Saturday, June 25, 2022


Is it a high power chemical fertilizer?  Maybe a rich homemade compost?  Or is it a spray bottle of chemicals to keep the bugs away?  Perhaps this is a good year to learn more about and put into practice, some companion planting methods.

Companion planting goes in and out of favor with gardeners.  Some say "But it's not research based."  Somewhere along the line, we became enamored with instant gardening results without physical or mental problem solving.  Spray for this, spray for that, add some fast acting fertilizer if the plants look a little off.  Sometimes we don't take the time to figure out the problem, we just pull it out.

Times are changing.  Gone is the old folklore.  Research from universities and agricultural facilities around the world are pointing us to a whole new way to companion plant.  It is a way that approaches a garden as an ecosystem of complex layers of plants, fungi and animals.  Jessica Wallister, author of "Plant Partners" writes it is no longer about what plant "loves" growing next to which other plant.  It is about plant partnerships improving the overall ecosystem and creating a well-balance environment in which all organisms thrive. 

Reading the book has been an interesting maze to travel through and exciting to approach 'companion planting' (a term scientists dislike) with more substance and scientific basis.

One study reported that garden beans, green or yellow, planted with seed potatoes increased the size of the potato tuber.  Other reports have shown that beans and potatoes planted in alternating rows reduces the numbers of Colorado potato beetles compared to single-crop plots.

Studying the vegetable that are considered a 'trap crop' is valuable if you want to eliminate pesticides.  Radishes planted around a young tomato plant will draw in flea beetles minimizing damage to tomato transplants.  

Radishes planted in a circle around cucumbers may act as a shield against cucumber beetles.  Planting basil with tomatoes has been shown to limit egg-laying behaviors by the adult months whose leaf-eating larvae are known as tomato hornworms.  Plant the basil close to the tomato plant but not so close as to restrict air movement and cause fungal diseases or alternate rows of basil and tomatoes.

A study on an Iowa State research farm found that partnering broccoli and cabbage plants with thyme resulted in significantly reduced egg-laying behaviors by the cabbage looper moths.  Cabbage loopers are common pests of cole crops.

Chapters include information on pest management, disease management, biological control and pollination.  

As much as we grumble about our climate we should be grateful our climate isn't conducive to the insects in the south or the mid-west.

Saturday, June 11, 2022


The seedlings are looking stronger, the weather is tolerable except for the wind, and the on and off rain

showers are certainly appreciated.  So many weather changes during the day limits the old schedule of going out at 9am, stopping for lunch, then back out till dinnertime.  We all complain we are behind schedule.

In a few weeks, if not sooner, the plant clinic phone line clients, website clients and maybe face to face clients will be seeking answers to their questions which are more serious than anyone else and needs immediate attention.

All this encompasses "customer service" and how good are we?  The subject came to mind several days ago in a call with a medical equipment provider and their customer service department. Changes in insurance providers had been made and new provider and policy number needed to go on record.

The dialogue ranged from not being able to find me as a customer (unsettling background comments of 'hmmmmm' and more 'hmmmmmm') to the question of was I sure of the company name and please read it off the official card to which she commented she was not familiar with the company, even though it is a national corporation.

It was an unnerving experience and made me wonder if any client being served by Plant Clinic staff ended their experience feeling unnerved.

Other than the diagnostic search, finding out what the client means when they say 'weird growth' and having them describe the what, where and when of what is weird-leaves, roots, stems is difficult.

Where do you live?  Not just the city but what part of the city.  There are so many micro-climateswithin each of the cities, sometimes the problem is the wrong plant for the area.  In the 1980's when bamboo started becoming popular as a landscape plant we had a good friend who was President of the Texas Bamboo Society.  I was curious and always looking for one more plant we could grow in our climate.  When I asked our friend for advice he had a good 5 minute laugh and then asked what country with a high desert climate could I name that grew bamboo.  I told him I found several varieties that were cold hardy and he reminded me that cold hardy is often a good selling point--what about soil, moisture, daytime temperatures and our sometimes huge variance between day and night temperatures.

