WET SPRING MEANS...                    Oops, Apr. 25, 2005

You haven't missed an essay, but I have, alas. I've been busy re-doing our back yard and replacing diseased fruit trees. 

This wet spring means do not step in your garden beds on this soggy soil because that will compact it. If you must get in to plant or weed, put down scrap lumber to step on, to spread the weight. 

It also means plant foliage is more vulnerable to fungus diseases.  They spread by splashing or blowing water as a rule.  One shows up on rose leaves as black spots.  In our dry climate, we usually don't see much evidence of black spot on roses. But we may this year. 

Other fungal diseases may rear their ugly heads as well. Powdery mildew and late blight may occur here this spring. 

People in other parts of the world have found an effective control of these fungi is a mixture of milk and water.  Apparently skim milk works well without causing odor problems arising from milk fats.  A mixture of 1/3 skim milk to 2/3 water (or even 1/4 milk to 3/4 water) seems to work well in one or two applications.  Some have even found it cures botrytis blight in peonies. 

It's worth a try, and harmless to pets and humans. 

Renovations of my back yard include having had a helper dig out a flower bed, and replace ground-level plantings with large containers.  One of my first gardening loves was growing herbs, so that's what I'm planting in the containers: all culinary herbs. 

Containers will raise plants up to a level where I can weed, harvest and tend the herbs from the seat of my electric scooter.  It works well, but I'd certainly like to talk to a representative from the company (Celebrity) so they could make a scooter ideal for gardening.  It can be improved. 

Also, containers will prevent some herbs from taking over the herb bed as Oregano, Marjoram and mints love to do.  I have about 20 large containers ready for planting, including two half whiskey barrels. 

I have thymes (several varieties), basils, Tarahumara Oregano, summer savory, sweet marjoram, chives, bunching onions, sorrel, French tarragon, parsleys (flat-leaved and curled), cresses, borage, cutting celery, salad burnet, sages, rosemary, caraway, chervil, chives, cilantro, perilla, papalo, and regular and garlic chives for the containers.  Another bed has recently been cleaned of weeds, so that will be planted with flowers. 

This is exciting to re-do beds from time to time.  Try it, you'll like it!  ##

MOTHERS AND MATERS                         April 9, 2005

Just in time for Mother's Day, a neat new paperback book contains a collection of charming reminiscences under the title, "My Mother's Garden."  The collection, "about love, flowers, and family," includes eight original essays by some of today's top garden writers as well as selections previously published in other formats.

Some of the stories are about Grandmothers' gardens, and that's fine for Mother's Day too.  Before the advent of drip watering and soaker hose, working Moms didn't garden extensively because evening watering set the stage for foliar diseases.

My Mother wasn't much of a gardener, but both of my Grandmothers were avid gardeners, even before the World War II Victory Gardens that everyone grew. This charming book is published by Chamberlain Brothers, a division of Penguin, and the price is right: $9.95.  Introduction by the renowned Penelope Hobhouse. 

When Mothers grew anything other than flowers, it was usually tomatoes.  No tomato ever tasted as good as a home-grown, vine-ripened one.   

If you're new to the Treasure Valley, be advised that local gardeners don't plant frost-tender plants such as tomatoes out in the garden until the snow has melted from Shaffer's Butte overlooking Boise. Snow on that Butte has been likened to a barometer, showing we can still have frosts and freezes this spring.

If you get excited over a warm day and plant a tomato plant out without extraordinary protection then the weather chills, the plant will never overcome the shock to its diurnal rhythms and you'll get a smaller harvest than you would if you had waited. 

Nevertheless, Home Depot was selling tomato plants three weeks ago.  It used to be said in Boise that some garden centers planned on selling tomato plants to each person three times each spring because that was how many times they'd lose them to frost.  All of us who refuse to eat supermarket tomatoes are eager for the first home-grown tomatoes, so it's tempting to plant early.

You can get away with early planting IF you surround your plant with Walls o' Water (WOWs) or an Aquadome.  Walls o' Water do work, but be sure you pick each one up after you've filled the pockets with water to eliminate any creases near pocket bottoms.  Those creases bar water, and make the WOW unstable.  I have not used Aquadomes, but Ross Hadfield has, and he says they work well too. 

You're going to have to scramble if you want to be first in the valley with a home-grown (outside) tomato.  Mrs. Hap Tallman is primed to have her first ripe one by Memorial Day.  She has seedlings and Walls o' Water ready. 

I was at Edwards' Greenhouse last week, and they had very large tomato plants ready for setting out with protection.  My seed-started seedlings are nowhere near that large, and it was tempting.  But the varieties of tomatoes were all hybrids, and I don't grow hybrids.  Instead I grow open-pollinated (OP), some heirloom, varieties. 

Hybrids lack tomato flavor, and they're usually tough-skinned and very firm.  Scared by a cannonball or two.  When Edwards Greenhouse people sow tomatoes for later outdoor growth, they usually have a good selection of open-pollinated varieties.  I suspect those large hybrids were grown by another greenhouse.




No fooling.  You don't have to eat same old, same old, salads or buy expensive mixes of different lettuces for your salads.  Tailor your salads to your own palette. 

There are many different cresses available, each with a different flavor.  You don't have to have flowing water to grow them, either, contrary to what even some experienced gardeners believe. 

Some of the more unusual cresses are not available commercially, but are passed along and swapped-for in seed exchange groups.  Seed Savers' Exchange members, for instance, offer Curly, Garden Cress, Persian Broadleaf, Rishad, Shallot Cress, Upland, Upland Special, Wrinkled, Variegated Winter cress, Wrinkled Crinkled and watercress. 

Each has a bit of bite to it, and enlivens a salad by its presence.  All of the cresses except watercress may be grown in regular garden soil without special attention. They're not tender to frost either. 

Watercress usually grows in flowing water, but it doesn't have to.  Some say you can plant small sprigs of it in a container that you then stand in a tub of water, changing the water every 24 hours.  Or set up a drip irrigation line to keep it well watered.  It doesn't thrive in shade or stagnant water.

Watercress is a close relative of nasturtiums, and is about as pungent as they.  The botanic name of watercress is Nasturtium officinale. 

Another unusual salad addition is tomatillo.  This is botanically known as Physalis ixocarpa, and all of the references I've seen tell you these are self-pollinating.  The problem is, they may pollinate themselves, but nothing comes of it.  They need pollen from another plant, so you must plant at least two plants.  They will cross easily with other Physalis species such as Chinese lanterns, ground cherries or Cape gooseberries. 

Tomatillos come in two colors: green and purple.  The green turns yellow and sweetens with age, about the time it falls off the sprawling plant (and it does sprawl and take a cage with it if you've tried to contain it).  If you're planning on using the tomatilloes in salsa or any other Mexican dish, you want to pick the fruits before they sweeten and turn yellow.  You can tell the size of the fruit by squeezing the husks. 

Another green addition to a salad that perks things up is sorrel.  It has a pert lemony flavor, although it grows as a green leaf.  It will send up a tall seed stalk when the weather turns hot, and the leaves are not as good at that time.  You can keep cutting the seed stalks back to delay seed formation. 


RAIN IN THE NICK OF TIME                March 25, 2005   

Some years we get what farmers call the "million dollar rain."  It's just enough moisture to get seeds started on the path to germination.  I think this week's rains qualified. I was beginning to think our water was dehydrated.

As you go through your seeds, I'm sure you wonder how long seeds are viable.  At one time or another we all go through that.  Allium seeds (i.e., ornamental alliums or chives or onions) are usually only viable for one year, so discard those that are older. 

Commercial seed companies often print on seed packets that they were packed for 2004 or some other year. That does not tell you what year the plant actually produced them, so if you've read that "xtra-leafy" seed is viable for five years and you have a seed packet that says packed for 2001 season, it may be too old. 

You can test the seed by using a folded damp paper towel.  Put ten seeds into the towel, slip it into a plastic bag in a moderately warm place (unless it's for a cole crop such as cabbage that prefers cool temperatures).  Don't let the towel dry out, but check it every so often. If 2 germinate, you have 20% germination, and may want to plant seeds much more thickly than recommended.  If none have germinated within a couple of weeks, you can either discard them or if it's a non-replaceable seed, there are options on trying to get them to germinate.

Some folks report success soaking seeds overnight in plain water before setting them to germinate. If that doesn't work, a soak for a few hours in a potassium nitrate solution (i.e., saltpetre) may work. Use one teaspoon potassium nitrate per quart of water.  If that doesn't spur germination, try 2 teaspoons Peters' 20-20-20 fertilizer in a gallon of water, then soak. 

The saltpetre soak is the only one of these I've actually used, and found it greatly hastened germination of hot chile seeds that are notoriously slow to germinate.  Usually when I want to refresh a variety and have had a complete germination failure, I plant all of the seeds of that variety, hoping one or two will germinate. I can then save that new generation of seeds.  ##




Okay, my forsythia is lighting up the entire block, and it's blooming about a month early. Hardly need street lights when forsythia blooms like that.  Forsythia blooms on new wood, and my shrub was spottily blooming last spring, so I had it cut to the ground.  It came back, and is glorious.

It should be okay to prune roses now, and blooming forsythia means if you're going to prevent crabgrass germination, do it now. There are commercial pre-emergent chemicals available in most garden supply stores.  I usually use corn gluten meal, but it's more costly now.  Our front yard was devastated by having to hook up to the sewer, so preventing crabgrass isn't a priority there. 

I'd really love to be able to kill the field bindweed and Canada thistle in the front yard.  So far, have neither in the back yard, and I'm hoping for a continuation of that situation.

I'm converting a flower bed in back to containers so I can tend them from the back of my scooter.  I really miss my herb beds that were at ground level, so I'm mostly going to be planting culinary herbs in those containers. 

If you're planting onion seedlings in your garden, it will progress more smoothly if you'll give those roots a trim and nip off the ends of the leaves.  Sometimes roots grow longer on one side of a seedling than the other, making it difficult to set in a trench.  Trimming them doesn't set back seedlings a bit. 

I was unhappy to see that Fred Meyer is carrying onion sets grown outside of SW Idaho. There is an embargo on allium bulbs grown outside this particular region, and it's supposed to be enforced by the Idaho Dept. of Agriculture.  I'll bet other chain stores are selling the illegal sets too.  There is a good reason for the embargo. Agriculture officials fear spores (or organisms that will develop into spores) of white rot getting into the irrigation water supply and contaminating onion fields in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon.  Onion growing in that area is a huge enterprise, and if white rot fungus contaminates a field, that field has to be removed from onion production.  There's no known cure.

Sadly that embargo prevents folks from buying ornamental alliums grown outside the approved area too.  Alliums such as Schubertii, A. atropurpureum, A. caeruleum, nigrum, giganteum, christophii, etc., are so special.  Also, you're not supposed to plant Elephant garlic cloves in your garden, for the same reason.

I know I missed a week for an essay, but I was preparing a talk on seeds.  I'll post that on the "About Me" section of this website.  The future of seeds is of great concern to me, and it should be of concern to all: it has a direct effect on our food supply.

For those of you who don't go to that section, if you have children, please make sure they know that all vegetables (except hydroponic) grow in soil. I've had more than one or two young people tell me they don't want to eat anything grown in dirt, they'll get their vegetables at the supermarket. 

Who could have imagined they'd think those vegetables were not grown in soil?  ##



WISE ADVICE ABOUT SAGE                        March 6, 2005

Sage belongs in every culinary herb garden, but be careful about which kind you plant. Common sage, or Salvia officinalis, is hardy here, but some other varieties are not.  Folks on a garden forum on Internet have been talking about this, and some folks in warmer climates than ours claims it winterkills. 

It may die over winter, but not because of low temperatures. It can't tolerate an abundance of moisture.  Some folks in colder temperatures than ours claim that common culinary sage dies back to the ground over winter, but comes back rejuvenated in spring. 

It's not a herb you want to use in a lot of dishes, but in those dishes where it's appropriate, you can't do without it.  It's especially good in stuffing or in homemade sausage. It's used medicinally, and sage tea has been associated with longevity and increased mental capacity.

It's a woody sub-shrub with wiry square stems covered with down. Leaves are pebbled, and grey-green in color. The aroma is penetrating, and some folks with sinus trouble find a few minutes under a draped towel with hot sage tea is soothing. 

Golden sage is very attractive, not quite as rangy as the ordinary kitchen sage.  Both plants grow to about 18X18 inches, so leave room for expansion when you plant it.  They do best in full sun exposure. 

Berggarten sage looks like cooking sage on steroids. Very large leaves, and a somewhat larger plant.  Purple sage is somewhat smaller, and may also be used for culinary purposes.  Both of these sages are said to be hardy here, but my experience is that the purple sage is not nearly as hardy as the golden, and that's a bit less hardy than the Salvia officinalis. Another tender culinary sage is the Tricolor, and it's even less tolerant of frost than the purple sage.

There are many salvias that are tender to frost, but attractive plants in the herb garden.  Pineapple sage bears bright red, deep-throated flowers.  I think that flowering is in autumn, since Lindarose Curtis-Bruce and I tried for years to get it to flower during the Western Idaho Fair, but without success.   Even the foliage of melon sage is aromatic.

The flowers of these tender sages are edible, although the leaves are not used for culinary purposes.

***The weather is such that it's really tempting to plant out in the garden right now. I have planted some frost-tolerant plants out.  If you plant something that's frost tender, and want to protect it from unexpected cold nights, use a Wall o' Water, an Aquadome, or four two-liter pop bottles lashed together with duct tape. They should be filled with water, and be set in a circle around the plant before you tape them together. 

Cutting the bottom out of a milk bottle gives less protection, but sometimes that's all you need. If you cut three quarters of the way around the bottom, then pull the bottom out as a flap, you can weight it down with a stone or a brick so wind doesn't blow it away.  That's a great idea, courtesy of Ross Hadfield, Advanced Master Gardener, of Meridian. 

***I've had my attached greenhouse for several years and had no problems with mice, but this year they're entering, probably through the louvers, and eating pepper seedling leaves. Traps killed three of the varmints within hours. Now I'm plotting a way to screen out others.

It mystifies me why a greenhouse owner is pretty much on his/her own when it comes to cooling a greenhouse in addition to an exhaust fan opposite louvers. And now having to build my own cage for the louvers, the slats of which open outward. ##



THE GROWING SEASON ARRIVES                   Feb. 27, 2005

This was the most moderate February I've had in Boise over the past 32 years. Wow.  I learned something, too: not all cabbage seedlings are hardy.

We've had some cold nights here and there over the past few weeks, and I discovered to my horror that my cabbage mix seedlings hadn't survived in my cold frame. Four or five plants may not make it at all.  Pinetree only includes 12 seeds in a pack of mixed cabbages. 

The other seven seedlings came through with flying colors.  The Chinese cabbage actually grew quite a bit during their time in the cold frame.  This is a variety called 1 Kilo, and I'm assured it doesn't have a strong green mustard flavor. I hope my assurer is right. 

I set out lettuce seedlings and the Chinese cabbage in my garden last week. It's not out in the open, because I have too many birds who love greens in my area. I have the newly-planted bed covered with floating row cover.  It keeps things a little warmer under cover too.  I doubt if it's more than about three degrees warmer, though. 

That bed also contains some Petrowski turnips I planted last year. They should go to seed this spring, so I'll collect seeds and share with the Seed Savers' Exchange.  A woman on a garden list asked about them last spring, and neither of us could find a commercial source.  I hate to see seeds headed for extinction. I don't think the few degrees of warmth will affect the turnips.

Mail order stores also sell lightweight row cover just to bar insects, but one season of using that pretty well rips it up.  Slightly heavier cover used for frost protection is usable for several seasons, providing some dog doesn't think it's fun to poke his head through it.  I know, I shouldn't have laughed.

I used to think the only bad days for gardening were those in which the wind blew enough to block sinuses.  My best days gardening were those when the sky was overcast and a light rain or drizzle was falling. I even bought a yellow slicker so I could plant out in the rain, for that's the very best condition of all for transplanting.  My electric scooter isn't shielded from moisture, so I can't do that any more. I'd like to bend an ear of the Celebrity scooter people for a while. 

Another major benefit of planting under row cover is that you don't have to worry about hardening plants off.  That process of acclimating plants to direct sun and light winds can take a couple of weeks, but floating row cover admits enough light for plants to grow without baking the chlorophyll right out. 

If you're starting plants inside then transplanting outside, I hope you're not using peat pots. If you are, watch them closely because they will wick water away from your seedlings, even after they're planted in soil.  Their main benefit is in minimum root disturbance, and that's especially desirable in cases of transplanting melons, squash and cucumbers.  ##



HOW TO SHOP FOR PLANTS                            Feb. 18, 2005

We know better, don’t we?

We all know we should have a well-thought plan for our gardens, which plant goes where, but when we go to a nursery or greenhouse we buy what we fancy.

"Oooh, look at that! Isn’t that attractive? I want one of those." We buy it (or them) and haul them home. We set the plant or plants on the deck and every time they catch our eye, we’re thinking "you made me buy you, now where should I put you?"

Okay, let’s all change our shopping habits. At the very least, take inventory of your gardens. Shade garden? Need something with contrasting foliage about 18 inches in diameter, between Coleus and begonias.

See how easy that was? Go to the nursery or greenhouse, look in the section for shade plants (it wouldn’t or shouldn’t be out in full sun), and find a plant whose foliage would contrast nicely with Coleus and begonias. Then start looking at hardiness, blossom color and bloom time, mature height and water requirements.

If tags don’t tell you, ask a knowledgeable person for help. If you can’t find a knowledgeable person, go to another greenhouse or nursery to shop. Many stores just hire minimum wage people to move and water plants for the summer. It’s a joy to find someone with answers to your questions, and greater than joy, it’s a blessing to find a knowledgeable person to recommend a plant you hadn’t thought of that would work perfectly for your garden bed.

A great way to shop is to research plants at home so you go looking for a specific plant to fill that hole. It’s a major advantage to be waited on by a person who has grown that plant in this area.

I’ll bet you won’t just buy that plant, though. None of us can resist a particularly attractive plant. "Buy me! Me too!" Every gardener has heard that whisper as a shout.

Okay, so much for your first visit of this growing season to the nursery or greenhouse. What do you do for the rest of the summer? Go back, of course. There are very good reasons for return visits. One is to look for another plant to fill a specific hole.

Some experts advise going back to the nursery every two weeks throughout the growing season. This frequency should show you a plant in bud, in blossom, and post-bloom so you know whether it should be in a visible or secluded location. Some plants suffer post-bloom ranginess you’d rather hide.

At times you go back and these plants are sold out. So it’s up to you, whether you want to see these plants at different stages and risk not being to buy them at all or whether you’ll buy them and take your chances. If they turn ugly, you can transplant them.

Another reason for going back is that nurseries and greenhouses continue to get shipments of plants through most of the summer. Each shipment will have different species and varieties of plants, too.

Locally-owned greenhouses and nurseries obtain plants from wholesalers in this area. That tells you that the plant does grow and thrive in this area, and if it’s a perennial, shrub, vine or tree, it may have already spent one winter in this climate. Locally-owned garden centers also stock and sell plants that don’t happen to fit in the racks of plants hauled interstate by large trucks. Locally-grown plants may be much larger or more fragile than racked plants.

Chain garden centers believe that color sells, and to some extent they’re right. But they usually don’t carry plants that bloom in autumn, because they’re gearing up for Christmas when that plant would bloom. Locally-owned centers do carry such plants, sometimes with a tag showing blossom color, sometimes not. These plants may not look like much in early summer, but after labor day they puff up and bloom their hearts out.

Do some home research on fall-blooming plants. You’ll be glad you did. Happy Gardening! – Margaret Lauterbach for new garden essay each week. ##

The locally-owned nursery or greenhouse may have a garden book showing the plant in bloom or you could research it at home or at the library before purchase.





If you're starting seeds indoors, they're tender and fragile. Watering with cold water right out of the tap is a shock that can be fatal. Use tepid water. It would be better to let the water stand for some time to let the chlorine gas off, but it hasn't hurt my seedlings.

Keep seeds well watered, but not soggy. Once they germinate, watch out for "damping off," a fungus disease that causes the stem at soil line to constrict flat, cutting off circulation to the seedling. Then it dies. The dilemma is that you have to keep the seedlings well watered, but all of that water contributes to damping off. There are ways to battle that disease ranging from a good sprinkle of cinnamon on the soil surface to watering with chamomile tea. I use two teabags of chamomile tea per quart of water, but you might find good results with a lighter mix. 

Brushing the seedlings very lightly each day (or running a fan over them so they sway in the breeze) toughens seedling stems and trunks.  They'll reach for the light, so turn them often to try to get them to grow straight up.  As soon as my seedlings germinate, or most in the pot have germinated, I move the pot into the greenhouse. 

The first two leaves of a seedling are feeding the plant as long as they're green and attached.  The plant is too fragile for transplanting until it develops its first true leaves. 

*** Do you chit?  Chitting is the act of cutting your seed potatoes and putting them into good light about a month before you plan on planting them out. It's also called "greening" or "pre-sprouting."  It's commonly done in Europe, rarer in the U.S., but it shouldn't be. 

To chit your seed potatoes, cut pieces so each has two or more eyes and consists of at least one ounce of flesh (I figure at least one cubic inch is enough). If the potatoes are hen's egg-sized or smaller, leave them whole. Spread the cut pieces in a shallow box or flat, one layer, with eye ends up. It's better if they're not touching.

You may want to shake them in a bag of  sulfur first, to prevent scab, infection and fungus.

Put the shallow box in a warm space where light levels are good, a week to a month before planting out.  This light will keep sprouting short and vigorous, less likely to break off. 

Advantages of chitting are faster start to growth and greater tuber production. Reason enough for the advance work.  ##


Several years ago I visited a farm at the west end of the valley, near the Snake River. The location should have been ideal, but it was a very windy site, blowing sand scouring out growing crops and shredding plastic-covered greenhouses.

What could one do in such a situation?  Well, look into wind power generation for one thing.  But if one were persistent in their desire to farm, they could grow in "waffle" beds, like some of the early Southwest natives used. They were set below grade, and generally designed in depressed squares (hence waffles) to hold water as long as possible before it drained away.

Such plants-in-a-hole might need to be protected by windbreaks of some kind to prevent dune formation from covering them.  But it might work.

That's do-able in a small garden, but if you have many acres in which to grow, other solutions must be used, and about the only option open is growing a windbreak.  Growing a windbreak takes time, but it can be done. 

The usual practice is to grow parallel rows of trees planted across the direction of the prevailing wind for a windbreak. Many use fast-growing trees such as poplars for the windward side of the windbreak, then slower-growing evergreens to fill in under the lowest branches of the poplars, between the trees.  Windbreaks may be two to eight rows of trees and shrubs planted in parallel rows about eight feet apart, and staggered to fill in between the trees of the previous row.

The purpose is to filter and slow the wind, not to stop it.  Solid windbreaks divert the air upwards, but it then curls down toward the barrier on the lee side, causing air turbulence that may do as much damage as the original gusts.  Filtered windbreaks slow the wind, but don't re-direct it.

Beyond the influence of the windbreak, the wind regains speed.  How far does that slowing influence extend? I've seen figures that slowing in speed should extend to two to five times the height of the tallest trees in the windbreak. If the trees are 30 feet tall, then the calming effect should extend for up to 150 feet. It may extend as far as seven times the height of the tallest trees, or in this case, 210 feet.  Still others maintain that a windbreak on an American prairie can protect for 100 feet for every ten feet in height, a 300-foot area of influence.

Poplars and willows tend to be some of the fastest-growing trees, so they're useful for windbreaks. In general, though, the faster the growth, the shorter the life expectancy.

Some poplars such as Lombardy poplars have comparatively short life expectancies, succumbing to disease in about 20 to 30 years. By that time evergreens such as Scotch pines planted in a row in front of the poplars should be full enough to tame the winds.  They will not be as tall as the poplars were, so when planning rows of trees for a windbreak another row of tall-growing deciduous trees should be planted to take the place of the expected loss of the poplars. 

By then, the original planter of the windbreaks may be retiring from farming. 

Trees are not planted so that their trunks match up, but rather in a zigzag fashion, such as WWWWW where one species of trees are planted at the top points, the other species at the bottom points.

For an acreage of any size, then, a series of windbreaks would be required to avoid harsh effects of the winds. An added benefit of the windbreaks would be giving cover and perhaps sustenance (depending on the species of trees used) to wildlife, although it does take up land in non-productive ways.

In Europe, dense hedges mark the edges of fields, some hedges hundreds of years old. They form great cover for wildlife, but are impenetrable by man or large animal. (No posts or wire to replace)  Experts "laying" such a hedge cut into growing branches and tie them to other branches so that they actually grow together, called  "pleaching."  They do act as windbreaks, but are only about six feet tall, so have a limited range of effectiveness for wind filtering.

Winds, even breezes, are desiccating, so additional water must be supplied growing crops to offset this dehydrating effect.

*** I've eliminated some of my shrub fruits from consideration. Honeyberry is only three feet tall, prefers shade, and something better is coming from breeders, I'm told. Cornelian cherries bloom too early (Feb.-March) for fruit success.  I'm back to the drawing board. ##

HARDY, BUT WILL FRUIT SURVIVE?                    Jan. 30, 2005

If you're considering unusual fruits for your yard, as I am, take time of blossoming into account.

Years ago I intended to grow hardy kiwifruit here. Forewarned about vigor of the vines and the weight the fruit could attain, we built an arbor of 4X6 poles set in the ground, linked overhead by concrete reinforcing rods.  The male kiwi plant died, I reordered,  the replacement died.  Then I began to notice when the female plants bloomed.  That was in March, well before our last frosts of the winter. Had they set fruit, it would have dropped anyway.

The vines are hardy.  I've read there's an old kiwi vine in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that is very large.  Does it fruit? I don't believe so.  It's either a male vine or if female, blooms too early for fruit to hold to ripeness.

I think the early bloom time of apricots is the reason I didn't get apricots for most of the years I had apricot trees.  I used to get infrequent but wonderful apricots until that tree was riddled by borers.  I planted two other apricot trees in a different location, and neighborhood squirrels assumed ownership. I never got a single ripe apricot, even though last spring and the preceding spring, both trees were heavily laden. 

Now I'm looking at honeyberries, seaberries, goumis and Cornelian cherry bushes.  One Green World ( ) has some honeyberries that bloom in March, others that bloom later. I think March is too early. I won't be able to plant all of these varieties, but I'm studying and thinking about which I want to plant.  All should begin fruiting within two or three years.

Any time you're considering planting a fruit tree, it is important for you to know at what age that fruit, that variety begins blooming. Standard apple trees may take nine years before beginning to bear fruit.  They tend to be long-lived trees, fortunately.  Semi-dwarf and dwarf apple trees begin bearing in two or three years.

Don't look for abundance of fruit on your trees this year if you didn't do a lot of timely thinning last spring.  Trees as heavily laden with fruit as all were last year can either nurture fruit development or grow fruit buds for the following spring. They can't do both at once.  If we have another bountiful fruiting spring next year, thin all you can early to break the biennial fruiting cycle. 

One way to foil the early bloom-frost cycle is to plant fruit trees on the north side of your house. It will receive spring warmth more slowly, so will bloom later.  ##



There's been enough time between the end of the gardening season and now for you to have forgotten your soft-bodied enemies.  You could re-acquaint yourself if you'd get a greenhouse.

Aphids and whiteflies do appear out of nowhere, but you can keep them at bay with sticky yellow cards. I also do a lot of squeezing between thumb and forefinger as well as spraying with soap.

We bought a SunGlo lean-to greenhouse to commemorate our 30th wedding anniversary. I don't think they make the kind that has such large wavy corrugations anymore, but they do make thickly corrugated "skin" for greenhouses that has an advantage over the wavy kind -- it's smooth inside and outside. 

Greenhouses have come down in price and are more easily self-built than ever before.  There are small plastic-covered greenhouses you could use for seedlings, after setting them up on the patio. These lightweight greenhouses should be firmly anchored so they don't blow away. 

Charlie's Greenhouse & Garden has one that you can set up in less than an hour, and when the weather turns hot, fold it up into a large duffel bag.  There's a broad range of possibilities at .

Or Charleys also has connectors for 2X2 framing to build a wooden frame for a greenhouse. These connectors relieve the builder of having to cut angles other than 90°.  Covering this kind of greenhouse may be done with glass windows or fiberglass or poly cover or TwinWall polycarbonate.  Charleys carries those items and so does FarmTek Growers Supply ( ).  Farm Tek also carries structures of steel tubing, up to and including professional greenhouses. 

I have done business with Charleys greenhouse with no problems, have not done business with FarmTek.  You can check garden suppliers' reputations at

If you want to set up a cold frame, small or large greenhouse, you're going to have to deal with heating and cooling.  A small greenhouse may simply be heated by a 100 watt light bulb.  Too much heat will be your main problem, especially if the sun pokes through inversions.  You'll have to open vents or doors of greenhouses, and possibly set up  a fan to cool your plants.  One hot day in a closed cold frame can cook your plants.  Once cooked, they're gone. 

If you have or want a greenhouse, a valuable source of information is the hobby greenhouse list on Internet.  I think you can sign up by addressing LISTSERV@LISTSERV.LOUISVILLE.EDU , no subject, and in message portion type <Subscribe HGA-L> without the < and > .

Questions? e-mail me at the address below.  ##

NEW PLANTS TO ENTICE US                         Jan. 16, 2005

Sorry, I've just been lazy, so took an unannounced vacation here.

I started planting some seeds this morning, and I'm excited about a new gardening year.  I'll grow seedlings-to-be in the greenhouse until it's time to set them outside in my raised beds or containers. 

Seeds I planted this early are leeks, shallot seeds, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, artichokes and cardoon.  I also bought some sweet potatoes to set on the counter, waiting for them to sprout.

Some chiles take several days to germinate, so I usually plant them about this time too.  Capsicum chinense (Habaneros, fataliis, datil, squash, Scotch bonnet and rocotillo) are especially slow to germinate, even with pre-soak in saltpetre water and bottom heat.

One new variety of vegetable I'm especially excited about this year is a fingerling eggplant bred for growing in pots.  The name is Fairy Tale, and it's available from most seed companies since it's an All-America Selection, the first time since 1939 an eggplant has won that designation.  The eggplants droop over the edge of the container, and would be especially useful in curry dishes.

They wouldn't need to be peeled, but I'd at least cut them in half lengthwise for the flesh to soak up curry juices.  The skin wouldn't be penetrated by seasoned liquid.  The eggplant is said to be sweet and tender when small or double that size.  The plant only grows to 2 and 1/2 feet tall.

