• Spring Fever Remedies

    April 01, 2016

    This week a very serious affliction, spring fever, spread through PacNW offices like wildfire. No joke.

    Padilla Bay Nature Trail

    On days like these play hooky outdoors to get beyond the spring fever.

    Our long lost friend, that fiery yellow orb named Sun, reappeared in crystal-blue skies following a winter sulking behind dense clouds, where it had endured a winter of solitary cosmic cabin fever. Cheering Sun‘s return, cherries, pears, currants and maples burst into bloom and leaf. Perennials shot through the soil, rising several inches each day toward Sun‘s warm embrace.

    Ribes in bloom by Slough Foods in Edison

    On warm spring evenings, following a long hike, relaxing outdoors with friends, good food, flora & fauna may be the perfect ending to a gorgeous spring fever hooky day. This Ribes, behind Slough Food in Edison, WA is a bright pop of color & attracts lots of hummingbirds right to your table-with-a-view

    Bees are buzzing. Frogs are ribbeting. Birds are singing their songs of sex and love from pre-dawn hours until well past sunset. And, under Sun‘s rays, the air is warm — almost hot — chilled only when a remnant of winter’s chill blows by or a wispy cloud briefly obscures that golden ball in the sky. All of this spreads spring fever fast.

    Duck sex

    Let’s get it on! Ducks making babies in the wet muck of a Skagit Valley slough.

    Spring fever symptoms may include:

    • Inability to sit at a desk during daylight hours
    • Desire to touch the earth
    • Desperate digging through closets and handbags for last season’s hats, sunglasses & sandals

    If you have any of these symptoms, gardening is, of course, a great way to find relief. And if that doesn’t do it, sometimes giving in during the day and playing hooky works for us. (We do not recommend hooky if it’ll get you in trouble at school, home or fired from a job. We do recommend businesses, families and schools recognize and embrace the concept of getting people out in nature as a means of learning, growing and healing.)

    Earlier this week, after working at our desks from before sunup, we took off for a hike in nearby Skagit Valley for some much needed spring fever relief where we were rejuvenated by connecting with spring’s beautiful, healing renewal.

    Great Blue Heron in Padilla Bay Slough

    Great Blue Herons remind us to take it slow, touch nature & be beautiful!

    Did the hike eradicate our spring fever? Maybe for the moment. Fortunately, nature will always welcome us back for another shot of healing goodness.

    No joke.

  • Plant Profile: Akebia Quinata

    March 25, 2016

    One of our favorite vines for PacNW gardens is Akebia quinata, also commonly known as the chocolate vine or vanilla vine. This beautiful, hardy plant won’t serve up your favorite ice cream flavors, but does provide solutions to a number of garden challenges. Plus, when it blooms, it fills the garden with tasty scents — more like nutmeg than chocolate or vanilla to our olfactory senses, but hey, that’s sweet too! And, it might just offer up some sugary-sweet fruit as well.

    Akebia flowers in bloom

    Akebia quinata flowers form in grape-like clusters, dripping from a tall arbor in early spring.

    This plant is a great climber for sunny or shady spots. Not only will it tolerate shade, but it will bloom beautifully in even darker garden corners. For your darkest nooks, Akebia ‘Alba’ might be your better choice as the lemony-white blooms will help brighten things up.

    Akebia 'Alba' in bloom

    Akebia ‘Alba’ can brighten up darker corners in the garden.

    This vine is (mostly) evergreen in the PacNW. If you’re relying on it for privacy, be forewarned that cold snaps can defoliate it — partially or even completely — in winter. And, if the cold snap hits in late winter/early spring, it may put a damper on the blooms that break forth as early as February. But, it’s tough to keep a good vine down! Even if the cold knocks it back, it’s unlikely an established plant will completely die off. Most just lose a few buds and bounce back fast.

    Female Akebia quinata flower

    The larger bloom in each Akebia flower cluster is a female, which is what will potentially become edible fruit.

