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Eugene, Oregon: Late Summer changes into Early Fall

Odell Lake in Cascade Mountains just east of Eugene

Preparing for fall west of the Cascades:

Here it is mid September now in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon.  This past summer was a busy one in Eugene.  We did not have the luxury of goofing off as we would have liked, because we were busy working our butts off.  Personally, no complaints, but my only real recreation was a camping trip with friends to Odell Lake.  It was enjoyable as we took my friend’s boat out on the lake, played guitar by the campfire, and picked wild mountain huckleberries.  Heck, even our mascot, the singing canary “Chipper,” came up from Eugene and hung out in his cage under the fir tree.  Unlike my singing around the campfire, the canary managed to attract an unusual colorful procession of wild birds that came to listen to him sing.  It is not as if we did not get to do anything else enjoyable, but it certainly was a busy working summer.  This past summer the time flew past working for longtime customers and getting to know our new clients. 

Currently the Landscape Division is gearing up for fall.  This includes preparing equipment for a lot of wet and heavy leaf piles.  We are able to keep our regular customer’s properties tidy with a little time and a lot of elbow grease.  The challenge of the season starts when service requests come from new customers with huge piles of wet leaves.  The story is all about forgetting to rake up leaves or put them out for the city to pick up waiting in tidy high piles along low curbs.  Instead the story unfolds a second chapter wherein Gem-Metro rakes up wet lawns choked by soggy leaves.  These slimy leaves are heavy and full of humic acids, unloved trash, and formidable natural tannins.  Boy, it is hard to get those stains out of our clothes and off of our stained hands.  But we love it!

We especially love the added fall rush which includes fall cleanups and hauling and applying bark mulch from Lane Forest Products!  People in the landscaping industry are like bees; we get excited about being busy with lots of work to do.  Even Mark, who greets us at the main gate at Lane for over twenty years now, still gets a smile on his face as we load up on bark.  You may have noticed him there.  He is the guy with the positive attitude covered under a neutral colored broad-brimmed hat.  Every year like clockwork, or some shifty banker, he looks the other way as we test our boundaries and burn rubber out of their lot on our way to our next delivery.  But fall is more than bark mulch time; fall is a great time to plant.

Trees, perennials, and bushes of all types benefit from a fall planting.  This is because the roots have time to literally “dig in” and establish themselves before winter.  This root growth nourishes a better start and more growth come the following spring.  Bark mulching fits in by helping to keep erosion down and insulating the roots of your plants from winter chill.  Remember, when the ground freezes your plants need moisture too; bark mulch prevents winter injury caused by dry soils and desiccated foliage, canes, and limbs.  Fall is almost as busy a time as spring is.

With all the projects keeping you busy this fall preparing for winter, add your vegetable garden to them; you will be glad that you did.  A little fall garden preparation now will save you a lot of time and work next spring.  It is an easy chore; just tuck your vegetable garden in properly by removing spent vegetation, fall tilling, and either planting a green manure cover crop such as inoculated crimson clover or sheet composting with leaves and compost.  Then sit back looking out from your comfy warm chair by the corner kitchen window and enjoy the bright crisp fall colors outside; and until next time; happy and relaxing gardening!


Summer in Eugene, Oregon

Summer in Eugene, Oregon is a welcome change.  During July and August the weather is often sunny with daytime highs in the 80’s and nightly lows in the 50’s.  The humidity and the bugs are hardly noticeable west of the Cascades as compared to locations south and east of here such as Texas or Vermont.  We have it pretty good here come summer.  Sure, the western Oregon winter is long with short dreary days but our comfortable summer more than makes up for our winter discomforts.  Gardens are growing so fast in our good summer weather pattern one can easily see the growth daily taking place.  All around the area of Eugene can be found ripe raspberries, blueberries, and flavor packed strawberries.  The tasty berries growing here are much better than the ones grown in fumigated fields trucked up to Eugene from the south sadly sulking in on our grocery store produce isles. Blackberry vines are atoning for their pernicious wicked thorns by offering passerby berries free for the picking.  Birds are raising and fledging young, fishermen are enjoying the river in their drift boats, and outdoor women are hiking the nearby volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains.  Families are out and about riding their bicycles or camping together on the weekends.  There are so many recreational options and so much to do in our Oregon summers!  Painting our homes or canning from our gardens, summer is a busy and enjoyable time for us.  Sometimes I just ride my bicycle up and down the river path for no other silly reason than it is fun. 


