The Winter Weekend Garden Warrior

As Garden Professors, we are very careful regarding product endorsements. Actually, much energy is spent trying to bring to light weird/crappy/useless/money-wasting gardening products.

But when we feel strongly about the usefulness, quality, and utility of a product, it is our duty to pass that information along as well.

I didn’t mean to be a walking advertisement last weekend.

We were in the final throes of getting our garden cut back; Joel was laughing that I “needed another set of hands” when I came around the corner.  “Not with my fabulous Firehose Work Pants from Duluth Trading Company, I don’t!”  Thus the inspiration for this post.

All products noted are, variously: warm, waterproof, full of pockets, sharp, indestructible, dependable, and/or delicious.

Safety first?

I was driving around town recently and saw a tree service crew clearing up some storm damaged trees. Because of my line of work I usually do a little rubber-necking and try to assess why type of tree came down and what issues may have preceded it’s demise. In this case, however, I was struck not by the trees but by the tree crew. What I saw left me speechless. Well, here, see for yourself…


No eye protection.  No hearing protection.  No sign of a hardhat, face-shield, or chaps by the chainsaw.  No personal protective equipment anywhere as near as I could tell.  Of course the photo illustrates a lot of what’s wrong with the landscape and tree service industry.   Economists tell us that this industry has a ‘low barrier to entry’; in other words any one with a chain saw and a pickup truck can put an ad in the classifieds and call themselves a tree service.   As a consumer, you may not care if the employer makes their employees where personal protective equipment (PPE).  But if they don’t care about their employees’ safety, what else don’t they care about?


Periodically I’ll write an article for a newspaper or other media on selecting an arborist.  I always make the point that you get what you pay for and urge consumers to compare bids and companies carefully.  Truly professional tree services have to cover the cost of hiring and retaining quality employees, worker training, proper equipment (including PPE), and insurance.  If you skip over those things, like Fly-by-night tree service here, it’s probably not too hard to come out with the low bid.

These are a few of my (least) favorite things…

Spring clean-up came in earnest this weekend at Daisy Hill farm.  Everything will be downhill from here as my least favorite yard chore; cutting back our ornamental grasses, is done for the year.  I know, I know, there are all kinds of shortcuts and tricks for this job including lassoing grasses for the last round-up (see Holly’s March 8 post), duct-taping them, and cutting them down with hedge-trimmers or a chainsaw.  Unfortunately, between our winter snow beating them down and our dogs using them as their own personal jungle playground, standing the grasses up neatly to await a trim just isn’t an option.  So I dive in and do it the old-fashion way; armed with a set of hand-loppers, every piece of  personal protective equipment I can find, and the entire repertoire of swear words my Army sergeant Old Man taught me.  Between hacking, cussing, and hauling it’s a two afternoon job.  On the plus side, it did give me time to ponder my top five list of least favorite yard jobs.  See how it compares with your list…


  1. Cutting back ornamental grasses
  2. Picking up black walnuts (this is to Fall what no. 1 is to spring)
  3. Weeding (the only redeeming factor is instant gratification)
  4. Deadheading (yeah, it’s not the hard but you know you’ll have to turn right around and do it again (and again and again…)
  5. Leaf raking (Actually, this wouldn’t be so bad but I went out and bought a chipper-shredder a couple years ago and feel compelled to use it.  Works like a champ – shreds leaves as fast as I can feed them in.  Too bad the bag needs to be emptied approximately every 43 seconds…)

What to do when it’s still raining?

It’s almost May…and it’s still raining. Even for our normally wet spring climate, this has been an unusually soggy year. I’m also blaming the weather on my 3rd or 4th cold so far this year, which has knocked me flat for the last 6 days (which was why I had no Friday puzzle posted). So in between blowing my nose, hacking my lungs out, and generally feeling sorry for myself, I started looking over 10 years’ worth of photos of our home landscape.

You’ve seen bits and pieces of this before in some of my postings. But one of the spots I’m most proud of is the tiny east-facing side yard that originally contained lawn, a lilac, and a border of arborvitae. Within the first few years the lawn came out and plants started going in. In 2004 I’d installed some small rhododendron, a redbud (left foreground), and a whole lot of woodchips:

Since then we removed the lilac (it had been planted too close to the garage and was a powdery mildew magnet), put in an arbor and wisteria (on the right), and added a few more plants (ferns, bleeding hearts, various bulbs and tubers, etc.).  Here it is two (2006) and five (2009) years later:

This year we’ll finish off the area with some flagstone pavers.