    Akebia climbs by twining, so except for training, you probably won’t need to tie it to your climbing structure. Those succulent, winding stems will later take a woody form that fattens up into stiff, hard stems and trunks — like a shrub or tree. And, they will wrap around themselves and anything else they encounter, so plan to prune it regularly, and be on the lookout for tendrils making their way into nearby trees.

    Akebia 'Alba' woody stem

    As Akebia stems mature, they become woody.

    Cut those babies out while they’re young and small, or you’ll be in for a tough job with a saw. If vines form into dense thickets when interior stems are overgrown by new growth, songbirds may use those spots for cover or nesting locations. Larger birds, like crows, may harvest older dead wood to use in their nests.

    Akebia quinata male flowers

    Akebia forms clusters of flowers. Here, many male flowers dangle below the larger female bloom.

    And, while it won’t taste like a vanilla shake or chocolate cake, Akebia does sometimes produce an edible fruit. Fruit is formed on the female flowers of the purple Akebia quinata. The white Akebia, however, is more likely to be sterile. So, if eating sugary-sweet, gelatinous fruit wrapped in a casing reminiscent of a hard sunglasses case isn’t your thing, plant Akebia quinata ‘Alba’ instead of the purple. That being said, in the decade we’ve grown Akebia, our voracious vine has only produced fruit once, and the squirrels ate most of it.

  • Wind & Tree Damage

    March 18, 2016

    Wind tree damage is everywhere in Seattle right now. Last weekend, following drenching downpours to our already saturated soils, we clocked 60+mph winds that tore through town like a vengeance.

    Soggy soils + wind = danger!

    Trees toppled. Cars were crushed. Lives were lost. And, we’re still cleaning up after the mess.

    Root pancakes of uprooted trees.

    When wind roars, trees may topple, shed twigs or even snap into pieces that fly through the air causing all sorts of damage. Here Bob stands on the trunk of a small uprooted tree. The enormous root pancake of a giant tree-fall is behind him. When trees like these topple in a remote forest location, it may not be as concerning as when trees crash down in urban settings.

    If you have trees in your garden, consider this your reminder to look up into them for broken branches that become dangerous flying spears in heavy winds. And, look down at the root zone for signs of weakness. And, if you’re in doubt about your ability to recognize potential problems, get in touch with us or hire a certified arborist near you for help.

    plum tree stump

    This thundercloud plum stump is all that remains of the tree that toppled in the wind. In early spring, trees are weighty with new growth & lots of water pulled from the roots. The added top weight contributes to the likelihood they’ll fall. Super soggy soil never helps either.
    (Plus, these were poorly planted years ago, which also leads to failure like this.)

    Nobody can promise you’ll never have a problem with trees in wind, but waiting to make a call when the winds are roaring through the walls of your neighbor’s living room after the top of your pine tree flies half a block and through their roof, well, nobody wants to make those calls. (And, yes, one of my co-horts got this call after her client went through almost exactly this scenario last week in the wind.)

    So, what can you look for yourself?

    Fir hanger in front garden

    A nearby fir tree dropped this relatively small hanger after the wind storm. Although wind often cleans trees of these kinds of branches, sometimes it creates new hangers that can be a falling hazard at any moment. So look up now & do your clean up!

    Douglas Fir with Hanger

    Look up into big or small trees for torn, broken or caught branches. Sometimes these look obviously dead. Sometimes they look alive if hanging very awkwardly.
    Not sure what you should see in this image? Check the next one…

    Hanger on Doug Fir in Focus

    Look closely at the top of the in-focus part of this tree. See the tear? If you look closely, you’ll also see a very large, long branch hanging from it. This is referred to as a “hanger” & they can make lots of trouble when they fall (or fly through the air on the wind.) Removing a hanger may be a job best left to a professional arborist.

    wind blown tree

    Ooops! A few days before the wind storm, we had this tree root pruned in place ahead of moving it. Although this uprooting is intentional, how this tree suffered illustrates how a tree with poor rooting easily falls in the wind – even when it doesn’t have leaves!

