Disinfecting Pruning Tools

Back in the “old days”, we never worried about disinfecting pruning tools, or maybe I just was not paying attention. But now, there is a lot of talk about preventing the spread of disease-causing pathogens in your landscape. Maybe there are more disease-causing pathogens??

Felco hand pruners

I am convinced that disinfecting garden tools is an absolute necessity and I am most aware of it in the spring. When pruning the grapes, fruit trees and the roses, I notice the spots and blotches on the stems that could possibly be spread to other parts of the plant or to other plants.

Black or purple canes may indicate that your roses have bacterial cane blight.

What to use to clean your tools? There is bleach and it can be effective. For a few years, I ran around with a white rag that I would dip in bleach and all my jeans pockets turned white. Recently, I read that bleach also loses its efficacy by 50% after two hours. The bleach companies do make those pop-up cleaning wipes, I guess they would work. I don’t care for the wasted wipes that I then have to carry around and hope they don’t blow away in the wind.

My favorite shears
My favorite shears for pruning grasses, lavender, caryopteris.

I have most recently been carrying around a bottle rubbing alcohol and a rag to clean my pruning shears and loppers. Apparently, it is effective. Also recommended is a 5 to 1 pine oil in water solution. “Pick your poison”, as they say, just remember to use it!. And, then there is the issue of transmission with your gardening gloves- be sure and wash them frequently.

Information gathered from: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/tools-and-equipment/disinfecting-tools.html



This is a great time to pull these weeds. The ground is soft and damp and so you just pull from the soil level and get the whole root. If you wait until summer when the soil is hard and dry, well, you probably know what will happen. Snap! You break the root just below soil level and now you have made another plant.

Mallow is edible and is even considered a medicinal plant. It is used as a laxative and a diuretic. But right now, I’m only concerned about pulling all the young shoots out of the ground.

Time to pull out the mallow

After pulling one of these, I feel so very accomplished that I got it completely, root and all. Take a tour of your garden and start pulling!

What’s This?

A pictorial guide to the small green plants popping up outside.

In the spring, when I head out to the garden to see what needs to be done, I often find myself wondering, “now what could that green thing be? “. Do you seem to do that too? It could be that I planted something and then forgot what I planted, or maybe some plant reseeded itself and it is coming up without my help.

Here are a few pictures to show you the differences between some of the plants- at least the ones I have in my yard.

This is a tulip emerging from the soil. They usually start to show in mid -February

Usually gardeners are wondering what is the difference between a tulip or a daffodil and so, here is a daffodil.

The first shoots of the daffodil before it flowers. The stems are flattened, paddle shaped.

Now that you can see the pictures side by side, the difference is plain. Some other plants are not so simple. Here is another bulb that you may have planted in your garden, the scilla. I included a photo of it in bloom since it is not as well known as the tulip and daffodil.

Scilla or squill. A spring bulb.

Here is what it looks like as it just is emerging. This picture does not give the scale of this plant very well, it is a very small bulb and small flower. The greens are about 2 inches high in this photo, and as a mature plant, they only reach 4-6 inches high.

Crocus vs. Grape Hyacinth

These can get me confused at times and I love my crocuses, they have been in my landscape for more than 20 years and they keep multiplying! Now, it is a totally different story for the grape hyacinths, they are garden thugs, multiplying and trying to squeeze out the preferred crocuses. Once they are in bloom there is no question to their identity but early on it can be confusing.

One clue is that the grape hyacinth greens, (muscari) will show up in the fall. The crocus greens will not appear until mid-February. Grape hyacinth greens are longer, leggier a bit larger and floppy. Crocus greens are a bit straighter, some have a white line on the greens and the real give away is the grouping at the soil level.

Crocus greens in spring

Notice the “wrapping” of the greens at the bottom. That is my sure way to tell the difference. I don’t want to get close to pulling these out of the ground. But, it is a different story with the muscari.

Muscari – grape hyacinth greens

The picture above are the bulbs I want to pull out of the ground and every spring, I do. But they multiply like crazy- the bulbs will produce bulbettes Here is what it looks like as it just is emerging. This picture does not give the scale of this plant very well, it is a very small bulb and small flower. The greens are about 2 inches high in this photo. The bulbs under the ground produce bulbettes and later on, the flowers dry and drop seeds. They have found the secret to over population- they reproduce in more than one way.