Perhaps in recognition of smaller and smaller yards that drive homeowners to plant in containers, another AAS winner is a compact Gaillardia, growing no more than one foot tall.  The variety name is "Arizona Sun." 

Another vegetable winning AAS designation is a winter squash called "Bonbon." It looks like a very large bonbon,  but the name apparently refers to the sweet flavor.  It's supposed to produce ripe fruit in 81 days from direct seeding, and has a semi-bush growing habit.  Again, that would be beneficial in small yards. 

A new cherry tomato, called "Sugary" was the other winning vegetable. It has a sugar content higher than most other tomatoes, and is crack resistant.  It's "semi-determinant" which means it will grow pretty large unless pruned back.  Pruning, of course, will reduce the supply of fruit. 

"First Kiss Blueberry" is "the first blue-flowered Catharanthus rosea (Vinca)" to win an award.  Breeders have been working to breed blue flowers in this plant for quite some time and AAS is convinced they've succeeded.  The color photo I've seen shows purple flowers.  There is a "botanical blue" that's really purple, but the fault may lie with the print. 

The other AAS winner this year is a double zinnia, "Magellan coral."  The blossoms are coral in color, and four to five inches across.    ##



Have you noticed the new seed catalogs are full of sunflower seeds?  Sunflowers that are yellow, orange, red, bicolored, teddy bear-like to flat, huge heavy seed heads brighten the pages.

They're very interesting plants.  I haven't grown them in the past few years, but when I did grow them, it was for the seeds to feed birds and squirrels.  Note the picture on my home page.  I really meant to feed the birds; the squirrels helped themselves.  They chewed through a hard plastic lid on a garbage can to get at the stored seeds. 

The heavy stalks came in handy as "pushers" to push spent plants through the mulcher-grinder without hurting the mechanism.

Sunflowers' cheerful blossoms brighten any dim spot. They're great as cut flowers (they're a hit at every Farmers' Market in the country), and fine for bird feeders where they grow.  Seed hulls from black oil sunflower heads are allelopathic (toxic) to many other plants, though. If part of your flower garden under bird feeders isn't doing well, maybe you should blame the seed hulls.

Sunflowers were one of the earliest crops to be cultivated by early man.  Evidence indicates sunflowers were  cultivated as early as 3000 B.C.E. (Before Common or Christian Era), and early Native Americans followed their usual practice of planting the largest seeds from each crop. Farmers all over the world who save their own seed do that.  Some claim the Native Americans increased the seed size 1,000 percent, although that would mean the seeds were mighty small to begin with to serve as a food crop.

Early European settlers didn't think much of sunflowers as a food crop because they were so labor-intensive.  Spanish explorers took seeds back to Europe, where they were grown as ornamentals or curiosities.  Allegedly Peter the Great of Russia saw sunflowers growing in the Netherlands, and took seeds back to Russia.

That was an especially fortuitous introduction in Russia because the Russian Orthodox church banned the consumption of most oils during Lent, but there was no ban on the oil of the new sunflowers. And the seeds are oily. Russian agronomists bred and cultivated sunflowers specifically for huge oil-rich heads.

Then, when Russian immigrants came to America they brought seeds for those giant heads with them, and sold them to American seed companies.  About  the same time the Havasupai Native Americans who lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon bred seed heads to approximately the same size as the Russians had  produced.

Botanically, the sunflower is a Helianthus, and is said to "track the sun."  It does turn, from east to west, following the sun, until buds turn to flowers. Flowers do not turn with the sun, perhaps an adaptive feature to keep the seeds from getting too hot.  Prior to blossoming or setting seed, the plant turns from east to west in total darkness.  Thus that's the plant's habit, not depend on the sun.

Although mature sunflower petals are not edible, the flower buds are edible when small.  Buds may be boiled or pickled, according to Native Seeds/SEARCH. William Woys Weaver, author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening and other garden-cook books, maintains sunflower buds can be cooked like globe artichokes and they have a "delightful, nutty flavor." 

Sunflowers have also been used medicinally, some kinds of sunflower used to dye fabrics and basket materials, and some parts used for flutes and some for yellow facial powder during certain ceremonies. 

Sunflower oil is widely available for cooking.  Sunflowers are not only cheerful, but extremely useful.  ##




My new, small Winter Honeysuckle is in bloom.  Just a few blossoms, but it's enough to impress me.  A common name for this Lonicera fragrantissima is "Breath of Spring" honeysuckle, and it's said to be so fragrant it will perfume a whole yard. 

Perhaps it will when it grows larger. Right now it's about two feet high, but mature growth will be about eight feet high and eight feet wide.  Some remarks indicate the shrub can be rangy, but judicious pruning can correct a lot of that. 

It doesn't suffer from insect invasions since few are out this time of year.  Considering its spread, I planted it too close to my deck, but pruning can correct that too, to an extent.

Lettuce and mache seedlings are hanging in there, a bright stripe of green against brown soil.  Leeks are still doing well, but some of my supposely hardy kale succumbed to freezing.  Red Russian kale was killed, black tuscan and Winterbor kales are still standing.  Kale is very nutritious, one leaf containing about the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk.

Government researchers have found that mass-produced vegetables are not as nutritious today as they were 40 years ago.  The difference lies in the extra nitrogen used to spur rapid growth.  Vegetables develop to harvest size before their nutritional components catch up. 

Worse yet, today's seeds are bred for that rapid growth, using fast-acting chemical fertilizers.  The world's biggest seed vendors are also the world's major chemical and pharmaceutical producers.  The message here is "grow your own."

Hope you had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah or pleasant Kwanzaa.  ##




Seed catalogs are arriving, giving me excuses to sit and dream.  The dreamed virtual garden has no weeds or malevolent insects.  I receive several free seed catalogs each year, and keep them in a vertical file, referring to them often.

The first thing I do is write the page number of the index or table of contents (some seed companies call index material a table of contents), because these catalogs are notorious for hiding such information.  Several include the index roughly in the middle of the catalog. 

With a piece of scrap paper, I sit and write down the items I'm especially interested in.  I may order a few of them or none.  You do have shipping costs to consider.  After I make my selection, I check to see if another seed company has that variety of seeds at a better price.  It's usually most helpful if I check to see if I already have that seed.  One of my major complaints about seed companies is that few of them date their seed packets.

Some seeds remain viable for a few years, others such as onion or any other allium seeds only remain viable for about a year. 

Some of my favorite seed catalogs, in no special order are Pinetree Garden Seeds ( ) with inexpensive but smaller seed packets; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( ) for large variety of squash, eggplants, tomatoes and melons especially; Evergreen Y.H. Enterprises for Oriental vegetable seeds ( ); Tomato Growers Supply Co. ( ) for a huge variety of tomatoes, chiles and eggplants; Nichols Garden Nursery ( ) for a large selection of herb seeds and common and uncommon vegetables;

Richters ( ) for herb seeds and plants, although remember this is a Canadian company so delivery may be slowed at the border; Parks Seeds ( ) for vegetables and flowers, especially sweet corn bred and raised in this valley; Territorial Seed Co. ( ) for vegetables and flowers, some especially bred for the Pacific Northwest; and a soft spot in my heart for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange  ( ) for unusual vegetables.  Be cautious with these varieties, though, since they're bred to grow in hot humid conditions, some very long season requirements. 

*** Some very good news appeared a couple of days ago on a list I subscribe to.  Abundant Life Foundation, dedicated to preserving our seed heritage, was badly damaged last year when vandals set fire to an adjacent building.  They lost a lot of rare seeds, but not all.  They're making a comeback, with the help of Territorial Seed Co.  I don't know whether they'll have a seed catalog this year, but I hope so.    ##


SQUASH OR GOURDS?                   Dec. 11, 2004

I recall sitting in a classroom a few years ago hearing a report that distinguished gourds from squash by edibility: squashes were edible, gourds were not.  The statement was not challenged, by me or anyone else.  Now I would challenge it.

Many gourds are edible, chief among them the Lagenaria longissima, or the war club.  Nichols Garden Nursery carries seeds for it, advising picking when "half ripe."  Can't go to ripe and back up, but since the gourd is supposed to grow to "two to three feet long," I'd guess 12 inches to 18 inches would be half ripe.  Nichols reports Italians familiar with this vegetable claim they can build a banquet around a Lagenaria.

Another widely-used gourd is the young Luffa gourd.  Both the angled and the smooth luffas are eaten when they're four to six inches long.  If you let them grow larger, they're useful for pot scrubbers or bathing aids after the rind is softened and pulled off, and seeds removed.  Recipes should be available in Oriental cookbooks.

The confusing edible gourd is one popularly called Tromboncino.  It resembles an English horn, being a long tube with a bell-like bulge at the end.  It must be eaten when still pale green, and preferably less than 18 inches long.  Botanically it's a gourd classed as a Cucurbita pepo.  It is helpful when seed companies call it a "Trombolina"  as John Scheepers Kitchen Garden seeds does, adding it's a "tromboncino" type. 

Confusion arises when "tromboncino" is added to the name,  Zucchino Rampicante (some seed companies add "tromboncino" ), a squash that is a squash, not a gourd.  Botanically this one is Cucurbita moschata, and popularly it's known as a climbing zucchini and pumpkin.  Complicating matters further, Territorial Seeds simply calls it "Tromboncino," and identifies it as a Cucurbita moschata.  The description sounds like it is the squash, not the gourd. 

This squash looks like a butternut squash whose neck has been stretched, up to almost three feet.  It's a wonderful squash, discovered by my friend Stella Schneider.  Since it's a climbing variety it could be grown in a small space. 

Immature fruits of this climbing zucchini may be used as summer squash, others may be left on the vine to mature to winter squash. The rind turns tan, the flesh orange. Italians use the sweet flesh for stuffing gnocchi and ravioli, non-Italians use it for pies and all other winter squash dishes.  It makes a wonderful winter squash with excellent keeping capabilities.  You may still be eating last year's squash when this year's climbing zucchini are ready to harvest.  Few winter squash keep this well.

Other gourds that are edible are small bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria), wax gourds and bitter gourds.  Those latter three and the luffa are primarily featured in Oriental dishes.  Seeds for these are available through Evergreen Y.H. Enterprises ( ) or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds  ( ) if you don't find them on local racks.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds also carries  seeds for Zucchino Rampicante, listed under summer squash. ##



Some fruits do very well in our climate, but we've got too many greedy squirrels to let you have any of your own apricots.  They gobble through the nearly-ripe fruit to get at the nut inside the pit, making a mess beneath the trees.  That's IF the tree sets fruit that escapes a killing spring frost. 

Other fruits are much more reliable, and not as attractive to squirrels.  This year we had the first good crop from a new Italian plum tree.  We previously had an Italian plum tree we had good fruit from for several years, but like other stone fruits in this area, it eventually succumbed to peach tree borers. 

The parent of these destructive insects is a clear-winged moth, steel blue with yellow or orange bands around the body. They lay eggs at the base of the tree in July, and when those hatch, they immediately bore through the bark and feed on the tree's inner bark, spending the rest of the summer and winter under the bark where sprays and systemic poisons are ineffective.  They exude a substance that looks like a large mass of raspberry jello at the base of the trees.  It doesn't take much soil removal to uncover this evidence of the culprits. 

These destructive insects are common in our area, and they shorten the lives of peach, plum, apricot, nectarine and cherry trees.  Until the day that their feeding completely girdles and kills the tree, you can obtain very satisfactory crops of fruit.  I think average life expectancy of stone fruit trees in this area is about 12 to 15 years.

You may not think Italian plums are anything special.  They are, after all, dried and then they're called prunes.  Prunes have a certain reputation that's well-deserved.  Don't eat more than four in one day or you'll regret it. 

But growing these plums at home allows you to pick them when they're tree-ripe and they are incredibly delicious eating out of hand.  We shared our crop with Stella Schneider who cut some into small pieces and froze them.  She uses them as blueberry substitutes in recipes, and says they work perfectly for that.  She also loved the whole plums for snacks. 

I'm sure squirrels and birds got into some of them, but we were able to harvest a good crop even so.  We almost always get a crop of plums, their blossoming and fruit-setting somehow eluding spring frosts.  Some small birds perch in the plum tree, nervously nipping off fruit blossoms and buds, but they don't seem to do any substantial damage. 

I've had very little insect damage to plum fruits themselves, although early spring usually sees a heavy aphid infestation on leaves.  When this happens, give them a blast of water from the hose.  You won't remove all of them, but you also won't be killing beneficial insects that will finish the job for you.  

Some of the best things about Italian plum trees are 1) it's self-fertile so doesn't need a pollenizer, and 2) it's a fairly small tree.  Mature height is usually about 12 feet. It bears fruit two or three years after transplanting. Judicious pruning can keep it even lower.  It tends to be a narrow tree, so doesn't take up much space.

It needs at least a half day of direct sun, full sun is better.  Soil must be well-drained and moderately fertile.  Plums ripen in late August or early September after March blossoming.  These trees are usually hardy to about minus 30° F.

*** Peach and nectarine trees are also fairly small, about 12 feet high, and almost as trouble free as plum trees.  They are subject to the peach tree borer damage as well as some canker diseases.  Peach Leaf curl may damage a crop if spring conditions are favorable for this disease.  As for insects, the only real insect problems I had with peaches and nectarines were earwigs that like to climb in at the stem end, and startle you when you cut the fruit open.  ##



You don't usually think of transplanting in the dead of winter, but you can do it with some types of plants.  Herbaceous plants may expire of shock at being thrust into cold or frozen soil, but trees will take it.  If you buy a living Christmas tree that you plan on planting in your yard after Christmas, winter is a good time for transplanting that.

Linda, a friend in northern Ohio (USDA zone 5) heard of a distant neighbor who wanted to cut down 11 trees on his property one January. She wanted the trees, so hired a tree spade business.  The tree spade took wedges from her yard, trucked them to the neighbor's and spaded up two maples, one blue spruce and eight white pines, three to six inch caliper, and replaced the holes with the divots from her place. 

They moved the newly dug trees to Linda's, and dropped them into the holes.  Linda and her husband filled in uneven spaces around the roots with sand mix, and mulched the soil suture line. Spring rains awakened the trees, and they resumed growth as if nothing had happened.  There were no losses.

If you're planning on planting out your living Christmas tree, I'd suggest digging a hole before the ground freezes, and fill the hole with leaves or a bag of leaves.  Be careful to adapt your tree to warm temperatures gradually, a few days in the garage and a good soak of water before moving it into the warm dry house.  Don't keep it indoors for more than ten days, watering it every few days.  Fewer days is a better plan, then re-adjust the tree to colder temperatures gradually, the opposite of how you brought it indoors. 

If the tree is going to sit in standing water in the hole you've prepared for it, don't put the water there.  The tree can probably withstand a little drought easier than wet feet.

Transplanting during summertime is another story.  Perfect transplanting weather is a grey drizzling day.  We don't have many of those, but those that occur in late spring are perfect for setting out transplants in the garden.  Buy a yellow slicker for garden wear on those days.

My scooter unfortunately is not rain or moisture-proof, so I can't go out on those days.  If you can set out your plants under those conditions, though, you don't have to worry about hardening off your plants (gradually acclimatizing them) before setting them out.

If you transplant during hot dry weather, I usually like to plant in late afternoon, watering generously, and shade the plant for the first day or two.  After that, if you can shade it when it droops or just shade from the hot noon sun, keeping it well watered (but not drowned), your transplant should go smoothly.  ##



WINTER GARDENING                                    Nov. 21, 2004

Winter gardening is different from summer gardening, but it does exist.  Some folks plant hardy lettuces, spinach and chard to winter over, and most winters they survive and thrive, yielding very early nutritious greens. 

One of the hardiest greens is corn salad, or mache. Corn salad can be mighty discouraging the first time you grow it.  Leaves of even the "large-leafed" varieties are only about the size of a half dollar coin, so that portends intensive labor in the kitchen, washing the leaves for salads.  It's a lot easier to deal with if you cut off the whole plant just above soil line, and use the that in your salads.

The ideal size is a rosette of six leaves that fit in your mouth in one bite.  This was one of the greens that constituted Alice Waters's great salads in her famed restaurant, Chez Panisse, salads that changed salad making in America. 

Ideally they should have been planted a lot earlier than I did plant seeds for this, but I'm eager to see if they'll struggle through this cold weather.  Seeds had barely germinated before it turned cold.

*** Have you ever heard of Walcherin cauliflower?  The Netherlands enjoys a milder winter than we usually have, and some plant breeders there bred some cauliflowers that would grow over the winter, yielding very early cauliflower. 

Seeds for these cauliflowers are hard to find now, but seed companies such as Territorial ( ) stock cauliflower seeds that grow over the winter.  Perhaps our weather is too cold to overwinter cauliflower.  We are, after all, colder than the coastal region.  But if you have a well-sheltered area in which to grow, try one of these cauliflowers that take 200 to 270 days to mature.

They should be started in early July indoors since outdoor temperatures at that time are usually too warm for cauliflower seed to germinate.  Set them out in rich, humusy soil covering about 1/2 cup of complete organic fertilizer when there are at least two true leaves.  Do not fertilize them until spring growth begins, then fertilize heavily until harvest in March or early April. 

I never plant so that plant roots or seeds will directly touch any fertilizer.  Roots may grow into a pocket of organic fertilizer without harm, however.

*** The Northwest Flower and Garden Show will be held February 9 through 13, 2005.  Theme apparently is "Spring."  Some folks visit that show for a sneak preview of spring, and to see new plants, new landscaping ideas, and other garden innovations.  It is sponsored by Sunset magazine, and the emphasis is on maritime gardening, not inland Northwest.  ##


THIS AND THAT                                            Nov. 13, 2004

Each year I find I'm having more and more of a struggle with SAD, Seasonal Affect Disorder.  It's far worse than spring fever in killing my energy.  Hope you folks are doing better than I.  I started posting essays on Internet a little over a year ago, and don't know how I had the energy then. 

In addition to shortened daylight hours, another annoying thing about fall is that in raking leaves out of flower beds, we often rake out ID tags along with the leaves.  Some people bury the ID tags next to the plants, but whenever you want to identify them you'd have to dig up the tag. 

One of the best ways to keep track of what is planted where is a map of each bed, showing this is planted south of that, etc.  You could do that with the buried labels, too, only resorting to digging them up if there's a question.  Some folks also keep photos of their beds showing placement of plants. Squirrels and large birds are notorious for picking out plant tags and dropping them someplace else.

Nov. 16, hoping computer problems are cured.  A weekly nursery managers' newsletter reports our state is making specific plans to prohibit importation of any more invasive species.  The state agriculture department hopes to name an invasive species coordinator by the end of 2005 and to have a new invasive species law by the following year. 

Nurseries west of us are on the alert because proposed laws would also affect nursery shipments through Idaho, according to the newsletter, "and that could have a dramatic effect on the industry."

It's too bad that such laws were in place before Russian thistle, knapweed, cheatgrass and field bindweed took hold, but better late than never. Terrible insects are in the U.S. (not here, thank heavens), and agriculture officials are working hard to quarantine and destroy them.  One of the worst is an Asian long-horned beetle that is huge, and destroys trees.  It has preferences, but it will go after almost any tree there is. 

We don't need those or snakehead fish or kudzu.  Shudder. 

*** If you grew sweet potatoes, watch them closely.  Few of us have storage conditions that will keep them for long periods of time.  They need humidity and high temperatures.  Humid conditions are hard to come by at my house. Sweet potatoes will just dry out, the yellow-fleshed ones faster than the orange-fleshed, apparently.  ##

IS THIS THE LARGEST HERB?                        Nov. 8, 2004

Do you know the Linden tree?  Did you know it's classed as an herb?  The genus name is Tilia, common name is Lime tree, and yes, it is an herb. 

Its flowers are dried and used as a tea in Europe, but dried flowers can't be kept for long periods of time.  Old flowers used in teas produce intoxication.

The wood is lightweight, fine-grained and not invaded by worms as a rule, so the wood is used for piano sounding boards and for fine carvings and furniture veneers.  Sap drawn off in spring may be used to make sugar, and the leaves exude a sweet matter of the same composition as the manna of  Mount Sinai, according to Mrs. Grieve's "Modern Herbal."  "Cornucopia, A Source Book of Edible Plants" reports a ground paste of the fruits and flowers of Tilia americana resembles chocolate in flavor and texture.

Young leaves may be used in salads or chewed alone (make sure the tree hasn't been sprayed with a pesticide). 

Linden trees are very hardy, down to USDA zone 2 (to 50° below zero F).  Linden trees are used in many parking lot plantings around Boise, and most of those could benefit from substantial limb removal.  There are far too many limbs too close together on the trunks. I do appreciate those businesses that have grown those mandatory parking lot trees to a height where they cast welcome shade over shoppers' cars, though.  Albertsons stores seem to neglect their parking lot trees, and they don't seem to grow enough to cast shade. 

The most beautifully-shaped deciduous tree I ever saw was a Linden tree in Lyons, Colorado.  I don't know whether the owner had pruned it or not.  The tree naturally tries to grow to a certain shape that most of us consider beautiful. That tree was small for a Linden, about 25 feet tall.  They can grow to 100 or more feet in height.

Because of size, Michael Dirr, author of "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants," advises against home plantings of Lindens.  Another factor that should limit home use is folks who are allergic to the pollen.  Linden trees have "perfect" flowers, that are self-pollinating.  Pollen doesn't have to blow about copiously, but it does. 

*** Seed catalogs are beginning to come in.  I use a Sharpie pen to write the page number of the index on the cover of each catalog since seed companies put them wherever they like.  I also like to start preparing lists of what I'd like to grow then go see if I can buy it locally.  If not, then I look for the best seed source.  ##


In early spring, 1993, Lindarose Curtis-Bruce planted seeds for Vitex shrubs (Vitex negundo heterophylla).  She sold seedlings through her new nursery, Sunrose Nursery (now closed), specializing in medicinal herbs.

I bought and planted one of the seedlings on the south side of my house.  These shrubs are hardy to zone 6, and mine has not been through one of our zone 4 winters where the temperatures drop below minus 20° F.  Zone 6 means it's hardy only to minus 10°.  Its sheltered location and the sun's reflection back from our dark red house protect it further. 

The shrub is now roof high, about 13 to 14 feet. That's its expected height for life.  Although it's a little late to leaf out, it makes up for lost time by blossoming from midsummer until frost.  It sends up panicles of tiny blue flowers that attract bees and beneficial wasps in unending lines.  It's called one of the best "honey" plants by Richters, the Herb Specialists.

Once beneficial insects are fed there, it's a short trip to the garden where they can lay eggs in larval hosts (that is, parasitize them), or vary their diets by eating problem insects such as aphids. My shrub is open, airy, and a bit leggy.  When it's dormant, we'll nip off the tops of the branches to encourage filling in lower on the shrub. 

As if attracting and feeding beneficials weren't enough, this shrub is ranked as a medicinal herb, used for headache, dizziness, coughs and mental unrest.

It has no insect or disease problems to speak of. An easy shrub to love. 

There is another Vitex shrub, the Vitex agnus-castus.  It's hardy only to zone 7 (that is, to 0°).  It's also a medicinal herb, regulating menstruation and ovulation.  Some say it subdues the sexual urge, hence the common name "Chaste tree." Other sources, however, say it has the opposite effect. 

***Most of my garden beds have been cleaned off and covered with a new coat of compost for the winter.  Other beds look Autumn bedraggled (I've seen designers' clothes that look like they ought to be called that but they never are), but my Calendulas are as bright, perky and vigorous now as they are in March.

Calendulas, or Calendula officinalis, were appropriately named after the calends or the first day of every month by the Romans.  It takes severe cold to quash their blooming propensity.  It's also known as the pot marigold. 

It's a medicinal herb, much used by people even today to soothe rashes, bee stings and cuts, bruises, etc.  According to the Rodale Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, one can crush fresh flowers and mix them with olive oil for an easy ointment.  I wouldn't try that with an open sore, however. 

Calendulas have many medicinal uses including acting as a general tonic, inducing sweating, help with fever, flu, and even syphilis.  They are also edible.

When they go to seed, the neat rays of the blossom give way to a snarl of seeds that look like the cartoon Bill the Cat.  Seeds are said to look like little boats, but to my eye they look like dried worms.  However, they're easy to germinate and they germinate fast enough even for a kindergartener.  The last time I germinated calendulas on purpose, it took three days.

They do re-seed in the garden, but I've never found their appearance so rife it was objectionable.  And they'll certainly brighten a dreary day like today. ##



OUT OF YOUR GOURD? MAKE IT LAST                 Oct. 25, 2004 (I'm late)

Did you grow gourds this year?  Some are ornamental only, others are ornamental and useful.  Those that are used for various purposes from holding or dipping water to musical instruments, birdhouses, rattles, sponges, or even for human food, are the Lagenaria, with white blossoms. 

Those with yellow blossoms are Cucurbitaceae, the same family as pumpkins and squashes.  The Old World knew the Cucurbit gourds, but the pumpkins and squash part of the family had to wait for the discovery of America, where they were native.  Nearly 2500 years B.C., Cucurbitaceae gourds were used extensively for eating utensils.

All gourds are frost-tender, so I hope you've already harvested your gourds for this year.  I've grown bushel and birdhouse gourds as well as the Tromboncino and Hercules War Club types of edible gourds.  A neighbor grew ornamental gourds and had a wonderful variety of fruits filling his garage before our late frost.  He shared some with us.

Ornamental gourds are usually only good for one year. Deterioration starts in a few months after harvest.  One gourd reference says they may be kept longer by briefly dipping them in boiling water, then put into a solution of one cup of 20 Mule Team Borax dissolved in three cups of hot water for 15 minutes.  Then they're dried in a wire basket.  When they're thoroughly dry, they may be washed, dried and polished with paste wax. They may then last two years or a little more.

Gourds such as the bushel gourds, dippers, birdhouse gourds are usually set aside for the soft outer skin to mold.  Once that has happened, and it may take several months, you take a choregirl and water, and scrape that outer skin off.  Then the hard gourd may be decorated or left with the natural mold stain. Some sources say you can leave them outdoors to freeze and thaw, but I tried that with some and had collapsed mush.  Those beautiful gourds that look like Indian pots at Art-in-the-Park are left to mold then cleaned and lightly sanded before they're painted and waxed. 

Those pot-like gourds seem to be thicker than those I've grown.  That difference in thickness may be a difference in climate. 

Gourds made into musical instruments are most commonly used as rattles or drums, but they may be scored so a stick drawn across the scores makes an interesting scratching sound, or gourds may serve as a sounding box for a thumb piano, marimba or even a lute.  They're very versatile, and these Lagenaria may be very long-lasting.

Luffas should be left on the vine until they are ripe or the vines are killed by frost.  Then put them to soak in tubs of water, weighing them down if necessary, until the outer covering and pith soften.  Then peel the skin off the sponge, and remove the seeds.  Some people shake them as if shaking a thermometer to remove seeds, others bang them on the corners of buildings. 

Growing gourds is not difficult in our climate.  They want full sun, something to climb upon,  good drainage, and something to climb upon.  They don't require a lot of fertilizer, and too much nitrogen will produce foliage and few fruits. When vines are about ten feet long, nip off the end of the vine.  The main vine at that time will have mainly male flowers. Once the end is pruned off, that will produce branching along the vine, on which female flowers (and fruit) will form.  I once grew birdhouse gourds over an arbor we had built for kiwi fruit, and it was a happy decision.  Gourds hung here and there in quite a decorative fashion.  ##




WINTER GARDENING ON INTERNET            Oct. 1, 2004

Enjoy the warm weather while you can, but when sleety winds blow, stay inside and do virtual gardening on Internet.  Watch your step though, or you'll invite an avalanche of spam.

Don't go to the Usenet forums.  Anyone can post anything there, from good advice to pornography.  Spam or junk e-mailers harvest addresses from those lists like most of us rake leaves.  One friend who participates in three Usenet forums regularly has hundreds of spam mails each day, and he hasn't figured out where they're coming from.  I receive three or four, plus the important personal mail that my e-mail program thinks is spam and sets aside.

There are two excellent places to browse instead: Suite 101 at features many forums conducted by knowledgeable gardeners.  In a different format, garden web ( ) has even more forums available.  In those forums, information essentially comes from individuals, so read it with a critical eye.  If someone else comes along and says that doesn't work, pay attention to that too. 

As in real life, it doesn't take long for you to figure out who is knowledgeable and who is not. 

One of the most useful tools at your disposal is a good search engine and some knowledge of how to use it.  Suppose you have small round yellow spots on your ripe tomatoes.  Is it a disease? You could go to a search engine such as Google or Yahoo or Alta Vista, and in the empty box, type tomato-fruit+diseases.  The hyphen between tomato and fruit sort of ensures you'll get fruit diseases instead of foliage diseases.  But even the best search engines go awry from time to time.  And by adding "+diseases" sort of ensures you won't get comparisons of yield or appearance. 

If you find nothing there, consider it's insect damage (it is).  Go back to your search engine and type  tomato-fruit+insects.  You will still have to investigate several sites before you find one that exactly fits your problem, and you learn it's stink bug bites. Rephrasing the query often helps substantially.

 Another way you can tell the search engine what you want is by using quotation marks around your query.  Thus "insect fruit insects" should get the same results as tomato-fruit+insects.  You can't use both limiting punctuation  sets at once, however.  More coming when I come in from my garden.

Part II.  I don't like the last-minute scurrying to protect things from freezing, so I've been gradually closing down the garden.  A nagging thought keeps popping up, "maybe it won't freeze and snow this winter."  Well, it will.  Our weather is so beautiful now, it's hard to imagine it turning cold. 

Yesterday there was a large brown preying mantis on the door jamb.  She had a rounded abdomen, so I presume was looking for someplace to lay her egg case.  My Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry) bushes are beginning to turn red, and they'll be spectacular, with deep red burnished leaves.  I see my Mahonia has self-seeded .  I wish I could transplant those tiny shrubs, but I know from experience they're extremely touchy about being transplanted.

I learn something new every year. One that should have been obvious was that you should not grow a squash you're not familiar with amid other squashes.  I grew one squash because its name is the maiden name of a friend.  I also grew spaghetti squash and Zucchino rampicante (climbing zucchini).  Their shapes are quite different.  The other fruit that appeared looks like a Butternut squash.  I thought it was an immature Zucchino rampicante, but perhaps it's the unknown squash.  Oops. 