    Temporarily weighted down root ball.

    As the wind roared, we temporarily weighted the roots of the trees with heavy cinder blocks rather than tying it with a stake, which probably would have caused the top growth of this tree to snap off.  The wind was howling so hard as we worked on the tree that we could barely stand up straight!

    Wind blown twigs

    Little twigs easily snap in a wind storm, cleaning trees of detritus. Seattle is littered with them now. The good news: bigger nesting birds like crows may clean them up for you.

  • Spring Pruning – Nipping Buds

    March 11, 2016

    Nipping or rolling buds is a great spring pruning trick!

    Tender spring growth on crabapple

    The bud casing has broken & soft leaves are forming in a poor position on the trunk of this crab apple. Rolling or pinching out this growth now is easy on you & your tree! (And you can do it even before the leaves form.)

    As winter thaws into spring, so too do tight, dormant plant buds begin to melt away, allowing tender young growth to emerge. When plants are in this fragile state, it can be tough to prune them without damaging them as well. For instance, if you want to remove some interior branches of a tree, but you can’t reach those branches without rubbing against the tender buds of desirable outer growth, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d finished your cuts before the delicate growth began at winter’s end. And, at this point, it might make sense to hold off on cutting that interior branch until new growth toughens up later in the season.

    But, this is the time to roll out buds to make your pruning chores easier, your plants look better and make it easier for your plants to recover from losing what you nip away.

    Nipping or rolling buds is a pretty simple concept. Essentially, you use your fingers to easily pinch, nip or roll out sprouts that emerge in spots where you know you don’t want a branch to form. This pruning technique only works on young, tender growth. Once the growth begins to toughen up later in spring, you’ll need your sharp pruning tools to remove these branches without ripping, tearing and damaging your plant.

    Rolling out a bud to do spring pruning

    When growth is this tender, it’s as easy as rubbing your finger across the bud or pinching it at its base to do spring pruning.

    Understanding which buds to remove this way is, like all pruning, a bit science and a bit art as the following images illustrate. Trees like this crab apple, flowering plums, Heptacodium, Physocarpus and many others are notorious for busting loose in all kinds of undesirable ways in spring. Fortunately, this simple pruning method will make your gardening chores much easier!

    Suckers & buds on Crabapple

    It’s time to roll out some buds on this crab apple branch & cut out some suckers that could have been rolled out in past years. Take a look at the close-ups that follow.  (Psst! The grey lichen on the branch is just fine. Leave it be!)

    Suckering growth on crabapple

    Here you can see what happens if you don’t roll out buds. Unwanted, often suckering, branches grow & now require pruning tools to remove. Doesn’t it sound easier to pinch or roll out unwanted growth right away?

    focus on buds to prune in spring

    In focus, you can see two buds breaking adjacent to two existing suckering branches. Left to grow, these buds will form even more unwanted suckering limbs.

    Always remember: if in doubt: don’t cut it out! Once you remove a bud or a branch, you can’t put it back on your tree. So, if you’re stumped, contact us for help before you start nipping and cutting.

  • Grow Perennial Food Gardens

    March 04, 2016

    As soon as the calendar tuns to the new year, gardeners dig into plans for their annual food gardens. They sow seeds indoors under lights well before spring and begin sowing hardier cool season crops outdoors — under protection or not — by early February. And, the sowing and plant coddling continues, daily, for most of the year to come.

    Mixed interest food garden with rhubarb

    Food gardens can be low maintenance & delicious –
    if you choose the right plants like gorgeous, perennial rhubarb.

    For intensive food gardeners, this repetitive practice is a labor of love. But the repetition of sow-reap-winter-repeat year after year can become more burdensome than rewarding. Sure, you get to harvest tasty tomatoes in summer, but if you prefer to spend your summer days hiking and shopping rather than monitoring delicate crops everyday, annual edible gardening may not be right for you.

