Add Some Color to Your Winter Landscape

by Laura House

As the fall leaves drop and the cooler weather arrives, we can sometimes be left yearning for a splash of color to brighten the winter landscape. That’s when frost-hardy annuals, bulbs, and winter-blooming or fruiting plants can be a welcome addition to the landscape.                      


Cabbage and Kale – We are not talking about the trendy, vitamin-packed greens that you have been growing in your garden box, but a close relative. The ornamental varieties of Brassica are often much more colorful and showy, available in various shades of purples, whites, and greens. And their foliage brightens with cooler weather, so they are the perfect cure for your landscape’s seasonal melancholy. They should be planted several weeks before a hard frost and it is advisable to select larger, root-bound plants from the nursery to help avoid leggy growth. Plant in a color spot or as a nice border along your front walkway.

Pansy – Pansies are an enduring fall and spring annual that can also survive the temperate winters of western Oregon and Washington. The plants can fade with especially cold temperatures midwinter, but will often bounce back. Be sure that your Pansies have good soil drainage prior to planting – you can amend existing beds with peat moss and perlite or pumice if they are heavy or compacted. You should also plan to incorporate an all-purpose granular fertilizer while you are preparing the soil before planting, then feed at 3-4 week intervals for best blooming potential. And in the event that we have long stretches of rain or cold, you may want to spend a little time pinching off the spent or leggy flower stems near the base of the leaves. Plant within your favorite containers or as a border within your perennial beds.




Camellia – The flowers that you will find on Camellias are most often compared to those of shrub roses, but their bloom schedule is completely opposite of the garden favorite. Depending on the specific variety, Camellia blooms are borne against lustrous green foliage any time from late fall through early spring. They are available with single or double blooms in shades of white, pink, and red. Camellias prefer acidic soils, good drainage – do not plant in heavy, clay soils without prior amendment – and try to provide some morning sun exposure or light shade. Use this evergreen as a foundation planting near the corner your house or prune it like a small tree and place as a focal point within your perennial garden.


Callicarpa – Also known as a Beautyberry, this moderate-sized shrub is a show-stopper in late fall and winter with bright purple berries. The shrub offers delicate flowers during the summer which give way to long-lasting clusters of violet berries in the fall. These shrubs can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but they do prefer full sun. Place this shrub as a centerpiece within a perennial bed or against a contrasting background so the berries can really stand out.




Photo source: by Irene Grassi is licensed by CC by 2.0.

Symphoricarpos – This plant is native to much of the middle to northern United States and is easy to establish. The fruit is not quite as vibrant as that of the Beautyberry, but still provides dramatic effect against a barren landscape in the late fall and early weeks of winter. The classic variety offers clusters of white berries, which supports the common name of Snowberry, but there are also varieties that bear fruit in shades of pink. The berries are considered toxic to humans, but they are a good source of food to native birds. Use this plant with other natives or within your bird-friendly habitat.


Crocus – These sweet, little flowers tend to brighten any wintry landscape right as spring is approaching. They are available in an assortment of colors, most commonly white, yellow, and purple. Crocus should be planted in well-draining soils during the fall, about 2-3” beneath the soil surface. Most varieties prefer some sun, but a few will tolerate shadier spots in your garden. Plant them alongside a front walkway or in groups near decorative boulders or statuary within the garden.

Squill – Also known as Scilla, these late winter perennials are a favorite in Northwest gardens, although the Campanulata variety can really overtake your yard if you are not careful. The Siberian Squill (shown below) is known to be a little less aggressive and more clumping, available with white and blue flowers. However, the Campanulata or Wood Hyacinth variety is ideal for naturalizing lawns and troublesome areas. The bulbs should be planted in the fall in well-draining soil with partial shade to full sun exposure. Place them amidst ornamental grasses that are cut back during the winter or to soften the sharp lines of a concrete retaining wall within your perennial garden as you wait for other plants to come out of dormancy.


Siberian Squill

Need A Presentation on Fall Color?

Clover comeback? “Bee lawns” gaining favor

Turf grass may be an attractive ground cover for homeowners but it holds little appeal for pollinators.

Add some broadleaf plants with flowers to the mix, and it’s a different story: great forage for the birds and the bees. Lower maintenance, too.