If you want to bake a pumpkin pie, don't use a pumpkin, but use a squash instead. Pumpkin pie bakers swear that a "pumpkin" pie made of butternut squash is far better-tasting than a pumpkin pie, even if it is a good variety for pies.  Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good for pie baking. ##



BULB SNATCHERS BEWARE                     Sept. 24, 2004

Spring flowering bulbs have appeared on store shelves already, and we're in 80+ degree weather.  Select what you'll plant, but wait until the soil cools off before you plant.  Planting bulbs when the soil is at 60° is ideal. The problem is, if you don't buy bulbs early, the desirable ones are gone by the time you get around to selecting yours. 

Many of us are afflicted with creatures that eat our bulbs.  Gophers and voles love tulip bulbs.  No mammals dine on daffodil bulbs, since they're toxic.  There are ways to foil bulb snatchers, however. 

One way is to make baskets of hardware cloth with 1/2 inch spaces.  You could use wire cutters to cut into corners and bend down sides, wiring sides together into a box.  Plant bulbs inside, hoping voles won't enter from above. 

Some folks use wire hanging baskets, but be sure the holes in the basket aren't large enough to let a vole in. 

Another product that's supposed to be effective against voles is called VoleBloc.  It's made of expanded slate, and critters supposedly won't chew their way through it.  As of right now, I don't know of a local source for it.  You could try putting a lot of gravel in the planting hole, and that might work too.

Folks planting small bulbs, especially valuable small bulbs, plant them inside berry baskets.  When the bulbs multiply, they'll remain inside the berry baskets. 

Rock garden enthusiasts are most likely to be planting in that manner, although collectors of miniature daffodils may use that technique as well.  I've become quite interested in the miniature daffodils, and the micro-miniature daffodils, tiny plants that look like a mature blooming daffodil but stand less than three inches tall.

Several bulb companies sell bulbs for miniature daffodils that stand about 6 inches tall (unless in special soil that causes them to grow larger), but I don't know of a U.S. source for the micro-miniature daffodils.  New Zealand and Australian growers seem to be at the forefront of the miniature daffodil development.  A large show of miniature daffodils closed a few days ago in Melbourne, Australia. 

Of the spring-flowering bulbs, some of my favorites are the species tulips.  They're probably not suitable for cut flowers (but who knows, considering the creativity of some of the flower arrangers in our area). One reason I like them is that they naturalize easily in our climate and spread.  Some of the fancy tulips die out after a year or two, but tulips such as the Darwin tulips return as reliably as Canada geese.

BRING THEM IN OR LET THEM DIE?            Sept. 17, 2004

It never fails, some plant in the garden puts on a showy spurt of growth in September, and when frost threatens, we're not sure what to do with that now beautiful or productive plant. 

You can bring in many plants, including chile plants.  Chiles and tomatoes are really perennials that we grow as annuals.  When you dig such a plant, it's impossible to get all of the hairlike roots, so cut back on the foliage to compensate for the loss of roots.  The toughest part is clearing your plant of insects.  Clear them all out. A single aphid can pump out babies faster than you can say "don't."  They're parthenocarpic, not needing fertilization to make babies.

Gradually acclimate your plant to warmer, drier, indoors.  It's the reverse of the spring hardening off.  Indoors, you'll have to watch out for spider mites, too, for they proliferate in warm dry conditions.   You'll usually first notice tiny spider webs forming a triangle between the plant's trunk and a branch.  Put a white sheet of paper under the plant and tap on it. Spider mites will fall onto the paper, where they definitely are visible. 

Many plants go into shock and defoliate after that change in environment.  Continue watering, but give them less water than usual, until they develop a new set of leaves.  Some plants require a humid atmosphere.  You can spray with a mist setting once or a few times per day and/or set the pot on gravel in a large saucer with abundant water.  The pot should sit up above the water, not down in it where roots are in danger of being rotted. 

If you grow any vegetables, plant out spinach now.  I'm planting spinach, mache and lettuce this fall.  I grew shallots from seed, and will probably plant some shallot cloves this fall too.  Shallots seem to grow better over winter than over summer, like garlic.  I planted onions one fall, but by spring they decided it was their second year, so they all went to seed.  Shallots and garlic can be saved, but not onions.  The seed stalk arises at the roots of the onion bulb, and its tough woody self rises right through the onion bulb. 

I've been savoring the aroma of roasting chiles on my grill this beautiful afternoon.  I've got to peel them for dinner with friends this evening.  More tomorrow. 

I know, I ate too many chiles rellenos for dinner and didn't get back to this.  I had a wonderful crop of mild chiles this year, principally because I fertilized differently.  I strewed kelp meal lightly over the bed, then after the seedlings had been in the ground about two weeks, I gave each plant about a cupful of a homemade fertilizer mix: half alfalfa meal and half corn gluten meal.  Plants sat there as if dazed for about a week, then began growing, flowering, and setting fruit.  Leaves were a nice dark green color, too. 

You can get all of these ingredients at Zamzows -- kelp meal, alfalfa meal and corn gluten meal.  They have many very useful bulk products for gardeners, but the last I looked they didn't have them listed on their website, darn 'em.  They carry stuff like chicken grit too, that may be useful to gardeners IF it doesn't contain salt.  Some chicken grit does contain salt and/or other ingredients for the birds' health that would not be good for your garden or seedlings if you're using grit to top off your seedling containers.

Watch out for frost this time of year.  They're predicting some nights at 34°.  That's 34 measured 5 feet off the ground.  Since cold falls, it will be colder at ground level, as much as 6°.  In my experience, if you live in the city, surrounded by large trees and warm dwellings you don't have much to worry about until temperatures drop further.  If your property or garden is exposed, with vacant property adjacent, for instance, cover tender plants. 

I picked all of my mild chiles over the past few days, and covered the hot ones. The nice thing about Reemay, Harvest Guard or any of these pressed agricultural fleeces is that they admit sunshine and water, so it doesn't hurt to leave the covers on for a few days.  That's a lot easier than putting them on, taking them off and putting them on, day after day until we get into Indian summer.  ###

AUTUMN DRAWS NEAR                        Sept. 10, 2004

Mother Nature's plants begin winding down with the shorter days, and insects and spiders seek cover or somewhere to lay their eggs.  The very large black and gold banded spiders, yellow argiopes, have their intricate webs set up in the garden.  Watch where you put your hands when you pick tomatoes or other produce.  They're blind, but could bite (they don't usually). 

This is the time of year we often find 3-inch preying mantises inside the house.  I've found the best way to handle them is to gently push a stiff thin cardboard in front of them until they step onto it, then carry it outside.  They can bite too, and that head swivels.  They're also laying their eggs wrapped in a foam-like case at this time of year.  That egg laying sounds like someone's spraying the last of an aerosol can.  The foam mixed with eggs emerges as froth, and quickly hardens. 

How do they get into the house?  I think they ride in on the dog or me or my husband or my scooter.  I'm pretty sure spiders do ride in on the dog. 

We have native preying mantises, whose egg cases resemble long triangular tents.  The Chinese preying mantises whose egg cases are sold by garden stores are somewhat larger, growing to 3 to 4 inches in length.  Their egg cases are blobs, and may be laid on solid surfaces or twigs. 

Watch when you're shutting your garden down that you don't discard egg cases attached to old asparagus stalks or weed stalks.  There may be one or two or 50 eggs in that case.  Rather than try to pry off the egg case, cut the stalk above and below the case.  You can then either tie it to a shrub at about the same height as you found it or put it in the refrigerator where it will remain dry.  Do not forget it in the spring. 

Watch out for mice trying to find a warm place for the winter.  My terrier is an excellent mouser, but he's afraid of falling things like ironing boards.  As a result we set traps indoors that he can't get into.  Garden centers do have traps like a long black box that mice can get into but dog paws cannot.  Kitten paws might be able to reach in far enough to get hurt, but I don't think there'd be anything enticing them to try it. 

This is the time of year for a creature called Harvestman or Harvester to appear.  Most of us knew them as Daddy Longlegs spiders, but strictly speaking they're not spiders.  They feed on other insects, each other, and other tiny creatures.  They're called Harvesters or Harvestmen because we usually don't notice them until harvest time.  Some live outdoors, looking for shelter when weather turns harsh.  Several may overnight in a knothole, with legs entwined for warmth.  Or perhaps to make sure the neighbor isn't hungrily hunting. These have round bodies.

A more oval-bodied kind does come indoors, and we usually find those in the bathrooms where they hang from nearly invisible webs in the corners.  They favor bathrooms because it's a handy place to take a drink and a great spot for hunting other household dwellers looking for water.  Neither do any damage in the garden.

*** In the vegetable garden, leave your sweet potatoes in the ground as long as possible because the yield of the tubers doubles every two weeks from Sept. 1 to the 30th.  Bear in mind, though, they're very sensitive to frost. 

For those new to southwestern Idaho, we often experience a night or a few of frost, then two weeks or more of glorious sunny warm weather or Indian summer.  So when frost threatens, cover your frost-sensitive plants because we'll probably have a few more weeks of ripening.

*** If you find any crows, ravens, magpies, jays, owls, eagles or hawks that are dead and have no visible signs of decay, put on your gloves and double bag the carcass in plastic garbage bags and take it to the zoo.  Tell the zoo staff your name, phone number and the location where the bird was found.  Zoo Boise veterinarian Dr. Debbie Wiggins will test for signs of West Nile Virus.  She can't test if there are obvious signs of decay, and they will not accept birds from anonymous finders.  Gloves are for your own protection.  ##

YEOW!!  WHAT'S THAT?                        Sept. 3, 2004

Okay, you're pruning your roses and run into something that looks like a sea urchin on your rose bush.  Ewwww.  Disease?  No, it isn't.  It's a type of gall called a bedeguar that a Diplolepis rosae wasp creates in which to lay its eggs and raise its larvae. 

In fact this gall begins its weird growth when the wasp lays its eggs in the rose stem.  It can grow to about two and a half inches across, with innumerable threadlike appendages in four to eight weeks after the eggs have been laid.  Perhaps it's its bold appearance that attracts other critters.  There can be as many as 25 other critters inhabiting the cluster by the time the larvae should emerge.  But they may have been slain in their own home.

Parasitic wasps also lay eggs in that gall, and their larvae may kill the Diplolepis rosae larvae before they hatch.  They often do.  The parent Diplolepis rosae wasps are usually female (males are rare, and the wasps are parthenocarpic, or produce young witihout fertilization).  These wasps are tiny with a black head and thorax, and orange abdomen and legs. 

These galls are common on wild roses, but not as common on cultivated roses.  Cultivated roses subjected to water stress may become the site of these galls. 

The galls are light green in summer, turning to red in fall.  Its popular name is Robin's Pincushion.  Anju Lucas, of Edwards Greenhouses told me about these galls just as the Statesman finished running my last columns.  It was in the back of my mind, but I didn't realize I had failed to write about  them until a friend in Massachusetts ran across one in a botanical garden.

The main damage is esthetic damage; if they bother you, prune the canes bearing them.  Keep in mind, however, it's also home to very beneficial critters too. 

*** Winter squash is ripe when the stem looks woody and you can't puncture the skin with a thumbnail.  Don't worry, if it's not ripe and you slice into it with your thumbnail, it will heal over.  If you can, leave your winter squash on the vine until frost threatens.  Then leave two or three inches of stem attached to the squash, and handle it carefully to avoid bruising it.  Never carry squash or pumpkins by the stem.  When that breaks off, the squash or pumpkin won't keep well.

Above all, don't believe that doggerel, the "frost is on the punkin." Frost causes a watery spot on the outside of squash or pumpkin that will soon turn to rot.

After harvest, store them in a warm room for a few weeks, preferably not touching each other so they have good air circulation. 

If you want to bake a great pumpkin pie, don't use pumpkin, use a squash such as a butternut squash.  They're all in the family, and the squash makes a better pie, believe it or not. 

Some cantaloupes easily dislodge from the vine when they're ripe.  "Half-slip" is the perfect time to pick one.  At "full-slip," the melon may be overripe.  Another way to tell is by aroma or by pushing on the blossom end.  If there's some "give," they should be ripe.  Soil inhabitants sometimes start eating at the belly of melons.  You can slide a shingle under a melon, or gently raise it, and push an empty can into the soil, open side down, then set the melon on the can bottom, nearly flush with the soil.

Netting should be all around the melon, and ripe ones are usually mostly yellow under the netting. 

Watermelons thunk mellowly when they're ripe.  Some folks look at the tendril nearest the watermelon attachment, and if it's brown and dried, and the belly of the watermelon is yellow, it should be ripe. 



Folks new to the West often get excited about the prospect of Xeriscaping, but yawn when you talk about low water use.  Xeriscaping and low water use mean the same thing.  Xeriscaping is a term coined by and trademarked by the Denver Water Board to mean landscaping with plants that have low water requirements. 

Those people who pronounce the word "zeroscaping" sound like they're talking about no plants at all or only cacti. It's properly pronounced "Zer-i-scaping". 

Patios of pavers, concrete or decks are referred-to as "hardscapes."  A yard primarily filled with hardscaping is indeed a low water use yard, but it may not enhance living comfort.  Unless there's a band of green plants at least 15 feet wide around your house, the summer temperatures will be much hotter than they would be with the plants in place.  A wider strip would be better if your house is two or more stories tall. 

Shrubs, trees or flowering or foliage plants may give you that greenery that will hold your air conditioning bill down, but if you're concentrating on low water use, you'll have to carefully select plantings.  Lawns are easy, but most of those are water hogs.  If you do want lawn, look for a drought-tolerant grass variety.  This is available from turf farms in this area as sod or seed. 

There are many plants that require little water and would help to cool your residence in summer. Cactus is even one of them.  Some cacti are native to this area, and in Xeriscaping, it's hard to go wrong with native plants. You must pay attention to the type of location a native plant thrives in, then duplicate that in your own yard.

If the plant has excellent drainage in its native condition, give it a site that has excellent drainage when planting out in your yard.

Let's start with cactus.  You can start plants from seeds, cuttings, offsets or suckers, or buying plants already grown.  Under the right circumstances, some cactus can be long-lived, so you'd be safest in planting cacti that are hardy to USDA zone 4.  

Generally cacti produce large numbers of seeds, because there is a high mortality rate.  So if you want to sow cactus from seed, sow many seeds in sand, don't cover very deeply, and cover the pot or box with plastic to hold moisture.  This will speed up germination, but also it's a ripe atmosphere for plant disease too.  When the seeds germinate, remove plastic and give the pot or box good air circulation.  Use a fan, if necessary. 

Cactus seedlings are very fragile, with a feeble root system, so be very careful when you transplant them. 

Opuntia, or prickly pear cactus, is native to this area.  Flat spiny pads grow in a series, to a height of about 12 inches, and blossom beautiful yellow to orange, sometimes magenta, flowers in late spring.  They produce seedy fruits that make fine jelly, but the plants are a nuisance to ranchers.  A cow sometimes grazes too close, and a pad sticks in her nose, breaking off from the mother plant. 

These cacti are easily propagated from leaves or pads.  Break off a pad, let it lie in open air until a hard callus has formed over the cut or broken wound, then stand on that end shallowly in well-drained soil.  Don't water for a few weeks.

 Too much water is an enemy of cactus. Some growers of rare cacti construct tents to shield their plants from snow and too much winter water.

***It's going to be a while before pears and plums are ripe.  I squeeze plums, and when they begin to "give," they're ripe.  Bartlett pears must be picked green, and allowed to ripen off the tree.  Pick them when they come off easily.  ##



HARVEST THE GOOD THINGS                    Aug. 20, 2004

Fall is a wonderful time in the Treasure Valley, with daylilies, chrysanthemums, asters and sunflowers splashing color onto tired green flower beds, and kitchen counters overflowing with squashes, cabbages, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans and fruit of many sizes and types. 

This is THE best time to visit farmers' markets and fruit and vegetable stands around the valley.  If you have more from the vegetable garden than you can use, take it to the Idaho Foodbank, 3562 S. TK Ave. (just off Federal Way, between JoAnn's Fabrics and the TK lounge).  They can distribute to organizations that feed the hungry. 

Most of the seed companies have been bought by ten international seed-pharmaceutical companies, so prices have gone up as competition has decreased.  It really does pay to save your own seeds to grow a special vegetable or flower.  For flowers whose seeds are not yet quite ripe, tie a panty hose foot over the seed head.  That will allow air in, and the seeds to mature and ripen.  Presence of the pantyhose will alert you to the presence of harvestable seeds when they are ready.

One of the most interesting means of propagation of daylilies is by proliferation.  That's the correct technical term for those tiny plants that pop out from the leafless flower stems or scapes of daylilies.  Cut them off about an inch above and an inch below, put them in potting soil in a protected location, and they'll grow into new plants.  They'll be more like their parent than seeds from that parent will be. 

While you're harvesting, beware of harvesting trouble.  This is the time of year the yellowjackets are cranky and eating for themselves, in search of meat and sweets. Western yellowjackets are Vespica pennsylvanica, and nest below the surface of the soil or behind walls, where they build paper nests. By now their larvae are grown, so the population is numerous. Take care in moving a chopping block, a large log or stone.  They often take over abandoned rodent nests, and they're very aggressive about defending their nests.

It's quite a shock to drive a stake in the ground or mow the lawn and find yourself the unwitting target of a horde of angry yellowjackets.  They can sting repeatedly, and their stings hurt.  If you're eating outdoors, watch out for yellowjackets getting into soft drink or beer cans or into your food.  A persistent yellowjacket who kept climbing into my taco at the Western Idaho Fair years ago received the whole taco, while I went in search of alternative food.   But come cold weather, and all except the queen die off.  They do not re-use the same nest again. 

Some people claim that if you know the location of the hole in the ground that leads to their nest, you can put a clear bowl over it.  The yellowjackets will keep trying to fly to the sky, stymied by the clear glass.  They will not try to create an alternative entrance and will starve to death. That's what I'm told.  It seems to me that if you know where that entrance is, you'd be better off to  use a pesticide specifically labeled for that use, and be sure to use it after dark, for your own protection. 

Not all yellow wasps are yellowjackets.  Yellowjackets are banded with fancy black bands, but so are European hornets, baldfaced hornets, common wasps and the aerial yellowjacket, that produce large above-ground paper nests inside a paper globe.  The visual difference seems to be that yellowjackets are smooth, the others have a fine "fur" like bees have. 

Yellowjackets do consume some destructive larvae in feeding their own larvae, but they also do a lot of scavenging.  Baldfaced hornets' and some other wasps' diets consist almost entirely of live insects, making them quite a beneficial addition to a garden.  They're not as quick to sting, either.## 



WORST WEEDS IN BOISE                            Aug. 13, 2004

The worst weeds I have to deal with in my yard are field bindweed, Canada thistle, common mallow (or buttonweed or cheeseweed), kochia and sowthistle.  I do have an infestation of Russian knapweed that I've fought for the past 32 years, but that's rare in this valley.  These other weeds are all over the city, kochia weeds blocking sidewalks.

Field bindweed supposedly can be controlled with 2,4-D if it's applied at the right time and it's accompanied by a spreader-sticker substance.  The "right time" is when it starts to blossom.  When it's in your lawn, one out of 100 plants will bloom.  If you rush out and spray that plant right then, you may kill that plant.  The other 99 will bloom one at a time too.  That makes control very labor-intensive. 

This is not a native weed. It was introduced from Europe, and now infests land all over the U.S. except for the extreme southeastern portion of the country (that's where kudzu reigns).  It's botanically known as Convolvulus  arvensis, or popularly as wild morning glory.  It has a pervasive, invasive root system that allows it to even poke sprouts into crawlspace darkness. 

It starts as an annual, and within six months it becomes a perennial.  Roundup it, burn it out, dig it out, and use anything on it.  It comes back next year.  Seeds remain viable in the soil for 50 years.  Use of gypsum each year may set it back.  I've heard some farmers use gypsum for that purpose.

Mallow, another alien invader, is an annual or biennial, starting out with back-to-back heart-shaped leaves.  Mature leaves are round-scalloped, the tiny blossoms lavender.  Mallow has a taproot, and if you don't hoe these weeds out as tiny seedlings, you'll have to end up chopping each taproot to get rid of this plant.  Seeds are round like wheels of cheese or like buttons.  I haven't found any spray effective on this weed.  Digging it out can be therapeutic, though. 

Kochia grows to three or four feet tall in nothing flat.  One of those weeds will more than fill a 33 gallon trash bag.  It starts life as an innocent-appearing floppy-leaved little morsel.  The moment you turn your back, it's huge.  Even if you can find a spray to kill it, you've got a large amount of waste to dispose of. 

Sprays will kill sowthistle if you care to use them.  I find this weed particularly annoying because when you try to pull it, it breaks off just above soil line.  But it sometimes has value in a garden, too.  Green aphids cluster on it in preference to more desirable plants.  Let them go until you see a black one or two.  Those aphids can fly, the green ones can't. That's when to pull up or cut off that weed and carefully put it and its passengers in the trash. 

Canada thistle is tough to kill with sprays.  Digging it up doesn't work.  Roundup kills thistle and grass.  Some folks use a hypodermic needle to inject Roundup into thistle stems and that works, but it's really labor intensive.  Picloram or Clopyralid would work if you made plans not to use your grass clippings for the next several years and didn't plan on growing anything else where you were spraying for several years. 

*** Tomato problems arouse questions.  Tiny yellow hard spots on tomatoes are the result of stinkbug bites.  In my experience, stinkbugs proliferated in my raspberry patch.  Since I got rid of the raspberry canes, the stinkbug population is reduced, but not entirely gone. 

Tiny little punctures with no discoloration are the result of wasps, I think, taking a sip of your fruit.  That's completely harmless. 

Yellowish or whitish hard portions developing on tomatoes is the result of sunscald.  Pruning tomatoes or letting hornworms defoliate your plants contributes to this condition, and these tomatoes are inedible. 

The most common problem with tomatoes is blossom end rot.  The blossom end is the end opposite the stem, and if it's brown and papery, that 's what blossom end rot looks like.  The tomato may color up prematurely, but it's off-flavored if you choose to eat it.  This is a calcium deficiency. If your soil is sopping wet, stop watering until it has a chance to dry out.  If your soil around the tomatoes is dry, water more deeply, for a longer period of time.  Tomato plants can't take up calcium unless the soil is moist. 

If your tomato plant loses all or most of its leaves, you're not looking for tiny insects.  Culprits are one or a few hornworms that are thumb-sized if they haven't already dropped off to pupate in the soil.  Brownish black droppings ranging from ground pepper size to cherry pit-sized droppings on your plant will lead you to the villain.  Or if you're lucky, your dog will pull off these monsters.  Parents of these giant hornworms, incidentally are the huge moths that are attracted to the nightlights at sporting events.  Some call them hummingbird moths. 

More serious problems may pop up, such as curly top virus, verticillium or fusarium wilt or even tobacco mosaic virus.  Discolored, violently curling leaves, apparent dry foliage even though ample water has been supplied call for a trip to the extension office with a fair-sized branch.  None of these problems can be corrected.  They can be prevented by planting resistant varieties of tomatoes, however. ## 



SAVOR THE SUN THIS MONTH                    Aug. 6, 2004

We may have seven or eight more weeks of soul-warming sunshine, or we may have just a few weeks.  I recall Septembers that were chilly and rainy, but as a rule, that month has been hot. 

The soil is still sufficiently warm to give many seeds a germination boost, and that includes weeds.  This is the month of fast-growing weeds, as they race to set and drop seeds before winter.  Sigh. 

Transplanting into the welcoming warmth of the soil gives plants a boost.  If the weather is hot, be sure to shade your transplant from overhead sun, and let it bask in slanted rays of early morning and evening sunshine until it stops wilting when exposed to full sun.  Keep transplants well watered, too. 

I'm a believer that Mother Nature knows best, so if you want to start new plants from seed, plant them when they'd normally drop from the mother plant.  Perennials or biennials usually will grow enough before killing frost to make it on through the winter, and all but tender annuals will germinate in spring.

This month and next are the best months for nursery sales.  If you buy a plant that feels lighter than it should, it's probably mostly roots, and should be substantially discounted.  If you do buy a plant that's rootbound, settle the roots in a bucket of water and try to tease the roots out.  If they don't extend easily, use a sharp knife and cut vertical cuts from top to bottom.  Some do this on four sides of the rootball, then plant in soil or a container that's a little larger than the one it came from.  And hold your breath.

*** I've lived in the Treasure Valley since June, 1971, and I have never seen such heavy fruit loads on Boise trees like we have this year.  It's got to be a record. The weight broke a large apricot branch and two branches off my 32-year-old standard apple tree.  Apricots hung in bunches like grapes, and apples failed to drop in June, so it was possible to pick three at once with one hand when we picked our Gravensteins.  They make great sauce, but tend to bear biennially.  I know we're set on that course now, since a fruit tree can't produce a heavy fruit crop and set buds for next year at the same time. 

A fellow in west Boise advertised free crab apples, Whitneys, Dolgos and another variety.  I love apple jelly made with Whitney crab apples, so we went out and picked enough to share with friends.  These Whitneys are different in appearance than those I grew up with.  These are apple-shaped, the Whitneys I knew were shaped more like a bagel, and somewhat tarter.  Both the old and these Whitneys are even good to eat out of hand. 

My essay is later than usual this week, because I'm making Gravenstein applesauce.  Whitney apple jelly is tomorrow's project.  Melons and winter squashes are bursting onto the scene, while we wait for more tomatoes to ripen.  Beans seem to be on a break, possibly dropping blossoms in the heat instead of setting pods. 

Other fruits in abundance this year are pears, Italian plums, peaches, and pawpaws.  It looks as if we'll even get our first American persimmons this year.

There are far too many apples and pears for codling moths' egg-laying purposes.  Many fruits, unsprayed, are completely free of "worms" or codling moth larvae.  Adults are half-inch long dull grey moths with copper-colored ends to the wings.  They lay eggs on leaves, and once hatched, the larvae crawl to fruit and usually invade at the blossom end.  This egg laying occurs about the time of blossom drop and lasts a couple of weeks as a rule.  Larvae go after the seeds, primarily, then exit, and either crawl down the trunk or drop down on a spider-like filament.

They may pupate and another generation emerge to hit fruit a second time.  In some areas three generations are produced.  You can reduce the total population of codling moths by trapping those that crawl down the trunk with Tree Tanglefoot.  Don't paint the trunk directly with that substance (available at garden stores).  I think the label offers suggestions of a cushion between trunk and Tanglefoot. Or wrap the trunk with corrugated cardboard, corrugations lying vertically, and those larvae crawling down the trunk will pupate in the corrugations.  I'd remove the cardboard and destroy the pupae within a couple of weeks.  This will only destroy part of the moth larvae. ##



DIVIDING BEARDED IRIS                               July 30, 2004

This is the time of  year to divide iris.  It usually needs to be divided about every three or four years to keep blooms coming each spring.  The bearded iris has "beard" strips on the petals that fall downward. 

These iris grow from thickened roots, called "rhizomes."  Tall bearded iris send flower stalks to two or three feet into the air, grey-green sword-shaped leaves jutting about 10 inches straight up.  When you dig iris for dividing, it's customary to use shears to cut leaves at a height of three or four inches.  Usually dividers cut leaves at angles so the middle leaf of the fan is the tallest, the fan of leaves an inverted V.

Since you re-plant the rhizomes shallowly, the smaller leaf size keeps them stable until roots can set. 

Use a spading fork (flat tines) to lift clumps of iris rhizomes, then cut the young firm rhizomes away from the older spongy rhizome with a sharp knife.  Discard the old rhizome and any that seem unusually small or distorted.  You can see what you're doing better if you wash soil away from these clumps before you start cutting.  Putting them in water and soaking for a while is okay.

Once you have firm, cleanly-cut rhizomes, re-plant in a sunny, well-drained location.  Start by digging in some compost and alfalfa meal or alfalfa cubes for horses.  Once that's thoroughly mixed,  set out your rhizomes where you want to plant them.  Space them about 12 to 18 inches apart, and group rhizomes in three, two fans at the outside edge, one at an angle to the other two.  Dig shallow holes, then build up a mound in each hole.  Position the rhizomes on the mounds, spreading roots outward, then cover.  The main rhizomes should be only lightly covered with soil, or above soil level.  If they're planted too deeply, they won't blossom, and may rot in the soil. 

Water them in a few times until they're well settled in their new location.  Tall bearded iris is generally pretty drought tolerant once established.  It thrives on spring rains that we get from nature, then survives a summer with very little moisture. 

Never use manure on iris rhizomes or lily bulbs.  Ginny Prins, an expert lilium and iris grower in Manitoba, says manure is instant death to iris and lilies, although you can top dress lilies with well-rotted manure without harm.  Alfalfa meal is the best fertilizer for use on these plants.

If iris fail to blossom, it's because they're not getting sufficient hours of direct sun, or are planted too deeply or need to be divided or have been fertilized too heavily.  When they do blossom, the scent is heavenly.  If you fail to snap off blossoms, you may get iris seed.  You could try breeding your own iris, but the seed has a built-in growth inhibitor, preventing growth until spring (unless a human intervenes). 

The main insect problem with iris is the iris root borer, but I don't believe we have that pest in this part of the country.  When old roots fall off the old rhizome, it looks like something has bored into the rhizome, but it hasn't.

Prins ties iris seeds in a mesh bag, then fastens it to the flush mechanism in the toilet tank so that it's dipped in water and rinsed several times each day.  This washes off the growth inhibiting substance. 

*** My Dragon's Tongue beans have outstanding flavor.  The bean pods are large, about 1/2 inch wide by 7 or 8 inches long, the beans inside are small.  Plants are very productive, and some say they will be productive until frost.  Purple streaks disappear when the beans are cooked.  I also discovered two more orange citrus cauliflower heads that were produced late in my garden.  Since I've had so many years of failure with white cauliflower, I think I'll try growing a different white variety next year, along with a repeat of the orange citrus cauliflower from Johnny's Selected Seeds.  ##

PESTICIDES WON'T KILL THESE PESTS                                  JULY 23, 2004

Pesticides won't kill some pests, especially those with fur and four feet.  Some of the worst pests we have to deal with in our gardens are deer and raccoons. 

I heard a good one this morning: if you have a skunk living under your porch, the deer stay away.  Raccoons and invited guests probably stay away too.  That's a high cost of repelling deer, but it works.  I think a de-scented skunk would not have the powerful deterrent quality that a fully loaded skunk would have. 

Some people still put food outside for their dogs or cats or even feral cats.  Raccoons think they're invited too, especially if you have a water source where they can "wash" their food.  They allegedly don't have saliva glands, so the "washing" food is a substitute.  Others say they're just softening up their food, rolling it around in the water.  One way of keeping them out of your garden is to not put food out, and lock cat and dog doors.  Raccoons figure those out pretty quickly. 

