Ask an Expert // Fall Planting Brings Winter Color


Take advantage of fall plant sales and add some winter color to your landscape with these suggested varieties.

Most nurseries and garden centers are holding fall sales to reduce plant inventory. The timing is right, because with cooler temperatures, now is a great time to plant. Many plants are available that will help create winter interest in the yard. Consider these varieties for a splash of color in the upcoming months.

Lavalle hawthorn: This beautiful and durable tree grows well in most populated areas of Utah. It has white spring flowers and dark green summer leaves. The leaves often turn brilliant red in late fall and stay on the tree until December. The fruit is also red and stays on the tree most of the winter, serving as a meal for cedar wax wings and other birds. This tree can have thorns, but they do not generally cause problems.

 Red and yellow twig dogwood: These shrubs thrive in wetter areas of the yard and grow 6 to 12 feet tall and wide. There are many varieties with beautiful coral-red bark, along with a few that are bright yellow. The branches are often used to make wreaths. Heavy spring pruning keeps the size in check and encourages new growth that has the best color.

Holly: Not many holly species perform well in Utah. However, in protected areas, the blue holly series is an exception. These hold their leaves throughout the winter and have the classic holly foliage popular during the Christmas season. These are best grown where they receive afternoon shade. If berries are desired, a male and female cultivar must be grown, such as Blue Prince and Blue Princess. There are many other broadleaf evergreens that can grow in protected areas. They include English laurel, boxwood and Japanese euonymus. They also need afternoon shade and are often browsed by deer.

 Crabapples: There are dozens of crabapple varieties available; all with beautiful spring flowers. Unfortunately, they have received an often undeserved reputation as being overly messy. Many new types have fruit in lovely tones of red and yellow. The fruit stays on the tree (referred to as persistent fruit), unlike older varieties, which creates winter habitat for many kinds of birds. Some varieties to consider include Indian Magic, Prairie Fire, Royal Raindrops, Profusion and Snow Drift.

 Late winter blooming plants: There are actually a few plants that bloom before forsythia, an early bloomer. These include common winter hazel and hellebore. Common winter hazel is rare in Utah, but seems to do well in slightly protected areas. It grows to the same size as a lilac and has delicate, light-yellow flowers. Hellebores are also known as Lenten rose because they start blooming around the same time as the Catholic Lent and continue throughout the spring. They are a perennial and spread a few feet wide per plant.

This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, 801-851-8460, taun.beddes@usu.edu

Ask an Expert // Four Tips for Dealing with Problem Soil

Problem Soil

The condition of the soil often dictates success or failure in the landscape. Before spending money on trees and plants, be sure your soil is suitable for planting. 


Consider these tips for dealing with four common soil problems.


1. Rocky soil: 

Rocky soil is usually fine for growing plants, but rocks make digging or cultivating difficult. It is better to get rid of surface rocks where turf and garden areas will be. Be innovative with the removed rock. Are there areas where rock mulch can be used to suppress weeds and conserve water? Will retaining walls be built? In the worst situations, it may be necessary to garden in raised beds or to bring in topsoil. If topsoil is used, add a minimum of 6 inches.

2. Soil is too hard to dig:

During the summer, it is common for soil to become too hard to dig or cultivate. This is difficult for new homeowners without an irrigation system who are trying to create a landscape. In many areas, secondary irrigation water is stubbed into the yard. Try installing a temporary hose bib into the stubbed secondary water. This allows a hose-end sprinkler or drip hose to be used to moisten the soil and make it more amenable to digging or cultivating. If this is not possible or if secondary water is not available, prudent use of culinary water may be needed to moisten the soil.

3. Clay soil: 

Those with clay soil often have difficulty getting water to penetrate the soil without it running off. If possible, amend with 2-3 inches of quality compost (not peat moss) 6 inches deep before planting. This will break it up and begin the process of creating quality topsoil. It may take 5-10 years of doing this before noticing improved soil quality. One irrigation management technique is to break irrigation events into segments spread out over a few hours to allow water to better penetrate the soil. When fertilizing turf, make half applications twice as often to avoid runoff of the nutrients. If other options haven’t worked, it may be best to use raised-bed gardening.

