Spring’s Earliest Pests: Aphids

Jean R. Natter, OSU Extension Service Master Gardener

After all we’ve been through this past year, what with the COVID pandemic and quarantine, gardeners are getting itchy about planting. I was, too, until the middle of March when night time temperatures dropped into the 20s in mid-March. I imagine it was even colder for many of you.

Even though my dreams of planting soon were dashed – tomatoes, peppers and eggplants need consistent night temps of 50 to 55F – my thoughts soon drifted to insect pests, then to their natural enemies.

The leaders of the potential pest parade will be various species of aphids, also several kinds of caterpillars, the latter specializing on crucifers (cabbage and kale crops), among them cabbage whites (Pieris rapae) and several species of cabbage worms. Unfortunately, various species of both kinds may be present throughout the growing season.

Oh, and let’s remember that slugs and snails are ever-present through the season.

So, let’s review a few things, including safe management.

We should begin with the preferred pest remedy: An alert gardener, ready to spring into action, who knows which natural enemies (NEs) are allies, and who acts promptly. Prompt action, aided by the numerous beneficial insects already present, means pesticides are often unnecessary.

Aphids are small, soft-bodied, pear-shaped pests that tend to cluster on new growth which they sometimes distort as they remove plant sap from plant parts. (If you have roses, you’ll likely see them there first.) Aphids may be almost any color, perhaps even spotted, banded, or striped. Most infest buds, flowers and new leaves, often distorting them which sometimes mimics disease.

Caterpillars, also called chewing worms, are the plant-munching larvae of various moths and butterflies. (More about caterpillars next month.)

Recall that pest control is a lot like mowing the grass; it requires repetition. You get to do it over, and over, and over, again. (sigh)
Always start with the safest methods
, namely search-and-destroy missions throughout the garden or ornamental planting. Reserve pesticides for those instances when the pests get out of hand. Always identify the pests and apply the appropriate product only to the hot spots of pest insurrections. Then, too, use pesticides strictly according to label directions.

As you likely know, aphids of one kind or another are present year-round locally. They’re perhaps the most common plant pest you’ll encounter. Aphids pierce plants with their hollow mouthparts to withdraw sugary fluids. Often, they’re undetected until leaves curl or the plant is coated with sticky honeydew (aphid excretions). Repeated sharp water sprays are often sufficient against aphids. Or increase your fire-power with a commercial insecticidal soap such as Safer’s, mixed according to label directions. For soap sprays to be effective, they must contact the pests. No home remedies, please; they may damage plant tissue.

Fortunately, you have lots of free help readily available among insects. Your skilled assistants (the NEs) are typically most active during the morning and late afternoon but hide during the heat of the day.

Four photos show life cycle of Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens). Egg stage, larva stage, pupa stage, adult stage.
– Life cycle of Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens) (Source: A Pocket Guide to Common Natural Enemies [revised 2021] https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1613)

Ladybugs (aka lady beetles) are the most colorful aphid killers. Most of these ¼-inch, glossy, hemispherical adults are red, often dotted with black. The ladybug’s elongated ¼-inch youngsters are quite different, resembling the tiniest of alligators. Their soft bodies are slate-gray or black with tufts of dull orange hairs. Both adult and child chomp on aphids. In time, even the aphids’ toes will be gone.

In spite of advertising hype promoting sales of ladybugs, realize that they typically leave for other bug-filled garden. But, if you are determined to purchase natural enemies, know that lacewings are more valuable

because their diet is more diverse. After lacewings decimate the aphids, they’ll switch to other small, soft-bodied pests including young caterpillars, various insect eggs, or even mites.

– Green Lacewing adult (Chrysoperla species) compared to fingertip. (Source: A Pocket Guide to Common Natural Enemies [revised 2021] https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1613)

Hereabouts, lacewings are naturally present year-round. You’re most likely to see the fragile, 5/8-inch, filmy-green adults fluttering from shrubs at dusk. The larvae are the aphid eaters, though. Look for 3/16-inch tan or gray, soft-bodied creatures similar to ladybug larvae but with Jaws that resemble old-fashioned ice-tongs. Eggs are easy to recognize, they’re small, greenish-white, and mounted on hairlike stalks.

Worm-like larvae of certain flies also kill aphids. The largest larvae (Syrphid flies, aka flower flies) are about 1/4 inch long but are difficult to spot because of their greenish or grayish color whereas the tiny, almost dot-sized, orange fellows (Midges) are easy to spot because of their color. All such larvae search for lunch by blindly groping. Just as do lacewing larvae, fly larvae pierce aphids, drain them, then abandon the empty carcasses.

Tiny, non-stinging wasps kill aphids, too. After they insert an egg into an aphid, their larva dines inside the aphid as it gradually transforms into a bloated, papery shell. Some weeks later, an adult wasp exits through a circular hole created in the aphid’s empty exoskeleton.

Impatient folks who would rather fight than wait for NEs to break into action need to understand that water,plain, or doctored with insecticidal soap, kills aphids but is safe for most helpful insects. Commercial pesticides are useful for uncontrolled hotspots but most kill more NEs than pests. When a pesticide is needed, consult with a garden center, then always follow label directions precisely. Because sprays rely on contacting the aphids, act before the pests are protected within crinkled and distorted leaves.