“Bee lawns aren’t 100 percent flowers. They have some grass included,” said Mary Meyer, an extension horticulturist and professor with the University of Minnesota. “While bees don’t use grass, humans do. Most flowers, if you start walking on them, will die. Clover will tolerate a bit of foot traffic.”

Nitrogen-rich Dutch white clover is generally considered the best companion to cool-season lawn grasses when the objective is attracting pollinators, said Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore. “You can mow it and keep it relatively tame in a lawn, and bees love it,” Vaughan said. “The good thing about Dutch white clover is that it is good [to grow] across most of the U.S.”

There was a time when many turf seed mixes included clover. Then came the rise of lawn purity: Yards were designed to look like the manicured greens on a golf course. All grass. No broadleaf plants.

These formalized landscapes were attractive but contained little food value for foraging honeybees.

Now that clean lawn ethic is giving way to herb and vegetable gardens, a desire for minimal yard maintenance and concerns about steep declines in pollinating insects, people are opting for smaller lawns, blended lawns or no lawns.

“The trend is urban meadows, where homeowners take out their lawns and replace them with diverse wildflowers that can get tall and rangy at the end of the season,” Vaughan said. “But a nicely mown border around the outside keeps them looking tidy. Add a sign, and people know you’re doing it on purpose. Mow in the fall, and the whole lawn is cleaned up nicely.”

Other flowering broadleaf plants include dandelions (which bloom early when little else is flowering), lamium (shade tolerant) and thyme.

Some property owners convert less visible sections of their yards into biodiverse bee lawns.

“Reserve some chunks,” Meyer said. “Devote your back lawn to a bee lawn and leave your front lawn traditional turf — the part that your neighbors and passing traffic see.

“For people who still want that green carpet look, try it with clover,” Meyer said.

Do flowering broadleafs count as invasive weeds or beneficial grass companions? It depends on your aesthetics. No matter how they’re viewed, they require less care and less fertilizing and are more resilient to drought and pests than traditional turf grass.

“I’ve seen some beautiful mats of thyme that are mowed and attract many, many bees,” Vaughan said. “Small varieties of yarrow are OK, but they don’t attract a lot of bees. Other pollinators come to the yarrow.”

University of Minnesota researchers are trying to come up with pollinator lawn-seed combinations that use native plant species — low-growing, noninvasive varieties that can take a lot of abuse.

“That’s a heavy order,” Meyer said, “but they’re doing trials. Next year they’ll be planting demo plants to see how they flower and survive.”

Photo ands Story by Dean Fosdick,

The Associated Press

Return On Investment? It’s falling from the trees.

By Walker Leiser

Everybody thinks sustainability costs more money, but here’s a little tip that won’t cost you a dime and in fact could save you a lot of money. Imagine taking your leaves to the dump, paying them to take the leaves, and then paying more money to get more compost. We do it all the time because we thought it was the only option (well, my grandpa didn’t).

"Mulch Triptycht 3 of 3" by Tim Good is licensed under

“Mulch Triptycht 3 of 3″ by Tim Good is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why use mulch in the first place?

Putting down compost or other mulch is really the best way to protect your landscape from weed invasion, soil particulation (where raindrops break large pieces of soil down into smaller and smaller pieces that create a hard crust on the top of your soil making it nearly impossible for air to enter the soil) and come the summer months, water evaporation. When weeds do come up, a good 2 inch layer of mulch makes them really easy to pull. All of that makes buying mulch well worth it.

Return on investment you say?

But what if we didn’t have to even buy mulch? What if we didn’t even have to take it to the dump in the first place? The last several years, DeSantis Landscapes has been mulching leaves on our clients’ properties directly onto their beds. When the leaves fall, we use an impeller vacuum machine to suck the leaves up into a large truck and in the process the leaves are ground down into smaller pieces. The next step is simple, we blow the broken down leaves back onto our clients’ beds. Voilà, free mulch! That’s what we call an infinite return on investment! Some of our clients have saved thousands of dollars using this technique.

leaf season

DeSantis crews collecting leaves on a beautiful Fall day

As is always the case, everything has a pro and con. For example, if you are an HOA and your homeowners are not familiar with the look, you could get some complaints. We anticipated that to be the case at some of our sites. However, it turns out we really didn’t see any complaints at all. If you do anticipate complaints, at least you can cut your mulch bill in half. Instead of applying 2 inches of mulch per year, apply 1 inch of free leaf mulch and top dress it with 1 inch of purchased compost or Hemlock. You’ll receive the same benefit but visually no one will be the wiser.

