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

Don’t Kick that Mushroom

Have you ever kicked a mushroom in your lawn, as an adult :) ? Why? Is it because when you were a kid you were told mushrooms were poisonous and would kill you so you decided to personally rid the world (or at least your yard) of the evil mushroom before it lulls you into eating it so it could deal its mortal blow?  Or, maybe it was/is just fun!

Well, read on and you might change your mind.

Mushrooms and mycorrhizae are actually really good for your soil and plants. Yes they can break down dying trees in your landscape, but if a mushroom can get to a tree, the tree was on its way out anyway. Some mushrooms are there to help plants live happier, healthier lives.  In the image below, you can see mycorrhizae (myco – fungus, rhizae – rhiosospere or root zone), that have inserted themselves into the ends of the pine saplings roots.myco  The tree exudes sugars and chemicals that tell the mycorrhizae to “go forth and collect nutrients” that will specifically aid the tree in its growth.  If this relationship didn’t exist, the tree would only have access to the nutrients its own roots could gather (you can see a color change in this photo where the tree roots are further away from the root zone, the mycorrhizae have extended outward.)  As the needs of the tree changes, the sugars it exudes and the nutrients the fungus brings to it will change also. The mushroom gets the sugars, the tree grows better.


Actually, there are lots of mushrooms types.  The one pictured below is an Amanita.  This one is highly toxic.  But it is soooo beautiful!  If you don’t have to remove it (dogs and infants could be a problem) then don’t.


red shroom







I have children and I know how nerve racking it can be to let the little ones out in to the big scary world, I also understand how fast they can move and how they are drawn to colors.  If you kicked this mushroom, we wouldn’t blame you, but perhaps you could consider this an opportunity for a lesson.  Fascinate your children by teaching them how to make spore prints, or borrow a mushroom guidebook from the library, or go mushroom hunting. We have mushrooms growing here almost year round, it is the middle of January as I write this and I just went on a hunt two weeks ago. These types of mushroom expeditions are a free chance to teach your children (and you!)  how to look but not taste.


~Walker Leiser, Certified Permaculture Designer

Sustainable Landscape Consultant

DeSantis Landscapes

Wildlife Gardening

For everyone that has a garden, there is typically a reason or and intention behind its creation; and for every person, there is a unique idea for their garden choices and plant selections.  Some may build a garden for aesthetic and beauty.  Some may create a garden as a great hobby and others may even have a multifaceted intention, which includes creating a space for diverse wildlife.  Observing wildlife in the garden can be as fascinating and attractive as the garden display and performance itself.   Attracting wildlife to your gardens and landscape can be as easy as offering a few selective plants in your flowering beds; or you can broaden the scope of diversity by offering other necessities, which also increases good environmental stewardship.  Of course, the word wildlife is a broad term that may bring to mind lions, tigers and bears…oh my!  Yet, the diversity of wildlife you can attract in your landscape is specific to your environment. wildlife2

A very in depth and regionally specific source of information for the Pacific Northwest is a book entitled: Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link.  This book is a “must have” in your collection of guides for introducing a more wildlife friendly environment in your own backyard.  This book explains the basics like providing the necessities for a wildlife habitat:  food, water, space and shelter.  The plants, trees and shrubs we choose for our landscapes may provide the aforementioned necessities for an entire community of animals.  You can, however, design your yard and space to suit the needs of specific wildlife in your region.  The book offers valuable comprehensive lists of plant material and it also describes their habitat and wildlife benefits.   There are also tips on how to start from the scratch, so you don’t have to be a landscape architect to implement positive change in your landscape.

wildWith the ever increasing stressful demands that are placed on our environment, we have the shared resources, knowledge and ability that can guide us to being better stewards for our planet… we can give back to nature by providing a better habitat for life.   The power of a garden can be highly underestimated.  It has the potential improve our environment, our health and wellbeing and our diverse community.  I highly recommend the book, Landscape for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest and have no doubt that you’ll enjoy the read and the many ideas that it will help generate for your specific needs and desires.  Happy Gardening!

