Advice from Columbia County's OSU Extension Service agent on how to nurture your green thumb.

FILE - Chip BublJet streams have aligned and realigned over the last several weeks such that every available cold and somewhat moist air mass was funneled our way.

This has discouraged gardeners. If you planted corn, beans, and squash several weeks ago, you might find germination spotty. Tomatoes and (especially) peppers are looking rather peaked. Night temperatures below 58 degrees alter normal plant growth in peppers, leaving them in stunned submission even as warmer weather finally gets here.

Is there still time to plant or replant? Without a doubt, yes, assuming you can find the seed.

Most of the standard garden vegetables will mature, albeit with smaller yields on crops like winter squash. Short-season corn (65-75 days) might be a good bet. It helps to warm the soil with sheets of clear plastic if the planting area isn't too large. This helps even if you haven't tilled yet.

Make sure you fertilize adequately since you are trying to hurry the vegetables along a little bit. As the weather improves, tomatoes and peppers will grow normally. If you see diseased-looking lower leaves on your tomatoes, pull them off.

Close your eyes and thin

Gardeners hate to thin. These seeds have struggled to the surface and now you are asking me to rip some of them out. I feel their pain. I won't do it.

You must. Many vegetables and flowers will not develop normally unless they have room to grow. Leaving plants crowded in their rows or beds can result in stunted, poorly developed plants.

Competition for sunlight (that precious commodity that drives all plant growth) is the main source of problems. Unless there is enough sunlight reaching the leaves, there will reduced leaf and root growth. If that continues for any period of time, the plant may never recover.

Commercial growers of leafy greens know that one plant, given enough room, will produce more than four plants occupying the same space.

Corn must be thinned or you may not get ears, except on the outside of the patch where there is enough sun. Root crops must be thinned so their leaves can gather enough sun to make the carbohydrates that are stored in the roots and bulbs. Beets must always be thinned because their "seed" is a compound seed with several seeds inside.

Don't try to avoid thinning by planting less. When we have bad weather after planting, you will lose a certain percentage of what you plant. If you skimped on seed, you might not have a planting worth saving.

So buy enough seed, plant enough, and thin.

Follow instructions on the seed packet or information from reputable gardening publications. The plants you remove can often be transplanted elsewhere to give you a later maturing crop. This is especially true of corn.

Deer-resistant plants

There is not a square foot of Columbia County that doesn't have deer.

Are there plants that deer won't browse? Sure, but very few are ones that we grow for food.

Edible crops that deer generally avoid are winter squash (though not always), potato vines, persimmons, lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and corn once it hits a certain height. Gardeners can choose to grow these plants outside their deer fence (if they have one) to increase the space for other crops inside the fence.

This is a decent list of deer-resistant native plants:

Ornamental plant lists are also available. The Sunset Garden book has a good one.

But despite the extensive lists of deer-resistant plants, there are lots of reports of exceptions to those lists. But it is important to understand that a deer-resistant plant isn't necessarily immune from browsing, simply that it is less likely to be browsed to death.

Deer can develop tastes for plants that they normally avoid. During the heavy snow of December 2008, "our" deer ate evergreen azaleas, which they had never touched before. Their progeny continue to actively prune the same plants to this day.

Female deer in the spring are always assessing the best available food in terms of protein and digestibility. This causes eating pattern changes from year to year.

Deer resistance is not always present in cultivated varieties of certain species. For example, Rugosa roses are generally deer-resistant (not immune, mind you) but some varieties are readily browsed. One year, before we had a deer fence, deer ate one garlic variety (California Late) and didn't touch eight others. They had never eaten the garlic before. Go figure.

Finally, deer may prefer fertilized plants. An experiment in which one pot of liriope was fertilized and one was not showed deer clearly preferred the fertilized plant.

Take-home messages are that deer are curious nibblers, they may prefer fertilized plants, and that cultivars may not have the same deer resistance as the species plant. Also, that deer fences are useful when all else fails. That sends the deer to your neighbors. So do deer repellents.

There are some deer repellents that seem to do a fair job of keeping Bambi from nibbling too much. However, they need to be applied soon and repeatedly throughout the spring and early summer (or all through the summer for roses, also known as deer candy).

The repellents that seem to work best are those made from fermented blood meal or from rotten egg mixtures. While these don't sound like something you would want to smell, the aroma is actually quite mild if the product is used according to directions.

Soured or fresh milk, undiluted, is also a fairly good emergency repellent.

Few of the repellents can be used on crops that you will eat.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living). 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. You can call the office and leave a message if you have gardening questions or email me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Chip Bubl is an associate professor at Oregon State University and agent for the OSU Extension Service in Columbia County. He also serves as a Port of Columbia County commissioner.

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