Are leaves as good as compost?

The real answer is “they are different.” Compost provides a vast number of nutrients and some micro-organisms to the soil. As well, it improves soil tilth by adding organic matter. However in the process of creating compost nearly 50% of the nutrients in the fresh material is gone by the time the finished compost is ready to use (the microbial action that makes compost what it is, requires that much food to function). This is not the case with fresh leaves. All of the nutrient are still in there, and plants can use them.

If we open the cell structure of the leaves up to microbes, the microbes will make the much needed micronutrients; calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, available in the soil. There is a qualification here. Freshly fallen leaves have higher percentage of nutrients (namely more nitrogen) available but because we are not adding nitrogen (e.g. green grass clippings) and because a 2” leaf layer is not nearly as dense as a 2” compost, the total lbs of nutrients available will be less. But it’s free! And it can last longer.

A common concern we get about compost is that it doesn’t last very long. This is especially the case when the soil is thirsty for nutrients. Fresh leaf mulch breaks down more slowly than compost and feeds plants over a longer period of time. That also means you get the benefits of weed suppression, soil protection, and water conservation for a longer period of time.

Some other great tidbits about using leaves:

 - Leaf mold can hold up to 500% of its weight in water.

– Remember to keep your trees healthy so you don’t have to worry about spreading disease like anthracnose.

– Not all leaves are great for composting and among those that are – not all are created equal.

– Pound for pound, the leaves of most tress contain twice the mineral content of manure.*

- The McGraw-Hill Recycling Handbook, Second Edition states that overall leaves make up 25 percent of all yard wastes in the U.S.

Eight million tons of leaves went into landfills in 2005.*

Food for thought:

How many tons of greenhouse gases are emitted by landscapers and municipalities transporting leaves to the dump each year. What if we all just mulched our leaves?

For more interesting reading:


Return On Investment

Transplanting in the Pacific Northwest

By Jamie Sloan

Here in the Willamette Valley, we are quite fortunate to be able to enjoy the bounty of many prolific landscapes and gardens. It’s a relatively easy conquest to find swaths of green, undoubtedly dappled with vibrant hues of thriving annuals and perennials. However, like most deliberate creations, much trial and error is experienced before contentment sets in.

Iris in need of dividing

There will invariably be a change of vision for any home or professional gardener after the initial install, or before a new install of plant material. Transplanting can be a practical and effective means of achieving a desired aesthetic for one’s garden, without having to grow or purchase new plant material. One efficient and sustainable approach to gardening is to reuse and recycle when you can, and where you can. A clump of daisies may look unkempt and overbearing at a garden entrance; however, when transplanted within the further confines of a garden plot, you may find that it adds a new dimension and appeal to an area that was formally a lackluster void.

Transplanting is a relatively easy process, yet there are certain considerations to make before the spading begins. Weather, water, location and plant material are all factors that can make or break the success of a transplant. Like a surgeon who prepares a patient for transplant operation; so, too, must a gardener. As gardeners, we are operating in a domain of living, breathing organisms that need to be cared for with adequate attention and proper procedure. Below are some helpful tips to ensure a successful garden transplant.

tree transplant

First, consider the season and weather. It is best to avoid transplanting during the hot, dry summer season all together. In some cases it cannot be avoided, so there are a few extra precautionary steps to take if you must transplant in summertime. The best time for transplanting is when plants begin their dormancy. Autumn is a preferred time of the year as the skies start to become overcast, and the weather begins to cool down. If it is a hot, sunny day however, it is best to wait until the early evening hours once the sun has begun setting.

Next, identify the desired area for the transplant. Watering the plants that are to be moved, the day before, is ideal for proper hydration. Again, consider the lighting, water availability, and wind force of the new location. Should all of these factors be conducive for the plants’ needs, then dig the required specs for the hole of the transplant. Keep in mind that the hole should be twice the size of the root ball. There is less concern about the depth of the planting hole compared to the width of it. Here in the Willamette Valley, it is ideal to encourage roots to grow deep within the soil. Therefore, you will often find the tops of the plants protruding from the surface level, by up to an inch. This high planting is done on purpose, and forces plant roots to grow deeper in search of water (a final layer of bark mulch around the plant will cover the exposed top, and complete the overall garden appearance).

