7 Steps to Maximize Your Harvest’s Nutrients

Written by: Karen Mills, Master Gardener Trainee

Credit: cottonbro

Eat more fruit and vegetables! We have all heard this command from many sources. And for good reason! Produce is the main source of many vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other nutrients in our diet. Did you know that if your garden includes fruit and vegetables, you may eat more produce than people who do not garden? This warms the hearts of your parents, dietitians, and doctors.

Any produce you eat is a good thing and includes all of those nutrients your doctor is hoping you will eat. But it does beg the question, is one tomato the same as another? Does a tomato have the same amount of nutrients in it regardless of where that tomato comes from, how it was grown, and how it is processed? Not necessarily. The condition of your soil, how you manage your garden, and how you harvest, store, and process your bounty can all impact the nutrient content of your produce. Whether you grow cucumbers in a container on your patio or have a large garden in your yard, how can you make sure that the produce you grow has the most nutrition possible? Follow these 7 steps to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck

Test Your Soil pH

  • The nutrient content of produce begins with healthy soil. If your garden soil pH is off, nutrients that might be in the soil may not be available to your plants. For example, if your soil is too acidic, your plants may not get enough calcium leading to blossom end rot in your zucchini and tomatoes. Adjust your soil pH in accordance with test results.
  • More information on soil pH

Test Your Soil Nutrients

  •  If your soil lacks nutrients, your produce will also lack nutrients. A soil test can tell you the amount of phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and micronutrients you have to work with. Fertilize and amend your soil in accordance with the soil test, plant needs, and package instructions. Proper use of fertilizer and soil amendments can optimize produce flavor, texture, color, size, nutrient composition, and shelf life. Be careful – too much fertilizer can be just as bad as too little!
  • More information on fertilizing your garden.

Manage Your Garden Watering

Time Your Harvest

  • Know when your vegetables are at their peak and harvest as close to that time as you can. Every fruit and vegetable has its unique indicators of when to harvest. While many vegetables are at their highest deliciousness when allowed to fully ripen on the plant, allowing some vegetables to remain unharvested past the peak ripeness can result in inedible produce. For example, okra becomes woody and inedible when left to grow after peak maturity is achieved. Some produce can continue to ripen after harvest. While harvesting prior to maturity may prevent the neighborhood deer and squirrels from snacking on your tomatoes, early harvest means tomatoes lower in vitamin C than tomatoes left to ripen on the plant.
  • More information on harvesting, handling, and storing popular home garden crops.

Eat or Process as Quickly as You Can

  • Reduce the time between harvest and eating or processing as much as you can. As soon as you harvest fruit and vegetables, they start to lose nutrients. After all, you have removed the produce from the plant that provides nutrients and water. 

Store Your Harvest Appropriately

  •  If you do need to store your harvest, make sure that you are doing so correctly. Each type of produce prefers a specific type of storage environment. Storing your harvest correctly not only keeps it fresh longer but also helps retain nutrients. Some produce, such as snap beans, prefers cold, moist storage. Some produce, such as winter squash, prefers warm, dry storage.
  • More information on the particulars of storage

Pick a Preservation Method That Retains Nutrients

Nothing beats the taste of freshly picked, home-grown produce. Using these tips will help you get the most nutrition you can from all of your hard work, patience, and perseverance. Happy gardening!

Resources

Pests In July

Written By: Chad Kuwana, Master Gardener Volunteer Trainee

Black vine weevil
Credit: University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources

Check back in with your azaleas and rhododendrons this summer!

At this point of the year, summer is in full swing and daily high temperatures are consistently in the upper eighties and nineties. The beautiful spring weather that brought about stunning blooms in your garden is just a memory as you try to beat the heat with some freshly picked berries.

While some spring blooms may be holding on, most azalea and rhododendron bushes have lost their flowers and your attention has likely shifted to other parts of your garden like your fruits and vegetables. However, as you water your plants, you might notice notched edges on the leaves or fuzzy white spots on the branches of your azaleas or rhododendrons. These are signs that black vine weevils or scale might be present on your plants.

