Reduce stress with these easy houseplants

by Celeste Pace, Master Gardener Volunteer

According to Texas A&M Extension, “Studies show that people who spend time cultivating plants have less stress in their lives. Plants soothe human beings and provide a positive way for people to channel their stress into nurturing.Most of us are experiencing increased stress right now, so bring on the plants! Even if you live in a small space with zero garden, these easy house plants can provide the benefits of stress reduction and more, with no green thumb required.

Sansevieria trifasciata– Mother in Law’s Tongue 

Sansevieria trifasciata plant has large pointed green leaves with pale green edges.
Photo by: Martin Olsson (mnemo on wikipedia and commons, martin@minimum.se), Snake plant, CC BY-SA 3.0 Sansevieria trifasciata

Sansevierias are one of the easiest houseplants you can get because of their willingness to be put in almost any situation. Sansevierias can handle high light or very low light, just make sure to adjust your watering depending on the light level. They don’t want their roots to stay wet so only water when the soil feels dry to the touch. They can tolerate a wide temperature range, anywhere from 55 to 85 °F, but don’t like to be around the low 50s for prolonged periods. They aren’t heavy feeders so you don’t need to worry about fertilizing them very often. A mild fertilizer can be used in the summer months while it’s putting on new growth. Sansevierias are known to flower when they become stressed but once you figure out whats wrong, it’ll bounce right back. They have non showy blooms that can be pruned at the base of the stalk. Sansevierias are also wonderful air purifiers. Studies have shown that they not only release a noticeable amount of oxygen through respiration, they also purify the air. They absorb four of the most common house air pollutants (formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide.) A great plant to keep around the house or office!

For more about the care of Sansevieriahttp://erie.cce.cornell.edu/resources/sansevieria-trifasciata

To learn more about houseplants purifying air:  http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/houseplants-for-clean-air.php

Spathiphyllum- Peace Lily 

Spathiphyllum lancifolium (Peace lily) has a white teardrop shaped flower with a large yellow stamen in the center.
Photo by: geoff mckay from Palmerston North, New Zealand, Spathiphyllum lancifolium (Peace lily) (49475281073), CC BY 2.0

Spathiphyllum are great ornamental plants with dark to medium green foliage and white blooms. They prefer bright indirect light but will tolerate lower light levels as long as they aren’t overwatered. However, they do like to stay on the moister side so don’t let them dry back completely between waterings, they can be quite dramatic and will let you know with wilted foliage if you’ve waited too long on watering. They also aren’t very heavy feeders and will be fine with only being fertilized once or twice a year. Since Peace Lilies are known for liking more water the majority of problems with them come from overwatering, make sure your plant is in well drained soil and you don’t let it sit in water. Spathiphyllum are tropical plants and like warmer weather, they will tolerate temperatures between 68 and 85 °F. They are poisonous so keep away from children and pets. 

There are two main parts of Peace Lilies flowers; the spathe and spadix. The spadix is the flowering spike that actually contains the florets and pollen, while the spathe is a bract that surrounds the spathe. If flowers are left to mature on the plant the spadix will often shed pollen on the foliage leaving a white dusting that can easily be whipped off. Some people choose to cut the spadix out at the base and leave just the white spathe. Either way, their lovely white blooms are guaranteed to bring brightness to the darker corners of your home! 

For more on Spathiphyllum culture and varieties: 

For more on Spathiphyllum flowering:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep320

Zamioculcas zamiifolia- ZZ Plant 

Photo by: MokkieZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)CC BY-SA 3.0

ZZ Plants are incredibly easy to care for, they tolerate low light and extended periods of drought. This is a perfect plant to ignore and only care for it when you remember. ZZ Plants will thrive in bright indirect light but like previously mentioned, they will tolerate all different types of light levels. These plants are already known as slow growing so with less light it will really be slow.  Let the plants soil dry completely before watering but water thoroughly until water comes out of the bottom of the pot. Make sure to discard excess water so the plant is not sitting in it. Like Sansevierias, ZZ Plants like a mild fertilizer to be applied during the growing season.  

Since the foliage is so glossy and shiny, if neglected dust shows on this plant fast. However, it is extremely easy to wipe off with a wet rag. ZZ Plants have almost no pests but problems can arise if over watered. ZZ Plants are toxic if ingested by humans and pets. 

For more information: 

https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2009/2-4/Zamioculcas.html

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/zamioculcas-zamiifolia/

Epipremnum aureum- Pothos 

Pothos , Liane du diable

Pothos are amazing additions to your home or even your office as they can survive off of fluorescent lights or indirect light from outside. They don’t require bright light and will still grow in the darker areas of your home but they will also do well in a brighter area. There are several varieties of pothos and different variegation patterns. Keep in mind that with different variegations light requirements will change. Make sure to let soil dry between waterings and make sure they are not sitting in water. Pothos don’t like to be root bound in a pot so if you see roots starting to pop out of the bottom of the pot it might be time to upgrade. Pothos like to be fertilized about every three months but will still put on new growth without it. 

To keep a tidy foliage crown prune back vines for a more uniform growth habit. If you let vines grow naturally over time foliage will start to thin, cut them back to the soil to promote new- fuller growth. Pothos don’t have a lot of pests but mealybugs can be an issue. If you notice mealybugs act fast and control the pests before they spread to other plants. All parts of this plant is poisonous to humans and pets. 

http://erie.cce.cornell.edu/resources/wny-gardening-matters-article-109

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/epipremnum-aureum/

 For a list of different varieties: 

Ficus elastica- Rubber Tree 

RabeeratrixeHK Sheung Wan 18 Po Hing Fong barber shop Ficus elastica Indian rubber tree Aug-2012CC BY-SA 3.0

These intriguing trees are a great way to add a different texture to your house plant collection. They have very large, glossy and almost leather like dark green foliage that will drip a white sap when damaged or removed. The sap can be irritating if it makes contact with skin. Ficus elastica like indirect light but will tolerate lower light levels. However, they will not tolerate cold drafts. They also don’t like to be moved and if they are moved too often it can result in leaf drop. Let the soil dry back between waterings but do not let them go dry for long periods. It is best to underwater this plant than overwater it. They like 55-85 degrees fahrenheit and will not tolerate any lower. Mealybugs, scale and spider mites can all be an issue on rubber trees. Pruning is not time consuming with these trees as it is common for the lower leaves to yellow and drop. However, given enough light they grow quickly and might need to be pruned to fit their original space as they can grow to be 6-10 feet indoors.