4. Compacted soil:

Excessive foot or vehicle traffic can compact soil. This destroys soil structure and does not allow water to penetrate. More frequent hollow tine aeration can help with minor to moderate compacted soil. In extreme situations, soil ripping is needed. If the soil is ripped or if the problem can be alleviated before planting, start by incorporating 2-3 inches of quality compost as deeply as possible. If the area continues to see heavy traffic, install pavers or flagstone to alleviate re-compacting the soil.


Soil testing is a helpful way to learn about specific soil characteristics and prevent potential problems. The Utah State University Analytical Laboratory offers soil analysis. A routine test gives phosphorus and potassium levels; pH; salinity and the soil texture (clay, sand, silt, loam, etc.). Visit http://www.usual.usu.edu/ for more information.

This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, 801-851-8460, taun.beddes@usu.edu.

Ask an Expert // Four Tips for Getting Rid of Eerie Earwigs

Eerie EarwigsEarwigs can be creepy, and while they don’t actually crawl in your ear, they can cause some serious damage to the plants in your garden. Learn how to keep them at bay with these four expert tips.

European earwigs are common in Utah and are easily recognized by the large pincers on the end of their bodies. The ideas that earwigs crawl into ears and that their pincers are dangerous are both false.

Earwigs are active at night and often go unnoticed; however, holes chewed in leaves can indicate earwigs have been dining there. If you suspect that earwigs may be eating your plants, examine them at night with a flashlight. Earwigs can be beneficial, acting as decomposers and predators of insect pests such as aphids and scales. However, they also feed on many vegetables, leafy greens, flowers and a wide variety of fruit. Since they spend the winter as adults, they can also become an indoor nuisance pest. Consider these tips for ridding your home and yard of earwigs.


1.)  Homemade traps are inexpensive and can reduce earwig numbers in specific areas. One type is made from corrugated cardboard. Cut a 6-inch-wide strip of cardboard and roll until it reaches about 4 or 5 inches in diameter. Tie the roll with string to keep it intact, then tie it to the lower trunk of a tree. Collect the cardboard traps every two or three days, seal the earwigs inside a bag and throw the earwigs and the trap away. Rubbing the cardboard with fish oil or bacon grease can make the trap more effective.


2.)  Another type of trap is a sour cream, cottage cheese or margarine container with strong-smelling oil, such as fish oil or bacon grease, poured into the bottom. Bury the container in the ground almost to soil level, and cut a small hole in the lid for the earwigs to enter. The containers can be collected every few days and reused after the earwigs are dumped into a bag and sealed.


3.)  Commercial, non-chemical control products are widely available, such as diatomaceous earth. This product is not harmful to pets or humans, but works by cutting or absorbing the thin, waxy layer that covers insects. Sprinkle it around the base of plants that earwigs and other insect pests, such as aphids, scales and caterpillars, are damaging. Be aware that once diatomaceous earth contacts water, it becomes ineffective. It must be reapplied after rain or watering. To keep earwigs out of fruit trees, try wrapping sticky traps, such as Tangle Guard, around the tree trunk.


4.)  Occasionally, it may become necessary to spray an insecticide to effectively control earwigs. Organic and reduced-risk products are available such as pyrethrins and spinosad. Pyrethrins are derived from a species of chrysanthemum and control many insects. Spinosad is derived from a bacterium harmful to many insects but not mammals. Both are often labeled for use on many vegetables and fruits. Other chemical sprays are effective, but may harm natural enemies of earwigs and other beneficial insects. Of these available to homeowners, carbaryl (Sevin), malathion and permethrin are commonly used. Using non-chemical methods before resorting to sprays is recommend in most non-commercial situations.