Black Vine Weevils – Otiorhynchus sulcatus

Description

Black vine weevils are a type of beetle (Curculionidae) about ½ inch (12.7 mm) long. They cannot fly and are mostly black with small patches of white. The larvae are also about ½ inch (1.27 cm) long but are white with a brown head. Adult black vine weevils eat foliage and are most active at night. You will notice notches in leaves from where they were feeding. Larvae, however, feed on the roots of your azalea or rhododendron, so they can cause more severe damage to your plant as it can lead to diseases like Phytophthora root rot.

Damage from the black vine weevil.
Credit: University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources

Life Cycle

The reason you might be noticing evidence of their presence in July and early August is because of their life cycle. Black vine weevils usually emerge between May and June after overwintering in their larvae stage. Upon emerging they need anywhere between 21 and 28 days of feeding before they are ready to lay eggs and begin a new generation. Thus, peak adult populations are seen in the summer. Once they are ready to lay their eggs, black vine weevils can lay as many as 500 eggs over a two to three-week period.

Control

Assuming you don’t have cultivars that are less susceptible to weevils in your garden, there are a few things you can do. 

If you’ve caught it early and the weevil population isn’t overwhelming, you can get rid of the weevils by hand. Once it’s dark (remember they are active at night), you can shake and beat the leaves over a sheet that will collect the fallen weevils and then dispose of them.

Another option is to use corrugated cardboard as a wrap around the trunk (also overnight). This wrap will serve as a trap so that when they seek shelter during the day, you can collect and dispose of them. Instead of a cardboard wrap, you can use a sticky material that will trap the weevils as they crawl up and down the trunk.

Lastly, you can also use parasitic nematodes to help control the infestation at the larval stage.

Azalea (rhododendron) Bark Scale – Eriococcus azaleae

Credit: Michigan State University Extension

Description

Azalea bark scale are small insects about .13 inches (3.3 mm) long. They are red in color but are most recognizable by the fuzzy white sacs on twigs and branches. These egg sacs or ovisacs are important to remove during the summer so they do not hatch. When they hatch in September, the young scale will start to feed on the azalea or rhododendron by penetrating the bark and sucking out sap and will excrete a substance called honeydew. This honeydew will invite sooty mold and fungi to grow and cause your plant to look darkened, yellow, and/or sickly.

Credit: Michigan State University Extension

Life Cycle

The azalea bark scale lay their eggs in early April to hatch in May. During the summer, the young scale will feed and mature to produce the fuzzy white sacs in June and July. This is when you might notice the sticky substance on branches called honeydew and sooty mold covering the leaves. You might also start to see more fuzzy white sacs on the twigs and branches.

Control

Starting with the fuzzy white sacs, you can brush them off with your fingernail or toothbrush. If an area is heavily infested, pruning is the best method for removal. Keep in mind also that fertilizing with too much nitrogen will support the population growth of scale.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, this post can help you get familiar with these two pests that might be hurting your azaleas and/or rhododendrons. Please reference the resources below for more detailed and extensive information on monitoring and controlling these pests in your garden. It’s easy to forget all the details that go into keeping up your garden so make sure to check in with the OSU Extension Monthly Garden Calendar to help you stay on top of key garden chores throughout the year.

References

Tools Make Hand Weeding Easy

By: Chris Smith, Master Gardener Trainee

Are you trying to manage your garden weeds without chemicals? While I’m not endorsing any company, I’ve found a few hand-weeding tools that might help. And, possibly with tools for the task, you’ll see hand weeding as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and not merely a chore.

Credit: Chris Smith
Radius, 2-pronged, fork-tipped tools, and Hori-Hori Knife
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). These include long sleeves, long pants, closed-toed shoes, gloves, eye protection, and ear protection.
  • Avoid wearing loosely draped clothing or things that can be caught by tools when you work.
  • Be aware of your environment for safety risks.