If the growth is sparse and leggy they can be staked up for support so stems do not lean. The leaves can be wiped off with a damp cloth, just be careful to not crack the leaves. Ficus elastica is very easy to propagate. If you take a stem cutting and let it sit in water, roots should start appearing after a week or two. 

To learn more: 

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-elastica/

Dracaena (Dra-C-na)

Photo of Dracaena ‘Warneckii’ by: KENPEI, Dracaena deremensis2CC BY-SA 3.0

Dracaenas come in many different sizes, shapes and colors but overall have mostly the same needs. They like to dry back slightly between waterings so only water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. They love bright indirect light but will tolerate medium to low light levels. They like day time temperatures to be between 60-70°F and around 10 degrees cooler at night. They like a little more humidity than most houses have so they benefit from their foliage being misted occasionally. Some Dracaenas can grow to be up to ten feet tall, if you have this variety and it is outgrowing its space you can cut the stalk at the desired height and it will sprout new leaves lower down. Scale and spider mites are the most common pests along with root rot. 

Dracaena marginata (Dragon Tree) is incredibly susceptible to spider mites but is an intriguing variety. It has strappy long foliage with narrow purple margins and is sometimes trained to have a bend in the stem. It tolerates low light and has the same water requirements. 

‘Warneckii’ is often referred to as “the best variegated plant for low light.” It is shorter than other varieties growing to be only around 2-4 feet. It has a white stripes running down its foliage and is a great desk plant. 

For more on care and other varieties: 

For information on toxic plants visit: 

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants

https://www.poison.org/articles/plant

Starting from scratch and constantly learning

Master gardener trainee Allison Socha joined the Master Gardener Program of Linn & Benton County in 2020. Allison and her classmates adapted to the many challenges of 2020 by finding new ways to connect with gardeners and build community online.

Photo courtesy of Allison Socha

Tell us about your hometown.

I grew up in the Bay Area in Union City, CA. As a child in the 80’s and 90’s Union City was known as the Gladiolus capital of the world. However, like many places in the Bay Area, vast swatches of farmland were soon replaced with houses, houses, and more houses. As I became an adult, I realized that life in the crowded suburbs was not for me, and was especially not somewhere I wanted to raise my children. About two years ago, my husband and I got the idea to “move to the woods” and in June 2019 we were able to make that dream come true when we bought our house in Philomath. My hope is that this house in the woods will provide the perfect green backdrop for my 4-year-old daughter’s imaginative play for years to come. 

What’s a favorite garden memory? 

When my daughter was about a year old we started our first vegetable garden in our Bay Area home. We lived in a very hot part of the Bay Area that tomatoes loved. That first summer our cherry tomato plants exploded with fruit in the middle of the summer. I gave my daughter one of the sungolds with no expectation that she would like it, being that she was only a year old. To my surprise she absolutely adored it. She begged for more and more, and almost every tomato on the plant ended up in her stomach. She still loves tomatoes to this day, we can’t keep them in our house long. I will always grow tomatoes just to watch her enjoy them so much. Over the years, her love of veggies has grown, and she will scarf down peas and zucchini too. But nothing compares to her first love of tomatoes. 

Tell us about your current garden.

We moved to our two acre lot in Philomath just over a year ago. Most of our land is Douglas Firs on a steep hillside, but we have one flat spot perfect for a vegetable garden, although it doesn’t get quite as much sun as I would hope for. In January of this year we were able to get the spot cleared and built some raised beds surrounded by a 7 foot deer fence (because country deer jump higher than city deer). After the pandemic hit, I was so happy to have a space to grow our own little “victory garden”. I definitely still have a lot to learn about gardening in this Pacific Northwest. But I am happy with what we were able to produce this year. We had success with peas, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and broccoli. 

Orange California poppies in a beautifully overgrown garden.
Eschscholzia californica, or California poppy. Photo by Madeleine Maguire on Unsplash

Describe a plant that reminds you of home.

Growing up in the Bay Area we spent many days hiking in the hills. My parents both love

California native plants and taught me to identify them as we meandered the trails. Of course, one of my favorite seasons was in Spring when the California Poppies would turn the hills a brilliant orange. When I was a little older, my parents ripped out their front lawn and filled in the space with native plants. It wasn’t long before the poppies took over, and every late March and early April their garden would explode with poppies. I saw a singular California Poppy come up in my garden here in Philomath this Summer, and it immediately transported me back to my parents’ garden, hiking the hills, and home.  

Why did you become a Master Gardener volunteer?

I decided to become a Master Gardener because I was new to Oregon and the Corvallis area and I wanted to expand my personal community while also learning about gardening techniques in the Pacific Northwest. When my family and I moved to Oregon we didn’t have any connections in this area, so we were basically starting from scratch. I thought that the Master Gardener program would be the best way for me to dive deeper into one of my interests while at the same time meeting new people who had similar interests as me. As I learned more about the program, I also realized how fulfilling it would be to already build a foundation of giving back to the community so soon after moving to a new place. I hope to be an example to my daughter in the importance of volunteering. 

What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and/or your garden?

