Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Showers

Ah, a "typical" spring day in the Puget Sound: a little sprinkle, a little sun, then a downpour, sunbeams, and then start all over again. After 33 years in Seattle, I welcome these kind of days with open arms ... but I sincerely hope they they foretell an end to the dark-clouded deluges of recent weeks!

How is your garden doing so far this spring? The winter has definitely been hard on a lot of plants, and the cold temps that lingered on well into March have delayed the flowering of many of our harbingers of spring. Unless you live in one of the warm micro-climates close to Lake Washington or Puget Sound, most plants such as Evergreen Clematis, Forsythia, Red-flowering Currant, Tall Oregon Grape, Osmanthus, and many others that "typically" bloom by mid-March are just reaching their full bloom now, at least 2-3 weeks later than normal. But all are well worth the wait!

To Dig or Not to Dig

Our soils have stayed saturated later than normal from all the deluges this spring too. Though the sunbeams peeking out make it tempted to get busy with a shovel in your garden, you can damage your soil structure if you do a lot of digging when it's still super-saturated. A simple "squeeze test" can be a good cue to knowing if the time is right: Scoop a little soil in your hand (about 1/4 cup) and squeeze it in your palm until it sticks together. Then open your palm and poke the soil with your finger. If it stays stuck together like glue, don't do a lot of digging yet. If it crumbles apart when you poke it, dig away to your heart's content. No matter what, it's always a good idea to protect your soil from compaction while digging, by working from your garden paths and trying not to step into your beds. It's much easier to keep the existing air in the soil than to try to put it back in after it's been pushed out.

Rhododendron Pest Warning:

If you see anything that looks like this on your Evergreen Rhododendrons or Azaleas, then it IS time to get busy with your garden hose sprayer, or if it's bad enough, maybe busy with your shovel.....

There is a new insect pest in the Pacific Northwest called Azalea Lacebug. It is related to a longtime pest called Rhododendron Lacebug, but the Azalea Lacebug can do a lot more damage very quickly because they have several generations per year. The damage from one year can be enough to affect the whole plant. Unlike the plainer Rhododendron Lacebug, the Azalea Lacebug has smoky brown spots on it if you look at them with a good hand lens. They are really tiny, and look like specks of dirt on the underside of the leaves, right around the midrib.
Photo from the Clemson University Extension blog-

Here is some compiled info from the WSU HortSense website and their Lacebug factsheet::

Azalea lace bug (Stephanitis pyrioides) is a relatively new insect pest in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike rhododendron lace bug (S. rhododendri), azalea lace bug attacks both azaleas and rhododendrons and may cause significant damage on both. Both adults and nymphs feed on the underside of leaves. Symptoms of damage are stippling, bleaching, or a silvery or yellowish (chlorotic) appearance of the leaves. The underside of the leaf will appear dirty due to the presence of insects (eggs, nymphs, and adults) and brownish or tar-like fecal spots, particularly along the leaf veins. Heavily damaged leaves may drop from the plant. Adults are about 1/10 inch long with lacy, net-like, transparent wings. The azalea lace bug has smoky, brown markings on the wings, which distinguish it from the pale whitish-tan rhododendron lace bug. The young nymph is colorless to black and spiny depending on age. The first generation of nymphs emerges in spring after frost danger has passed. Several generations may occur in a year. Since these insects overwinter as eggs laid on the leaves, evergreen varieties are most susceptible. Plants in full sun or suffering from drought may suffer greater damage. Damaged leaves do not recover, so early detection is important.

Management Options: Avoid the use of broad-spectrum insecticides to preserve populations of beneficial predators which will help control lace bugs.

Planning Your Spring and Summer Vegetable Garden:

Racks of seeds and starts are everywhere you look in the stores these days, and when you sit down to plan out your garden, don't forget to plan for your crop rotations! Planting the same crop in the same place year after year will eventually cause soil disease problems that can break your heart. It's wise to rotate all your crops each year, but absolutely mandatory for plants in the tomato/pepper/potato family, the broccoli/kale/cauliflower family, and the onion/leek family. My upcoming Edible Landscaping talk at the Bellevue City Hall on May 10th (see Spring class schedule in my March 1st posting) will cover crop rotation basics, along with many other aspects of food gardening. Crop rotation is one of those things that takes a little time to get the hang of but then will become second nature, and a huge benefit to your continued crop success.

Seattle Tilth also recently posted a intro article on this topic, at

Please cast your votes for Magnuson Community Garden!
The Magnuson Community Garden is part of a grant contest being sponsored by Organic Gardening magazine and DeLoach organic winery. Web site viewers can vote for their favorites between March and July 2011. (One vote allowed per day) The top five garden entries will each receive a $3,000-4,000 grant. The Magnuson Community Garden's grant request will support a much needed expansion to our ADA accessible raised bed and add interpretive signs to improve visitor use and experience.

Our entry video icon is the above photo, located in the top row, second from the left. Click on the box below to cast your vote, or visit

Last, but not least:

Have a great April!

Best regards,