Garden sights around Eugene, Oregon

"Bowl of Beauty" Herbaceous Peony

"Johnny-Jump Ups" violas

Oxeye Daisies (an introduced European weed) in a riparian corridor field

Early Spring Owens Rose Garden

Stone garden castle Whitaker Neighborhood

The herb Borage; you can eat the flowers in a salad or put in summer ice cubes for sweet tea


Hybrid tea rose "Fragrant Cloud," on its own roots and free of RMV (Rose Mosaic Virus), rated somewhere around a 9 out of 10 for fragrance.  This bloom will scent an entire room for days.



Fertilizing Lawns: Part One

Fertilization of Turf Grass: the Noticeable Effects

In these pictures please note the effects of applying fertilizer.  In the first picture is a median strip of predominantly perennial ryegrass mixed lawn.  To the left of the tree the grass appears a darker shade of green where it was fertilized, while in contrast where it was not fertilized to the right it is a lighter yellow shade of green.  This is the effect two weeks after an application of 16-16-16+6S fertilizer.  In the industry this manmade fertilizer mix is known as “Triple 16”.  It has a guaranteed analysis of 16% total Nitrogen (N), 16% available Phosphate (P2O5), 16% soluble Potash (K2O) and an additional 6% Sulfur (+S).  Triple 16 is most often used in agricultural fields; it is used here as an example to illustrate quick results.  This type of fertilizer is fast acting and requires irrigation or rainfall to dissolve its salt like pellets  without burning the leaves of the grass turf.  Its application requires a spreader for an even distribution, however in these examples Douglas spread this by hand (trust me, this trick of the trade takes some practice; NEVER try this yourself with dry agricultural fertilizer concentrates).  The darker green grass is the result of the Nitrogen contained in the fertilizer.  If the clippings are removed after mowing (without recycling the clippings on the lawn itself with a mulching mower: which is an uncommon practice in Eugene) much of this nitrogen contained in the grass will be removed.  There are two good places in which to transfer the nitrogen rich clippings: 1. To add nitrogen to the carbon material such as leaves in the compost pile, or 2. To mulch in the vegetable garden between rows of nitrogen hungry plants such as sweet corn, which also cuts down on weeding chores by smothering the weeds in the garden row walkways as done in the next photo.

Lawn clippings used as a nitrogen rich mulch in the garden

Spearmint patch in a field: Right fertilized, left unfertilized

                Finally, this same fertilizer was simultaneously applied to a spearmint patch nearby.  Some of the broadcasted fertilizer granules became lodged in the uppermost leaves of the spearmint which caused the tips to burn.  Additionally, the Dutch white clover present (trifoleum repens) was significantly burned when the rain dissolved the fertilizer salts upon its exposed foliage.  Lesson here is to keep “hot” synthetic fertilizers like “triple 16” off your plant’s flowers, stems, and leaves.  As in the turf example the darker green area; this time on the right, is where the fertilizer was applied.  Note the taller stems and more robust leaves of the fertilized spearmint.  A point to keep in mind is although your lawn requires nitrogen and benefits from fertilization, the best  cultural practice is to avoid synthetic fertilizers in favor of soil microbe and humus building natural fertilizer materials; more on that in another future article.