People might be surprised to learn that I had very limited gardening experience and knowledge before I joined the Master Gardener program. You don’t actually need to have a lot of knowledge to start out with, just an interest and drive to learn more and give back to your community. I have learned so much this last year through my classes and hands-on activities but I know I have so much more to learn. Some of the most inspirational Master Gardeners I have met so far make it clear that they too are constantly learning and don’t have all the answers. One thing that surprised me the most about this program was that it is more important to know how to find the answers to gardening questions than to know the answers off the top of your head. 

Learn more about citizen science in the garden and how garden researchers work in this post.

Get The Valley Gardener Newsletter to stay connected with our upcoming learning opportunities for gardeners.

Empowering gardeners in uncertain times

By Emily Herb, Master Gardener Volunteer

In March 2020 the Benton County Master Gardeners were facing the same shut down challenges as everyone else in the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic stretched itself toward Oregon and the waves of closures, cancelations, and eventually quarantine were announced day after day. In the Benton County Master Gardeners I am a member of the Community Gardening Education Team. Spring and Summer are our main programmatic seasons and we had many events, including several sessions of a hands-on basic gardening class called Seed to Supper in the Garden, that folded along with everything else. Honestly, as much as I care about gardening, these classes were not my main concern at the time. I had to let them go, along with so many other things, and see what this era would bring.

I was out in my vegetable garden one of those March days, doing my best to center myself when I heard my phone “bling” with a new email. With the frantic pace of change and announcements from all sectors of my life, I knew I needed to take a look, even as I was trying some escapism out in the dirt. This new email was from a member of the Community Gardening Education Team asking members to please consider joining a Zoom meeting that day to brainstorm the idea of moving our Seed to Supper classes online. I must admit that I had been ignoring this email chain because I was already overwhelmed with my paid work being moved to online and the thought of any more screen time made me queasy. Also, I am a strong advocate for hands-on learning, so the idea of teaching gardening online didn’t appeal to me. My mind was closed and thus I closed the email, without replying, and got back to my gardening. But, as I worked my mind started working. I started seeing that there could be a way to be “hands on” online. I thought, “we could make movies! Everyone in their backyard could make movies as they went about putting their gardens in and we could share that online!”. I took my phone back out of my pocket and shared my idea with the group and committed myself to the afternoon meeting. 

The Community Gardening Education Team (CGET) team is made up of a bunch of wonderful women who have a desire to educate the community about growing their own food. There is a strong social justice bend to this group and I thoroughly appreciate them. During that  afternoon meeting we had a powerful conversation about how we could be useful and relevant to the vegetable gardeners of Benton County, especially during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elizabeth Records, the Educational Program Assistant for Master Gardeners for Linn and Benton Counties, shared with the Team the staggering number of people who had signed up for the online gardening class that the extension service had made available for free, as a response to the pandemic. People seemed to have a newfound enthusiasm for growing their own food as they were stuck at home during uncertain times. We talked about how we could reach these people, how we could get seeds and plants into the hands of people who needed them, and about how we could educate people and help them make gardens with what they had on hand in the homes that they were confined to. 

Two exciting ideas came out of this meeting. One was to move forward with offering Seed to Supper online through Zoom and a subgroup from CGET moved forward with modifying the curriculum of that class to meet the challenges of the online environment, but also with the thought that they could add warmth through personal pictures, gardening stories, and maybe even some backyard movies! Another idea was to host Virtual Veggie Q&As to try to meet the needs of the new gardeners at home through answering their questions live and in real time during a Zoom call in session. I was among the group that decided to launch that effort. I am so glad that despite how shut down I was feeling in the garden that morning that I opened myself enough to join this meeting and be carried away with the creativity and meaningful work of CGET.    

A couple of weeks later I found myself with Elizabeth and two other Master Gardeners, Sue and Jennifer, on Zoom getting ready for our first Veggie Q&A. I’m afraid as we were all still novices to Zoom we had a number of technical difficulties, but regardless of that, we made it work! We had a good number of participants and the four of us found our rhythm answering questions, posting resources, and sharing the new online space with our participants and each other. Since that first Q&A we have had a total of 6 Virtual Veggie Q&As and all of them have been well attended and enjoyed by facilitators and participants alike. The spontaneous nature of the call in format makes it a very lively and authentic exchange with people getting answers to questions they have right then about problems they are having in their vegetable gardens or advice they are seeking about plans they have for the future. We are not always able to answer all the questions, but in a way that adds to the authenticity and vulnerability of the experience! And we can always promise them to research their issue later and email them an answer. Recently we have pulled in other Master Gardeners to answer questions and I hear that our idea has even spread to other counties! We are getting better with our technology as well, and Elizabeth now has us streaming Live on Facebook as well as making podcasts of our sessions after we are done. We didn’t have any idea that our small attempt to reach people and be relevant during the pandemic would get so big.

Another little side story related to all of this is how Veggie Q&A opened the door to reaching out to a community in Oregon that previously had little contact with Master Gardeners. In my professional life I am a Sign Language interpreter and when we started hosting the Veggie Q&As I posted the advertisements for them on my Facebook page. One of my Deaf friends reached out to me to see if there would be a possibility of offering a similar opportunity in Sign Language. My friend and I worked with the Master Gardeners, who were very excited about this opportunity, to set this up and since then have had two Veggie Q&As in American Sign Language that have been open to all of those who use that language. Similarly, we currently have a person who will be joining our next English Veggie Q&A to see if it would be possible to offer a Spanish session. New ideas lead to more new ideas!

