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Gardening in Washington State

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Selecting Pruning Tools

Selecting and using the correct equipment to prune trees and shrubs makes the pruning job quicker, easier, and safer for home gardeners, and results in less damage to plants.  Before beginning a pruning task, determine the goal (such as improving structure, removing dead branches, and the like) and select  the right tool for the job.

There are many types and sizes of pruning tools available to home gardeners. Manufacturers produce such specialty pruning tools as left-handed models, pruners made for smaller hands, and tools with ergonomic handles. Before purchasing any tool, make sure it feels comfortable to operate, and invest in one that fits, rather than settling for something that may cause blisters and muscle strain. Gardeners with limited strength should look for tools made of lightweight material for easier use.

Reducing Fire Risk on Your Woodland

Thin your woodland. Many forests in eastern Washington are overcrowded. Growing too close together makes trees more vulnerable to crown fires. When the crowns of adjoining trees touch or are so close together they form a contiguous fuel ladder, fire can spread quickly through the canopy. Thinning your woodlands can be very effective in reducing fire risk, especially when combined with the removal of ladder fuels such as brush, pruning lower tree limbs, and removing slash left over from a timber harvest. However, thinning should be done only between August and December to avoid creating habitat for bark beetles.

Remove ladder fuels. In unthinned forest stands there are often many little trees in the understory. These small trees act as a “ladder” for fire and help carry it up into the crowns of bigger trees. Once a fire travels into the crown, tree death almost always occurs. These ladder fuels should be removed through thinning.

Prune trees. Tree branches that hang low to the ground are another kind of ladder fuel. Pruning the lower branches of trees can reduce the possibility of fire while improving aesthetics and timber quality. Increasing the distance between the ground and the lowest branches reduces the likelihood that a fire will move from the ground into the crown of a tree; a 10-foot “lift” is generally recommended for reducing this risk.

Treat slash. Slash is created after many forest management activities, such as pruning and thinning. Left on the ground, slash can increase the risk and spread of wildfire. Treating slash usually involves burning in piles or chipping. Many landfills offer designated days when yard debris can be disposed of for little or no cost. If you choose to burn, check local regulations regarding permit requirements and “burn ban” restrictions.

Valley fire

Valley Fire (Photo courtesy of Janean Creighton)

For more information on go to Backyard Forest Stewardship in Eastern Washington.

Submitted by: Tim Kohlhauff, September 15, 2014


What is making tunnels in my yard?

There are a number of animals that can cause damage to lawns, gardens and crops in Washington through their tunneling habits. The most common pests are moles, voles, gophers and rats. Ground squirrels in eastern Washington and chipmunks statewide also burrow but are active during the day and so are usually easy to visually identify…but what about those diggers you never see? The new WSU Extension Fact Sheet, “What is Tunneling in My Yard” will help you identify the guilty parties so you can plan your management strategy.

Fig6molehill2012 Fig7voleholeMtVernon

For more information please see What is Tunneling in My Yard? FS143E

Posted by: Dave Pehling, September 11, 2014

Why Are My Onion Bulbs So Small?

Onions form bulbs in response to day length or the number of hours of daylight. There are two main types of onions: those grown in northern latitudes that bulb in response to long days, and those grown in southern latitudes that bulb in response to short days. The long-day onions grown in Washington will start to bulb when there are 14 hours of daylight. If they are not planted early enough in the spring, bulbing will begin before the plant grows enough to produce a large bulb. When purchasing onion seed, Washington gardeners should be sure to select only long-day onion cultivars.

Photo credit: Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

For more information, download a free PDF of Growing Onions in Home Gardens.

Submitted by: Marianne Ophardt, August 25, 2014


When to Harvest Carrots

Carrots can be harvested for fresh eating any time they reach a desirable size. However, if carrots are to be stored, they should be harvested when they are fully mature. When thinning or harvesting carrots, pull out baby types by their tops and dig out longer types. Longer carrots fre­quently break if pulled, so it’s best to use a digging fork to loosen and lift the carrots out of the soil.

Photo credit: “Mrkva” by Roberta F.

More information is available on Growing Carrots in Home Gardens FS118E at

Submitted by: Marianne Ophardt, August 18, 2014 =============================================================================

Praying Mantids – Defender of Home Landscapes

Praying mantids are among the largest (1 to 4 inches long) and most recognizable garden predators—and they’re not fussy about what they catch and eat. They are “sit and wait” predators that pounce on any insect that comes too close, including beneficial in­sects, like bees and butterflies. The most common species in the Pacific Northwest is the European mantid (Mantis religiosa). Praying mantids are most often seen in the garden from mid-summer to mid-autumn.  After laying a number of white, hard-foam egg cases (which overwinter attached to branches and trunks), Mantids are typically killed off by the first frosts of autumn. They kill and consume a good number of pests like caterpillars and flies, but their contribution to garden pest control is usually less than their larger-than-life image.

An adult female praying mantid, Mantis religiosa, poised on potted poinsettia plant in search of its next arthropod meal.  Photo by Mike Bush, WSU Extension.

