Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Archive for January 2016


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written January 10, 2016

Gray days, frigid temperatures, rain, and snow have me longing for spring. I am anxious for the end of this nasty weather so I can get outside and get my yard and garden ready for growing. Pruning, cutting, and digging tools are essential to my anticipated clean-up chores.

Oh to be young again! My older back, hands, and arms lack the strength of younger years, so I tend to favor tools that make gardening easier for me. When it comes to pruning I depend on ratchet pruners. My trusty hand pruners are a pair of Florian 701 ratchet pruners. Florian touts that their ratchet mechanism multiplies your hand strength up to 700%.

I use my pair for cutting out the dead stems of flowering perennials left in the garden, pruning back flowering shrubs, and trimming flowers. Keep in mind that these light-weight pruners are not meant to tackle the bigger, woodier stems of trees and shrubs. They will only cut wood stems up to 3/4 inch in diameter. The blades have a non-stick coating and the handles are made of fiberglass reinforced plastic.

I keep thinking about getting another pair, but these are still going strong after ten years. Plus, their bright yellow handles have made them easy to find wherever I lay them down in the garden. Order them at at

Of course, I occasionally need to cut stems and branches that are larger than the 3/4 inch in diameter. When you have small branches that are too big for hand pruners, loppers are the next step up. I have a pair of heavy-duty bypass loppers, but they have become harder and harder for me to use effectively. That is why I bought a pair of Ironwood Tools ratchet loppers two years ago at a trade show. This past fall when I had to cut up some tree branches, I could not believe how easy these ratchet loppers made the job for me.

The Ironwood Tools ratchet loppers have a gear action that allows you to cut through wood up to 1.5 inches in diameter. With handles that are made of strong aluminum, they weigh only two pounds. The blade is made of tempered steel and all the parts are replaceable and have a lifetime replacement guarantee.

Ironwood also offers a telescoping ratchet lopper with extendable handles that go from 19 to 32 inches in length. These heavy duty loppers can handle branches up to 2.5 inches and have the same guarantee. Ironwood Tools are available at

I have to admit that when it comes to digging in the garden, I have never been very effective at the task. I always thought it was me, but now I am wondering if it was the shovels I was using. I am considering buying a HERShovel from Green Heron Tools.

The HERShovel is actually a hybrid between a shovel and a spade that has been designed based on women’s bodies and their digging styles. (Who knew women dig differently than men?) Green Heron notes that this shovel is designed specifically for women from the “shape and diameter of the handle, to the three shaft lengths (based on the individual woman’s height), to the angle and enlarged step” on the blade. It is designed for “maximum comfort and ease of use.” I think I would need the shortest one designed for women like me that are 5’2″ tall or shorter. Green Heron also offers a HERSpadingfork. They are both available on-line at

Old or young, it makes sense to buy tools that make gardening easier on our body.


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written January 3, 2016

Supposedly Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again, but expecting a different result. I wonder if there is a word for doing something over and over again and expecting the same result? For me, the word are repeated success. This January will be my 37th year of providing training to volunteers who want to become Washington State University Extension Master Gardeners.

This enormously successful program was started by WSU Extension in 1972 as a way to help handle the large number of home gardening and landscape care questions being received in local extension offices. When I came here in 1980, the program had already been started in the Tri-Cities. Back then there were about 20 new and returning or “veteran” volunteers who annually received training and volunteered their time mostly by answering home gardening questions in local plant clinics.

Like any well nurtured seed, the Master Gardener program has grown and blossomed since it was planted. Now there are about 150 new and veteran volunteers every year who receive training and volunteer their service to teach others how to garden. Their volunteer service includes not only staffing plant clinics as before, but also maintaining a 3-acre Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in Kennewick; teaching gardening to adults and children; and helping establish and mentor local community gardens.

This past spring the Benton-Franklin Master Gardeners decided to build an outdoor classroom within their Demonstration Garden. This classroom, with seating for 50, will be used for teaching classes and community events. A crew of very dedicated and hardworking Master Gardeners built this impressive Waterfall Classroom, lifting 50 tons of landscape blocks during hottest summer on record with their own hands, hard work, and sweat.

The Waterfall Classroom and the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, built and maintained by the Master Gardeners, is a public garden worthy of a visit anytime, but it is at its best during the spring, summer, and fall months when plants are green, growing, and blooming. It is a beautiful place for learning about plants and nature, walking, and taking photographs. You can find it behind the Mid-Columbia Library and adjacent to Highlands Grange Park at 1620 S. Union in Kennewick.