Power-assisted blasts can help you gain control quickly.Forceful water sprays are appropriate for sturdy plants whereas gentler handling is better for plants with rather soft tissue, among them such as violas and leafy lettuces. Aphids are so soft and squishy that harsh water sprays will injure them such that they’re unlikely to return to the plant. But, because healthy, intact aphids can give live birth to an aphid every 20-30 minutes, you’ll need to repeat the spray anyway. With more potent products, the goal is to only spray enough to coat the pests.

Realize that plant damage is possible with all pesticides, including soaps.That’s especially true if the spray is applied on a sunny day or was inadvertently – or not — mixed at too strong a rate. It’s always wise to test the spray on a few plants, then check for damage several days later. Browned or burned plant tissue is obviously serious whereas soap smudges are merely unsightly.


  • Sustainable Gardening: The Oregon Master Gardener Handbook
  • Book: Pests of the Garden and Small Farm (ANR #3332; University of California)- Available at booksellers.
  • Book: Natural Enemies Handbook {ANR #3386; University of California)- Available at booksellers.

Coming next month: Cabbage Worms and Other Chewers

Fern frond just beginning to unfurl.
Photo: Pixabay

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

— Gertrude Jekyll

The patience we have learned as gardeners has certainly been a reservoir to draw on in the past year. Even with hope on the horizon, for when we can once again gather in-person with our Master Gardener community, we continue to cultivate patience and glean lessons from the garden. As we patiently wait to resume in-person volunteer service, we hope you will take part in the various Master Gardener online educational opportunities from the kick-off of the OSU Master Gardener ‘Culture of Gardening Series’ to three upcoming ‘BioBlitz’ dates.

An important message from State-wide Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Gail Langellotto

With the recent resignation of OSU President F. King Alexander, Gail Langellotto, our State-wide Master Gardener Coordinator addresses Master Gardener volunteers and staff, and offers reflection on the guiding principles of the Master Gardener program. Read Gail’s message HERE

Elevated Skills Training Remains Open

Two sets of hands holding together a terracotto bowl of red cherry tomatoes.  On set of hands is bare, the other set of hands is wearing garden gloves.
Photo: Pixabay

Thank you to all who participated in the state-wide ‘Elevated Skills’ Master Gardener training classes the past two months.  We have received lots of positive feedback from MGs who appreciated the opportunity to focus on skills that can be used in their roles as a garden educator; whether it was learning more about ‘Community Science’, how to ‘Superpower Your Education Garden’, ‘Garden Woody Plant ID with the OSU Landscape Plant Database’ or the other ‘Elevated Skills’ class offerings. 

Did you miss the training?  Don’t despair ‘Elevated Skills’ training is still open for your learning adventure!  Although in-person sessions of the training have passed, can still take part and dive deep into a subject to interest.

For Perennial Master Gardeners this training counts as ‘Continuing Education’ hours.

2020 Master Gardeners Trainees, the Elevate training can be counted towards your service hours to meet the requirements to complete the Master Gardener training.

See the entire Elevate course line-up, and register HERE.

Note: The metro area MG program is using a different online tool for our MG Helpline clinic and is not using the ECCO tool being highlighted in the “Learning How to Use the Extension Client Contact Online (ECCO) Tool in Plant Clinic” course.

Level Up

Time lapsed video of dahlia blooming in promotional graphic for Growing Oregon Gardeners Level Up Series. Also includes Oregon State University Extension Service logo.

The state-wide Level Up series continues with a wealth of timely gardening topics.  This month’s presentation,  ‘Dazzling Dahlias’ with Julie Huynh, owner of Julie’s Dahlias, will be broadcast on Tuesday, April 13, 3pm

Take your gardening knowledge to a new level and check out the details for ‘Dazzling Dahlias’ and future presentations.  Registration opens on a rolling basis for upcoming webinars throughout the year.

If you find that registration has filled for a class, please check out the presentation live streamed on the OSU Master Gardener Facebook page or look for a recording of the presentation to be posted on the Level Up Series website a few days following.

Preview and register for the Level Up Series classes, and view recordings of past presentations HERE.

Dirt Gone Bad: When your soil amendment has been contaminated

Screen shot of webinar presentation. Large machine moving steaming pile of compost. Dirt Gone Bad: When Your Soil Amendment Has Been Contaminated.

If you missed Weston presenting for the March ‘Level Up’ series, here is a link to view a recording of his informative presentation: ‘Dirt Gone Bad: When your soil amendment has been contaminated’

Referenced in Weston’s presentation are two valuable publications:

The Culture of Gardening Series

Promotional graphic for The Culture of Gardening Series. The work is in our hands. Abra Lee.  With photo of Abra Lee and decorative elements of hands, flowers, leaves, hearts.

The OSU Master Gardener Program’s ‘Culture of Gardening’ Series kicks off with a special presentation with Abra Lee, “The Work is in Our Hands”, on Tuesday, May 18, 12noon.

Through determination, enthusiasm, and willpower Black women overcame ugliness in America to cultivate beauty in the landscape. This is a discussion of how their self-expression and activism through gardening led to a lasting legacy of community pride throughout generations. 

Abra Lee is a national speaker, writer, and owner of Conquer the Soil,a platform that combines Black garden history and current events to raise awareness of horticulture. She has spent a whole lotta time in the dirt as a municipal arborist, extension agent, airport landscape manager, and more. Lee is a graduate of Auburn University and alumna of the Longwood Gardens Society of Fellows, a global network of public horticulture professionals. 