For more information on beneficial arthropods in the home landscape, see WSU Extension manual EM067E- Beneficial Insects, Spiders, and Other Mini-Creatures in Your Garden: Who They Are and How to Get Them to Stay on-line at

Submitted by: Michael R. Bush, August 11, 2014


Protect your Cherries and Berries from SWD!

Drosophila suzukii, commonly known as Spotted Wing Drosophila or SWD, is of concern to home gardeners and commercial producers. It was first detected in the continental US in California in 2008 and quickly spread up the coast into Canada and across the country. There are over 2,000 native drosophila flies in the US but SWD is unique in that it lays eggs inside ripening fruit as well as rotting fruit. The maggots hatch from these eggs and feed inside fruit, rendering it inedible.

Fig. 1. SWD larva in cherry. WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center

It is considered a serious threat to fruit and berry crops including cherry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry and some peach varieties. There may be several generations of SWD produced during the growing season, which makes this pest particularly difficult to manage, especially on crops ripening after July. Preventing the spread of SWD in home gardens can ensure the production of homegrown fruits and berries and reduce the threat it poses to commercial producers of fruits and berries.
For information on detecting and managing this pest, see:
Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) Monitoring, Identifying, and Fruit Sampling. FS049E and WSU Hortsense,

Submitted by: Dave Pehling, June 26, 2014


Protect your apples from codling moth this season!

If you grow apples, the codling moth will come! The larva of this common pest, also known as “the worm in the apple,” directly impacts the eating quality of apples across the state of Washington. When left unmanaged in backyard trees, the codling moth can damage as much as 80 to 95 percent of the fruit—making it “wormy” and unfit to eat.

FIg 1
Figure 1) Codling moth is about 3/8 inch-long; one female moth will lay dozens of eggs. When eggs hatch, larvae bore directly to the fruit’s core. Photo Credits: Michael Bush, WSU Extension

Fig 2
Figure 2) Apple fruit with signs of codling moth infestation; look for the conspicuous piles of brown granular excrement plugging the entrance hole on the surface of the apple. Photo Credits: Michael Bush, WSU Extension

Washington homeowners must protect their apple or pear fruit from two, or sometimes three (in the warmer regions of the state) generations of codling moth each year. The adult moths fly during warm evenings, with peak activity in May, July, and late August. The best means of protecting backyard fruit trees from codling moth infestation is an integrated pest management (IPM) program utilizing several control strategies.

Management Strategies:

1) Plant your fruit trees on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks.
2) Scout your fruit (weekly) from late May to apple harvest time for signs of codling moth larvae infestation. Pick off infested fruit and crush to kill larvae protected inside the fruit.
3) When the fruit is less than 1 inch in diameter (early to mid-May), individually bag each fruit left on the tree. Standard paper bags or commercially available apple bags can be used.

Fig 3
Figure 3) Backyard apple tree with commercially available apple bags.

4) If pesticides are used, they must be applied during adult moth activity so that the pesticide covers the fruit surface before the eggs hatch. Pesticide sprays should start 17 to 21 days after full bloom (about 10 days after most of the flower petals drop from the tree) to target the newly hatched larvae before they bore into the fruit. For a list of effective pesticides used to manage codling moth, homeowners can contact their local WSU Extension office or visit the WSU Hortsense website.

For more information, see Codling Moth and Your Backyard Fruit Tree.

Submitted by: Michael Bush & Marianne Ophardt, May 23, 2014


Voles in the garden

Did your tulips fail to emerge this spring? Did most of your planted peas disappear? Are there tunnels in your garden? If so, voles may be to blame.


Although not a mouse, voles are sometimes called “meadow mice” based on their close resemblance. The two species most often responsible for vole-related backyard and garden damage in Washington are the Townsend’s vole (west of the Cascade Mountains) and the Montane vole (east of the Cascade Mountains).

These voles prefer succulent grasses, forbs, roots and bulbs but will also readily feed on the bark and roots of woody plants during winter when other food sources are scarce.

For information on how to manage voles in your garden and landscape, see the WSU fact sheet, Vole Management in Home Backyards and Gardens.

Submitted by: Dave Pehling, May 8, 2014


Growing Squash in Home Gardens

Consider this: There are few vegetables easier to grow in the home garden and more versatile in form/use/consumption than squash. The term “squash” refers to several plant species native to Central and South America. Many squash types or cultivars can be grouped as summer squash or winter squash, depending on the season the vegetable is harvested.

Summer squashWinter squash

Summer Squashes: Zucchini & Crookneck       Winter Squashes: Buttercup & Turban

Photo Credits: Michael Bush, WSU Extension

May is time to plant in most regions of WA State: Squash is a frost-tender vegetable. Seeds may not germinate in cold soil and seedlings can be killed off by spring frosts. Squash is planted in hills (mounds of soil) about 4 to 5 feet apart. Sow 4 to 5 seeds per hill at a depth of one inch in mid- to late May, depending on the date of the last killing frost. Alternatively, start plants in the home or greenhouse 10 days to 2 weeks prior to transplanting seedlings into the garden. Spacing is important when planting these seedlings; place 2 seedlings per hill spaced 4 to 5 feet apart.

For more information on growing squash in home gardens, go to


Submitted by: Michael Bush, May 1, 2014

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