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Friday, December 13, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Staff > Features > Susan Mulvihill > Stories
Susan Mulvihill
FREELANCER
Susan Mulvihill inthegarden@live.com

Susan Mulvihill is a freelance gardening columnist for the Today section.


Most Recent Stories

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June 6, 2008, midnight
Last week, we discussed how to deal with deer and birds in the garden. Now we turn to insects and pocket gophers. I believe that achieving a balance in your garden is the key to having few insect problems. To accomplish this, try a three-pronged approach. Avoid using chemicals that can kill both harmful and beneficial insects, attract birds to your garden because they eat insects, and only treat for problems when they exist. Checking your garden daily is an ideal way to watch for potential problems.

News >  Features
June 6, 2008, midnight
It's a shame today's column doesn't come with a "scratch and sniff" option because once you've inhaled the delightful fragrance of a Koreanspice Viburnum, you will definitely want one for your own garden. Several years ago, my husband and I were walking through Manito Park when this incredible scent hit us. We followed our noses to an area west of Gaiser Conservatory and came across a shrub that neither of us recognized. After doing some research, we learned its identity and promptly added four of them to our garden.

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May 30, 2008, midnight
Sometimes I wonder why I enjoy gardening so much. Between the deer, pocket gophers, quail, cottontail rabbits and the occasional moose, gardening is a challenge. Because other gardeners also face these challenges, let's discuss techniques for dealing with critters in the garden. Today, we'll focus on deer and birds. Deer will eat just about anything. Some of their favorite plants are arborvitaes, roses, hostas and tulips. The most successful deterrents are those that offend their keen sense of smell, although we often have to mix things up because deer get used to some repellents.

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May 23, 2008, midnight
Gardening can be a lot of fun and it can be a chore. If you have the right tools on hand, it sure can make many of those chores a lot easier. Here are some of my favorites, which are pictured above. Most gardeners will agree that one of the most tiring aspects of gardening is repeatedly getting down on their knees and then getting back up again. I have a couple of tools that help me survive long days in the garden.

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May 23, 2008, midnight
Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) If you have been noticing a lot of attractive, white-flowering shrubs in woodland areas around town lately, that is the serviceberry.

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May 16, 2008, midnight
The last two warm-season crops that are great for your vegetable garden are tomatoes and peppers. Not only are they related, but they also have similar growing requirements. Both are members of the nightshade family. They love the heat so I always cover their beds with red plastic mulch to increase the soil temperature. To avoid frost damage, transplants should not be set out in the garden until late May or early June. When choosing tomato varieties, be sure to select those that need no more than 80 days to mature. This information can be found on the seedling's plant label and refers to how long it takes the plant to produce mature fruit once it is set out in the garden.

News >  Features
May 9, 2008, midnight
As we continue our discussion of warm-season crops, let's look at growing squash and melons. Gardeners often joke about how prolific their zucchini plants are. It's true that summer squash – which includes zucchini, patty pan or scallop, and crookneck squash – is very easy to grow. They all grow in a bush form that requires at least 2 feet of space.

News >  Features
May 9, 2008, midnight
Pasque flowers are one of those early spring bloomers that brighten up the garden well before most plants have budded out. Native to Europe and western Asia, its name refers to the timing of its blooms during the Paschal, or Easter, season. In the Midwest, it often is called prairie smoke. This alpine plant grows best in partial shade but will grow in full sun if the soil is kept regularly moist and is well-drained. Some references indicate they don't thrive in warm, dry areas, but I've never had any problems growing them here in the Inland Northwest.

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May 2, 2008, midnight
Warm-season vegetable crops should be planted after all danger of frost is past, which usually is in mid-May. At the rate we're going this year, it could very well be in August. Regardless, let's take a look at growing beans and corn. When planting bean seeds, make sure the small scar – I call it the "bellybutton" – faces downward for the best germination results. If the seed is planted in any other direction, it will expend all of its energy trying to right itself, often dying before the young sprout can reach the soil surface. I learned this long ago, and it has made a huge difference in the germination rates.

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April 25, 2008, midnight
Culinary herbs are an important addition to any vegetable garden. In our region, we can grow all sorts of herbs. Some are tender annuals that have to be planted every year while perennial herbs should be planted in a permanent location where the plants won't be disturbed. All herbs are extremely easy to grow and generally pest-free. They grow best in full sun. With the possible exception of basil, you only need a single plant of each herb in your garden. I usually buy plants unless I want to grow something unusual from seed.

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April 25, 2008, midnight
After our very long winter, the blossoms of the Royal Star magnolia most definitely are a welcome sight in my garden. Native to the Japanese island of Honshu, this deciduous shrub is one of the best-known star magnolias. Some sources refer to it as a small tree and it can be pruned as such. Its dense growth habit, however, makes me believe it's really a shrub.

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April 18, 2008, midnight
One of the secrets to growing a lot of vegetables in a small space is using plant supports to grow them vertically. Certain veggies – tomatoes, pole beans and peas – require some type of support in order to produce well and be easy to reach. If you let your tomato plants sprawl on the ground, for example, they'll grow into a tangled mess and won't produce well because they need good air circulation. In the past, there haven't been many types of plant supports available; garden centers and mail-order catalogs now offer all sorts of cool ones.

