From Al's Experts logo

The goal of home composting is to support nature’s self-regenerating power in ways that work harmoniously with the needs of your back yard. Many people start composting for practical reasons. Home composting your leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and food scraps reduces the amount of garbage you generate. Plus, compost is essential for a great garden, and starting your own pile ensures a free, regular supply.

a bin full of compost

A compost pile starts out as a diverse pile of kitchen and garden “waste.” Left alone, any of these materials would eventually decompose. But when a variety of materials are mixed together and kept moist and aerated, the process accelerates. Compost matures into what soil scientists call active organic matter.

Why add compost to garden soil?

  • It increases its water-holding capacity
  • It invigorates the soils food and provides a buffet of plant nutrients
  • It enhances your plants’ ability to respond to challenges from insects and disease
  • Starting a new compost pile can be a fast, easy project
close up of compost material

Balancing ingredients is optional

To help compost decompose rapidly, a balance of “two parts brown to one part green” is often preached as composting gospel, but in truth, keeping a balanced ratio is simply an option.

  • Brown materials: Dry materials, such as leaves, pine needles and dead plants
  • Green materials: Wetter materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen waste

Good compost can be either hot or cold

Most people who carefully manage their compost piles for a balance of ingredients are trying to produce hot compost, which heats up or “cooks” as the materials decompose. Hot compost is the fastest type of compost to produce, but it’s not necessarily better. Intensively worked hot compost that’s produced in only three to four weeks ranks pretty low in terms of microbial diversity.

If you want the best compost, you want cured compost. This is mature compost that is set aside in a covered place where it can age for at least a couple of months. Bacteria produced this way “prime” plants to do a superior job of defending themselves from pests and diseases.

Small or large — any size pile will work just fine

Simply pile stuff together until the heap is big enough to merit some attention. Then, one day, when you’re in a composting mood, pick up a digging fork and spend some time mixing the materials in the pile, adding water to keep it moist.

Turning compost is optional.

Reasons to turn compost include:

  • Achieving a good mix of materials
  • Discovering dry pockets in need of moisture
  • Breaking compost into smaller pieces, which helps push almost-done compost to full maturity
  • Satisfying your curiosity as to what’s happening in your heap!

Gauge the moisture level of your compost pile by its fragrance

When you dig around in a heap and don’t smell the desired earthy fragrance, lack of moisture is usually the reason. To make it easier to keep these piles wet, there is no easier way to moisten the inside of a dry heap than by using a soaker hose.

Unpleasant odors in compost can be caused by the materials themselves, but even smelly things won’t stink if they are buried a few inches deep. Enclosed compost can go stinky if it’s too wet. If you’re using a plastic bin or tumbler, do pay close attention to water, because it’s easy to add too much.

Compost need not be a secret

Locate compost as close as possible to where the materials are generated or where the finished compost will be used.

an earthworm

With a worm bin, you can even compost indoors

Composting with captive earthworms, called vermicomposting, is a great way to compost paper products and food waste from your kitchen. Vermicomposting bins can be kept indoors or outside, but they work great indoors in winter, when outdoor heaps often freeze.

You can safely compost livestock manure

This biologically active material is a terrific soil amendment, and composting livestock manure makes it safe to use in the garden. You should use caution with animal manures because many do contain bacteria, but making and using manure-enriched compost won’t make you sick unless you’re careless.

There are good uses for immature compost

You can make compost by piling up stuff in layered beds, some people call this lasagna compost. If you top off the layers with burlap or some other water-permeable cloth, you can call it Interbay compost, named after the innovative gardeners at Interbay Community Garden in Seattle, who reuse burlap coffee bags to cover layered compost. I call it comforter compost because it’s such a good way to tuck in soil for winter, or begin the healing process for soil that’s been neglected or abused.

Every gardener wants to make great compost, and experience is the best teacher. Just know you cannot fail, because compost knows what to do. Trust the composting process, follow nature’s lead, and things will turn out great in the end.


September is Houseplant Month
A Homalomena plant

This Week: Homalomena

Homalomena is a clump-forming evergreen perennial with arrowhead or heart-shaped leaves. It's this shape that gives it the common name "Queen of Hearts". The flowers are tiny and without petals, enclosed in a usally greenish spathe hidden by the leaves.

Homalomena generally need indirect light and well-draining soil. Tropical in origin, the foliage will stay evergreen as long as temperatures never drop below 40 degrees F. They are widely considered great houseplant, due to their ease of care, disease resistance and their ability to tolerate low lighting conditions.

  • Easy care, no fuss
  • Keep soil evenly moist
  • Low to bright light, no sun conditions
  • Great for office settings
  • Native plants that can be found on the Rain Forest floors in Costa Rica, Columbia and The Philippines
  • Relative of Philodendrons

When you talk about fall lawn care it’s mostly all about aeration, seeding, and fertilizing. But there is one more critical element that can help your lawn and garden actually benefit from the nutrients in the soil – Lime.

a bag of Encap Fast Acting Lime

Agricultural lime is a soil additive made from pulverized limestone or chalk. The primary active component is calcium carbonate.