A video about making homemade traps is available at https://youtu.be/tlgpfCT0wYo.

This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, taun.beddes@usu.edu. Ryan Davis, USU Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab insect diagnostician, contributed to this column.

Ask an Expert: How to Keep Your Aspen Trees Happy

Aspen Trees Graphic - Copy

Have you ever wondered why your aspen trees are sprouting volunteers in your lawn, or have you wondered how to keep the mature trees from dying off? Check out these answers and tips from USU Extension horticulturist Taun Beddes.

In the wild, aspen are among the most beautiful trees with their almost snow-white trunks, shimmering leaves and yellow fall color. Because of these qualities, many homeowners have planted them, but have then watched mature trees die quickly. Unfortunately, aspens often struggle and are short lived, living anywhere from 5 to 15 years when outside their native habitat. When planted around homes, they are more susceptible to insect/disease problems and nutrient deficiencies from stress caused from being away from their native habitat. Consider these tips for aspen care.

Contain Root Suckers

Aspens form surface roots and primarily propagate by sending out root suckers that form new trees connected to the mother plant. Both of these qualities make mowing around them difficult. Fortunately, aspens do not usually grow large enough to damage foundations or cement, due to their short lifespan. One possible solution to contain roots is to surround the rootball of newly planted trees with a cement or rust-proof metal ring 3 to 4 feet beyond the root system and about 2 feet deep. Another is the use of products such as Sucker Stopper that are sprayed on newly cut suckers. They are intended to slow or prevent sucker formation from the spot where it is sprayed. This control method is not perfect, however, and is only good for one season. The spray can cost $20 to $60 per bottle, depending on the concentration.

Try Columnar Swedish Aspen

Columnar Swedish aspen is similar to our native species but taller and narrower when mature. It is relatively new to the landscape and seems to send fewer root suckers. However, it is still susceptible to pests and diseases like the native aspen and can decline rather quickly.

Location, Location, Location

Even with the limitations aspen have, they can still be used in moderation in the landscape if managed properly. It is important to plant trees in a location where suckering will not be a problem such as landscape beds that are well away from turf areas. Aspens can be enjoyed as long as they are healthy and then cut down when they begin to decline. Younger trees, formed by root suckers, will quickly mature and sustain the stand. These trees should be watered to a depth of 2 feet every 2 to 4 weeks. It is not recommended that trees be overly treated with chemicals when problems occur regularly. Homeowners can easily spend more money on pesticides than the purchase price of a replacement tree.

Other Options

Trees to consider as replacements for aspen include chanticleer/Cleveland pear, Queen Elizabeth maple, Tatarian maple, black alder, various crabapples and Sargent cherry. These trees don’t look exactly like aspens but have their own ornamental qualities, are usually much less susceptible to pests and diseases and are much longer lived

This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist

6 Flowering Shrubs for Your Garden

Flowering Shrubs

Looking to add some color, fragrance and texture to your landscaping? Check out these flowering shrub varieties, favorites of USU gardening expert Jerry Goodspeed.

  1. Daphne “Carol Mackie”
  2. Mediterranean Pink Heather
  3. Deutzia Gracilis
  4. Juddii Viburnum (Snowball Bush)
  5. Blue Mist Caryopteris
  6. Ninebark

For more information on each of these varieties and tips on how to keep your shrubs looking their best, watch Jerry Goodspeed’s segment from KSL Studio 5.

Container Gardening // 7 Tips that Thrill, Fill and Spill


The potential of your garden is limitless with container gardening. Try out these tips to keep your garden ever growing, changing and blooming in style.

Contained Beauty

Container gardening has become popular as planting areas in the landscape have become smaller. Some containers are used to grow vegetables or specimen shrubs, while others display a beautiful splash of color. For thrilling container gardens, consider these tips.