Once the hole is dug, add the recommended amount of organic fertilizer and water to the new planting hole. The plant that is to be moved should already be pruned back and all spent, dead foliage should be removed from the plant. Time can be critical for transplanting, especially if it is a hot and sunny day. Never leave uprooted plants, or even potted plants, exposed to scorching sun, heat or wind when transplanting. Remove them just prior to planting. After uprooting the transplant, carefully transport it to the newly prepared hole and add more water. Slowly add the backfill, preferably a mixture of fresh soil with existing natural soil, to the hole. Firmly, but gently pack soil to the new plant site. Once again, water the entire plant in its new location. Another precaution to ensure the best results, and help quell any unavoidable shock that the plant may endure, is to shield the new transplant from direct sun light. Garden fabric or row cover cloth is ideal for blocking harsh sun rays.

The transplant(s) should be observed daily for the first two weeks, and should be watered every day. A wilting plant is a sign of either a need for water, too much sun, or both. Keep in mind that the larger the plant, the more water is needed for sufficient top growth requirements. Also, when watering, always water the plant base, not the flowers and leaves. As mentioned, the plant will most likely suffer from the stress of the move and should be monitored while it is establishing in its new location. It is normal for some leaves to yellow and shed soon after a transplant. Some plants are much more sensitive to the transplanting process than others. For example, Daphne’s typically do not survive a transplant. New leaves and buds during the next growth cycle are a sure sign of a successfully established transplant.

By following the given steps, and responding to the plant’s needs, will help ensure a successful transition and a happy garden. Best of luck, and may you and your garden thrive together, beautifully.

Transplanting in the Pacific Northwest

Tips for summer watering

As we get into the dry summer months watering is a key to keeping your lawn healthy and green. You want 1-2” of water a week on your lawn depending on how hot and dry it gets. You can put a tuna can in the middle of a zone and measure the amount of water you are putting down in one watering and then figure out how many watering’s it would take to get the required amount down over the span of a week. With the clay soils in our area, you may get areas that aren’t getting overlapping coverage and may start to show signs of browning. Once they appear, it will be already dry and will have a hard time accepting water. When clay soil begins to dry out, it tends to repel the water, so you will need to force feed those areas with short watering’s to get the soil to accept water and get the soil moisture depth back. If the lawn gets brown and starts to go dormant, it is very hard to get it to come back until we start to get regular rainfall. Aeration can help open up the lawn and help water penetration. This will help water, nutrients and air to get down to the root system.

You can call our main office to schedule your aeration or irrigation system assessment. Salem 503-364-8376   Portland – 503-639-0151

Drought Stress

Drought Stress




Plugged Nozzle

Plugged Nozzle

Well irrigated lawn

Well irrigated lawn

Well irrigated lawn

Well irrigated lawn

Planting Annuals 101

By Jamie Sloan, Account Manager

Once upon time, another lifetime ago, I worked for a retail nursery and assisted many perplexed and overwhelmed customers who would wander the endless rows of diverse colorful annual selections. Slight anxiety and complete uncertainty riddled the faces of even the most avid gardeners. Then there were other customers who would enter the store and know exactly what and how many plants they desired.  Upon further questioning, I would typically find that the latter group knew what they wanted after many seasons of trial and error. Much time and money was spent before perfecting the desired color, texture, and scale of their plantings. This blog is to assist in demystifying the process of annual selection and planting for gardeners and homeowners. The ultimate goal is to ensure the success of a beautiful thriving garden.

There are a few variables to consider before going out and purchasing the first thing that may catch your eye.  You can start by observing the lighting in the areas where you want to add some color splash.  Next, get to know the condition of the soil in these areas.  Is it compacted?  Is it clay or loam?  Will it need amending?  Climate is another factor. Is the annual bedding area on a windy slope or under the eaves of the house? Keep in mind that identical plants may perform differently in relation to the climate in which they are planted. It is important to note any discrepancies. Another question to ask is how are the planting areas going to be watered?  I would like to add that while overhead watering is convenient, it is also a great way to introduce more weeds, fungus and pests to your environment. Your plants also take a beating and a considerable amount of water can be wasted. From personal experience, drip systems and soaker hoses are much more effective and ideal for garden plant needs.

