Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks

This is the time of year when we all tend to look around us as well as inward, and today as I sit in my warm office looking out at all the snow and ice, I want to say how very thankful I am for the work that you provided to me this year. Whether large or small, garden consultation, design, pruning lessons, or educational programs, I am always aware that "extras" like these are not essential for daily life. Therefore I really appreciate that you have continued to focus energy on your gardens or your public education programs this year, and I hope that over the coming month you have a very happy holiday season of celebration with friends and family.

Winter is a great time to dream and plan for next year's garden, and if you are thinking about adding some fruit trees, berries, vegetables, or other edible plants to your garden, you might be interested in checking out the brand new Edible Garden Design Guide I have recently written for the IPMopedia website, or any of the other Design Guides I have contributed there over the past 2 years.

IPMopedia is a free online resource for home gardeners and professional landscapers, containing organic gardening recommendations, great fact sheets about pests and diseases of ornamental and edible plants, and much more. I feel fortunate to have been a part of the team that has been creating this great resource.

For a limited time, the Seattle reLeaf Trees for Neighborhoods program is offering free trees to plant in your yard. Supplies are limited too, so it is first come, first served. Applications will be accepted until only Dec 6th. Program participants will receive up to 4 free trees per household, watering bags, a bag of GroCo compost, and training on proper tree planting and care. What a deal!

Available species include: (my notes are in green)

  1. Shore pine (Pinus contorta 'Contorta') * This is great "small" native conifer, approx 20-25ft tall with an irregular form is typical for a garden-grown tree of this species. Tremendous wildlife value too.
  2. Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) * This is a splendid fall color tree with heart-shaped leaves, usually grows 30-40ft tall and almost as wide.
  3. Red oak (Quercus rubra) This is a very large tree - only suitable for spacious properties or where deep summer shade is desired.
  4. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata 'Excelsa') * This is a native cultivar that stays smaller than the standard species- approx. 30-35ft tall but only around 15ft wide. Tremendous wildlife value if you have enough space.
  5. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) This is a mammoth tree, growing quickly to 50-100ft.

To receive a free tree, you must meet these guidelines:

  1. Live in Seattle, and plant the tree on your property (renters must have their landlord's permission)
  2. Plant the trees in your yard, and not as street trees
  3. NOT plant the trees under power lines
  4. Commit to caring for the tree in the future, including watering for the first 3 summers

To get your trees, send in the application ASAP. Questions can be directed to:
Jana Dilley
Seattle reLeaf


King Conservation District's annual Native
Bareroot Plant Sale
This is one of my favorite sales of the year, because I love native plants and I love bare root planting. No heavy pots to lug around, it's easy to know for sure where the plant's crown is for proper planting depth, and bareroot plants are always so much less expensive than container-grown plants. King Conservation sells the plants in bundles of 10 or more, which works
especially great for groundcovers that you need many of for dense coverage. This year they are selling Fragaria vesca, a woodland type of wild strawberry - I think I'll give that a try! The link above will take you to a page where you can download the order form. The pre-order deadline is January 31st and there is a $30 minimum order this year. Supplies are limited and each year they always run out of some species before the deadline, so I recommend you order early.

CleanScapes is running a waste reduction contest, based on waste pickup in individual neighborhoods in their service area, based on collection days. For the next year, whichever area reduces the most waste gets a $50,000.00 project in their area! There's also a scholarship opportunity, an elementary school art contest, and a place to send waste-saving ideas. This is the kind of contest I can really get enthused about- one that benefits the environment as well as supporting the community that gives a business their income!

See you in the garden next year!
Best regards,

Member of the Washington Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers and the Environmental Education Association of Washington

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rake, Remember, Rest, and Renew

The rains of November are now upon us, but so far they have been tempered by a some days of gorgeous sunshine glistening off of colorful leaves and fruits. Case in point is the Beautyberry (Callicarpa) in my front garden, which has put on quite a show, and will continue until the last fruit is devoured by Robins and Stellar Jays in January. Thirty-three years ago this week, I arrived in Seattle with suitcase in hand in the pouring rain, with no idea I had found my lifetime home. So I love this time of year no matter what the weather!

Here are some garden tips for this month, and hopes for accomplishing them in the fresh air on more sunny days!
  • Rake leaves off of lawn areas periodically, and use them to mulch your garden beds. Fallen leaves are a major garden resource that can benefit your plants in two ways: the micro-nutrients they provide as they decompose are essential to plant growth, and they protect the soil from winter rains' erosion, compaction, and nutrient leaching.
  • When mulching in shrub or perennial beds, use no more than a 3" layer and make sure to leave a 3-6" gap around the base of each plant, to prevent excess moisture from damaging bark or crowns.
  • When mulching vegetable beds, use as thick a layer as you want, but put some compost or netting on top so they don't all blow away in the winter storms.
  • If your trees have enormous leaves such as Big-leaf Maples, you will need to chop them up a bit first or they can become a slimy blanket... and not so good for plants or aesthetics.
  • Do NOT use diseased fruit tree leaves to mulch your fruit trees, and make sure to remove all fallen fruit before it decomposes into the soil. Leaves and fruit may contain Apple Scab spores and or the pupae of the Apple Maggot Fly. (these pests affect pear and plum species too) and removing them is the easiest and least expensive way to reduce the chances for future pests.
  • Speaking of fruit, don't feel bad if your trees didn't produce much this year- you are not alone! The extra-rainy and cool spring created a combo effect of reduced bee arrivals and washed a lot of pollen out of blossoms before they could be pollinated. I've even noticed this on some native plants: a less than normal Oregon Grape season (they are early blooming) but good Snowberry production (they are late blooming). According to the latest www.CityFruit.org newsletter, Bob Norton, the northwest's preeminent apple expert, noted: "This has been a very disappointing fruit season, the worst that I can remember." Just like in baseball, there is always next year.
Speaking of baseball, most of you know that besides a garden, a baseball diamond is my second favorite "field of dreams". And so the sudden passing of Mariners' play-by-play broadcaster Dave Niehaus has been hard to accept, but all the great memories of his joy for the game will help temper the sadness... at least until the 2011 season begins without him.

