Garden Column

Contact information

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County

505 N. Columbia River Highway

St. Helens, OR 97051


This has been a tough late spring for most heat loving crops.

Potatoes, though, have done fairly well with the cool and wet weather. So have the cabbage family and lettuce, assuming the slugs have been kept down. Some early potatoes may be ready for harvest.

Usually, the first sign of flowering on potatoes is the time to start digging those delicious early spuds. Harvest carefully since early potatoes have thin skins and are easily bruised or cut. There may be some immature potatoes amongst others that are fully mature. Eat the immature ones first as they store very poorly.

Will deer eat herbs?

My sense is that deer visit almost every property in Columbia County. That certainly challenges gardeners to create space deer can’t visit. That often requires some type of garden fence. But there are edible plants that deer generally don’t eat.

Most herbs are quite deer-resistant. Note I didn’t say “deer-proof” since there will be a deer that will test the plants. Woody herbs are very attractive plants as well and given well-drained and reasonably full sun, do well in most gardens for years. Some of the most useful in cooking are sage, rosemary, true tarragon (a little finicky), some “culinary” lavenders, thyme, and oregano. Herbs don’t need or like a lot of fertilizing and require just enough water to keep them going. They abhor over-watering. That’s why well-drained soils are important. Some annual weeds like basil and dill are also deer resistant although this is less predictable.

Tomato pollination

Tomatoes are self-fertile. The tomato flower has its pollen shedding parts above the pollen receptive organ (the pistil). As bees move into the flower, they carry the pollen from that flower with it to the pistil. But tomatoes are picky about when to set fruit. Too cold, no go; too hot, nothing for the pot. Most varieties, and there are exceptions, set fruit best when temperatures are no colder than 55° F or no hotter than 75° F when the pollen is being shed. They don’t need bees, though bumblebee activity helps.

OSU bred varieties tend to set fruit at the cooler end of the tomato heat preference range compared to other varieties bred in other regions or countries. Super high temperatures like last summer tend to also slow or stop fruit set.

Humidity also plays a role. If it is too dry, pollen may not latch on to the stigma; too moist and the pollen can glom together leading to less pollination. Picky, picky! This obviously hasn’t been a good tomato season yet. If you see tomatoes that are “cat-faced” on the blossom end of the fruit, they are inevitably larger varieties which demand perfect fertilization. Tomatoes that produce smaller varieties don’t need pollen perfection to set nice fruit.

Mechanical injury to trees

Trees are very sensitive to lawn mower or string trimmer injury. This type of injury occurs near the base of the tree. It is generally worse when the tree is injured during the spring when the bark is “slipping” in the spring or when a sap is moving up to the tree canopy. The bark is easily removed in larger pieces at this time. Young trees are the most vulnerable. An open wound near the base of the tree will usually attract fungi that feed on wood. This leads to a downward cycle for the tree. Eventually, most injured trees will end up being removed. In some cases, a tree can heal over the wound before significant deterioration occurs.

The best way to prevent this kind of injury is to keep a two-foot radius grass-free zone around the trunk, especially for young trees. Mulching that starts a six inches out from the trunk can keep weeds down. It also conserves moisture that will help newly planted trees thrive.

Apple insects

While fruit set is quite low, it doesn’t mean the two fruit-eating insects, the codling moth caterpillar and the apple maggot will take the year off. If you spray to control these insects, the time to start is now and repeat periodically over the summer. The best product for the home gardener is probably those products that contain “spinosad” as the active ingredient. It is found in several trade name products from Monterey, Bonide, and others. Always read and follow label instructions.

Garden notes

• The OSU Extension Office is fully open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

• Many Extension publications are available online.

Are you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting kiwis? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to Click on publications and start exploring.

• Donate produce and/or money to the food bank, senior centers, or community meals programs. It is greatly appreciated.

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

Have questions?

If you have questions on any of these topics or other home garden and/or farm questions, please contact Chip Bubl, Oregon State University Extension office in St. Helens at 503-397-3462 or at The office is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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 and click on newsletters.

Contact information

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County

505 N. Columbia River Highway

St. Helens, OR 97051



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