Gardening Column

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

The snow last week really shook up the trees. It is frightening to think what might have happened if the wind had hit when the trees were covered with all that semi-frozen snow.

Toppled small trees (under 20 feet in height) can sometimes be saved. First, remove the soil on the uprooted side so the root mass can fit back in the hole. Straighten the tree with power equipment, winch, or ‘come-along’ being careful not to break additional roots. Don’t attach your cable directly to your truck – you can bend the frame!! Protect the bark where cables are attached. Attach guy wires at a point one-third of the way up the tree. Tamp down surrounding soil and water as needed.

Damaged branches or limbs should be pruned. In many cases, you may want to remove limbs opposite damaged ones both for aesthetics and to maintain a good center of gravity.

When pruning, don’t cut totally flush with the trunk but rather cut just outside the branch collar.

Trees that have split can sometimes be cabled or bolted together. I wouldn’t do this for a marginal tree. But if you had one of fine landscape value and it looked to have a pretty clean break, it may be worth considering. There are several trees around town that have had that treatment ~35 years ago and are doing just fine now.

Unsalvageable trees can be cut for firewood.

Build a cold frame this month

Cold frames can do much of the work of greenhouses at a fraction of the cost. A cold frame is a four-sided structure, lower in the front, with a clear glass or plastic covering on top. The top can be opened or lowered as temperatures change.

Cold frames are best used for starting seeds and growing out small transplants. They are less useful for developing larger plants unless they are big structures.

Chilling requirement satisfied, some buds are swelling

You will soon notice how many woody plants show signs of active bud swelling. We have had enough cold weather to satisfy their chilling requirement (an amount of time exposed to temperatures below 42°). Given a shot of warmer weather (55°+) and they could get really enthused about growing. Then if we get a serious cold snap (15° or less) there could be a lot of plants in trouble. There is not much we can do about it.

As a reminder, winter isn’t over. Plants in containers are less hardy than plants in the ground. Protect them with covers or a place in an unheated garage until the any super cold weather passes.

Root pruning indoor plants

Most houseplants evolved in the tropic rainforest understory and thus can handle the lower light intensities of a home. And many of these plants can survive for years without re-potting. We have several clivias that thrive pot-bound. But if you have a plant that seems determined to outgrow its pot and/or its assigned place in the indoor landscape, some ju-dicious root and stem pruning may be needed. The two best times to prune are in fall (well, we just missed that) or late winter (say March).

The process is straightforward. Slide the root ball out of the pot. Then with a sharp knife, remove about 15% (by width) of the roots around the sides and bottom. You may want to remove some of the larger circling roots as well. Loosen the remaining roots as best as you can. Then, after adding new potting mix to the pot, return the plant to the pot and water. Some thinning of the foliage can reduce the plant size if needed. Start watering with some dilute fertilizer for the next month or so.

Important notes

The OSU Extension Office is fully reopened. Masks are still required inside.

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.

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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