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Gardening Column

Watershed Council’s Native Plant Sale Saturday, April 10

Join the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council at the Spring Native Plant Sale Saturday, April 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the SBWC nursery, located behind Scappoose High School. Look for signs – go east on SE High School Way and turn into the parking lot between the high school and the school ball field areas.

This is the watershed council's semi-annual event to get you ready for spring and summer planting. They have lots of new plants at great prices – all native to our area. Staff and volunteers are available to help chose plants suggest gardening ideas and provide information on establishing and maintaining native vegetation.

For more information see www.scappoosebay-wc.org/nursery-sales. This event allows for pre-purchase by April 3 and pick-up the day of the sale. There will be limited walk-in to the nursery on the sale day itself.

We are in this together, get vaccinated

There are a lot more options to get the COVID-19 vaccination locally. As your age and/or group makes you vaccine eligible, get your shots scheduled. Most local pharmacies are offering the vaccine now, so it is not as difficult as before. The more unvaccinated community members we have, the higher our local infection rate will be and the longer it will take to get back to normal activity.

In addition, with high COVID-19 circulation, there is more chance of a mutation that may be more transmissible, more medically serious for younger people, and/or more deadly. This is not political, it is biology, pure and simple.

Strawberries forever

One famous plant biologist once said that western Oregon had the perfect mix of changing day-length, temperatures, and rainfall to make the perfect tasting strawberry. We used to have many strawberry farms in Columbia County. That has changed over time but strawberries are still very popular with home gardeners.

Strawberries are fairly easy to grow. The plot should be reasonably well drained. They do well in raised beds but that isn’t necessary. You should work a modest amount of compost and fertilizer into the soil before planting. After planting, you need to protect the strawberry plants from slugs, weeds, and deer.

Your choice

You have a choice of “long-day” or June bearing varieties like Hood, Shucksan, Benton, and the like. These varieties give a heavy June-early July crop but nothing during the rest of the summer. Their fruiting is triggered when the day-length reaches a certain critical minimum. These have been the mainstay varieties grown commercially in Oregon and many consider them to have the best flavor. The concentrated fruiting means that you get your jam making and freezing out of the way fairly quickly.

Benton seems very root disease resistant, yields well, and tastes great with one caveat. You have to see if the berry you are about to pick is red on both sides. If it is still yellow on the underside, it isn’t going to taste as good as it would if you waited a day. That can slow picking a bit, but it is worth it. Hood strawberries are wonderful, but the plants usually succumb to a virus you can’t prevent (aphid moved) so the plants rarely give you more than two full crops.

Only bees allowed

There is a chance you could prevent aphid infection with row covers but the challenge would be to get the flowers pollinated so that the berry would form. A sign saying “only bees allowed” probably wouldn’t work. But I did visit one farm that had row covers continually over the strawberries beds except when they were being picked and somehow, they got pollinated. The farmer didn’t understand it nor do I, but it worked. If you try this, no guarantees but let me know the results. You will have to bait slugs.

“Day-neutral” varieties like Seascape, Albion, and Tristar fruit over the entire summer. These are great for fresh eating. Seascape and Albion have become the mainstays of the fresh market strawberries found after June at farmers markets. Albion makes very large fruit but if the summer isn’t warm enough, it doesn’t have the best flavor. Seascape yields decently and has fine flavor for a non-June-bearing variety.

After harvest

When the June-bearing strawberry harvest is done, the strawberry beds should be cleaned out. All weeds and the old foliage should be removed. If your ground is flat, a lawnmower set high can take off the foliage (the weeds should be pulled first) without damaging the crown. Any dead plants should be removed entirely.

In late July, apply a complete fertilizer (1/3 cup of 16-16-16 or its organic equivalent per ten feet of row) on the bed and water it in. Don’t fertilize in the spring. These rules don’t apply to ever-bearing strawberries, which are fed lightly on more constant intervals during active growth and production. Runners should be removed and/or used to replace gaps in rows.

For more information, see these excellent OSU publications Growing Strawberries in Your Home Garden catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1307 and Growing Strawberries on the Coast catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9178/html.

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 chip.bubl@oregonstate.edu.

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 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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