Short Handled Tools:

Japanese Weeding Sickle

  • The weight of the tool is biased toward the front for easy handling
  • Typically, the edges are very sharp and come to a point
  • This tool works well on thick-stemmed roots

Half-moon Hand Garden Hoe

  • Works beneath the surface to pull the roots of the weed
  • Typically, the edges are very sharp
  • The crooked neck attached to the blade helps to correctly position the blade

CobraHead Weeder & Cultivator 

  • Available in a short or long-handle design
  • Blade is cobra-shaped and narrow for accurate digging
  • Blade is steel and is meant to break up and plow through soil

Radius Ergonomic Hand Weeder 

  • The curved handle enables manipulation without bending your wrist to reduce hand and wrist stress
  • Serrated, reinforced aluminum blade
  • The hand weeder is designed to slide deeply, alongside the root to pop out the root

Two Prong Weeding Fork (AKA Jekyll Weeder)

  • The two prongs are used to loosen the soil around the weed so that the root can be pried out
  • Useful for removing deep tap roots

Hori-Hori Soil Knife

  • Blade is 6-8 inches long
  • The edge of one side of the blade is smooth and the other is serrated
  • Useful for digging up and prying out weeds
  • Useful for cutting roots and splitting iris tubers

Long Handled Tools:

Grandpa’s Weeder Tool 

  • Allows you to grab weeds without bending over
  • Center the tool over the weed, then press the forked end into the ground
  • Next, tilt the handle, which closes the claw and grabs the root so that you can lift it out

Hula, Scuffle, or Stirrup Hoe

  • Works beneath the soil
  • Push or pull the blade toward you at a shallow depth
  • The movable blade uses a hula-motion to cut weeds with shallow roots that are close to the surface

Dandelion weeder, fishtail weeder

  • Forked-tip allows you to reach under and in-between places
  • Tends to make a small hole to access weed roots without disturbing close-by plants
  • Good for weeds with taproots 

Garden Seats, Kneelers, and Carts – can make your weeding project easier.

  • There are many different seat varieties, including some with wheels
  • Consider the height of the seat and the weight that you will carry as you move around your yard or garden
  • Again, there are many different kneeler varieties. Some have handles, and some can be turned upside down to make a seat
  • The design of the knee pads varies. Consider any physical needs you have that could influence your decision about the design and thickness of a knee pad
  • Wheeled carts are useful for carrying both your tools and the weeds you dig up
  • Carts come in a variety of sizes and weights you’ll want to consider before making a choice
  • An example of a clean-up cart made specifically for gardening is the Garden Clean-up Cart. It is sized to hold an 11-gallon plastic tub, with widely spaced wheels and a design to keep the tub level
Credit: Chris Smith
Tub Cart, Knee and Seat Pad, along with Grandpa’s Weeding Tool

Resources

Linn County Master Gardeners Honored

Clockwise from the top left: Rene Miller, Brenda Winslow, Bobbye Rainey and Nancy Ragghianti. Congratulations!

This award is presented to an OSU Master Gardener™ from each County by the Oregon Master Gardener™ Association (OMGA) working cooperatively with Oregon State University. This annual award recognizes outstanding dedication and service of an OSU Master Gardener at the county level.

Master Gardener of the Year

Brenda Winslow has been a Linn County Master Gardener since 2010. Over these years she has diligently staffed and answered hundreds of plant clinic questions at the Sweet Home Farmer’s Market. Within the very large Linn County, Brenda’s presence on the eastern side of the county has made a huge difference in keeping more Master Gardeners involved. Brenda has used her gardening knowledge to teach classes in Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home. She started and fundraised for the high school and junior high school gardens and taught classes at the Boys and Girls Club. She has helped at the Demo Garden, ran clinic tables at the Harvest Festivals, worked container planting sessions and been a resource for the Sweet Home Beautification team and the Garden club. The BEEvent Pollinator Conference and the Albany Garden Tours fundraiser are other projects she has volunteered at. Brenda has been on the Linn Master Gardener Association Board for 5 years, and is currently 2nd Vice President. She is in charge of keeping membership lists up to date and helped produce our membership directory. Her knowledge and experiences are shared with enthusiasm in a way that encourages others. Thank you, Brenda!

Behind the Scenes Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year Awardees

Behind the Scenes Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year Awardees This award is presented to an OSU Master Gardener™ from each County by the Oregon Master Gardener™ Association (OMGA) working cooperatively with Oregon State University. This annual award recognizes an OSU Master Gardener™ who works quietly and unselfishly behind the scenes to further the OSU Master Gardener Program on a county level. This is not a person who is out in front working on projects, so that everyone knows their contributions. Rather, it is a person whom few may actually know the level of their contributions.