The only other garden "chore" that I recommend this month is to get out there and enjoy the beauty as much as you can. There are so many plants that hold raindrops on their leaves or needles like little jewels like this Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) and sparkle even on a cloudy day, and many fall-winter bloomers like this Vibernum bodnantense (Pink Dawn Viburnum) that are fragrant as well as beautiful. Perhaps I will see you out there!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Fall Garden- an end and a beginning!

Fall is a magical time of year, as the natural world changes so much before our eyes, and we can't help but be affected. I always seem to get a little wistful, and remember days long past, but I am also uplifted by the blaze of glory that marks the end of the growing season. Plus I love the chance to plant in the garden again, knowing that Mother Nature will supply all the cool water needed for plants to grow healthy new roots out into the soil. How does fall affect you?

At this time of year, garden articles always seem to contain a long "to-do" list of ways to tidy up for winter that can feel overwhelming. I am a firm believer in "less is more" when it comes to fall cleanup, so I am enclosing a list to inspire you in that direction!

From the Washington Dept of Fish & Wildlife- September 2010 "Crossing Paths" newsletter

Fall "to do" list- from your backyard wildlife family:

  • Leave some "dead heads" on your flowering plants to provide seeds for some of us birds and other animals
  • If you rake leaves off your lawn, just pile them under some shrubs, bushes or other nooks and crannies to provide homes for those insects that we birds love to eat; leaves make great mulch to help your plants, anyway!
  • Keep that dead or dying tree right where it is (unless, of course, it's truly a hazard to you), so we can feast on the insects in the rotting wood or make winter roosts or dens in its cavities.
  • Give yourself and your mower a rest for at least a portion of your lawn so we've got a patch of taller grass to hide and forage in.
  • Save just a little of that dead bramble thicket for us - it makes great winter cover and we don't need much! Fall is a good time to plant shrubs, so replace invasive, exotic Himalayan and cutleaf blackberries with native plants of higher wildlife value like blackcap (native black raspberry) or red raspberry; native currants or gooseberries.
  • Pile up any brush or rocks that you clear around your place, to give us another option for nests and dens.
  • Take it easy on yourself and let go of the "perfect" garden image; we wild animals like less tidy, "fuzzy" places because there's usually more food and shelter there.
  • Get yourself a comfortable chair, sit back, and congratulate yourself on having made a home for wildlife and a haven of relaxation for yourself!
  • For more info on creating a wildlife-friendly garden, visit http://wdfw.wa.gov

If you do have big plans for your garden this fall, here are some resources that may help:
Sheet-mulching is a great way to create new garden beds from lawn, and if you have sloped areas, I usually suggest buying a roll of jute netting to peg into the ground on top of the newspaper layers to keep the mulch from sliding off. Burlap coffee bags work just as well as jute, and here is a source for free bags!
Who: Espresso Vivace
What: Burlap bags available on first-come, first-served basis.
When: M-F; 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Where: 1512 11th Ave.

Oct. 9th City Fruit Class: Planting and Caring for Young Fruit Trees Fall is also the best time to plant fruit trees. By using good planting, watering, and pruning techniques, and learning to recognize problems, you can give young trees the best chance to become healthy and productive. The class covers site selection, fruit tree selection, where to buy fruit trees, how to plant them and how to care for young trees.
Where: Bradner Gardens Park Classroom, 1750 S Bradner Pl, Seattle, WA 98144.
When: October 9; 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
More Information: To register, visit https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/114585 or send a check to City Fruit, PO Box 28577, Seattle 98118.
Cost: $15 members, $20 non-members.

Oct. 16th WNPS Native Plant Sale
Fall is the best time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials, in order to take advantage of our Northwest rainy season for over winter root growth. Over 250 species of plants, bulbs and seeds native to Washington State and mostly the Puget Sound area. WNPS (Washington Native Plant Society) experts will be on hand to share their knowledge, a great selection of books will be for sale, and there will be complimentary coffee & tea. Please bring boxes or trays to carry home your native plant treasures.
Where: Magnuson Park, Bldg 30, 6310 NE 74th St, Seattle WA 98115
When: Saturday October 16; 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
For More Information: Visit www.wnps.org or email Lucy Weinberg at lucyw@live.com.

Oct. 31st Seattle Tree Fruit Society Fall Fruit Show Taste all kinds of fruit varieties that are well-suited for the Pacific Northwest, bring your apples to be identified, attend a variety of talks. Also, kids creative activities, apple maggot barrier sales, and more!
Where: Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st St, Seattle, WA 98195.
When: October 31; 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
More Information: Visit http://www.seattletreefruitsociety.com or email seattletreefruitsociety@hotmail.com.
Cost: $2 individual, $5 family, free to STFS members and family.

Hope you enjoy fall, whether you spend it in the hammock or with your knees in the soil!

