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Gardening in Washington State

Archive for February 2015

Organic Soil Amendments in Yards and Gardens: How Much is Enough?

Gardeners apply organic soil amendments to improve soil and raise healthy plants. While organic soil amend­ments benefit most garden soils, over-application can waste money, increase the risk of harm to water quality, and in some cases, harm plants.


Apply about 1/2 inch of organic soil amendment to an established garden bed. Photo by Mary Cogger.

For new garden or landscape plantings, add 1 to 3 inches of organic soil amendment to the soil and incorporate to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. If your soil lacks organic matter (typically light colored with poor physical proper­ties), add 2 or 3 inches of amendment. If your soil has adequate organic matter, or if salts are a concern, add less (or none at all).

If you are establishing landscape plants, amend the entire bed, and not just the planting holes. Permanent landscape beds don’t need organic soil amendments after the ini­tial application. Decomposition of leaf litter and organic surface mulches will help maintain organic matter, creating an environment similar to soil found in forests. Established gardens and landscapes require less organic soil amend­ments—typically about ½ inch per year.

For information on organic amendments in your garden and landscape, see the WSU fact sheet

Submitted by: Paula Dinius, February 16, 2015


Backyard Cherries without the Cherry Maggots

Before planting a backyard cherry tree, homeowners should consider the challenge of pest management, especially management of the western cherry fruit fly (WCFF).

Fruit infested with the cherry fruit fly larvae, known as maggots, may have a dimpled appearance, but the maggots can still be difficult to detect when examining the surface of the fruit. However, as the maggots mature, they break the surface of the cherry and open a hole in order to breathe and exit the fruit.

cherry maggot
Sweet cherry infested with cherry maggot.  Photo by Mike Bush, WSU Extension.

There are relatively few proven strategies that homeowners can use to manage this pest. The primary non-chemical strategy to manage WCFF is to pick off every cherry from the tree at harvest. WCFF management will be considerably easier for homeowners who plant fruit trees grafted to dwarfing rootstocks. For a list of pesticides (including organic products), homeowners can access the WSU Hortsense website at .

Pruned cherry
Backyard sweet cherry skillfully and properly trained/pruned to a 10-foot height.  Photo by Fred Staloch, WSU Master Gardener volunteer.

For more information on organic management of tree fruit pests see the WSU Extension manual FS125E- The Western Cherry Fruit Fly and Your Backyard Cherry Tree by Michael Bush and Marianne Ophardt on-line at

Submitted by: Mike Bush, February 9, 2015

The Correct Way to Use Pruning Tools

Using the right pruning tool for the job and using it correctly is safer for the gardener and produces cleaner cuts on the plant. When using cutting tools, it is important not to twist or strain the blades.

Do not cut with the tip of the blade; instead, set the branch to be cut as deep in the jaws of the pruners as possible to make a clean cut. If only a portion of the blade is used to make a cut (such as the tip), it may result in an incomplete cut.

If there is any strain while trying to make a cut with a sharp blade, switch to a larger tool. Trying to cut a large a branch with a tool that is too small may result in a jagged wound that damages the plant and may ruin the tool. Poor quality cuts may also result from twisting, pulling, or turning the tool while cutting. Use sharp scissors or a pruning knife to trim any tears or rough edges that result from a poor cut.

Incorrect    Correct

Incorrect:  branch too large for tool                             Correct:  Tool correct size for cut

For more information on pruning tools, go to Pruning Equipment for Home Gardeners.

Submitted by: Tim Kohlhauff, February 2, 2015


Gardening in Washington State, Puyallup Research and Extension Center

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