Rene Miller became a Linn County Master Gardener in 2018.  Over the past three years she has become a major team worker on the Pollinator Project.  She has helped with many cocoon harvesting classes and has lead sales of bee supplies.  She harvested and cleaned a lot of mason bee cocoons that are sold by Linn Master Gardeners to help fund the association. Recently Rene helped harvest and process teasel for a mason bee research project.  Besides the Pollinator Project she has also become a major team worker at the Willamette Community Garden.  Work there isn’t just gardening, but also helping non-master gardener community members learn more about best practices for vegetable gardening.  Rene is a volunteer garden educator at Waverly Preschool. She has answered questions at the Albany Farmer’s Market table and has been a volunteer on a Garden Tour.  Rene’s cheerful demeanor and having a collaborative attitude make it fun to work with Rene.  Thank you, Rene!

Nancy Ragghianti has been a Linn County Master Gardener since 2018. Nancy is currently a Member-at-Large on the Linn MG Board. She has worked at the Linn Demo Garden and at other events, but the thing that makes her special is her skills with website design and maintenance. www. LinnMasterGardeners.com was set up about 4 years ago. Nancy has done many updates and changes to make this an informative site for the public as well as for our association members. With COVID there were new challenges. The Linn MGA’s BEEvent Pollinator Conference went virtual. Nancy set up the on-line registration and the evaluation process for the conference. With the virtual conference, she set up a new on-line order and pick up process for mason bee supplies. She also publishes the Linn County MGs “Bee Notes” e-newsletter on the website. “Bee Notes” currently has very close to 800 subscribers. The association members and Linn Extension staff appreciate the ardent work she has done to make the website informative, useful and educational. Thank you, Nancy!

Bobbye Rainey became a Linn County Master Gardener in 2020. Before Bobbye went through Master Gardener training (pre-COVID) she volunteered at the Linn Demo Garden and continues to work there twice a week. She has enthusiastically worked on many projects and does whatever is needed whether it is weeding, planting, harvesting or some odd job. This year Bobbye has joined the Linn MG Board as a Memberat-Large. Twice a week she and another new Master Gardener have staffed the Linn County MG plant clinic help. She diligently answers on-line gardening questions from the public. Committing time 4 days a week, she has had a major impact. Additionally, Bobbye set up and staffed seven parking lot pickup sites in Linn, Benton, Marion and Lane County for people to pick up pre-ordered bee supplies. Part of this delivery process was gathering and bagging supplies, calling those who missed the pick-up and finding alternate delivery options. Bobbye’s friendly demeanor along with her professional collaborative style are an asset to our association. Thank you, Bobbye!

What is BEEvent? A volunteer’s history

Osmia lignaria (blue orchard mason bee): Scott Bauer, USDA, Osmia lignaria, Cropped by OSU Extension, CC0 1.0

By Ranee Webb, Master Gardener Volunteer

One of the primary fundraisers and education outlets for Linn Master Gardeners is the BEEvent Pollinator Conference.  The following is a history of that project and how it has grown and changed.    

Our Mission:  The primary purpose of the Linn County Master Gardeners Association Pollinator Project is to provide information to the general public about the plight of pollinators, both native and non- natives.   We provide knowledge and materials to ordinary citizens to help them make their spaces friendly to pollinators, and so that they can become informed advocates. A secondary, but very important, purpose is to raise funds to support the outreach programs of the Linn County Master Gardeners Association to educate the public in healthy and productive gardening practices. 

History:  
In 2014, Barbara Fick, then a Linn County Extension agent, was talking to retired entomologist and Master Gardener Volunteer Rich Little about how we could increase the public’s awareness of pollinators. In 2015 the BEEvent Pollinator Conference was established to help home gardeners and small farmers better understand how they could help bees.  That first conference had 54 participants.  In recent years about 200 participants have registered to hear nationally known speakers and local experts talk about pollinator health. The BEEvent is now the largest pollinator conference in the PNW. Between 60-80% of attendees are new each year, so that means we are reaching a lot of people.  Due to the COVID pandemic, the 2021 BEEvent went virtual. That was a new challenge and learning experience for all!  

