Garden Plots

Figs for all

Figs seem such tropical plants. Their broad, widely lobed leaves, and their energetic growth habit can be an unexpected sight in Western Oregon gardens. Yet there is a long history of fig culture in Columbia County. Many Italian immigrants that settled in St. Helens brought fig cuttings with them. Some of the older trees are still cared for.

Figs are hardy to 10-15° F. When the temperatures drop lower, the tree may die back to the ground but will re-sprout vigorously next spring.

Fig trees like well-drained soil and lots of sun. Lime the soil before planting. Figs love to be planted along a sunny wall of a house or outbuilding.

Figs are often pruned to a vase-shaped form. They can easily grow to 25 feet if given the opportunity. For fig trees planted next to a south-facing building wall for cold protection you would espalier the tree.

Fig varieties we grow do not need pollinizers. The most consistent performer seems to be Desert King or King. It has a greenish-purple outer skin with pink-red flesh. Look in the Raintree or One Green World nursery catalogs for descriptions of other varieties that have done well in the Pacific Northwest. Both catalogs are online.

The final reward is the incomparable pleasure of eating ripe fresh figs, either straight off the tree or served with heavy cream and brandy for dessert. Truly a meal for the Gods.

Garden tidbits for April

You should start tomatoes right now in a greenhouse or cold frame. Or you could buy your tomatoes at our Spring Fair, scheduled for April 28h in the morning at St. Helens High School.

Lawns need attention this month with moss removal and lawn fertilizing. Soils are generally too wet to aerate in March (the aerating tool seals the hole if the soil is too wet) but is possible if we have a lot of dry weather. You could lime at the rate of 60-75 pounds per 1000 square feet if you haven’t done that in a while.

Did you know that raccoons, native to North America, have become naturalized in Central Europe and are a significant problem to their native birds and animals?  Apparently they were in zoos and escaped in the chaos of World War II.

Several nice days ago, European gray slugs paraded across our road and driveway. Slug management is starting early this year. Put out baits where you know slug susceptible plants are growing even if the plants haven’t emerged yet. I feel most comfortable with iron phosphate based baits since they have a good safety profile for dogs (Sluggo is one trade name). This is the teachable moment for slugs.

Peas (both edible and floral) can be planted now. They will grow much faster if you cover them with row cover cloches to improve soil and air temperatures around them.

Compost rules

Organic matter is a valuable addition to all gardens. It improves soil textures and adds nutrient holding capacity to the soil. The stimulation of biological life as the material breaks down can reduce disease problems.

However, adding organic matter can tie up nitrogen for a period of time. Nitrogen is a very important plant nutrient. This tie up can hurt plant growth, especially annual flowers and vegetables. The degree of tie up relates to the relative amounts of humus and undecomposed residues in the material. If the material has completely composted, there is almost no tie-up. If the material is mostly “raw”, the tie-up can be substantial.

The way around the problem is to add extra nitrogen to feed the decomposer organisms. A standard recommendation is to add 3#s of actual nitrogen for each cubic yard of organ-ic matter. This is in addition to the fertilizer needed for the crop itself.

So how do you figure how much to add? If you use a synthetic source of nitrogen like urea (46-0-0) or ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), calculate the extra N based on the percentages in the material. For ammonium sulfate that would be 3/.21 = 14 pounds. Urea would be 3/.46 = 6.5 pounds. If you use an organic fertilizer with about 7% N, you need 3/.07 = 43 pounds of the fertilizer.

Remember, these amounts are in addition to the fertilizer you planned to apply to feed your vegetables or flowers.

We have a great publication called Fertilizing Home Gardens available from our office or at . You might also be interested in this publication about the uses of mulch: .

Scappoose Bay Watershed Council’s Native Plant Sale Saturday, April 14th

Join the Watershed Council at their Spring Native Plant Sale Saturday, April 14th, from 9 am to 3 pm. This is their semi-annual event to get you ready for spring and summer planting. They have lots of new plants at great prices – all native to our area. Staff and volunteers are available to help chose plants suggest gardening ideas, and provide information on establishing and maintaining native vegetation. For more information see

The Plant Sale is from 9am to 3pm at the SBWC nursery, located behind Scappoose High School. Look for signs – go east on SE High School Way and turn into the parking lot between the high school and the school ball field areas.

OSU Master Gardener’s™ Spring Garden Fair:  Saturday, April 28th

The OSU/Columbia County Master Gardener’s™ Spring Garden Fair at St. Helens High School Commons, 2375 Gable Rd St Helens, OR, will be held on April 28th from 9:00AM – 3:00 PM. The OSU Master Gardeners™ will sell 5,000 tomatoes in more than 30 varieties, provide tomato and general gardening information, and have a number of educational displays. There will also be many local vendors offering garden plants and other garden related products.


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