This year the Master Gardener Education Team taught almost 5000 children and adults about gardening. The Master Gardener Food Garden Team helped establish 15 new community gardens and mentored 33 food gardens. New gardeners learned to grow their own veggies for feeding their families. This team is currently working on raising funds to build even more beds next year.

I am immensely proud of the success of the Benton-Franklin WSU Extension Master Gardener program and the many wonderful volunteers over the years who have made that success possible. We will be starting a new training program in late January and are looking for new volunteers interested in becoming Master Gardeners and giving volunteer service to our community as WSU Extension Master Gardeners.

Training sessions are held locally every Tuesday afternoon, starting the last week of January. New participants are required to attend these sessions and also to take an on-line basic horticulture course from WSU. The cost of the training is $115, plus participants are expected to return 50 hours of return volunteer service to the program.

I am excited about this year’s face-to-face training that will include WSU faculty and local experts talking about GMOs, forensic entomology, climate and weather forecasting, irrigation management, water movement in soils, vegetable gardening, weed management, and much more.
Would you like to become a WSU Master Gardener? Contact the local extension office for an application by calling 735-3551. The deadline for applications is January 20th.


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written December 27, 2015

Now that we have almost closed the book on 2015, let us reflect a bit on the extraordinary weather of this past year and years past. It is no surprise that the summer of 2015 was the hottest on record in the region with a total annual precipitation of 3.72 inches. That is not much considering that 9.16 inches of moisture were lost through evapotranspiration (ET) during the month of August. Plus, some areas experienced limited irrigation water.

This extraordinary year was compounded by the fact that until 2015, 2014 was the hottest on record with 3.44 inches of precipitation, a total ET of 9.02 inches in August, and an unusually mild December. Also consider that 2013 was the 2nd hottest summer on record until 2015 with a total annual precipitation of 2.79 inches. Plus, the summer of 2013 was the 6th year of summer weather with near or above average temperatures.

That is a great deal of summer heat. Heat stresses plants, especially ones not well adapted to our hot summer climate. Heat stress is compounded by drought stress that results from limited irrigation water or improper watering practices. Drought stress may also be inflicted on a tree due to a lack of an adequate root system, physical injury to the trunk, restricted or girdling roots, compacted soil, or other factors that affect the tree’s ability to absorb or transport water to the top of the tree.

Stress on trees makes them more vulnerable to attack by certain insects, especially boring insects. As a result of the several years of summer heat stress that local trees have endured, we are seeing an increasing number of wood borers attacking local ornamental trees.

Even if a tree looks fairly healthy to you and me, it may become fodder for borers because it is stressed. Stressed trees are more vulnerable to attack by borers because stress causes them to produce volatile chemicals, such as terpenes, that attract boring insects.

In addition, some borers (such as bark beetles) will emit an aggregation pheromone (a chemical compound that elicits insect behavior) once it locates a stressed tree. This insect pheromone lets other bark beetles in the area know of a stressed tree’s presence. One bark beetle might not significantly harm a tree, but a bunch of them feeding spells trouble.

Once the volatile chemicals emitted by the tree and the aggregation pheromone gets a gang of bark beetles to the tree, they still have to get under the bark. As they start to eat their way into the tree, the sap pressure in a healthy tree will often drown or push them back out. However, in a stressed tree the sap flow is lower and they can successfully eat their way in.

The quote of “the best defense is a good offense” may or may not be true in sports, but it is very true when it comes to protecting your trees from boring insects. Keeping a tree healthy is not just its best defense against borers, in many cases it is the only defense.

We no longer have the long-term residual insecticides that were once used to protect trees from borers. Insecticide applications as a spray to the trunk are generally not a good “offense” and even the systemic insecticides applied to the soil or injected into the trunk are only effective against a few types of borers.

Hopefully in 2016 we will not experience another summer of extraordinary heat and limited irrigation water. If we do, make every effort to keep your trees healthy and “unstressed” to protect them from attack by borers.


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written December 20, 2015

Many different Christmas holiday traditions have been adapted from ancient winter celebrations. Not long ago I was watching a reality television baking competition. The contestants were tasked with baking yule log cakes. It started me thinking about yule logs.

What is a yule log? For that matter, what is yule? Why is it associated with the winter holidays? Yule or “Jul” is an ancient northern European and Scandinavian celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day (or longest night) of the year. It is the official beginning of winter for us today.

Jul or Yule celebrated the rebirth of the sun and the return of nature. Part of this winter holiday included a ceremony that involved bringing a whole tree indoors, placing its trunk in the hearth, and then lighting the base on fire. As it burned over a 12-day period, the trunk continued to be fed into the hearth.