Garden Events in the Treasure Valley

You should be seeing these in the garden very soon!

Spring is just around the corner! There are a lot of garden events happening locally. Here are the ones I found (there may be more):

  • February 13: DIY Zen Garden, 6-8pm at the Downtown Public Library call 208-971-8200 to register. Free.
  • February 16: Welcome to Boise Gardening at Far West Nursery. Free. Call to register 208-853-4000
  • February 16: GARDEN TALKS – Kokedama at Madeline George from 1-2pm. $20. See their website for more information https://madelinegeorge.com.
  • February 16: Seedy Saturday at Edwards Greenhouse 11am-2 pm. Free. Seed exchange and information on seed starting, seed saving.
  • February 16: Seed Starting and Organic Garden Planning and Organic Gardening 101 and Grow your own greens indoors. All 3 classes at North End Organic Nursery. Free. Call to register 208-389-4769 and see their website for more information.
  • February 18: Fermenting Pickles, Saurkraut and Kimchi. 5 -6 pm. North End Organic Nursery. Call to register 208-389-4769 and see their website for more information.
  • February 19: Mid-Century Modern: Hardscapes and Plants at the Idaho Botanical Garden . Call (208) 343-8649 to register
  • February 21: Meriwether Cider Tour with the Idaho Botanical Garden call (208) 343-8649 to register. 
  • February 23: Mossarium in a jar at Edwards Greenhouse, 10:30am. $25. Call to register or sign up on line: https://www.edwardsgreenhouse.com/calendar/2019/2/23/class-mossarium-in-a-jar
  • February 23: Pruning your plants at Far West Nursery. Free. Call to register: 208-853-4000. See their website https://farwestgardencenter.net- for more information.
  • February 23: Bown Crossing Seed Fair. 1-4pm. 2153 Riverwalk Dr. Boise. Drop in event with U of Idaho Master Gardeners at the Bown Crossing Public Library.
  • February 23: Create your own terrarium workshop. Call the Idaho Botanical Garden to register.
  • February 25: Make your own Kombucha 4-5 pm. North End Organic Nursery. Free. Call to register 208-389-4769 and see their website for more information.
  • February 25: Who needs space: Your best garden ever, in containers. 5-6pm. North End Organic Nursery. Free. Call to register 208-389-4769 and see their website for more information.
  • February 27: Growing Great Gardens, 6 pm at the Madeline George Nursery. Free. Call to register 208-995-2815.
  • March 2: Small Footprint design at Far West Nursery. Call to register: 208-853-4000. See their website for more information.
  • March 5: Seed Starting with Master Gardener Dave Hopkins from 6:30PM -7:30 PM at the Library at Hillcrest, 5246 W. Overland Road, Boise. Check the Library website for more information.
  • March 5: Fruit Tree pruning and trimming with https://www.boiselearns.org. See their site for more information.
  • March 6: Rethinking Idaho Landscapes- A Horticultural Symposium. Call the Idaho Botanical Garden to register, or check it out online.
  • March 9: What to Plant for Year Round Interest at Far West Nursery. Call to register: 208-853-4000. See their website for more information.
  • March 9: Unlocking Your Garden: Keys to creating natural soil health. 1:30-2:30 pm. North End Organic Nursery. Free. Call to register 208-389-4769 and see their website for more information.
  • March 14: All about Roses with https://www.boiselearns.org. See their website for more information.
  • March 16: Fruit Grows on Trees at Far West Nursery. Call to register: 208-853-4000. See their website for more information.
  • March 22-24 Boise Flower and Garden Show, see www.gardenshowboise.com for more information.


The “garden gals” showed up at Sue G’s house and embarked on a new adventure,  she introduced us to Kokedama or Japanese moss balls.  Providing all the ingredients necessary to make these, we got busy making moss balls to hang in our homes.  Check out the photos,  it was really a lot of fun, not difficult at all and now, I have 2 new house plants to enjoy!

