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GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published October 23, 2016

The Garden Media Group predicts that one of the new garden trends for this coming year is “tidy gardens.” In essence this is the de-cluttering of the garden and coincides with the U.S. shift to urban living, with many moving away from suburbia and back to living in cities. This population shift brings with it smaller houses, yards, and gardens, a trend we have been seeing for a while.

The Garden Media Group (GMG) points out that tidy does not mean sculptured hedges and immaculate garden spaces. Tidy translates to simplified, less cluttered gardens that require less input. GMG notes that an important part of achieving a tidy garden is getting things under control.

Crowded gardens are cluttered gardens. If your perennials have grown too big, divide them and share them with other gardeners. Too often shrubs and trees are planted too closely together when young and become crammed together as they grow and mature. Sometimes judicious pruning done properly may help, but this locks you into repeated pruning in the future. Simplify by removing some of the plants to make more room for the others.

However, it is extremely difficult for gardeners like me to remove a plant. It is a bit like choosing one of your children over another. One must harden one’s heart and decide which plants are not contributing significantly to the overall beauty of the landscape or garden. It could be the ones beset by insect or disease problems, or those that have outgrown their space, or mature plants that are past their prime. Of course, GMG suggests keeping the plants you love the most and the ones that are flourishing in your garden.

When establishing a tidy garden, GMG recommends keeping things simple by using a “restricted palette of plants and hardscaping.” The smaller the “palette” or number of different plants is a hard precept for avid gardeners to follow. Gardeners like me delight in a diverse mélange of garden plants. It helps to think of a landscape and garden like a home. A crowded and cluttered home takes more time and effort to keep neat and clean. The same goes for a crowded, disorderly garden. Gardens are probably more enjoyable when they are not a chaotic jumble of plants.

Gardeners wanting to create a tidy food garden should look to the many new dwarf varieties of edibles available on the market. Plant breeders continue to develop bush vegetables that take up less garden space and can be grown in containers or raised beds. Many can also double as ornamentals. In addition, there are compact berry bushes that can be grown in containers on the patio or planted in the garden where they take up much less room than the large leggy berry bushes of yesterday.

There are also beautiful new compact ornamental plants, including the new flowering shrubs that are smaller and more prolific bloomers than their predecessors and the increasing selection of dwarf conifers that do not require frequent hedging to keep them within their allotted space.

Whether your goal is a trendy tidy garden or just one that does not require as much work, take some time in the coming fall and winter months to take a critical look at your garden and landscape. Decide what plants should be removed and what ones should be replaced, but keep in mind the words of the French poet and theologian, Francois Fenelon, “Exactness and neatness in moderation is a virtue, but carried to extremes narrows the mind.” He has a good point.


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published August 7, 2016

Kudos to our firefighters for their hard work in fighting the recent wildfires and successfully protecting local homes. Since they do their part in keeping us safe, local home owners should help in the protection of their properties with fire-resistant landscaping. In the short term, there are some easy steps you can take to provide some protection to your home. If your home is situated in an area vulnerable to wildfire, the longer term actions of designing and creating a fire-resistant landscape should be undertaken.

Mulches: Many of you know I favor bark mulches in the landscape because they add organic matter to the soil as they decompose, conserve soil moisture, control weeds, and keep the soil cooler than rock mulches. However, when working to create a fire-resistant landscape, the use of bark or wood chips should be eschewed in favor of non-flammable gravel or rock mulches. Gravel or rock mulches are best especially when mulching any areas that are close to buildings, fences, wood decks, or other wooden structures.

Raised Beds: Raised beds are a big trend in gardening right now, but they are predominantly constructed out of wood. In fire-vulnerable areas, it is better to build raised beds with bricks, concrete blocks, rocks, corrugated metal, or other non-flammable materials.

Landscape Maintenance: While not everyone craves a neat and tidy landscape, yard cleanup and the removal of plant litter is one way to reduce fuel for potential wildfires. So get busy now raking up the layers of dead pine needles and arborvitae foliage beneath these evergreens, dry leaves that have piled up in nooks and crannies around the yard, or bunches of dry plant litter anywhere else. If pines or other needled evergreens are situated close to your house, regularly remove their litter that accumulates on the roof and in gutters.

Keeping potential sources of fuel in mind, be sure to store any firewood 30 to 100 feet away from structures and also keep vegetation away from area. Eliminate any piles of plant litter, such as grass clippings, you may be accumulating. Also, remove dead shrubs and tree branches in your landscape. Cut down weeds and brush in areas of your property that are not landscaped.