I believe many stories will be written about all the new things we learned how to do professionally, personally, and within our community groups during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is one of those stories. I don’t think telling these stories is a way to put a positive spin on the whole thing, but rather a reporting of our experiences during a time when we had to give up on doing things in person and physically together and figure out a different way of being. Not figuring it out meant giving up on meaning and purpose. I hope that next Spring we will be back to offering Seed to Supper actually in the garden, but I bet that we keep offering it online as well! I also imagine that we will keep up with our Virtual Veggie Q&As and use them as a way to reach more and more people. Opening up to the limitations of Spring and Summer 2020 brought forth our creativity as a path toward meaning and purpose. I am proud of how Benton County Master Gardeners and the Community Gardening Education Team moved into that space and brought gardening to more people during uncertain times. 

To listen to our podcast of Veggie Gardening Q&As, CLICK HERE.

Start your victory garden with these five resources you can access from home

Birdseye view of person and dog at outdoor table in a garden, working on a laptop.
  1. Start with a research-based introduction to growing food at home. Our favorite is Growing Your Own from OSU Extension. Learn when to plant, how to prepare your growing space, stopping pests and more: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9027
  2. Where can you get garden supplies? Plant Something Oregon has a list of suppliers that offer a range of options for safer shopping. Find them here: https://plantsomethingoregon.com/coronavirus/
  3. Where to get your soil tested? Master Gardener volunteers are not currently able to test soil pH, so gardeners will need to send samples to soil testing labs found in Analytical Laboratories Serving Oregon: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em8677

These labs can provide a variety of services. Most home gardeners who are growing plants in the ground will want to check soil pH as well as levels of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Many labs offer the option to request recommendations for amending soil when ordering their tests. Learn how to take a good soil sample to achieve the most accurate results with A Guide to Collecting Soil Samples for Farms and Gardens: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec628

4. Use research-based resources to find garden solutions. OSU Extension offers straightforward tested resources to build resiliency for by growing gardens in this amazing virtual collection: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening

5. Connect with real gardeners to get help! Though our offices may be closed, OSU Extension Master Gardeners are still available to answer your gardening questions by phone or email. Please leave us a detailed voicemail and a callback number. We’re also checking email! Share your photos of plant or insect problems with us. Master Gardeners will research your question and give you a call back or send an email. In Benton County: (541) 713-5000 or email: bentonmg@oregonstate.edu In Linn County: (541) 967-3871 or email: linn.mg@oregonstate.edu

Before Reaching for Pesticides, Get to Know Beneficials – The Good Guys!

By Judi Di Bord, Master Gardener Volunteer

Did you know there is an alternative to controlling pests in your garden by using a pesticide?  Attracting beneficial insects, like lady beetles, green lacewings, praying mantis and dragonflies can help control insects that feed on your plants.  Beneficials don’t just help control pests. Some beneficials are also important pollinators! 

Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) on an Common Yarrow's umbel (Achillea millefolium)
Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) on an Common Yarrow’s umbel (Achillea millefolium). By Hélène Rival on Wikimedia Commons.

How can you attract beneficials to your garden?  One way is to purchase them at a local garden center and release them into your garden.  You can also attract them to your garden by growing plants to provide an enticing habitat for them.  If you are able to dedicate some space to growing these habitat plants, the rest of your garden can reap the rewards.

Following are some recommendations from the Penn State Extension Service:

  • Carrot Family (Apiaceae)  Plants in the carrot family are especially attractive to small parasitic wasps and flies. Interplant them in your vegetable garden and flower beds. Plants in this family include: caraway (Carum carvi); coriander/cilantro (Coriandrum sativum); dill (Anethum graveolens); fennel (Foeniculum vulgare); Bishop’s flower (Ammi majus); Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota); and toothpick ammi (Ammi visnaga).
  • Aster Family (Asteraceae)  Attractive to larger predators such as lady beetles and soldier beetles. Incorporate into the vegetable garden and flower beds. Plants in this family include: blanketflower (Gaillardia spp.); coneflower (Echinacea spp.); coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.); cosmos (Cosmos spp.); golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria); goldenrod (Solidago spp.); signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia); sunflower (Helianthus spp.); tansy (Tanacetum vulgare); and yarrow (Achillea spp.).
  • Legumes (Fabaceae)  Generally grown as cover crops and attractive to many beneficials. Plants in this family include: alfalfa (Medicago sativa); fava bean (Vicia fava); hairy vetch (Vicia villosa); and sweet clover (Melilotus spp.).
  • Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)  Attractive to beneficials that are parasites and predators of the insect pests of the mustard family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, mustard greens). Be sure to plant these away from the garden rather than in the garden since these plants attract pests as well as beneficials. Some are common weeds, such as yellow rocket and wild mustard. Plants in this family include: basket-of-gold alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis); mustards (Brassica spp.); sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima); yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris); and wild mustard (Brassica kaber).
  • Verbena Family (Verbenaceae)  Attractive to a variety of beneficial insects. Many plants in this family are favorite garden flowers. They include: lantana (Lantana camera); Buenos Aires verbena (Verbena bonariensis); hybrid verbena (Verbena x hybrida); and lilac vervain (Verbena rigida).

Beneficial insects also need a source of water. Shallow containers such as ceramic pot saucers with pebbles for the beneficials to rest on are best.

Suggested OSU Extension publications:

PNW550: Encouraging Beneficials in Your Garden

For kids:

EC1601: The Wildlife Garden: Dragonfly

EC1604: The Wildlife Garden: Lady Beetle

EC1605: The Wildlife Garden: Praying Mantis

Suggested websites:

National Pesticide Information Center, Beneficial Insects.

Penn State Extension, Attracting Beneficial Insects

Sharing a love of gardening with children

Michele Ecker became an OSU Extension Master Gardener in Linn County in 2014. She is active in supporting the Linn County Master Gardener Association’s Albany Garden Tour. Michele is always willing to lend a hand especially with children’s gardening activities. Michele shared her story in Fall 2019.

Tell us about your hometown.

