Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book signings with Susan Mulvihill and Pat Munts

As you've probably heard, I've co-authored a book with my friend and colleague, Pat Munts. Pat writes garden columns for The Spokesman-Review's "Voice" section on Thursdays.

The book is "Northwest Gardener's Handbook," published by Cool Springs Press. The subtitle is "Your Complete Guide: Select, Plan, Plant, Maintain, Problem-Solve" and it covers all of Washington and Oregon, northernmost California and southern British Columbia.

We put a great deal of effort into covering the various regions and the challenges gardeners face in each. There is a lot of information that is very specific to gardening in the Inland Northwest. The book contains about 300 detailed plant profiles (which I wrote) and 89% of those plants will grow in this region!

Pat and I have three local book signings coming up:

  • Feb. 5, 6:30 to 9 p.m. _ We will be the featured speakers at The Inland Empire Gardeners' meeting where we'll discuss how the book came together. Following the talk, we'll be selling and autographing copies of the book. The TIEG meetings are free and open to the public and are held at CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Pl., Spokane Valley. For more information, visit TIEG's website.
  • Feb. 6, 6 to 8:30 p.m. _ Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, located at 15319 E. 8th Ave. in Spokane Valley, will be hosting us for this book signing.
  • Mar. 14 at the Cabin Fever Gardening Symposium _ If you don't know about this event, I wrote about it recently on this blog: click here. It is one of the most enjoyable ways any gardener could spend a day! The event runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I'm not sure about the exact times Pat and I will be signing books just yet but would guess it will be first thing in the morning and at lunchtime. Stay tuned for more specifics. For more info on Cabin Fever and to register, go to the Master Gardener Foundation of Spokane County website. The registration deadline is looming!
We hope to see you at one of these signings and will let you know of others as the dates are finalized!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Overwintering geraniums: 3-month update

Remember how I'm overwintering geraniums for the first time ever? They are still doing great!

To recap, I've never overwintered geraniums before yet I always grow them in my front porch planters. It just seemed like a crime to toss them into the compost bin at the end of the season but I never took the time to figure out how to overwinter them.

Until last fall, that is! In October, I did some research and shot a video on how to save them. Two months later, I checked on them and was delighted to see there were some new sprouts on the plants, that they didn't look shriveled up and there was certainly no mold on the plants. Wow.

I carefully put the bulk of them back into the cardboard box they've been stored in and the single red geranium that's been hanging upside-down in a paper bag back into its sack.

Well, today, I decided it was time to check on them and, once again, I was apprehensive of what I might find. And once again, I was pleasantly surprised to find they were doing really well.

See all the new leaves?
As you can see by the main photo, there are even more new sprouts on the plants and each plant is looking healthy. The older leaves are dry and brittle, but that's to be expected. I'll remove them when it's time to pot up the plants.

However, the stems of the single red geranium that's been hanging in a paper bag look slightly shriveled up. I don't see any new growth although, to be honest, I can't remember if there was any when I checked on it a month ago.

Since I figure I can't make matters worse, I decided to lightly spritz the roots on that plant with a fine mist of water. We shall see if that perks it up or is the coup de grace!

So what's the plan now?

I've returned all of them to the basement where they've lived in a dormant state since October. I've marked the first of February as the date to remove the dried-up leaves and re-pot the plants. And I'll keep you posted on how they're doing.

If you, too, are overwintering your geraniums for the first time, I hope you're having similar results. Be sure to mark your February calendar for the big re-potting day, too, provided you see new growth on them. If I can actually pull this off, I will be amazed that it was this simple to do!

Seed-starting videos

I wanted to let you know that I've begun producing a series of videos on growing your plants from seed. You can view them on my YouTube channel.

Here's a list of the videos available so far:

Seed-starting #1: The Supplies
Seed-starting #2: Planting Seeds
Seed-starting #3: All-Roots Seed-Starting System demo

I will announce each video on my Facebook page, but I intend to put links to the videos on this blog as well. If you're new to seed-starting, I hope this will encourage you to give it a try. It's really easier than you might think; you just need to learn the basics.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seed-starting: when to plant vegetable crops

I'm sure all of you are anxious to plant your veggie seeds and get the 2015 garden season under way! I completely understand, but correct timing is critical so you don't end up with leggy, root-bound seedlings.

I live in Spokane, Wash., which is in USDA zone 5 (or 6, depending on which microclimate you live in). Our season typically has about 120 frost-free days, beginning in mid-May and ending in mid-September. Although with the climate change that has been going on for the past several years, our seasons often extend a month or so past the middle of September.

Here is a list of the vegetable crops I start from seed, whether I plant them indoors or directly outdoors (in parenthesis), along with the approximate dates I plant the seeds and when I transplant the seedlings out into the garden.