The Yule log tradition eventually became part of European Christmas traditions, but instead of an entire tree, it was a large log burned for the twelve days of Christmas that start on December 25 (Christmas) and end on January 6th which is Feast of Epiphany for western Christians.

Today, many households do not have large open hearths where they can burn an entire tree or even a large log. Maybe that is why the baking of a “yule log” cake has become a Christmas tradition in parts of Europe. It is made of rolled chocolate sponge cake layered with cream filling and decorated to look like a log. Yum!

As a “tree person,” I have always been intrigued with the tradition of the Christmas tree. Its origins can be traced back to the pagan winter festival of Saturnalia, honoring Saturnus, the god of agriculture. Trees were decorated as part of the festival.

In the middle ages, evergreen trees were decorated with apples as part of the December 24th Adam and Eve Feast. In the early 1500s, undecorated evergreen trees were set up in homes in some areas of Germany to celebrate Christmas. That may be why Christmas lore credits Martin Luther as being the first to decorate a Christmas tree with candles in an attempt to recreate the shining of stars in the winter sky.

Historians dispute that Luther began the practice of decorating Christmas trees with lights and ornaments, citing that the first evidence of a decorated tree dates back to 1546, long after Luther’s death. These first decorations consisted of paper flowers, apples, nuts, and candies. The Christmas tree tradition did not come to the U.S. until the early 1800s when Germans migrated here and brought the tradition with them.

Whoever we want to credit with the origins of the decorated Christmas tree, it is amazing that this tradition still persists today. Last year 26.3 million real Christmas trees were purchased in the U.S. along with 13.9 million artificial ones. Real or fake, trees lit with twinkling lights and decorated with pretty ornaments are certainly a great way to celebrate Christmas and the passing of the winter solstice. Hurray, the days will be getting longer again! Next year’s gardening season is on its way.


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written December 13, 2015

Trends, including gardening trends, have a way of recycling themselves. Creating terrariums, an old trend from the 70s, is popping up again.

Terrariums were first a utilitarian item created by Dr. Nathanial Ward, an English physician and botany enthusiast, for germinating ferns from spores. He created a closed glass case, named the Wardian case, that was pretty much a miniature greenhouse. The case proved very useful to plant collectors wanting to bring plants back to England from far away places and also became popular in home decorating.

The large glass terrarium in my garage is proof that I enthusiastically participated in the terrarium trend of the 70s. Terrarium purists will tell you that a terrarium is planted in a transparent closed container. Not long ago I talked about miniature dish and fairy gardens. A terrarium is similar, but the “garden” is placed inside a clear container, such as a large glass jar, big bottle, fish tank, or giant goblet. Clear plastic containers may also be used.

I recommend a container that is large enough to accommodate the plants you choose to grow and one that has a large enough opening to facilitate planting the terrarium. If the opening or neck of a container is narrow, planting within them is like trying to build a ship in a bottle, possible but difficult.

Start by cleaning the inside of your container and when dry, add “soil” to the container. Use an artificial potting mix, preferably one containing primarily peat moss, perlite, and sand. There is no need to add gravel or other coarse material for drainage as recommended in the 70s, as these materials actually hinder drainage.

Moisten the mix first because it is difficult to moisten once it is in the container. How much mix is needed? There should be enough mix to accommodate plant roots, but generally it does not need to be any deeper than three inches even in large containers.

Finding and selecting suitable plants for your terrarium may be a challenge. Seek out dwarf and miniature plants that will stay small or slow growing ones that will not outgrow the container quickly. Select ones that are similar in their growing requirements, such as humidity, light, and soil moisture. Plants of varying heights, texture, and leaf color will provide the most interest in your design.

When you are ready, remove the plants from their pots and loosen the roots. Plant the largest and tallest plants first and then arrange the smaller plants around them to provide a pleasing “landscape” design. The plants will grow, so take care not to use too many or place them too closely together. Moss or prostrate trailing plants can make attractive ground covers. If desired, add some decorative accents such as small rocks or figurines.

After finishing your planting, rinse any potting mix off the container sides and plant leaves using a spray bottle, taking care not to add too much water. Place the lid on the container or use clear plastic wrap to close it up. Situate the terrarium where it will get lots of light but no direct sunlight.

Your terrarium may exhibit considerable condensation. However, if the condensation is excessive or continues past a week or two, vent the container a little each day until it stops. After that you may need to water occasionally and prune plants when they start to grow too large, but you should be able to enjoy your terrarium without constant attention.

My favorite plants for a terrarium? They are miniature African violets and their relatives, miniature Gernerias.



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