First, we g0t the oppotunity work in Sue G's awesome greenhouse- built from windows from Habitat for Humanity's retail store, "Restore".  Isn't it just beautiful?

We picked out the plant we wanted to work with and washed a lot of the soil off the roots and then added Sue's special blend of soil that was well water-drenched to make a large ball.  Once we packed the plant in a large enough ball, we wrapped it all in wet moss.  You will see the moss in sitting in water in a boot mat in one of the photos.

This is a boot tray, but we used it to lay out the moss and covered it with water.

You can see the green side is on the bottom so we could wrap it around our clay plant ball.  Once it is covered in moss, then you randomly wrap string around the ball.  We wrapped it over and over, using several yards of cotton string to secure the moss to the plant ball.

First, notice Sue D's new 'do- isn't awesome?? Here she is wrapping string around the moss ball.

After we tied off the string on the ball, if we wanted to hang the plant, we added "hangers" by using more string.  See- so easy and attractive.  Whenever the ball dries out, we can place it in a bowl of water for a short period of time and it is ready to go for another week or so.  Kokedama is also called "poor man's bonsai", so I will assume by wrapping the plant up like this we are limiting it's growth, but still keeping the plant alive.

Thank you Sue for hosting us and teaching us a new skill, it really was fun!

Here are a few more photos of the day we spent out at her home. Notice the raised beds!

Plants before we kokedama'd them.

Pressing the soil unto the roots of the plants.

Working on the root ball.

The view out of the greenhouse window.

Sue's raised beds- lots of veggies here!

Swallows nesting on the patio. The good news- they eat mosquitos!  Check out the horse hair in the nest.

The final product- they call it Kokedama! I'm happy with "beautiful".

To see a larger view of these photos, double click on them.

Tulip Color Combinations

I love spring. I love tulips and I love all the colors of spring flowers that can make a beautiful spring landscape. I have been collecting photos of some of the tulip color combinations I have seen around town so I can make a plan for my garden. I hope these photos give you a few ideas as well! (double click on the photos to enlarge the photo)

Red tulips, yellow daffodils, pansies, violas and blue hyacinths.

In the first photo, there are yellow daffodils, red tulips, pansies in yellow and beautiful purple violas or you might call them Johnny jump ups and lastly, purple hyacinths. In front of the bed are the greens from crocus flowers that are now done. I love the hot color and contrast in this one.

Pink tulips with Grecian windlfowers (Anemone blanda) in the back

In the second photo you see the quiet pastel pinks blended with cool blues (Grecian windflower-Anemone blanda) behind them. One great characteristic of the windflowers is that they are in bloom for a couple of months- if you have a large clump of them. They start blooming in March and slowly dwindle down in mid May.

In the next photo is another bright combo of orange and yellow tulips, blue hyacinths, yellow, purple and white pansies and purple with yellow violas. Excuse the weed in the middle and the dead ornamental cabbage in front- this is a municipal flower bed in the middle of Main Street, Meridian, Idaho (notice the car tires at the top of the photo).

Yellow and orange tulips with pansies and hyacinths

I had to stop my car on the way to work and jump out and get a photo of this awesome vignette of flowers, garden bench, vintage milk cans and skulls. Pink, purple, blue and white hyacinths are in front and the red, yellow and orange combo tulips hover from behind. The bark texture on the tree and the metal decor on the bench add depth and dimension to this interesting gardenscape. What do you think of this one? I like it!

Skulls, vintage farm equipment and tulips with hyacinths.

Fuschia, orange and yellow tulips.

A closer look at this hot color combo

The next color combo did literally stop me in my tracks at the Meridian Village, the colors are hot and bright and the tulips are very exotic. I'm guessing here, but I think the fuschia ones are lily-flowering tulips, the yellow ones might be Kaufmanniana tulips, but I'm not sure, maybe a double fringed tulip. The brilliant colors are WOW.



Yellows and reds


Pinks alone


Making Fountains

Our garden group met at Melonie’s house to learn about making fountains. She has made several fountains that are in her yard and so she demonstrated how we could make our own with a variety of materials. But the first order of business was to prune her old roses.
I love to prune old roses! I love to see the change from a clunky stubby plant to a clean cut open shrub.
We removed an entire trash can of old wood off of the 4 plants and hopefully that gave each of the roses the idea that it is time to produce some leaves and beautiful flowers.