My roots are in the Midwest. My family moved to Oregon from Wisconsin when I was a teenager, but I’ve lived in the Willamette Valley since I went to the University of Oregon in the early 80’s. We moved to Albany in 1984 from Klamath Falls when my husband, Lane, got a job with the Oregon Dept. of Transportation. Our daughters attended St. Mary’s School, Calapooia Middle School and South Albany High School. I think Albany is a great place to raise a family and there are certainly a lot of good things to appreciate and enjoy here. One daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren currently live in Albany. I LOVE the long growing season in the Willamette Valley! I have a gardening friend in Wisconsin who is always envious when I send pictures from our early Spring garden.

What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

I’ve always thought that it’s important to give some of my time for volunteering in order to connect with our community and help others. As a Master Gardener I can share my time and knowledge about gardening to encourage others and help them increase their gardening skills and knowledge. I enjoy problem solving too, so finding research-based answers for people who have gardening problems is fun for me, although I have to admit that sometimes I get frustrated on the occasions when it’s difficult to solve a problem with a definitive answer. My favorite activity is to combine children and gardening.  I’ve enjoyed being involved with a school garden and the Power of Produce (PoP) program offered at the summer Farmer’s Market. 

What’s a favorite garden memory? 

I have had many wonderful garden experiences! One favorite includes being in the garden on an early summer morning and just absorbing the smell, sight and quiet stillness. A fresh picked, warm and ripe tomato, eaten straight from the vine is my favorite taste sensation! In the fall I love to go to the apple orchard, taste the different varieties of fruit and fill boxes to take home for making applesauce or cider with our family.

Tell us about your current garden.

We live on a plot just under one acre with lots of mature fir and oak trees, so our yard is mostly shady. Deer and other “critters” frequently visit our yard too, so there are some challenges to address. The sun is best in the front, so I grow food, flowers and herbs in an area with southern exposure. I am fortunate to have a very handy husband who constructed raised beds and plumbed water for me. In a larger area on the other side of the yard, I grow mostly flowers with some food mixed in. I have a large pot with only edibles, so the grandchildren can taste flowers and herbs, which they enjoy. Tomatoes, cucumbers (grown vertically to save space) basil and zucchini are staples in my garden. I also like to grow beets, peas, broccolini, herbs for cooking, arugula, fennel, hops and pumpkins. A bay tree has grown happily in a pot for several years. A funny “fail” I had in the garden was growing carrots. On the third try, the carrot tops had grown about an inch high and I was very excited that I was finally getting carrots to grow. I was in the garden with my grandchildren, ages 4 and 7, helping my grandson plant seeds when my granddaughter called, “Look, grandma, I pulled out the weeds!” She had pulled out the entire row of carrot greens! I enjoy growing a variety of perennial and annual flowers including foxglove, roses, dahlias, black-eyed susans, Japanese anemone, iris, clematis, nasturtium, nigella, poppies, and more. Sharing bouquets of flowers with friends and family gives me great joy. 

Describe a plant that reminds you of home.

While I was growing up my family moved a few times but mom always planted rhubarb wherever we lived. My siblings and I used to love pulling out a stalk of rhubarb, dipping it in sugar and eating it. I have rhubarb in my garden today and love to use it in different ways. A family favorite is a rhubarb bread recipe from my grandma that was printed in a “heart healthy” cookbook.

What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and/or your garden?

Dividing dahlia tubers is a great challenge for me, even though I’ve grown them for years and I try each year, I still have to consult with my brother-in-law who is an expert at growing dahlias.  

How did you begin gardening?

My gardening journey began when I was in elementary school and my family lived in rural Wisconsin on three acres. Dad decided we should have a large garden and each of us five children got to choose what we wanted to plant. I planted gourds and at the end of the season I sold them to the local grocery store and made some money. After my family moved, I don’t remember having a garden again. Eventually my family landed in Bend, Oregon, where we still grew rhubarb, but no other garden to speak of.

It was after I was married and we lived in a nondescript rental home when I wanted to plant some flowers in our yard. My husband’s grandmother bought me some stock and pansies and I wondered why they didn’t grow very well in the hard, cracked, clay soil. By this time I had three young daughters to “grow”, so I didn’t really have time for watering.

Why did you become a Master Gardener volunteer?

When our daughters were older, we planted flowers together at our own house. My youngest daughter, Alison, could walk down the fence, point to the variety of flowers and name them all at a very young age. Soon after, we removed a row of photinia and my husband made me some raised planting beds. We tried growing some vegetables and fruits, with varying degrees of success. I saw an article in the Albany Democrat-Herald about the Master Gardening class and thought it looked interesting. However, at the time, I was teaching full time and couldn’t take the classes. When I retired from teaching, the Master Gardener training was on my list of things to do. I asked a friend to join me, she said yes, and we took the training in 2014.

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for the 2020 Volunteer Program are open until December 3rd.  Learn more and join us.

Putting down roots in the Brownsville community

Melissa Selby joined the OSU Extension Master Gardeners of Linn County in 2016. She lives in rural Linn County and is settling in as a small farmer, gardener, and part-time daylily hybridizer. Melissa shares tips for success with houseplants and sweet stories of growing up in a ‘gardening wonderland’. She shared her story in Fall 2019.

What is your hometown?

My hometown is Brownsville, Oregon.  My family and I have just purchased our own little farm in between Brownsville and Sweet Home and today was our last day of moving out of our rental, which was in town.  It has been a crazy few months and most of my personal effects are plants!  Although I am not originally from Brownsville, it is certainly where my heart is and am content in forgetting that I have ever lived anywhere else!

Describe your early gardening experiences.

