Ask an expert: Compost soil now for plentiful poppies in spring – OregonLive


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We’re well into winter and that means spring and the gardening season is on the way.  If you’ve got questions, turn to Ask an Expert, an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. OSU Extension faculty and Master Gardeners reply to queries within two business days, usually less. To ask a question, simply go to the OSU Extension website and type it in, and include the county in which you live. Here are some queries asked by other gardeners. What’s yours?Q: I just bought five varieties of poppy seeds to plant this weekend. My soil is clay; do I need to amend it with compost and something that helps with drainage? Can I plant all the varieties together? How far apart should I disperse the seeds, and will they need to be thinned? – Lane CountyA: Poppy seeds are easy to grow and gorgeous.  Clay soil that is just clay needs composted materials.  Poppies do like well-drained soil. If you are itching to plant now, plant them indoors. Use potting soil, wet it and gently press the seeds into the top of the soil so they touch the moist soil but are not buried.  They need light to germinate. A window sill that gets all morning or all afternoon light works. Or put them under a lamp. Make sure the soil stays moist and the lamp is not too hot (too close to the pots).If you want to plant directly wait until mid-spring. It’s too wet now and your soil needs composting. You can add compost now and it will break down adding organic matter to the soil. Then add some more when you plant the seeds.  Plant in full sun.Yes, you can plant all of them together. The ones that say heirlooms will come back exactly as they are now. The other two may be hybrids. They may not come back exactly the same. Deadhead (remove dead flowers) to have more flowers this summer. The seed heads are also pretty.Saving seed from these flowers is easy, just let the flower head stay on the plant until the end of September. You may need to put a small bag over it (paper not plastic) and a rubber band around the stem so the seed head doesn’t open and the seeds fall out, to save the seeds.  However, poppies reseed generously so you may have poppies forever in that location and nearby.They do like fertile soil but low nitrogen, so composted material is all that I would use, no manures or other fertilizers should be needed.Most pets will not bother these flowers, but if you have nosy ones, do not let them eat the plants.  – Sheryl Casteen, OSU Extension Master GardenerQ: I have a 50-foot-high western red cedar in the middle of the backyard. I have a garden bed around the tree under the tree and out to the tree’s drip line. There is also a gravel path around the tree at the drip line. This bed and path were put in 10 years ago around the tree and I have added more compost every four years (3 inches) into the bed. I water the area regularly all summer.In the past few years, the tree has thinned out. I see the usual “cedar flagging” in early fall. Across the creek from me, the cedars are all dying, probably due to drought over time. I know my cedar gets enough water because I water regularly. Am I hurting my cedar by putting down garden compost every few years? Could I be watering too much for the tree’s health? Why is it thinning out? Is it dying slowly due to something I am doing? – Washington CountyA: Tree thinning in conifers and hardwoods is typically the result of some sort of root issue, either lack of water or nutrients, as on poor soils or from competition with other trees/plants, and/or from a pathogen or root-feeding insect that limits or cuts off the uptake of these resources.You mentioned that you regularly apply compost and water your tree throughout summer. The compost, depending on what type/mix you are using, is most likely not the reason for your thinning tree, although be sure to keep it away from the trunk. Compost is typically good for conserving water in your garden or landscape. Oregon has been in a drought since 2012 and this could be an underlying factor for weakened trees; however, well-established native trees, like western red cedar, are best left alone, as watering can be problematic, especially in the warmer months. Deep, sustained watering would be required to really make an impact, and this is not good during a drought, and you could be creating favorable conditions for potentially harmful root pathogens and root-feeding insects. I would recommend not watering your tree for these reasons.Regarding the dieback you are observing in your area, there is western redcedar dieback occurring in Washington and Oregon. The causes for this dieback are currently unknown, and it is likely to be caused by many different factors, drought being one of them. You can read more about this in this Oregon Department of Forestry brief.Good for you for paying attention to your surroundings and to what is going on in your area. This is an important step for determining what might be happening on your property.For your own records, I recommend monitoring what is happening to your tree and document what you are observing. You have done a good job sleuthing already, and here are some general tips for detecting a forest health issue: Describe the general setting. A map of your property is really helpful.What is the slope, aspect (direction your property is facing)? Is the tree in dense forests, on the edge?Describe the species, and general size (diameter and height).Describe the symptoms.Is/are the tree(s) completely dead?Describe any symptoms on foliage/needles.Describe any symptoms on trunk/base of tree.Is the issue localized, in patches, or widespread and also on neighboring properties or forests?Any other observations?Lastly, Why Are my Trees Dying? is a great article by my colleague John Punches that you may find helpful. – Dan Stark, OSU Extension forestry specialist Moss at base of tree. Oregonian file photo. LC-Q: I live in an area where moss is always an issue. It covers parts of my flower beds this time of year. I usually control it by raking it out, removing it by hand. Around shrubs and larger plants, it is manageable. When it grows into groundcovers or small plants, removing without damage to the desirables is next to impossible. Is there anything to do or apply that won’t harm the good stuff? – Marion CountyA: Moss is an issue for many landscapes in our area. If the conditions favor moss, it will return, so even with treatments, the problem isn’t solved. Taller ground covers may work for you. Here is a previous answer to this question: Garden MossThis article is helpful as well, “If you mind moss, get on board with preventative measures.”If you choose chemical options, you’ll want to read product labels carefully, to see that they don’t kill your broadleaf groundcovers. Controlling moss in turf is the focus of so much sold and published on moss issues. – Jacki Dougan, OSU Extension Master GardenerScotch heatherOSU Extension ServiceA: I have two young paperbark maple trees in my front yard. When we bought the house in March 2017 the previous owners had two small scotch heathers planted on either side of the tree bed. In summer 2019 I trimmed back some of the lawn as the trees and heather were looking a bit crowded. I added some new ground soil to fill in the bed after removing the grass. Fast forward to this winter, where we do have the most beautiful, purply heathers but they are huge. I am concerned for the maples.So, my questions are: Can I or should I even transplant a happily growing heather?If so, when can that be done?Would that harm the tree in case the roots are entwined?When would be the best time to prune it if it is transplanted?I assume that a move and pruning is done after the blooming, but I am at best a “brown thumb.” Hence the many questions. The tree in the mix makes it hard to find the answers in books. Any working guidelines you can provide are greatly appreciated. – Lane CountyQ: Scotch heather will get fairly large and spreading, so the location may get a bit crowded between the street and the sidewalk. It is used as a groundcover and is a relatively tough plant. It’s important to prune below the flowers on the stems after flowering in early spring. Paperbark maple, unlike many maples, has a root system that is not aggressive, so groundcovers can co-exist with it. It is also very slow-growing. It may be years before the tree could start shading the heather. If the heather fills that area, cut out a larger growing area for it and it will move into it. – Lane CountyNote to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
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