Before we started pruning
The rose after we finished pruning.

Thanks Mel, for all the great fountain ideas and the sandstone rocks to make our own fountains!
Making a fountain using a pot and a pump

Another fountain idea with a bubbler and a plant in a basin

Making a fountain with a rock- Bury the pot so the grate is at ground level. This one is my favorite.

Lavender Clippings

The “garden gals” visited Lavender Acres in Meridian, Idaho to learn about pruning lavender in the spring, Grosso lavender specifically. Donna gave us a quick demonstration using the electric pruners and if you have a lot of lavender, you will need the electric shears, too. But, if not, the long handled pruners will work as well. The principles are the same, but it will take you 10 times longer!

My favorite shears
My favorite shears for pruning grasses, lavender, caryopteris.

Donna prunes over 3000 lavenders each spring, so she is very practiced at the art and pruning one lavender, even her giant 3 foot high grosso, only took a minute or two.
The key is to prune at the right time-when the forsythia is in bloom. The same signal we use for rose pruning.
Do not cut into the wood. She leaves about one inch of non-woody material all the way around.
Cutting into the wood makes for unsightly bald spots
Some of her Grosso lavender is 12 years old and they are about at the end of their life span.
Grosso can only be propagated by cuttings.
Grosso Lavender in bud

After the pruning, we gathered up several stems to take home to practice propagating our our Grosso lavender. And, even better, we also got to dig out a lot of volunteer lavenders. These are the lavender varieties that self seed, the Lavandula angustifolia varieties.

Lavender blooms

Southern California Super Bloom

A Bright Weekend Getaway at Hemet’s Diamond Valley Lake

By guest writer Daniel Henderson

    The drought in California, officially declared by Gov. Brown in 2014, may finally be over. The winter storms of 2016 kept school kids in cafeterias and libraries during recess and lunch, and caused slick roads for commuters. The shortage of water in Southern California was news to people around Los Angeles and the country for so long, people were universally happy for these inconveniences. The snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains, majestically visible after the numerous storm fronts had passed through, brought cool relief to everyone.

    The rain and drizzle continued into 2017, and as spring approached, people in the desert communities knew that the wildflower season promised to be spectacular. Their predictions were right. From Red Rock Canyon State Park in Kern County, Carrizo Plain National Historic Landmark in Ventura County, and Anza Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, photos, videos, and stories of the "Super Bloom" made their way to coastal residents, and we, in turn, took days off work or made weekend sojourns to see the amazing displays of color.

    My wife Deborah and I, on the first weekend of an early spring break from Cal. State Fullerton, drove southeast from Orange County to visit Uncle James and Aunt Dorothy in Perris. Precipitation had transformed their normally arid yard into a green meadow, and the amethyst verbenas burst out to cover the periphery of the tall grass. Small lavender flowers peeked through the neighbor's fence.The flowers are more prolific than their tomatoes.

    After a nice visit with them, we drove to Hemet, California, a city on the west side of Mt. San Jacinto. San Jacinto is the second highest peak in Southern California, and provides the evening shade to Palm Springs to its east. Hemet was historically a farm town, and when Uncle James and Aunt Dorothy lived there, they kept horses on their property. Our ultimate destination was Diamond Valley Lake, a reservoir with 4,500 acres of water, completed just before the new millennium. Uncle James, before he retired, worked on the three dams that keep the water inside the now-submerged valley.

    Along with a boat launch, which is probably the main attraction most of the time, the miles of hiking trails are currently awash with verdant grasses and vibrant swaths of wildflowers.
    There were scores of people there already when we arrived just after nine in the morning, and hundreds by the time we left just after noon. Dozens more people were still lined up in their cars to park as we left. While we didn't ask the cost to launch a boat, the price to park is $7, with an additional $3 per person to hike the trails.