Keynote speakers over the years have included Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist of the Xerces Society, Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, Olivia Messinger Carril from New Mexico, co-author of “Bees in Your Backyard,” and James Cane, research entomologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Logan, Utah. Cane has been studying bees for 30 years and is known for having applied his long-term interest in bees to help measure, understand and mitigate human factors that can shift nesting and foraging opportunities for bee communities.  

Rich Little has given many presentations about native bees throughout Oregon for Master Gardeners and the public.  Each fall Linn Master Gardener instructors meet with small groups to teach how to properly harvest and clean cocoons.  Harvesting the cocoons helps ensure a healthier outcome and you learn more about what is inside the nesting sites. During these classes our participants develop an understanding and learn to follow the “Best Management Practices” for Mason Bees. This helps gardeners and small farmers become more successful in helping our native bees. 

In 2016 we started an e-mail publication called “Bee Notes”.  The purpose of Bee Notes is to share information and reminders to those who have mason bees. We also share articles about pollinators that will help the home gardener be a better steward in helping pollinators.  Currently there about 800 subscribers.  Rich Little, who has a degree in entomology, writes most of the more technical information.  Ranee Webb writes some of the Bee Notes.  Our webmaster, Nancy Ragghianti, does the final touches and publishes the Bee Notes.  Together we make a team. We are amazed at the success of Bee Notes!  

Linn County Master Gardeners were early in starting the use of our own website.  You can now find a lot of information including Bee Notes on the website- www.LinnMasterGardeners.com

Award: 

The Oregon Master Gardener Association awarded Linn County Master Gardeners the Marje Luce Search for Excellence Award in 2020.   

Proud of Our Successes and Yours:  

Our Master Gardener volunteers sell bee supplies and houses as well as mason bee cocoons.  In normal years about 50 master gardeners are involved in our pollinator project.  

We believe our Master Gardener volunteer’s campaign to promote pollinator health is having a positive effect.    

Linn Master Gardeners have worked with the OSU Bee Project, the Benton Soil Water and Conservation District and Shonnard’s Nursery in developing our Pollinator Project and supporting their outreach programs as well.  We have had contacts from people out-of-state asking to find out more about how we do the conference in hopes of putting on conferences similar to ours. Awareness of native bees has increased and we like to think we have helped you and many others learn more.    

All of these projects happen because at least 50 Linn Master Gardeners and a few Benton Master Gardeners got involved!   

Dry gardening community science

How can you grow tomatoes and melons in a home garden with limited water?

By Ann B., Master Gardener Volunteer

Volunteers measure a soil core to see if the soil is deep enough for dry gardening. Credit: Benton County Master Gardener Association

OSU Extension, with Amy Garrett, has been developing the protocols and plants to garden without irrigation.  Not only will this allow gardening in the ever-increasing years of drought, but it also can save on water bills.   So, a project was started at the Master Gardener volunteer demonstration garden to determine whether vegetables can be grown in the home garden without watering. 

First we used an auger to remove a soil core from our plot to determine if we had at least 4-6 feet of soil.  Our soil was deep enough and contained clay as well.  Organic-rich soils with some clay content have more water-holding capacity.  Shallow or sandy soils are not amenable to dry farming.  Before planting, the soil was tilled, some organic fertilizer and organic matter was added and the area was soaked.    Plants were placed at least twice as far apart as usually indicated.  We planted ours 6 feet apart.  The soil was gently packed around the transplants and 2-3″ mulch was placed on top.  During the summer we did not water at all, removed weeds regularly and did not walk on the area so that the soil was not compacted.  Despite having a very warm summer (above 100F for a week), we harvested lovely Early Girl tomatoes.  Subsequent years we harvested Dirty Girl tomatoes and melons. 

Volunteers install tomato plants for dry gardening experiment. Credit: Benton County Master Gardener Association

During our first summer we noticed that one plant was much bigger than the other two.  We had several theories of what caused it, from it getting less wind to being a hybrid planted by mistake.  In the fall, at the end of the season, when we were removing the dead plants, we solved the mystery.  This was a very clever plant.  It grew a very long thick root that grew over about 6 ft. to a nearby bed that was watered.  Therefore it was not really participating in the experiment!  In subsequent years we did not irrigate that near-by bed. 