They're soft, cute, smart, wily and capable of enormous damage to other wildlife (they eat bird eggs), may carry and transmit rabies,  and  do damage inside human dwellings.  An in-law's pet raccoon unlatched a door of  a neighbor's house and emptied her kitchen cupboards of flour, coffee and sugar, then topped it with a gallon of honey. Cleanup took hours.  If you see one in daylight hours and it's acting aggressive, call the animal control people.  It may be rabid.

Raccoons are in the city limits of Boise.  A friend on Garden street, north of Emerald, thought she was bumping her cat to one side in the dark until it growled at her.  A young baby raccoon was killed by a car near the Holiday Inn on Vista, so I know they're in our neighborhood. 

They'll tear down cornstalks, getting to ears of corn.  You can prevent them from eating your corn by using a shipping tape applicator, make a turn of tape around the ear, then a turn around the stalk.  If the raccoon can't pick it, he won't eat it.    They'll also peel back sod in search of earthworms or larvae. 

They're nocturnal, and don't like light.  A motion-activated light might send them packing.  One of their worst acts to humans is nesting in chimneys.  You can prevent this by a heavy mesh topping on your chimney, but be sure there's not a mother or kits in residence before you seal it shut.  Friends in Colorado came home from an extended vacation to a horrible stench in the house and an invasion of flies.  An old raccoon had crawled down their chimney and died. 

Noise makers, a radio left turned on in the garden overnight, blood meal and moth balls have been used to deter raccoons, but after a while, they get accustomed to any of these deterrents and your problem starts all over.

Some people use cayenne pepper, but if they get it in their eyes, they may scratch their eyes out.  Then they face a lingering death of starvation.  You can't fence raccoons out, but you could fence deer out.

Deer will leap fences up to eight feet tall, if they can see a landing place on the other side.  If there's a six foot fence, a space of four feet, then another six foot fence, they can't handle that, and usually won't jump the first fence.  They too become accustomed in time to bars of soap, bags of human hair, blood meal, Zoo Doo, predator urine, water jets, lights, noise, etc.  One friend who has conquered the deer problem fenced her entire yard with an eight foot fence.  Nose high electric fencing seems to work too, as long as all of the deer have noses at the same height.  Deer repellants are for sale at most garden stores.

They do work, at least for the time being.  ##


FOOD GARDENING -- July 16, 2003

Should you prune your tomatoes?  You should not, in my opinion.  Pruning, or removing the suckers that grow in branch axils, reduces your yield, and exposes tomato fruits that are set to sunscald.  Sunscald ruins tomatoes for human consumption.  They develop a hard white lump beneath the skin, and are just unpalatable. 

Direct sun does NOT have to reach tomatoes for them to ripen, whether they're still on the plant or picked green before frost.  Those suckers growing in leaf axils will turn into fruit-bearing branches, too, if you leave them alone. 

I've picked over two gallons of snap beans this week, from four very short rows.  Each row is about 4 feet long.  The green variety is my old favorite, Contender.  The new-to-me variety is Langerie Dragon's Tongue (also called Dragon Langerie).  It's yellow, with purple streaks, and is supposed to be excellently flavored.  I am also growing two pole beans, Emerite and a black bean grown for dried bean use that are the largest beans I've ever seen.  I obtained the latter from Seed Savers' Exchange.  Pinetree Garden Seeds and other seed companies sell the Dragon's Tongue beans, but Contender is a bit hard to find.  Sometimes it appears on racks of cheap seeds in the Boise area. 

This has been a great year for human comfort and vegetable gardening in the Boise area.  We've had more rain in June than I remember, too.  One of the best surprises in the garden this year has been my cabbages.  Years ago, we planted a couple of six-packs of cabbage plants from Five Mile Farm.  They used to carry the best-flavored variety of cabbage I've eaten.  The problem is, all of the cabbage is ready to be picked at once.  We ate cabbage dishes until we were more than tired of them, and loaded all of our friends with cabbage heads. 

Last year, Stella Schneider noticed that Pinetree Garden Seeds ( ) sold a "cabbage mix" of seeds, the packet containing seeds of early, mid-season and late, conical and flat head, smooth and savoyed, green and red cabbages.  She was happy with the mix she grew, so I ordered a packet of those seeds as well ($.85 this year).  I don't recall how many seedlings I set out, but so far I've harvested a conical head and a regular head, and this morning I harvested a large Savoy Ace cabbage.  There are still immature cabbage type seedlings growing here and there in the garden. 

I tried growing bush sugar snap peas last year and received a very small harvest.  This year I went back to my old favorite, the regular pole sugar snap peas. They produce much better than the bush varieties in my experience.  We harvested well over a gallon of pods, removed ends and strings and froze them on cookie sheets, then put them into bags.  That way we can use just a  few for adding to stir fry vegetables, or cook a lot for a principal vegetable. 

I'm growing a tiny patch of Indian corn this year that I'll have to let dry on the stalks, mice and squirrels permitting.  There is a way to foil critters (including raccoons) from harvesting ears of corn.  Take one of those shipping tape dispensers (very wide clear tape), and wrap it around the ear, near the top, then stretch the tape over to the stalk, and wrap around the stalk.  If a raccoon can't pick an ear, it won't eat it.  If your tape is near enough the top of the ear, squirrels and other rodents may not be able to eat it either.   Some people remove the suckers of corn, growing at the base of the stalk, but various experiments have shown that extra work doesn't help increase the harvest. 

Start checking your sweet corn for ripeness after the silks dry.  Some experts advise feeling the top end of the ear: when it's pointed it's not ready for picking, when it's rounded, it is ready.  In my experience, a rounded ear is over-mature. I prefer sweet corn somewhat on the younger side. 

I'll add more over the weekend... 



Miniature roses are adorable, but just because they'd fit in a pot, don't make them try to become houseplants.  They're hardy and hearty outdoors.  Indoors, they're wimps, succumbing to spider mites and powdery mildew. 

Since they only grow to a height of less than 18 inches, it's easy to tuck them in here and there in the landscape.  They spread a little, but are nothing like carpet roses in the spreading category. 

They're believed to have been derived from a Chinese native, Rosa chinensis minima, and introduced to the West around the turn of the 19th century.  Today's miniatures were grown from selections over many generations. 

Like other roses, they need sunlight, good drainage, occasional light feeding and occasional pruning to shape or remove dead tips in spring.  They're disease resistant and most grow on their own roots, so they're extremely hardy to winter conditions.  If we have an unusually harsh winter, they may die back to the ground, but will revive in spring.  No suckers from below a graft union.  An added bonus is the fact that many miniature roses are fragrant. 

Miniatures were called "fairy roses" in France and England shortly after they were introduced. Those roses we now call fairy roses grow taller, up to about three to four feet, but they still have very small blossoms. 

Miniatures bloom continuously all season.  When you fertilize, don't fertilize them as heavily as you fertilize your full-size roses.  Alan Zelhart, a noted rose grower in Arizona, fertilizes his miniatures once every two weeks with half-strength fish emulsion, or follows Osmocote 15-15-15 container instructions. You won't need to replace Osmocote for two or three months.  I'm not crazy about using this product because the beads of fertilizer look exactly like slug or snail eggs.  

Let the bushes set hips, then extract seeds from ripe hips.  You can grow miniatures from seed, and although many will be candidates for the compost pile, you may get some keepers out of the mix.  It's always fun to see what you come up with. 

***In the vegetable garden, get ready to plant fall crops. Cole crops and late root crops should be in the ground by about July 15.  If you're planning on growing broccoli or any of the other cole crops, remember they won't germinate in high temperatures.  Soil is too hot for those crops right now, so start them indoors. 

If you have several heads of cabbage ready for harvest, you can hold them in the ground and keep them from bolting to seed if you put a hand on each side of a head and twist hard, about 90°.  That action probably breaks off finer roots, but keeps enough roots intact to keep the head from spoiling or continuing to grow.  Another solution is to donate that cabbage to the Idaho Food Bank. 

Vining crops such as squash, cucumbers and melons, put out male flowers at first.  You won't get a harvest until female flowers begin blooming.  Each female flower has a tiny version of its fruit just behind the blossom.  A way to hasten formation of female flowers I've heard is to prune off growing tips. That will stimulate branching all the way back to the main trunk of the vine, and female flowers will set on those branches.  I tried it with melons last year, and I did get early melons, but it didn't count as a valid experiment because I didn't leave a "control" vine unpruned.  ##




We can harvest quite a bit in the vegetable garden already.  Peas and sugar snap peas are ready.  Keep picking the vines or bushes clean of pods that are ready.  Vegetable plants that have set seeds (and the peas in pods are  seeds) have fulfilled their destinies and will die unless someone interferes and removes their future progeny. 

Pull beets and turnips before they get huge and woody.  Temperatures have been too high for tomatoes to set fruit (much above 90° kills the pollen, so blossoms fall), but I was surprised to find that one of my tomato plants has several fruits set.  It's a plum tomato of a variety I haven't grown before. 

Garlic, the kind usually grown in this area, should be harvested when there are but six green leaves remaining, one of those tipped brown.  If you miss that window and have fewer green leaves, the head may split into cloves before you want it to.  Brush dirt off the heads and set them in an airy place to dry out of direct sun.  Too much sun when harvested will cook them and you won't like the flavor. 

When onions and shallots are ready,  wait for their leaves to fall over, since they have more pliant necks than garlic.   When some have fallen over, the leaves turning brown,  use the back of a rake to knock down the other leaves, letting them turn brown before harvesting.  When the leaves flop down like this, the bulb stops expanding.  My beloved dog discovered onion leaves are soft to lie on.  That put an end to my growing onions, since bulbs were only scallion-sized and not going to get any larger.

Squash bugs have awakened from their winter's dormancy.  They're the worst pests in my garden because you shouldn't spray them with soap spray.  I've killed some squash plants with soap spray.  I don't use Sevin dust either because bees gather that just like pollen and return it to their hives where they die and so do other hive members, from that insecticide. 

I think the best control you have over squash bugs is to tear off the part of the leaf that has eggs on it, and crush eggs against a hard surface.  The eggs are laid in clusters, and are bronze-colored.  Once they hatch, the little grey or light green bug-like nymphs start sucking and feeding on the squash leaves.  Bugs secrete a very toxic saliva into the squash plant, the leaf wilts, blackens and dies. 

Adults are true bugs, having a long shield shape, dark brown, about 3/4 of an inch long, and emitting a foul odor when crushed.  Gardeners often find them mating (rear end to rear end), and exult in killing them at that point, but crushing them releases pheromones that attract other squash bugs to that location.

All cucurbits are susceptible to these enemies, but they seem to prefer squash and pumpkins.  They will attack cucumbers and melons, but those are not as choice as the squash.  I inspect leaves daily once I've seen the first bugs, lifting leaves looking for the eggs.  Also watch the leaf stems or petioles, because squash bugs sometimes lay widely separated eggs in a row on the stems.  Tearing those off does more damage, so I just scrape those eggs off onto soil.  If they hatch and there's nothing to eat, they should die. 

Leaf material you tear off with squash bugs will not do a fraction of the damage those nymphs will do if they're allowed to hatch. 

Other means of coping with this critter are delayed planting and repelling.  With delayed planting of winter squash and pumpkins, you risk their not maturing before frost in our area.  This is a matter of real concern, since many years it's nail biting time waiting for the winter squash to be fully colored so they may be picked for storage, even after early planting.

Some people say catnip , tansy, radishes, nasturtiums, or marigold repel squash bugs.  Squash such as zucchini grows too high for two-inch high radishes to have much of an effect, though.  One spray that would possibly work is blenderized mint leaves, strained and drained into a spray bottle.  I think squash bugs, like most other insect pests, rely upon scent to find their prey. 

Another solution is to place flat boards on the ground near squash plants.  Pick them up in early morning and capture the adult squash bugs that have hidden there overnight, dropping them into hot soapy water or water that has a film of cooking oil floating on it. 

There is a colorful fly that lays eggs on the underside of the squash bugs that will parasitize the bugs, but they're not as numerous as I would like.  It's Trichopoda pinnipes, with a gold and black thorax, an orange abdomen, and feathery chaps on its hind legs.  There is also a parasitic wasp that parasitizes some squash bug eggs, but not all.  ## 



ON THE BIENNIAL PATH                    June 25, 2004

For many reasons, I did not get fruit thinned at the proper time this spring.  Even though I thin on a daily basis, apples are larger than the optimum 3/4 to 1 and 1/4 inch diameter when thinning should be done. 

By not thinning when I should have, I'll get smaller fruit, risk limb breakage, and enter into a system of alternate-year bearing. 

This year's crop is very abundant, and it's growing from the flower buds created last year on branches that were at least two years old.  Because so much of the tree's energy is now being spent in developing the fruit already set, it can't also produce flower buds for next year.  So next year my fruit trees will not produce fruit, but it will use its energy instead to produce vegetative growth.  That is, limbs and twigs will grow, necessitating further pruning. 

You might  prevent this biennial bearing by subjecting your fruit trees to drought in July.  Most of us have our fruit trees planted in our lawns, so if you withhold water from the fruit trees, you'd also be killing that part of your lawn. 

This biennial bearing cycle happens with apples, pears, and stone fruits, but apparently not cherries. 

My apricot trees are so loaded with fruit it's hanging in grapelike clusters.  Those trees may be producing as much seed as possible because they're dying.  I do know they have Coryneum blight, a difficult disease to control. 

This disease is common on peaches, nectarines and apricots, and even sometimes afflicts sweet cherries in our area.  The most distinctive symptom on apricots, peaches and nectarines, are the small reddish-brown spots on the fruit.  As the fruit matures, the spots may become raised and tough.  It certainly affects commercial value of the fruit, but other than being tough, don't seem to affect the taste significantly. This current crop of apricots is afflicted more than any I've ever had, but I've never tasted a single 'cot off either of these trees planted in '91.  Many years the fruit was destroyed by late frosts.  Those years the trees did set fruit that survived, squirrels moved in by the dozen and wasted the fruit, chewing down to the nut inside the hard seed. 

This blight is also known as "shothole" fungus.  It leaves brown spots on the leaves, and the spots fall out leaving holes, appearing as if someone shot them with buckshot.  The worst of the fungus appears on twigs as small raised purplish spots that elongate to form brown or black cankers.  Small pimple-like fruiting  structures are produced at the edges of these cankers, forming, then releasing spores that continue to spread the disease.  These cankers kill twigs, and home orchardists are advised to remove twigs that have cankers.  The cankers may produce gummy extruded material too. 

Then you get into a program of fungicidal sprays.  I think the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension system advises spraying  when the tree is dormant, then just before bloom, when blossoms fall, after harvest and when the leaves fall.  Washington State University also seems to advise five sprays each year.  And that IS each year, for as the information sheet from the University of Idaho advises, owners of susceptible trees such as stone fruit or flowering almonds should assume the Coryneum blight will occur each year. 

When sprinklers are used to prevent frost damage on fruit, chances for infection by Coryneum blight are increased. 

I love apricots, but I'll have to continue to buy them.

***Last week I said my Einkorn was a non-shattering type.  That seems to be an error.  It does shatter, but nevertheless, it was a significant crop in the Fertile Crescent, when early man began to settle into communities.  ##


YUCCA IS WORTH THE WAIT                         June 18, 2004

I've had two yucca plants near my mailbox for six or seven years.  One blossomed for the first time last year, and this year the other one sent up its first blossom spike. 

I really like yuccas, in spite of the fact they can do severe damage to me and to other mammals who get too near them. Their leaves are stiff and sharp, and can stab and cut tender flesh.  Ancient Native Americans saw ways to use these leaves, in spite of the hazards.

They sliced and wove them into sandals, belts, baskets, mats and ropes.  In the 20th century, Julian Martinez, husband of the great Pueblo potter, Maria Martinez, used brushes made of strips of yucca leaves to decorate her pots.  Acoma artists chew the ends of yucca leaves until frayed, then use those as brushes.

It's daunting to cut off a leaf of yucca, much less put one in your mouth.    

Somehow, using only primitive tools, natives discovered yucca roots made excellent soap. According to the authors of "Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province," yucca roots are used for shampoo for participants in ceremonial dances even today.  If you've ever dug a yucca, you'll wonder how they dug them without harming themselves..  It must have taken even more courage for them to chew the leaves, removing the leaves' flesh and leaving the fiber. Archaeologists have found these yucca "quids" in numerous archaic cave sites. 

The fruits of several of those southwestern species were also eaten, and of course there were numerous medicinal uses of that plant.

There are about 50 species of yucca in the U.S., and 30 more in Mexico.  It's definitely a New World plant. They require very little water for growth, and seem to grow in nearly any soil.  Yuccas on the eastern treeless plains of Colorado are barely noticeable until they send their blossom stalks skyward, but then they're difficult to ignore. They cast scant shade, but it's enough for rattlesnakes to coil in.

Many yuccas are not hardy, but Yucca glauca is hardy even in Canada, down to at least 30° below zero F.  They're grown outdoors, even well into Canada.  Yuccas do not grow in the Pacific northwestern coastal area or the northeastern states of the U.S., probably because of the abundance of moisture.

I've always mentally associated yucca with the desert or the dry plains because it requires so little water for sustenance and growth.  I was quite surprised, though, to learn that in Pennsylvania Dutch gardens, the centerpiece of each garden was a Yucca.  I don't know whether it was used for soap or fiber or why they planted them in the middle of their gardens.  Pennsylvania Dutch people I've known were almost as anti-ornament as the Amish. 

Yucca flowers are pollinated by specialized moths that lay eggs as they pollinate.  Their larvae eat some but not all of the seeds after they hatch. Yucca flowers have three-chambered ovaries, similar to those of other members of the Liliaceae family.  It's possible to hand pollinate the flowers, but the plants are self-sterile, so you'd need two blossoming at the same time. 

From seed, it takes yucca plants about six years to get to sufficient maturity to flower.  Most people dig and divide for propagating more plants.   The original "dug" plant usually comes back as well. 

*** I often grow plants just to see how they grow.  This year in my vegetable garden I'm growing a tiny amount of Einkorn wheat, one of the types of "non-shattering" wheat that grew wild in the Fertile Crescent (roughly in the Kurdish area of Iraq and southern Turkey).   It was thought to have been a major cause of nomadic early man's ceasing his wandering to settle into communities where there was a reliable source of food.

Many plants send their seeds flying when ripe so their growth won't interfere with the mother plant.  That activity is known as "shattering."  So people hoping to harvest wheat for food would find valuable a variety that held onto its seed until manually threshed.  I don't know the reason yet for the name "einkorn," whether it's the German term for "single grain" or whether it's for a person who discovered it.  The cultivated version is Triticum monococcumThat may be equivalent to "einkorn" after all. 

I've passed by wheat fields all of my life, but never closely examined a stalk until now.  I was surprised that each grain has its hairy stalk, like the silks on an ear of corn.  I shouldn't have been surprised though.   


I recently received some tiny seeds through Seed Savers' Exchange that I want to grow and conserve seeds from.  They're for Petrowski turnips, that are supposed to be resistant to the maggot-producing flies that lay eggs on turnips in our area.  I think these turnips are yellow, a variety of  what we usually call rutabagas.  Seed is apparently not available through any commercial source that we can find.  Since this is a biennial seed producer, I stand a far greater chance of growing them over the winter to get seeds next summer than the woman in Alaska who first bemoaned their non-availability. 

I planted some of  these tiny seeds, covered them very lightly with planting mix, and  kept them watered for a couple of weeks.  They did not germinate.  I adopted another tack.  Those clear plastic boxes that chocolate truffles are sold in make perfect miniature greenhouses.  My friend Lindarose Curtis-Bruce heated a nail in a gas flame, then touched the hot nail to the bottom of the box,  burning drainage holes.  I used that once to germinate alpine strawberries (also tiny seeds), so I used that box again.  I wetted planting mix, lightly pressed it smooth, then scattered the tiny turnip seeds on top.  I pressed them to the mix, and put the lid on. 

Within three days I had a lot of germination and a lot of that fuzzy white stuff on tiny seedlings, indicating a lack of air circulation.  Then I left the lid off, then moved the box to the greenhouse where it will get subdued sunlight, since the shade cover is in place for the summer.  

When I prick out the tiny seedlings for transplanting, I think I'll transplant into a section of rain gutter filled with soil.  To then transfer into a planting bed, I can just dig a groove and slide the material from the rain gutter into the groove.  Roots of the seedlings should not be disturbed at all, provided I time it right.  ##



SPRING FLOWERING SHRUBS                        June 11, 2004

Immediately after your spring-flowering shrubs have completed their blossom cycle, prune them back.  Don't prune them to look like an ice cream cone, with skinny little trunks near ground level and a voluptuous rounded top.  Leave foliage near ground level long enough to capture sun rays. 

Some folks prune hedges so that their end profile looks like a lozenge. The reason this is the time to prune those shrubs is that after blooming, they immediately begin preparing for next year's blossoming.  Forsythia, some viburnums, lilacs, syringa, flowering quince, and mock orange (also known as syringa) do. 

I've stepped in this quagmire, I might as well explain it.  The botanical name for lilac is Syringa.  Syringa is the name of the Idaho state flower.  Is the Idaho state flower a lilac?  No, it is not.  One of the common names for Philadelphus is syringa.  THAT is the state flower, a Philadelphus, common name syringa. I have no idea who thought up this font of confusion.  Another common name for Philadelphus is mock orange, and many varieties do indeed have the scent of orange blossoms.  Some have double blossoms, others single.  The state flower (syringa) is a single flower. 

I usually wait until early spring before pruning Buddleia (butterfly bush), since it blooms in summer.  Lilacs benefit from removing the spent blossoms or seed pods, but since they bloom anyway and that's very labor intensive, I never prune them. 

My Harison's yellow rose had spread and looked terrible last year.  There were black spots on some of the leaves and the center of the plant was dead.  I paid some tree trimmers to cut it down to the ground.  That rose is "tough as old boots," and it snapped right back this spring, rejuvenated and fresh-looking.  The bush was here when we bought this property in '71, and could have been nearly 20 years old at that time.  Tree trimmers said the thorns had grown larger and were curved to strike by the time they took it out.  They suggested our cutting it down every two or three years so the thorns wouldn't be as vicious as they were. 

If your spring-blooming shrub isn't blooming as much as it should be, rejuvenate it.  The safest way to do that is to cut 1/3 of the plant to the ground one year, another 1/3 the second year, and the last 1/3 the third year.   It's riskier, but if it's a shrub that's inexpensively replaced and has a reputation for hardiness, you can cut the whole plant down to the ground.  I did that about a year ago with my forsythia, and it snapped back.  Unfortunately there's a volunteer plum bush right in the middle of it.

***I'm trying an experiment to see if I can choke out the field bindweed in one of my flower beds by growing  buckwheat.  I've been told that would work.  It won't get rid of it from my front lawn, I know.  I think that came in on some lawn service equipment.  Years ago we used a lawn service to fertilize and spray herbicide.  I didn't like the way they were doing it, so dropped them and we resumed doing it ourselves.  So far the bindweed is just confined to that area of our yard. 

Bindweed supposedly succumbs to sprays such as 2, 4-D, if you spray it at the right time.  The right time is when it's blossoming.  One out of a hundred plants will bloom, the other 99 wait and bloom singly, each one bursting into blossom after you've cleaned the sprayer.  Between that and the Aegopodium  podagraria (Bishop's weed or Gout weed) next to our house, it's tempting to cement over the front yard. 

Bishop's weed is attractive in a container setting, but it blossoms, and sets seeds that can scatter, then you've been invaded.  Be very wary of this plant. 

***I'm growing lettuces, cabbages, cauliflower, etc., under row covers.  Lettuces are sweet and tender, much more tender than if the sun and wind reached them.  This row cover lets most sunlight and rain right through to the plants.  The cover is loose at the edges, and I don't know whether leaf miners snuck in that way or whether they overwintered in the raised bed, but they're sure after my beet greens. 

I'm also experimenting with aerated compost tea in my raised beds.  So far I've been very pleased with the results.  The consistency of garden soil changes overnight to a looser, fluffier soil after aerated compost tea is applied.  ##



HEUCHERAS                  June 4, 2004

Heucheras, also known as Coral Bells, are wonderful perennials that require little care. Pinching off the bloom stalk when flowers fade usually revives blossoming. If you leave the flower stalk alone until the seed heads dry, you can crumble them between thumb and forefinger, helping the plant seed itself. 

Flowers are rather insignificant in some species at least, but the foliage is wonderful and hummingbirds love the tiny flowers. 

Heucheras, pronounced "He-ookeras" in this country (not in Germany), are Saxifrages that prefer a sun exposure, but in areas such as ours dappled or light shade is better.  Our summers get too hot for many varieties. If your Heuchera doesn't thrive where you've planted it, dig it up and move it to a different sun exposure.  It needs some sun, but can't take scorching.

If you're out hiking, keep your eyes open for H. micrantha, native to Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.  This variety has, as many varieties have,  lobed, rounded leaves one to three inches long, hairy on both sides, in a cluster at the bottom of the plant. Flower stalks rise several inches into the air from this cluster. In the wild, they prefer rocky outcroppings and slopes. 

In the garden Heucheras require "regular" water (that means about one inch per week, the same as your lawn requirement).  They do require good drainage, but love a rich compost-laced soil, rich in nutrients.

Don't plant a whole bed of them, but some varieties work well in a border.  They really stand out if one is planted alone in a bed.  Selection of the best plant neighbors can also be a trial and error process.

Some plants "talk" to the gardener, and Heuchera is one of those.  If the leaves look cupped, the plant is too dry.  On other plants this may be due to sucking insects, but Heuchera isn't bothered by them, so "dry" is the message.  Sometimes the plant tells you it wants to be replanted.  The crown rises out of the soil, raised by a long neck-like growth. Just cut that off and re-plant, leaving only the leaves above the soil line. 

Heucheras are propagated by division, seeds or leaf cuttings.  Often when you cut a leaf and put it in water for foliage interest in a bouquet, the leaf will root.  That will not develop into a new plant.  Leaves plus petioles (leaf stem) plus a heel cutting (that is, part of the stem the petiole was attached to) may be torn off in fall, and put into potting soil where they will root in about four weeks.  Rooting hormones help root formation. 

Clumps should be divided every three or four years in spring in our area, discarding the tough woody section.  That woodiness can sometimes even thrust the plant out of the soil if you don't remove it.  You may want to replant divisions a little deeper than they grew.

They're evergreen, but winter weather may tatter the leaves.  Remove the tattered ones in spring, and new leaves will rejuvenate the plant.

They're not bothered by many insects except the black vine weevil, the adult of which bites Vee notches in the leaves.  Their babies are underground, consuming roots and doing far more damage than the parents.  Nematodes are a good control for those larvae, but if you have just a few plants, it's pretty costly control.  Some people just dig up the plant, set it aside, and root around in the soil for the larvae. They're white, with two dark spots at the head, 1/4 to 1/2 inch long. They're not very deep in the soil.  It's satisfying to grab them with gloved fingers and squish them.  Don't forget to re-plant  your Heuchera then. Slugs don't like Heucheras, but deer do. 

Some of the varieties have dark purple or even chocolate-colored leaves, some lobed and rounded, others shaped like maple leaves. Even the backs of the leaves are beautiful, especially if a breeze is tossing them about.  If they're grown in deep shade, the leaves will turn mostly green.  The leaves are gorgeous, and may even be used in indoor bouquets.  They last longer than most flowers. 

Dan Heims is one of the outstanding breeders of Heucheras.  He owns the wholesale  nursery, Terra Nova Nursery.   Go to and click on Heucheras to see some of his latest efforts.  No, he won't sell to individuals, but he does sell to Edwards Greenhouse in Boise.  

*** This will be a great fruit year in the Treasure Valley.  Apricots escaped spring frosts, and my trees are loaded.  Heavy fruit crop plus recent rain broke off a large limb from one of my trees.  We'll have a lot of fruit drop this month, as part of the normal  "June drop."  You'd do well to give nature a hand, though, thinning fruit.

Thin apricots and plums to two or three inches apart.

Thin apples to six to eight inches between apples, or one fruit per spur (short gnarly twig).

Pears, peaches and nectarines should be thinned to six to eight inches. 

Cherries are not thinned.

Even if you have thinned and the branches appear heavy, support them with boards standing under the area near the ends of the branches.  If the limb breaks, it usually tears off some of the bark that protects the tree's circulatory system. 

Codling moths did not show up when expected, apparently.  Ross Hadfield hadn't trapped any as of June 4, at least.  ##


WHAT'S EASY, COLORFUL AND EDIBLE?                    May 28, 2004

Daylilies are what I'm talking about.  They're easy to grow even in our soil, require modest water once established, and are edible. If you live where deer love to browse, daylilies are deer candy. 

Daylilies, or Hemerocallis, are not true lilies.  Lilies grow from bulbs.  Daylilies have tuberous fleshy roots.  Leaves arise from soil level in an arching spray of green, and the bloomstalk usually extends above the leaves. 

Flowering may last for four weeks, depending on the variety, but individual flowers die after a day.  They don't need to be deadheaded unless you're expecting a neatnik guest, since the spent flowers fall off after a day or two. 

They do require good drainage, and most prefer full sun, although they can tolerate light shade.  Some folks say the "bluer" (purple, really) the flower, the better it withstands shade.

They come in different heights, from dwarf to tall, and different bloom times, from extra-early to very late and reblooming.  Shorter varieties work very well as container plants.

There are over 40,000 cultivars, and 1,000 more introduced each year, so don't try to collect them all.  (One introduced this year is named for my happily excited friend, Lee Ann Reiners, in Edinboro, PA.) Some are "tetraploids," that have double the usual number of chromosomes.  They tend to have thicker, larger flowers in brighter colors than those with the regular number of chromosomes.  They also may be more vigorous.

Daylilies are so easy to grow they sometimes escape cultivation and appear on the banks of  roads or ditches, where some call them "ditch lilies."  Some folks gather buds from these "ditch lilies" and use them raw as a crudite or in a dip, in stir fry or substituting for dried lilies in Asian dishes. Remove stamens and pistils of flowers before eating, but use whole buds.  If you're tempted, hesitate.  They may have been sprayed along with other ditch bank growth.  One woman on Internet said her favorite dessert is a "Hurta" daylily blossom with a scoop of Hagen-Dazs peach sorbet.  Google will point you to more daylily recipes.

