Your Plants and The Snow

Salal_2_ES_Jan_2013Now that the cold winter months are here, we wanted to allay your concerns regarding the safety of your plants whether newly planted or well established in this, and future, snaps of snow.

The effects of the cold weather can be an issue for any plants (potential cell damage on herbaceous plants and if this was a prolonged soil where the soil froze roots uptake can become inhibited) – especially new plants that have been recently through the shock of being replanted, however the snow can actually be more of a benefit when weather dips down below freezing.

The benefit of snow is that it acts as an insulator, protecting plants from the cold and frost, so this snow should help shield our plants from the cold – also when it melts it will help water the newly plants which is very helpful when establishing plantings!

Because bare root plants lack a rooting media that supplies water to the plant (i.e. soil), they must be stored in a dormant state with temperatures slightly above or below freezing, and high (95%) humidity levels.  In other words, these temperatures are ideal for storing the plants before planting so long as they do not freeze, so this may be a benefit…the bigger concern was moisture due the winds.

Generally the biggest concerns we had on planting day was the wind drying out the plant roots and freezing the roots overnight before planting – both of these issues were not a problem since we were able to store the plants in a garage and dip the plants in water before planting and were protected from the high winds by the forest cover.

Preventing Soil Erosion

Dust_Storm_TexasHow to Help Prevent Soil Erosion This Spring
By Rural Conservationist Scott Gall

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”  Franklin Roosevelt wrote those words in a letter to all State Governors in support of the act that created Soil & Water Conservation Districts.  That was in 1937 and the nation had just passed a series of laws in response to the devastation caused by the Dust Bowl.

Eighty years later we’ve have come a long way in our understanding of the strength and fragility native soils.  Yet erosion will always be a concern.

Soil erosion is the detachment and movement of soil particle most often caused by water and wind, gravity and even ice.  Since it may take 200 years to form one inch of soil, erosion occurring on your land is usually bad thing.  While soil erosion is of most concern on farms, steep hillsides or along a stream; erosion around a house can compromise foundations, clog drains, undermine garden plants and depending on where the soil goes – lead to liability issues.

In most instances, soil erosion occurs when the surface is not adequately covered, which allows wind, rain, and flowing water to dislodge the soil and carry it away. Some of the best ways to stabilize soil and slopes is by planting grass, shrubs and trees.  Their root systems, and the fibrous mycorrhiza fungus that attach to it, literally hold the soil in place.  The roots can also create holes, known as pores, which allow water to seep into the ground so that it doesn’t pond on the surface and wash soil away. That plants themselves also pull water up out of the soil, through the process of transpiration, prevents soil in steep areas from getting too saturated and heavy.

The roots of plants also pump organic matter deep into the soil. Organic matter, formed from the breakdown and composting of living material, is one of the most important parts of soil. It is literally the glue that holds soil together.  Organic matter also helps water to seep deep into the soil while providing nutrients for crops, trees and even ornamental plants in the garden.  While mulches, composts and other organic amendments can add organic matter to soil, plants are the most efficient way to get it deep into the soil and help prevent soil erosion.

For more information on soil, soil erosion, or other conservation practices, contact West Multnomah SWCD or attend Soil School

Aquatic Invasive Species Tags Available Online

Attention Paddlers!

Aquatic invasive species prevention permits for paddlers expire December 31 and the Marine Board has several purchasing options that are perfect to take advantage of when the weather is less-than desirable. Purchasing is easy from the comfort of your home through the Marine Board’s online storefront. An annual or two-year Tyvek tag costs a flat, $5 or $10, and the Marine Board does not charge an online processing fee.

The revenue that is raised from permit sales directly benefits Oregon’s efforts to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species and deter introduction of new species into the state. In 2013, funds from the aquatic invasive species program were used to build a first-of-its-kind boat wash station at Tenmile Lakes, expand inspection stations around the state and keep the stations open longer.  Any areas with standing water are capable of transporting mussel larvae and weed fragments that can easily contaminate a water body. Law enforcement partners reported a range from 70% to 90% compliance, depending on the region of the state, for people carrying their AIS permit.

Other changes include more signage at boat ramps with the “Clean, Drain, and Dry” message, and completion of a statewide rapid response plan
(with practice exercises) for a detection scenario of quagga or zebra mussels.

To order your annual or two-year Tyvek tages, visit

What’s the dirt?

Healthy soil is at the core of everything we do…but how do you make soil healthy? Of the many resources out there, USDA/NRCS provides this great infographic on what you can find if your soil is healthy.


So how can you get soil that is teeming with life?

  1. Add organic matter. Compost! Mulch! Manure! Healthy soils typicall have a 3-5% layer of organic matter on top.
  2. Disturb the soil as little as possible. Tilling and other activities harm microbiota in soils that are necessary for nutrient uptake.
  3. Grow many different species of plants through rotations and diverse mixture of cover crops. Biodiversity is key to a healthy ecosystem whether above or below ground. Not only does this provide habitat for a variety of microbiota, but an assortment of plants with varying root depths help to create pore spaces for soil to take up air, water and nutrients. Also, these roots act as natural tillers.
  4. Plant cover crops around harvest to keep living roots growing in the soil for as much of the year as possible. Cover crops, or green manure, feed soils following vegetable crops and provide coverage from the elements.
  5. No bare soils. Keep the soil surface covered year round. Soil that is uncovered is likely to suffer from compaction from feet or paws, and nutrient leaching from heavy rains.
For more information on building soil health, check in our library for these great resources and more:

Your Soil Is Alive!

