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Fall gardening tasks

Posted on October 12th, 2012 by Andy

Crimson clover. Consider planting a cover crop to suppress weeds and add nutrients to your garden over the winter. Photo courtesy of shannonm75 via Creative Commons License.

After a terrific stretch of sunny, dry days over the past several weeks, the overcast skies are a reminder that it’s time to get cracking on fall tasks in the garden. On my to-do list this week: harvest the remaining ripe tomatoes, pick ripe huckleberries and start putting the vegetable garden to bed. Here are some other chores to consider this fall:

1. Plant trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers and more. Read our previous post for tips on how to plant trees properly.

2. Weed, weed and weed.

3. Putting the vegetable garden to bed, unless of course you’ve planted winter crops. If not, consider planting a cover crop such as crimson clover to suppress weeds over the winter and improve your soil.

3. Time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Get the earliest bloomers into the ground first: cocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. The bulbs will need need several months of winter chill to produce good springtime blooms.

4. Remove dead and diseased leaves, plants and other messes from around your landscape to reduce diseases next year. Deadhead flowers.

5. Continue to plant or transplant perennials, shrubs and trees. Winter months provide ideal conditions for planting new shrubs and trees.

6. Plant garlic for harvest in the spring.

7. Turn off irrigation system once the rains come.

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To peat or not to peat

Posted on October 10th, 2012 by Andy

Peat bog. Photo courtesy of peupleloup via Creative Commons License.

The New York Times recently covered the controversy brewing in Great Britian over the use of peat in gardening. As the newspaper reports, the British government drew some fierce criticism from both sides after it announced plans to gradually eliminate peat from all gardening products. Gardeners love the stuff (it’s spongy, airy, improves soil structure, holds water without being soggy; and it is widely used in potting soils, planting mixes and as a soil amendment). But environmental critics say the practice of harvesting peat isn’t sustainable. Peat “is scraped off the tops of centuries-old bogs, which are vital ecosystems that also serve as natural stores of carbon, just like rain forests,” the Times reports.

Most of the peat used in the U.S. comes from Canada. Its use is no less controversial here, though there doesn’t seem to be any effort afoot to ban the product.

At Western Washington University, professor Linda Chalker-Scott makes the argument for why peat moss isn’t a sustainable resource. She writes that peatlands play an important role in the environment. Like wetlands, she says, peatland systems store and help purify water; and they’re the single largest terrestrial store of carbon. While natural, peat can often take centuries to replace.

Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture, however, suggests that it’s OK, if you use it conservatively. The department recommends using peat for starting seeds and cuttings because it minimizes disease problems. But it says it’s a better idea to turn to compost and manure for larger quantities of organic matter in your garden.

Chalker-Scott writes that there are a number of suitable substitutes for peat. Compost is the best known substitute. Coir, or coconut dust, is also another suitable alternative, according to Oregon State University. Coconut “peat” is usually the short fibers of the coconut husk; the longer fibers are removed and used for doormats, brushes and ropes; the short fibers often end up in horticulture products. According to OSU, researchers at Auburn University and University of Arkansas compared peat and coir as soil amendments for gardening and found that coir performed as good as peat. Coir can hold moisture and wet, similar to peat.

 

 

 

 

 

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Fall tree planting

Posted on September 26th, 2012 by Andy

The cooler weather in Seattle means it’s time to plant trees! Fall is a great time to do this, because the weather is much cooler and this allows trees and plants to establish new roots rather than withering in dry, summer conditions.

Planting a tree seems easy enough. Dig a hole, plop the tree in, cover with dirt, water, and voila!  That’s mostly right, but there are some steps that you can take to ensure that tree is planted properly and gets off to a great start.

1. Call before you dig! Check to make sure you’re not digging into underground lines. Call 1-800-424-5555 for utility location services. Do it at least 2 days prior to digging.

2. Dig the planting hole only as deep as the root system and at least twice as wide. It is important to make the hole wide, as new roots will expand more quickly into loose soil. If the tree is planted too deep, new roots may not develop due to lack of oxygen.

3. With balled or burlap-wrapped tree, remove all wire baskets, twine, and burlap from the root ball. Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., a horticulturalist and associate professor with Washington State University argues that it’s much better for tree growth if you actually disturb the root ball. Read more of her explanation in this paper, which lists step-by-step instructions for planting a ball or burlapped tree. “The most important reason to disturb the root ball of a balled and burlapped tree is to inspect the root system,” she writes, adding: “The circling, girdling, kinked, and hooked root systems often found in containerized plants occur frequently with B&B materials, too.”

4. Make sure the tree is at the proper depth. Better to plant the tree slightly high, about 1-2 inches above the base of the trunk flare, than it plant it at or below the growing level. This allows for some settling.

