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Gardening Column

I visited with someone from Scappoose and she asked me to write something about skunks.

There aren’t many people that like skunks but I happen, generally, to be one of them.

In Columbia County, we have both striped (the most common) and spotted skunks. I have found them to be relatively calm unless provoked by a dog, coyote, raccoon, or human. That said, it is not good if they have a den under your house. Two skunks can get into a tussle as can skunks and their other enemies. The results are all too predictable.

Skunk spray is powerful and impossible to remove from underfloor insulation. The insulation has to go. Sometimes, harder surfaces can be sprayed with a skunk smell neutralizing mixture I will give below with decent results. But spraying under the house is a bit risky to you so be careful. People have also had some success with ammonia-soaked rags as a deterrent under a low deck or under structures.

The best approach is to block skunks from denning under your house or low deck. Check your foundation for openings and tighten them up. If skunks start to dig under your foundation (hard to do) or under a manufactured home’s skirting (much easier), you can try to watch when they go out to forage in the middle of the night and put down some tight-mesh metal fencing to force them to leave. Sometimes this works and sometimes it does not. Don’t do this when the babies are still underneath.

At some point in the late summer, skunks usually leave the dens. That is the time to bat-ten down everything.

Skunks are omnivorous (they like fruit, insects, meat, etc.) and do most of their foraging at night. Skunks do some good. They will dig up little patches of lawn looking for crane fly grubs (so will raccoons). They will also dig out ground-nesting yellow jackets and eat the immature larva. They give birth to 3-6 little ones in the spring or early summer.

If your dog or cat gets tagged with skunk spray, here is a formula that will help reduce the smell:

  • 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 1-2 teaspoons liquid dishwashing soap

Mix together and work into the fur being careful to avoid the eyes. Wash off. You will need double or triple this recipe for a big furry dog. From personal experience, I know this works from our dear beagle’s two-hour encounter with a skunk (both survived just fine) inside our deer fence. It is a long story but, by actual count, the skunk managed to “stand and deliver” at least 40 times in that period. By approximate tally, Clyde the Beagle barked about 6,000 times. He took the next several days off from barking but, beyond that, was totally fine.

The late summer classics: Pigweed and lambsquarters

Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus), in the upper picture, and lambsquarters, in the lower one, are the quintessential summer weeds in vegetable gardens. Both weeds need bare ground to germinate. Typically, they emerge before the planted crop emerges. Once the weeds are in place, they grow rapidly and shade crop seedlings. Without full sun, the crops are suppressed, often to the point of complete failure.

Over the course of a summer, seedlings of both weeds continue to emerge. If a pigweed top is snapped off during tillage or hoeing, the plant can produce a few short shoots with new leaves and go to seed quickly. I have seen pigweeds less than two inches tall produce viable seed.

These weeds have a relatively short life cycle. Forty-five days from seed to seed is not uncommon in the summer. While the two weeds are in distinctly different families, both have tiny flowers and seeds borne in clusters where the leaves join the stem, with the largest clusters at the top of the plant. A mature pigweed can be over four feet tall and wide.

There is some evidence that such a plant can produce over 175,000 seeds. There is also good evidence that some seeds from both pigweed and lambsquarters can live for 30-40 years, though most deteriorate or are consumed by birds, insects, and slugs well before that.

Botanically, lambsquarters are in the beet family while pigweed is in the amaranth family. Lambsquarters are from Eurasia and came to North America with European settlement. Pigweeds are native to the tropical Americas and are now distributed to the rest of the world.

Both are considered edible by various cultures (leaf and seeds of both). I have tried leaves of both and prefer, by far, lambsquarters. That said, I got some Garnet Amaranth (in the pigweed group) seedlings from a commercial grower and put it into the demonstration garden out at the Fairgrounds. She grew it for a salad green mix for high-end restaurants in Portland. It did well in the garden and I found it quite tasty when small. So a little breeding goes a long way.

Garden management of both species includes suppressing seed germination with mulches and drip irrigation, using transplants to get a head start on weeds, and removing emerged weeds so they don’t out-compete your crops and/or deliver a new bunch of seeds to your soil. Commercial organic farms use the above techniques and sophisticated weeding equipment to protect their crops.

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 chip.bubl@oregonstate.edu.

Pressure Gauge Testing

Free at the Extension office in St. Helens on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Oct. 14. Contact for questions and requests for accessibility-related accommodations: by phone (leave a message for Jenny Rudolph) 503 397-3462 or by email at Jenny.Rudolph@oregonstate.edu

COVID restrictions are still in place at our office which is located at 505 N. Columbia River Highway, St. Helens, Or 97051

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) writ-ten/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 extension.oregonstate.edu/columbia and click on newsletters.

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 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

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