Now on to the fun stuff—color, color, color! Where do we begin? A great place to start is to write a list of favorite varieties and color schemes.  You can draw inspiration from artwork or existing designs around your area. Keep in mind that balance is key for a great garden display.  Next, you can start thinning your list by comparing the cultural needs of each plant.  This is a great way to start grouping different varieties as well.  Height differences are also important and effective in maintaining the aforementioned desire for balance.  Taller varieties can be strategically placed for a nice dramatic effect in your landscape.  Some people choose taller growing plants to disguise unsightly retaining walls or irrigation risers.  The good news is you have many options.

When it comes time to purchase annuals, choose plants that have vibrant leaf color and are more stocky than leggy.  Be careful of introducing pests into your landscape.  Gently shake the plants and notice if any bugs or insects fly or fall off.  Also, check under the leaves and along the stems for pests, larvae or eggs.  Aphids are notorious for traveling from nurseries to garden beds. Finally, check the roots and notice if the plants are heavily matted or root-bound. You want strong roots that aren’t cramped.

Now it’s time to plant your garden. Make sure to read and follow the spacing requirements for each variety.  It’s a good idea to remove any dead or damaged parts of the plant before planting. Pinch or score the root ball of each plant to encourage the roots to grow deep. Personally, I like to add a little organic fertilizer and water to each hole before placing the plants. Once each plant is in the ground I like to step back on occasion and look at the progress before proceeding.  This way I can make any necessary changes or movements as I go.

Annuals provide seasonal color and interest to any garden and work well in perennial beds.  The choices and varieties are endless, but if you begin with a list of favorites and compare that list to the cultural needs for your bedding areas, you’ll soon see the birth of a new garden vision. Knowledge is power, and the more you know the more flower power you’ll have.

A Holistic Approach to Rooting Out Plant Problems

By Henry Soto, Account Manager

In the line of work that I am in, it never fails that when visiting a friend or family member I am always asked about a plant that seems to not be doing well.  Either it looks sick or is just not growing the way it was expected to grow.  In these cases I want to give the shortest, quickest answer that would benefit the situation.  Obviously many plant problems would need further diagnosis, but understanding the basic needs can allows us to make adjustments that would be beneficial.

Keeping this in mind, I was always wondering if there was some little piece of information that I could share with others that would help them better understand what is happening.  Something that would give a basic understanding to what is going on.

As a result, I researched plant diseases and plant pests focusing on identification and treatment.  What I discovered is that there are so many problems that can occur with many possible remedies.  This tended to make things a bit more confusing and overwhelming!

In my research I took many workshops and visited many farms.  On one of my visits to an organic farm I encountered a farmer who had a different perspective on how we look at plant problems.  This perspective seemed to simplify what can be quite confusing.  Over a glass of wine while we waited for lunch to be served, he pulled out a white board and drew a diagram labeling 4 elements.  And in a few words explained that by bringing these 4 elements into balance, a plant will grow and thrive, being able to fend off most pests and diseases. He pointed out that all plant problems can be associated with one or more of the elements being out of balance.  One point he made that stuck out was that pests are merely agents of mercy and will attack a sick and struggling plant that is out of balance.  Kind of made me think of the saying ‘The right plant in the right place.’ This was it! All the problems we encounter are just symptoms of something else that is going on.  To get to the root of the problem is to find out which aspect is out of balance.

Plants have an amazing ability to defend themselves from pests and diseases.  When all of the plants requirements are met and in balance, plants can defend themselves by altering the chemicals of their leaves making them unappealing or toxic.


The 4 elements that he was referring to are: Air, Water, light (sun) & minerals (earth). Most plant problems can be attributed to one or more of these areas being out of balance. Understanding the role each of these elements plays is the basis for being able to prevent and remedy problems.

All plants need water for rigidity and to facilitate nutrient movement. Too much or too little will lead to numerous problems.