Member of the Washington Chapter of Association of Professional Landscape Designers and the Environmental Education Association of Washington

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Heat Wave Roller Coaster

Wow- this summer has sure been a roller coaster of ultra-hot and ultra-cool, without a lot of "regular summer" weather in between. Big temperature swings between 62-92 degrees can be hard on many of the plants in our gardens, especially those that were planted this spring.

The first part of the roller coaster equation is that the extra long, cool & wet weather that continued into early summer produced an extra lush amount of new growth in the trees, shrubs, and perennials that thrive in these conditions. Hydrangea, Peony, and Fern are just a few of the plants that grew like skyrockets this spring, and that now may be experiencing some stress from the heat wave roller coaster.
This current cool spell is a great time to help all drought-stressed plants recover, because going into the cold months still stressed will make them more susceptible to winter damage.

On the other hand, this year's extra cool, wet weather delayed or stunted the growth of some garden plants. Hebe, Senecio, and many of the Ornamental Grasses stayed almost dormant until the first heat wave hit, then began to grow vigorously. The subsequent heat waves we've had are a "shot-in-the-arm" for them, and have brought most of them out of their stress.

So... since we can't control the weather, how can we help the plants that are likely to suffer in the heat, and also keep the heat-lovers happy during the cool spells?

The good news is that all heat-lovers with well-established root systems can handle the huge temperature swings without much (if any) stress, as long as their water needs are met but not exceeded. The plants that prefer cooler temps are going to experience some more stress if another heat wave hits, but they too can thrive despite it as long as their water needs are met but not exceeded. See a pattern here? On the surface (pun intended), it seems so simple: plants all do need water. And when the weather is blazing hot, it's easy to think that all plants need a great big drink. But.... the longer I am in this profession, the more I see the importance of really understanding summer watering, and its effect on plant growth and long-term health. It's a deep subject (pun intended- again!) but one well worth learning about for the sake of your plants.

Here are some tips that can help you water wisely:

1. Getting to know your soil is the biggest key to successful watering practices.
As part of my first visit to a new garden, I always take a soil sample to determine its sand, silt, and clay percentages. Sandy soil allows water to penetrate fast and deep, but then dries out quickly. Clay soil accepts water very slowly, so it can pool on the surface before being absorbed, but stays moist the longest. The ideal soil is somewhere in between, but.... whether your soil is sandy, silty, or full of clay, I always recommend adding a generous amount of compost before planting. It sounds too good to be true, but compost definitely helps any type of soil retain summer water better, yet still drain well during the rainy seasons.

However, different areas of your garden may still retain water longer than others due to shade patterns, subsoil composition, and reflected heat from nearly hardscape surfaces like your driveway or sidewalks. Getting to know how each area retains water is an important key to knowing how to deliver the right amount to keep the plants in your garden healthy and resistant to pests.

The color of your surface soil doesn't necessarily indicate when it's time to water though. In general, it's best if the soil dries out an inch or two below the surface before you add water, because it is good for plant roots to occasionally receive the air circulation that is present in drier soil. To really find out when it's time to water, you'll need to do a little digging with a hand trowel or just poke a finger down into the soil. If that underneath soil is dry, its fine to water. If that soil is still moist, don't do it- you will be oversaturating the soil which is not good for your plants. Believe it or not, summer overwatering causes as many plant problems in the Seattle area as underwatering does.

2. New plantings need regular summer watering to become well-established.
Just like us, new plants will become stressed and unhealthy if their water needs are not met. Some examples:
  • Annual vegetables and flowers are least able to handle drought stress, as they have larger water needs and less water-storage capacity in their roots than perennial plants. Lettuce and other salad greens can stop growing leaves and just "bolt", which means they send up flowers and the existing leaves begin to taste bitter. Tomatoes, squash, and other veggies can have reduced fruit production or size. Petunias and Geraniums can stop flowering altogether.
  • Newly-planted trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials- even those which eventually will need very little water- are also very vulnerable to drought stress because their roots are not yet well-established. It can alter their blooming or fruiting patterns, or cause them to be more susceptible to insect or disease problems. It can also cause deciduous trees and shrubs to drop their leaves early, which means less food stored in their roots for getting through the coming winter.
  • The roots of all plants growing in container gardens are subjected to more direct heat than in-the-ground plants, and even mature plants may need to be treated like annuals, with a daily or every-other-day watering in order to prevent stress and/or bolting.
3. Wilted leaves don't always mean that watering is needed.
On a very hot day, most garden plants are losing more water through their leaves than they can take up with their roots, even if the soil is moist. For some shrubs and perennials, the result is leaves or stems that begin to droop or wilt a bit during mid-to-late afternoon, which is the hottest part of the day. If they perk right back up during the cooler evening or early morning hours, don't water yet- this little bit of a roller coaster ride isn't a problem. However... if you see a plant wilting on a day when it is not real hot, it's definitely time to check your soil by probing down underneath the top inch with a hand trowel or your finger. If that soil is dry, water immediately. If that soil is still moist, you may have a very different problem, and looking further is the best way to solve it. Soil compaction, root problems, and overwatering can cause symptoms that look identical to drought stress. So always check the soil before assuming that watering is needed.

