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Portland, OR
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Winter frosts are here

As night time temperatures and dropping and our gardens are going to sleep for the winter we find ourselves much less interested in working outside in the cold. But you can still get your gardening fix inside!

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Here are a few tips on keeping healthy houseplants:

Light:
Light needs vary from plant to plant so choose the right plant for the right spot in your home. The majority of houseplants are tropical varieties that will prefer to be within about 3 feet from a window in order to get enough light. A great rule of thumb is that if you can comfortably read in the spot there is most likely enough light for your average plant.

Water:
Water needs can also vary so while one plant may need water twice a week another plant might prefer water twice a month. Most plants are going to benefit from drying a bit in between waterings. Just feel the soil to test wether it is time to water again. After a while you will get a sense of how often to water each plant.
Remember that during the winter months houseplants are not growing as actively so will not need as much water. You can expect to cut your watering in half.

Fertilizer:
Potted plants are always going to need a bit more fertilizer than one planted in the ground. Choose a good organic brand and be sure not to overdo it. Even when you apply the correct amount of fertilizers salts and chemicals can build up in the soil and cause damage. It’s a good idea to give your plant a shower once a year. Set your plants in the shower. Set the temperature to luke warm. Let the water completely fill the container to overflowing and then let it drain, flushing all the buildup with it.

Pests:
There are many common pests attracted to houseplants. Often the best way to deal with insects is to simply wash them off under the kitchen faucet. If this isn’t effective try one teaspoon of biodegradable dish soap in a quart spray bottle and mist over the affected areas, you may need to repeat once a week for a month or so. If those pesky pests are still a nuisance try Neem oil or another horticultural oil. Pesticides should always be your very last resort especially since it’s your home environment that you will be using them in.

Getting rid of grass and making room for a landscape!

Are you thinking about re-landscaping your yard or adding a vegetable patch? Now is a fantastic time of year to remove sod and prepare beds for easy Spring planting.
There are several ways to reduce your lawn area and make way for landscape or vegetable beds:

Unfortunately a lot or homeowners and landscape professions are still using chemicals to kill grass lawns. This may seem like an easy approach but the hidden costs are hefty. These toxic chemicals not only kill your lawn but all the good organisms and healthy mycorrhiza that live in the soil. These organisms help to build the framework for a productive garden – you can’t have a healthy garden without healthy soil. My advise is don’t be tempted by the story of a quick fix and sacrifice the long term heath of your soil nor risk the health of your family, pets and all the little critters that live in our urban wilds. The other downside to using chemicals is that you often have to wait months before you can plant in the treated area because the chemicals linger in the ground and will kill anything you try to plant.

Another option is to manually remove the lawn with a sod cutter or shovel. It’s a bit of a job but the nice thing about this method is you can plant immediately so it’s instant gratification. Sod cutters are fast and can be rented by the hour but they are heavy and a bit cumbersome so be prepared for a  core workout ! Removing lawn by hand is a chore, you can try to look at it as a labor of love but it’s still a lot of work so be realistic about how much you take on at once. Some jobs are worth hiring a professional for or at least bribing friends into a pizza/garden-work trade. After removing the grass the soil will need to be turned with a shovel or rototiller because of compaction, it is also a good idea to spread compost or new top soil to help build up the soil. You also need to take into account what you are going to do with all that leftover sod. If you use a sod cutter you can often find someone on craigslist who will come pick it up but having it hauled off can be expensive.

My favorite approach is called sheet mulching or lasagna composting. It’s organic, relatively low labor, inexpensive and produces the most beautiful healthy soil.
Here’s how:

– Mark the outline of your new garden area with twigs or a garden hose so you can visualize where everything will go.

– Mow the area as low to the ground as possible and rake off seed heads.

– Spread at least 3 to 4 inches of hot compost or manure on top of lawn and water it in well. (The company you order materials from can help you figure out how much you need based on the square footage of garden beds you are adding)

– Add a layer of cardboard and be sure to overlap each box so that there are no open spaces. Regular old corrugated is best – don’t use stuff with a heavy gloss finish as it won’t break down as well.

– Next add 2 to 4 inches of compost materials like dried leaves, chipped tree prunings, or lawn debris (that is weed and seed free). If you don’t have these things available from your own yard you can use a 2 inch layer of compost delivered from a soil company.

– Finally add a decorative cover layer like wood chips, bark or plant a cover crop of vetch, lima or clover that will winter over and give you something to look at. If using bark be sure to use a composed variety that is sliver free.

The beds will have to remain damp in order to break down the grass but this is never really a chore in Portland winters. In about 3 months (just in time for Spring planting season) you will have beautiful healthy worm ridden and microbe teaming soil!

Fall Sale extented

The weather seems to be holding so we will be open this coming weekend!

It’s a wonderful time to be out in the garden with warm days, bright blue skies and soil just moist enough to work. Get in another round of veggies and herbs or plant those bare spots in the garden. Next summer you will be glad to did it in the cool of Fall and so will those healthy well-established plants.

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