Lawn Soil, New Grass, and How to Start Over

Lawn Soil, New Grass, and How to Start Over

How to kill your lawn and start over with New Grass


Firstly, try to avoid spraying too many chemicals on lawns and lawn soil to kill everything as these are harmful to our river and stream habitats.

There are isolated exceptions when we break our rule but generally we’d suggest you strip off the old grass with a sod cutter, thereby exposing the underlying soil, and starting over from scratch.

While doing this be careful of underlying tree roots. If herbicides are your only option we recommend Killzall by Hi-Yeild. Following their simple instructions should get you the results you’re looking for.

Then you’ll be in the clear with a clean slate to start with.

Key factors in the success of your new lawn will be:


  • Accurately predicting how much sunlight your lawn actually gets during the entire year, so the correct grass type is chosen.
  • The state of health or unhealthiness of your soil and your willingness to correct any deficiencies up front.


What’s the best time of year to do it?


Between August and October 1st is the ideal time.  Next best would be late in the spring, when conditions are favorable and before deciduous trees complete their leaf out.


Do you need your lawn soil tested before you replant?


Yes. This is the only way to accurately know what state of health your soils are in and what exactly is needed to bring them into balance so that your new lawn thrives.  A PH test (Rapidtest) is an easy and inexpensive way to see what your soil is missing.  In the Portland area, most soil needs lime to balance the high acid levels. Visit us at our Portland Nursery and we’ll test your soil for you. 


the best lawn soil for grass

Fescue blend grass. Image courtesy of Great Basin Seeds


What’s the best grass type to plant in the Portland area?

Full to mostly full sun, high use, and a willingness to provide high care: A ryegrass blend.

Moderate to low sun, lower use, and interest in lower water and care: A fescue blend.


Our landscape design team can make your grass green, and your yard a dream!

Call for an appointment at 503-256-2223


Rose Mold? No. Mycorrhizae. (It’s a good thing).

Rose Mold? No. Mycorrhizae. (It’s a good thing).

A customer at our Portland Nursery in the Raleigh Hills Neighborhood walked in the other day, and was quite distraught. Earlier in the spring, she had purchased a rose fertilizer developed by the Portland Rose Society from us.

In the past, she had always bought the conventional form of it directly from the Society, but this time, she had bought the organic version, and she was not pleased.


Fuzzy Rose Mold?


You see, this “rose mold” had developed on the soil surface wherever she had used this fertilizer. She even brought us a sample to see. She said her roses looked fine, but requested a refund in return for what was left in the bag.


if you’ve ever bought plants from a nursery, you might have notices this white stuff on the bottom. Don’t remove it!


We were all mystified. We had never seen this kind of thing before, and refunded her money. But I was still curious, so I called the Rose Society to find out if they had seen or heard about this phenomenon from other rose growers. Indeed they had! In fact, the rosarian on the other end started laughing!


Marvelous Mycorrhizae


It turns out, that the fuzzy stuff was simply mycorrhizae doing its thing, except in overdrive. Mycorhizzae is a naturally existing fungus that has existed in soils for over 450 million years. It forms a symbiotic relationship with plant root systems, and essentially extends the plant’s nutritional network, and boosts its ability to absorb water, key nutrients and trace minerals.

Usually this network is hidden underneath the soil surface, which is what threw us off. In our customer’s case, it had continued expanding above ground – manifesting itself with this white fuzz. I wish I would have been able to identify it, so I could have told her what it was, but – long story short – prolific mychorrhizae is exceptionally good news for your garden.



image courtesy of


The world’s mycorrhizae networks are easily disrupted by construction, or even just digging.

It is often completely disabled by industrial farming practices, and with the addition of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.


The Benefits of Mycorrhizae Mold On Soil

Mycorrhizae boosts the plant’s immune system, and strengthens its chances of prosperous survival.

Per our amused rosarian – the addition of the mycorrhizae to the custom rose fertilizer was the main reason the organic variety cost more than the conventional.

It seems to me that this was indeed a stellar investment, and I regret that it was in fact lost on our customer. However, it prompted me to write this blog post.

If you ever observe a fuzzy surface like the one in the photo after using a high-end, organic fertilizer during a rainy spring – you will know exactly what it is, and treat it like the gift it is! 🙂



17 Beautiful Beach Plants for Coastal Living

17 Beautiful Beach Plants for Coastal Living

We often get asked what beach plants do well in a coastal situation. 

Having just returned from a week on the southern Oregon coast, I had the time and opportunity to see for myself, and am happy to share some good options. 

Here in western Oregon we have what is usually referred to as a Mediterranean climate, meaning mild winters and warm, dry summers. 

As any gardener here knows, the possibilities to grow interesting, unique, and fabulous plants here are nearly endless. On the coast, there are three additional important factors to keep in mind that might make beach plants and coastal gardening challenging. 