Lawns: In regions like ours where the supply of irrigation water is a constant concern, limited areas of lawn are advocated to conserve the amount of water needed to keep grass green during the heat of summer. However, green lawns do resist fire well and efforts should be taken to maintain this green space around your home. However this is not a license to apply water heedlessly. You should still water more deeply, less frequently to save water and promote a healthy green lawn.

Trees: Because I like trees and appreciate the cooling value of their shade, I have ten trees in my yard. If I was in a fire-vulnerable area, I would need to consider pruning off the lower limbs of my trees to remove this ladder fuel. Ladder fuel is plant vegetation, green or dry, that permits fire to ascend into the tops of trees. Pruning off limbs from 6 to 15 feet up is recommended. For the health of the trees, this is best done with proper pruning cuts when the trees are young.

Landscape Design: Creating a well designed “firewise” landscape is very important if your home is situated where it is vulnerable to wildfires, especially if in the wildland-urban interface area. You can help defend your home with sound firewise landscaping. For information on firewise landscape design, go to the University of Idaho’s publication “Protecting and Landscaping Homes in the Wildland/Urban Interface” available at For a list of firewise landscaping plant materials go to:


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published May 1, 2016

Now that we have arrived at the average last date of frost, it is time to go shopping. I wonder what delightful new varieties of annual flowers, vegetables, perennial flowers, and shrubs are available this year? Before we go plant shopping, let’s review some plant terminology.

Variety vs. Cultivar: The botanist in me must point out that we commonly use the term variety incorrectly. A variety is a subspecies which is a naturally occurring sub-grouping within a species. Did you know that cabbage and broccoli are the same genus and species, Brassica oleracea, but each is a different naturally occurring variety? The scientific name for broccoli is Brassica oleracea var. Italica, for cabbage it is Brassica oleracea var. capitata, and for cauliflower it is Brassica oleracea var. botrytis.

A cultivar or cultivated variety is a sub-grouping within a species that occurs in cultivation, such as ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Big Boy’ tomato cultivars.

Hybrids: When shopping for plants you may find a plant described as a hybrid. What does this mean? A hybrid results from the cross pollination of two different cultivars. This can happen naturally in the garden or controlled by plant breeders. Sometimes a gardener finds a chance hybrid seedling that resulted from cross pollination the previous season between two different parents, such as two different summer squash cultivars. While interesting, the fruit of a chance hybrid squash is often not as desirable as the fruit of the two different parent cultivars.

In controlled plant breeding, parent plants with desirable traits are crossed in hopes of getting an offspring with the best of both parents. Offspring that do not “measure up” are discarded. When a hybrid plant with desirable characteristics results, it is maintained in cultivation through cloning or controlled pollination.

However, just because a plant is a hybrid does not mean that it has desirable characteristics for yard or garden use. The hybrid poplars seen in plantations along the Columbia River have been bred to grow very fast so they can be harvested relatively quickly for pulp production. In addition to fast growth, breeders have selected for resistance to certain insects and diseases along with resistance to wind and browsing by deer. They did not select for traits that would make them more suitable shade trees, such as more compact growth, less invasive root systems, or a longer life span.

F1 Hybrids: F1 hybrids are the first generation of plants resulting from a controlled cross between two inbred parent lines. Because of inbreeding, all the plants in an inbred line are extremely genetically uniform. The crossing of these two genetically uniform lines results in offspring that are also very genetically uniform, making them consistent in size, color, and other traits. Additional possible beneficial characteristics of F1 hybrids include increased plant vigor, better germination, and earlier fruit production. However, as with the creation of any hybrid, not all the resulting crosses are winners. Developing F1 hybrids is a tedious, time consuming, and costly process. That is why the F1 hybrids that make it to market are often more expensive than other cultivars.
When it comes to garden veggies, there is a plethora of old and new hybrid tomato, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, melons, summer squash, sweet corn, and carrots cultivarson the market along with lots of hybrid annual flowers, especially petunias and geraniums.

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written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

My vegetable garden is small, so the only veggies I grow are yellow crookneck squash and tomatoes, my two favorites. I rely on the local Farmer’s Markets for other fresh vegetables during the season. The reason for growing garden tomatoes is obvious to anyone who relishes fresh, vine-ripe tomatoes… taste. I grow crookneck squash for the same reason. Most of the summer squash I find at the grocery store or the markets is too big and not very tasty.

All of us know the tales of gardeners who try to unload their gigantic zucchinis on unsuspecting neighbors or those who make endless loaves of zucchini bread so they don’t waste their garden produce. Many folks don’t like any type of summer squash. That’s probably because all the squash they’ve ever tasted has been from mature and over-mature fruit.