4. A few more tips:
  • Many of the most drought-tolerant plants have leaves that don't lose water quickly because they are tiny, thick, and/or fuzzy.
  • Healthy and large mature trees should seldom (if ever) need summer watering, because of their deep root systems.
  • Many trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennial plants can tolerate extreme heat with dry soil conditions for a period of time without suffering any ill effects, as long as they have a well-established root system.
  • Some plants even thrive more with no summer watering once they are well-established, because they are native to areas where such conditions are the norm: Smoke Tree (Cotinus), Rockrose (Cistus), as well as the Verbena venosa and Yarrow in the photo below are members of this group.
  • Our native Kinnickinnick, Shore Pine, and Madrona thrive on hot, rocky bluffs, so once they are well-established, summer watering can actually impede their health.
  • Herbs like Rosemary, Lavender, and Thyme are even said to have more pungent fragrance and flavor when not given summer water once they are well-established.
  • Sedums such as the S. spurium 'Dragon's Blood' in the photo below need very little summer water, even when planted in containers.

Using a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses to get your new plantings well- established is something I usually recommend. However, it's not as easy as "set it and forget it", and you can learn more about how to water wisely with these methods in my July posting. I also recommend checking out The Saving Water Partnership for free, well-written information on watering new plantings for good root establishment, installing soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems, and more tips on watering wisely. www.savingwater.org/outside_watering.htm

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Watering and Fruit Tree Pruning Classes

Summer has finally arrived! But this "out-of-the-blue" heat wave that has arrived may cause some consternation about just how to keep plants happy and well-watered.

When watering, your goal is to just thoroughly wet the root zone of your plants, which for most shrubs and perennials is the top 8-12 inches of soil. Overhead sprinklers are easy to use, but can waste more than 50% of the water you use due to evaporation and runoff. I recommend bubblers, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation, which put the water directly in the root zone.

The best way to know how long to water with these methods is to do a simple test:
  • Turn your irrigation or soaker hoses on at low pressure (no water spouts) for 30-45 minutes, then turn them off and wait at least 1/2 hour.
  • Take a hand trowel and dig down next to a section of hose to see how far the water has penetrated.
  • If that 8-12 inch root zone depth is wet, then you will know that a 1/2 hour is all you need.
  • If it's not, then turn the hoses on again for another 15-30 minutes to see just how long it takes to wet the soil deep enough.
  • Doing this test will give you a formula you can use (and adapt as needed) during the rest of summer.
The Saving Water Partnership is a great source of free watering information- visit www.savingwater.org/outside_watering.htm for informative yet simple factsheets on watering new plantings, installing soaker hoses, and more.

Mid-Summer is also a great time for fruit tree pruning! If you'd like to learn to do this yourself, there are some really good opportunities in north and south Seattle, from local non-profit organizations. WSU/Snohomish Co. Extension is also offering a drip irrigation class:

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning Classes- July and August 2010

In North Seattle- sponsored by the Magnuson Orchard Committee and the Seattle Tree Fruit Society

Saturday July 17th from 10:00 am– Noon. FREE!

This workshop will be taught by Christine Pfeiffer, an ISA-Certified arborist with 25+ years experience in the field. The class will begin in the Garden Room of the Magnuson Brig Building (AKA Building 406) with a brief overview of summer pruning for fruit trees. Then Chris will lead the class outside to demonstrate proper summer pruning techniques in the Magnuson Community Garden Demonstration Orchard, a 40-tree orchard containing dwarf, semi-dwarf, and espaliered varieties of Apple, Pear, Plum, and other fruits. Seattle Tree Fruit Society members will be on hand to help with the hands-on teaching. And....there will be free cider and donuts for all attendees who stick around after the class to practice their new skills in the Demo Orchard! To find the Brig, come into the park at the NE 74th St. entry and go to the first 4-way stop where you will see a one-story, stucco building on your left. If you arrive late, the Demonstration Orchard is right behind the Brig on the southeast side. No pre-registration is required. For more info about the Magnuson Community Garden, visit http://www.seattle.gov/magnusongarden/default.htm

In North Seattle- sponsored by City Fruit

Saturday July 17th from 10:30am–Noon. $20.00 fee ($15 for City Fruit members)

Summer pruning discourages excessive new growth and “can be used to slow down overly vigorous trees or trees that are too large” (P. Vossen). It is most effective between June and late September. Learn the proper techniques at this workshop located in a heritage urban orchard. Ingela Wanerstrand is the owner of Green Darner Garden Design, specializing in edible garden design and coaching. She has been pruning fruit trees professionally for 14 years and leads the urban agriculture guild of Sustainable Ballard. Pre-registration required www.cityfruit.org

In North Seattle- sponsored by Seattle Tilth

Thursday July 22nd from 6:00-8:00pm, $35.00 fee ($25 for Tilth members)

Good Shepherd Center Demo Garden, in Wallingford

Learn the difference between summer and winter fruit tree pruning. Learn how to maintain various types of fruit trees with a beautiful form, while you increase fruit production and fruit quality. Bring gloves, hand pruners and pruning saws if you have them, hands on opportunity will be provided. Pre-registration required www.seattletilth.org

In South Seattle- sponsored by City Fruit

Saturday Aug 14th from 10:00 am – noon. $20.00 ($15 for City Fruit members)

This class mixes lecture with hands-on demonstrations in a south Seattle urban orchard. Bill Wanless is co-owner of Brooke/Wanless gardens, specializing in pruning of small trees, shrubs and vines. He is an ISA-certified arborist with 20 years of field experience. Pre-registration required www.cityfruit.org

City Fruit has also started a blog (http://cityfruit.org/blog/) with a FREE "Ask the Fruit Guys" feature! If you have a question for local fruit tree experts John Reardon and Don Ricks, just send an email to thefruitguys@cityfruit.org

