Master Gardener™ class signups being taken for 2020 class in St. Helens

The OSU Extension office in Columbia County will be offering the Master Gardener™ training again this spring. This year, we are trying a new schedule that allows people that work to attend. The classes will be held on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. and on alternate Saturdays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. for about 10 weeks starting on February 5, 2020 at the Extension office in St. Helens. Cost of the program is $100.00 which includes a large re-source book. Some scholarships are available. Master Gardeners are responsible for providing volunteer gardening education to the community as partial payback for the training. If interested in the program, call the Extension office at (503) 397-3462 for an information packet. Online registration is now available at https://tinyurl.com/ColumbiaMG2020. We can also send you an application and/or you can come into our office to sign up.

How hot was it?

Farmers use “heat units” also known as “growing degree days” to assess when a crop will be ready to harvest or when a particular insect pest might appear. Winegrowers use this information to determine which varieties to plant. If you are interested in taking your own measurements, I can tell you how it is done (it is really simple). So, without further ado, here are the heat unit numbers for the last six years for St. Helens, Rainier, and Clatskanie using, for the plant nerds, a base 50 degrees F.

You can see that, for St. Helens and Clatskanie, it was the third hottest growing season (April 1 – October 31st) in the last seven years. Rainier was closer to the average. It would have been a lot warmer except for the rainy chill that enveloped the region in mid-September through most of October. The gardening results? An excellent tomato season until the rain hit. Disease aided by rain heavily damaged the tomatoes. But by then, lots of BLTs had been eaten and jars of tomatoes processed. Greens did wonderfully. Fruit was mixed and grapes in the Willamette valley had trouble maturing. Despite the September/October drizzle, we are still moisture short heading into winter. That said, the extended weather forecast indicates much more rain over the new few weeks.

The average for St. Helens in this seven year period was 2467. The average for the previous five year period was about 2200.

Those clever Christmas cacti

Christmas cacti, which are really succulents from Central America, are favorite indoor plants. They are relatively easy to care for and flower abundantly at least twice a year. Like many plants, they need environmental triggers to get them to bloom. For these plants, the triggers are a lengthy dark period each day for three to four weeks and/or cool temperatures.

Where cacti are lit in the evening, cool temperatures (less than 65 degrees) will sometimes override the lighting and the plants will bloom anyway. Often, the branches of a plant next to a window will get enough chilling to induce bloom, but only on that side of the plant. Some gardeners put the plants in a closet or cover them with a black plastic garbage bag from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day for about three weeks and that usually gets the flower buds going. Poinsettias can be brought back into bloom with the dark period treatment of about 6 weeks. However, you are too late to get them to bloom for Christmas this year. They don’t respond to cold temperatures like Christmas cacti.

It turns out that the unheated and unlit sun porches of our great grandparents were perfect for getting Christmas cacti to flower. No wonder these plants were so loved by Victorian-era indoor gardeners.

Winter planning

Some things to take care of as soon as possible:

• If you use your pump only for irrigation, drain the system and turn it off.

• Stay ahead of leaves in gutters.

• Consider treating for moss on your roof. Zinc products are the treatment of choice. Read and follow label instructions.

• Remove fuel from lawn mowers, rototillers, and other small equipment. Run them until they are run dry. There is a lot of debate about the value of “gas stabilizers” as an alternative to removing the fuel. Get advice from a small engine mechanic.

• Clean and store garden tools.

• Clean fertilizer spreaders and store fertilizer and pesticides safely.

• Bring in hoses and drain any water lines that are not well-protected from freezing.

Take extra produce to the Food Bank this year.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) written/edited by yours truly. All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed or emailed to you. Call (503) 397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at

Many Extension publications available online

Are you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting grapes? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ . Click on publications and start exploring.

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Contact information for the Extension office

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County. 505 N. Columbia River Highway St. Helens, OR 97051. 503 397-3462. Email: chip.bubl@oregonstate.edu

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