    But, you can still grow food gardens!

    What so many new gardeners don’t realize and many veteran gardeners may forget is that perennial food crops are so much easier than annual vegetable gardens and they’re generous year-after-year. Perennial food gardens consist of plants that live for many years and yield something good to eat. Some may be herbaceous, meaning their top growth withers for winter. Some may be woody and deciduous, meaning they have sturdy stems but lose their leaves for winter. And, others may be evergreen, meaning they look great all year long. Plus, because these plants become acclimated to the garden, they tend to need less water than thirsty annuals – just be sure to water them well for at least the first three years like you would other perennial plants.

    For instance…

    Mashua flowers

    Beautiful, edible perennial nasturtium mashua blooms in early autumn,
    feeding hummingbirds too!

    Edible flowering perennials: Daylilies are tough-as-nails perennials that look gorgeous. Plus, if you can bring yourself to pluck the blooms, they taste great too. (Just be sure the lilies you’re eating are true Hemerocallis. Other lilies may be toxic.) Perennial nasturtium, mashua, has edible flowers, leaves and a peppery tasting tuber too. (Just be sure to leave some tubers in the ground so your plants can regrow.) Perennial sunflower, sunchokes, have tasty tubers, and like with mashua, leave some tubers in the soil so they regrow, but realize they may also fall into the next category…

    Perennial food weeds: Rather than bemoan the weeds that you likely battle, take a different perspective on what it means to have nettles, blackberry and dandelion in your garden. Sure, you might not choose to plant them, but if you have’m, eat’m!

    Sunchoke tubers

    Sunchoke tubers are best harvested after a frost. Plant with caution; they spread rapidly.

    Groundcovers for foodies: Thyme is simply a must-have in any garden with decent sunlight; this evergreen spreader is a fantastic flavoring too. Sedum may be an acquired taste in the kitchen, but it’s another drought-tolerant spreader. (Before you take a bite, confirm the sedum you choose is a known edible variety.) Strawberry and lingonberry both hug tightly to the ground, remaining mostly evergreen in winter; come summer, both burst forth with sweet, red morsels.

    Ripe strawberries

    Strawberries make a delicious perennial groundcover crop, but if you’re growing lush berries, don’t think this plant as something to walk on or oops! MUSH!

    Snackable shrubs: Blueberries and huckleberries are obvious choices. But, don’t forget that drought-hardy woody herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender are also edible, plus they look and smell great in winter too.

    Tasty tree treats: You may not want to plant a fruit-bearing tree right over your patio. Nobody wants to get knocked on the noggin by a heavy, ripe fruit. That being said, there are many mini-dwarf cultivars of apples, pears and other fruit trees that look great in pots on your deck. If you have room for an orchard, add in fig, citrus, bay leaf, sterile mulberry, almond, hazelnut, walnut or other size and climate-appropriate options.

    White asparagus in food garden

    As asparagus pushes up through leaf duff & mulch, the tasty tips are white & extra-tasty.

    Lovely leaves: Plant come-again asparagus sooner rather than later. Its beautiful, fern-y texture is a gorgeous garden addition. And, thank goodness for that because you really shouldn’t harvest it until it has been growing for at least three years. And, find a spot for rhubarb. Even if you don’t care for the sour taste of “pie plant,” this plant’s large leaves and raspberry-red stems add incredible interest to your garden year after year. Plus, some neighbor will gladly take your harvest off your hands.

    Vines taste fine: Grapes readily take over an arbor and drip with sugary goodness year-after-year. Plus, their leaves are edible too! While fuzzy kiwi may quickly eat your world, hardy kiwi plays much more nicely with others and can be self-fertile. In warmer locations, passion vines produce passion fruit – just be sure to plant a fruiting variety. If beer’s your thing and you have lots of room, hops may make you happy. (It’s a sharp one, so plant with care.)

    There are many other edible perennial plants for your garden. Need help planning what’s right for you location? Contact us today!

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