Summer squash should be harvested when they’re small and immature. That’s when their flavor is the best. Harvest zucchini, cocozelle, yellow straight-neck, and crookneck squash when they’re quite small, about 6 inches in length and less than 2 inches in diameter. Patty pan and scallop squash are best when they’re about the size of a silver dollar up to 3 inches in diameter.

During summer heat, summer squash develop very quickly and can be ready to pick within several days of flowering, so frequent checking and harvesting is a must. To harvest summer squash, wear garden gloves and use garden shears or a sharp knife to cut the stems. The skin is very tender, so handle them carefully to avoid scratching it. For the best flavor, prepare and eat the squash right away. (I like them best grilled on the barbecue.)

If you harvest more than you can use immediately, wash the fruit with clean water, let dry, and place them in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Use them within two to three days.

Knowing when to harvest tomatoes for best flavor may not be as easy as you might think. Once a tomato blossom sets fruit, the tomato starts to develop. It will reach full size and maturity after a month or more. Once fully mature, the dark green fruit changes to a light green. After that it begins to soften and ripen, developing the color for that variety, such as red, yellow, or purple.

The ripening process depends on temperature and ethylene, a natural growth regulator produced by the plant. The best temperatures for tomato ripening are between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The ripening process is slower when temperatures are lower than 68 degrees. When temperatures are above 90 degrees, the softening process speeds up, but fruit color development slows down and may even stop when the weather is very hot.

Sweet vine ripened tomatoes are the goal of every gardener, but during hot weather it may be prudent to regularly harvest mature tomatoes that are beginning to show some color and ripen the fruit indoors at temperatures of 72 to 75 degrees. Left outdoors to ripen in hot weather, they may fail to develop good flavor and color. Tomatoes don’t need sunlight to ripen.

Harvesting more squash or tomatoes than your family can use? Don’t forget that local food banks welcome your extra produce. However, save the green zucchini monsters that have hidden from you and recycle them in the compost pile.

Published: 8/13/2011 2:43 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

It’s been at least four years since local gardeners have had to worry much about winter injury on their landscape plants. However, this past winter’s severe cold spells have resulted in some very sad looking plants, such as photinia, winter creeper, and rhododendron.

Plants like photinia are not fully hardy for our area. Photinia is rated as hardy from USDA Zones 7b to 9, meaning it can withstand temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on the hardiness zones, damage can be expected to occur if the temperature goes below 5 degrees. It did, proving the limits of plants like photinia.

That’s the problem with using plants that are not fully hardy here. To be safe, we should only plant trees, shrubs, and perennials that are hardy to Zone 6b. When we resort to using plants that are hardy to Zone 7 or higher, we’re asking for trouble.

So what can be done for shrubs and trees like photinia? Rip them out? Wait! Actually, it’s best to wait for warmer spring weather and give the plants a chance to recover. Wood that looks dead right now, may not be. Once growth has or hasn’t started by late spring, you should start pruning out the dead wood.

How can you be sure a branch is dead? Use your fingernail to scrape away the bark on the twigs or use a pocket knife to make a shallow cut just under the bark of woody branches. If the branch is alive, the tissues beneath the bark should be bright green or white. If it’s dead, these tissues will be brownish, shriveled or soggy. If you find dead tissue at the tip of a branch, keep going into older and larger diameter wood until you find healthy live tissue. Twigs and buds at the end of branches are less hardy than the more mature tissues.

When you prune out the dead wood, prune back to live tissue using proper pruning techniques. Even if you end up pruning shrubs all the way to the ground, hope may not be lost. The roots of the shrub may have escaped injury due to insulation from the soil and snow. Before uprooting a shrub like photinia, see if new growth starts to develop at the base of the plant. Be patient.

Injured plants that survive will need some TLC in the coming growing season. Don’t stress the plants with too little or too much water. Don’t apply any fertilizer if they grew well last year. If planted in or near the lawn, they probably get plenty of nitrogen already from lawn fertilizer. Excessive amounts of nitrogen may stimulate growth that the plant may be too weak to support.

As spring and summer unfold, we’ll see the extent of the damage caused by the severe cold this past winter. In addition to damage to roses, rhododendrons, photinia and winter creeper, I anticipate seeing injury on plants that are not hardy in Zones 6a or 6b and maybe even on some plants that should be hardy.

Time will tell, but right now just be patient. Remove only what’s obviously dead and then wait for warmer weather to encourage new growth.

Published: 4/4/2009 2:17 PM

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