My mom always maintained a large vegetable garden when I was young.  We spent weekends and after school hours there, watering and eating.  We would just take a knife, potato peeler and the salt and pepper out with us and eat and work.  The chickens would be let out to scratch around too.  My brother and I would entertain ourselves climbing a giant Oleander at the front of the garden which was also right by the street so we could quietly spy any unsuspecting neighbors who may be walking by.  We were also in 4-H and had a large barn of rabbits next to the garden, providing much mulch we had to shovel! One of our favorite things to do in the afternoons when we went to tend the rabbits was eat the pulp out of the cherry tomatoes and throw the skins at each other, boy would my mom be upset when we came in with all of those stains on our school clothes!  My mom was also no stranger to landscaping our yard, providing me with a wonderland to play in with My Little Ponies and my imaginary friend (who treated me nicer than my big brother!).  I owe my early love of gardens to my mom and all her hard work, now we share many fun conversations but these days I usually know what plant she’s talking about!  

What is your current garden like?

At our home that we sold when we moved to Brownsville I had been gardening for five years.  When we moved I spent months beforehand potting up precious things I wanted to take with me.  It took a whole vehicle and trailer combo to bring my loot (not including houseplants).  A large amount of it stayed in the pots where I have struggled to keep it alive through three summers.  More tender things were planted at the rental and I took splits from them to bring to my new place.  I have beautified many a rental house in my life using this method!  Even though it was hard work, it makes me happy to know that I have spread many flower friends around Earth this way.  I can’t wait to get started on my (hopefully) last garden and get these friends into the ground.  

I would consider my 60+ houseplants as part of my current garden.  Those I usually struggle to keep happy all winter until I take them outside for the summer, where they flourish.  Right when they are at their finest, I have to drag them in (hopefully) before a frost and then they slowly decline until I can get them outside again.  I used to find myself saying that I wasn’t good with houseplants, until a few years ago I realized that I have a few that are roughly 25 years old, so I guess I’m not that bad.   

Describe one plant that you grow which reminds you of home .

In my garden wonderland of a childhood front yard there was a silk tree (Albizia julibrissin).  When I was very young, it lived in a location where my mom did not want it.  She attempted to dig it out but when the shovel proved unsuccessful, my dad hooked up the truck and chain and dragged it out to the burn pile.  A few months later, there was the stump, sprouting in the burn pile.  My gardening mom, who (like most of us gardeners) has a soft spot for all things growing, decided that if it wanted to live so bad, she would put it in the front yard.  It was small while I was small, I even broke a branch trying to climb it too soon and was too afraid to tell my mom, but that die-hard healed up and lived there until I was in my 20’s.  It was massive, so massive in fact that it overshadowed much of the street and the solar panels on the opposite side of the roof.  That’s when my dad, who is more of a ‘cement it and paint it green’ kinda gardener, chopped it down for good.  Nevertheless, a few years ago, I was at my dad’s and potted something up with his native soil and wouldn’t you know, up sprouted a silk tree from a dormant seed in that soil.  As I have inherited a soft spot for all things growing, I now have a potted silk tree that I just may find a spot for on my new farm. 

What’s a favorite garden memory—a sound, sensation, smell or taste associated with a favorite garden in your life? 

The other thing that I plan on planting in my new garden that reminds me of that front yard wonderland is Lantana.  I spent countless hours catching butterflies from those plants and now as soon as I smell their distinct aroma, it takes me right back.  What’s funny to me about that yard is, as I got bigger, it got smaller.  My dad eventually removed everything living and filled it with rock, and the actual square footage is probably no more than 70 but my mom sure knew what to do with a small space to make it infinite for me.    

What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

Being a Master Gardener means that not only do I get to help others have a more enjoyable and successful garden, but the learning opportunities are endless. I also get to surround myself with other fellow gardeners, which is great fun.  I enjoy giving to my community and Master Gardening allows me to do that and do it in a way that I love.     

What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and your garden?

Fall of 2018 I purchased around 1000 daylily seedlings from someone who was hybridizing but giving it up to move out of the country.  This summer about one third of them bloomed and my husband and I tried our hand at pollinating them, resulting in a large amount of new seeds to start and I am excited to see what we came up with.  It’s hard to be patient though, since it can be multiple seasons before you see results!  

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for the 2020 Volunteer Program are open until December 3rd.  Learn more and join us.

Water quality and conservation in the garden

By Sean Fleming, Master Gardener Volunteer

Sean Fleming owns White Rabbit R&D LLC, a data science consulting firm specializing in artificial intelligence applications (www.facebook.com/westcoastdatascience).

He is also a courtesy professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University.

His book, Where the River Flows: Scientific Reflections on Earth’s Waterways, gives an accessible introduction to the science of hydrology for a general, non-scientist audience and was just re-released in paperback by Princeton University Press.

He has given talks on water and rivers at the Smithsonian and at Science Pub events in Corvallis and Bend. Sean is a Benton County Master Gardener trainee, scheduled to graduate in the fall of 2019.

What are water quality and water conservation, and why do they matter?

Water conservation is using water efficiently, so less needs to be drawn from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers.  Water quality is about keeping pollutants out of all those major water sources, as well as smaller water bodies like backyard creeks and ponds. 

If we use water efficiently, your water bill is lower, there’s less need to build additional water supply infrastructure, and more water is left in lakes and rivers for the ecosystems that need it and for people to enjoy recreationally.  And for groundwater, it reduces the likelihood of drawing down your well to the point that you and your neighbors run out of water.  More broadly, lack of abundant clean water deeply affects not only fish, but also birds, mammals, forests, and beneficial insects – and of course people and pets.  We all live downstream, and someone else’s pollution can wind up coming out of your kitchen faucet.

How can gardeners contribute?