Drip Irrigation Class sponsored by WSU/Snohomish County Extension
Tuesday July 27th from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. and again in the evening from 6:30p.m. to 8:30p.m.
at the WSU Snohomish County Extension office, in Everett.
A good irrigation system targets the exact area where you want the water and allows you to deliver it at the exact time you wish. It also prevents disease by minimizing water contact with the leaves, stems, and fruit of plants.
Jeff Thompson, a Master Gardener, will show you what you will need to buy and how to put the system together, give hands-on demonstrations, and teach how you can customize and expand your own system. He will also explain the benefits of using drip irrigation such as for containers, raised beds, vegetable rows and even balconies.
Cost is $20/per person, or $25/2 people sharing materials, pre-registration is required. To register, download the form at www.snohomish.wsu.edu/garden/workshops/registrationform.pdf and mail with your check, or call Karie Christensen at (425) 357-6039, e-mail klchristen@cahnrs.wsu.edu.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May The Sun Shine Warm Upon Your Face

This line from the traditional Irish blessing always makes me smile, because there's nothing like the month of May in the Pacific Northwest. Even though we still get plenty of rainy days, they alternate with the warm sunny ones, and the gentler spring wind carries the sweet fragrance of Lilacs, Mock Orange, and other delightful flowers.

May is also when all plants seem to grow right before your eyes, and the look of your whole garden can change drastically from week to week. This may be exciting and/or a bit frightening, depending on how 'caught up' you are on general spring garden tasks. Especially weeding....which I must admit I am not completely up to speed with myself!

If you don't have time to remove weeds by their roots, now is the time to make a habit of just plucking off their flowers when you pass by on your way to/from work, before they go to seed. The old saying, "one year seeds= seven years weeds" is unfortunately true, so I make sure to at least nip a few dandelions in the bud each day in my parking strip, where my worst weed problems are. I will pat myself on the back later for it, when I don't have as many new ones to dig out!

I also have a 150ft of city sidewalk alongside my corner property, which has been falling apart over the past 25 years due to the large amount of underground stormwater runoff on my hill. Its ever-enlarging cracks also sprout lots of weeds courtesy of 2 neighbors who have foot-tall "lawns". To keep those weeds from invading my garden, I have experimented over the years with a lot of different organic control methods: White vinegar (from the grocery store), clove oil 'Burn Out" spray product, boiling water from my teakettle, etc. All had about the same effect: temporary control over well-established weeds, and permanent control over the seedlings. So last year I got one of those flame weeders, and I have to say that it has been the most effective control because: a.) it kills established weeds pretty well, and b.) my husband likes to use it. If you have gravel or brick pathways, or a sidewalk like mine, it might be a good control method for you too. Do not use on wood chip paths.... 'nuff said. The propane tank is the same as for a BBQ, and the flame weeder fittings were less than $50 at Sky Nursery.

May is a great time to plant some summer vegetables, even if the only space you have is in deck containers or garden planters. The soil temperatures are up, and the nights are usually staying around 50 degrees, so it's safe to plant some heat lovers if you've got a spot that receives at least 6-8 hours of sun.
  • Beans and cucumbers (and some squash plants) can be trained onto a small trellis or obelisk
  • Tomatoes have a large root system (for a food crop) and do best in a container that is at least 15 inches in diameter and height.
  • Wait until the end of the month to plant eggplant, peppers, or basil, unless you have a real hot spot, as these 3 really need soil temperatures to be higher.
  • Leafy greens do best in part shade and can also be used as an edible groundcover on the shady side of tall crops, or under ornamental plants that don't mind summer water.
Thanks to my parents, I have been growing food crops since I was a child, and after a brief 'hiatus' in my early 20's I have continued it for most of the last 30 years. (this is not related to today's Mt. St. Helens anniversary though!) After all these years, I still get a thrill from eating my fresh-from-the-garden vegetables and fruits. Lately because of the increase interest in edible landscaping, I have been called upon for more consultations and speaking engagements on this topic than ever. It's been an inspiration for me too, and this spring I have put in a brand new Raspberry/Strawberry patch in the back yard as well as planting more summer food crops in my p-patch and home garden. If food gardening is something you are interested in adding to your landscape, I'd be happy to consult with you on this topic too.

And in case you want to take a break from your own gardening but still have a nature experience, here are a couple of opportunities:
  • Magnuson Wetlands- free Family Wetland Walk on Saturday June 5th from 10:00-11:00am. The walk will start at the wetland entry in the parking lot just off 65th St. There are lots of tadpoles and ducklings in the ponds right now, so it will be an exciting time! For more info on this and other upcoming nature programs (as long as the Mayor doesn't shut down Magnuson Community Center), visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/centers/magnuson/nature.htmLink
  • Green Fest- at the Seattle Convention Center the weekend of June 5th & 6th. I can provide the first 20 responses with a free pass for the day of Sunday June 6th, because I'm speaking about Wildlife-Friendly Gardening that day from 12noon-1:00pm at the Green Pavilion Stage. Email me if you are interested. For more info, visit http://www.greenfestivals.org/seattle/

Last but not least, I know that most of you are gardening without the use of pesticides, and I applaud all of you for whatever efforts you are making towards this. If you'd like to let your neighbors and friends know by posting a free 'Pesticide Free Zone' sign from Washington Toxics Coalition, visit

May the sun shine warm upon your face no matter how you are spending time outdoors!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Please encourage the City Council to continue funding our Community Centers

Dear Clients and Friends,
The Seattle City Council and Mayor McGinn are considering closing some of our city's community centers in order to balance the budget. As many of you know, I been working with the Magnuson Community Center for the past 5 years to develop a vibrant nature program for children and adults, and gotten to know first hand what a vital resource our community centers provide for our city.
Please review the letter below, and if you are moved to do so, add your voice to the citizens speaking out to our City Council and Mayor about this issue at http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/contact.htm and http://seattle.gov/council/councilcontact.htm

PS. If you would like to learn more about specific nature programs at Magnuson Park that would be affected if its Community Center is closed, visit http://birdfriendlylandscape.blogspot.com and http://jrnatureexplorers.blogspot.com

It would be especially unfortunate to have Mayor McGinn and the City Council decide to close Magnuson Community Center and shut down its brand new 'Wetland Discoveries' field trip program during the EPA's National Wetlands Month, wouldn't it?

