoes. I planted six tomatoes in my garden and one in a container. The one in the container is called Beaver Lodge, an early tomato that’s supposed to set fruit during cooler weather. It did set lots of fruit that have finally ripened. However, my other tomato vines have been very slow to produce any fruit.

Tomatoes are a little like Goldilocks, the temperature for setting fruit has to be just right. They set fruit best when nighttime temperatures are between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and daytime temperatures are between 70 and 90 degrees. The reason so many area gardeners like me are frustrated by a lack of tomatoes is that the temperatures have either been too cool or too hot for blossoms to set fruit. The result is tomato blossoms dropping off without forming fruit.

We can’t do anything about the weather, so next year I plan to grow an early tomato that will set under cooler conditions and one or two heat tolerant varieties that aren’t as sensitive to setting fruit in hot weather.

In life and in the garden, we all experience disasters and make mistakes, but the important thing is to learn something from them.

Published: 8/15/2013 11:19 AM


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

Every night when I water my container garden flowers I am often ‘stung’ at least once by a minute pirate bug. They don’t actually sting, but they hurt a little because they are inserting their beaks into my skin. They don’t inject any venom or saliva. It doesn’t seem possible that these tiny black bugs could cause any pain, but it is uncomfortable when they probe you. They are easily brushed away and no itching or stinging usually follows the bite. It is a bit of a nuisance though.

Minute pirate bugs are very small, only about 1/8 to 1/5 of an inch long with an oval shape and flattened back. Their bodies are black with whitish markings. What are these little guys doing in my flowers? While annoying to me, minute pirate bugs are considered beneficial insects because they feed on other insects. They feed by piercing the bodies of small insects and sucking out their body fluids. Their diet includes thrips, psyllids, aphids, chinch bugs, spring tails, plant bugs, whiteflies, spider mites, insect eggs and little caterpillars. They also feed on the eggs and young larvae of corn earworm.

Given their diminutive size you might not think their predatory behavior very useful in the garden, but they are used in some greenhouses to help control thrips. I would guess they are eating flower thrips that are feeding on my container garden blossoms. So even though these little guys occasionally annoy me with their probing, I see no need to get rid of them.

A less common insect found its way into my office after a WSU Master Gardener discovered it on the leaves of her poplar tree. It is the bumble flower beetle. I first encountered this beetle last year. It’s a scarab beetle that is a little more than a half inch long and not quite as wide. It’s not distinctive because of its coloring which is yellowish brown to reddish brown in color with rows of small black spots on its back. A closer look reveals a very hairy head, thorax, underside, and legs. You might think that the bumble flower beetle (or BFB for short) name comes from this hairiness, but it is because of the loud buzzing noise, similar to that of a bumble bee, it makes when flying.

The BFB is generally considered a beneficial insect because its larvae (white grubs) feed on rotting organic matter, such as manure and rotten hay or vegetable matter, aiding in the decomposition process. The adults are attracted to sweet and fermenting plant juices. This includes the nectar of flowers like sunflowers, daylilies, and thistles; sap coming from tree wounds; and ripe or damaged fruit like apples, pears, peaches, and grapes. They are also attracted to the fermenting sap that oozes out of the trunk of willow or poplar trees infected with slime flux disease.

Generally, the BFB is not considered a pest. When found on damaged fruit, it is usually there because of the fermenting plant juices and only occasionally causes damage to ripe sweet corn and fruit. Finding a bumble flower beetle in your yard or garden shouldn’t cause alarm, but you may not want to handle the live beetles because they give off a defensive chemical that smells a bit like chlorine.

Have you discovered any interesting insects in your garden?

Published: 8/8/2013 11:12 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 7/25/2013

I created a challenge for area gardeners a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that the newer synthetic pyrethrins, also known as pyrethroids, are one of the few options for controlling tobacco budworm and sunflower moth in garden flowers. Just what are these ‘newer synthetic pyrethrins?’ Before answering that question, let’s first talk a little about the origin of pyrethroids.

One of the first botanical or plant derived insecticides was pyrethrum. It was made by drying and crushing the flowers of two types of daisies, Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium and Chrysanthemum coccineum. When purified this mix was called pyrethrin. Pyrethrum and pyrethrin were desirable because they were ‘natural,’ had a relatively low toxicity, and had a very short residual. While a lack of persistence is valuable in protecting beneficial insects, it also made them less effective in controlling insect pests.