This presentation is free and open to all OSU Master Gardeners and the public.  Register in advance here: https://beav.es/JCF

Join-in the OSU Master Gardener Bio Blitz

Promotional graphic for OSU Master Gardener Bio Blitz May 22, July 24, September 25. with flowers, butterflies, leaves.

Grab your camera and join the OSU Master Gardener Program on our iNaturalist project page to capture the insects, birds, wild plants, and other wild organisms in your garden or a nearby community or public garden space. Your efforts will help to document garden biodiversity in Oregon! Learn all the details and register here: https://beav.es/Jyg

In reflection of a ‘Year Like No Other’

Screen shot of Zoom presentation with three smiling faces of presenters.
‘Ask a Master Gardener’ webinar with Eric Butler, Dennis Brown and Claudia Groth

Although we are well on our way in 2021, we pause one more time to look back at 2020, when Master Gardeners rose to the challenge, embraced patience, stepped up and reached out during a year like no other!  We are grateful to our Master Gardener community and want to share the 2020 Impact Reports for the OSU Master Gardener Program and our metro area Master Gardener Program.

2020 Impact Report of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program

2020 Metro area Master Gardener Impact Report and Volunteer Recognition

Pest Alert!  Zebra Mussels and Moss Balls

Hand holding a green moss ball that has a small zebra mussel embedded in the ball.
Moss ball with Zebra Mussel. Photo: US Geographical Survey

Although not specifically related to gardening, we as Master Gardeners, have the opportunity to educate ourselves and share the information with others, regarding an important pest alert about Zebra Mussels.  Recently this highly invasive pest was discovered in products sold at aquarium and pet supply stores.  Specifically, the mussels were found in aquatic ‘moss balls’.

Currently, the Columbia River basin is the only area in the US that has not been infested with Zebra Mussels.  If established, the mussels will have a devastating impact on the health of our waters, including water recreation and critical water infrastructure.

Each of us can help by educating ourselves and others and making sure to take all precautions for preventing the establishment of this highly invasive pest to Oregon.

For details about this pest and preventive actions check out these links:

Upcoming Virtual Garden Education Opportunities

Oregon Master Gardener Mini College – Goes Virtual!

Promotional image for Mini College. Connect. Collaborate. Cultivate. July 16-17, 2021

Registration is now open for 2021 Oregon Master Gardener Mini College.  The conference will be held online, July 16 & 17.  With an outstanding slate of horticulture experts presenting, Mini College is a great continuing education opportunity. 

Robert Michael Pyle, author, educator and scientist will kick-off the event as the keynote speaker.  In addition, there will be a great array of interactive classes and workshops from leading horticulture experts and educators. Cost for the two-day event is $49 and is open to Master Gardeners and the public.  So grab a friend, and join-in an enriching garden education opportunity.

OMGA 2021 Mini College (mastergardenerminicollege.org)

More virtual opportunities with the International Master Gardener Conference!

Promotional poster for International Master Gardener Conference. Humming bird landing on flower. Beak inserted in flower blossom. Virtually September 12-17, 2021. Registration opens April 5.

Every two years Master Gardeners have the opportunity to participate in the International Master Gardeners Conference, that is hosted by a rotation of Extension Master Gardener Programs.  This year the event is being sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and you have the opportunity to participate from the comfort of your own home!  The Conference is going virtual for 2021!

This educational confluence of horticultural experts and Master Gardeners from the US, Canada and South Korea is taking place September 12 – 17, 2021. Virginia Cooperative Extension is planning “a unique and creative virtual conference that will offer not only the chance to attend live webinars and workshops, but also opportunities to socialize with and learn from EMGs from around the nation, to learn about gardening in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to participate in interactive activities such as virtual tours of Virginia and small group sessions.” 

Learn more about this exciting educational opportunity and register NOW!

Our April Garden Checklist

Spring is in the air with lots to attend to in the garden.  Our garden checklist highlights fertilizing your berries, planting early spring vegetables, and going on slug patrol!

By Margaret Bayne, OSU Extension Service Staff-retired, OSU Master

Asian giant hornet being held between a thumb and forefinger.
Asian giant hornet. Photo: Washington Department of Agriculture

Beneficial wasp found in Asian giant hornet hunt. (Calvin Bratt, Lynden Tribune) https://bit.ly/3vpTUNj

WATCH!- A Zoom presentation with Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott on Arboricultural Myths. (State of Missouri) https://bit.ly/2OTp4fe

New Study Illuminates Dung Beetles’ Attraction to Death. (By Ed Ricciuti, Entomology Today) https://bit.ly/38JXQ1H

The Dirt on Rock Dust. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Garden Professors blog) https://bit.ly/38HAgTs

VIDEO: Introduction to Lichen: Growth Forms, Reproduction, and Value. (Microcosmic via youtube) https://bit.ly/3rQU5iy

Silencing the alarm- An enzyme in the saliva of certain insects prevents their food plants from warning neighboring plants of an attack. (Sara LaJeunesse Penn State News) https://bit.ly/3vsN0H5

Why seasonal climate forecasts aren’t always accurate. (Pam Knox, The Garden Professors) https://bit.ly/2ODGAEp