Over one billion living organisms live a teaspoon of soil!  Most of us think of soil as a chemical sponge – nothing but a temporary holding tank for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  But soil is a living thing.  As you stand in your garden, you are literally standing on trillions of living creatures.  Entire ecosystems can exist between two gains of sand or in the tiniest root.

Biodiversity vs. Monoculture

Just like a normal ecosystem, soil ecosystems consist of producers, grazers and predators.  As the plants and animals above the ground live in a delicate balance, so do the organisms in soil.  Remove a predatory species and the grazers flourish but the producers (the plants) may vanish too.

For every ecosystem, diversity equals stability.  If an ecosystem is based on a signal plant, organism or input, then outside factors like disease, changes in climate or disturbances can throw the entire system out of whack.

In soil monocultures, regular tillage and the loss of organic matter can reduce soil biodiversity and increase the risks of disease, pests and lowered fertility.  When the above ground system is diverse, so is the system below ground.  Cover crops, crop rotation, additions of organic matter, reduced tillage, and reduction in chemical inputs can increase or preserve soil biodiversity.  A diverse soil ecosystem means that there will be antibodies for disease.  Diverse soils have a symbiosis with plant roots that increase their use of nutrients and water.  Diverse soils can even reduce weed infestation by providing organisms that eat seeds or weaken the plant.

Soil is a living thing.  The more you feed and nurture that living thing, the more it will give back and the more forgiving it will be when we make the occasional mistake.

You can find out more about the incredible world of soil at our Annual Soil School, held in the spring in the greater Portland area, sponsored by the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other partners.  Visit our website for event information ( or call our “Soil Guy,” Rural Conservationist Scott Gall, 503.238.4775, ext. 105;

For more resources:

Planting for Erosion Control

Erosion is the process that occurs when soil and other land matter is disturbed by either human activity or natural conditions such as extreme weather.  When land erodes, it is carried from its original location into streams and rivers, where it disrupts spawning areas, pollutes water, and reduces flood channel capacity.  In addition to creating problems by its presence in streams, the land from which it originally came suffers from a lack of nutrients.  Most eroded material is topsoil, which is necessary to sustain healthy plants.  Once land erodes, it can take hundreds of years to reform naturally.  Common human causes of erosion include poorly designed roads, inadequate drainage facilities, poor grading practices, no revegetation practices, and invasive plant species.

What Can I Do To Prevent Erosion?
Thankfully, there are several things you as a landowner can do to prevent erosion on your property.  Below is a short list of erosion control tips to get you started:

Incorporate existing native vegetation into the landscaping plan for new developments. 
Existing native vegetation requires the least care of any planting materials.  Native plants require little or no watering or fertilizer and grow on difficult sites.  Care should be taken in working around trees to prevent damage. Be sure to use native plants with roots at various depths to assist in stabilization. Though each site will be unique, consider incorporating plants that spread well or require less soil, e.g. bunchberry, sword fern, red-flowering currant, Pacific ninebark, nootka rose, and Oregon grape.

Plant grass seed or other vegetation before the fall rains begin. 
Plant a grass/legume seed ground cover on all exposed areas and cut/fill slopes to create a vegetated buffer.  Plant in fall, winter or early spring depending on the variety – make sure to check with the nursery providing vegetation for the best time to plant.  On slopes greater than 20 percent use netting and straw mulch to hold the soil and prevent loss of grass seed while native plants are establishing.  Straw mulch will provide erosion control and moisture conservation.    

Do preserve trees, shrubs and ground cover in streamside areas.
Streamside vegetation can catch and hold sediment before it enters the stream.  Roots of plants help hold the soil and reduce bank erosion.  Streamside plants also provide food and shelter for wildlife as well as filter pollutants in stormwater runoff.  Preserve streamside vegetation for its value in erosion control, wildlife habitat and pollution filtration.

Remove invasive plant species and replace with native plant species.
Many of the streams throughout Portland are being invaded by non-native invasive plant species like Himilayan Blackberry and English Ivy.  These plants have weak root systems that do not provide ample erosion control.  These plants also out-compete native plants and wreak havoc on our native ecosystems.  Remove invasive plants species and replace with a diverse stand of native plant species with varying root depths and densities for greater erosion control and wildlife habitat.

Adapted from Western Shasta Resource Conservation District (

For more tips on land care, habitat, and conservation, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Gypsy Moth Rap

Check out the cute video from students at DaVinci Arts Middle School!


Helping the Streaked Horned Lark

OPB’s Earthfix blog recently featured an article on efforts to help the streaked horned lark, a native Oregon bird species that is in in severe decline. With only 2,000 left, the streaked horned lark is a priority species for the Conservation District. The District endeavors to restore habitats of federal and state listed species, including state “sensitive” species and others in decline, as determined by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and other national and regional wildlife authorities, such as Audubon Society and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

This striking bird prefers open habitats such as prairies and beaches, and agricultural fields. Within our district, the streaked horned lark would be found on Sauvie Island and on beaches along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. We encourage land managers with such habitats to help the lark using the following conservation tips:

  1. Provide open habitat on your land. The birds prefer low stature vegetation and areas bare of trees for nesting.
  2. Avoid management that will disturb the birds during their nesting season, e.g. mowing or plowing.
  3. Avoid the use of pesticides. Nestlings use insects as a food source and the young birds can easily fall prey to poisoning.
For more information on the bird, please visit ODFW’s page on the species.
Photo credit: David Maloney USFWS