Bringing in adequate size samples should be encouraged.  Photos sent to the Plant Clinic is a great help as long as there is info about the surrounding area--construction, irrigation issues.

OSU Master Gardeners do so much to educate gardeners in the area.  You don't necessarily need to be a newcomer to the area.  There always seems to be something new we can learn and share with others (providing it is Research Based--of course)!

Saturday, May 28, 2022


In 1993 the editors of Organic Gardening magazine published a 56 page paperback , '300 Super Tomato Tips'. It is the perfect size to have handy when you find yourself in those sit and wait moments. The paperback covers all the basics plus provides more information as to the why's and wherefores'.  Of course, 30 years later some statements and procedures are up for question.

Grow lights were beginning to come to the attention of home gardeners.  There was a learning curve regarding hours and distance of the lights.  The natural inclination if the plants were spindly and pale, was to fertilize.  The problem was the plants were starved for light.  It then became a common practice to start on a very light fertilizer regiment only when the first true leaves appear. 

In 1988 Clemson University decided to put the seedlings through a stress test by chilling the seedlings  at 35 degrees F for up to 18 hours a day for two weeks before transplanting.  Earliness, productivity and quality of the crop were unaffected according to the test results.  Hmmm- makes you wonder, not sure I want to give up my row cover.

Do we really know the reason for the process of hardening off?  Yes, to accustom the seedlings to air currents and temperature change.  But how?  The young plants adapt to the change of air movement from indoors to outdoors by changing the 'mosaic of cells on the outer layer of the stem.  The process usually takes five days.'  

Something to think about---if the plants have had a surge of growth before you could get them in the ground, you might consider an alternate planting method.  Rather than plant them to a deeper depth than usual, lay the plant diagonally in a shallow trench with most of the stem buried.  Roots will develop from the underground segment of the stem.

That planting idea may be useful in our climate.  Our soil has a hard time warming to any depth.  Perhaps the diagonal planting has its merits in that the roots are closer to the warmer soil.

The golden rule for seed choices in Central Oregon tomato growers is to add 14 days to listed maturity projection to compensate for the high differential between day temperatures and night temperatures.  The count down begins when the healthy plant is planted to your garden to the time you harvest your first ripe tomato. 

Before we get too far into the culture of home-grown tomatoes, a question---.  Do you clean your tomato cages?   I have never thought about it since we aren't plagued with the tomato diseases many growers in hot humid climates have.  But, times are a-changing so who knows what might be ahead.

The advice listed in the manual came from a plant pathologist at the University of Tennessee.  Bacterial spot, Bacterial canker and bacterial speck can be easily carried over from one year to the next on cages and stakes.  The professor also felt early blight and fusarium wilt can be carried along also.  Cleansing method is to dip or spray in a 10% bleach solution.  Wait  5 minutes, then rinse before using.

Olga's Yellow Round Chicken
Throughout the discussion of tomato varieties for various climates, mention is made of OSU's Dr. Baggett, Jeff Lowenfels in Alaska and trials from Territorial Seeds.  A list of tomatoes from the former Soviet Union were listed for colder climates.   I was not familiar with any of them.  As a test to see if they were still available I decided to find a source for 'Olga's Yellow Round Chicken'.  

Much to my surprise, I did find it at several heritage seed companies.  It is a Russian heirloom from Siberia collected by Bill McDorman of Hailey Idaho and introduced by Seeds Trust in the early 90's.

McDorman also brought 'Sasha's Altai ' to the attention of tomato growers in the U.S.  That tomato from Russia was chosen by Organic Garden magazine as one of the 10 best early tomatoes in the world.  It is listed in the Adaptive Seed catalog located in Sweet Home, Oregon.  So many choices are really available for us.

A last thought from the Tomato Tips I found merit in sharing  came from Denver Botanic Garden's community garden project.  When warm weather finally ends, the strategy of care is changed. The gardeners mulch beneath the plants with compost, then they carefully remove the vines from the cages and lay them on the ground.  The plants are then covered with floating row covers,  which protect them from light frost and collects the heat given off by the compost.

