Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Ok, I guess we are a little early, but it does sound better than ‘Happy Daylight Saving Time’. The benefit to having a St. Patty’s Day in the middle of the week is that you have 2 weekends to celebrate. So we picked the first weekend to start our celebration. We did that by stopping at Feckin Irish Brewing in Oregon City. They are hosting an Irish Craft Ale Festival on March 17-19 from noon to close. Plus it gave us a chance to wear our kilts and get us in the mood for our Ireland tour coming up in June. And if it’s St. Patty’s day that means it must be shamrock season. We also get a chance to celebrate that wonderful little plant in this week’s show.
In addition to the shamrock, we are also celebrating spring this week. We cover some topics like spring color plants, testing your soil, pruning apples and organizing your garden seeds.
We also want to plant a seed! This time the seed is ‘GardenPalooza’! We are just 3 weeks away from this great kick-off event for our growing season. As you may know, this event features over 45 garden vendors and has free parking and free admission. We also end up giving away a ton of prizes. This year we will have Dramm watering tools, seeds and gift cards to local nurseries! Plus, Garden Gallery Iron Works will be having a drawing for one of their signature arbors! Find out more at www.GardenPalooza.com.
This week we featured...
OSU Soil Tips
Everything starts in the soil. The health of your garden plants and the quality of the food you eat is directly tied to the soil where plants make their home. If you’re concerned about your soil then this story is for you. We traveled down to Corvallis to chat with James Cassidy a soil science instructor at Oregon State University. He met us out in a local community garden to talk about soil health. Did you know that there are billions of living organisms in a small pinch of normal garden soil? Keeping those organisms happy and healthy is essential to a great garden. What is the first step to finding out if you have everything your soil needs for these helpers in the dirt? A soil test. First dig down about 6-10 inches and grab some nice dirt, place it in a clean container and send it in for testing. Here is a guide for collecting your sample. If you need to find a good lab for testing, OSU extension has you covered there too. Here is a list of labs and the services they provide. Make sure you contact them first so they know your sample is coming. Most of the basic tests are around $25. James even showed us an app on his phone called the ‘SoilWeb’. It will tell you some basic information about the soil where you live. You can find that app here. Remember this is a general reference tool and that the soil test will give you much more information.
After you know what you have in your soil, you can look at amending and fertilizing for your crops. You may find that you don’t need to add much to your soil. This means you may get by with a simple fertilizer or maybe even just a good garden mulch or compost. Some people find that they are only in need of a little nitrogen. Then all they need is to compensate for that and not over fertilize the rest of their soil. If you need help in figuring out your fertilizing needs after your soil test you can also get this handout from OSU. The key is to remember that your soil is a living thing and as such it needs the right food and nutrients to continue to thrive. That can include those natural mulches, composts and even cover crops. For more information about getting your soil ready for the season, check out the OSU Extension website.
Farmington Spring Color
Spring color is not just about daffodils and tulips. There are lots of spring plants that can bring color and texture to your garden. We stopped by Farmington Gardens (503-649-4568) and talked to MJ to see what she was able to find in the nursery. We were surprised at the diversity of the plant material she found. We started with some cooler colored plants, like the ‘Forever Purple’ Heuchera. A dark foliage plant like this really complements the brighter colors in the spring garden. Another great early plant is the pulmonaria, also known as lungwort. This plant has cool spikes of flowers that are blue, purple and pink. Plus it has a spotted leaf that looks really nice against the other plants in the shade garden. The bergenia was next and it also has tall flower spikes that can be red, pink purple or white. This evergreen perennial plant has large fleshy leaves that add another layer of texture to the early spring garden. An annual plant that preforms really well in these cooler temperatures is the ranunculus. The colors are so vibrant and the plant will continue to bloom until the heat of summer arrives. Primrose is another favorite in the spring garden. A lot of people will add this plant to their garden and then be surprised when they see it year after year, but this plant is one of those tried and true plants. They also now have different varieties that look great including the purple one that MJ brought out. This one was very cute with its white edges to the flowers.