Paleontologists discover new insect group after solving 150-year-old mystery. (Simon Fraser University, Phys.org) https://bit.ly/3qW9g92

VIDEO:  Bypass vs. anvil pruners. (Oklahoma Gardening via Youtube) https://bit.ly/2OQKCZX

Cambridge moonflower: Wait over for ‘UK’s first’ bloom. (BBC) https://bbc.in/2OU5nUL

Monarch butterfly.
Monarch butterfly. Photo: Oregon State University

Monarch Winter 2020–21 Population Numbers Released. (Susan Day, University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum) https://bit.ly/38DxlLp

WATCH: I Cannot Tell a Lie But Cherry Trees Do Die. (Jay Pschdeit, OSU via Youtube) https://bit.ly/3eHVkNa

Scientists discover attacking fungi that show promise against emerald ash borer. (University of Minnesota, via Phys Org) https://bit.ly/3eHSuYs

Compost in Seed Starting Mix: Recipe for Success…. or Failure? (John Porter, The Garden Professors) https://bit.ly/30OE1C5

To Fruit or Not to Fruit – The Story of Mast Seeding (Awkward Botany) https://bit.ly/38IiKhw

January warm spells, March freezes: How plants manage the shift from winter to spring (Richard B. Primack, Boston University via The Conversation) https://bit.ly/3qRilQn

Red rose bloom.

The contrarian rosarian–debunking rose mythology. (Jim Downer, The Garden Professors) https://bit.ly/3bRhJ9c

Catnip repels insects. Scientists may have finally found out how.  The plant triggers a receptor that, in other animals, senses pain and itch. (Erin Garcia de Jesus, Science News) https://bit.ly/3eHMI9p

Cold Comfort  (How Bees survive cold temperatures) (Jon Zawislak, U of Arkansas Extension) https://bit.ly/3cxQwYe

Parasitic plants conspire to keep hosts alive-Mistletoe sends treemail.(Jules Berstein, UC Riverside) https://bit.ly/3tkstCM

By Margaret Bayne, OSU Extension Service Staff-retired, OSU Master

Doug fir beetle
Doug fir beetle. Photo: LSU Agriculture Center

Pheromone treatment puts up the “No Vacancy” sign for Douglas-Fir Beetles. (Darrell Ross, quantamagazine.org) https://bit.ly/3qkDcft

Amazing root drawings! (Wageningen University-Image Collection) https://bit.ly/37azCwK

Watch the video:  Scientists are discovering new species in the ancient canopies of Canada’s tallest trees.  “On BC’s coast, giant trees have been fed by rain for over 700 years and are home to an incredible micro-world.” (Wild Canadian Weather, cbc.ca) https://bit.ly/3daaiLa

Rhododendrons as thermometers. Did you know that some rhododendrons can act as a living thermometer, showing you just how cold it is by the curl of their leaves?” (Melissa Reckner, Brandywine.org https://bit.ly/377m4lN

The Mystery of Mistletoe’s Missing Genes.  Mistletoes have all but shut down the powerhouses of their cells. Scientists are still trying to understand the plants’ unorthodox survival strategy.” (Christie Wilcox, quantamagazine.org) https://bit.ly/3b4FtEV

Microscopic wrinkles in leaves ward off insects.  “Researchers identify a new insect-defense mechanism.” (Monique Brouillette, Scientificamerican.com) https://bit.ly/3rQIwHB

Beepocalypse myth handbook: Assessing claims of pollinator collapse. (Jon Entine, geneticliteracyproject.org) https://bit.ly/3tgmf6Y

7 vegetable seed packets, fanned out on wood table.
Seed packets. Photo: OSU

Learn the terms on seed packets to make the right selection. (Kym Pokorny, OSU; via Nichole Sanchez, OSU) https://bit.ly/2NtLPG4

Houseplant Hubub: The rage about variegation. (John Porter, gardenprofessors.com) https://bit.ly/3d88nXy

Gardening with Native Plants book inspires perennial passions (Linda Chalker-Scott). (WSU) https://bit.ly/3qklMzA

Insects in flight-11 incredible species in SLOW MOTION-Watch!  “Takeoff and flight sequences of insects spanning 5 different taxonomic orders captured at 3,200 fps!” (Ant Lab, via Youtube) https://bit.ly/3ag5p1a

The bumble bees of the Oregon Bee Atlas.  Watch the video! (Lincoln Best, via Youtube) https://bit.ly/3b4FZml

Stickiness is a weapon some plants use to fend off hungry insects. (Eric Lopresti, the conversation.com) https://bit.ly/3ai3QA7

Natural wonder: Wing ‘clap’ solves mystery of butterfly flight. (Matt McGrath, BBC.com) https://bbc.in/2ZfDCI4

Extension foresters note trend in redwood plantings, plan needs assessment. (Alicia Christiansen, OSU Extension) https://bit.ly/2LNgOfA

Adult spotted lanternfly, sitting on a thumb
Adult spotted lanternfly. Photo: University of Maryland

Five things to know about: Spotted Lanternfly – Oregon IPM Center.  See the video. (Christ Hedstrom, OSU via Youtube) https://bit.ly/3pimdcj

Natter’s Notes

Jean R. Natter, OSU Extension Service Master Gardener

Once again, the annual Gardeners’ Itch is surging. That’s in spite of the mid-February snow storm that likely afforded one last browse through catalogs, or possibly created a faint cloud of apprehension as you wondered why you bought so many seeds.