Plants breathe, taking in both carbon dioxide and oxygen.  Each are used differently by plants.  Just keep in mind that respiration is essential so good air flow through the plant is key for a healthy plant.

Light is needed for photosynthesis.  Plants use different spectrums of light for different processes.  The sun is key for providing the full spectrum.  Different plants can take different intensities of the sun.  While some plants can take the full intensity of the sun, others can’t and thrive off filtered light.

Minerals are used by plants in all their processes. These can be broken down into macro and micro nutrients.  Macro refers to nutrients that are used in large amounts while micro nutrients are used in trace amounts.  These trace nutrients are essential for plants to generate their own defense.  Most soils will contain a wide array of nutrients, but can also be deficient in certain nutrients.  Simple soil tests can give a snap shot of what nutrients are in the soil and at what concentrations.

Understanding these four elements and how they are used, will help in identifying what could be causing our problem. Taking these elements into consideration, we must also know what is normal for a particular plant.  A balanced environment for one plant will not necessarily be the same for another plant. Having some basic information about the plant in question, is the starting point in determining if one or more of these elements are out of balance.

Although this is not a way to identify a specific problem, it is a guide that will help us to determine what is causing the problem.  When we can identify when one of these elements is out of balance, we are able to take steps to bring the plant back into balance and will often head off many potential problems.


Sustainable Farming in Your Kids Aquarium?

By: Walker Leiser

Accredited Organic Landcare Practitioner, Certified Permaculture Designer

You may have read before, I’m a bit of a nut about closed loop systems.  Previously, I blogged about the relationship between mushrooms and your landscape plants and the nutrient cycling they provide for each other.  Now I’m looking at the relationship between the fish in your kids aquarium and the lettuce we eat at our table.

Welcome to AQUAPONICS.  Aquaponics is the child of 1) Hydroponics; the growing of plants without soil, and 2) Aquaculture; the farming of fish.  I fell in love with this “king of elegant” closed loop system. This chart below describes it quite succinctly.

How Aquaponics Works

Click here for the website.

I love this because this loop has the potential to produce far more protein and vegetables in a small area and a sustainable manner than nearly every other “technology” out there.

  • Tilapia are commonly used in this system because of their ability to grow quickly and with little heath implications in poor water conditions.
  • The water recirculated has a nearly 95% retention rate, (meaning over given period of time only 5% of the water is lost in the process) This makes is perfect for regions with poor water conditions
  • Through the use of simple solar power, the system uses very little outside energy.  Feed is typically given to fish in commercial applications but duck weed and worms can be grown as part of the system to offset feed inputs.

I have had one of these in my back yard for about 5 years.  It is a reconfigured model based on Travis Hugey’s Barrelponics. Sometimes it even works (the pump went out twice – that’s a weakness of the system). I have actually produced two viable crops from this system, a tomato crop in summer and a cucumber crop in spring.  For the rest of the time it has lain “fallow”.




So, one day I got this idea.  I should redesign this aquaponic thing, come in from the greenhouse and spend some time with my kids while showing them what I’m interested in (they say you’re supposed to do that to be a good dad right?). So, when a buddy gave me an aerogarden when he moved out of his house and I had no real use for it (I grow herbs in my yard year round, I don’t need to loose the counter space the areogarden takes up) a design popped into my head. Where do you go when you have an idea for a project and a $200 budget? Craigslist!

Thank you Craigslist.  I found a nice little 10 gallon aquarium replete with a small community of fish, the filter and the heater for $40. This is where I would raise the fish.  The aeraogarden would serve as the growbed and light source.  I needed an outflow from the aerogarden and the only way I figured I could do it would be to drill a hole right through it.  I grabbed a drill and closed my eyes hoping I wouldn’t hit any circuitry but really, for my design, I only needed a container and a light, so if the electronics didn’t work no big deal really.  I got lucky and didn’t hit anything.  I was able to install a small outflow pipe from the main reservoir of the areogarden.  Through the magic of the internet, I learned how a bell siphon works and made my own out of a beer stopper, a stand pipe, the top quarter of a plastic bottle with the lid on and a hole in it, and a small piece of drip tubing from the shed.  I purchased a cheap little pump (total bill now about $60).