Dear City Council Member,
I am writing to express my thoughts about the possibility that you will choose to close some of our city’s Community Centers in order to cope with the current budget crisis.

As the recession continues to affect the entire city, and worsens for many of its residents, the wide variety of youth, family, and adult activities that community centers offer has become increasingly important in many ways. Here are just a few:

• Community Centers provide parents with young children a safe, reliable, close to home, and affordable place for early-learning experiences with nature, art, gardening, and music. These vital elements to childhood development have suffered deep cuts already from our city’s public school budgets, and Community Center programs that help fill that learning gap are vital to our children’s future. Community Centers also provide children with a neighborhood ‘hub’ that they can form a bond with throughout their childhood, and a sense of belonging within the larger community as a whole.

• Community Centers provide teens with a safe, reliable, close to home, and affordable place for classes that build knowledge, character and understanding, and that help prepare them for an adult life. They also provide a place for appropriate social interaction during after-school or evening hours, and service-learning opportunities that also build character.

• Community Centers provide adults of all ages with a safe, reliable, close to home, and affordable place to learn about health and fitness, sustainability, organic gardening, parenting, and other topics that improve their lives and the health of our environment.

• Community Centers provide seniors with a safe, reliable, close to home, and affordable place for exercise, art, and other classes to enrich their lives and keep them involved as a vital part of our community.

• Community Centers provide neighborhood groups with a safe, reliable, close to home, and affordable place to hold meetings, events, and other outreach to the community.

• Many Community Centers have developed demonstration gardens and other environmental projects that have educated and empowered the public to improve their own neighborhood as well as the greater community.

Community Centers are an integral ingredient in creating and maintaining the kind of city that we all want to live in, and a city that is sustainable in the long term. They provide our entire city with a wide variety of extremely valuable resources that cannot be replaced at any cost in the future. Closing Community Centers to save money now would be penny-wise and pound-foolish, and detrimental to our city’s future. It is also not at all cohesive with the Mayor’s youth and family initiative as well as the Council’s ‘year of urban agriculture’ and other priorities of fostering a safe, just, healthy community for all.

Thanks for your time and consideration.
Emily Bishton

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time for Spring Pruning and Planting

Well, it sure seems as if December's brief cold blast was all the punch that winter had in store for us this year. All the trees, shrubs, and perennials seem to "think" so too, and are blooming or leafing out early everywhere.

I tend to be conservative on making weather assumptions, especially given that last year we had snow in April. So I held off on pruning my roses until this week, even though I live in the city where it tends to be warmer than outlying areas. I do think it's safe to prune them now no matter where you live, but it also won't hurt to wait a couple more weeks if you want to play it safe.

On the other hand, deciduous ornamental grasses, ferns, and summer perennials should definitely be cut back close to the ground now, before their new growth makes the job really difficult.

However, evergreen grasses such as Blue Oat Grass, Pheasant Tail Grass, (pictured) and others should not get the typical "butch haircut" of the deciduous grasses, unless they have taken a heavy hit from the winter. Instead, just pull your fingers gently through them and the dead blades (usually on the underside) should come off easily in your hands. Evergreen ferns such as Sword Fern can be cut back fully or just trimmed of their dead fronds, whichever you prefer. I tend to prune them off every year only in the most prominent places in my garden, such as next to my back porch (pictured), and let the others in in background areas go 2-3 years between major cutbacks.

If you need to transplant any of your Ferns, this is a good time to do so, before they begin to unfurl all their new fronds. They can indeed be hard to dig because of their fibrous mat of roots, but the good news is that they put up with a lot of root disturbance.

I have a very informal garden as many of you know, so I just chop up the leaves and stems from most all my spring cutbacks, and use them to mulch the soil. By summer, much of these cuttings have decomposed and disappeared into the soil, feeding the plants and helping to protect the soil from the compaction of spring rains. Also, if a severe late spring freeze is predicted, I can quickly pile it up around the base of their crowns temporarily for a little extra protection.

Another important thing to do this time of year is to get winter weeds under control before they go to seed in your garden and make more work for you. Shotweed (pictured below) is one of the quickest to set seed, so prioritize your attention on that one for sure.

Spring is also a great time to plant new trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, and vegetables. If you would like to attend a FREE class on edible landscaping, or on which plants can make your garden more attractive to birds. other wildlife, or children, check the list in my other February posting for the classes I am teaching throughout the region this spring.

If you are most interested in adding fruit trees to your garden, there is a fabulous FREE opportunity coming up soon, to help you choose which varieties are best for you and learn how to manage your fruit trees successfully. The Seattle Tree Fruit Society's annual spring event will be on Sun. March 14th from 10am-3pm at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Interactive booths, FREE classes on fruit varieties, pest prevention and management, and more. For info, visit www.seattletreefruitsociety.com

And if you are already growing fruit trees, this is the best time to get prepared for your annual pruning. Visit www.CityFruit.org for a list of their classes.