Daylilies sometimes do weird things such as growing a new plant out of the blossom scape or stalk.  These are appropriately called "proliferations."  If you have a daylily that does this, cut the blossom scape just above and below the proliferation. I'd make that 1/2 inch below because there should be rudimentary roots there. Put the proliferation in potting soil, then water it so it doesn't dry out.  Give it good light, and by next summer, it should be of blooming size. You may want to overwinter it indoors. Bloom scapes or stalks usually die back after flowering, but if there's a proliferation in place, it will stay green to that point for a few more days.  After stalks turn brown, prune them out. 

Daylilies are usually pretty problem-free, but there is a disfiguring rust disease (Puccinia hemerocallidis) that can attack them.  I think local nurseries are alert for signs of this disease, but daylilies are sold in many locations. If in doubt, use a white tissue and wipe the underside of a leaf gently.  if you have orange-rust powder, the daylily may have the disease.  Leaves will look worse in time with yellow spots on the upper surface if it is this rust. You can keep your plant looking good by  removing the affected leaves.  This does, however, become labor intensive, so you'd be better off to plant resistant varieties such as Mac the Knife, Yangtze, Holy Spirit and Butterscotch Ruffles.  Not all varieties of daylily have been tested, so there may be more resistant cultivars.

Some folks have noticed that foliage sometimes turns yellowish.  If this happens, you could try using a foliar fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, but if the leaves look like they're dying, cut off each affected leaf down to where it is green again.  The cause of this condition is unknown, but most who've tried cutting off the yellow part have succeeded in saving the plant. 

If you transplant daylilies in late summer or fall, cut back the foliage to compensate for loss of roots. One friend always soaks newly-purchased bare-root Hemerocallis in a mixture of one part chlorine bleach to ten parts water for 30 minutes before planting.  After the soak, she rinses them and soaks in buckets of plain water then plants them in drained holes, adds compost, and waters with alfalfa tea for the first month or so.  If you didn't plant it deep enough, it will pull itself deeper into the soil.

To divide a clump, you can dig it up, then put two spading forks back to back and pry apart.  Some folks use a cleaver instead, others wash off soil, then pull apart what will pull apart, and cut the rest apart.  You should divide every three or four years to keep the blossoms coming.

*** Well, we're having quite a wet spring.  Think free water.  Heavy fruit set plus water has broken one branch off one of my apricot trees.  I don't know what other damage may have occurred.  The water is welcome, though. 

With all of this moisture, you may see disease problems you haven't seen recently since our weather is usually so dry.  There may be black spots on rose leaves and/or powdery mildew.  Both are caused by fungi (funguses).  People in other parts of the world say they can cure such fungus invasions by spraying with milk.  If they use 1 part milk to 3 parts water or 1 part to 4 parts water, one spray usually clears up the problem.  Leaner sprays require repeated applications.  Skim milk seems to work best.  Brand name synthetic fungicides are also available at garden stores.

*** Sudden Oak Death (caused by Phytophthera ramorum) showed up at the Monrovia Nursery in California, and has spread to various locations around the country.  Several states closed their borders to plants from Monrovia, some to all plants from California.  Now USDA is trying to get a handle on this devastating disease.  It had already spread northward to Oregon by other means. Monrovia has been working hard to eliminate this disease too.  It affects several different woody plants, including rhododendrons, azaleas, huckleberries, Douglas fir, and viburnums. 

I haven't seen reports of tree or shrub death in states that have cold winters. ##



TREE TIME                                                            May 21, 2004

What kind of deciduous trees do you want in your yard?  Maple trees cast deep shade and are usually beautiful with reddish color in Fall.  There are the leaves to pick up, though. If weather is dry you can easily pick up most of them with the vacuum effect of your lawnmower.  You will have to rake them out of flower beds, though, because unless shredded, they may mat and shield your perennials and shrubs from needed winter moisture.  Some maples drop limbs when you least expect it, and hog water from your lawn. 

Sycamore trees' leaves don't compost quickly, and the trees tend to be allelopathic, according to friends' experiences.  That is, they apparently exude a substance that's hostile to growth of many ornamental plants.  They're also subject to anthracnose that defoliates them. Repeated defoliation saps the life out of the tree. That disease has been prevalent in this area the past few years.  Interesting bark is its main attraction, as far as I can see.

Walnut trees, both English and Black, are allelopathic, or toxic to many plants.  Some plants do grow well within their area of influence, though.  Their nuts are great, but they require intensive labor to shell them.

Black locust trees are attacked by borers in this area, and I wouldn't recommend planting one of those.  Honey locusts are not as susceptible to those borers (adults of which look like no-waist yellowjackets), and they cast very nice filtered shade.  We had them in our back yard, and my Dad thought they were the perfect tree because you didn't have to (couldn't) rake up the tiny leaves.  But we had small dogs, and the twigs holding the leaves dropped in fall, and dogs dragged those into the house year round. 

The tree attracted a tiny yellow warbler who had a very big voice completely out of proportion to the size of the bird.  We had to take the tree out, and I miss the tree, shade and bird, but not the twigs.  We took the tree out because we had to cut too many large roots to repair the septic system, and I had nightmares the tree fell on the new addition to the house.  The tree was about 40 feet tall, the lowest branches about 8 feet high.  We had a drenching rain one summer, the water of which weighted the branches down to the ground. 

Our Cairn terrier (courtesy of the Humane Society) looked curiously at those new-to-his-nose branches, and lifted his leg.  I swear he smiled.  Within two hours the branches had dried and raised to eight feet again.  The dog had marked his territory clear up there. 

Ash trees and mountain ash trees are under massive attack by borers in this area.  They're nice trees, but I wouldn't advise planting them here now.  I'm personally prejudiced against crabapples because they harbor codling moths, the prevailing invader of apples and pears in our area. 

I have an Eastern Redbud, courtesy of some birds.  It's about seven feet tall right now, not in a great location, but it's happy there.  I'd rather it weren't at the front of my sunny flower bed. 

Oak trees are generally good trees to plant in this area, with modest water requirements, and few disease problems.`Catalpa, Sweetgum and Horsechestnut trees are fairly easy to grow here, the first two freer of disease than the Horsechestnut, but all three drop annoying "fruit" that must be picked up to maintain a near yard. 

The prettiest tree I ever saw as far as foliage and shape are concerned was a Linden tree.  Most varieties of linden have modest water demands, and they're pretty free of disease.  There are aphid problems, and some people suffer allergic reactions to linden pollen. 

There are ornamental Callery pear trees all over Boise, and they're generally quite attractive, but are small and don't shade large areas.

Fruit-bearing trees are another matter.  Cherry, peach, nectarine and plum trees are short-lived in this area, due to borer infestations.  Borers burrow under the bark and feed, eventually girdling the tree. Without food circulation, the tree dies.  Apple trees are long-lived, and pears are too, provided they remain clear of  fireblight.  That disease is common in this valley, and can kill pear, apple or pyracantha.  Pay attention to whether the fruit tree you desire needs another tree as pollinator.  If so, choose the correct pollinator, and if your space is limited, plant both in the same hole.  I don't advise the trees with several varieties grafted on a single tree.  Invariably one variety is more aggressive than the others and either causes a balance problem or other types of problems.

Some very nice trees that seem relatively free of pests are ginkgo, European hornbeam, magnolia cucumbertree, yellowwood (requires a fairly high amount of water), European beech, Kentucky coffeetree and the oaks.  The oaks are drought tolerant, the other low-problem trees require moderate amounts of water. 

If you're planting beneath power lines, make sure the mature growth will not interfere with the power lines.  Pruning a vee shape around power lines as they do in Boise is preferable to the tree's health to topping, but some weird-looking trees result.  ##




SPRING TONICS                                                         May 14, 2004

I just don't feel right unless I have my spring tonic, also known as baked rhubarb.  Rhubarb pie tastes great, but I'm an incompetent piemaker.  Goodyear was interested in my recipe the one time I did bake a pie crust.

For baked rhubarb, I just use stalks cut into one-inch sections, add about 1/3 cup sugar to 8 stalks' worth, and bake at 350° for 35 minutes or so. 

When you harvest rhubarb, twist as you tug at the stalk.  Watch the plant because you don't want to pull it clear of the soil.  I cut off the leaves in the garden, and put them on the compost pile.  They're toxic when fresh, but composting removes the poisons.  Regardless of their toxicity, insects chew on the leaves and leave them looking like ragged lace by the end of the summer.

Watch the clump closely, and don't take too many stalks from one plant. There are usually several plants in a clump. I try to take just one stalk from each plant.  When your rhubarb flowers, cut off the flowering stalk as low as you can.  You want the plant to put its energy into more leaves and more petioles (stalks) than in flowers.  It needs existing leaves for nutrition necessary to produce those leaves and petioles.

If  you're growing that other great vegetable perennial, asparagus, harvest only the fat stalks.  When the plant starts sending up stalks the diameter of a pencil, let those stalks go to produce their fernlike leaves and perhaps seeds.  The thin stalks are feeding the roots. 

For the past few years, I've known our Kimberly blue ash had an incurable disease (a Pseudomonas), because the leaves appeared shirred.  I saw no sign of borers, though.  This spring, the exit holes on that tree were numerous, including so many on the outside of one major limb's juncture with the trunk I feared the limb would fall free.  Guys took the tree down and ground out the stump earlier this week.  Even though the tree was in an out-of-the-way location, I feel a loss. 

Yes, it did cast some shade, so I made partitioned mint beds in its shade, years ago. I planted spearmint, peppermint, apple, pineapple, chocolate and two or three other mints in its shade.  One by one, they disappeared.  Mint is usually invasive.  When it dies out, you get the picture that the tree was exuding some allelopathic (growth inhibitor or herbicide) substance.  What did grow within the influence area of its root zone was a Philadelphus (Mock Orange) that I moved there years ago to make way for a greenhouse window, some iris and a wild cherry tree planted by a bird sitting on the basketweave fence.  It germinated and is growing in the gap between boards. 

***You'll never guess what I found in one of my raised beds this week.  Soil was piled up in a corner of a covered bed, and I assumed I had a gopher in that bed.  I grabbed my sharp-pointed dibble and started spearing into the soil, hit something and pulled it out.  It was a donut, not a little cake donut, but a large once-glazed donut.  I presume squirrels interred it.  It's far too large for a mouse or vole to carry, and the fine soil didn't look like Tathers's work.  My covers over the beds are affixed to the ribs that are set every four feet.  In between, the covers are sufficiently loose that even Tathers can jump up and under.  Covers do deter most insects and give frost and wind protection.

***Europe is going to allow genetically modified corn to be sold there, ending a six-year moratorium. Today's youngsters may grow up to completely different vegetables than we're familiar with.  I've heard more than one young adult remark that they didn't like those soft tomatoes because they felt "rotten" and the taste was overpowering.  They prefer the firm cannonballs bred for withstanding shipping and being picked green. 

Also a source of profound dismay is the remark I've evoked from more than one young adult: "I don't want to grow my own vegetables in dirt. I'll just get them from the supermarket."  The only two fresh vegetables that are not grown in soil are some tomatoes and some cucumbers, grown hydroponically.  Everything else grows in soil, or dirt, if you must.  If one doesn't grow in his/her own soil, they're taking a chance on what kind of soil food is grown in.  It can be pretty bad.  Duff Wilson's book, "Fateful Harvest," claims some farm fertilizers even contain hazardous materials. 

If you have children at home or grandchildren in the vicinity, grow some food crop among your flowers to show them how food grows.  Do not grow them where you have used or will use systemic insecticides though.  Many food plants are beautiful. Some hot pepper plants, eggplants, cardoon, artichokes, chards (especially the colored ones), lettuces and beets, for instance, are attractive in a flower garden.

Years ago I attended a conference on the Utah State University campus in Logan, and while walking across campus marveled at the beauty of their flower beds.  I looked closer, and the "flowers" were all vegetables.  ###


MORMON CRICKETS ON THE MOVE                              May 7, 2004

Mormon crickets (flightless katydids) are on the move in the foothills from Elmore county to Emmett, and in the foothills of the Owyhees.  Entomologist Mike Cooper, of the Idaho State Agriculture Dept., said he'd had reports of bands moving one way, some moving another, and even a report that two bands marched toward one another, mingling as they passed through. 

The State is supplying individual landowners with Carbaryl bait, and Federal authorities are spreading it on Federal lands.  Will they reach our gardens in town?  Nobody knows.  They're trying their best to bar them, but it may be impossible. 

These huge insects (about two inches long, brown and looking like humpbacked grasshoppers) cannot fly, but they can walk and hop a few inches.  They can climb fairly smooth surfaces, but couldn't climb something like smooth aluminum flashing. 

Homeowners can buy bait locally.  Zamzows are carrying it in plastic containers.  It is a bait that also kills slugs, snails, earwigs, ants, grasshoppers, cutworms, millipedes and sowbugs. Follow label instructions precisely in scattering this bait.  If you dump it in a pile (against label instructions), pets may be attracted, eat it and at least get sick. 

Keep in mind these crickets are a natural phenomenon in this part of the nation. They've been active here for millennia, especially numerous and active (or destructive) during drought periods.  We won't really be safe from them until we've emerged from the drought.

***If you have the type of needled evergreen tree that puts out "candles," that's your new growth, and the needled branches will mature to that extent.  If you want to control growth, for instance of a mugho pine, cut off the candles now. 

***This is also the time to prune many spring-blooming shrubs.  Right after they blossom, they prepare to form buds for next year's blossoms, so you want to prune before they form those buds.  If your forsythia didn't bloom fully for you this year, remove 1/3 of the stems near soil level this year.  You can remove another 1/3 next year and the last 1/3 the third year, and end up with a rejuvenated shrub. 

I cut my forsythia back to the ground last spring, and it was as good as new this spring. 

***Codling moth alert: The Treasure Valley Pest Alert Network, from the University of Idaho and Oregon State University, expects codling moth emergence around May 12 - 15, so if you're going to spray to prevent "worm" damage to your apples, start spraying by about May 12.  You will have to repeat your spraying a number of times, depending on what barrier or pesticide you spray.  Follow label directions. 

*** Cherry fruit fly - they're expected to be laying eggs by May 21 in the Payette area, and May 22 in the Caldwell area.  Spraying a day or two before those dates should deter or kill the mature egg-laying flies.  Again, depending on what you're spraying, you will have to re-spray a number of times before harvest.  Cherry harvest is usually June or July, so that's not as onerous as repeated sprayings for codling moth larvae. 

Codling moth larvae are the principal pests invading apples and pears in our area.  ##


Whoa!  Beware of cocoa mulch!  I just discovered they're selling bags of cocoa shell mulch in Boise.  It smells good to humans and animals, and beloved pets may eat it.  It can kill them.  All part s of the cocoa plant contain theobromine, a stimulant of the central nervous and cardiovascular systems.  The mulch contains it too.  Symptoms of theobromine poisoning are restlessness, panting, pacing, and anxious behavior. 


INSECTS IN THE GARDEN                                                                   April 30, 2004

There are several ways to deal with insects in the garden: spray them with poison, hand smash each one, repel them, attract beneficial insects that will destroy them, train your pets to control them, or run from them.  The first and last options are the worst. Hand smashing is 100% effective, but most of us don't have that much time. Former BSU President John Barnes had a dog that plucked tomato hornworms off plants.  I don't think he trained it, but was certainly lucky in having such a pet.  Unfortunately, dogs only get interested when the hornworms are huge, and have already done considerable damage.

Products are available in garden stores that are effective at repelling insects.  Garlic Barrier does have an odor for the first few minutes, then it dissipates, no longer offending the human nose, but retaining its effectiveness as a repellant.  It "keeps insects off plants, trees, fruits and vegetables."  I wonder if it would keep codling moths from laying eggs on apples. One woman on an Internet garden list said one Garlic Barrier spray in her back yard kept it mosquito-free for several weeks.  Product instructions recommend re-spraying every 14 days.

That is a very good thing in this day, even spraying every two weeks, when we have to beware of mosquito-borne West Nile virus.  When we first moved to Boise in 1971 we had to patrol and inspect the house each night for mosquitoes ready to fly around and disturb our sleep.  Apparently the city got mosquitoes under better control, and we haven't had a mosquito in the house for several years.

Incidentally, since mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water, and larvae hatch in the water, there are also "mosquito dunks" (donut-like things) that kill mosquito larvae without harming fish, etc.  Read the product label before buying to make sure it's safe, especially if you have valuable koi. 

Another excellent repellant is Neem, or any product containing Neem.   It also kills immature insects.  Another repellant and insecticide is Hot Pepper Wax.  I have not used this product, but several people use homemade insecticide by running very hot peppers through the blender, straining, then spraying and killing insects in the garden.  The effective ingredient in the commercial and homemade products is capsaicin, that substance that makes hot peppers hot.

I prefer to use beneficial insects to handle the problem.  You can buy lady beetles, but you have to follow instructions on release, and there's no guarantee they'll stay in your vicinity.  Their larvae are more beneficial than the adults, gobbling aphids by the score.  If you choose plants that will attract beneficial insects, that's the easiest way to get them. 

In general, plants that blossom in umbels (sort of an umbrella of tiny blossoms) are best at attracting beneficial insects.  That includes Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot), parsley, dill, fennel, tansy, yarrow (especially fern-leaf yarrow), Anthemis or Marguerite, Caraway, Coriander (Cilantro), Angelica, buckwheat, and similar-flowering plants.  I've also found Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a very effective magnet for tiny beneficial wasps (they don't sting) and other beneficial insects.  They need shallow blossoms so they can feed on nectar.

What do these beneficial insects control?  Aphids, mites, small insects, insect eggs, thrips, whiteflies, eggs of moths such as cabbage moths, Colorado potato beetle, asparagus beetle, and possibly leafminers. 

Another excellent partner in your garden is a wasp.  Since the foothill fire, there have been a large number of wasps in the city.  Unless they're trying to build a nest in the doorway, we leave them alone and they leave us alone.  They fly slowly through my garden, up and down the rows, watching for tiny larvae to hatch from eggs.  They snatch up the larva, and carry it to their nest, packing it in an eggcase so the hatching wasp larva will have food available.  They do a very good job, and I haven't had a tomato hornworm or cabbage worm problem in many years. 

Important things to know are the identity of the insect you're killing, and is it causing so much damage you must destroy it?  How does that insect live?  If it only feeds at night, you're unlikely to kill him with a contact spray administered during daylight hours.  If you use a substance that has a long-lasting effect, please don't use it if it kills bees.  Diatomaceous earth, supposedly benign to humans (barring a gust of wind that makes you inhale it), may be toxic to bees too.  Botanical insecticides such as Rotenone and Pyrethrum, even though derived from plants and hence "natural," are far more toxic than some of the synthetic chemical insecticides such as Malathion. 

There are baits available for slugs, snails, and even sowbugs.  Sowbugs are those segmented little creatures that look like dull Airstream trailers, with many legs.  British call them "wood lice," and for some reason people in the Pacific Northwest call them "potato bugs."  Some also call them "roly polys" because some species of them roll into a ball when disturbed.  Their main diet is decaying vegetation, but your idea of decaying may not agree with theirs, so you occasionally find them eating a ripe strawberry.  I don't bother controlling them. 

Some people are having success in controlling slugs with fresh used coffee grounds.  Others use a spray of 50% household ammonia and 50% water to kill them.  Grasshoppers seem always with us.  They're sluggish in early morning, and climb up plants to catch warmth of the sun, so they're easy to catch by hand. There is an organic control, called "Noseum locustae," but that's really only effective on very small hoppers and locusts. I control Colorado potato beetles by hand picking, and watch squash leaves for signs of those clusters of copper-colored squash bug eggs.  I tear that part of a leaf out, and rub it against a fencepost, hearing the eggs pop.  It's crude, but effective. 

If you have caterpillar problems such as "geranium budworm" on geraniums and petunias, use Bacillus thuringiensis, popularly known as BT.  One commercial version is Dipel.  It's available in powder and I think, in liquid concentrate.  It only affects the digestive system of caterpillars, so is safe around pets, bees, etc. 

Earwigs are numerous and sometimes startling when they rocket out of lettuce you're washing.  They're regarded as beneficial to some extent, so many people don't try to control them.  They look for dark places to hide, and will cheerfully take up residence in the holes at the end of a piece of corrugated cardboard.  Tap that on the side of a bucket of hot soapy water, and you'll dispatch many earwigs.

Soap sprays are quite safe for humans and pets, but they have to contact the insect you're killing. Box elder bugs are easy to control in spring since they congregate on warm surfaces in large numbers.  You can make your own soap spray out of a teaspoon or two of dishwashing detergent in a pint sprayer of water, but don't spray this on plants.  You can spray soap (not detergent) on most plants without harming them.  Squash plants do NOT like soap sprays, unfortunately.  How do you find soap? The laundry section of supermarkets usually has bars of Fels Naptha soap.  Pare off several slivers (about 3 tablespoons' worth), drop them into a milk jug and add water, shaking vigorously to dissolve the soap. then use one teaspoon of this mix per pint sprayer.   

One thing I've noticed that works with aphids is to let an occasional sowthistle (Sonchus asper or S. oleraceous) grow and attract aphids like mad.  As long as they're happy there, they're not bothering other plants.  When it gets loaded with aphids, I cut it off at soil level and put it in trash, covering it quickly.  Sow thistle looks like coarse or wild dandelions, in leaf and blossom.  S. asper has spiny leaves and is perennial, the other does not have spines and is an annual. 

If you have grubs in your lawn or black vine weevils (they cut notches -- not circles -- in leaves of peonies and other plants) whose grubs are eating roots, look at the instructions on a pack of nematodes and see if this is the time of year to distribute them.  They are unsegmented, usually microscopic, worms that puncture and kill grubs. 

Any time you are using a commercial product for pesticide, be sure to read the label and follow instructions, for your own safety.  ##


SPRING MEANS BUSY IN THE GARDEN                 April 23, 2004 (Happy birthday wm. shakespeare)

Spring is that time when you see your bulb plants blossom and suddenly realize you wanted them in another location.  Well, you can move them now, but leave the foliage intact.  Foliage continues to feed the bulbs until it turns brown.  Some folks remove the foliage when it has turned yellow, but others wait until it's turned brown.  You risk not being able to find them at all if you wait until they've disappeared.

If you're moving lilies, make sure you get a good-sized root ball with the plant.  If the weather is hot or there's a strong breeze blowing, shelter your newly-transplanted treasure from the worst of the day.  Doing that for a few days often means the difference between transplanting success and failure.

***If you have any ash trees in your yard, examine them for signs of borer attack.  Holes are very obvious, about pencil diameter-sized.  For some reason these lilac-ash borers (Podosesia syringae) seem to congregate at crotches and outside the junctures of branches.  We have a Kimberly Blue Ash that already had a pseudomonas disease, then it was so riddled with borers some branch junctions looked like sieves.  The tree was mature 32 years ago when we bought this house, so it's old.  It's not a significant part of our landscape, but I still hate to lose a tree. 

It has taught me, though, that ash trees are allelopathic to some extent, inhibiting growth of some plants nearby.  If mint can't grow and proliferate near a tree, you know there's a problem of some plant growth inhibitor in the soil, probably coming from the ash tree.  Mint usually spreads all over the place.

Also, it's a good idea to examine your lilac bushes for signs of this borer.  Bayer Tree & Shrub Insect Control would probably control them. 

***Hosta leaves are now growing from their "eyes."  This is a good time to try used coffee grounds to kill slugs.  Melanie Vassallo, a garden writer from Long Island, NY, says some of her neighbors grow hostas for cut hosta leaves in bouquets.  Naturally they must be undamaged by insects, so in addition to using slug bait Sluggo, they put cold used coffee grounds directly on the hosta eyes (not around them).  This supposedly kills newly-hatched slugs before they can do any damage.  Slug eggs, incidentally, look like Osmocote fertilizer, white soft BB-sized eggs.  Ick.

If you don't have enough coffee grounds, ask for used coffee grounds from a restaurant or large office near you.  Some people say coffee grounds alone control slugs in their flower beds, others say slugs are crawling over old coffee grounds.  Perhaps they need to be fresh and loaded with liquid caffeine to be effective. 

Some slug baits are toxic to pets, others are not.  Be sure to read the label for pet safety before buying a product if you have pets who have access to your bait areas.

*** Tall bearded iris, the most common type we grow in this area, thrives on spring rains, then has very low water requirements for the rest of the year.  It's a good candidate for Xeriscape gardens.  Siberian iris has a different appearance and different water needs.  One expert said Siberian iris have "wet feet" in spring, when rivers are high, then they're dry after the rivers subside.  That's more water than tall bearded iris could tolerate. 

*** Ex-Californians are hesitant to try Acanthus here because that plant is a slug and snail magnet  in California.  Some varieties of Acanthus or Bear's breeches are hardy here, and although we do have slugs, we do not have the Brown snail that ravages foliage in California.  It's a very nice accent plant, with lovely foliage that was the inspiration for the tops of Corinthian columns in ancient Greece.

***In the vegetable garden, it's still too early to plant out frost-tender plants such as tomatoes, peppers, etc.  Wait until the snow has melted  off Shafer's Butte.  If you're considering planting the "three sisters" way (of corn, beans and squash together), start the corn at least two weeks before the beans.  Corn for grinding into meal works best, since nobody will be thrashing through the plot picking sweet corn.  Beans you plant would best be beans destined for harvest as dry beans rather than for use as snap beans for the same reason.  Squash should be a vining squash or pumpkin, the leaves shading out weeds.  Beans would take some nitrogen out of the atmosphere to feed the corn, and the corn provides support for climbing bean vines.  They grow well together, and when eaten together, provide a complete and balanced food. 

Incidentally, if you've been disappointed with your pumpkin pies made from Jack o'Lantern pumpkins, those pumpkins really don't make good pies.  But in this three sisters planting, if you'll plant Butternut squash, that makes excellent "pumpkin" pies.  Butternut squash and pumpkins are very close relatives.    ##

COPING WITH A LAWN                      April 16, 2004   

We're fast approaching hot weather, the time of maximum stress on lawns and lawn owners.  How much to water? when do you fertilize? how do you get rid of weeds?  Do you have thatch buildup?  What causes thatch?  Should you hire a lawn service?

You can spend $13 and save yourself hundreds if you buy Tom Ogren's new book, "What the 'Experts' May NOT Tell You About Growing the Perfect Lawn."  One thing I like a lot about this book are his "Insider's Tips," in grey blocks, so they're easily spotted.  The tips are great, and range from what kind of weather in which to apply herbicides to the benefits of "topdressing." 

Should you use chicken manure on your lawn?  Ogren says no, because it will "burn" your lawn and it's usually full of fly eggs that will hatch and create a major nuisance.  He suggests using composted chicken manure instead, which will not burn or produce zillions of flies.  For organic fertilizers, he has good words for soybean meal.  I'm a little surprised he didn't write about the use of corn gluten meal, but the price of that has shot up 50% recently because ranchers are feeding their cattle corn gluten meal instead of meat byproducts.  That's what they should have been doing anyway, I think.  Soybean meal may follow corn gluten meal's rise, though, since it's also a large animal food. 

How do you handle thatch?  It's best first of all to plant grasses not prone to thatch buildup, according to Ogren, who also names names.  Judicious use of fertilizer encourages earthworm and microbe activity that slows or prevents thatch buildup. One chapter is devoted to renovating an existing lawn, something many of us contemplate at times.

Ogren advises mowing at a height of 2 and 1/2 inches.  Our part of the country is harsher than his, and I prefer a three inch mowing height to shade or cool grass roots from some of our extremely hot temperatures. 

In his book, Ogren also recommends 25 trees for planting in your lawn.  You should watch for hardiness of any trees you consider, as well as the presence of overhead wires.  Once you find a tree you like, you'd be well-advised to telephone the Boise Community Forester's office (384-4083) and ask what they think of that tree.  There are local problems with a number of trees, including borers in ash and black locust trees and sycamore anthracnose.

If your lawn care is burdensome, Ogren has excellent suggestions on hiring professional lawn care services.  If you just don't want to bother with that either, look carefully at his suggestions for ground cover.  You will have to watch for hardiness (to be completely safe, make sure you select a ground cover good to zone 4).

Ogren is author of "Allergy-Free Gardening" and "Safe Sex in the Garden," both about how to avoid allergic reactions to your outdoor plantings, and he's mindful of allergies brought up by lawn grasses too. Lawns are a major source of allergic responses.

*** Go ahead and plant your Easter lilies in soil if you like.  They won't bloom next year at Easter, but they'll bloom at their normal time, about mid-summer.  They're forced into bloom for Easter, and that's an extemely complex operation.  If you get lily pollen on your clothes, it will stain.  Do not do anything to it, but put the garment or cloth in bright sun until the pollen is completely dry.  It may then be brushed off without staining.

*** If you have sapling trees you wrapped with protective paper or plastic last fall, unwrap them now so they can breathe.  Pull mulch away from plants too.  You may leave it in place for microbes to move the nutrients into the soil or gather it up and put it on your compost pile. 

***After your spring-blooming shrubs have finished blooming, prune them to shape.  You're not supposed to prune them so they look like ice cream cones, but that's the easiest look to obtain.  You're supposed to prune them like a broad-topped pyramid so that the low branches are not shaded out by upper branches. 




Growing culinary herbs is fun, and they spice up meals in a healthy way.  There are some edible herbs that are perennials, others are annuals.  Some are tender to low temperatures, others tolerate them.  All of the following grow well in containers, so are good for patio planting or in a small yard.

The following herbs (and many others) grow well here in SW Idaho, provided they have good drainage.  Most herbs require full sun exposure, and modest amounts of water.  Annuals need richer soil than the perennials, but I don't fertilize any herbs unless they show signs of nutritional deficiency such as stunting or discolored leaves.

Fresh herbs taste wonderful, but you must use a lot more of them than you would of dried herbs.  For instance, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of dried basil, use at least three teaspoons of fresh minced basil.  Drying concentrates the flavor. 

One of the most-used herbs in the kitchen is Basil.  This comes in lemon, purple, Thai, sweet, lettuce-leafed, Genovese, tiny-leafed, cinnamon, and holy or sacred varieties plus many others. Thai basil is best saved for Thai cooking.  The Sweet, Genovese, Lettuce-leafed or tiny leafed (Fino verde or Globe) are useful blended in pestos (with garlic, olive oil, and crushed pine nuts or walnuts or sunflower seeds).  The tiny-leafed globe basils are very attractive and would be striking border plants, needing only a little trimming to maintain their globular shape.  Twigs and stems are very soft, so you can blend leaves and twigs altogether. If you mix them in with ornamental plants, be sure you don't use a systemic pesticide in that area or a fertilizer containing a systemic pesticide.