Sounds like a method we should try when the cool days of fall set in.

Saturday, May 14, 2022


 If a TV show (Ghosts) can dredge up historical ghosts with questionable historical facts, gardeners should be able to request equal time based on horticultural ghosts. 

The most commanding ghost presence would be of Sweden's Carl Linnaeus.  Without his wisdom we might still be identifying plants with "that little plant with the pink flower".  Prior to his classification of a generic name (genus) followed by a specific qualifier (species) plants were identified with long phrases involving branching, leaf shape, height, and season of bloom.  Linnaeus believed every plant could be assigned to one of the 24 classes based on its reproductive parts of the plant, the pistils (female) and the stamens (male).  Linnaeus was also known for a sense of humor--think that suggests further investigation.

Who else might be invited to the casting call?

Jean Nicot, a French politician and ambassador to Portugal was introduced to tobacco by a Lisbon botanist Damiao de Goes as an effective cure-all.  Nicot sent samples to the French court.  Soon the plant was decreed to be "the queen's herb".  Nicot, all self-absorbed in his contribution gave his name to the genus.  These days his Nicotiana tabacum is not as popular as it once was.  However his ornamentals N sylvestris, sticky N langsdorffi and the night-scenting N. alata are still popular.

Begonias (family Begoniaceae) have over 1,300 species and numerous cultivars.  I think Frenchman Michel Begon (1638-1710)  would be a good addition to the cast.  Begon was governor of Haiti and Barbados under Louis XIV.  While there he became acquainted with Charles Plumier, a Franciscan monk, botanist and explorer who named more than 4,300 plants.  Begon invited Plumier to share the bounty of his wine cellar.  In return Plumier named a tropical plant genus after Begon.  I suspect more than just a few glasses of wine were enjoyed. 

After reading about the namesake of Forsythia (in the olive or Oleaceae family), I decided Scottish gardener William Forsyth deserved a casting call.  We need some drama to keep the viewers tuned in.  Forsythia was a showy character, like the shrub that bears his name.  Robert Fortune brought the plant back from China.  It's hardiness made it overly popular and for that reason it soon fell into disrespect.  So called discriminating gardeners felt it was "vulgar". 

Eventually, Forsyth also fell into disrespect.  In 1770 he became director of the Chelsea Physic Garden, making the first British rock garden using 40 tons of old stone from the Tower of London, plus lava brought back from Iceland.

Apparently that wasn't exciting enough for him.  As a solution to healing wounds in fruit trees after pruning, he concocted "Forsyth's Plaister".  The secret recipe turned out to be cow dung, lime, wood ashes and sand mixed into a malleable paste with soapsuds and urine.  A scandal and much controversy resulted.  Science vs religion--"how could man be capable of rending that immortal, which the great God of nature evidently intended to die".  He did have a Quaker doctor who supported him.  Unfortunately, Forsyth died in 1804 before the controversy could be resolved.

Did the wounds on the trees heal due to the magic plaister or did they heal through Mother Natures magic wand?   Stay tuned for season 2.

And tune into 88.9 FM for the June 7th Gardening: Get Good at It when we explain the why, where and how of Butterfly Gardens, between 9 and 9:30am on KPOV's The Point.


Saturday, April 23, 2022


 I didn't know.

Recently I read an article published by the Audubon Society regarding bird migration that left me wide-eyed and amazed.  

I was curious about migration, especially the hummingbirds.  I have a friendly running competition with a friend in  Redmond.  What follows our greetings is an inquiry as to hummingbird sightings.  He usually wins and I am convinced  it is because his location is warmer than mine.

Anna's Hummingbird in Winter
I did have one hummingbird at the feeder the first week of April, as did my friend.  Was it the Anna hummingbird known to spend winters in Central Oregon or was it someone passing through?  It was a quick stop and in the blink of an eye, it was gone, no time to get a good look to identify.