Plant Amnesty offers a great series of classes and hands-on workshops on all types of pruning, from trees to groundcovers to vines. Their schedule can be found at www.plantamnesty.org

And of course if you'd like customized advice on plants to add to your garden, or a one-on-one pruning lesson on your plants, you can always schedule an appointment with me!

Spring 2010 Speaking Engagements and Classes

Most of you know that I also have been doing speaking engagements and classes for many years, on a variety of natural gardening and design topics. * This year, I've decided to start listing the events that are open to the public, even though the organizations that hire me for these events do a lot of promotion of their own. The talks or classes listed below are all FREE, and all involve Q & A time at the end. I hope to see your smiling face in the crowd sometime!

Saturday April 10th from 9-10am: FREE Family Wetland Walk at Magnuson Park's beautiful and amazing new wetlands. April's theme: "Wetland Wake-up", focused on spring-blooming native shrubs, the end of hibernation for resident amphibians and bats, etc. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Saturday April 10th from 10:30am-2:00pm FREE Celebrate Urban Nature family event at Magnuson Community Center, 7110 62nd Ave NE in Seattle. There will be a host of activities including interactive booths, arts & crafts, nature-games carnival, Woodland Park Raptors and Roving Reptiles shows, a nature-themed concert by Caspar Babypants, and more! I will be doing a family-friendly garden class from 11:30am-12:30pm on "How to Create a Bird-friendly Landscape", and will be hosting various other activities throughout the day. Registration is requested for the class, but walk-ins are welcome. For more info, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Thursday April 22nd from 6-8pm: FREE Brier Natural Gardening Series, held at the Brier City Hall. I will be speaking on the topics of "Natural Yard Care" and "Child-Friendly Garden Design". Registration is required by emailing workshops@snohomishcd.org. For more info, email lois@snohomishcd.org or call 425-335-5634, ext 108.

Saturday April 24th from 9am-3:30pm:
FREE Spring Garden Fair, held at the UW Bothell Campus. I will be speaking from 1:15-2:15pm on the topic of "Wildlife-Friendly Gardening- for Beauty and Sustainability" and from 2:30-3:30pm on "Edible Landscapes- Vegetable Gardens and so Much More". My friend Ciscoe will be taping his radio show here and giving a talk too!

Saturday May 1st from 10-11am: FREE Family Wetland Walk at Magnuson Park's new wetlands. This month's theme: "Tadpoles and Nestlings", focused on how wetlands are a wonderful nursery where all sorts of new life begins. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Saturday May 1st from 11:30am-12:30pm FREE family-friendly class at the Magnuson Children's Garden, on "How to Create a Child-Friendly Garden". This delightful garden contains a host of features that can be used in your own home landscape. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Sunday May 2nd from 1-2pm: FREE (with the caveat that you will be tempted to buy plants) Master Gardener Plant Sale at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. I will be speaking on the topic of "Gardening with Native Plants". For more info on the sale, visit http://king.wsu.edu/gardening/plantsale.htm
Saturday June 5th from 10-11am: FREE Family Wetland Walk at Magnuson Park's new wetlands. This month's theme: "Spring Migration", will focus on the migratory birds who have arrived in the wetlands to spend the summer months. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Family Wetland Walks, each with a different theme, will continue on the first Saturday of each month, until November 6th. Besides all these adult and family oriented classes, I also teach Nature explorer camps and classes for children ages 4-12. For a complete schedule of those events, visit http://jrnatureexplorers.blogspot.com

For more details on
any of the nature programs at Magnuson Park, visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/centers/magnuson.htm and browse through the Parks Dept. brochure in the SPARC link.


* Since 1995, I've been involved in teaching about organic gardening at local schools, child care centers, nurseries, conferences and seminars, as a volunteer for King Co. Master Gardeners, and as a former staff member of Seattle Tilth. The movement towards sustainable gardening and landscaping continues forward each year with more momentum, and with an increasing number of great local organizations that are dedicated to public education about these topics. I am happy to be part of growing that movement, especially towards FREE education such as in all the events listed above!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter Gardening Ideas and Resources

Last year about this time we were still getting over the shock of a plethora of snow. This year, a stretch of unseasonably warm weather has already brought out spring fever in a lot of folks, as I have witnessed during walks around my neighborhood... and I am starting to feel it myself- how about you?

Lest I am tempted to begin my Rose pruning or garden cleanup chores, I must keep in mind that some cold blasts could (and probably will) come our way in the next couple of months, and all my plants will benefit from being left alone for a while longer. Which reminds me.... if you happen to have any fluffy seedheads amongst your perennial border debris, count yourself lucky and remember to watch for Anna's Hummingbirds who are already on the hunt for soft things to whisk away and use as lining for their tiny little nests!