5. Backfill with native soil (the soil you dug out of the hole). Don’t use any type of soil amendment, advises WSU professor Linda Chalker-Scott in this paper. She says adding soil amendments to the planting hole may help it grow vigorously in the first few years, but notes the organic matter eventually decomposes and you may be left with a sunken hole. She writes:

Amended backfill has markedly different characteristics than surrounding native soil; it is more porous and water will wick away to the finer-textured native soil. In the summer, moisture within the planting hole will be depleted by the plant but not replaced by water held more tightly in the native soil. This results in water stress to the plant unless the planting hole is kept irrigated, a costly and often unrealistic practice. During wet seasons water will move quickly through the
amended soil only to be held back by the more slowly draining native soil.

6. Mulch the planting area with organic mulch. Lay about 2-4 inches. This will help keep a buffer between the trunk and the mulch to prevent disease. Mulch also helps hold moisture and moderate soil temperatures.

7. Water. Keep it moist and well-watered for the first growing season, but don’t overdo it. Most likely, Seattle’s fall and winter rains will do your work for you.

References:

The Myth of Soil Amendments: “When transplanting trees or shrubs into landscapes, amend the backfill soil with organic matter.”

New tree planting, city of Seattle website.

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In season: Italian plums

Posted on September 20th, 2012 by Andy

There are so many good fruits ripening on trees about this time of year. Some trees are bursting with a variety of apples. Others are bending to the weight of tantalizing plums. My neighbor has an Italian plum tree whose many branches hang over the fence into my backyard, providing me with a bounty of the tart-sweet fruits. The fruits at the top of the tree have ripened first, but the lower branches are bearing fruit ready for the picking.

Italian plums are terrific for canning, freezing or for making into jams and jellies. My son and I like to pick them and eat them fresh off the tree.

The European varieties are usually blue or purple. They have a firmer texture, milder flavor, and are sometimes tart so they’re ideal candidates for baking. They’re dark blue when ripe, with yellow flesh that separates easily from the pit.

Here’s a guide to preserving plums and prunes.

If you have a fruit tree that is bearing more fruit than you can handle, consider contacting one of the fruit-picking services in the city, like City Harvest. These groups help homeowners pick their bounty, reserving much of it for donation to local food banks.

To learn more about growing fruits in western Washington, consult Washington State University Extension’s many publications on this topic.

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Fall plant sales

Posted on September 19th, 2012 by Andy

Fall is a great time to get planting, and there are plenty of plant sales happening this month to get you started.

The Central Puget Sound chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society is holding a native plant sale this Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, from 10 AM to 4 PM at Magnuson Park in Seattle. You can find a tentative list of plants, bulbs and seeds for sale here.

The King County Iris Society is having its beardless iris sale this Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sale is across from Crossroads Bellevue, NE 8th & 156th Ave. NE.

For gardeners in Tacoma, the Seymour Conservancy is holding its fall plant sale this Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012,  at Pt. Defiance Greenhouses. Pick up hardy herbs, garden mums, perennials & houseplants. The sale is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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An inch of water per week

Posted on September 6th, 2012 by Andy

1 inch per week watering

Seattle was recently on one of the driest streaks in decades. Not a drop of rain for 50 straight days, though just one day shy of the record 51 dry days set in 1951.

For gardeners and homeowners, a dry spell means plants and lawns may need a little extra TLC this summer. Even plants that are well-established and drought-tolerant still may need a bit of a drink to help them get through the extra dry spell. We earlier blogged about how to care for lawns during dry weather. When you water your lawn and landscapes, do it in the early morning to avoid losing water to evaporation. It’s better to water deeply (about one inch per week) than to water too often, too little. Deep watering is better for plant health than frequent shallow watering. Why? Light applications of water promote lush growth but shallow grass roots. Shallow-rooted turf grass undergo more stress in dry conditions.

So, how much is an inch of water a week? Experts say this amounts to roughly six gallons per square yard per week. One crude but easy way to figure out how long you need to water to get one inch a week: scatter five empty tuna cans or other containers throughout your lawn. Turn on your sprinkler system and let it run for 30 minutes. Measure the depth of water in those cans, add the amounts together and divide by 5 (or the number of cans you end up using). You’ll end up with the average amount of water you get when you have the sprinkler on for 30 minutes. Once you know the depth of wet soil, you can calculate how long you need to run your sprinkler.

Installing a smart controller on your sprinkler system is an even better way to control the amount of water your lawn or landscape beds need.

The EPA provides a good tipsheet with other tips on saving water for outdoor use, which we’ve summarized below.