Basils are more than frost tender.  They'll turn black at a temperature of 38° F. (frost is at 32°). One of the main growing problems with basil is keeping them from going to seed.  Nip them back to four leaves, and use the cuttings in your cooking or blend the cuttings with oil and freeze in ice cube trays. Later pop them out into plastic baggies, and use in cooked dishes during winter. Whenever you cut basil back (before it goes to seed), it will bush out, producing more succulent leaves and stems. 

The purple basil may be used to dye vinegar a beautiful pink color, while lending its flavor to the vinegar as well.  Stick a sprig of the basil into a bottle of vinegar and let it rest in darkness for a few weeks.  Do   NOT try this with oil.  Vinegar is sufficiently acid to prevent botulism, but oil is not. 

Nearly any variety of  basil is especially great minced on tomato slices and in any dish dominated by tomatoes.

Another basic cooking herb is chives.  They're perennial and very hardy.  Cut the leaves about 1/2 inch from the base and chop them for cooking use, then the plant will grow new leaves.  You can also use the flower heads (lavender) in salads.  They're good too.  Garlic chives have broader leaves and very pretty white umbrella-shaped blossoms.  The leaves are flavorful in salads or as baked potato toppings.

Rosemary is a must, but unless you have a very special place for it, it won't live outdoors over winter here.  It's often used on poultry, but may be used in breads, herb butters, with other roast meats in place of mint jelly, or on fruit salads to heighten sweetness without adding sugar.

Rosemary is a perennial, and is difficult to keep alive indoors because it's a magnet for spider mites.  They love hot dry conditions, so if you can spritz your rosemary often, at least once each day,  you can keep it alive and keep spider mites away.

Mint is a very useful herb, but it can be a thug in the garden.  Those folks who do grow it and control it grow it in containers that they turn every day or so so that the roots can't establish in the ground. They watch for above-soil runners sneaking over container sides too. Mint mainly spreads by above-ground runners.

Oregano and Sweet Marjoram can also be thuggish in the garden, spreading in every direction.  You can harvest Oregano and Sweet Marjoram grown in this area, but they don't taste as good as the commercial herbs.  The best Sweet Marjoram is not hardy here, nor is the best Oregano.   

Perennial fennel is useful, and a delicious addition to fish.  We have a fennel plant growing adjacent to the foundation on the south side of our house.  Obviously it's not sensitive to the alkaline leaching from the foundation, as many plants are. We can pick pieces from it year around, and it has lived there for over five years.

Parsley does well here, but it's sometimes hard to start from seed.  Buy a plant of a variety that should be hardy here, let it overwinter, and next year it will blossom, attracting tiny beneficial wasps, then set seed.  It will replant itself where it would prefer to grow.  I let it alone and let it grow in the spots it chooses.  Flat-leafed parsley is better-flavored than the curly-leafed, but both are rich in vitamins A, C, several B vitamins, calcium and iron. It's best used fresh or dried.  If you've ever tasted rancid canned parsley you'll know what rancid tastes like.

Thyme is another easily grown culinary herb here.  It's a hardy perennial. There are lemon thymes and many other subtypes, but the most useful is the plain old English thyme.  Harvest it year around to enhance salads and any meats.  Lemon thyme is good on fish dishes.

 There are more culinary herbs than I've listed above.  I'll write another essay on them next week. 

treasure valley nurseries

Good Scents Herb Nursery is located at 1308 N. Meridian Rd., between Pine and Fairview.  They're carrying 400 varieties of herb plants, chosen for their culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, color dye or landscape values.  They do not use pesticides or synthetic chemicals.

Their plants are grown from seed or cuttings, none are wild-harvested. They also carry dwarf citrus trees,  tender and hardy succulents and cacti.  Allied with them at that location is Plum Blossom Bonsai, a division devoted to finished Bonsai, training stock, rare and miniature conifers, Bonsai pots, tools and soil. 

Annya and Joe Dethman own Good Scents; Plum Blossom Bonsai is owned by Suzi Dethman.

The nursery is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5.  In their garden store they have many unique gifts, garden essentials and handmade garden decorations.  They sponsor classes in living wreaths, container gardening, fairy gardens, Bonsai training, cooking with herbs, making hypertufa containers, and other craft projects involving herbs.   ##


Don't Let Weeds Spoil Garden Pleasure                     April 2, 2004

The sooner you can get the upper hand on weeds, the better.  Some weeds such as cheat grass do a lot of their growing in the winter.  If you have pets, you'll save on veterinarian bills and animal anguish if you get rid of the cheat grass before it sets seed.  Those seeds have barbs that lodge in animal ears and mouths, even in cattle where I think the result is called "lump jaw."

The smaller the weed seedling, the easier it is to get rid of it.  Green hearts back-to-back? Mallow seedlings, and they'll grow a long taproot before they set button-like rings of seeds.  Crabgrass in your garden?  That's two tiny grass blades, one longer than the other. 

Regardless of appearance, if you didn't plant it and your property is not new to you, chances are it's a weed.  Hula hoes, scuffle hoes, Winged Weeders, IdaHoes, and similar scraping tools work great to remove these tiny seedlings.  When weeds get older, it takes muscle to chop them out.

Kochia seedlings look like velvety pines, but they'll grow to 5 feet before you know it.  Years ago, what appeared to be a volunteer Catalpa tree popped up in my herb garden. The leaves were the same size and shape, although my volunteer's leaves felt velvety, not hard and shiny like Catalpa leaves.  I saw a specimen leaf of my volunteer at the Extension office.  Velvet Leaf, yes, that was it.  Oh, no!  Weed, and the seeds from it remain viable for over 50 years!  That was yanked out very quickly. 

Once you've removed weed seedlings, either mulch bare ground thickly with grass clippings free of herbicide, or soil-aid or wood chips or shredded leaves or even newspapers to a thickness of at least six sheets. Even sawdust is okay on top of the soil.  You're trying to make it dark so seedlings won't germinate. Some farmers allegedly plow fields at night, expecting fewer weeds germinating. It doesn't take much, though, even a flash of moonlight is all weed seeds need.  Those farmers are probably moonlighting, literally, working city jobs during days, farming at night.

Thick mulch means you won't have to worry about plants coming up there again the rest of the summer.  Just be careful you don't snug the mulch up too close to plant crowns or trunks. I'd leave at least an inch "breathing room" around herbaceous (non-woody) plants, up to 5 or 6 inches space around a tree trunk.

Or you could use chemicals to prevent weeds' resurgence.

There are chemical assistants such as Casoron, Preen, Surflan, Ronstar, Pendulum,  and others, available at garden centers.  If you want to use any of these, it's absolutely essential that you read the label and obey application instructions. Instructions are essential for the well-being of humans and pets as well as the plants you apply any of these herbicides near.  Casoron, for use in controlling weeds and grasses around roses, evergreens and other woody ornamentals, requires that there be no living seedlings before application. You may not apply it during hot weather, either, and watch out for newly-planted trees and shrubs. 

Preen, Surflan, Ronstar, Pendulum, etc., are also pre-emergent herbicides, and won't kill existing weeds, so be sure and clean out weeds and read the label before applying. These products are available for use in flower beds, but I wouldn't use them in vegetable beds.  For any of these chemicals' effects on humans, see .

To prevent future weeding problems, do not let weeds go to seed.  Some weeds cut or removed in flower, will go to seed, even though dead, so don't put things like dandelion flowers in compost.  To be safe, don't put any flowers of any weeds in your compost.  Weeds gone to seed mean more work for you or someone else.  Did you ever notice that when you put some of the broadleaf weed killers on your lawn that the dandelions went quickly to seed?  Some herbicides are growth hormones, causing the plant to speed up and go to seed.  Then you don't have just the one dandelion. 

Some scientists invented a robot to pull weeds.  The robot pulls up plants, but doesn't know which are weeds.  Any gardener could have told them that would happen.  ##



Ahhhh, spring!                                                    March 26, 2004

Every year there comes a time when a soft breeze brushes your cheek, and winter gives a parting sigh.  Bare earth looks like soft crepe, and fruit buds crack, revealing color.  It's the time old outdoor marble players used to relish, the time gardeners savor.  It's time to garden, marbles stored with memories.

Sunday, March 21, was such a day.  Temperatures and soft spring breezes comfortable to work in.  My favorite weather.  Planted lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Chinese cabbage and Pac Choi seedlings, spinach, carrot and beet seeds, and most of my Yukon Gold potatoes saved for seed potatoes.

Since forsythia is in bloom, this is the time to cut roses back, as well as apply crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide to your lawn.

Always mowing your lawn at a height of three inches also helps to prevent crabgrass germination because grass blades are tall enough to shade spots where crabgrass might get a foothold.  We use corn gluten meal (from Zamzows) for fertilizer on our lawn, and it also helps prevent weed seeds from germinating. My main problem is with coarser grass (of the quack  persuasion) invading flower and herb beds.

But not all grasses are bad.  Many are beautiful, their narrow blades contrasting with fat leaves of  shrubs and perennials.  Incidentally, this is the time to cut ornamental grasses back to allow the sun to warm their crowns, encouraging attractive new growth. Last year's blades are tawdry by comparison. Tie the blades together near the top, in a shock, then cut your grass back to a height of three or four inches. Then you just have one bundled shock to pick up instead of several scattered blades.

If you haven't divided a clump of grass for five years or more, this is the time to do it.  Dig up the clump and cut/hack/saw it apart, then replant a smaller segment of the clump.  Water even drought-tolerant grasses well until they're established.  It may take two growing seasons for them to get sufficiently settled to tolerate less water.

Some narrow-leaved ornamentals popularly called "grasses" are really sedges (triangular in cross-section) or rushes (with round stems). Grasses (including bamboo) have hollow stems except at the joints.  Sedges and rushes grow better in moist soil, so select your ornamental grass with water usage in mind. 

If you want to maintain some control over your garden beds, you'd better know whether an ornamental grass you're considering planting is a clumper or a creeper.  Clumping grasses grow in slowly expanding tufts.  Creepers put out horizontal stems above or below ground that take root in other locations, creating entire new plants. Some creepers even form dense mats or carpets, so they work well as ground covers, provided they don't go looking elsewhere for more living room.  If the horizontal stems are above soil, they're called stolons; those below the surface are rhizomes. 

Grasses may also spread by seeds.  If you're growing a seedy variety, you may have to deadhead (remove seedheads) to avoid pulling out unwanted volunteers. Many varieties have seedheads that are attractive through winter, though.  Don't deadhead needlessly.

Some grasses have spiky upright blades, others have soft foliage that arches downward, as a fountain spray.  The seedheads of these graceful grasses often are spiky, however.  The large grasses such as Panicum virgatum, Miscanthus sinensis or Calamagrostis x acutiflora are very dramatic in a garden bed.  Pampas grass is not really hardy here, but many people use Miscanthus species as a substitute.

Some grasses have variegated blades, and colors range from blue through various shades of green to yellow and even red.  There are even black-colored grasses available. Watch for hardiness, however. We're overdue for a zone 4 (below minus 20° F) winter.  Most ornamental grasses prefer full sun, but some tolerate some shade.  Nurseries and greenhouses in this valley have very good selections of ornamental grass right now.  The sooner you plant them, the better, so they have a chance to get established before the heat of summer.  #



Bareroot roses                                                    March 19, 2004

If you're planting bare root roses, take a close look at the roots.  If any are broken raggedly, use sharp clippers to snip them off cleanly.  Some growers are shipping bare root roses with roots cut back to about 4 inches, and many of those who plant them find they die  quickly.  Roots should be six to eight inches long.

If you're planting bare rooted roses (or trees), the best thing you can do is stand them in water overnight to allow them a good  drink of water the day you receive them, provided you intend to plant them the following day. You can give them an even better chance at life if you add a drop of Superthrive (or follow label directions), a vitamin-hormone supplement.  This product is available at garden stores, and you may have passed it up since the label covered with type looks like something out of the patent medicine era, but it is a great product. 

If you can't plant your new rose or tree right away, leave  it or them in their container and spritz the roots lightly every two or three days until you can put them to soak, then plant.  Alternatively, "heel them in."  This is a process of putting plant roots in soil at about a 45 degree angle, and covering the roots with soil.  It puts them in a state of suspended animation, but keeps them alive. 

Unusually long roots may be trimmed neatly.  Dig a hole large enough for roots to spread out, then build a cone in the center to hold the plant at the proper depth for planting.  This depth should leave the graft union at soil level or two inches below for winter protection.  You will have suckering, but that's easier taken care to protect  cut canes.

The soil around the newly-planted rose should be kept moist, but not swampy.  If soil is too wet, it bars oxygen, and roots do need to breathe too.

MORMON CRICKETS -- Yes, they've hatched.  Idaho State Dept. of Agriculture entomologist Mike Cooper said he'd been informed they were seen in the Mayfield area, about 20 miles southeast of Boise. They'll wander around and grow for a month or two before they gather to march as a horde, consuming most greenery as they go. 

Federal and state officials will try to control them with Carbaryl bait before they travel far.  When last seen last fall they were in the foothills above Boise, at an altitude of about 4,000 feet, laying eggs.  No telling which direction they'll choose to go.  They're not really crickets, remember, they're ground-dwelling katydids.  Large grasshopper-like insects that pop and slime the road when you run over them. They cannot fly, but they can walk about a mile per day en masse. They can climb rough barriers, but are stymied by smooth barriers such as flashing. 

They're a natural and cyclical phenomenon in this part of the West, but we haven't had such an invasion for the past 32 years that I've lived in this valley.  When they move, they leave fields bare.   

They're popularly called Mormon crickets because they devastated many crops of early Mormon settlers in the northern Utah area until flocks of seagulls moved in and halted the damage.  Grateful settlers erected a monument to seagulls in Salt Lake City. But as one official in Nevada said last summer, seagulls get full, and can't eat another bite. 

JAPANESE BEETLES -- We don't have them, and we don't want them. They have been found in containerized plants as close as Montana, and a small population that appeared on Colorado's western slope has caused some major  scrambling among Colorado agriculture officials.  If you find a large white grub (an inch long or longer) with a black head or a 3/8-inch scarab-shaped beetle with metallic blue-green shoulders and head and copper-colored back, rows of tiny white hairs on its abdomen,  capture it and take it to the University of Idaho Extension office in Ada county, at 5880 Glenwood.   Grubs get active when soil heats to about 50, and move toward the surface, then stop and pupate, finally emerging as adults in June.

See section on Handicapped Gardening, this site, for a nifty way to make inexpensive raised beds out of straw bales.  Be sure the straw hasn't been sprayed with Picloram or Clopyralid before harvest.  Standing the bale on edge and working a hollow into the top, adding compost, starts the decay process, and you plant right into that. As one woman on the organic gardening list suggested, a fast way to start straw decay is to add urine.  Umm, don't run afoul of the neighbors or the law.  

treasure valley nurseries

The Nature Company, 7106 Ustick (two blocks east of Cole Road), is a full service nursery offering trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and native plants.  Their well-stocked garden center is located at this address as well.  They also do custom landscape contracting.  Owners are Nora and James Adams.



Ready, Set, Plant!                                             March 12, 2004

I always like to start planting my garden on St. Patrick's Day, provided there isn't a blizzard raging or several inches of snow to cut through.  I plant peas and potatoes first, even though potato foliage may be blackened by frost a few times before summer.  Potatoes revive after such low temperatures.

I no longer plant shelling peas because shelling too much work for a little food.  But we love sugar snap peas for stir-fry or eating fresh.  In my experience, the pole variety of sugar snaps bears more heavily than the bush variety, but since I'm gardening from a sitting position in raised beds, the bush variety is the only one I can harvest. 

Even vegetable-hating children love raw sugar snap peas.  Another veggie they like is raw kohlrabi, the rind peeled off then cut into matchsticks.  They're crunchy and  sweet.  This is an interesting vegetable all the way around.  When a friend grew the purple kohlrabi her husband asked her what those "space ships" growing next to the gate were.  It looks like a bulbous vegetable that should be underground, but it does grow above ground, leaves growing from the bulb itself.

Years ago I planted them too thickly, then complained about having to discard viable seedlings.  A friend said he'd failed to plant them for his girls, and why didn't we try transplanting my thinnings?  I pulled out plants, and laid them in a container, put a damp paper towel over the roots, and he planted them.  They did grow readily, and the girls had their favorite summer snacks.

ORNAMENTALS -- Every kind of plant marker I've used or seen used has been dislodged or moved by human or animal.  Friends in Boise's North End have seen squirrels pull plant markers out of the soil, and toss them aside.  Those zinc markers that require special pencils also get tripped over by pets or humans, and pulled out of the ground.

When you plant anything, even trees, keep its whereabouts on a hand-drawn map of your property.  That's one of the best ways of locating what is planted where.  Some folks also slip the nursery tag into a pill bottle, lock the lid, and bury it next to the plant for retrieval if and when there is a question about its identity.  If you'll establish a direction in which you ALWAYS bury it such as on the west side of the plant, it will be easy to find when needed. 

Daylilies, or Hemerocallis, are usually thought of as low maintenance.  This daylily rust that's going around, though, will require more attention.  This rust spreads easily to other daylilies, but does not infect other types of plants, and does not kill daylilies. It's just unsightly.  Many gardeners cut off the infected foliage.  New clean foliage will grow in its place.  Do not compost the infected foliage. 

Some varieties found to be rust resistant include Little Business, Mini Pearl, Butterscotch Ruffles, Black-Eyed Stella, Lullaby Baby, Bitsy, Frankly Scarlet, and Plum Perfect. 

Daylilies are not true lilies, and don't have a bulb.  If you're an organic gardener planting true lilies or nearly anything else, an easy fertilizer to use is alfalfa meal.  Don't use rabbit pellets. They often contain corn too, and corn can inhibit germination. 

If you're planting bare-root roses or trees, soak them in water for several hours before putting them in soil.  Give all transplants into soil abundant water to start with, although you don't want to swamp them.  

treasure valley nurseries

DG NURSERY AND TURF, 4195 N. Eagle Rd., prides itself on being a "one-stop garden shop," carrying soil, mulch, compost, seeds, vegetable starts, annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, turf, tools, treatments, gifts and garden accessories.  They're open year-round with holiday decorations and Christmas trees. 

Their staff includes three Certified Arborists, a BSU horticulture graduate, and three Certified Nursery Professionals.  Other employees are trained in-store and encouraged to attend outside workshops and classes.  The company, owned by Daniel "Hoot" and Carolyn Gibson, has been in business for 27 years growing turf. 

They're convenient to Boise, Eagle and Meridian.  From spring through late fall, they're open seven days a week, "early to late." 


FAR WEST LANDSCAPE AND GARDEN CENTER, 5728 W. State St., has grown into a large operation, employing 65 staff during peak times.  Dennis Fix, owner with his wife Maya, got into the business at ground level (!) after watching landscapers work.  He then went to work for a landscaping company in the Magic Valley before moving to Boise where he attended BSU and worked for Far West.  He bought the business in 1993.

Their landscape division has three full-time designers and five full-time landscaping crews. At the nursery itself, they carry hard-to-find items as well as all of the products you'd expect to find in a full-service retail store.  They have low employee turnover, so you can work with or buy from the same people year after year.  They're also people who know our climate and soils. 


Spring Maintenance here and there -- March 5, 2004

You can cut your Buddleias back severely. I prefer to cut back to within a foot of the soil surface.  I love this bush, and so do butterflies.  It's also known as Butterfly bush.  I haven't heard of its self-seeding freely in our area, but apparently it does so west of the Cascades.  A couple of weeks ago, the Oregon State Weed Board added Buddleia to its noxious weed "B" list. 

In Washington it has been known to come up in a sidewalk crack growing to a height of ten feet.  Obviously the sidewalk was not in frequent use.  State weed control officials in Oregon made their decision after they observed thickets of butterfly bushes crowding out young Douglas fir seedlings planted as part of a reforestation project.  This was miles away from residential areas where Buddleias are common. 

In perennial beds, it's time to pull the mulch aside from perennials, but don't remove it from the bed.  We may get more cold weather.  If freezing has heaved any plants out of the soil, push them back into place.  While perennials are small, about four inches in height, this is a good time to divide them.  Dig a clump, and if possible, use back-to-back trowels or garden forks to pry them apart.  You can also cut pie wedges from some beds such as hosta, expanding the size of their coverage by placing wedges of hosta several inches from the main bed.

Wait for new growth to appear on lavender before starting to prune.  This may be as late as June, and then don't prune severely.  Lavender doesn't survive being cut back hard like herbaceous perennials.  This herb is really a sub-shrub and should be treated as a woody plant rather than a herbaceous one.

Cut plume poppies to the ground and divide.  They should be divided every three years or so.  Prune off dead leaves of hellebores, and trim off ragged ones as well.  You can also remove leaves to reveal hellebore blossoms.  New growth will replace this old growth soon anyway. 

*** Do you watch those yard makeover shows on television?  They look like instant gratification, no-work beautiful landscapes.  This is an illusion. To remain beautiful, those yards must be watered, trimmed, fertilized, weeded and cleared of malevolent insects.  I don't think the landscape planners who do the yard makeovers bother to tell the homeowners how to care for their new yards because the average lifespan of one of these makeovers is about six months.

Worse yet is the fact that it's creating a large population of people who want to "have" gardens but don't want "to" garden.  To those of us who love gardening, garden "work" is not really work.  I know people who get ready for work, pour a cup of coffee, then go outside, strolling around their garden observing what is new since yesterday -- and there always are many new surprises in the garden each day. 

Even buying containers of already planted flowers and foliage must be tended to. So tend to them.  You'll find it relaxing and enjoyable. 

***  This is the time of year that the national chain stores send flat upon flat of seedlings and tender plants to their stores, regardless of climate conditions.  If you don't want to throw your money away, be cautious, because our average last date of frost is May 9.  Some plants are "hardy" after they've been in the ground for some time. If you plant them and have a heavy frost that night, you'll probably lose them.  Local nurseries will caution you about the time to plant their plants. 

treasure valley nurseries

Five Mile Farm -- northeast corner of Five Mile and Victory.  Specialize in color combo baskets and pots in various sizes and shapes.  Have a large selection of annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs, plus flowering topiaries, sphagnum moss baskets and wicker baskets.  They'll plant in your container too.  They'll open March 19, and will be open seven days a week through June.  Owners are Chuck and Sharon Gross, and they've been in business there since 1983. 

Sunset Nursery -- in the North End, at 2520 Sunset Ave.  Owners Morgan and Bonnie Morgan carry trees, shrubs, landscape roses, specimen evergreens, ornamental grasses and bonsai.  They specialize in Japanese gardens and bonsai (and the Boise Bonsai society meets at their nursery as well).  They have bonsai plants and candidates for bonsai and the tools you'll need for sale there. They also have unique and hard-to-find plants, and a good selection of statuary and fountains.  About March 15, they'll open 8 to 6 weekdays, 9-5 Saturdays and 10-4 Sundays. 

On the Cusp of Spring                Feb. 27, 2004

It's not here quite yet, so don't jump the gun.  Don't prune your roses until the forsythia blooms.  When the forsythia blooms, that's your signal, too, to use crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide on your lawn if you're going to use it at all.  Timing is critical.  If you don't want to use it, just mow your lawn at a three-inch height all season.  The height of the grass will shade the ground, inhibiting germination of crabgrass seeds.

Do not prune any spring-flowering shrubs until just after they blossom.  I saw a yardman prune a neighbor's spring flowering shrub last fall and wondered  if they'll realize why they don't have flowers on that shrub in spring. 

If you're planting lilies (true lilies, I'm not talking about daylilies) this spring, do NOT use manure in their planting.  It will rot the bulbs.  Manure does the same to iris.  This is the wrong time of year to plant iris, but sometimes we plant when rhizomes are available. 

When planting your gardens, you can mix edible plants in with flowers, but be darned sure you don't use any fertilizer that contains insecticide near edible plants. I think any fertilizer that contains insecticides is a systemic. Systemics enter the circulatory system of plants, entering leaves, blossoms and fruit (if any).  You don't want to dine on insecticide, I'm sure.  I'd be careful, too, about using any chemical herbicide near food plants.  Read the label.

Some insecticides are said to be "botanical" or "organic" because they are derived from plant materials.  Rotenone and pyrethrum are two examples.  Does that make them safer than synthetic chemical insecticides?  NO, it does not make them safer. They're more toxic than some synthetic chemicals.  Any time you're in doubt about a pesticide (insecticide or herbicide), you'll get straight answers by going to  This site is supported by a consortium of five of the nation's top agricultural universities, including the University of Idaho.

For protection of yourself , your family and pets, ALWAYS READ THE LABEL BEFORE USING and follow directions with any product you use. 

If you're a beginning gardener or a gardener who wants to re-think how you garden, you may consider whether you want to be an organic gardener or not.  The difference primarily is whether you want to feed the plant or feed the soil so it can feed the plant. 

There are militant organic gardeners who can make life miserable for everyone.  I'm not one of those, but I do tend to garden organically with an exception: I use Peters' 20-20-20 fertilizer on seedlings.  It's easy to use, and chilly night s cause phosphorus deficiency symptoms in seedlings (bottoms of the leaves turn purple), so a single treatment of Peters's clears that up.   On rare occasions I've used Miracle Gro in the food garden, but I'm not keen on that.  One problem is, apart from the N, P and K, what are the inert ingredients in these fertilizers (and herbicides)? Another aspect is that fertilizers are salts, and they can build up in your soil, rendering it less able to support plant growth.  

As for pesticides, I don't use anything stronger than soap spray or Neem.  Water jets are some of a gardener's best friends, blasting aphids off  plants.  Most aphids can't fly, and will die before they could crawl back up the plant.  I've heard very good things about garlic spray repellants too, and those are available in garden stores.

Many people use dormant oil sprays this time of year.  Be sure and read that label to make sure you're applying during the right temperatures and that the trees or shrubs you're spraying can take dormant oil.  Do NOT spray trees such as blue spruce with dormant oil, or else you'll have a green blue spruce tree for a year or more.  I confess I do not use dormant spray because I have a substantial population of beneficial insects, and dormant oil would smother them too. 

treasure valley nurseries

Edwards Greenhouse, one of the valley's oldest garden centers, is open year-round, but will expand into Spring hours March 29.  Presently they're open six days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Spring hours will extend to 7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., and to 6 Saturday, and they'll be open Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Gardeners know them for their broad selection of annuals and perennials, from rare to common, selected to grow in this area.  Old and new varieties of geraniums, pansies, zinnias, petunias, dahlias, roses, rock garden plants, shrubs, ferns, vines, foliage plants or blossoming, they have an extraordinary selection.  Among their offerings are 5,000 roses, some own-root, others grafted.  They also offer expert help on garden design.

This year Edwards will carry over 100 varieties of peppers and tomatoes, as well as other vegetables of a size to set out in the garden.  They also carry a wide assortment of common and unusual herbs. 

They do custom potting too.  Bring in your own pot or buy one of theirs and leave it for expert planters to fill with plants for a season's enjoyment.  They have thousands of planted hanging baskets available in a range of prices and sizes, for sun or shade.  

Each year they expand their retail shop, with more variety of pots, tools, bulbs, seed starting equipment, gloves, gardening hats, ornaments, fertilizers, soil and compost.  They have bulk seed bins as well as racks from seven different seed companies.

Allied with Edwards is Carpenters Custom Florist, offering custom designs for homes, parties, weddings, and garden baskets.  Carpenters and Edwards are located at 4106 Sand Creek St., off Hill Road between Edwards St. and Tamarack Dr. (a few blocks west of 36th St.).  Garnette Monnie, a member of the Edwards family, is owner of Edwards Greenhouses.    


Substitute Spring for Winter                        Feb. 20, 2004   

You can get spring-like conditions in your garden with some easy steps.  First of all, some of your plants will be somewhat or a lot frost sensitive, so you have to protect  your plants from cold.  Lettuces are sensitive to hard frosts, and so are endives and chicories.  You can protect them with a "cloche" or covered row.

Travis Saling, in the Seattle area, has great instructions for a very large "cloche" or hoophouse at .  If you don't need one that large, there are easy inexpensive ways to go.

I have raised beds, with electrical conduit clamps screwed onto the outside of my beds every few feet.  I thread 3/4 black pipe through there on each side of the bed, then it's easy to stretch some Reemay or agricultural fleece over the top for protection.  My beds are 4 feet across, and I think my pieces of pipe are 7 feet long.  That gives a stable support.  Much longer pieces of pipe wobble and bend. 

If you're planting at soil level, in the ground, the easiest way to go is to pound short pieces of rebar rod or twigs of about 3/8 inch diameter into the ground, leaving about 3 inches projecting above ground.  Do the same thing on the other side of the row, then slip one end of black poly pipe over one projecting rod, the other end over the other projection, and you're on your way to building an archway that will hold agricultural fleece over the plants. 

This cover is not called "floating row cover" for nothing, and you really don't have to arch it.  If you have it fastened down so there's considerable slack over your planted row, plants will just lift the cover as they grow.  I prefer to use the black polypipe arches because I can affix the row cover with large garden clips, slide it back to weed, then pull it back into place.

If you're just fastening the row cover to the ground without the garden clip-polypipe connections, wind will tug and tear your row cover if you use something like earth staples to peg it down.  I've found the best fastener against wind is a 2X4 laid parallel to the planted row.  Since our wind blows from the west sometimes, and from the east at other times, you'd need a 2X4 on each side of the planted row.

I bought my first Walls o' Water from the inventor and his wife at the Boise spring home show many years ago.  Many folks refer to them as WOWs, and WOW is right.  They have tubes to be filled with water, in a teepee-like arrangement around a plant.  It's a fairly simple operation, but there are a couple of pitfalls.  One is to place the device around a bucket on the soil, then fill opposite sides of the circle until all of the tubes are filled.  Before removing the bucket, pick the whole device up, then re-settle it.  Sometimes a tube folds and water doesn't reach the bottom.  Picking it up makes sure water goes to the bottom of each of the tubes, making it more stable.  Don't fill the WOW so full that it tents closed.  You can easily cook your plants that way.

Bending over to fill these tubes can be hard on your back.  A nozzle with a shut-off valve on it helps, and there are nozzles such as those filling stations used to fill radiators.  They're invaluable. I don't know whether they're available locally, but Gardeners Supply carries them by mail order. Ask your garden store for them. I have not used Aguacones, but Ross Hadfield says they work well.  They too need to be filled with water. 