Amy Garrett, OSU Extension Service, has run experiments on many other plants.  These are some that she has determined do well with dry farming: Stupice and Perfect Rogue tomatoes, Beefy Resilient beans, Sweet Freckels melon, Eel River  and Christmas watermelon, Zeppelin and Delicata winter squash, Dark Star and Costa Romanesco zucchini.  And there are varieties of potato, dry beans, and grapes that will flourish.  Although we did not do this, using a cover crop over winter, especially a legume such as crimson clover, will add organic matter and increase nitrogen availability.

Growing tomatoes with dry gardening system. Credit: Benton County Master Gardener Association

Tips for success

  • Don’t plant where there is competition for water from trees or other plants.
  • Don’t plant on a slope.
  • Raised beds are not ideal as they dry out faster; sunken beds work the best.
  • Try to find a place protected from wind, which causes plants to lose water quicker.
  • Use plants as indicators of where you have the most water. Notice which plants are still green and lush in August. They’re telling you where deep soil with water-holding capacity exists.
  •  Maintain a neutral pH of 6.5 to 7. Most soils in the Willamette Valley will need an application of lime.
  •  Timing is key. Plant when is not too wet or too dry. It’s tricky, but the important thing to remember is to plant when there’s still moisture in the top profile of soil.
  • It’s possible to use little or no water and have a productive garden. It’s an important technique when you’re trying to save resources, and water is one of the biggest issues.

Resources

  • OSU Extension- Small Farms Dry Farming Demonstration: http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/dry-farming-demonstration
  • Runsten, D. and Mamen, K- Introduction to Dry Farming Organic Vegetables.
  • CA Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative 10 Nov 2014 http://agwaterstewards.org/index.php/practices/dry farming
  • Solomon, Steve- “Gardening Without Irrigation: or without much anyway”, 2013
  • Widtsoe, John-“The Better Days Books Origiganic Guide to Dry-Farming: A Complete System for Achieving Bountiful Harvests Where Rain is Scarce, and Without Irrigation”, Nov. 2008
  • Widtsoe, John- “Dry Farming: A Guide for Farming Crops Without Irrigation in Climates with Low Rainfall and Drought”, 2018

Welcome a Rhododendron Into Your Garden This Spring

By Brenda Bye, Master Gardener Volunteer

Unknown Rhododendron Species. Photo by Brenda Bye. 

One of the reasons that I love spring in the Willamette Valley is the masses of colorful rhododendrons. It’s hardly surprising that this flowering shrub is so popular, because it comes in a wide range of sizes and colors. Many species are evergreen which is an additional bonus to add structure to your garden in grey winter months. Spring is a great time to plant rhododendrons and it’s not too late. 

There are about thirty species of rhododendron native to North America. They are found naturally in temperate deciduous forests and enjoy the acidic soil found in these wooded hills and mountains. If you are looking to plant a Northwest native, consider Rhododendron Macrophyllum, the Pacific Rhododendron. Its flowers can range from pale pinks to deep purples. It will grow to be 8 to 10 feet in the garden but can grow much bigger in the wild. 

Another interesting native is Rhododendron Occidentale, the Western Azalea. Its flowers range in color from white to pink, but all have a yellow spot on the upper petals that adds interest and beauty. Their flowers are known to be quite fragrant. Unlike the Pacific Rhododendron, the Western Azalea is deciduous and can have very pretty autumn foliage. 

Regardless of which rhododendron you choose, they require similar growing conditions: 

  • Acidic soil with a pH usually between 4.5 and 6
  • Soil that drains well and is rich in organic matter
  • A consistent level of moisture
  • Dappled shade, although it will tolerate a variety of sun exposures
Smaller rhododendron species, possibly Rhododendron Japonica, the Japanese Azalea. Photos by Brenda Bye. 