Gardeners interact with, and affect, the landscape and the water cycle more than many folks do.  Here are some important general steps you can take:

  • Use water-wise plants and natural landscaping.  Native plants are usually a good bet, because they generally don’t require irrigation.  Many non-native plants work too, if you pick the right ones.  Mulching and composting help by retaining water and decreasing evaporation.  Landscape design is important too – rain gardens are one example that helps water quality.
  • Water efficiently.  Providing gardens with more water than they need is wasteful and expensive, of course, but it also triggers erosion and runoff of sediment and chemicals.  It can even wash fertilizer out of the root zone of your crops.  Use drip irrigation or water plants directly instead of sprinklers where possible, and optimize your sprinkler system so it evenly distributes the right amount of water.  It usually gives you a better garden too!
  • Be judicious with your selection and use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other natural and non-natural chemicals.  Many of these things will wind up in natural water bodies.  Even overuse of organic fertilizers can be a huge water quality problem, contributing to algal blooms in lakes and oceans for example.
  • Be mindful of your non-gardening choices too.  Get rid of pharmaceuticals, paint, and other household chemicals by disposing them at the appropriate recycling and disposal center, for example, and use water-efficient fixtures and appliances.

Does this really make a difference?

Yes!  These may seem like small things, and individually they are – but when you add them up across the whole country and over the years, they really add up.

In fact, water quality and conservation is, overall, an environmental success story.  Some estimates suggest that total national water use has remained at about 1970s levels due to efficiency improvements.  And in many industrial areas, water quality is much better now than it was a few decades ago.  The days of rivers literally catching fire – this actually happened to the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which was polluted with flammable chemicals – are thankfully over. 

That said, there are major challenges looming, especially in the West, where a combination of relatively dry climate and tremendous population growth are severely pressuring our water resources, natural ecosystems, and water supply infrastructure.  Even here in Benton County with our soggy winters, the natural summer drought period requires careful water management, especially as the regional population and economy grow, increasing water demand.  Plus, more people generally means more pollution.  Each of us can do our part to mitigate those impacts going forward.

Credit: USGS

How does the water cycle work?

But how does your garden plot fit into the big scheme of things?  How can your choices contribute to – or contribute to solving – water conservation or quality problems?  The answer lies with the water cycle.

The world’s water is all connected in a big loop.  Water evaporates from crops, forests, lakes, seas, and oceans; it’s transported hundreds or thousands of miles in the atmosphere, through storm systems and the jet stream for example; it falls as rain or snow, contributing in turn to glaciers, groundwater aquifers, lakes, and ultimately rivers; and it then flows back to the ocean. 

Your garden is a step in that journey, and the water passing through kind of “remembers” what it saw there.  As rain falls on your vegetable patch, chemicals you’ve added will dissolve and then be transported as runoff, or downward to aquifers, and either way can wind up in a creek, which flows into a bigger stream, which joins with a big river, and so forth. 

Plus, withdrawals from rivers and reservoirs for water supplies, like watering your vegetable garden, collectively add up to a huge modification of that natural cycle.  The change is often destructive.  For example, dams on the Columbia River for water supplies, flood control, and hydropower generation have destroyed salmon migration patterns and habitat availability.  In extreme cases, like the Colorado River, so much water is taken out for human use that the river no longer makes it to the sea.

Practical information resources for gardeners

Here are some great places to look for information about specific things you can do to improve water quality and conservation in your own garden:

Master Gardener Mythbusting!

Are you curious about the Master Gardener volunteer program but not sure what to expect? Read on for Master Gardener mythbusting!

This story originally appeared in Growing.

herb garden grown in multi colored containers
Master Gardeners cultivate gardens of all shapes and sizes.

Myth: to be a Master Gardener volunteer you need to have a huge, perfect garden.

Fact: Master Gardener volunteers grow everything from balcony tomato plants to formal gardens to urban farmlets to tiny bonsai trees. They grow in community plots, containers on windowsills and home gardens.

Myth: to be an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer you need to know all the answers.

Fact: Master Gardener volunteers learn how to research plant problems and where to seek well-researched solutions. Knowing what to look for and where to look is the key skill.

Myth: to be an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer you need to have endless free time or be retired.

Fact: Working people, including parents and caregivers, are Master Gardener volunteers.  The 2020 in-person course offers increased flexibility. And the Master Gardeners online course offers a highly flexible program that connects you with your local community for volunteer service.

Myth: to be an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer you need to spend a lot of money.

Fact: OSU Extension and our non-profit Master Gardener association partners offer a limited number of partial scholarships. For information please contact Elizabeth Records.

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for 2020 Volunteer Program open October 1st. Learn more and join us.

Gardening “in my small slice of paradise”

Pashalle Johnson in her lush garden.

Pashalle Johnson joined OSU Extension Master Gardeners of Benton County in 2017. She has a degree in Sustainable Horticulture from Oregon State University and works as a horticulturalist. Pashalle often volunteers at Master Gardener Plant Clinics where she welcomes all gardeners to learn something new. She shared her story (complete with delicious recipes) in August, 2019.

Tell us about your hometown.

I am from the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, an archipelago of some 700 plus islands and cays which lies 50 miles south of the Florida Keys.  The Bahamas is a small island nation with a population of around 370,000 citizens, most of whom live on the New Providence Island.  Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located on New Providence and is home to  the majority of Bahamians, some 270,000 primarily because it is the economic centre of the country.  As a member of the Commonwealth of nations,  Queen Elizabeth II,  is recognized as monarch  and both our educational and governmental systems are based upon the United Kingdom’s.

My family and I moved from Portland so that I could complete a degree in sustainable horticulture and have remained.  While living in Portland I became immersed in community gardens, and garden volunteering. I volunteered with a number of  non-profit agro-businesses, like Growing Gardens, The Urban Farm Collective based in north east Portland works to both build community and reduce food insecurity in poor neighbourhoods; Produce for People which fights food insecurity by enlisting community gardeners to donate directly from their individual garden plots to  and Zenger Farms a teaching farm with summer camps,  urban farming instruction and programmes that introduce urban kids to life on a farm. 