To my mind, these factors render coastal conditions even truer Mediterranean than our more forgiving inland version.


The three factors of the coastal challenge: High, frequent winds


1. High and frequent winds

2. Often sandy, fast-draining soils

3. Salt – both in the air, and often in the groundwater


Because of the less extreme temperature fluctuations near large bodies of water, you can also often push your boundaries with beach plants a little more than you can farther inland, which is always fun! 🙂 As a result of this, you will, for example, see Phormiums of a size you hardly ever see in Portland. 

And, I bet coastal gardeners have never even heard of a “Phormium winter”, like we experience here, from time to time, when all our lovingly tended New Zealand flax dies.


phormium plants blowing in the beach wind


1. Phormiums

This Phormium is in bloom, which is another feature we don’t often see in Portland. And, it is of an entirely different proportion than their inland brothers and sisters.



Escallonia flowers on the beach


2. Escallonia

The windy coastal conditions creates a need for screening. Here, the evergreen density of Escallonia is put to work to create shelter from the howling gales and breezy barrages so often experienced on seaside properties.



Bergenia, Agapanthus, Sedums, Zauschneria, Cistus beach coastal garden living


3. Climbing Roses, Agapanthus, Sedums, Zauschneria, Cistus

Climbing roses, Bergenia, Agapanthus, Sedums, Zauschneria, Cistus and ornamental grasses accompany the dark foliage of the ornamental cherries anchoring this coastal cottage garden.



flowers on sidewalk beach town coastal living


4. Leucadendron

There is a decidedly California flair over this seaside, streetside garden – Leucadendron, Parahebe perfoliata, Phormium, ornamental grasses, Ilex, etc. The large Rhododendrons in the background give a nod to a more traditional Oregon plant palette.



Hebes beach plants coastal breeze


5. Hebes

Hebes is a great, popular alternative – here seen with a wind whipped Pine. The general rule of thumb when it comes to Hebe varieties is that the smaller the leaf, the hardier they are.



evergreen blossoms on the oregon coast


6. Coastal Hebes

And, since you can push the envelope in milder coastal climates, you can get away with using the showier, larger-leaved varieties. Hebes are evergreen and bloom for a long time, with white, pink, or purple blossoms and are quintessential west coach beach plants.



Agapanthus flowers in bloom on the beach


7. Erigeron and Agapanthus

Erigeron is a tough, pretty, mounding plant that blooms for a long time with small, daisy-like flowers. Here placed in front of a row of Agapanthus.



succulents on the beach thrive well


8. Succulents

Succulents are a fantastic option! Agaves, Sedum, and Sempervivum all perform fantastically. Here is the hot pink Delosperma planted with pink Seathrift (Armeria) that has mostly finished blooming.



succulents on the side of a rock on the beach


9. Sedums and Sempervivums

These incredibly exposed wild succulents were growing on a vertical rock face out in the ocean. I snapped the photo during low tide. I wouldn’t have been able to go near it otherwise. These are a mix of Sedums and Sempervivums.



eucalyptus thrives in wet beach environments


10. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus offers a perfect, evergreen tree for fast-draining soils. The leaves might turn red when heat stressed.



Agapanthus beach plants beautiful coastal living


11. Junipers

Conifers often do well on the coast. Junipers, Pines and Cypresses are common. Here is the free-form silhouette of a conifer paired with a more formally clipped broadleaf evergreen shrub, and the sky blue rounds of the Agapanthus.



pines on the beach


12. Exposed Pines

These exposed Pines put up a constant battle against the Western winds of the Pacific Ocean. As you can see, wind is a major factor in seaside gardens. Use the lee side of your house to your advantage, to cultivate your less sturdy plants.



Echium is a great plant that can thrive on the beach


13. Echium

The dramatic foliage of an Echium is a great attribute to any garden, but be sure to put it in a less windy spot, to ensure its towering flowers do not collapse.



rosemary does remarkably well on the coast


14. Rosemary

Rosemary does phenomenally well on the coast. After all, it is a Mediterranean plant in a very Mediterranean climate.



beautiful hydrangeas do great on the coast


15. Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas do great on the coast. This one is on the lee side of a building with an eastern exposure, bu. Normally this would be a great spot for a Hydrangea, but this one is looking rather sad. Hydrangeas are thirsty plants, and love ample moisture. If you plant them in fast draining soils, you need to provide them enough water to look their best. You can see from the crispy mopheads that it’s not entirely happy. 🙁



Cordyline Astralis is a california beach plant that exists in southern oregon


16. Cordyline Australis

You can tell that these photos are from the southern Oregon coast, as some of the plants are decidedly Californian in stature. Here are a couple of mature Cordyline Australis – the likes of which you may not readily see on the northern coast. Yuccas might be a good alternative in those colder areas.