Having the right soil conditions is very important before you plant your rhododendron. Many of us in Western Oregon already have acidic soils but if you have questions about getting your soil tested or how to interpret a soil test, I would recommend reaching out to your local OSU Extension Office. You can also reach them online at https://extension.oregonstate.edu/ask-expert.

Rhododendrons can be prone to root rot. That is one reason to mix in a good amount of organic matter into your planting site. Some sources recommend a mix of 50% organic matter. In addition to building healthy soil this organic matter will make sure the roots are getting oxygen and not becoming soggy. Organic matter also helps to feed your plant to keep it healthy. 

Smaller rhododendron species, possibly Rhododendron Japonica, the Japanese Azalea. Photos by Brenda Bye. 

Before you place your new rhododendron in the ground make sure to water it well. When you place the root ball in the ground it should be planted at the same level as it was in the pot. Then mulch it with a thick layer of pine bark mulch, which is good for those acid loving plants. Make sure there is a nice ring of space between your trunk and your mulch to prevent fungal diseases. As the mulch breaks down it will also provide more nutrients to your rhododendron. 

Although rhododendrons have specific soil requirements, they are very easy to care for once planted. The mulch and organic soil you used will help the soil have consistent moisture, but they may need additional watering in the heat of summer. They generally don’t need to be trimmed but do benefit from deadheading spent flowers. Rhododendrons appreciate a yearly fertilizer in the fall and a refresh of their mulch. 

Rhododendrons look great as foundation plantings around your home. Their range of colors will fit into any planting scheme and they will bloom for years to come. If you don’t have one yet, consider planting a rhododendron. 

If you are looking for more information about this flowering shrub, check out the resources of the American Rhododendron Society, www.rhododendron.org. And here is a very in depth article from the Pacific Horticultural Society about the Western Azalea https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/western-azalea-beauty-and-fragrance/

Less water, successful veggies

By Diane Hyde, OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Credit: Markus Spiske. Indeterminate (vine) tomatoes, especially earlier-producing small cherry varieties, produce flavorful fruit in a dry garden.

Summers are getting hotter and drier while water is getting more expensive. Some vegetables can produce acceptable yields successfully with no supplemental irrigation with some careful planning. Not all vegtables are suitable for dry gardening, and not all locations will support gardens without water. Dry farming has been done for millennia, and knowledge of the practice has been passed on in a few farming families and cultures.

Oregon State University Extension Dry Farming Project has focused on management strategies to grow with little or no irrigation. Yields may be 25% to 50% less than irrigated crops because plants are spaced out farther apart. Each plant can still have good yield, so a family dry garden might take more space to provide as much produce. Produce grown without irrigation has often been judged to be more better in color, texture and sweetness in taste comparisons. 

Successful dry gardening requires soil that will retain spring rain water. Clay soils and organic humus will hold seasonal moisture, but if the underlying ground has rock that drains well then water will not be available for the summer. Four feet of moisture-retentive soil is recommended. Shallow, rocky or sandy soils may not hold enough water for decent crop yields. The climate should have a wet period, like ours, that provides lots of moisture prior to the dry period. The dry garden area should have no competing trees, shrubs or turf sucking up the water before the vegetables can get it.

Sloped land holds less water than flat land. South-facing gardens lose more water to evaporation than north-facing gardens. A windy garden site will lose water from plant leaf evapotranspiration. A site that grows good weeds or healthy blackberries with no irrigation may be a good place to transform into a dry garden. 

To dry garden in summer, plant as early in Spring as possible to take advantage of seasonal rain. Soil in our area can often be prepared as early as February to April, but frost dates and soil temperatures limit which veg will grow that early. Seeds need to be planted in wet soil, deeper that the seed packet recommends if the surface has dried. Pre-soaking seeds 24 hours before planting helps them germinate and establish more quickly. Transplants may need to have all but the top leaves removed and the stems buried as deep as possible. Mudding in the plants at planting, filling the hole with water, will get the roots started well so they can deal with no more irrigation. 

Roots will reach deeper and wider in a dry garden, so more space per plant will be required, probably at least twice the space recommended on the seed packet. Because there is less water applied to dissolve ground minerals, lime applied to the soil before planting helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes, squashes, peppers and other veg that require more calcium. Mulches applied deeply after the plants are established will retain more moisture and keep the soil cooler. 