However, these mid-late winter days are a great time to attend some garden classes and events, to prepare for the upcoming growing season. Here are some that I heartily recommend:

Fruit Tree classes:
City Fruit is a new non-profit organization dedicated to teaching homeowners about how to choose and care for new and existing fruit trees, and organizing volunteers to harvest excess healthy fruit to feed people in need. Late winter is the best time for pruning most all fruit trees. Detailed descriptions of all their hands-on classes, plus a great series of free fruit tree factsheets to download, are available at www.cityfruit.org.
  • Jan 30 Fruit Tree Pruning: 10 am – noon. N. Seattle home. Pruning your fruit tree will improve its health, productivity and appearance. This beginner’s class covers the basics.
  • Jan 30 Fruit Tree Pruning: 10 am – noon, Bradner Gardens Park, South Seattle. Learn to prune apple, plum, and pear trees and some berry bushes at one of Seattle’s premier teaching gardens.
  • Feb 6 Fruit Varieties for the Pacific NW: 1 – 3 pm. Environmental Works, 402 15th Ave E. Find out which varieties of fruit grow best in the Pacific Northwest, why rootstocks are important, and how to decide what size to plant.
  • Feb 20 The Art of Espalier: 10 am – 2 pm Location: TBA
  • Mar 6 Pruning Grape Vines: 9 am – noon Phinney/Greenlake home. Learn how to prune and train grape vines and get tips on growing grapes for best production.
  • Mar 13 Planting and Caring for Young Fruit Trees: 10 am – noon. Location TBA. Find out how and where to plant your new tree, how to keep it healthy and when to start expecting fruit.
Sat. Feb. 20th: NW Premiere of Highly-Acclaimed Documentary
The Coalition of Organic Landscape Professionals (COOL) and Seattle Tilth are proud to co-host the Pacific Northwest Premiere of the highly-acclaimed documentary ‘A Chemical Reaction’
Saturday Feb. 20th
From 2:00pm- 6:00pm
At Lake Washington Technical College
West Building Auditorium, Rm. #404
11605 132nd Avenue NE
Kirkland, WA 98034-8506

On the heels of sellout premieres at the World Film Festival in Montreal and across the United States, the inspirational documentary, 'A Chemical Reaction', is making its Pacific Northwest premiere on Saturday, February 20th. A feature-length film by director Brett Plymale, the film was awarded four stars by the film critics of the Montreal Gazette. The premiere event will also feature keynote speaker Paul Tukey, the nationally-known gardening host who is the executive producer and narrator of the film. Tukey is also the founder of the regional gardening magazine "People, Places & Plants", author of best-seller ”The Organic Lawn Care Manual”, and founder of SafeLawns.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting natural lawn care and grounds maintenance. The event will feature displays and resources from The Garden Hotline and several other environmental organizations, books for sale, refreshments, and a question-and-answer session and book-signing with Paul Tukey after the movie screening.

Much of the movie’s story focuses on Dr. June Irwin, a dermatologist who spurred the first town in Canada to ban lawn and garden chemicals pesticides in 1991. When Hudson, Quebec, told the lawn care giant then known as ChemLawn that it couldn’t apply its synthetic chemical products within town borders, it set off a chain of high-profile court cases that culminated in the Canadian Supreme Court in 2001. The town won the case in a landmark 9-0 decision, and the chemical ban soon spread to the entire province of Quebec. Ontario enacted lawn chemical restrictions on Earth Day 2009, and hundreds of other Canadian municipalities have also passed legislation. This issue is particularly relevant in the Puget Sound region, where chemical fertilizers and pesticides run off into our lakes, rivers, streams, and the sound during each rainfall.

The film has also drawn the ire of representatives from the billion-dollar chemical lawn care industry, who called Paul Tukey an “enviro-maniac” in a widespread email campaign launched last fall. Tukey appears frequently on screen during A Chemical Reaction while interviewing key figures in the anti-pesticide movement in Canada and the U.S. He said his goal in making the film is to create awareness of the health hazards and environmental degradation associated with lawn care chemicals.

To view a movie trailer, visit www.ChemicalReactionMovie.com

$10.00 in advance from www.BrownPaperTickets.com or $15.00 at the door.
Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to SafeLawns.org
Free parking in the south or west parking lots (follow the sandwich board signs)
Campus map and driving directions: www.lwtc.edu/about/maps/campus
Sponsored by a variety of local horticulture organizations, businesses, and individuals.
For more information, visit www.organiclandscapers.org or call 206-362-8947.

Other garden tasks that can be done this time of year without any risk:

1. Putting Beneficials to Work in Your Garden
Late winter is also the time to put up Orchard Mason Bee Houses, to help ensure that these beneficial pollinators are attracted to visit newly-opened fruit and berry blossoms before the spring rains wash their pollen off. Bee blocks can be purchased at many local nurseries, or you can make your own out of an untreated 4x4 with the easy instructions at http://audubonmagazine.org/audubonathome/audubonathome0601.html

Installing a nest box for Chickadees is a fantastic way to ensure aphid control during our annual spring outbreak. Remarkably, their nestlings are born at the same time that the aphid population explosion happens around here! Visit the Audubon Store in NE Seattle to purchase one for under $25.00, or visit http://www.shawcreekbirdsupply.com/plans_blackcapped_chickadee.htm for free nest box plans. Besides a next box that is made to the preferred dimensions, proper mounting of the nest box so that predators cannot reach the nestlings is also very important. I recommend mounting it on a metal pole at the 'outskirts' of the canopy of a flexible-branched tree.

2. Soil Tests on New or Existing Food-growing Areas
It's a good idea to have a soil test done before installing new food-growing beds, especially if you are concerned about previous use of the site and any contamination from lead or automotive products. Soil sampling for nutrients can also be helpful in determining how best to add fertility to your garden. Free nutrient and ph soil sampling is available from the King Conservation District at http://www.kingcd.org/pub_soil_soilsam.htm. For info on all other types of soil sampling, contact the Garden Hotline at 206-633-0224 or help@gardenhotline.org.

3. Be a Part of Cornell University's Bird-watching Program!
I've been counting for this project for years, and find it a lot of fun. Click on the link below if you'd to find out more about it.