Start your project with new containers or thoroughly wash used ones. Just about anything will do as long as it’s at least two inches deep and has drainholes. Plastic containers are a good choice as they slow moisture loss. Consider multi-celled propagation trays; 6-packs you’ve saved from previous years; individual small pots; or use 4- or 5-inch pots as community pans, each one with a different kind of seed.

If you’ll use individual peat pellets, pre-soak well prior to seeding. Then set them side-by-side, one pellet touching the next, thereby increasing moisture retention a bit. After the seeds sprout and begin to develop roots, the pellets will dry rapidly. You might consider a multi-cell tray with individual units the perfect size to hold just one pellet.

The method using individual peat pots is similar. Pre-soak the pots, fill with seeding mix, plant the seeds, then water to settle the mix. But when you transplant to the garden, strip off the peat pot to allow the roots unhindered access to the garden soil.

Fill your containers with a sterile, fine textured growing medium. Do it the easy way with a commercially-packaged seed-starting mix because they’re formulated to drain well in shallow pots. A bonus: The mix is sterile, that is, as long as you don’t set the filled pots on the ground.

Instead of scooping potting mix to fill the pots, use a professional trick to ensure the media remains light and airy, two qualities which guarantee good-sized air spaces that, in turn, allow excellent drainage.

To do so:

a. Set your containers in a group, the sides touching each other.

b. Slightly moisten the media: Add hot water and toss gently to combine, until the media is barely moist throughout.

c. Pour the barely moist media into the containers.

d. Level off excess media with the side of your hand. 

e. Pick up each container and gently tap it onto a hard surface 3 times from a height of 4 inches.

f. Lightly tamp the surface of the media in each container, just enough to level the surface.  (An excellent “tamping tool” is the bottom of another container that matches the available surface area.)

Sow your seeds on the surface of the mix.  Drop one or two seeds onto the surface of each of the smallest units.  If you’re using 4-inch pots, sparsely sprinkle about 20 seeds over the surface. With still larger containers such as a nursery flat, first create shallow rows, then seed. 

Cover the seeds with moist media, the depth to match the diameter of the seed.  Large seeds – such as beans, corn, radish, and squash – are best sown directly into the garden but, for these, wait until the soil is warm enough for rapid germination. Corn and basil planted early will fail.

Water each container thoroughly by setting it in water. Remove when the surface glistens with moisture, allow to drain, and set in a bright, moderately warm place. Alternately, group the pots in a nursery flat and use a gentle spray, moving it back and forth, to thoroughly moisten the media.

Create a mini-greenhouse, of sorts, for your seeds by slipping its pot into a clear container of some sort.  Match the “greenhouse” to the size of your project.  Use what you have at hand, perhaps a clear plastic bag which rests on bamboo sticks to allow head room; or clear plastic storage boxes such as those for shoes and sweaters.

Set the ‘greenhouse’ in a warm but not sunny place. If needed, lift the cover briefly to vent excess moisture that accumulates on the insider.

Spindly seedlings result due to inadequate light at a window, (Client image; March 2017)

Seedlings require bright light! As soon as the seeds sprout, the main challenge is to provide enough light to develop sturdy seedlings.  Sunny windowsills rarely provide adequate bright light for seedlings.

Some folks use a commercial light stand but you can substitute a 2-tube fluorescent fixture suspended 2 inches above a workbench holding the plants. Suspend the fixture on chain so that you can adjust the height as the plants grow. My old-school strategy of one cool white and one warm white tube works well. The plantlets will thrive with 16 hours of light a day.

Seedlings will also benefit from a slightly lower temperature at this stage. On average, daytime temps of 65 to 70°F and nighttime temps of 55 to 60°F are adequate. Then, too, if seedling roots dry out, they die! Watering from the bottom is a gentle method, but dump the excess within 20 minutes.

Seedlings also require fertilizer! Begin fertilizing when the cotyledons ( seedling leaves) are flat out. Use fertilizer-enriched water at half-strength for every other irrigation. And always transplant seedlings, either to a larger pot or to the garden, when the first set of true leaves expand.

Always transplant seedlings when the first set of true leaves expand. But recall that you’ll need to harden off the seedlings prior to planting outdoors. Hardening off means to prepare tender, indoor-grown plants for a harsher life outdoors. (See “Sustainable Gardening.”)

And finally, be aware of the potentially unhappy side of gardening: Herbicide carryover in manure compost. And that’s true whatever the source, free or commercial. I recently responded to an Ask Extension inquiry from a gardener whose vegetables were affected during 2020. (See resource list for online links.)


One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.

W.E. Johns

These are hope filled times as we eagerly anticipate better days ahead. Gardening certainly gives us solace during such challenging times, and until we are able to resume in-person volunteer activities, the OSU Master Gardener program has a rich variety of continuing education opportunities to engage a wide-array of interests. We hope you will partake and enjoy!


Our state-wide ‘Elevated Skills’ Master Gardener training has launched, but you still have time to take advantage of this wide range of skills building classes which aim to enrich and support Master Gardeners.  This focused training, being taught by OSU Extension staff, has been created to inspire current OSU Master Gardeners (including the class of 2020).