I got it up and running and grew a batch of basil so I decided it was ready for its originally intended destination.   I took it to my kids’ school to show them how they can do it.  Now it is in the corner of the classroom going through its first nutrient cycling, (the above picture shows the basic set up.  It is missing the growing media, which in this case will be an expanded clay product that holds moisture and provides lots of surface area for the bacteria to grow on.  I do this with washed gravel at home and it works quite well.   I’ll try to let you know how it goes.



Sowing Seeds

Sowing Seeds for Good Health

By Jamie Sloan, Account Manager

It’s that time of year again in the mid-Willamette Valley to start thinking and planning for your edible garden crops. Yay!  There are a few factors to consider when getting started:  garden location, soil, sunlight and crop choices.

It is best to place a garden in a space that will be convenient to plant, care for, and harvest. You will also need to protect the garden site from invading insects or animals.  When considering a location the first thing to do is select for sunlight. An open, south-facing, gradual slope is best, but at least look for a shade-free place. All vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sunshine. Less will cause the plants to be weak and spindly no matter how much care you give them.

Place your garden where it will be easy to care for, near the kitchen is always nice!  If your space is limited, container gardening is recommended.  Growing tomatoes and peppers is fairly easy this way.  Carrots, radishes, parsley, herbs and lettuce are also easy to grow in containers.

Next, get to know your soil.  An indication of the general fertility of your garden soil is its natural vegetation. The healthier the weeds or grass growing on the site, the better the soil will be for vegetables. Light tilling or no-till gardening are recommended to maintain the integrity of soil structure.  Also, avoid tilling when soil is wet, or the soil will become compacted and cloddy.

Select viable seeds from a trustworthy source.  I recommended using organic and heirloom seeds for home garden edibles.  Timing is another important factor to consider and it can be critical when sowing seeds indoors.  The safe rule-of-thumb for outdoor planting/ transplanting is using the date of Mother’s Day as your outdoor planting date.  This year May 11, 2014 is the checkered flag date to begin planting outdoors.  There are many charts available on-line and also using the OSU Master Gardeners Ext. site is highly recommended for learning specific crop sow dates.  Knowing your USDA Zone is also crucial to seed sowing and planting.  The Salem region is USDA Zone 8a, Portland is 8b.

Sowing indoors requires a little knowledge for a successful harvest. Produce like the brassicas:  broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi all require a month to six weeks indoors under lights before they go outside, which is safe about a month before final frost (5/11/14).

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants each need six to eight weeks under lights before transplanting, when all frost danger is past.  The big-seeded sorts like pumpkins, squash, melons and cucumbers, which only need a couple of weeks indoors or direct sow around your frost date.  Inside, these can be started in mid-May or so.

Some direct sow crops you may consider because they’re so easy include:  salad greens (lettuce, arugula and such), peas (as soon as the soil can be worked), and spinach (either late fall for an extra-early crop, or very early spring), chard, broccoli, beets and other root crops, kales and collards, dill, and beans.  Basil and parsley are two other crop staples:  parsley with the early stuff, basil with the later.

The options are limitless and so, too, is the assistance and guidance available for planting an edible garden.  There is inexplicable joy knowing what you are eating, where and how it was grown.  That joy is bundled with the extra satisfaction of reaping what you sow for good health, by your own hands.  Happy Gardening!

Put a little PERM Culture in your Garden

Many people have heard of perma-culture and many people are hard pressed to define it clearly.  That is because if you talk to 5 different practitioners, you may get 5 different definitions.  Permaculture has many different components, and you can employ just a few and really change the way you garden. I am going to explore just a few basic concepts from permaculture:hammock

  •  Every problem can be a solution
  • Everything has multiple functions

And finally my favorite:


Every problem can be a solution – take for example, you have too many Aphids on your roses.  If you look at this from a different perspective then you may be able to see that “you don’t have an aphid problem, you just don’t have a lady bug solution yet.


“I have too much slope in my garden” or “I have terrible drainage in my lawn” – you may have a great opportunity to capture and store rainwater in the landscape.

forest garden

Everything has multiple functions – trees can provide shade, fruit, and structure for vine plants.  Legumes (e.g. beans) provide food, weed suppression, biomass, water retention and soil protection.


~Walker Leiser, Certified Permaculture Designer

Sustainable Landscape Consultant

DeSantis Landscapes