• Containers need large enough drainage holes in the bottom to prevent soil from clogging the hole while still promoting proper drainage. If the drainage hole is too large, soil will leak through the bottom each time the container is watered. Prevent this problem by placing a large rock or solid object over the hole. This allows water to drain around it and keeps the soil in place.

• Planters must be large enough to accommodate the root system of the plants. Often, annuals or vegetable plants are crammed into a small planter, and then gardeners wonder why the plants stay small or need excessive amounts of water. As a general rule, any pot 8 inches or smaller in diameter will only hold small plants. Most annual or perennial containers should be a minimum of 8 to 10 inches in diameter, and larger pots are more desirable. After all, the goal of having annuals is to make a large splash of color in the landscape, not a dribble.

• There is an art to designing annual containers, often referred to as thrill, fill and spill. This refers to the principle of placing an upright plant in the center of the container that “thrills” the eye and draws attention. Next, the planter is “filled” with an accenting color and finally one or two plants are placed to “spill” over the sides to soften the appearance and extend the color.

• The spike dracaena is commonly used as a center “thrill” for planters; however, many other plants work equally well to catch the eye. Some include red fountain grass, snapdragons, geraniums, salvia, coleus and dahlias. These plants reach a height of 8 inches or more and stand out in a crowd of annuals.

• There are a number of good choices for “filling” a container with annuals. The most important consideration is to select colors and flowers you like. Next, keep in mind that they should not overpower the plant used to “thrill” nor hide the plants that “spill.” Osteospermum, million bells, bidden, some zinnias and impatiens work well.

• For plants that “spill,” there is the black-eyed Susan vine, wave petunias, sweet potato vine, licorice plant, alyssum and lobelia. Some of these plants also climb, which can be both a plus and a problem when they attempt to take over the basket or move up a post. For this reason, flower baskets should be pruned as needed.

• A critical component in the container is the soil. It should hold water, but also drain. A number of good potting soils are available at local nurseries and garden centers. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for when purchasing potting soil. Along with the proper soil, it is important to provide the plants with sufficient fertilizer. Normally this means either applying a slow-release fertilizer at planting time or using a water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks.

This article was written by Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, 435-919-1276, jerry.goodspeed@usu.edu

Four Basic Veggie Categories & When It’s Safe to Plant Them

spring has sprung

Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and temperatures are rising. Spring is in the air! But don’t let that fool you, frost can still happen. Read on for ways to know when it’s okay to get your garden planted so you can avoid the frosty pitfalls.

Spring has sprung, but frost still likely!

Determining when to plant a garden can be especially confusing in Utah’s unpredictable, varied climate where last-frost dates can vary by many days within just a few miles. Many experienced gardeners have planted and later lost their plants to frost.

An example of how fickle Utah’s climate can be is in Cache Valley. Frost-free days vary from an average of 113 days in Lewiston and Trenton to 158 days on the USU campus. Similar examples are common around the state.

Geographic characteristics of where you live can help in determining when to plant. When a yard is located in a populated area or on a mountain bench, it usually has a longer growing season. Other areas located at slightly lower elevations where cold air drains and cannot escape have a shorter season. This is why local commercial orchards are generally located on benches. Additionally, urban and suburban areas are slightly warmer than surrounding areas due to the urban heat effect. Heat from buildings and warmth generated by sunlight reflected from roads and other surfaces increases temperatures and delays frost. It can be helpful to chat with a local farmer or experienced gardener in your area to determine what works for him or her regarding when to plant.

In addition to frost information, it is important to take into account the needs of the plants. Vegetables planted locally fall into four basic categories: hardy, semi-hardy, tender and very tender. Depending on which category a plant belongs to, planting dates vary from early spring until early summer. Consider the following:

  • Hardy vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, onions, peas and spinach, can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. This usually ranges between 45 and 60 days before the average last frost. These same vegetables can be safely planted until the average last frost date.
  • Semi-hardy plants, such as beets, carrots, lettuce and potatoes, can be planted one to two weeks after the hardy group. These can be planted until the average last-frost date.
  • Tender vegetables, such as celery, cucumbers, corn and most beans, should be planted on the average last-frost date.
  • Very tender plants, such as squash, beans, melons, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, should not be planted until at least a week after the average last frost. Even if frost does not occur before this time, these plants will not grow well and are more susceptible to disease until warmer weather.