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April 11, 2008, midnight
In case you haven't noticed, this spring really is taking its time getting going. And when there isn't much going on in the landscape, gardeners appreciate plants that provide a little spring color. Not only does today's featured plant win the prize for its long scientific name but also for having a confusing name. Chamaecyparis (kam-e-SIP-a-ris) means "low-growing cypress." While this shrub is a member of the cypress family, it is not a true cypress. Pisifera (pie-SIF-er-a) means "pea bearing," which refers to the pea-sized cones that develop at the branch tips. Filifera (fie-LIF-er-a) translates into "threadleaf."

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April 4, 2008, midnight
In our final look at cool-season crops, let's focus on spinach, Swiss chard and broccoli. Unfortunately, all three are susceptible to insect attacks, but don't let that dissuade you from growing them because we have some effective, safe weapons in our arsenal. Spinach and Swiss chard

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March 28, 2008, midnight
There are three reasons you're going to love today's plant. It's one of the earliest perennials to bloom, making it a welcome sight this time of year. They are incredibly hardy. And, last but not least, deer will not eat the foliage. What more could a gardener ask for? There are two main species of hellebores that will grow in the Inland Northwest – Christmas rose (H. niger) and Lenten rose (H. orientalis) – but my personal favorite is the latter and its hybrids (H. x hybridus).

News >  Features
March 28, 2008, midnight
As we continue our discussion of cool-season crops, let's look at peas, lettuce and potatoes. Each can be started as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked. Peas are great fun to grow. Your first decision hinges on whether you want to grow a shelling variety, snap pea or edible-pod variety. Most require some type of support – netting, wire or a trellis – but there are a few bush varieties that support each other as they grow. Check the seed packet to determine what height they will reach.

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March 21, 2008, midnight
Finally! It's time to talk about planting vegetables. For three weeks, we'll look at crops that get started early in the season, usually as soon as the soil can be worked. Onions

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March 14, 2008, midnight
Proper soil preparation is the foundation of a successful garden. Because vegetable plants are heavy feeders, it is important to replenish the soil annually in addition to adding organic materials to improve the soil's air circulation and moisture retention. After the winter we've had, gardeners are champing at the bit to head outdoors and get that garden going. The biggest danger is working with the soil when it is still too wet. This completely changes the soil's composition, which can turn your garden into a mass of small dirt clods. Here's how to test your soil to know if the time is right:

News >  Features
March 14, 2008, midnight
Because this winter's snow is taking its time to melt, any plant that provides us with a little greenery to look at is a welcome addition to the landscape right now. One plant that fills the bill is the bristlecone pine. Also called Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine and hickory pine, these evergreens are native to the high mountain regions of the West, which are pretty inhospitable locations. That means these guys are tough as nails. The trees usually top out at about 20 feet but are very slow growers. As a result, some gardeners actually grow bristlecone pines in pots.

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March 7, 2008, midnight
Today's topic is organic gardening, and this is important stuff. I hope that by the time you reach the end of this column, you will see how easy it is to grow vegetables without the use of chemicals and embrace these methods yourself. After all, the whole point of growing our own veggies is for our health, right? I've been an organic gardener for many years and have learned it's based on establishing a balanced ecosystem within our yards. We have set up our landscape to attract a lot of birds. We enjoy birdwatching but really appreciate how many insects they consume.

News >  Features
Feb. 29, 2008, midnight
Starting vegetables from seed gives us the opportunity to grow more varieties than what is available to us as seedlings in garden centers and nurseries. But how do we go about it? Let's look at a seed packet first. It tells us when to plant the seeds and if they can tolerate being transplanted, or if they need to be sowed directly into the garden. It tells us how deeply to plant the seeds and how much space the plants need.

News >  Features
Feb. 29, 2008, midnight
The Dogwood family includes trees, shrubs and groundcovers but for winter interest, you can't beat the Red Osier Dogwood. Also referred to as Red Twig Dogwood (cornus stolonifera), this fast-growing shrub has bright red stems that provide an oasis of color on winter days. It is a native plant, growing in moist areas all over North America. This deciduous shrub has dark green leaves during the growing season that turn a brilliant red in the fall. The plants can be used as screens or borders, or even as a specimen in the garden.

News >  Features
Feb. 22, 2008, midnight
Yes, I know it's the middle of winter, and there's still a lot of snow on the ground as I write this. Perhaps gardening is the farthest thing from your mind right now. But you and I are about to embark on a rewarding adventure. If you have ever wanted to grow your own veggies but don't know where to start, or want to be more successful at it, this column can help you find your way. There are a lot of topics to cover, so that's why we're starting now. Things like seed-starting, organic gardening methods, soil preparation, cool and warm season crops, composting, dealing with critters like deer and gophers, and growing herbs. My goal is to address each topic in a timely manner so you can stay on track with your own garden.

News >  Features
Feb. 15, 2008, midnight
Quick! Name a shrub that blooms in the middle of the winter here in Spokane. If you said the witch hazel, I'm very impressed. If, however, your mind went blank, don't worry because you probably have a lot of company. Witch hazels, also known as Winter Bloom for this very reason, are slow growers that reach a mature height of 10 to 15 feet, so are often referred to as trees.

News >  Features
Feb. 1, 2008, midnight
This weeks' featured plant has so much going for it, the name is probably the only tricky part. Even though it looks like it should be pronounced "Cotton Easter," the correct pronunciation is "Ko-TOE-nee-as-ter." Cotoneasters are a group of about 50 different shrubs that include low groundcovers and shrubs that grow as high as 20 feet. Native to Western China, they can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous. There are many varieties that will thrive in the Inland Northwest, which is in USDA zone 5. This means they can tolerate temperatures down to 20 below zero.