    The longest trail borders the lake, over twenty miles around.
    We stuck to the trails close to the boat launch, and saw plenty of flowers, shrubs, birds and rocks to keep us interested. The hills all around Southern California have been green for months, and the hills here are no exception. Bright yellow California Goldfields, though, showed warm against the cool hills and blue sky. Among and around these, plain and pretty Blue Dicks reached toward the sun.
    There were few boats on the water the day we were there, but a few people along the shore had their poles with them, hoping to catch bass, bluegill, rainbow trout, or some of the other stocked fish. Along the shore, California Poppy shares the normally arid soil with Arroyo Lupine and Caterpillar Phacelia.

    Even the hard, rocky earth can't keep our state's official flower from flourishing.

    This Chia, too, likes the granitic soil, as do the Canterbury Bells.
    Interesting spiky puffballs, which I can't name, are at home in the melange of florets.

    Many people walked the easy trails of the hills around the lake, but there were other critters enjoying the warm day, too. This lizard was perched on a sun-covered rock and this caterpillar (far from the lizard) clung to a stem amongst the Arroyo Lupine and Chia. A few Ladybugs, too, could be seen if you looked closely.

    The day was beautiful, with bright sun modulated with the shade of slow-moving clouds, making an easy Sunday for us and these Rancher's Fiddlenecks. At times, there was more to see than I could take in, and my wife kept far ahead of me since stopped to take pictures so often.

    The view down the hillside toward the farms and homes is a reminder that the beauty of the Super Bloom is just outside our own backyards. The clouds had no rain in them here, but provided occasional, welcome minutes of shade. Still, our skin is red where the sun got on us, and we both got more than our usual walk. (Strolling the length of the outlet mall in Lake Elsinore afterwards also added to our step counts).

Cider Press

Autumn, a beautiful time when the weather is perfect, nights are cool, and the apples are ripe. A friend, Kit, offered the Garden Gals the use of her family cider press and so we got together and had a pressing party! Their backyard was the perfect September setting to work at crushing apples and pears and hanging out together.

Kit's family at the Cider Pressing Party
Kit's family at the Cider Pressing Party

We were all learning to operate the cider press and so we had to experiment to see what would work best. The nice part about making cider, is you can use the whole apple and the apple does not have to be perfect. Worms and all can go into the press! The first thing we did was fill up some containers with water to wash off the summer dirt and sand on the outside. The press has its own grinder and that's when the work began. Grinding requires a bit of arm strength. Fortunately, we had many willing volunteers to take turns with the crusher.

Working hard to crush the apples!
Working hard to crush the apples!

As the apples were crushed, they then fell into the wooden cider bucket- that bucket was lined with a porous cloth to hold the apples together.
When the bucket was filled, it was time to turn the crank and do the pressing of the apples. The juice then poured into the bottom tray that had an opening for the juice to drop down into a bowl. Then we poured the juice through cheesecloth into jugs.
Cutting apples
Cutting apples

Some of the apples were too large to place into the apple grinder and so we had a crew of ladies quartering apples before they were placed in the crusher. That was a good thing, since then we could also catch and throw out the rotten apples.

Best cider ever! We tried pear cider also and what we discovered were the pears were much easier to crush because they were so soft. And their juice had a lot more pulp in it, but still delicious.

Thanks Kit for allowing us to come over and enjoy the beautiful yard and your cider press.

Help! My branches are breaking- OR How Many Ladders Do I Need to Hold Up My Fruit Trees?

peach tree loaded with peaches
This ladder is supporting an over abundant peach tree branch that will snap off without some kind of intervention

Home orchards are a lot of work- trees need pruning, thinning and a watchful eye for pests and diseases. If you are growing organically, the work is probably doubled! So it seems many people with backyard orchards, find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated in order to produce healthy fruit trees and healthy fruit. But if there is one job you should NOT neglect on your home orchard, it is thinning and summer pruning.

If you see a ladder holding up a fruit tree branch, it is because the gardener did not thin the spring blossoms or did not thin enough of the blossoms. The result then, is that you will see sticks, boards, shovels and ladders propping up overloaded branches in order to save the fruit.

Continue reading "Help! My branches are breaking- OR How Many Ladders Do I Need to Hold Up My Fruit Trees?"