A friend in New Zealand achieves the same WOW effect, she says, by linking several one or two-liter clear bottles filled with water around a plant.  She stabilizes them by taping them together with ever-handy duct tape.

Using devices such as these can give you extra-early tomatoes  or long-season melons you wouldn't be able to grow here without such a season extension. 

*** If your seeds have germinated, and you have a little forest of seedlings, you can thin them with manicure scissors or try to pull them apart and replant separately.  If you have more than about 5 seedlings per square inch, I'd suggest thinning with scissors.  Plants thus cut off above the soil line will not grow back.  To pull seedlings apart, I just roll the planting medium with roots back and forth between thumb and fingers, then pull the easiest out first, roll the medium again, and pull out another plant, etc.  ##

treasure valley nurseries

The Petal Pusher opens today for spring!  It's located at 545 E. Chinden Blvd., just east of Meridian Rd.  It's a full service garden center carrying a broad selection of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs, pottery, garden accents, pond and water feature supplies, soil amendments, pest controls and fertilizers. Tim Wilson is manager for owners A.K. Lienhart-Minnick and Walt Minnick.

Crickett Rudd, knowledgeable plant collector in the Treasure Valley, is plant buyer for The Petal Pusher.  They'll specialize in hard-to-find perennials, native and xeric plants, organic lawn and garden care products, and houseplants.  The entire full time staff and lead seasonal associates of The Petal Pusher have horticultural degrees or are certified Master Gardeners.

They'll have a "horticultural mall" at the Petal Pusher, including landscape architect Paul Norberg of Harvest Designs; providing landscape care for commercial and residential areas; A to Z Sprinkler and Landscape Contractors; and A Treehouse, specializing in exotic plants, trees and houseplants. 

Starting March 1, they'll be open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.  ##


Starting Seeds Indoors                            Feb. 13, 2004

If you're thinking of starting tomato seeds indoors, it's too early unless you plan to use Walls O'Water or Aguacones or some other season-extending device when you plant out.  By the time it's the normal time to transplant into the garden, your plant will be tall, thin ("leggy") and floppy.  It's best to wait at least until March. 

Most experts advise starting tomatoes six to eight weeks before transplanting into the garden after all danger of frost is past.  Our average date of last frost is May 9, but that means half of the last frosts occur after that, half before that date.  I prefer to wait until June 1, because chilly nights can set tomatoes and peppers back so far they don't recover their normal daily rhythms that season.  That means it reduces fruiting, too.  If you set them out June 1, you'd start them April 1-15. 

Starting plants on windowsills is not a good idea.  For one thing, it's colder there than you think.  For another, you must rotate the plants often to keep them from leaning toward the sun.  It's a better idea to start plants under fluorescent lights.  You don't need the lights until they've germinated, but after germination you can use inexpensive fluorescent lights, preferably 40 watt, one cool and one warm light in a fixture.  Grow lights are more expensive, but may be easier to find than the 40 watt bulbs mentioned above.  I haven't looked for them for years, but I've been told there's been a change in the manufacture of fluorescent bulbs. 

One friend props an old pair of skis across the backs of chairs, and uses a light chain to hang the lights from the skis.  The chain will have to be shortened as your plants grow. If you're using the fluorescent lights, they should be quite close to -- perhaps an inch above --  the seedlings. As seedlings grow, raise the lights.

Set your lights on a timer, and run them for 12-16 hours per day.  Plants need rest too, which they'll get in the "off" hours.

Peppers require basically the same treatment as tomatoes.  Both germinate more quickly over bottom heat.  You can find that in your home on top of the refrigerator, top of the water heater, or a heat radiator if your home has those.  One woman puts a flat of planted seeds on top of her computer tower, but I wouldn't recommend that.  Overzealous watering may damage your computer.

Some peppers are slow to germinate. If they're quite hot peppers, they may benefit from an overnight soak of 1 teaspoon saltpetre mixed in one quart of water before planting.  The saltpetre mixture does the job that passing through bird entrails would do for the seed.  If you can't find or order saltpetre from your pharmacist, try Orville Jackson's in Eagle.  I usually start planting the hot peppers around March 1.  I start eggplants a week or two later. 

If you didn't plant spinach and lettuce out in your garden last fall, you can do it anytime after these super-cold nights warm a bit.  They're just some of the crops that can tolerate light frost.  Others are beets, carrots, radishes, leeks and onions.  If you're planting onions from seedlings, you'll find planting easier if you give them a haircut, top and bottom.  Trimming the roots lets you plant them more neatly, and it doesn't hurt them a bit.  Trimming tops seems to stimulate them into new growth, but that may just be my perception.  Don't plant sets below soil level.  Seedlings and sets I've thought were dead ducks and tossed aside lay atop the soil and grew. 

Most of the Asian vegetables can tolerate light frosts, and they mature so quickly it's dazzling. Some go from seed to 14-inch plant in about 30 days.  Asian brands of seeds are available at Edwards Greenhouse and Andrews Seed Co. in Ontario, OR.  In addition, many other seed companies carry Asian vegetable seeds.  Ed Hume, Burpee and others carry some Asian vegetable varieties.  ###

Quiet Revolution in Gardening                         Feb. 6, 2004

There's a quiet revolution going on in gardening. When this revolution gets on its feet, you may never again have to use synthetic chemical brews to protect your plants from disease or feed your plants. 

You may be able to use less water for the same number of plants and even clean your soil of old toxic substances.  This revolution is an organic treatment, and it's called aerobic compost tea.

Many of us have heard of compost tea for years.  It's used as a plant food, foliar spray being a quick pick-me-up and cure for some diseases. But this is different.  It's AERATED compost tea, and apparently it's far superior to plain compost tea.  Why?

The addition of oxygen to the tea supports the growth and multiplication of beneficial organisms.  Anaerobic, or plain compost non-aerated compost tea, may contain toxic substances such as alcohol or phenols produced by anaerobic bacteria.

The beneficial organisms in aerobic compost tea protect a plant from disease by consuming available food, removing nitrates which benefit disease organisms more than beneficial organisms, and starving out disease-causing organisms.  Plants take up nutrients that are made available by organisms in the tea that help plants to resist infection while promoting the development of more beneficial microorganisms.  Nutrients in the tea become available to the plant as it requires, making nutrient demands by the plant much less than when leaching losses have to be included in fertilizer applications.

The organisms in good compost and thus in compost tea also produce glues that bind tiny clumps of soil together, improving the soil structure so that more oxygen can move through the soil, increasing oxygen available to roots. They process organic matter so it's available food for plants and other microorganisms, and turn it into moisture-retaining humus.  That means we can use less water to nourish our plants. 

Compost must be very well and carefully made in the first place, with proper ingredients. It must contain a diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes, plus soluble nutrients. Chlorine must have been eliminated from water before the tea is made and aerated.  Some places are selling aerating equipment for about $140, and some clever people have adapted aquarium pumps to do the job.

Here, too, you have to be careful not to create anaerobic conditions in your equipment or stinky, slimy biofilms can be formed, which result in materials that kill the beneficials. If it isn't done right, lack of oxygen may be counter-productive and even kill the beneficial organisms you're trying to grow.

Dr. Elaine Ingham, President of Soil Foodweb, Inc., is one of the developers and the driving force behind this new technology. It is new, and experimentation continues. But it is also available for us to use now. Most who have used it up until now are zealots. You won't find many who are lukewarm about aerobic compost tea.

I think the way this will arrive in our gardens is either by purchasing gallons of completed aerobic compost tea from a garden center then using it right away, or as packets of composted materials (tea "bags") for us to use in making our own tea, having purchased or built our own aerating equipment. 

Few of us have time or resources to build the kind of  compost required to provide  the needed bacteria and fungi to make this work.  Dr. Ingham, in conjunction with the Master Composter program in Eugene, Or., is developing simple back-yard gardening methods that will produce great compost in three to four months, with just two turning events required.  The trick is in the starting materials that you use.

This is just to let you know what is coming. I don't know how soon our garden centers will be up to selling aerated compost tea, but they will in time.  Many in other parts of the country are selling aerated compost tea now.

For further information, go to

*** Do you need to buy new garden seeds or will your old seeds germinate?  Put ten seeds of one variety on damp paper towel and fold it over, insert it into a plastic bag, seal it, and put it in a warm place, such as on top of a refrigerator.  Check it daily for germination, but don't let the paper towel dry out.  If six seeds germinate, you have 60% germination. That's a little low, so I'd plant those seeds a little thicker than you ordinarily would.  ##


Is it too early?                                          Jan. 30, 2004

It's too early for a lot of planting, even if you have a greenhouse in which to plant seeds.  But there are some things that must be planted within a week or ten days from now if you intend to grow them. 

Plant cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts in planting mix, water, then put the containers into a cold frame.  If you don't have one, you can fashion one out of an old window laid over the space between four straw bales.  This isn't perfect, because once the seeds germinate they'll need more sun than the brief time it's directly overhead.  Your bale on the south side of your crude cold frame could be removed and replaced with a vertical 2X6 or cinder blocks, allowing more sunlight to stream in (providing we have sunshine). 

Every gardener needs a cold frame.  There are many different ways to go.  Just Google cold+frame and you'll find one that fits your needs.  Some fold or come apart for easy storage.  Whatever you do, you will need to vent it on sunny days, so make sure you allow for that.

Advanced Master Gardener Ross Hadfield insists cauliflower be started this early so it will be large enough to transplant into the garden by March 15.  And that must happen so you can harvest before June 20.  If you don't, hot weather will produce small "buttons" instead of large cauliflower heads.  If you're on the Atkins Diet, many recipes call for "cauliflower rice," which is cooked and mashed cauliflower. Now you can grow your own.

Transplanted seedlings can tolerate light frosts, but if the forecast is for temperatures in the low 20s, put a Wall o'Water over each plant or surround each with 2-liter bottles of water or set a bottomless milk jug over each seedling.  The latter can be blown away, sometimes damaging the seedling.  Hadfield cuts three sides of the bottom loose, then pulls the flap to one side and weights it down with a brick.  

Another crop that should be started in February is your sweet potato or "yam."  The orange, moist-fruited sweet potato is popularly known as a yam, but technically it's a sweet potato.

Hadfield cuts his sweet potato lengthwise, and nestles it in some wet sand, then puts it next to his fireplace.  It's a hot area when he burns logs, and he does that often this time of year.  You could use some other warm place such as the top of the refrigerator or the top of the water heater.  Make sure it continues to have water while the vines grow, although don't drown the potatoes. 

When the vines are three or four inches long, I transplant each into a 4-inch pot.  Hadfield transplants his when 4 or 5 inches tall.  He transplants into a styrofoam Cup o'Soup container he prepares by poking drainage holes in the bottom, then crossing two ribbons of nylon net, fastening them into place on the outside of the cup with a rubber band, then adding potting soil.  That's usually at some time between the first and 15th of March.  Then he puts those pots out on his enclosed porch.  If temperatures are going to be below freezing, he brings them inside overnight.  By growing them in the cool temperatures of the covered porch, he's trying to get them to grow good roots, without putting energy into topgrowth.  This crossed ribbons treatment guarantees roots will not be disturbed when planting.  He also uses it for squash, cucumbers and melons started indoors.

About April 5, he lays a two-foot strip of black plastic where he's going to plant the sweet potatoes, and anchors it down.  It will heat the soil so that about April 15 he can transplant the sweet potatoes outdoors.  What he does is cut off all but the top  inch or so of the styrofoam cup, then plant the whole thing in an X cut in the black plastic.  Roots will grow through and around the nylon net, but they're not disturbed by transplanting.  Then he sets up Walls o'Water over these plants until all danger of frost has passed. 

He has irrigation pipes running under the black plastic.  If you use black plastic to warm your soil, you'll have to devise some way of watering  beneath the plastic.

If you didn't plant lettuce or spinach seeds last fall, do it now.  You'll get early greens, but you had better cover them with cheesecloth or agricultural fleece to keep birds from eating them.  #

New contest starts today     Feb. 1,2004

"Promise Your Love a Rose Garden" is the name of the sweepstakes drawing held by the All America Rose-Selections this month.  Go to and complete the entry form there.  Grand prize is 15 bare-root rose bushes plus three nights for two at the Grand Xcaret by Occidental in Riviera Maya, Mexico, and airfare from any one of eleven major U.S. cities.  The contest ends Feb. 29, 2004.  #

Ricin found in Senate building                             Feb. 3, 2004

Ricin, a very deadly poison found in a Senate office building, is or should be of interest to gardeners.  It's derived from the castor bean plant, I think mainly from the beans.  Castor bean plants are dramatic and beautiful if grown in the proper setting, as they were at the Western Idaho Fair grounds a couple of years ago.  The beans they set are intricately marked and beautiful, but deadly.  The Center for Disease Control says there's no known antidote, and a dose the size of a pinhead can kill an adult.

If ingested, it causes nausea, vomiting and internal bleeding, followed by failure of major organs and collapse of the circulatory system.  The beans (seeds) are very attractive, especially to children who might be tempted to put them into their mouths.  If you're tempted to grow this attractive plant, remember its fatal attractiveness.  #


Get Ready for Spring                                            Jan. 23, 2004   

Most gardeners I know are busy planning their garden plantings, studying seed catalogs, and salivating over some new offerings.  Did you know they've developed an orange echinacea?  Monrovia Nursery is distributing it. 

There are new fragrant sweet peas from Renee's Garden, Ed Hume Seeds and Thompson & Morgan.  If you've had problems growing sweet peas in the past, start them indoors. They don't germinate in cold soils.  These seeds also have a hard seed coat. 

You can see the "eye" of the pea.  You need to nick the seed coat so moisture can awaken it from its dormancy.  Nick the side opposite the eye of the pea, using toenail clippers, a triangular file, or sandpaper, being careful not to damage the white tissue inside the seed coat.

This is what my New Zealand gardening friend would call "fiddly."  An alternative is to soak the seeds for 24 hours, and any that have not started to swell should then be nicked.  The others may be planted about one inch deep.  If you start them indoors, one per container about two inches in diameter and four inches deep (about the size of a styrofoam coffee cup), they should have vigorous root systems when it's time to transplant outdoors. 

Some people plant them out on Presidents' Day, but  they need soil of 55 to 60° for germination. Our soil is not that warm until late May, usually, and that's too close to hot weather to grow sweet peas.  You could start them indoors soon, and plan to set them out no later than St. Patrick's Day.  Incidentally, Dr. Kay Lancaster's suggestion of planting in styrofoam coffee cups (with drainage hole poked in the bottom, of course) makes transplanting very easy if you use a bulb planter.  The cups are the same size as the hole left by the bulb planter.

Prepare your site with a trench full of rich compost, and transplant into that.  Once they start blooming, keep blossoms picked off to encourage more bloom.  Blossoms will stop when the weather turns hot.

***In the vegetable garden, one of the most difficult things about site planning it what to plant next to what, so that one plant doesn't overwhelm or shade its neighbor.  I'm disgusted with so called "bush beans" that send out tendrils and cover up neighboring plants.  My favorite snap bean, Contender, doesn't do that. 

If you're wondering whether you can grow okra here, the answer is yes.  It is a hot weather crop, so wait until June to plant it.  If you haven't grown it before, I'd advise using gloves to harvest it. It has tiny prickles on stem and fruit, maybe leaves too.  It's more irritating than anything else. 

If you've had problems with curly top virus killing large healthy tomato plants, there is some good news.  Years ago, plant breeders at the University of Idaho and Washington State University bred some tomatoes that were resistant to curly top.  Resistant doesn't mean they'll never get it, but they can apparently tolerate some of the virus without dying.  There has been no commercial source for those varieties for some time, we thought.  Maybe we haven't been looking in the right  places.

I knew that Abundant Life Seed Foundation carried Saladmaster, one of the resistant varieties.  But some young men in Port Townsend, WA, set fire to a grocery store next to Abundant Life last summer, and destroyed most of the stock of rare and endangered seeds of that foundation. I think Abundant Life is temporarily out of business. I just discovered Sand Hill Preservation Center carries seeds for three of the resistant varieties: Rowpac, Roza and Saladmaster.  (The other resistant varieties are Columbia, Payette, Owyhee and Parma).  Sand Hill doesn't claim curly top resistance for their holdings, but they sell seeds nationally, perhaps internationally, and curly top would be meaningless to people outside the Intermountain West. 

I haven't ordered from Sand Hill before, but I know many people who have and were happy with their orders.  Owner is an ex-Idahoan, Glenn Drowns, who bought his property near Calamus, Iowa, to grow vine crops and peaches.  He's a full-time teacher, I'm told, who extended his efforts to trying to preserve old varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers, grains and poultry into a business. In addition to seeds, they sell rare chickens, ducks, peafowl, geese, guinea fowl, pigeons, turkeys and some wildfowl.  They have one of the most extensive holdings of tomato varieties I've seen. 

All of these resistant tomato varieties are determinate.  That means the plants are short, because the vines stop growing once fruit is set.  Fruit tends to come all at once, then quits.  I prefer indeterminate plants  because I prefer a more prolonged harvest. 

Sand Hill Preservation Center is at . ##



Rooting for Growth                                Jan. 16, 2003

Roots are the foundations of plants.  If they're weak, so are the plants.  They need the right milieu (i.e., pH), water, oxygen, and soil microorganisms.  According to the "Soil Biology Primer" published by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, there may be 100 million to 1 billion bacteria in 1 teaspoon of soil, in addition to several thousand protozoa, and 10 to 20 nematodes.  Not much room left for soil, is there?

Expand your sample to one square foot, and there may be up to 100 arthropods (creatures with more than six legs) and 5 to 30 earthworms.  This is all in healthy soil. 

Movement of the larger creatures creates new earth "pores," or routes for oxygen and water to get to root zones.  Smaller creatures eat and decompose organic compounds, pluck nitrogen out of the atmosphere that will be used by plants, sequester nitrogen and other nutrients from entering the groundwater to the extent possible, and improve soil porosity and clumping.  Huge amounts of materials such as nitrogen overwhelm their ability to sequester nitrates, and it does reach ground water, where nitrates may rise to dangerous levels.  High levels of  nitrates in water may be hazardous, especially to infants. Some areas in the Treasure Valley are at very high levels.

Water, air and creatures must be able to move in soil.  One thing that restricts all is hardpan. In the Intermountain West we have a hardpan called "caliche" that is a layer of calcium carbonate formed on soils in dry regions, then buried by wind and water erosion of finer particles.  This caliche may be over an inch thick, as impermeable as concrete, and it seems to be one continuous slab.  Roots hit it and bend to the side.  Herbicides soak into the ground, strike caliche, then flow away from where they were applied, a stream running on top of the caliche. Thus you may have herbicide damage from your neighbor's application.

Unless you're in a sandy river bottom, you should probe your soil to learn how deep the hardpan lies.  North of the Boise river, the foothills have a hardpan of clay; south of the river, the benches have caliche underlying all.  I'm on the second bench from the Boise river, and here the caliche lies at a depth of about 30 inches.  In western Ada county, it's shallower, and I've even seen it lying on top of the soil in some areas. 

If we're planting a deep-rooted plant such as a tap-rooted tree, we'd dig down and break up the caliche layer with a pick or hammer and chisel before planting the tree.  Breaking that up also would improve drainage of that site.  Tomato plants have deep-probing roots where they're in suitable soil.  I don't bother breaking up caliche for them, and they seem to do all right with their shallower roots. 

Another reason for you to probe (dig a hole or get a very stout wire or a piece of rebar) is to see how deep your soil really is.  In some parts of southwestern Ada county (and perhaps in Canyon and Elmore counties), lava tubes lie just under the surface of the soil.  Deep-rooted drought-tolerant grasses won't thrive there, and neither will tap-rooted plants.  These tubes are from a massive volcanic eruption, and one tube may connect with another and another to a considerable depth.  It would be impossible to remove them.  You'll just have to adjust what you plant, selecting only shallow-rooted plants.  

(I've been very chagrined by a new trend in housing development.  That is, scalping all of the topsoil off, building the homes, then sometimes replacing some of the topsoil, sometimes not.  I understand the economics of developing new land, and perhaps they need the income from selling topsoil to make a decent profit.  After paying "impact fees" for water, sewer, parks and roads, developers have thousands of dollars invested in a lot before they've even leveled the site for building.  People want "affordable housing," and in this area that's more than $125,000. Deduct the impact fees and lot price and you may have a $40,000 house selling for $125,000. Obviously people making minimum wage can't afford to buy these "affordable" homes.)

Texture of your soil is important too.  If you have heavy clay, it's tempting to turn sand into it.  Be aware, though, that if you don't use sufficient sand, you may be making adobe.  If you're going to till 6 inches deep, use a two- inch layer of sand.  It will be better for your soil in the long run if you amend with organic matter, however.  It helps to break up clay, and in sandy soil, it helps to hold water.  Uncomposted organic matter will take nitrogen while it decomposes, then it will give it back. 

If your clay is really bad, use gypsum and/or one of the soil improvement products carried by garden centers.  Be sparing in the use of whatever you add, though.  In gardening, if a little is good, a lot is not usually better.  #


The Nitty Gritty                            Jan. 9, 2004

While you're studying seed catalogs, and I hope you are, think about your soil.  The late Robert Rodale, publisher of Organic Gardening, called garden soil "better than gold."  You can spend gold, but you can eat forever from good garden soil. 

Generally, addition of organic matter such as shredded leaves, chopped small branches (ramial wood), lawn clippings (free of herbicide) or compost keeps the soil supplied with the necessary minerals.  The happy fact is that the easier way you do this, the better it is for the soil.  Just lay these materials on top of the soil and let soil organisms and gravity work it down to root zones.  It will last in the soil longer if you do it this way than if you till or dig it in.  If you're a beginning gardener and don't wish to know more, you can stop right here.  Don't put other fertilizer on your soil.

If you want to know more, read on.  All nutrient availability is facilitated by the correct acidity/alkalinity of the soil, known as pH (hydrogen potential).  There are few areas in the intermountain west that have acidic soils.  Most soils in this area are very alkaline, but most plants require a pH of 6.8-7.0 for optimum growth.  7.0 is neutral.  What if your soil is too alkaline or you want to grow a plant that requires acid soil, such as rhododendron, blueberries or azalea?  See Bob Stewart's essay, immediately following this one.

Nitrogen may leach out, but if you replace it with a "balanced" fertilizer (that is, equal parts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K)), you may have too much phosphate and potassium, since those substances don't leach as readily.  Nitrogen generally only leaches out when there's too much water.  That's a problem we rarely have in our part of the world, but it can happen. Nitrogen deficiency is indicated by stunted growth, and light green to yellowing new leaves.

Nitrogen excess can exhaust the organic matter in your soil.  Also, an abundance of nitrogen contributes to foliage production.  If you're growing a plant for flowers or fruit, they will be sacrificed so the plant can continue to grow foliage.  Balance is crucial.

Phosphorus (P) contributes to formation of roots and seeds (therefore fruiting).  It's sometimes necessary to add more phosphorus for crops such as lettuce or peas.  Deficiency would also show up in ornamental plants, by slow growth, stunting, purpling on leaves of some plants or poor blossoming and seed formation. Note cold weather inhibits the plant's ability to uptake phosphorus, so it might give indication of a deficiency where there really isn't one. 

Potassium (K) contributes to root growth and the general health and vigor of the plant. It increases disease resistance too.  Deficiency shows up as slow growth, weak stems, "burned" margins of older leaves and small fruit or shriveling of seeds.

Other minerals are necessary too, for healthy plants.  Calcium is one of the most important, because it supplies strength to cells and enables new growth.  Deficiency shows up as weakened stems (not to be confused with damping off fungus), death of the new growth points, tip burn or browning of young leaves on lettuce and cole crops, premature dropping of blossoms or buds, and water-soaked areas on fruits that turn brown and papery, such as blossom end rot on tomatoes.  To remedy this deficiency, some use gypsum, and most references advise the use of lime.  I'd advise you against using lime in this area because it raises the alkalinity of  soil that is probably very alkaline to begin with.  Most intermountain soils are alkaline, but the addition of a lot of organic matter can bring that down to a neutral figure (7.0).  Adding crushed eggshells or powdered milk to transplants is believed to help too. 

Magnesium is essential for photosynthesis, and a deficiency of it can result in loss of yield.  It shows up in chlorosis (yellowing) of older leaves (that is, at the bottom of the plant).  If you add too much magnesium to your soil, plants can't absorb the calcium and potassium the plant needs.  Many gardeners in this area add some Epsom Salts (magnesium) dissolved in water (2 Tablespoons per gallon of water) for the first watering of transplanted tomatoes, and to water roses about once a month during the growth season.  Those of us who grow chiles also use 1 teaspoon per quart of water for occasional spritzing of chile plant leaves.  We apply when the plant doesn't look as vigorous as it could. 

Iron deficiency is rather common, and shows up as yellowing of leaves, especially new leaves (at the top of the plant or tips of branches), with veins remaining green.  Iron sulfate or chelated iron is the usual remedy.  Ironite is a product available in this area, but you should know that it has been recalled in Minnesota (2003) because it contains high levels of arsenic and lead, substances especially toxic to children who may make frequent hand-to-mouth contact. I don't know that other states have followed Minnesota's lead.There are liquid foliar sprays of iron supplement available in garden centers too, that are probably safe to use.

Other minerals necessary for plant vigor are manganese, copper, zinc, sulfur, molybdenum and boron.  I urge you to get assistance from your county extension agent in identifying the necessity for supplements of trace minerals and the amounts to use.  Incorrect  additions can cause an avalanche of troubles. 

LOWERING pH           by Bob Stewart, Maryland Extension Agent, Retired (Reprinted here with permission)

"The alteration of soil pH for gardening purposes is accomplished with two sets of materials: calcium or magnesium for raising the pH and sulfur for lowering the pH.  It is important to also realize that the pH scale is a log scale, and the change of every full pH number is a ten fold change in acidity/alkalinity.

The best material for lowering the pH is elemental sulfur; however, elemental sulfur must be broken down by microbial oxidation before it has an effect on the soil pH.  The paradox is that these microorganisms that break down sulfur are not plentiful in soils where the pH is above 6.0.  Therefore a good pH lowering program involves two steps: (1) an initial lowering of the pH using iron sulfate and (2) a maintenance of the lower pH by the addition of elemental sulfur.  The increased microorganism population that develops when the pH is initially decreased will slowly break the elemental sulfur down. resulting in a long term pH decrease.

The amounts of iron sulfate or elemental sulfur to use depends on the initial pH, the texture of the soil, and the size of the area to be treated.  In general, to lower the soil pH from 7.0 to 6.0 on a loam soil, add 5 pounds of iron sulfate and 1.5 pounds of elemental sulfur per each 100 square feet of area.  If the soil is sandy, decrease these amounts to 3 pounds of iron sulfate and 1 pound of elemental sulfur. Check the pH after two months and if not sufficiently decreased make another application of iron sulfate (the amount depending on the pH of the soil).

Aluminum sulfate is often sold for lowering soil pH but in general it's best to go with iron sulfate in order to avoid potential aluminum toxicity problems." 



Gardeners are how old?                      Jan. 2, 2004

Once upon a time gardeners were retired people and women who did not work outside the home.  Now the pleasure is open to all.

One of the reasons retired people were the main gardeners was that they had to water in the mornings.  If it's done late afternoons, foliage goes into the cool temperatures of evening still wet, and that is a prime condition for fungal invasion. 

But now we have soaker hoses that don't wet foliage so the gardener can choose to water after work. Or he or she can find good affordable timers that permit early morning watering so foliage has a chance to dry before evening. 

Moreover, weeding has become easier with the aid of mulch and even chemicals that inhibit germination of weed seed.  Some of those chemicals are rated for use in flower beds, but be careful and read the label carefully.  I've heard that if one attempts to grow dahlias using some herbicide, the dahlias will be purple, regardless of what the tuber previously produced.

Reliance on mulch for weed control was known, but not practiced much until after Ruth Stout began writing about pulling heavy mulch aside to plant.  If you don't want to spread bales of hay, you can even buy mulch paper or better yet, use several layers of newspaper.  That's free and efficient.

Now gardening is essentially planting, setting the timer, and harvesting or deadheading (removing old blossoms) if you desire.  Deadheading prolongs blossoming by delaying seed set.  Be careful when you pull off old blossoms, though.  Bees and blister beetles may resent the disruption. 

Some garden writers refer to people who just take care of lawns as "yardeners."  I feel the term is  belittling and insulting.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone who works with plants in their yard, grass plants or flowers or trees, shrubs, or vegetables, is a gardener. 

Plants basically need sunlight, soil and water, although there are exceptions such as supplying nutrients through hydroponics, and a few plants that don't need sunlight.  Even the most dry-loving plants need some water to become established.  I shudder when people buy "Xeriscape" plants and don't bother to water them when they transplant them. 

Plants of the Southwest, a seed company that carries numerous low to zero water-requiring plant seeds, suggests watering seeds at least twice a day for the first three weeks (seeds covered with a light mulch to hold moisture), then once a day for the next three weeks.  After that, water deeply twice a week for a month, then once a week for another month, then twice a month until frost.   As you can see, seedlings are watered until germination, then until established, then weaned gradually from abundant water. 


Christmas relics good for yard                    Dec. 26, 2003

Okay, Christmas is over.  If you have a living tree, set it in the garage for a few days before you put it back outside to face wind and cold.  If you have a cut tree, after you remove all decorations, take it outside and snip off small branches. 

Lay those branches over perennials you want to protect.  They'll collect snow (if any falls), and provide some protection to plant crowns.  They may also provide cover for birds.  Unfortunately for rodents too. 

Keep the trunk, if you have room.  Next summer, you can prop it up in your garden for plants such as cucumbers to climb, taking up less garden space with sprawl.

We usually think of needled evergreens as acidic.  Perhaps they are, but used as mulch they probably won't affect the pH (alkalinity) of your soil.  If you have a lot of branches, you could use them as mulch around acid-loving plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons or azaleas, although they may not help at lowering the pH.

In our intermountain climate, I don't think it's a good idea to prune very severely until mid-February.  Until then, we can have some extremely cold weather that could freeze and kill tissues that you didn't want to remove.  When you do your major pruning in February, if you're going to have a large amount of twigs and small branches, look upon them as benefactors of your soil.

If you don't have a chipper/grinder that will chip woody material, you can rent one.  Wood less than about three inches in diameter is referred to as "ramial wood."  Ramial wood chips can fertilize and improve the friability and water retention of your soil, just by being laid on top of the soil.  They contain nitrogen and carbon, so they won't rob your soil of nitrogen as they decay.