‘OSU Landscape Plant Database’, ‘Superpower Your Education Garden’, ‘Community Science and the Master Gardener Program’, and ‘iNaturalist for Master Gardener Volunteers’ are just a few of the many offerings created to empower and elevate Master Gardeners as community educators. See the entire course line-up, and register HERE.

Note: The metro area MG program is using a different online tool for our MG Helpline clinic and is not using the ECCO tool being highlighted in the “Learning How to Use the Extension Client Contact Online (ECCO) Tool in Plant Clinic” course.

Level Up

OSU Master Gardeners and the gardening public can ‘Level Up’ in a new series for experienced gardeners, with presentations by OSU horticulture experts. Take your gardening knowledge to a new level with timely topics from gardening in a changing climate to techniques to extend your season.

Sessions are filling fast, so if you are interested in the class, be sure to sign-up when the class opens for registration. It will be a rolling registration for the classes throughout the year.

This month’s presentation Tuesday, February 9, 3pm, which focuses on ‘Multifunctional Hedgerows’ has filled – however the presentation will be live streamed on the OSU Master Gardener Facebook page and a recording of the presentation will be posted on the Level Up Series website a few days after the presentation.

Preview and register for the Level Up Series classes, and view recordings of past presentations HERE.

The Culture of Gardening

Come spring, Master Gardeners can participate in ‘The Culture of Gardening’. Explore what gardening means to different people and groups, and how to grow and use plants from a variety of cultures. This new series of blog posts and talks will debut in late spring 2021, with a keynote address by horticulturist Abra Lee on the history of African American gardens and gardeners. The series kicks off on May 18th. Details to come.

Grow Your Own Microgreens – Grow Along

Many Master Gardeners delighted in taking part in the Grow Your Own Microgreens – Grow Along Workshop, at the beginning of the year. During these ‘physically distant’ times it was great to connect with fellow gardeners online and to concentrate on a project that nurtured our gardener’s spirits and added a nutritious boost to our plates.

For those who missed growing along for the first session or had such great fun and want others to share in the adventure, Grow Your Own Microgreens – Grow Along Workshop will reprise February 15 through March 1.

See the details and register HERE. This 15 day workshop is free and everyone is welcome. Please share with fellow gardeners or someone who is wanting to grow something for the first time. Grab some friends to sign-up together and share the excitement as your greens sprout and grow. This is a great first time gardening project for families with kiddos too!

Grow this! Master Gardener Challenge

Food Hero and Master Gardeners are collaborating on the 2021 Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge. The second year of the Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge, is much bigger than last year’s Challenge! This year we are looking to sign up 8,000 gardeners to grow vegetable and flowers and need your help!

We need your help to grow along and share your expert advice with these gardeners. Please consider signing up to participate as a Grow This! Champion. Your growing tips, comments, challenges and stories will be shared on our social media platforms and in monthly update emails to beginning gardeners as a way to build a growing community across the state.

Master Gardener volunteers are invited to participate, and apply to be a Grow This! Champion. Note: we are looking to include Master Gardeners from across the state and may need to limit participation if demand exceeds seed supply.

A Grow This! Champion:

  1. Must be a current Oregon Master Gardener volunteer (includes class of 2020) or Master Gardeners representing a county demonstration/educational garden.
  2. Will need to apply for the Grow This! Champion program by midnight February 19 (we are looking to include Master Gardeners from across the state and may need to limit participation if demand exceeds the seed supply).
  3. Will receive one crop seed packet and one flower seed packet.
    (Type and variety will be selected at random.) Specifics about obtaining your seeds will be sent by email.
  4. Must agree to give feedback on your growing process and results
    at least once—but as often as you want—during the Challenge.
    Feedback could include suggestions, comments, challenges and
    solutions, stories, photos, drawings or videos that we can share
    with others (with or without your name). These can be emailed to
    food.hero@oregonstate.edu or shared on social media adding the
    following text to any post: @BeAFoodHero and #mastergardener.
    All feedback is WELCOME.
  5. Can count your active time spent on this project as Master Gardener
    ‘Program’ volunteer hours.

Email Brooke.Edmunds@oregonstate.edu or food.hero@oregonstate.edu or leave a voice message at 541-737-1017.

Learn more about the challenge here: https://www.foodhero.org/growthis.

Mini-college goes online!

Save the date! as the Oregon Master Gardener Association takes it’s annual ‘Mini College’, garden-education focused, conference online, July 16 and 17, 2021. This is an opportunity to learn from a wide-range of horticultural experts from the comfort of home. Registration opens in March. Watch for details when the website goes live at www.mastergardenerminicollege.org

By Margaret Bayne, OSU Extension Service Staff-retired, OSU Master

Caterpillars mimic leaves or offer rewards for protection by ants.  “Study reveals different forms of interaction between insect groups: some caterpillar species have bodies covered with molecules identical to those of the plants they inhabit and are ‘invisible’ to ants.” (Eurekaalert.org) https://bit.ly/3nBvhbt

Clod of soil
Clod of soil. Photo: Rachel Werling

Soil: The dirty secrets of a living landscape. (Gordon Jones, Scott Goode, OSU; EM 9304) https://bit.ly/3sjpY46

What food and gardens trends are predicted for 2021? (Samantha Murray, US/IFAS) https://bit.ly/3brKIR2

Move over murder hornets:  There’s a new bug in town- at it’s coming for your lawn. (Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times) https://bit.ly/38weEcN