One of the main reasons I’m so pleased with this area is that it was inexpensive to redo and it established quickly. We bought the redbud, the wisteria, and the bulbs, but the rest were donations from friends’ gardens, or volunteers that popped up elsewhere in the yard, or plants that someone else wanted removed (like the larger rhody in the far left corner and the dogwood in the right foreground, 2006 photo). The chips were free; the flagstones were a major score from craigslist (free to whomever would pry them up and lug them out).  All the purchased trees and shrubs were barerooted; and root-pruned if needed before planting. Upkeep is minimal except for a bit of pruning and spot watering during the hottest summer months; we’ve lost no plants other than the occasional bulb poaching by squirrels.

It’s just a little bitty sideyard…but I enjoy walking through it every time I’m outside, even in the rain.

Lasso those grasses!

While Jeff and Bert were swilling beers and eating burgers last weekend (dang, wish I was there to commiserate!) I was whacking back the last of the perennials and grasses in our home garden.  Tarp after tarp were filled with winter’s debris for compost pile as we fought 25 mph gusts the entire time.  Not ideal conditions.  However, a neat trick I learned years ago came in handy with the grasses.  I’m assuming many of you utilize this technique also – so forgive me if this is a “nothing new” post  Here’s Paul and Dabney, our Hahn Horticulture Garden horticulturists, demonstrating said technique:

Just cut below the web strap or rope with your favorite implement of destruction, and toss the whole bundle on the tarp to get it to the pile. Note that they both have on safety glasses, and Dabney has on gloves.  I can’t stress enough the importance of gloves (and long-sleeved shirts) when handling dried grasses. One of our student workers sliced his finger open to the tune of three stitches last week.  He was cutting down Arundo donax, Paul asked him to put some gloves on, but since 22 year-old guys are indestructible, he blew off the advice. Just saw him working out in the garden today with gloves on, yay!

Weigh in with YOUR garden clean-up tips – ’tis the season (for most of us north of USDA Zone 7 in the northern hemisphere).

Garden Professor Trivia #2: Who’s the tallest GP?

[This could get interesting…Oldest! Weirdest! Heaviest drinker! Most traffic tickets! Most cats! Most obsessed with slugs! etc.]

When trees attack!

I’ve been suffering through my post-holiday, post-annual-reporting cold and/or flu, so I don’t feel as witty (or snarky) as I might otherwise be.  Instead, I feel like my body’s been invaded by a slowly spreading mass that reminds me…oh, I don’t know…of what trees can do when they encounter an immovable object.

Not much of a segue, I know, but I just had the urge to post some interesting photos after Holly’s photo-fest yesterday.  (Memo to self: not fun being Holly’s follow-up act.)  Anyway, you’ve seen what happens when growing trees encounter neglected plant tags:

And perhaps you’ve seen how roots laugh at puny planting pits:

So before you feel the urge to attach something – anything – “permanently” to a tree, keep in mind that they have no respect for authority…

…or even those who got them started in life:

Restoration ecologists – you need us! Part 2.

Last month Linda posted on the need for horticultural knowledge for those trying to restore native habitats or at least establish native plants. There seems to be a pervasive notion that if we plant natives all we have to do is stick them in the ground and walk away. They’re native, right?  Don’t need irrigation; don’t need fertilizer; all that good jazz.   Well, often there is lot more to it than that.


A case in point.  Over the past couple of years I’ve been watching an unintended experiment near the State Capitol grounds in Olympia, WA.   The State opened up a vista so that the south end of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains were visible from the Capitol campus. It’s a lovely view.   As part of the development, a switchback trail was established on the steep hillside to connect the Capitol grounds with the park surrounding Capitol Lake below. A great idea.  Along the trial the hillside was planted with an array of native plants such as Oregon grape, salal, alder, and western redcedar.  Another fine idea.  Now comes the problem.  Near as I can tell, there was no plan for maintaining these native plants.  In fairly short order the hillside has become overrun with grasses, dandelions, and Himalayan blackberries – not exactly the desired effect.  And therein lies the rub.  Everyone is on board to plant natives but who’s on board for the hard work to maintain them.  Keeping weedy species from this planting by hand would take an army volunteers.  Burning is likely out due to the proximity of the Capitol and probably wouldn’t promote the desired species.  The answer?  Most likely a combination of hand-weeding and herbicides.  It is interesting that when the end justifies the means, herbicide is not such a dirty word anymore.  So there you go.   In order to effectively establish and maintain native plants, not only do we need to know about Mahonia aquifolium, Gaultheria shallon, and Alnus rubra; but it also helps to know about glyphosate, flumioxazin, and triclopyr.