After reading the Audubon article I learned what an incredible, wonderous journey migration is.  At summer's end, birds eat excessive amounts of food for two weeks to store enough fat for migration.  They gorge themselves on high-energy berries and fruits loaded with carbohydrates and lipids that are stored as fats.  That is another reason why it is important to grow native plants that produce the lipid-rich berries birds need.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Humans rely primarily on carbs for endurance activity.  Thinking back to our family and their sport activities, whenever they had a meet or a game it was high carb meals.  For birds, fat makes sense as it is lighter and less bulky than carbs and protein.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are best known for packing on the grams.  Most double their weight before starting on their trip.  Some gain close to half that in four days.

The metabolism of the hummingbird is one of the highest of any animal on earth.  They require the equivalent of over 150,000 calories every day to power their fast-moving heart and wings, which can beat 1,000 to 3,000 times per minute.  That fat is burned in a steady release of energy to make a 2,000 mile journey that many Ruby-throated hummingbirds make twice a year.

All that fat on a bird's small frame must be distributed properly.  To do so, many birds are able to shrink and grow their internal organs.  An example is the Bar-tailed Godwit, one of the world's most intense migrators. 

Bar-tailed Godwit
The Godwit will fly from Alaska to New Zealand, a trip of 6,800 miles each fall.  The bird will absorb into their body 25 percent of the tissue comprising their  liver, kidneys, and digestive trach.  This happens through a natural cellular process called autophagy, which means "self-eating" in Greek.

What about sleep?  During migration, a neurological shift triggered by the changing season forces birds to adapt to nocturnal habits and sleep less.  Swainson's Thrushes migrate from Central and South America to northern Canada and Alaska, enter a sleep-like state for nine seconds at a time.  They keep one half of their brain awake to avoid predators or mid-air collisions while the other half rests.

Swainson's Thrush
And the rest of the story---once birds reach their destination, they need to regain their organ functions and shape and refuel their fat stores.  It is an urgent task.  As soon as they reach their breeding ground, they need to find a mate, build a nest, produce and raise young chicks, all the while taking care of themselves.  If they can't get food within a couple hours after landing, they can starve to death.  Birds on an average need to restore between 17 and 23 percent of their body weight in fat upon arrival and also account for protein and water loss depending on their species and migratory pattern.

There is still an unanswered question for me--Where do hummingbirds nest?  I go on a quest every summer looking, but have yet to find one.

According to the International Dark-Sky Association, April 15-May 18 is the key spring migration dates for Central Oregon.  Turn your outside lights off if possible.  Light pollution can cause birds to become disoriented resulting in collisions with buildings.

Saturday, April 9, 2022


The Sneezy Season is approaching. Mother Nature gave us a warning several weeks ago during the few days of warm weather. 

One morning while watching the sunrise, I noticed there was a fine mist of "something" yellow filtering through the trees and gently falling to the ground. I saw another burst of yellow, then another in a different direction. Meditative thoughts were--how beautiful, how privileged to be able to watch nature---. Then I came to my senses and realized it was POLLEN and that I would be miserable the rest of the day. Which I was.  

That was the day I pulled one of my favorite books off the shelf. The book is "The Allergy-Fighting Garden" by Thomas Leo Ogren. 

Ogren is a horticulturist and allergy researcher, a former landscape gardening instructor and a nursery owner. Ogren developed an allergy rating scale for over 3,000 plants. The rating scale is OPALS, an acronym for Ogren Plant Allergy Scale. The ratings are numbered 1-10, with 1 being the least allergenic. More than 130 possible factors are used to develop the ranking system, both positive and negative.  

I spent the winter of 2021 going through the OSU publication of "Water-wise Gardening in Central Oregon" and marking each plant listed with the OPALS rating. There can be a significant difference between male and female plant. An example is the Rocky Mountain Maple, Acer glabrum. The rating on the male is 8, a female is 1. 