Roses, Crocosmias, Agastache, Ceanothus, Achillea, Salal, Lavender, Santolina, Cannas, Poppies, … the list of tough, excellent, salt-tolerant plants is a long one. You can find an excellent list here. Hopefully this post will get you some ideas of what might work where you are. And, we are of course always available to answer more questions. Just stop by our Portland Nursery in the Raleigh Hills neighborhood.



california poppies look beautiful on this waterfront property


17. California Poppies

A little past their prime, but still lovely, tough-as-nails California poppies adorn the seaside landscape. It doesn’t get much better than that!


The Secret to a Pretty Garden: Color

The Secret to a Pretty Garden: Color

Amend your existing garden with color


The most successful pretty garden designs incorporate and make the best of their settings. Amending an existing design with garden color requires a healthy dose of sensitivity to existing conditions, an eye for plant health, and the ability to capitalize on inherent strong points and dominant features that are already in place. But, although there is plenty of room for educated speculation, there is one area of the design package that is nearly impossible to be certain of during the leafless winter and spring months, and that is color. A designer with good plant knowledge can usually discern certain clues through the shape, size and bark of deciduous trees and shrubs, but other than that – your guess is as good as just about anyone else’s.


Here are a few progress shots from the planting of a pretty garden that was re-worked this past spring, before the leaves opened. The existing plant palette was rather traditional NW, with lots of natives, and mature trees – which made the task a lot easier!


The biggest surprises in terms of color came when the Japanese maples opened up, and we are happy to say that it all worked out beautifully.  The plant list for the redesign contained lots of additional natives, such as our native Huckleberry, (Vaccinium ovatum) Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum), Oregon grape (Mahonia), Kinnikinnick, etc., but also a few exotics that work well in woodland settings – Japanese Forest grass (Hakonechloa), Fatsia japonica, and Tassel ferns (Polystichum polyblepharum).



It is shaping up rather nicely, wouldn’t you say?



The fine, evergreen foliar texture of the Huckleberry, has red new growth that echoes the existing Japanese maples. Drifts of Japanese Forest grass and blue Sedge provides bright spots of color against the massive tree trunks.



A new waterfall was added. The weepy habit of the grasses is the plant world’s formal nod to the watery rapids.


Color can be a challenge when adding to existing landscapes during winter, without the guidance provided by the then dormant plants. Landscape design during summer and fall involve a lot less guesswork, in terms of getting the garden color just right. 


Growing a backyard bouquet: a guide to fresh cut flowers

Fresh cut flowers add color, cheer, and a sweet aroma to your pretty garden.  To have fresh cut flowers straight from your own garden throughout the blooming seasons takes planning, but it is worth the investment.  Flower bouquets are the perfect gift for special occasions or to lift the spirits of someone who needs some cheer. 

Every Portland landscape has the potential to be a breathtaking scene of color and texture. Our climate allows for lush greens and bright colors to fill the yard all year long. We live in the GREAT Northwest! However for some, choosing which flowers to fill a yard can be a little overwhelming. The “problem” is that we have so many great plants to choose from!

Think about colors, textures, blooming seasons, and smells. 

Below is a comprehensive list of trees, shrubs and perennials that are excellent as cut flowers.  It is possible to have fresh flowers in a Portland landscape all summer long when you incorporate several of the plants listed below.


Cercis Redbud

Cercis Redbud trees yield absolutely beautiful flowers



Cercis Redbud

Cornus Dogwood

Crataegus Hawthorn

Forsythia Forsythia

Prunus Flowering Cherry

Salix Willow

Syringa Lilac



Berberis Barberry

The Berberis Barberry produces this vibrant red color. Isn’t it beautiful? Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia



Berberis Barberry

Buddleia Butterfly Bush

Callicarpa Beautyberry

Caryopteris Bluebeard

Cornus Red osier Dogwood

Corylus Walking Stick

Cotinus Smokebush

Exochorda Pearlbush

Hamamelis Witch Hazel

Hydrangea Hydrangea

Ilex Winterberry

Salix Willow

Sympor. Snowberry

Syringa Lilac

Rosa Rose



Achillea Yarrow

Achillea Yarrow




Achillea Yarrow

Aconitum Monks Hood

Agapanthus Lily of the Valley

Agastache Hyssop

Alcea Hollyhock

Alchemilla Lady’s Mantle

Alstromeria Mugwort

Anemone Anemone

Aquilegia Columbine

Artemiesia Mugwort

Aster Aster

Astilbe Astilbe

Astrantia Masterwort

Baptisia False Indigo

Boltonia False Starwort

Catanache Cupids Dart

Centaurea Bachelors Button

Centranthus Red Valerian

Chrysanthemums Mums

Campanula Cup and Saucer

Coreopsis Tickseed

Crocosmia Crocosmia

Delphinium Larkspur

Dianthus Pinks

Dicentra Bleeding Heart

Digitalis Foxglove

Doronicum Leopards Bane

Echinacea Cone Flower

Echinops Globe Thistle

Engeron Flea Bane

Eryngium Sea Holly

Eupatoium Mist Flower

Euphorbia Spurge

Gaillardia Blanket Flower

Gaura Windflower

Geum Lady Stratheden

Gypsophilia Babys Breath

Helenium Helen’s Flower

Helianthus Sun Flower

Heliopsis Ox eyed Daisy

Helleborus Lenten Rose


These beauties flower early in the Spring, and their nodding blooms are sublimely beautiful. A few of our favorite varieties for Portland landscaping are Ivory Prince, Pink Frost, Double Queen & Royal Heritage.

Heuchera Coral Bells

Hosta Hosta

Iris Iris

Jean May Camellia

Jean May Camellia

This Camellia has soft pink flowers and deep green glossy leaves. It is a brilliant flowering shrub that can be used as a backdrop in landscaping or as a hedge/screen


Knautia Knautia

Lavendula Lavender

Leucanthemum Shasta Daisy 



This is a classic shasta daisy that doesn’t need staking and is generally trouble free. It offers a lovely pop of white and is such a happy flower!

Liatris Gayfeather

Lilium Lily

Limonium Statice

Lupinus Lupine

Malva Mallow

Monarda Bee Balm

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)



With its glossy leaves and cheery flower clusters, Little Linda is a great addition to any landscape! It is a dwarf plant reaching its maximum size at just 3’ x 3’ making it easy to use in smaller residential lots.


Nepeta Catmint

Papaver Poppy

Penstemon Beards Tongue

Peony Peony

Perovskia Russian Sage

Platycodon Balloon Flower

Phlox Phlox

Physostegia Dragons Head

Rudbeckia Black Eyed Susan

Ruta Rue

Salvia Flowering Sage

Scabiosa Pincushion Flower

Solidago Golden Rod

Stokesia Stokes Aster

Thalictrum Meadow Rue

Trollius Globe Flower

Veronica Veronica

Zanteaeschia Calla Lily

10 Fun Garden Activities for Kids

10 Fun Garden Activities for Kids

Children are natural gardeners. They are curious and learn by experiencing new things. They love to dig, they love dirt, and most even love worms. Here are 10 fun garden activities for kids to help you and your little gardener have a great time growing together this season.


1. Let them have their own space


Whether it is within the main garden or a separate plot of their own, it is good for children to have their own designated space. Make sure their garden space has good soil and full sun to ensure success.


2. Prepare their soil before heading to our Portland Nursery and Garden Center (in the Raleigh Hills Neighborhood)


Do a soil test and add the proper soil amendments before you buy seeds or starts. That way your excited little gardener can get right to work after bringing home their garden goodies.




3. Buy and release ladybugs


A fun task for kids of all ages!


4. Choose plants that are easy to grow


Plants that have a short growing season, are easy to grow, and fun to harvest are the best to choose. Here are some of our top choices.

Edibles: Potato, snow pea, radish, lettuce, pumpkin, cherry tomato, carrots, bush beans.

Flowers: Sunflowers (sprouts quickly and grows rapidly), nasturtiums (bloom 50 days after seeds are planted.)


5. Decorate


Painting flower pots, making a stepping stone, or making plant markers are all great ways to let your children be creative with their space.



6. Teach while you plant


Let your time together be light-hearted and fun, but also use the opportunity to answer their gardening questions. Teach them about seeds and germination, tell them why weeding is important. And when you spot a good bug like a worm or ladybug, teach them the big jobs of these important creatures! (Little guys can do big jobs!)


7. Give them proper tools


Plastic tools that break and gloves that don’t fit can frustrate any gardener. Drake’s 7 Dees carries a great line of children’s tools, gloves, watering cans and more. Giving them quality tools communicates that the job they are doing is important.


8. Be sneaky to help them succeed


Depending upon their age, your child may need some behind the scene help. Pick a few weeds when they aren’t looking, replant seeds if it seems they flooded the originals right out of the garden. They don’t need to know every way you helped, ownership of their garden space is the main goal.


9. Harvest and serve


Let your child harvest, wash, prepare (with assistance), and serve their fresh veggies to the family. Seeing the entire process, from seed to table, will give them a sense of accomplishment. They will see that gardening is more than play but contributes to the family’s well being. They will be so proud!

family gardening

10. Most of all, enjoy being together


Exploring nature and having fun in the yard makes for precious memories. Drink lemonade, lay down and look at the clouds, plant the flowers, play in the water, laugh, and enjoy the whole gardening experience together. We hope these garden activities for kids has helped jog your brain for fun ways to spend time with your family this summer!