Tomato Man: Jeff Eaton, Eugene, Oregon

Jeff Eaton is a tomato and pepper enthusiast from the north side of the Santa Clara area of Eugene, Oregon.  His business is humorously and aptly named “Jeff’s Garden of Eaton.” The River Road and Santa Clara areas north of Eugene is populated by many enthusiastic and foreward thinking gardeners.  The region is one of the most interesting and rewarding areas to work in the landscaping and horticulural trades as the garden plots are usually expansive, fertile, and level.  Tomatoes have a harder time growing amongst the fir tree shaded hills in south Eugene; but Santa Clara is big sun deep soil garden country. In Santa Clara Jeff enjoys growing over 200 cultivated varieties of tomatoes and additionally over 200 cultivars of peppers at his place near River Road.  In fact, it is easy to find his collection, all for sale; travel north on River Road, make a right on Hunsaker and a final right onto 2650 Summer Lane and there he is!  Now is the time to plant tomatoes (Mid May thru Mid June in the Southern Willamette Valley of Oregon).  In our conversation today he said, “90% of my tomatoes are heirlooms of different colors each having its own distinctive flavor palette.”  Jeff carries tomatoes in 3 ½” pots for $2 and uplanted larger starts in 5 ½” pots for $4 with better development.   Jeff is a personable and knowledgeable grower; stop by and get some tomatoes or pepper plants soon before July!  Jeff was kind enough to try to track down my favorite tomato; the open pollinated determinate “Lisa King.”  Thank you Jeff!  Jeff’s Garden of Eaton 541-228-6470


Dynamic Accumulator

Dynamic Accumulator


                No, this is not a person who collects any and everything from garage sales and auctions and then stores them in their house in piles so high they make a pack rat green with envy…no, in fact a dynamic accumulator is, specifically, a plant that is able to mine the mineral riches contained in subsoil by bringing them to the surface.  A plant such as common Comfrey (symphytum x uplandicum) is a good example of a dynamic accumulator.  Comfrey is a deep rooted perennial   armed with roots reaching way down into the abyss of subsoil normally not accessible to the plow, shovel, or rotary tiller.  Although comfrey is a big user of nitrogen it is able to pull potassium from deep within the subsoil where it ultimately ends up in its leaves.  These leaves can be harvested by the gardener where upon being laid as mulch around plants quickly composts into a black material rich in a readily available form of potash.  “Potash” is a term originating from early experiments wherein a potted plant was burned and the resulting ashes were shown to contain the element potassium.  Potassium (Potash) is the third numeral of the common fertilizer code: such as 5-10-12; 5 indicating Nitrogen content, 10 Phosphorus, and 12 Potash (K).  Some other commonly found plants easily used by the gardener as dynamic accumulators include but is not limited to: chicory, borage, buckwheat, lemon balm, stinging nettle, and yarrow.

      I will argue many trees can be considered in this category also.  Consider the mature maples growing in the centrally located areas of the city of Eugene, Oregon.  Like the lilies of the field they neither toil nor spin, but King Solomon and Eugene Skinner could never array their garden’s compost pile with the macro and micronutrients these stately old trees mine for free.  The process works where first the tree roots pull up elements ten feet under Olive Street, then traveling up the cambium layer some of these materials end up in the tree’s leaves.  Fall comes and the chlorophyll laden sap returns into the trees limbs and the true pigment of the Norway Maple’s leaves shine forth in burgundy and orange hues.  Finally, a big crisp wind from the coast blows off the season’s spent leaves like some fallen angel onto your lawn where the humic acids and the shading of the decaying leaf begins to stain your sidewalks and kill your grass.  To the rescue comes Gem Metro Yard Service to save the day as your leaves are removed and trucked to Mishka’s commercial salad greens field where they are incorporated into the farm soil of the Santa Clara area of the Willamette Valley.  The final stop is where your salad fork shoves the lettuce into your mouth at the upscale restaurant you both decided on while in Eugene… as the trace micronutrient called copper is incorporated into your living breathing being to keep your heart pumping as it should.  Bottom line: Dynamic Accumulators are our friends.

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