Most of the Oaks have a rating of 9. Female junipers-the ones that produce the berries are rated as low. Male junipers are rated high. Our Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia has a rating of 2. Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicfolia has a rating between 1-2. Spirea species are higher at a rating of 5. Barberry, Berberis species are rated as a 3. Lilacs range between 5-6. Serviceberry or Juneberry, Amelanchier species are rated as 3. Redtwig Dogwood, Cornus stolonifera is rated as 5. 

Ground covers were a bit of a surprise to me. Curlicue Sage with its unique foliage varies between a 7-9. Partridge Feather is rated at 5. Dianthus species fall between 1-3. Thyme species are rated as a 3. In addition to being a magnet for pollinators, Agastache species also have a low rating of 3. Black-eyed Susan and Blanket Flower are rated as a 5 and a 6. For me that means be sure and carry a tissue. 

I have lived with allergies all my life. Goldenrod was the worst growing up. I consider it fortunate that it is just the discomfort of sneezing and all that comes with that. Many allergy-prone friends suffer from migraine headaches and the lack of energy. 

Studies show that the allergy season is 20 days longer in North America now than in 1990. According to the American Lung Association there has been an increase in juvenile asthma. Ogren has been asked to visit elementary school sites at the requests of parents to evaluate playgrounds. At one school he found 21 out of 26 trees were highly allergenic. At another school he found 15 out of 17 trees were highly allergenic. Gives one food for thought. 

Perhaps we should be paying more attention to the landscaping decisions especially of elementary schools.

Saturday, March 26, 2022


 to break the rules.  What are the rules and who made them?

To clarify--I'm only speaking of gardening and our personal concepts of what inspires us.

Until our family moved to central Oregon in 1978, I  followed the gardening trend of wherever we were living.  Then we bought 80 acres in Tumalo and it was "wow"---.  The emphasis changed to what to feed the chickens and cows, and the family without running to the grocery store or Big R every other day.  Life rapidly changed. 

Dulcy Mahar, a garden writer for the Oregonian became my garden inspiration.  The inspiration was not from her plant selections but rather her attitude and practical advice.  Her writings always lead me to take a deep breath and truly appreciate each day.  Unfortunately, Dulcy succumbed to cancer in 2011.

In 1999 Dulcy wrote about breaking rules.  Her advice was to "blast some stereotypes, have some fun, loosen up, take chances and live on the cutting edge." Those were pretty revolutionary ideas for all who lived by the guidelines of gardeners passed. 

"You have to have lawn."  Unless you are bound by homeowner association regulations or you need to have a grassy play area, why continue on with a high maintenance, water consuming lawn. These past years have taught us there are other alternatives that can provide beauty and conserve our natural resources.  So, it's ok to break that rule.

"A deck or terrace has to be adjacent to the house."  Maybe the area adjacent to the house is in full sun and beastly hot when you are looking forward to a bar-b-que.  Across the yard is a shade tree, why not create a little terrace there.  Surely you can carry the corn and kebobs 20 feet further.

"Vegetables should have their own space."  We have certainly learned the benefits of planting flowers with veggies these past few years and the benefits of pollination as a result.  Neighbors and garden visitors might raise their eyebrows a bit, but you could probably place money on the fact that your veggies will be more prolific in comparison. 

"It's easiest to design a garden on a flat, well-proportioned rectangle."  How do you spark creativity on problem lots?  A slope, or an odd-shaped lot is what makes a garden unique.  Problems canpush you to exciting solutions.  A perfect blank rectangular canvas will seduce you into planting a boring garden.  If you need some interesting levels, think of adding a berm to change the elevation a bit.  Don't fall into the trap of planting flowers in straight lines all lined up like soldiers.

"There's a front yard and a back yard and never the twain shall meet." Who says all the flowers belong in the back, while the front is supposed to look like a golf course?  If not limited by homeowner regulations, why can't flowers and flowering shrubs extend from the front yard to the backyard in a continuous flow.  The City of Bend offers a guide on conserving water in street side landscaping available on-line at

Gardeners have come a long way from the gardening style of our ancestors and isn't it great to have the freedom to make the choices that best bring us the pleasure a garden is meant for.

"That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest."  Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)