If you have lost plants to frost, you are not alone, and all you can do is try again.



This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist.

5 Easy Tips for Indoor Gardening


These tips will help you keep your gardening skills sharp all winter long!

Moving the Party Inside

Many people miss having fresh garden produce in the winter so much that they are willing to grow it indoors. This can be a little challenging, but having fresh tomatoes on a sandwich or fresh peas on a winter salad makes it worth the effort.

Growing plants in a greenhouse is an option for providing winter produce, but heating and lighting can be expensive. A more cost-effective method is to provide additional lighting and optimal temperatures and grow plants in the home. Consider these tips.

1) Location – West or south-facing windows provide sufficient light for many crops. Another option is to use inexpensive florescent lights placed approximately 6 inches from the plants. Incandescent bulbs should not be used since the wavelengths of the light they produce are not readily used by plants. Grow lights are an option, but they do not work any better than florescent bulbs and are more expensive.

2) Temperature – A good temperature for most plants is around 70 F. Some gardeners have attempted to grow plants in an unheated garage during the winter with no success. This is not surprising since the garage acts as a natural refrigerator in the winter.

3) Soil – Potting soil works best for indoor growing and is available from many local retailers. Once plants have been growing for about a month, they often require fertilizer to keep them healthy. Mild, liquid houseplant formulations or slow-release granular products such as Osmocote™ are good choices.

4) Pests and disease – Monitor plants closely for insect pests and disease. When a plant appears to be infested, isolate it from the others to prevent further spread. Heavily infested plants should be thrown away.

5) Vegetable choices – Lettuce, peas and many herbs generally do well when grown indoors. Dwarf varieties of peas or other crops are often preferred since regular varieties may grow too large for limited indoor spaces. Dwarf varieties can be found from seed companies online and sometimes from local retailers.

The USU Crop Physiology Lab has specifically researched growing crops in indoor spaces and has identified several “super dwarf” species that work well, including Early Green Pea and Microtina Tomato. These varieties and others have actually been grown aboard the International Space Station.

This article was written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, 801-851-8460, taun.beddes@usu.edu

How to Harvest Onions

Harvest Onions

Do Onions Make You Cry? Not With These Harvesting Tips!

Do you have onions in your family garden? If so, Ron Patterson from USU Extension in Carbon County has some great tips on how to harvest onions the right way!

Harvesting your onions correctly will make them last longer and will significantly reduce their chance of getting a disease.


Top 10 // Tips for Winterizing Your Garden

Fall Garden

Follow these tips to winterize your garden!

Turn Down for What?

It has most definitely been a long and rewarding gardening season. Many delicious crops have been harvested and enjoyed.

However, this time of year gardeners are ready to be done pulling weeds, dealing with snails and other creepy crawlers and being heartbroken by crops that didn’t turn out as expected.

Before you take a break from your garden however, make sure you leave it in a good place for the winter season. Although it seems like spring is in the extremely distant future, it will come faster than expected! You will be grateful that you took these extra steps to properly turn-down your garden before the chill of winter takes over your yard.

Here are two tips for proper garden turn-down:

Tip #5. Mulch tree leaves and add to compost pile along with a couple cups of nitrogen fertilizer to speed up the composting rate.

Tip #7. Plant perennials! Visit your local nursery and save big on hardy perennial plants like thyme, sage and oregano. If you’re feeling adventurous, try planting a rhubarb plant too!

For eight other wonderful, garden-saving tips, click here.


The Organic Forecast

Fall Garden Checklist- Top 10