If you live in another region, my best suggestion is to read the back of the seed packet where you'll find guidelines on how soon to plant the seeds indoors prior to the anticipated last frost date.

Arugula - outdoors Apr. 15 and/or Aug. 15
Artichoke - indoors March 1; transplant May 15
Basil - indoors Apr. 15; transplant May 30 (or sow outdoors May 30)
Beans (pole or bush) - indoors May 1; transplant  May 15 (or sow outdoors May 15)
Beets - outdoors Apr. 7 and/or outdoors Aug. 15
Carrots - outdoors Apr. 15
Celery - indoors Mar. 15; transplant May 15
Cilantro - outdoors first week of August so leaves are plentiful during tomato-harvest
Corn - indoors May 1, transplant May 15-20 (or sow outdoors May 15-20)
Cucumber - indoors May 1, transplant May 15 (with protection) to June 1
Eggplant - indoors Mar. 1; transplant May 15 (with protection) to June 1
Leeks - indoors Feb. 1 to Mar. 1; transplant May 1
Lettuce - outdoors Apr. 15
Melons - indoors May 1-15; transplant May 15 (with protection) to June 1
Parsnips - outdoors Apr. 15
Peas - indoors Apr. 10; transplant Apr. 15
Peppers - indoors Mar. 15; transplant May 15 (with protection) to June 1
Pumpkins - indoors May 1-15, transplant May 15 (with protection) to  June 1
Spinach - outdoors Apr. 15
Squash (summer or winter varieties) - indoors May 1-15, transplant May 15 (with protection) to June 1
Swiss chard - outdoors Apr. 15
Tomatillos - indoors Mar. 15-30; transplant May 15 (with protection) to June 1
Tomatoes - indoors Apr. 1; transplant May 15 (with protection)

Note that you don't have to start your beans, peas or corn indoors. I get them off to a good start indoors because we have a lot of quail in the area that like to nibble on freshly-sprouted seeds. This way, I can to get the seedlings to a size where they can mostly fend for themselves before transplanting them into the garden.

I also wanted to give you a link to a seed-starting worksheet from Martha Stewart's website that I use each year. It's really handy because I can use it to stay on track with my plantings.

I hope all of this information will be helpful to you in your planning!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cabin Fever Garden Symposium

While March might sound far away, there's an event coming up that you won't want to miss! The Cabin Fever Gardening Symposium will be held on Saturday, March 14, and it will be one of the most pleasant ways a gardener can spend the day.

This is the 6th year of Cabin Fever and I'm particularly excited about it because I will be delivering the keynote address and presenting a seminar on winter vegetable gardening.

Intrigued? Here's how Cabin Fever works:

First, you get to choose your four favorite gardening classes out of a total of 12. (see list below) In addition to learning about very cool garden topics, you'll be treated to a continental breakfast and a catered lunch. There will be door prizes and parking is free, too!

This event is sponsored by the WSU/Spokane County Master Gardener Foundation, so you can expect excellence in education. They'll also have a wonderful variety of garden books for sale, including the newly-published "Northwest Gardener's Handbook" which I co-authored with my friend and colleague Pat Munts. This is your opportunity to get an autographed copy!

Cabin Fever will be held at CenterPlace, located in Spokane Valley at 2426 N. Discovery Pl., from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cost for the whole day is $75, although if you're already a member of the Master Gardener Foundation, the rate is $65. Since it only costs $10 to join, you can consider doing that as well, which helps support the oh-so-important educational programs we Master Gardeners put on.

My keynote address is "Breathtaking Gardens Around the World," which will showcase some of the stunning gardens I've visited in my travels. That should help set the tone for a most enjoyable day!

Here is a list of the classes you can choose from:

Morning Session I
Trial by Fire (fire-wise landscaping)
Seed Starting & More
It's in the Bag! (learn about soil amendments)

Morning Session II
GMOs: Lies, Myths and Scientific Truths
Veggies from the Winter Garden (my seminar)
Straw Bale Gardening

Afternoon Session III
Extending the Growing Season
Going Native
In the Zone (understanding your plant hardiness zone and how to grow plants from other zones)

Afternoon Session IV
How Grows the Rose?
The Edible Landscape
The Fur-endly Garden (pet-safe gardens)

To learn more about this wonderful event, read descriptions of the seminars and to register, go to the Master Gardener Foundation website. Don't wait too long because this event is sure to sell out! Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter garden update #2

The kale is still doing well
 Well, it's been a month since my last update so I thought you'd like to know how my winter garden experiment is coming along. You'll recall that everything is growing in a small hoophouse that we built in October.