Catching hope: Possible ally in fight against harmful fruit fly discovered in Asian giant hornet trap (Karla Salp,WSDA) https://bit.ly/3nAmpmf

Extremely rare, one-of-a-kind flower found in Maui’s rugged mountains. (Mark Price, Sacramento Bee) https://bit.ly/2XuP1D5

This drone sniffs out odors with a real moth antenna. “Researchers slap a living antenna on a drone to give the machine an insanely keen sense of smell. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the ‘Smellicopter.’” (Matt Simon, Wired) https://bit.ly/2MYqXqd

Trips on salal leaves
Trips on salal. Photo: Jay Pscheidt, OSU

Thrips on Salal.  The following is OSU Plant Pathologist Jay Pscheidt’s response to a client regarding damage on Salal: “We have heard about this in the south west part of the state near the coast. The cause is not azalea lace bug (although the damage is surprisingly similar) but the greenhouse thrips, Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis. As the common name suggests, this pest is predominantly associated with greenhouses in temperate climates as it is supposedly not cold hardy. It can be a significant pest in warmer climates, such as California in the avocado areas and in Florida. It predominantly attacks shrubs or trees. We’ve seen it in greenhouses for years but found it in outside samples from Hoyt Arboretum several years ago. Many years ago, it was causing substantial landscape damage in the Seattle area to viburnum and salal among other shrubs.” (Jay Pscheidt Facebook 1-4-21) PNW Disease Management Handbook: https://bit.ly/39lRc17

Meet the World’s Least-Charismatic Orchid. “This newly described species has been dubbed “the ugliest.” (Jessica Leigh Hester, Atlas Obscura) https://bit.ly/3i5Odhl

WSU Extension publications has a wealth of peer reviewed gardening information.  Check out a sampling:

Do Black Walnut Trees Have Allelopathic Effects on Other Plants? (Home Garden Series) (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU) https://bit.ly/3sgGvWs

Epsom Salt Use in Home Gardens and Landscapes. (Dr. Linda Chalker- Scott, Rich Guggenheim, WSU)https://bit.ly/3nBbJE6

Gypsum Use in Home Gardens and Landscapes. (Dr. Linda-Chalker-Scott, Rich Guggenheim WSU https://bit.ly/3sfk6bM

Home Pruning: Reasons to Prune Trees and Shrubs (Home Gardening Series.) Tim Kohlhauff, WSU; et al. https://bit.ly/38zmlPu

Hugelkultur: What is it, and should it be used in home gardens?  “Hügelkultur is an increasingly popular way of using organic material to create mounded home gardens and landscapes.” (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU) https://bit.ly/35yoWXZ

Convergens lady beetle
Convergens lady beetle. Photo: OSU

Lady Beetles: Should We Buy Them For Our Gardens? (Home Garden Series.)  “Lady beetles are a popular biocontrol method for aphids in home gardens and landscapes. Many gardeners purchase these insects at nurseries, garden centers, and online.” (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Michael R. Bush, WSU) https://bit.ly/2XyQQyN

Vegetables: Growing Peppers in Home Gardens (Home Garden Series.)   “Looking for a way to spice up your home garden? There are few vegetables more colorful or easier to grow than peppers.” (Michael R. Bush, WSU; et al) https://bit.ly/3ovJ4Bz

Natter’s Notes

Jean R. Natter, OSU Master Gardener

In case you haven’t been outdoors recently, you need to know weeds are growing in spite of the soggy soil from all the recent abundant, rainfall. So, let’s review a few strategic management strategies for successful weed control in gardens and landscapes. As you may know, the PNW Weed Management Handbook (see resource list) has a thorough overview of the subject.

Annual weeds are classified as warm-season or cool-season plants, with each kind genetically destined to germinate (sprout) in the appropriate season, then survive for a year or somewhat less. The same categories are assigned to perennial weeds but these are considerably more long-lived, persisting for 3 or more years.

As a result, gardeners must be vigilant year-round.  

Several key principles limit weed populations in gardens and landscapes, among them these:

– Kill weeds when they’re young; ten fingers are always at hand.

– Don’t allow weeds to set seed.

– Annual weeds will die when cut just below the crown.  Use a knife, or any one of various hoes – standard garden hoe, diamond hoe, or a scuffle hoe.

– Perennials will re-grow when cut off, even if covered with mulch  Vigorous kinds will make it through a lasagna garden; and may lift landscape fabric and/or polyethylene sheeting. 

– To kill perennial weeds, you must starve the roots; to do so, remove all green growth every week for as long as it takes, very likely several years.

– Herbicides are rarely a “once-and-done” remedy.

Gardeners can make good use of creating a “stale seedbed” before planting a flower or vegetable bed, or even a lawn. The reason?  Hundreds of dormant seeds — termed the “Soil seed bank” – have been deposited in the soil during years and years of poorly managed, or unmanaged, weeds. Whenever soil is disturbed, some of those seeds are brought near the surface where they germinate because they are exposed to light, also appropriate temperatures and moisture.  

Start a stale seedbed a month or so prior to the desired planting date, thereby allowing for a cycle or two removing weed seedlings.  Do everything needed to prepare the planting bed: dig; remove obstructions and weeds; amend the bed; level the soil; then moisten the soil to settle it and allow for germination.  As soon as a good stand of young weeds about inch tall is present, destroy them using your preferred method: hand, hoe, flamer or, if you must, herbicide. 