Another obstacle to their use was that pyrethrum was expensive and supplies were limited. This prompted the pesticide industry to look for a way to create a synthetic pyrethrin. This was accomplished in 1949 when the first synthetic pyrethrin, allethrin, was developed. The next generation of pyrethroids came in 1960 with the introduction of tetramethrin, resmethrin, bioallethrin and phenothrin. This second generation was more toxic than natural pyrethrum.

Chemists did not stop there. They have continued to develop new pyrethroids that are more toxic and most having longer residual activity. These are the ‘newer’ pyrethroids I referred to a couple of weeks ago. They include esfenvalerate, permethrin, cyfluthrin, and bifenthrin.

Home gardeners with insect pest problems have been frustrated in recent years because a number of insecticides that they used successfully in their gardens for pest control were taken off the market because of health and environmental concerns. These newer pyrethroids are effective against a wide range of garden insect pests, especially chewing insects, and have helped replace materials, like diazinon, that are no longer available.

As a group, the newer pyrethroids are generally low in toxicity to mammals and birds, but highly toxic to fish and beneficial insects. They are fast-acting and kill insects both by contact and ingestion.

How do you know if a product contains one of these newer pyrethroids? I found out it was not easy when I went looking for one on the shelves of local stores. Product names don’t give you a hint. You have to check the label for active ingredients. There will usually be a common name, such as esfenvalerate, along with its long chemical name in parentheses. Check the label to make sure it includes the crop, such as flowers, on which you plan to use the material. Also note any precautions you should take to protect yourself and wildlife.

By the way I was able to find several Bayer, Ortho, and other brands home garden products that contained at least one of these newer pyrethroids.

Note: It’s hot out at this time of year. If you spray your plants with any type of pesticide, check the label to make sure you are in the recommended temperature range. Applied in hot weather, some materials can damage your plants.

Published: 7/25/2013 11:03 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 7/18/2013

With only six to eight inches of rain a year, even novice area gardeners know that adequate moisture is essential to successfully growing lawns, gardens, and landscape plants. However, not every gardener knows how to water correctly. The overwhelming tendency is to water a little everyday during the summer, such as 15 minutes once a day. It often isn’t enough.

Plants need water. It’s critical for them to stay alive and it’s essential for growth. Surprisingly, very little (5%) of the water that they absorb through their roots is used for growth. The majority (95%) of the water is lost through transpiration which is the loss of water vapor primarily from the pores in leaf surfaces. High temperatures, wind, and sun increase the rate of transpiration, increasing a plant’s need for water.

To be able to absorb water from the soil, water must be applied in the location of the fine water absorbing roots. As plants become established after transplanting, the roots typically move out radially from root ball. Water that was once applied near the trunk or base of the plant should be applied further out in the root zone. For established shade trees the root zone area generally extends from the drip line (the outermost reach of the side branches) and beyond, about 1.5 times the distance from the trunk to the drip line

If a lawn is watered just 15 minutes everyday, depending on the output of the irrigation system, adequate moisture is probably not reaching the roots of trees and shrubs that depend solely on lawn irrigation for water. The major portion of the root systems of established home landscape trees are located in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. Shallow daily watering during hot summer weather may keep a lawn alive, but is probably not providing enough water for trees and shrubs.

When plants suffer drought stress, they wilt or show other signs of stress. Some types of plants respond to this stress with yellowing and dropping of leaves. Others develop a disorder called ‘leaf scorch’ where the edges of the leaves turn brown and crispy or brown tissue develops between the leaf veins.

Certain plants may show these same symptoms even if there is enough soil moisture. The problem may be that the root system is inadequate to keep up with the demands put on the plant by transpiration. This can happen when a tree or shrub is transplanted in late spring or early summer and the roots have not had sufficient time to grow enough to support the top of the plant. This also happens if the root system of a tree or shrub is impaired by being planted too deep or by restricted roots. Some plants, like flowering dogwood, have a tendency to show leaf scorch because they aren’t well adapted to a hot, dry, sunny climate.

After our long, cool spring, many of us welcome the current hot weather, but landscape plants and gardens need our attention. If a plant looks stressed, check the soil moisture. (Use a trowel.) Be sure to deep water your trees and large shrubs once a week. A mature shade tree with a spread of 30 feet should be receiving at least 350 gallons of water once a week during our very hot and breezy weather. Plus, don’t forget when you are out working in the garden on a hot day, you need water too!

Published: 7/18/2013 9:49 AM



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