Be careful where you mulch with ramial wood chips, though.  I wouldn't mulch near where your car may be parked in the future or near your house if you have light-colored siding.  The reason is there's a tiny cup fungus that sometimes develops in wood chip mulch -- NOT in bark chips -- that is popularly known as "artillery fungus."  The reason for the name is that when the fungus "fruit" is ripe, it fires spores some distance. 

These spores adhere tightly to whatever surface they fall on.  They look like tiny black spots, and they're said by some to be impossible to remove.  One person suggested trying orange oil cleaner to remove it, but other substances were acknowledged to be ineffective.

                                *        *        *

A nursery managers' newsletter reports a Michigan man was found guilty of breaking the emerald ash borer quarantine, by shipping infested ash trees to Maryland.  He was fined $12.300, forced to do 200 hours of community service, and will be on probation for two years.  He may also have to pay $16,000 to the nursery he shipped the trees to in restitution, and may have to pay Maryland and Virginia departments of agriculture for their control costs.  The emerald ash borer has devastated ash trees in Michigan, and cost nurseries and the state millions of dollars.

As I've read tales of woe from computer friends in the East and Middle West about damage from Japanese beetles and efforts to control them, I've felt we were so lucky not to be afflicted by that insect.  Some time ago I learned there is a small area on the west coast of Oregon in which they've appeared, and the Oregon dept. of agriculture is working to eliminate them.  Then I discovered they've recently had an infestation on the western slope of Colorado. 

These beetles are about 1/2" long, with metallic green heads and "necks" and bronze wing covers, with tufts of white hairs at the abdomen.  Their larvae are white, hairy, and have a black head and dark grey tail. 

Their larvae have been detected in the soil of nursery stock in Montana and Colorado, and that's also frightening.  We have plenty of the usual "bad guy" insects to contend with, and now the eggs of  the cyclical pest, the "Mormon cricket" are maturing in our foothills.  Here we are, with only one entomologist working in southwest Idaho. 

Dr. Craig Baird, at the Parma research station, and Dr. Bob Stoltz, at the University of Idaho extension office in Twin Falls, both retired earlier this year.  Budget restraint is apparently the reason the U. of Idaho agriculture department is not replacing them. 

A few years ago, the Missouri State Extension system held training seminars for farmers, showing them how to scan what parts of plants and submit via computer plant problems to experts at the university so they'd receive almost instant feedback on identification  and solution of the problem.  That was very unusual for Extension people, most of whom tend to be technophobic.  In all of the U.S., only three Extension agents have participated in garden e-mail forums regularly: Bob Stewart, in Maryland (now retired), Dave Pehling at WSU, and Larry Caplan, in Indiana, before he was swamped with work. 

We do still have Dr. Krishna Mohan at the U of I Parma station to diagnose plant disease, fortunately. 



Unleash your creativity now!                Dec. 18, 2003       

An old gardening tool is attracting new attention this winter.  It's a Wardian Case, a very small glass greenhouse.  I don't know whether they're offered locally yet, but Lee Valley Tools ( has an attractive one in their holiday gift catalog. It's 11X19X17 inches high, and about $55. 

It's a fancy (and fairly expensive) terrarium, essentially.  You can make great terrariums out of discarded aquariums or even large glass jars, laid on their sides.  Restaurants receive mayonnaise and similar condiments in very large jars, two or three gallon capacity. 

Such tiny gardens would make great gifts for shut-ins or just devoted gardeners who can't work outside in cold weather. 

There are many plants available for miniature gardens that would work in such terrariums, but I think I'd start with small-leaved sedums and thymes.  Plants that grow less than one inch in height  include Draba aizoides, Raoulia australis, Raoulia subsericea, Raoulia tenuicaulis and Hieracium maculatu "leopard," according to a nursery owner. 

Miniature hostas, hollyhocks, astilbes are also available.  You could also use tree seedlings, at least until they outgrew their space.  Don't overlook tiny-leaved weeds such as chickweed either.  Dwarf fittonia, baby's tears, eyelash begonias, or small African violets would also work.

Whatever plants you select will all have to have the same light exposure.  Don't mix shade lovers with sun lovers. 

Mosses can be used to simulate grass.  Be sure to mound up the soil before installing moss so you have a rolling landscape rather than a flat one.  

These tiny gardens are most interesting when they're designed to look like real gardens. A friend in New York spoke from experience when she said terrariums quickly become boring unless they're designed as a landscape and are regularly maintained.  Remove dead leaves, prune vigorous shoots, etc. for maintenance.

Use broken shale or flagstone to create walkways, stain balsa to make rustic fences and benches, pergolas, towers, etc. Squared stones may be used to build garden walls. There's no limit to what you put into this miniature environment. 

You'll have to be rather careful about what "soil" you use in this closed environment.  Most advise a drainage layer about two inches deep (depth would depend on the size of your miniature garden, of course).  For drainage, use coarse gravel, broken pots, etc., and I'd use quite a bit of broken charcoal too to keep the soil sweet. That's available in garden supply stores for some potting mixes. 

Then it's advised to use a layer of  sphagnum moss to separate the soil from the gravel.  For soil, use one part sand, one part peat moss and one part sterile potting mix.  Thickness of the soil would depend on how deep you expect your plants' roots to extend. 

You will have to monitor this closely at first.  For one thing, if you plunk it down in full sun or close to a very bright grow light, you risk cooking your plant collection.  Some people leave the cover off, others do cover to retain the humidity.  If there's no original cover, you could use clear plastic wrap. 

One grower waters her terrarium lightly every two weeks, and fertilizes with very weak solutions about every six months.  If water collects in the bottom, leave the cover off and cease watering until it's gone.

You could use a mirror, edges concealed for a pond, or build a real water feature in your tiny garden.  That is difficult to do well in this miniature environment, however.  There's still time before Christmas.


Tough plant yields tasty root             Dec. 17, 2003   

Did you ever have a ginger root develop a whitish pyramidal swelling, then sprout?  They do that in time, and instead of discarding it, you might as well plant it. 

I lay the rhizome on potting soil in a pot, and cover it lightly with more potting soil, then water lightly until the plant starts growing.  It faintly resembles bamboo, and if not given sufficient light or water, can begin to look tattered.  Don't drown it, but it does like soil moist. Give it as much sun exposure as you can.

The root should double in size, so that when you dig it up, you can break off enough to use, and re-plant the rest.  The root is usually grated or minced for use in Asian and a few European recipes.  It's also said to be an aid to digestion, but I suspect that works for people accustomed to the taste, not for those of us for whom it's an alien taste.

A friend in Singapore said it's common there to boil sliced ginger root in Coca Cola or any cola drinks as a remedy for rheumatism.  He said some people say it works wonders. 

The edible ginger is botanically known as Zingiber officinale. There are many gingers, some of which blossom in spectacular bursts of color and shape of flowers.  Those ornamental gingers may or may not have edible roots, but generally they're regarded as not edible.

Very closely related are Alpinia galanga ("Thai ginger"), Curcuma longa (Turmeric) and many other gingers and cardomoms. 

They have similar growth habits.  I once grew cardomom, but the plant grew rather large, and had to grow much larger before it flowered and set seeds (that's the part we use for cardamom in baking), so I gave up on that plant. 

Turmeric, ginger and galangal rhizomes are the edible parts, and the plant doesn't have to grow large to produce those. 

There is also a groundcover called "ginger" for some reason.  Botanically it's Asarum, and there's a canadense variety.  Actually some call this plant a "wild ginger" and the A. canadense is hardy to zone 3, if it has sufficient moisture.  It prefers moist rich soil, and is quite a nice groundcover.

Blossoms are reddish brown, lie at ground level, and I doubt that you'd want to smell them.  They're pollinated by carrion -feeding insects such as flies and beetles, attracted by stench.  Leaves are large, heart-shaped and glossy. 



How is your soil?                                            Dec. 7, 2003

You should have your soil tested every three to five years, according to some experts.  You'll get the most accurate reports from professional labs. 

Many gardeners don't have their soil tested that often, but instead wait to see if signs of nutrition deficiency show up in plants, but you've lost part of your growing season.

Don't just lace your garden with fertilizers under the assumption that they probably are needed.  Many minerals don't leach out of your soil, and you risk applying too much of some minerals that will block your plants from taking up needed fertilizer. 

If a little is good, a lot is not good. 

You can check pH more often, and easily, using pH papers, comparing their color to a printed guide.  You put a sample of your soil into water, shake it up, then dip one of the papers into the water, then lay it out to dry and change color. They sell these papers inexpensively through garden supply stores.  Those used for swimming pools may be useful. 

You will be looking for a pH near to 7.0, that is considered neutral.  6.5 to 7.5 is usable, but some plants may not grow as well as they would at 7.0.

People who have been incorporating organic matter into their gardens for many years, and have their gardens well stabilized, don't worry about pH any longer, and even grow acid soil-loving plants without problems.

The University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Service in Ada County (and in other Idaho counties) can do soil testing.  The cost varies from state to state, so if you've had your soil tested on property in another state, you may be surprised to find it costs $25 here.  Some Extension services charge much less.  This test will just tell you the amounts of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium (NPK) in your soil.  A county agent will have to interpret the results for you.

Private labs may test for trace elements as well, for nearly the same cost.  Look in your yellow pages under "Laboratories -- Testing."  Ask for guidelines on obtaining soil samples from the laboratory you choose. 

Dec. 10.  Repotting plants   

Many of us have repotted plants, not in the next size up, but in much larger pots, only to see our repotted plants die.  I've done it myself.

Why do the plants die when they're suddenly given a lot of room in which to grow?  Humans water the pot, not the plant.  We don't even think about it, but that's what we do.  So newly re-potted plants in much larger pots receive a huge amount of water, much more than they can use.  Even with adequate drainage, there's too much water in the pot, and that displaces oxygen.

Roots of most plants need oxygen for survival, and without it they rot and die.  Exceptions are bog plants, and they may be so adapted they take oxygen from standing water.

Plant watering in nursery situations is so critical an expert watering person becomes a treasure.

Some plants like to be potbound.  Plants such as Amaryllis and orchids for two examples.  But the next time you repot anything use a pot that's just a little larger than that you're transplanting from.  The extra work will pay off in the life of your plant, not its demise. 


Where are your microclimates?                            Dec. 1, 2003

If you have any desire to grow plants or trees that are a bit too tender for our climate, you should examine your yard for microclimates.  You can look for colder areas, of course, but gardeners are usually looking for warm spots. 

Usually winter temperatures are expected to fall no lower than -20° F., in the foothills and south toward the Owyhee desert. That's referred to as USDA zone 5. The valley itself is USDA zone 6, expected to experience low temperatures of no colder than -10° F.  On an average of once every ten years historically, this area's temperatures have fallen below -20° F., or zone 4. 

This means if you buy a Euonymus that's hardy to zone 6, and a zone 4 winter appears, your shrub will probably be killed by cold. 

I've heard of people in the Boise area growing tender plants that have survived our winters, but should only survive winters no colder than 0°.  Growing banana trees is a fad that's spread around the country, and those and other "tropical" plants tantalize gardeners. Whether tropical fruits will produce fruit is questionable in our short winter days, even though the plant survives.

Walk around your yard and take note of areas you think are sheltered.  Do they get full sun?  Will they get full sun in summer when the sun is overhead instead of streaming in from the south as it is now?  Does frost linger there long after it has melted from other parts of your yard? 

Pay attention to leaves of broadleaf evergreens in that area.  When it's very cold, they roll up, looking almost like hollow cylinders, to minimize their exposure to the cold.  Where sun hits them, they flatten out to maximize sun exposure. 

How about wind?  Plants do not feel the wind chill that humans feel, but they don't thrive in windy spots.  A little stirring of the air is beneficial, but  strong drying winds pull moisture out of plants and the stress may be fatal. 

Many garden clubs don't meet in winter, but members know one another well enough to call others to see about pooling outdoor thermometers.  If they're calibrated similarly, one could set one in each suspected warm spot to see if the temperature truly is higher in that location.  Beware of setting them in direct sun where that heat will skew the results.

The cooler spots in your yard have particular value too.  These are usually on the north side of  your house, and are the last to warm up in spring.  There's less of a tendency for plants to thaw prematurely then get nipped by a late spring frost if they're on the north side of your house.  Plants there are also less susceptible to being heaved out of the soil by freezes and thaws.

That cooler location may also delay blossoming of fruit trees just long enough their blossoms are not affected by killing frosts.  It could mean the difference between getting fruit or not.  If you're planning on planting fruit trees north of your house, be sure the area will get full sun exposure for the summer. 



Tidbits of Interest                 Nov. 26, 2003

I love to have something that was home-grown for Thanksgiving every year, even if it's just something with home-grown caraway or fennel seeds. 

We're invited to Liz Ratcliff's for Thanksgiving dinner, and this year I'll take a squash dish from squash grown in my own garden.  This is a new variety of squash from Johnny's Selected Seeds called "Sunshine."  It's a beautiful reddish-orange pumpkin-shaped squash of a size that wouldn't be overwhelming for a small family. 

This squash was chosen as an All American selection this year too. Rob Johnston Jr., owner of  Johnny's Selected Seeds, bred this variety conventionally.  Vines are fairly short for winter squash, being about eight  feet long.  Flesh is sweet and stringless, and can even be eaten raw.

It's 95 days to maturity, and has no special growing requirements other than full sun and a fair amount of water. 

They're so attractive, it's kind of a shame to cut them up and cook them.   But it IS Thanksgiving, after all.  I have a photo of it, and when I find out how to add it to this post, I will. It may be in the archives when I do.

*** Have you heard of a "grass photograph"?  Some British artists discovered grass reacts similarly to film, and they projected an image over sod kept in a dark room, producing a living version of that image in green and yellow.  It was displayed in the Chicago Cultural Center. I wish I had dated this note. 

*** Bedeguar galls turned up on wild and species roses in the Boise area last summer.  It's commonly known as a "robin's pin cushion" with red bristling growths projecting from the gall.  It's not a disease, but a gall created by a gall-wasp, Diplolepis rosae.  It's home for the larvae of that wasp, and may also be inhabited by larvae of other gall-wasps as well as larvae from parasitic (or beneficial) wasps.  The latter may feed on the original occupants. 

There may be as many as 25 species in the bedeguar gall insect community.  You can either let them be, to produce more beneficial wasps, or if the galls' unsightliness offends you, prune them off.  Sprays are ineffective. 

*** The Perennial Plant Assn. has named the Japanese Painted Fern the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year.  I wish I had a dollar for every one of those I've killed.  My shade garden just didn't get enough water.  Reworking our sprinkler system last summer may have corrected that problem.  That's a beautiful plant.

Johnny's Selected Seeds' new Sunshine squash


Producing Super Bugs?                                     Nov. 18, 2003

Farmers who grow crops genetically modified (GM) with Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) are technically required by Federal guidelines to plant 20% of their fields with non GM crops.  The purpose is to give insects destroyed by BT a chance to live. 

The fear is that the GM crops will produce a super insect, resistant to BT. In the past, regardless of what insecticide was used, a few insects with natural resistance survived to procreate and create super bugs, resistant to usual pesticides. This has been a fear expressed by farmers, horticulturists and entomologists since GM crops were first introduced. 

A study conducted last year indicated that nearly 20% of the farmers growing GM crops either didn't leave any space for standard crops or they cut back on the 20% space required, according to the IPM newsletter.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling for a crackdown on farmers to force them to comply with that requirement. 

Bacillus thuringiensis is a common bacterium existing in soil. It is used and available to gardeners in the form of dusts and sprays.  It destroys the digestive system of caterpillars, and caterpillars only (except for some variations that destroy potato bug larvae and mosquito larvae).  That's why it's safe for humans, or at least why we think it's safe. 

This bacterium, by genetic manipulation, has been injected into corn seeds, to kill earworms and rootworms.  Now we are ingesting it since the altered genes permeate the entire plant.  

*** When we bought our house about 32 years ago, there were tiny snail-like clumps of dirt on the outside walls and on fenceposts.  The snailcases appear to be about 1/3 of an inch in diameter, and covered with dirt.  Removing them is next to impossible, and prying with a flexible spreader usually results in popping off a chunk of paint. 

These are snailcase bagworms, homes for bagworm larvae that eventually feed on ornamental trees and shrubs, usually evergreens. You can find the cases on tree trunks, too, since the larvae inside feed at night by sticking their heads out of their cases. Sources on Internet indicate they're new to this Continent. That may be new in geologic terms. 

I'm sure I just painted over some of them.  What I'd like to know is what's in that glue they make to affix themselves so tightly? 

*** I learned some important things last summer about gardening. A plant breeder who is on one of the lists I subscribe to mentioned that female flowers on melon and squash vines only appear on branches off the main vine.  It's often later rather than sooner that female flowers (those that have the embryonic version of their fruit immediately behind the flower) appear, long after the first male flowers have appeared. 

You hasten branching on any plant by cutting off its leader.  That's exactly what I did to all of my vines.  I didn't run a true experiment, since I didn't leave any vines long.  I only had one vine of each variety anyway.  I did get melons from all of my melon vines, and squash on the one vining squash plant that I grew. 

***Did you ever have your corn crop blow over when the corn is nearly ready to be picked?  That's called lodging.  Pat Roloff, a Master Gardener in Emmett, tired of that phenomenon, so she planted half of her corn six inches deep, the other half her usual depth (less than two inches).  All of it emerged from the soil at the same time, the deep-planted corn did not blow over in very high winds, and it had rootballs twice the size of the shallow-planted corn.  The variety she planted was a new one, "Early and Often," from Burpee. 

When soil surface is 60°, it may be too cool for corn seed six inches deep.  She used raised beds, and they're warmer to start with.  She advises people only to plant part of your crop deep to see how it does that first time. 

When my corn stalks blew over years ago, we installed metal posts at each end of the row, threaded a rope under the fallen stalks, and tied the rope to the posts.  Propped up like that, the ears continued to ripen.


Nov. 11, 2003

Seed catalogs are arriving, even before this year's leaves have fallen.  It's time for gardeners to dream about their perfect garden that will be planted next year.

It'S time to do more than dream about what to do about your house plants though.  Now that the furnace is on, blowing hot dry air, it will take a toll on your house plants.  Misting in the morning is good for most house plants, and it's also a good way to see if spider mites have moved onto the plants. 

Water droplets show up on the tiny webs between branch and trunk, and if you see those, you don't even have to see the spider mites.  They are in residence.  They thrive in dry dusty conditions, so if you can change those conditions they won't thrive. 

You shouldn't do this with African violets.  The usual advice is to always water the soil under the leaves, getting no water on the leaves themselves.  Those fuzzy leaves collect dust, however.  You can rinse off the whole plant without harming it.  Do not place it anywhere that the sun will turn a water drop into a lens, burning a spot on the leaf.  You can gently dab leaves with a soft cloth, then let the plant finish drying in a dark place. 

If you brought lemon verbena or chile plants inside, they may have defoliated, or dropped their leaves.  They often do.  Continue to give them a little water every few days until they grow a new set of leaves.  Too much water will cause crown rot and the plant will die. 

Losing leaves is a common aspect of another houseplant, ficus benjamina too.  Any time you move it so its light level has changed or change its watering schedule, it's prone to dropping its leaves.  This small tree loves full sun, so the better sun exposure you can give it, the better it will do. 

More houseplants are killed by overwatering than by underwatering.  We water once a week in winter.  My houseplants at present are several Christmas cacti, a kalanchoe, Peace lily, spider plant, kaffir lime tree, two chile plants and a Dendrobium orchid. We soak the Peace lily when it droops, and don't water it when the other plants are watered.

I say at present because I grow tired of one houseplant and discard it.  Many gardeners even dislike houseplants.  Perhaps the dislike is due to houseplants' attracting insects in winter when insects should be hiding or dead.  A room looks dead without a plant in it, however.

Aphids appear out of nowhere, and you can knock them off with water spray, as you do outdoors.  Whiteflies appear, giving rise to a suspicion of spontaneous generation.  You can at least try to control them with yellow sticky cards available at garden centers or make your own with yellow paper plates and spray-on Tanglefoot or WD-40.  They're attracted to the color yellow.

Watch out for mealybugs and scale.  Mealybugs appear as white cottony substance at leaf junctures.  Remove them with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol.  Scale insects form a brown armor over their bodies. Spraying with an insecticide won't penetrate the armor, so you'll have to remove scale with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol too.  Now there are very tiny crawlers that haven't yet formed armor, and those can be controlled with Malathion.  If you have a place to spray your plant, you instead could use lightweight horticultural oil and smother even those under armor. 

This oil is not dormant oil.  It's lighter weight than that, and may even be used outdoors in summer. 

The important thing to do is to remain calm when you see insects.  I know it's hard to do when a plant is absolutely covered with tiny insects.  Think about it before you do anything.  We had an invasion of false chinch bugs a few years ago, and they landed on my grain amaranth.  Did I want to spray a toxic substance on a food crop?  No.  Did I really want that food crop?  Not that bad.  I put the grain heads through the mulcher/grinder and that was the end of that invasion. 

I recall one day at the University of Idaho Extension office in Ada county. A woman came in with some small white worms (dead) and said they had infested her cupboard, so she sprayed an insecticide.  Did she remove food and dishes before she sprayed?  No.  Do the insecticide instructions say it's safe to use in cupboard areas? No. 

As disgusting as those larvae are, they weren't going to kill her.  But the spray could at least cause physical harm.                                     Nov. 11, 2003


Are you new to the Treasure Valley?                Nov. 3, 2003

Since we're facing winter, you may wonder how to prepare your roses for winter.  Miniature roses are usually grown on their own roots, so I don't worry about them.  If a hard freeze kills the bush back to the ground, it will revive and grow as the same rose.

Many other roses are grafted roses, so you certainly don't want them to die to the ground. They'll come back as whatever hardier rose the root is from.  Some people mulch the crown of their roses with leaves, but soil would be a better insulator.  If you're going to do that, you should mound soil about 12 inches deep over the crown. 

Long-cane roses such as climbers or ramblers should be laid on the ground and covered with soil.

Yes, we can have severely cold weather.  On an average of every ten years our temperatures plummet below minus 20° F.  We're now overdue for one of those arctic blasts, the last one in 1990.  But frankly, I haven't done anything to protect my roses except prune off long canes that can whip in the wind and injure other canes and themselves.

If my roses die, it would not be a significant cost to replace them since I don't have a large number of them.  I think it's good to focus on different types from time to time anyway.

If you are new to the Treasure Valley, you'll find several advantages to gardening here and a few disadvantages, compared to gardening in other areas. 

We don't have kudzu or Japanese beetles, and we'd like to keep it that way. We don't have squash vine borers, Brown snails, fire ants, apple or pear sawflies, fig beetle, striped cucumber beetle, pickleworms, eggplant lace bug, or many other destructive insects.

We do have destructive insects though: Colorado potato beetles, slugs of all sizes, grasshoppers, Mormon crickets (katydids), squash bugs, budworms, earwigs, aphids, thrips, whiteflies, locust borers, flea beetles, imported cabbageworm, stink bugs, leaf miners, tomato hornworms (their parents are insects), codling moths, corn earworms, Mexican bean beetles, and others. 

Fortunately we also have many beneficial insects ranging from lacewings to lady beetles to spined soldier bugs, assassin bugs, damsel bugs, preying mantises, paper and mud wasps, beneficial wasps, dragon flies, hover flies, and some include earwigs as beneficials.

Unfortunately for us, we have the beet leafhopper, too.  Unlike more humid areas, this dry intermountain west is host to a devastating plant disease spread by beet leafhoppers.  The disease is called curly top because of the way tomato leaves curl when the plant is infected.  Before I go further, there are many things that can cause tomato leaves to curl.  Just because yours curl is not an indication your plant is infected.  One bite can kill a 6 foot tomato plant within a few days.  It's a devastating occurrence when it happens to you. 

There are ways to try to combat curly top that I'll delineate next spring.  The disease occurs from southern Canada into Mexico, in this intermountain region.  It also has penetrated into the San Joaquin valley of California.

Those springs when we have a lot of moisture and cool days, we do get more powdery mildew than usual, as well as early blight.

 Fungus diseases are not usually widespread as they are in more humid climates.  I know people in the Seattle area, for instance, who can only grow blight-free tomatoes in plastic tunnels.  If they try to grow tomatoes outside those tunnels, they're attacked and destroyed by blight.

We very seldom have blight conditions because our climate is so dry and humidity low.

Our winters are cold enough that we can grow crops such as raspberries, peaches, apples, and tulips, for instance.  Those crops require so many hours of cold before they produce flowers and fruit.  In the South, gardeners have to refrigerate tulips for a time, or they don't flower.

I heard about a woman in southern Texas, back in the days when icemen delivered huge blocks of ice to individual homes, who ordered a lot of ice each day and placed it in her raspberry patch so the raspberries would fruit.  That lasted until her husband received the bill. 

Our soil is alkaline, except for a few places near the river.  We add organic matter and compost to neutralize the soil, a condition best for growing most things, but not great for blueberries, azaleas and rhododendrons. 

We have a fairly long growing season here, on average from about May 9 to October 9.  Last summer was unusually hot, but our summers are usually dry.  If you're on a city meter, it pays to monitor water usage closely.




Wasn't THAT a summer to remember?                          Oct. 28, 2003

High temperatures destroyed pollen of crops such as tomatoes and peppers before it could fertilize stigmas, so blossoms fell and fruit failed to set. By the time temperatures moderated, and dropped below 90° F, it was almost too late for fruit that set then to ripen before October.

Fifteen days of temperatures over 100° set a record that I hope won't be beaten in the next few years.  Even cacti were shriveled and seagulls were gasping. 

I hope those seagulls hang around, because we're going to have to deal with those Mormon crickets for a few years, I expect.  They've laid their eggs.  Eggs will hatch probably in late February or early March, they'll amble around for a while, growing in size and appetites then assemble for a mass march. 

They eat as they march, so are the biological equivalent of scorched earth.  The eggs are laid in our foothills at elevations between 4,000 and 5,000 feet now. Since autumn has been so mild, the old adults may still be stumbling around. 

Seagulls flocked to Utah and saved early Mormon crops in 1848 by eating these huge insects that have been popularly known as "Mormon crickets" since. They're really katydids.  A beleaguered official in Nevada, also beset with a plague of these ground-dwelling katydids, said gulls were eating them, "but a gull can only eat so much before it stops eating." 

We can hope they'll at least make a dent in the population. State and Federal agencies are putting out bait on public lands to poison these destructive insects.

                                                                                 * * *

In response to a question about composting, one of the easiest ways to compost is sheet composting.  That means spreading leaves and/or grass clippings and/or dead plants and/or kitchen wastes over your garden and tilling it in.  By spring, it's vanished and your soil has organic matter full of nutrients.  A friend used to even bury his corn stalks, and said they were gone by spring.  You may have seen tee shirts with the logo, "Compost happens."  It does.  Compost is really only rotted material. 

You can speed the rotting process by chopping components fine, layering nitrogenous and carboniferous materials, adding water to make the pile as damp as a squeezed sponge, and occasionally turning it or layering items such as sunflower stalks in it to let air in or layering perforated pvc pipe among the ingredients. 

Use no pet wastes in a compost pile, and most people advise against using any animal parts (bones, fat or meat).  You need a lot more carbon than nitrogen.  Carbon materials are usually brown or yellow, such as fallen leaves, cornstalks, sawdust, and straw.  Be careful that the straw was not sprayed with Picloram or Clopyralid when in the field, supporting grain. 

Nitrogen materials include grass clippings, alfalfa meal, manure, and kitchen wastes.  You also should beware of grass clippings where grass has been sprayed with Clopyralid, and watch out for manure where animals have been grazing on pastures sprayed with Clopyralid or Picloram.  Those herbicides persist through the whole composting process, and may render your soil unfit for growing many things for several years. 

As "damp as a wrung out sponge" means your pile should not receive excess water such as in heavy rains or snows, so cover it.  It needs to be dampened when the pile has dried out for the composting process to proceed. In any case, these materials will rot in time if you do nothing.

These are not concerns for sheet composting, although always beware of those two herbicides. 


Treasure to the landfill? Not if you're smart

Our trees in the Treasure Valley are about to drop their leaves.

Some drop their leaves while still green, others wait until the chlorophyll dies and the brilliant golds and reds that have been there all along, are revealed.

The connection between leaf stem (petiole) and twig is called an abscission layer. This is a thin corky layer that can seal off food originally bound for leaves, causing the death of the green chlorophyll. Then this layer "abscisses," or lets go of the leaf and it drops.

Many in this area pack leaves in recyclable paper bags that are picked up by trash trucks and delivered to a composting business. If you have excess leaves, that's fine. It's a lot better than sending this valuable commodity to the landfill. But you should use these rich resources yourself.

Growing trees pull up micronutrients from the soil, and some of those end up in the leaves. Leaves are rich in many nutrients necessary for plant growth.

When the leaves decay, they release those nutrients to the top layer of the soil where they've been used as mulch, then the microherd resident in healthy soil moves nutrients to root levels where they can stimulate and feed growth in next year's plants. This organic matter also contributes to moisture retention in sandy soil, and loosening and lightening clay soils.

 The easiest way to pick up leaves from your lawn is with a power mower. It exerts some vacuum power, as the blades slice leaves. The grasscatcher then catches grass and shredded leaves.

This really only works if grass and leaves are dry. After a rain or snow, wait for everything to dry out before using the mower again.

This combination is great for mulching, this mulch mostly transforming into fertilizer for your soil by spring. Do not use unshredded leaves, because they may mat, barring moisture and oxygen from root zones.

Never use any black or English walnut leaves around desired plants. There's not a lot of reference information available about sycamore leaves, but friends' experience with them seems to indicate they too are not grower friendly. Walnut leaves are notoriously allelopathic, or toxic to many (but not all) growing things. That allelopathic substance is also exuded by walnut tree roots, and its name is Juglans, the same as the botanical name of the trees.

One person on Internet said she left walnut leaves lie on a patch of quackgrass over winter, and in spring when she raked the leaves off, the quackgrass was dead and gone. The leaves had no effect on perennial ryegrass, also under that mulch.

In other parts of the country, gardeners wait for the ground to freeze hard before mulching, trying to keep the soil from freezing and thawing, heaving plant roots out of the ground. Our freezes usually aren't that hard, so you can mulch when the materials are available.

Don't pull mulches up around the crown of a plant, or else you do risk crown rot. If you've mulched around perennials, start removing that mulch in late February or early March. Just pulling the mulch away from plants is as effective as removing it and putting it in the compost pile in preventing crown rot.