What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

 Becoming a certified  Master Gardener allows me to realize one of my values, community activism, which is built into the programme.  The title, Master Gardener, indicates that my knowledge and experience goes well beyond that of the  novice gardener and lets people know that I am passionate about gardening.  Being a volunteer allows me to interact with the public in a meaningful way; helping resolve gardening issues, to give advice that is backed by the research and science-based information provided by OSU Extension. 

 What’s a favorite garden memory—a sound, sensation, smell or taste associated with a favorite garden in your life?

Harvesting and shelling peas with friends on weekends at my grandmother’s home is a fond memory.  My sister and I spent weekends at our my  grandmother’s Ivy’s home.  Ivy’s home was a boisterous and lively place constantly abuzz with activity; her garden surrounded the house. Vining plants like Malabar spinach and Noni, vegetable beds, fruit trees; tamarind, plums, avocado and my aunt Nita’s prized roses.  Dinner preparation usually began with harvesting and shelling Pigeon peas.  Pigeon peas, Cajanus cajun, are a perennial legume, typically a shrub that grows to about six feet . Harvesting and shelling these are typically a job for children. As there were always many hands and lots of giggling, the time passed quickly.  Pigeon peas are a great source of protein and an important food crop in many African, latin American, Caribbean, Indian and Asian cultures. The peas are consumed both as a green (fresh) or dried. Peas and Rice is served as a side dish with both lunch and dinner.

Peas ‘n’ Rice

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil                                1/2 cup tomato paste

1 small onion, diced finely                                   3 slices thick bacon, diced

1/2 green bell pepper diced                                               1 stalk celery, diced

3 c water                                                                                      fresh ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup cooked pigeon peas                                              2 cups uncooked white rice

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

 1.   In a Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings, set aside or discard the remaining.

2.    Add the onion, celery and green pepper to drippings; cook and stir over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Stir in the pigeon peas,  tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper.

3.    Add the water,  and cooked bacon; bring to a boil. Stir in rice. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 45-50 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove thyme sprigs.

Tell us about your current garden

Currently, my garden, Camas Corner, (because of the beautiful clump of common camas that appeared my second year) is a 400 square foot perennial plot  in the Dunawi Creek Community Garden, part of the Bruce Starker Arts Park.  It is home to about 90 annual and perennial garden plots.  I have gardened here since 2013.  My garden style is that of the French potager or French kitchen garden which focuses on both beauty and production.  I grow vegetables, berries, herbs and flowers; the flowers adds splashes of colour but also attract beneficial insects to my garden which of course aids in good pollination. I practice a four-year crop rotation, intercropping and some successional gardening.  Because my space is small, gardening vertically allows me to grow much more food. This means I incorporate a fair number of vining plants and those vegetables that lend themselves to trellising.

Describe one plant that you grow which reminds you of home.

One of the greatest pleasures of my current garden has been successfully growing Bitter Melon (Momordia charantia). This vining plant, grows wild  in the Bahamas, similar to Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) found here in Oregon. It is a tropical and subtropical vining fruit grown from Africa, to Asian and the Caribbean. The leaves are served as a tea for curing the common cold or flu and are also cooked and eaten like spinach. The melon which grows to 6-8 inches, is eaten as a vegetable when immature and when fully mature becomes  sweet and changes from bright green to a beautiful bright orange-red that bursts open to expose  sweet red sticky gelatinous seeds. Served raw or prepared in desserts!

What’s a favorite garden memory—a sound, sensation, smell or taste associated with a favorite garden in your life?

The wonderfully pungent, spicy  scent of basil is something I look forward to each year.  Growing Basil, Ocimum basilicum, a member of the lamiaceae family, is one of the highlights of my summer garden, the delicious smell of pesto: pungent basil, toasted pine nuts or walnuts, drizzles of olive oil, fresh cracked pepper,  a few turns of salt and a little lemon makes me happy. I add basil in my dried herb mixture for grilling vegetables or meat on pasta and chicken.  I grow a bed of basil which provides enough to make a few gallons of pesto. My go to recipe appears in The Joy of Cooking:

Pesto from The Joy of Cooking

Enough for one pound of pasta

Process to a rough paste in a food processor:

    2 cups loosely packed basil leaves

    1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan

    1⁄3 cup pine nuts or walnuts, toasted

    2 medium garlic cloves, peeled

    With the machine running, slowly add:

    1⁄2 cup olive oil, or as needed

   Salt and pepper to taste

Use immediately or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

  What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and/or your garden?  

One surprising thing about my community garden plot is the sheer number of flowers, vegetables, and herbs I grow in my small slice of paradise!  I love to experiment with new foods, new flavors and to learn new things!  I have tried to grow a little bit of everything.  You name it, I have most likely grown it at one time and each year I attempt to grow one new variety or new vegetable.  My 400 square foot plot has over the years provided me with a great abundance of produce: purple sweet potatoes, quinoa, okra, bitter melon, oca, gourds: basket and luffa, red corn ( this year), dwarf blue corn (last year), cucumbers, parsnips, four varieties of potatoes, five different varieties of winter squash, summer squash: zucchini and crookneck, snow peas, snap peas, eight different types of tomatoes, basil, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries: black, gold, red, blueberries, Marion berry, Aronia, Swiss chard, spinach and a beautiful new variety of red kale, two kinds of pole beans and peppers. Somehow I make room for flowers and herbs such as common camas, echinacea, shasta daisy, sunflowers, chocolate cosmos, cape fuchsia, black-eyed Susan, dahlia, marigolds, alyssum, carnations, bee balm and lemon verbena for tea, borage, salvia and purple sage and more.

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for 2020 Volunteer Program open October 1st. Learn more and join us.