The earlier a stale seedbed is started, the more germination cycles possible, the fewer weeds will be present to steal water and light from the desired crop.  Next, seed or transplant your veggies or flowers with minimal disruption of the soil, and deal with any seedling weeds promptly.

With perennial weeds, choose among these destructive techniques:

1. Dig it out; repeat as needed.

2. Cut it off; repeat as needed.

3. Herbicides are effective if the right kind is used according to label directions; repeat as needed for re-growth and/or use #1 and #2, above.

Tools to help limit weeds:

– Hands

– Hoes

– Herbicides, organic or synthetic: Contact products kill only top growth (fine for annual and seedling weeds); systemic products translocate (move) into other plant parts, sometimes into roots.

– Mulch, with the understanding that new weeds, in the form of seeds, will continue to arrive via clothing; muddy boots; new plants; birds; hitchhikers on mowers; or may be blown in.

– Flamer

Some trees are known to put up root suckers after they are cut down, among them are such broadleaf trees as ash, aspen, cottonwood, flowering cherry and poplar.  Conifers won’t re-sprout, even if the roots remain in the ground.

To limit root sprouting after a broadleaf tree is removed:

– Cut down the tree as soon as the new leaves have fully expanded in spring. 

(Principle: The tree used most of its reserves for new foliage, thus the stump/roots will put up fewer sprouts than if the tree is removed later in the season.)

– Immediately after the tree is cut off, paint a 2-inch-wide band of the other edge of the cut surface with an herbicide such as triclopyr or 2,4-D, following label directions.

– Remove new shoots as soon as they’re seen:

       – The more often new greenery is removed, the better the chances of decreasing the roots’ reserves; once a week is a good plan.

       – The longer new growth remains, the more reserves it sends to the roots, thereby extending the battle. 

– Be persistent and you will win; pause for a season and you lose.


– Sustainable Gardening (your MG Handbook)

– Weeds and Your Garden: https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/43859/weeds-in-garden-bro-NYSIPM.pdf;sequence=1

– PNW Weed Management Handbook: Online at  http://pnwhandbooks.org/weed/horticultural/home-garden-landscape-management  

– PNW Weed image gallery (from the 2010 Weed Handbook): Organized by common name, each weed with 1 to 3 images: seedling, flower and/or mature.  http://uspest.org/pnw/weedimages?weeds/id/index.html

– Weeds and other unwanted plants (text and images)  http://ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/menu.weeds.html

By Margaret Bayne, OSU Extension Service Staff-retired, OSU Master Gardener

Open hands with palms holding corn gluten meal.
Corn Gluten Meal. Photo: University of Connecticut

Cornmeal magic – the myth that will not die.  Learn the facts! (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU) https://bit.ly/37cOJX4

The complicated issue of heavy metals in residential soils, part 2: How plant species and environmental variables complicate the issue. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, gardenprofessors.com) https://bit.ly/2K4vHsZ

Soil Myth Busting for Extension Educators: Reviewing the Literature on Soil Nutrition. (Dr. Linda-Chalker Scott, WSY ; A.J. Downer, U of CA via NACAA.com) https://bit.ly/3mf2RmV

Reviewing the literature on tree planting- Landscape Trees. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU & A. J. Downer, U of CA; via NACAA.com) https://bit.ly/3mblJmB

Soil Myth Busting for Extension Educators: Reviewing the literature Soil Structure and Functionality. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU & A. J. Downer, U of CA via NACAA.com) https://bit.ly/3qMXL4G

Check out some new and exciting new plants! (National Garden Bureau) https://bit.ly/2WdksBa

The horrors of mass-produced bee houses. (Note: while a commercial, has useful info and links) (Collin Purrington.com) https://bit.ly/37ZCKLJ

Blueberry plant with ripening berries.
‘Legacy’ blueberry. Photo: Bernadine Strik, OSU

REVISED PUBLICATION: Growing Blueberries in Your Home Garden. (Bernadine Strik, OSU; et al: EC 1304) https://bit.ly/37hpu61

Hummingbird Drone Films Half a Billion Monarch Butterflies Taking Flight. (Deanschneider.com) https://bit.ly/3a9ILbg

Just for fun: Bugs and Organisms look like Monsters Under a Microscope.  Ever wondered what an ant or wasp looked like up close?  Have a look! (fotoscapes.com) https://bit.ly/37cXosw

Soil fungi act like a support network for trees. New research is first to show that growth rate of adult trees is linked to fungal networks colonizing their roots. (U of Alberta, via sciencefdaily.com) https://bit.ly/3mfVQCb

Pollinators of Butterfly Bush (and Other Questions) (stillca, OSU) https://bit.ly/347hUZq

20 Questions on Plant Diagnosis– “This is the third fact sheet in a series of 10 designed to provide an overview of key concepts in plant pathology. Plant pathology is the study of plant disease including the reasons why plants get sick and how to control or manage healthy plants.” (Joe Boggs, Ohio State, et al) https://bit.ly/3qMXX3U

Golden foliage of larch trees in forest of evergreen trees form a smiling face in the midst of the dark green foliage of the evergreen trees.
Larch among Douglas Fir. Photo: Jay Pscheidt, OSU

The Deciduous Conifer Conundrum. (Indefenseofplants.com) https://bit.ly/2K4vXrX