Last month, we had bitterly cold temperatures that were particularly hard on the veggies I'm growing. In the north bed, I have corn salad (mache), kale and arugula growing and the south bed was planted with red-leaf lettuce, mizuna and tat soi.

The north bed is definitely doing a lot better than the south bed, let me tell you! The kale is doing particularly well, the arugula has bounced back from the cold temperatures, and the corn salad -- which I planted late due to poor germination previously -- is still growing right along.

In the south bed, the lettuce has died back to the roots, which I knew would happen once the temperatures got really cold. Lettuce really isn't a super-hardy crop when it comes to growing during the winter months. It produced well until the cold snap, then it was toast.

The corn salad is still growing! (foreground)
However, I'm expecting it will come back from the roots in late winter, just like it did last year (which was a big surprise, by the way). So I'm just leaving it alone.

The mizuna still has some green shoots coming up from the crowns of most of the plants so I'm not giving up on them yet. The same goes for the tat soi plants, although they do look pretty sad!

Today, I went out to our little hoophouse and tidied up the beds. Some of the kale and arugula leaves had decayed after the cold snap so I thought it'd be a good idea to get rid of the leaves.

But if all goes according to plan, I'm intending to harvest some kale leaves this week and make a kale soup. That will be a nice treat!

Stay tuned for more updates...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fabulous houseplants: Dracaena deremensis

This is part two in a series on some of the easiest-care, most rewarding houseplants you can grow.

One of the houseplants I have the most success with is Dracaena deremensis (druh-SEE-nuh dair-rem-MEN-sis). Perhaps you've heard of references to corn plants and rainbow plants which are the common names of some types of Dracaenas.

As you can see, the leaves are striking and glossy. My favorite two varieties (which are pictured here) are 'Lemon Lime' and 'Warneckii'.

'Lemon Lime'
You might be familiar with the Dracaena spike plants that are widely available in garden centers for use in container plantings. They are members of the same genus of plants.

My Dracaena houseplants prefer a moderate amount of light, and if it's indirect light, so much the better. They do best with a room temperature range between 65 and 75 degrees F. I generally water the plants once a week but am careful not to overwater them. As you probably already know, there are very few plants that tolerate wet roots.

Plant them in a good-quality potting soil and repot them every 2 to 3 years. I don't fertilize them in the fall or winter months, but during spring and summer, I feed them monthly with a balanced houseplant fertilizer.

'Warneckii' can grow up to 6 feet tall and 'Lemon Lime' ranges from 3 to 4 feet. Each have long sword-like leaves.

The great thing about Dracaena plants is that you can find them with different foliage colors and types. They can be propagated through rooted cuttings.

The only pest problem on a Dracaena I've had was mealybugs. And boy, are they a pain! They hitchhiked on a plant I brought home from a garden center a couple of years ago and have been tricky to control. The lesson here is to keep new plants quarantined away from established houseplants for a couple of weeks, so you can see if there's a problem before you put them in groupings with other plants.  (as always, learn from my mistakes!)

I think you'll find Dracaenas really add a nice dimension and texture to the home, and they're so easy to grow!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Brand new: The TomTato grafted tomato/potato combo!

I just received the following press release from the nice folks at Territorial Seed. They will be offering their new grafted tomato/potato plant aptly-named 'Ketchup 'n' Fries' for the 2015 gardening season. How's that for cool?!

Territorial Seed is located in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and has a wonderful catalog, which you can request by going to this link. Here's what they had to say about 'Ketchup 'n; Fries' in the press release:

The product of over a decade of research, ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™ TomTato® advances the grafted tomato/potato plant from mere novelty to a reliable producer of dual crops from a single plant – especially good news for those seeking to maximize production from precious garden real estate. Territorial Seed Company’s spring 2015 catalog marks the first time such a plant has been offered commercially in the US. The first garden catalog to offer grafted tomato plants in 2011, Territorial continues to further the all-natural, age-old process of grafting in its application and availability to the home gardener.

European researchers spent over a decade developing this combination, which debuted exclusively in the UK last year. Now, Territorial in partnership with SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables, the folks who brought us the Mighty ‘Mato line, is bringing this horticultural innovation stateside much to the delight of urban and container gardeners, those with space limitations, or simply the gardener on the cutting edge. Territorial will ship these plants with their other transplant offerings, with a choice of three shipping dates beginning in the last half of April and running into late May or as long as inventory lasts. Demand for ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™ is expected to be high, as witnessed with its UK launch, so gardeners are advised to pre-order for the best availability. Plants are hardened off prior to shipping and arrive ready for transplant.

Extensive trials and careful selection of both the tomato scion and potato rootstock cultivars were required to achieve properly staggered maturity. This enables the plant to focus its energy first on yielding hundreds of sweet, tangy, and early glistening red cherry tomatoes, before maturing up to 4 ½ pounds of fine, thin-skinned, all-purpose white potatoes in the late season.