1. Know how much water your landscape actually needs before you set your sprinkler. Your local utility can offer recommendations for how much water certain plants need in your region and best times to water. Generally, it’s best to water lawns and landscapes in the early morning and late evening because significant amounts of water can be lost due to evaporation during the heat of the day.

2. Look for the label: If your system uses a clock timer, consider upgrading to a WaterSense labeled controller. WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers act like a thermostat for your lawn, using local weather data to determine when and how much to water, reducing waste and improving plant health.

3. Tune up your system: Inspect irrigation systems and check for leaks and broken or clogged sprinkler heads. Fix sprinkler heads that are broken or spraying on the sidewalk, street, or driveway.

4. Play zone defense: When planting, assign areas of your landscape different hydrozones depending on sun/shade exposure, soil and plant types, and type of sprinklers, then adjust your irrigation system or watering schedule based on those zones’ specific needs. This helps you avoid overwatering some areas or underwatering others.

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Irrigation Association member

Posted on September 1st, 2012 by Andy

Ecoyards is now a member of the Irrigation Association. It’s a cool organization of irrigation professionals who are committed to promoting efficient irrigation and other water-saving efforts.

To read more about ways you can reduce water use in your landscape, read some of our previous blog posts on upgrading your sprinkler system, how to repair and maintain your sprinkler system, and how to conserve water.

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Ripening green tomatoes

Posted on August 30th, 2012 by Andy

Waiting for green tomatoes to ripen. Photos by Ecoyards.

Puget Sound gardeners are a patient lot, especially when it comes to tomatoes. We plan our tomato harvest in the spring, look forward to late May when we can set the plants in soil, and then we feed, water and coddle them through the summer months, hoping for that bumper crop of juicy, red tomatoes.

In many years, we wait and wait and wait for those green tomatoes to ripen on the vine. It’s a phenomenon that seems particular to our region. By late August, depending on how many warm, sunny days we’ve had, our tomato plants may be bursting with red fruit or bursting with some red tomatoes but mostly green ones. Fried green tomatoes may be OK for some, but what to do if you’d rather enjoy your tomatoes plump, red and juicy as Nature intended?

Tomato experts say two things determine whether tomatoes ripen and change color: temperature and the presence of a naturally occurring hormone called “ethylene.” It might surprise you that tomatoes won’t produce the pigment that allows them to turn red, when temperatures are above 85 degrees. According to horticulturists at Purdue University, extended periods of extreme heat can actually cause tomatoes to stop ripening, instead turning yellowish orange or yellowish green.
Here are some ways to get a better redder crop of tomatoes:

– Don’t panic yet. There’s still hope through the month of September and October for those tomatoes to ripen. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the fall frost date in Seattle starts around Nov. 17. Actually, cooler temperatures in September may actually help ripen tomatoes.

– Triage. If you have blossoms or young green fruit around this time, chances are they’re not likely to make it in the next several weeks. Remove those flowers and young fruit, and give the other tomatoes on the vine a fighting chance.

– Prune your plants, but don’t give it a complete crewcut. If you see new young shoots, clip them back. Don’t prune too many fully-formed leaves because they provide the fruit with nutrients. Clipping some of the younger shoots helps redirect the plant’s energy into helping the other tomatoes ripen.

– Cut the plants root system. The experts at Washington State University Extension say: “A stressed plant will hurry to produce offspring before it dies. One way to stress a plant is to cut its root system. Push a shovel into the soil halfway around the plant, about 8 to 12 inches from the base.”

– Cover the tomato plants with plastic, or a floating row cover.

– Pick tomatoes before the frost hits and ripen them indoors. Don’t rip off the stems; leave at least a short bit of stem. Ripping the stems from the fruit may open them to decay. Discard blemished fruit. Pick only the ones with glossy green coloring and have reached near maturity, at least 3/4 their full size. You can wrap them in newspaper and put them in a box out of direct sunlight, which could take 2-4 weeks to ripen. Check them frequently to make sure they haven’t spoiled. Put them in a paper bag with an apple or banana, since this fruits give off ethylene gas that encourages the tomato to ripen.

– Some suggest pulling the entire plant and hanging it upside in a cool dark location, such as a garage or basement. Harvest the tomatoes as they ripen.

– Mark this down for next year: pick and plant the biggest, healthiest plant you can find (starts rather than seeds), and don’t set them out until at least mid-May when the soil is nice and warm (or so you hope).

– Pick tomatoes with shorter growing seasons, such as cherry tomatoes, ‘Early Girl’, Sungold and Early Cascade. Find other good tomato varieties for this region.

– Plant tomato plants as deep as you can. Plant them at least 8 inches deep, even if it means stripping the bottom leaves to do so. This encourages root growth. Advice from the WSU’s Extension: dig a trench, rather than a hole; lay the tomato plant on its side and bury part of the stem. Those new roots will form along that stem, and will be in warmer topsoil.