~Jamie Sloan

Account Manager

DeSantis Landscapes

The Giving Garden

In this fast paced hectic world there seems to be less time and less places for some of us to experience moments of peace and serenity.  We all have our ways, strategies and secrets to personal success; but we don’t always enjoy and relish those accomplishments in a reflective space.  I know of some people who awaken before the sunrise to steal an hour or so of quiet time.  Before the blowers start blowing and the mowers start mowing, they turn the ringers off and the alarms are hushed.  This is so they can maintain those precious minutes in total silence.  These moments help to prepare them for their day in a patient, serene and focused manner.  I wish I was a morning person so I, too, could enjoy the beginnings of my days in such a pleasant state of mind.   However, I am not- and after many years of being a night owl I have found that changing my ways takes a certain amount of fortitude and discipline that I have yet to master.  Yet, the more time moves on the more I realize that a little change for the positive goes a long way throughout any given day.

Now what does any of this have to do with landscaping, you may ask?  Well, quite a bit really.  See, I have found that I can tap into that place of calmness and serenity almost any time of the day in a garden.  It doesn’t have to be my personal garden and it usually isn’t.  I have worked as a gardener in hundreds of plots and landscapes over the years and I am always aware of the peace that resides within, when I am there.   When I owned my gardening company in Colorado, I would encourage my clients to utilize their garden and outdoors spaces for their sanity.  I’d encourage them to walk around and smell the flowers, recognize growth and observe the little things that typically go unnoticed.  Indeed, gardens are a metaphor for life.  They require attention, care and a little assistance in order to perform at their best.  In return, they give joy through bloom and provide a place for the smallest and largest beings to thrive.  Since most of us don’t have a Zen garden, we have to utilize the spaces we have to nurture and to be nurtured.  I continuously encourage others to walk amongst the living and breathe deep the bounty that is offered in color, texture, beauty and constant change.  Be adventurous and find gardens and landscapes that are open to the public.  Observe, notice and breathe in what the gardens give.  I am quite certain that you too will find peace, even if only for a moment.

~Jamie Sloan

Account Manager

DeSantis Landscapes

The Benefits of Pests

Imagine sitting outside on a warm day, enjoying a nice glass of lemonade and something buzzes past your head and … Swat! It’s dead!   How many times have an insect or bug crossed your path and some unknown blinding force has compelled you to kill it?  beesI think it is safe to say that most of us have reacted to flying and crawling creatures at some time in this manner.  Whether this reaction is brought on by some sense of irrational fear or imagined horror story that the creature is going to swallow us whole, it has become quite common for humans to kill creatures that disturb our immediate environment.  When these creatures bug us or invade what we deem as valuable then we consider them a pest.  This is not their intention; they are just trying to survive like the rest of us, in a very competitive world.

I grew up with the appreciation of all creatures great and small.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve killed my fair share of mosquitoes, roaches and flies.  My justification like many others is I am allergic to the mosquitoes, roaches are gross and flies totally annoy me.  This blog is not intended as a guilt trip or to reprimand you because you kill spiders and ants.  My point is to broaden the perception of these creatures that are vastly deemed as expendable and worthless.  Many of the buzzing, flying and crawling critters have a very important job to do for the environment.  Some examples:   bees and butterflies pollinate and are food makers, dung beetles compost, ants and termites recycle, silk moths make silk and worms filter and amend the soil.  But the question then arises “Are they pests or are they beneficial?”  Well it depends.  Termites in a house can cause extensive damage, but termites in a forest contribute to the health of the forest.  A bee sting can hurt temporarily or could even kill a person who is extremely allergic; however as pollinators they are the cause for much of our natural food production.dung

In conclusion, perhaps we should view these little ones with a greater perspective and not take their annoying ways personally; because, generally speaking there are many more insects doing good than there are insects bugging us.  So, think twice before you deem to kill and remember that they are actually here to perpetuate and benefit life.

~Jamie Sloan

Account Manager

DeSantis Landscapes