Patio gardeners can grow a ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™ plant in as small as a 10 gallon container, though
allowing more space can increase its vigor, boosting potato yields especially. The breeding work
and grafting techniques applied here are traditional, non-GMO methods of propagation. Grafting involves attaching a scion variety (top part of the plant), selected for its desired flowering, fruiting, or growth characteristics, to the plant tissue of a different variety of rootstock. This pairing can control vigor, lend disease resistance, and in this case, yield a completely secondary crop. Grafting has been used for thousands of years and is widespread in the production of orchard fruit, roses (yielding the ever-popular standard rose), and a host of other ornamental and food crop applications. Grafting across species lines is far from unheardof; for example, dwarf pear trees are commonly grafted onto quince rootstock. In the case of a ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™, the closely related tomato and potato can be successfully grafted because they are both in the Solanum genus, within the nightshade family Solanaceae.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Announcement: "The Northwest Gardener's Handbook"

I have some exciting news for you: my dear friend and colleague Pat Munts and I have written a book! It is called The Northwest Gardener's Handbook and will be in bookstores as of Jan. 15, 2015.

It will be published by Cool Springs Press and covers all of Washington and Oregon, southern British Columbia and a bit of northern California.

But don't let that or the title put you off! As a longtime gardener in Eastern Wash., I know what it's like to read Pacific Northwest garden books that focus on weather conditions we don't deal with and list plants that we can't grow.

In my humble opinion, The Northwest Gardener's Handbook does a great job of addressing our LOCAL gardening conditions and challenges. And even better, 89% of the plants profiled in the book will grow in zone 5 or below!

Here's what you'll find in the book:

  • Pat wrote an introductory chapter on the physical features and weather conditions that affect gardeners in each of the regions covered. She also wrote chapters on the plant hardiness zones, sustainable landscaping, and shared a wide variety of "gardening know-how" -- tips and tricks for being a successful gardener. This also includes information on fire-wise landscaping, 
  • Then the plant chapters begin: annuals, bulbs, edibles (including veggies, herbs, tree fruits and berries), groundcovers, lawns & ornamental grasses, perennials, roses, shrubs, trees and vines.
  • Within each of those plant chapters, I wrote detailed plant profiles which include hardiness information, plant height and width, flower colors, what makes them special, how to care for the plants and information on problems that can arise. There are just under 300 of those plant profiles! (and yes, that was an incredible amount of work)
  • After those chapters, there is information on planting and caring for trees, how to grow a vegetable garden, a list of internet resources, suggested gardening references, and a glossary of relevant gardening terms.
One of the things I'm really excited about, and proud of, is that there are nearly 100 of my photos in the book. I just love photographing gardens so I'm hoping my enthusiasm comes through in the photos you'll see on the pages.

Pat and I will be giving talks and doing book signings at various gardening events both in the Spokane area, and in Seattle and Portland. Be sure to keep an eye on this blog's calendar so you can come say hello. I've already started penciling in some dates.

I hope you will share in our excitement and enthusiasm for this, our first book. Yes, it was a great deal of work and books take quite a while to produce, but Pat and I are very pleased with the finished product. We hope you will be, too.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Overwintering geraniums: 2-month update

Two months ago, I shot a video on how to overwinter geraniums. I'd never done it before but really wanted to try saving my plants for a change. So I did some research and then took you through the steps on how to do it.

As a quick recap, I dug up the plants before we had a frost in October and removed the soil, flower heads and flower buds. Then I placed a single red geranium upside-down in a paper sack and put eight pink geraniums into a box, and have been storing them in my basement. I wanted to try both the paper sack method and the box method, in case you're wondering why I'm doing both. I'm interested to see if there's a difference in how the plants do.

Well, it's time for an update! To be honest, I was nervous about looking in the sack and the box because it just seemed too simple for it to work. I needn't have worried, though.

As you can see in the photos, the plants look great. Sure, the leaves have turned brown but that was to be expected and in about February, I'll be removing them from the plants anyway. The stems still look vibrant and there was no mold to be found anywhere. I was even surprised to see some pale leaf shoots had sprouted (see photo below). Wow.

So if you are also overwintering your geraniums and you're a novice like myself, check on your plants to see how they're doing. If you see mold, clip those areas off the plant. If there's a lot of mold on a single plant, it might be a good idea to toss it.

And if you're like me in that you get busy and easily forget things, be sure to mark your calendar so you check on the geraniums every 30 days. I'd love to hear how your plants are coming along. Either comment on this post or drop me an email at

Stay tuned for another update in about a month...