Indeterminate (vine) tomatoes, especially earlier-producing small cherry varieties, produce flavorful fruit in a dry garden if they are started well. Peppers, potatoes, winter squash, zucchini, melons, dry beans and corn are commonly dry-farmed. Beets, carrots, chard, kale, leeks, rutabagas will grow without irrigation, but will do better with occasional water. Fall-planted garlic, fava beans, root crops and leafy greens establish in the rainy season and mature without irrigation in early summer. Fall-planted broccoli, kale and other cool-season crops can grow through winter but bolt and flower quickly when warmer weather arrives. Spring-planted onions, celery, radishes and greens require irrigation to be productive. Choosing varieties with shorter growing periods listed on the seed packets means they might complete their growing cycle before the water dries up. 

For more information about dry vegetable gardening and a list of resources visit http://center for small farms.oregonstate.edu/dry farm.

Extension publication “Intro to Dry Farming Organic Vegetables” is available for free download at catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/EM9229. 

From the Demonstration Garden: an Introduction

By Sandy N, Master Gardener Volunteer

Credit: Sigmund

Welcome to my post! I’m Sandy N., and this is my fourth year as a Master Gardener. This is also my third year as a volunteer at the Benton County Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden (known affectionately as “the Demo Garden”), and that’s the topic I will tell you about today.

The Demo Garden is an instructional garden that illustrates best practices for sustainable home gardening in our area. The garden was started in 1995 at the Benton County Fairground in Corvallis and is located on the South side of Fairground, just inside the fence and to the West of the ticket booth entrance. The garden covers more than 115′ x 40′ — plenty of space to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables suitable for our climate and soil while allowing us to showcase a variety of plants and gardening techniques. Here you will find vegetables ranging from asparagus to zucchini (including a few exotic crops, like hops), as well as herbs, fruits, and berries that are all well-suited for growing in our area. We also display a variety of gardening techniques in the Demo Garden — espaliered fruit trees, several types of raised beds, several types of compost bins, a variety of row coverings, dry land gardening, drip irrigation, non-toxic pest control, winter cover crops and more!  

During the summer we work in the garden once a week, tending our crops and weighing our harvest. We often sample our produce to evaluate flavor, texture and usefulness in cooking (e.g. are these tomatoes flavorful enough to make good tomato sauce?), but the majority of our harvest is donated to local food banks and to the Fairground employees who keep our water flowing and our animal pests under control.

hops on the vine
Credit: Markus Spiske

In normal years visitors are welcome to walk through the garden whenever the Fairground is open. During the annual Benton County Fair we staff the Demo Garden with volunteers who can answer questions about gardening, as well as entertain young gardeners with garden-themed games. We also sponsor evening “Walk In the Garden” events, again with Master Gardeners available to answer questions.

person's hand holding freshly dug carrots with dirt on them
Credit: Markus Spiske

But last year when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Fairground to close, the public could no longer visit, and only a small number of Demo Garden volunteers were allowed to work in the garden — while social distancing and wearing masks. Only about half of the garden was planted with crops, and as the pandemic worsened our volunteers decided that all of the produce that was harvested should be donated to food banks in Corvallis and Philomath to help families experiencing food shortages. By the end of the summer, over 750 pounds of fresh produce had been donated locally! 

 Sadly, the Fairground is still closed, so we can’t invite you to visit our garden quite yet. In mid-April Master Gardener volunteers were allowed to return to the garden to prepare the soil for planting, and this year the entire garden will be planted with produce that we will donate to local food banks to help families in need.

Hands holding blueberry fruit
Credit: Markus Spiske

Even though the Fairground is closed, we would like to keep you informed about our activities in the garden, so one of my colleagues will post a short, weekly garden update to this blog, describing what we did in the garden and (once we start harvesting) how many pounds of produce we took to food banks that week. In addition, several of my colleagues and I will write posts that describe some of the techniques we use in the garden.

We are looking forward to the day when we can welcome you back to the Demo Garden, but until then we hope our posts will prove to be interesting and useful to  you– just look for posts with the words “Demonstration Garden” in the title! 

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