– Black plastic (or red or whatever color you like) helps warm the soil even further.

References:

“Outwitting the picky tomato plant,” Washington State University

“Ripening that huge crop of green tomatoes,” Colorado State University

 

 

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Upgrade your sprinkler system

Posted on August 27th, 2012 by Andy

Eco-conscious homeowners have been switching to energy-efficient dishwashers, light bulbs, and washers and dryers to save water and money. It’s now time to consider sprinkler irrigation upgrades. New sprinkler technology has made it easy to save water, and many cities including Seattle offer rebates or other incentives for those who upgrade to energy-saving water devices.

We explain some of the sprinkler upgrades you can undertake:

Rotary nozzle from Rain Bird.

Consider replacing old sprinkler heads, especially those 10 years or older. New sprinkler heads are much more efficient at delivering water where it’s needed. These heads have built-in pressure regulators to minimize water loss through misting or fogging from excess pressure.  Heads can also be fitted with check valves to eliminate low-head drainage. The city of Seattle and other utilities participating in the Saving Water Conservation offers a $10 rebate per sprinkler head with pressure regulation and/or check valves on heads with drainage problems.

Convert to high-efficiency rotating nozzles.These multi-stream nozzles save up to 20 percent less water than traditional spray nozzles. They distribute water more slowly and uniformly. The water is less likely to mist and reduces runoff into sidewalks and streets. The city of Seattle and other utilities participating in the Saving Water Conservation offers a $3 rebate per nozzle.

Drip system conversions. Convert certain areas of your landscapes, such as a plant beds and vegetable gardens to a drip irrigation system. These system slowly drip water directly into the soil, preventing evaporation and diseases that could result from allowing too much moisture to get on foliage and fruit. The city of Seattle and other utilities participating in the Saving Water Conservation offers a $0.30 rebate per square foot of landscape bed irrigation with drip.

Rain Bird Smart Irrigation Controller.

Install a smart irrigation controller. These weather-based smart controllers allow you to set how often and how much you water certain areas of your lawn or landscape. Smart irrigation technology senses weather changes and adjusts the irrigation accordingly. If it rains, it stops watering. If it’s hotter or the soil is drier than usual, the controller will increase watering. The controllers do all the work, and they are a much more efficient and sophisticated way to reduce outdoor water use. Studies show that weather-based irrigation technology help reduce outdoor water use anywhere from 15 to 30 percent, depending on the type of controller and where it was used.

Tune up and maintain your existing sprinkler system every year. Cap sprinkler heads that you no longer need (i.e. in an area where a patio was installed). Regularly check your system to make sure none of the sprinkler heads are broken or leaking. Fix areas where you have sprinkler overspray; where water is getting to areas that don’t need to be watered like your sidewalk!

Contact us at (206)-770-7879 or email us for a consultation if you are interested in upgrading your sprinkler system.

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Sprinkler repair and tune-up

Posted on August 24th, 2012 by Andy

Regular tune-ups and cleaning can extend the life of your sprinkler heads. Photo by Ecoyards.

Does your sprinkler system need a tune-up? Does it leak, spray water where it shouldn’t, spit out air, or has simply stopped working? Just like a water heater, furnace or other appliance in your home, sprinkler systems need regular tune-ups to keep them working properly. If you inspect your system regularly, you can catch problems early. Ecoyards can help you with Seattle irrigation repairs.

Clogged sprinklers. Dirt and debris can clog sprinklers and may affect your sprinkler’s performance.

Leaky sprinklers. Sprinklers can leak when a head or valve is cracked, damaged or not working properly. Seals also wear out over time and need to be replaced. Leaks can lead to loss of pressure of your overall sprinkler system, and this can result in overly dry or over-saturated spots in your lawn or landscape. Plants and grass, over time, can also grow and cover a sprinkler head, blocking it from functioning properly.

Sprinklers that overspray. This is a common problem we see: sprinklers that spray water properly but not in the right area. You may be spraying a sidewalk, driveway or path rather than grass or plants. If your sprinkler isn’t spraying water where it needs to, it’s time to check it. You may need to reposition it, adjust the arc and radius of your sprinkler, or make some other sprinkler repair. Sometimes though, the initial sprinkler design may be what’s causing the problem, and you may deuced to replace your system.

Pipe leaks. One sign of possible pipe leaks underground is when you have water ponding in certain areas, or if you’re experiencing low pressure in the system. It may take a little detective work to figure where the leak is, but start by looking for areas that are much greener than others. Large leaks below ground will require some digging. You’ll need to dig up the area and repair or replace the pipe.

Reference: Basic repairs and Maintenance for Home Landscape Systems.

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