Gardening Column

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County may be reached by calling 503-397-3462.

Fungi and bacteria love moist weather. They work their way into trees and berry plants through injuries, buds, leaf scars or other locations. The peach leaf curl symptoms that we see in April are caused by the curl fungus infecting peach buds over the next few months.

Many diseases can be lessened by winter dormant fungicide applications over the next three months. The forecast as I write this is for fairly nice weather in the next week or so. Useful products for the home gardener are sulfur powder that can be mixed into a liquid spray and copper. Both are considered organic and both are reasonably effective. There are a number of trade names available. Ask your garden store or feed and seed dealer. Lime sulfur (Polysul) has become harder to get since there were issues with eye damage and it got taken off the retail market.

Peaches, especially, should be sprayed at least four times over the next few months. The more you spray the better results you will have. Pick a dry day when temperatures are above freezing. Many products have a spreader-sticker to adhere them to the branches and twigs. I find that using warm water to make up these spray mixtures help the fungicides go into solution.

These spray treatments can be used on any fruit or berries with this exception: Do not use sulfur on apricots as they are very sensitive to sulfur.

How to speed winter compost

Plant decomposition slows in cold, wet weather. Moisture fills pore spaces within the compost pile, reducing the oxygen available to the rotting fungi, bacteria and small invertebrates. Rain also reduces the pile temperature. This isn’t the end of the world. The pile of vegetation will continue to decompose, but at a much slower rate.

You can speed up composting by covering the compost pile. Some gardeners use clear plastic to get some heat gain from the sun. Chipped and/or shredded materials you add to the pile will decompose faster than larger pieces. So will the addition of nitrogen sources such as vegetable trimmings (usually high in nitrogen), manure, synthetic fertilizer that contains nitrogen, or bloodmeal. The nitrogen “feeds” the microbes and their population booms, also speeding the composting process.

Planning for new fruit trees

The best selection of new fruit trees and berry bushes is available in February. There are several things you can do right now to help ensure a successful start for them.

Read catalogs to understand which varieties seem most suitable for our area. Order early as selection decreases quickly. Good sources are Motz Nursery near Skyline and Cornelius Pass Road intersection, One Green World (east Portland) and Raintree Nursery (Morton, WA). The last two have extensive online catalogs.

Get deer fencing up before you plant. They will show up! You can lose all your investment in trees in one year.

Remove existing sod or cover the areas you want to plant trees into with compost and black plastic or landscape fabric to kill the grass before you work the ground.

Some things to do

  • Check stored potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash and apples for rot or sprouting. Pull off potato sprouts and discard anything diseased.
  • Water outside plants under eaves.
  • Cover vegetable garden with several inches of manure and shavings from a local stable.
  • Lime your vegetable garden (before you put down manure mentioned above) with 100 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet. This lime is enough for the next four years. Use the same rate to top-dress lawns.

Important notes

  • The OSU Extension Office is fully reopened. Masks are still required inside.
  • Planning for an OSU Master Gardener class next spring. We are actively planning for an in-person OSU Master Gardener class starting next February. The class would most likely be held in St. Helens on Monday, during the day, for about ten weeks. If you think you might be interested, let us know. Call Sonia Reagan or myself (Chip Bubl) at 503-397-3462. Your statement of interest doesn’t commit you to anything but will give us some idea if people are ready to return to in-person classes. If COVID mutates again, it might have to be a digital only class.
  • Donate produce and/or cash 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.

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 Click on publications and start exploring.

Contact Information

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County

505 N. Columbia River Highway

St. Helens, OR 97051



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