You don’t have to rely on the lower plants in your garden to bring you early spring color. There are lots of trees and shrubs that can pop in March. Cherry trees will reward you with lots of blooms and so will some of the early magnolias, like the variety ‘Vulcan’ which they had on display. You will also see some of the early blooming rhododendrons appearing now. MJ had a purple one in her mix, but you will start seeing more and more different colors of rhodies and azaleas showing up from here until June.
Don’t forget furniture and garden art. Adding a colorful bench, garden tools, hoses and even garden flags will help kick start the color in your garden.
Finally, we moved to some brighter plants like the erysimum with its bright oranges and yellows, the mahonia with striking yellow flowers (that attract the hummingbirds) and the nandinas with their multicolored foliage!
So you can see that there are lots of choices out there for bringing color to the early spring garden. Stop by Farmington Gardens or your local independent garden center for even more selections!
St. Patrick’s Day is close at hand and the traditional plant for the day is the shamrock. For most gardeners the shamrock is a nasty reminder of the clover in their lawn, but the plant you will find in your garden center right now is slightly different than that garden visitor. The plant you find now is Oxalis regnelli, also known as Wood Sorrel. This small bulb loves the full sun and is in bloom right now. Don’t be alarmed that you see it die back in the next couple of months. It goes dormant and ‘sleeps’ through the late summer. Just leave it alone and set it in a cool, dry place. When fall returns you can pull the plant out and start to water it again. For right now, enjoy this early spring bloomer and hope it brings luck to your garden this season. There are also ‘clovers’ that you will find in your garden center, but they are not the same kind that you find in your lawn. We found a great selection of these wonderful plants at Portland Nursery (503-231-5050). Check out either of their locations.
Apple Tree Pruning
Fruit tree pruning is tough and there are lots of questions. To learn the answers to the most frequent questions we met with Lyle from Collier Arbor Care/Bartlett Tree Experts (503-722-7267). The first and most asked question is ‘Why do I prune my fruit tree’? It is a simple question, but it has many answers. First, to help it bare more fruit. Pruning helps the tree focus its energy into producing more fruit and higher quality fruit. A fruit tree, without pruning, will continue to grow and grow. All the effort and energy will go into foliar growth and not into fruit production. Also, by cutting off the excess branching (and extra fruiting branches) you can put more growth and energy into the remaining fruit. Knowing what to cut off is also important. Apples send fruit spurs out on older, second year growth. You can see the buds starting to pop out on this older wood. If you prune those off you would get very little fruit. So you would use pruning to control where you want your fruit to show up.
The second reason is to control the growth and shape. In a home orchard you want to be able to reach most of your fruit. Pruning will help keep your plant short enough to harvest most of the fruit without a lot of tools and ladders. It will also help you to keep the shape of the tree more appealing.
Finally, people need to know what they want the tree to do. We have been talking about fruit production, but sometimes people would like to see the blooms and then have no fruit. Pruning at the right time will help you accomplish that too.
If you are confused by all this and need a little help, or you would like someone to come out and do it for you, just contact the experts at Collier/Bartlett and have them give you a hand. Then you will end up with the best tree AND the best fruit.
The Seed Keeper
Spring is for planting seeds, but sometimes finding our old seeds and keeping them organized is a big problem. We have a big basket that we would always throw our seed packets in after we planted. The next year we either couldn’t find the seeds we wanted or we didn’t know if the ones we had were any good! Then we found the Seed Keeper. It’s a kit that helps you organize your seeds. It also does so much more. Inside the kit we found tools to help us deal with smaller seeds, measure depth, labeling seedlings and even a brush to help with cleaning our nails when we were done planting.
The kit has dividers so you can alphabetize your seeds, and even cards so you can keep notes about your garden from month to month. Ours even came with a 1 gallon burlap growing container. If you would like to organize your seeds and make your spring planting a whole lot easier, check out The Seed Keeper!
TOW – Cleaning Up Your Hellebores
Our tip of the week involves hellebores and cutting the foliage. You can do this in spring once the hellebore starts to bloom. By cutting the old leaves off you can enjoy the flowers without all that beat up and tattered foliage. Don’t worry, in late spring the new leaves will grow in and the plant will continue to grow and be healthy.