Places like the beautiful Pacific Northwest enjoy higher rainfall levels than other parts of the country. As a result, the rain can actually leach, or wash away, the calcium and magnesium in the soil, making it too acidic.

All plants have a pH preference, and grass is no exception. If your soil is too acidic (or too alkaline), your lawn simply cannot access the important nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil. The goal is to keep a very slightly acidic soil, because:

  • It improves the uptake of major plant nutrients.
  • It improves water penetration in your garden.
  • It provides a source of calcium and magnesium for your plants.
  • Moss prefers a less alkaline soil. We prefer less moss in our lawns.
a chart of the effects of soil ph on nutrient availabilityChart of the Effects of Soil pH on Nutrient Availability. The green area represents the optimum pH range for your lawn. Chart courtesy of avocadosource.com.

The reason to apply agricultural lime is to correct the unfavorably high levels of acidity in your soil. Strong acidic soils reduce plant growth – and we don’t want that! A simple way to know for sure, is to perform a soil test using a soil pH meter.


As the heat of summer gives way to the cooler, crisper days of fall, it is time to switch your gardening focus from watering and dead-heading to preparing your yard for fall and winter. Whether you are reseeding, fertilizing or redoing your lawn, fall is the best time of the year. Your lawn will respond better to all your efforts, especially in the months of September and early October.

grass kissed with dew

Time to Seed

Why is fall the best time to seed? In the fall, soil temperatures are warmer. They’ve had all summer to heat up. This along with our frequent rains helps the seeds germinate quickly. The faster the seed germinates and the lawn becomes more established, the less competition it has with weeds. The cool air temperatures also allow the young lawn to grow strong without the threat of heat stress.

a woman with a hand fertilizer spreader

Don’t Forget to Fertilize

You will want to fertilize your lawn twice this season, once in early September and once in mid-November. When you feed your lawn in the fall with a Fall and Winter Fertilizer, the nutrients are changed into carbohydrates which improve the root system in your lawn. By putting energy into the roots instead of promoting blade growth you are improving your lawn for next spring and summer. The expanded root system also allows the grass plants to send out new rhizomes and encourages deeper roots. Fall and Winter Fertilizers are formulated to feed your lawn without causing a lot of blade growth, so your lawn is completely focused on root growth and you don’t have to worry about mowing your lush lawn until next spring.

Air it out

Aeration is one simple thing that you can do for your lawn each year to help it grow healthy and lush. This of course comes after mowing, watering and fertilizing. Aeration has several benefits for your lawn. First, it takes compaction out of the soil. This allows for better water percolation and allows fertilizer to reach the root zone. The plugs that are left on the surface due to aeration also have a purpose: They allow microbes to decompose thatch. Thatch is the major cause of many ailments in your lawn. The soil from the plugs will dissolve into your turf and the microbes from the soil will start decomposing the thatch. To make your aerating easier, water your lawn a day or two before having it aerated. This will help you draw longer plugs. The deeper the aeration plug, the better.

a liquid weed killer being sprayed on lawn

Get it Under Control

Fall is a great time to control broadleaf weeds in your lawn. Broadleaf weeds like clover and dandelions are preparing themselves for winter in the fall months. They are in the same mode as your lawn, storing carbohydrates in their root system instead of growing above ground. If you don’t take care of them in the fall, come spring your weeds are going to be stronger than ever. There are many options for lawn weed killer. Weed killers work by causing the plant to grow beyond its ability to sustain that growth. For best results, try to spray for weeds when temperatures are in the mid-50’s or warmer. A couple of good suggestions for weed killers are Bayer Advanced All-In-One Weed Killer for Lawns or Ferti-lome’s Weed Free Zone.

Mow it Down

As the weather cools down in the fall, lower the height of your mower. Mowing the lawn shorter in the fall encourages rhizome development in the turf which will thicken the lawn and help choke out weeds. Begin in September and continue through October, gradually reducing the height of your lawn until you’re mowing to a height of approximately one inch. By slowly reducing the height, your lawn will not be stressed by the shorter mower height as the fall temperatures cool.

Over Seed it

If you have areas in your lawn that have thinned out over the summer, fall is the perfect time to take care of those less than stellar areas. Many things can cause your lawn to thin out, the most common being weed invasions and areas that don’t get enough sunlight. These areas can be fixed with over seeding. Over seeding is as simple as it sounds – spreading seed over your existing lawn. If weeds have caused your thin areas, make sure you kill and remove the weeds before over seeding. When over seeding, lightly sprinkle some fresh grass seed over the area and cover it with a thin layer of compost or peat moss. Be sure to use the appropriate seed for the sun exposure of the area you are repairing. Grass seed comes in sun, sun/shade, and shade mixes. If you are unsure about your sun exposure or have areas with different amounts of sun, use the sun/shade mix. It contains a mix of seed that will grow in both conditions. To keep your lawn looking uniform, it is a good idea to lightly over seed your whole lawn with whatever mix you choose. Over seeding should be done at a rate of 3.5 – 5 pounds of seed per 100 square feet. Don’t let your lawn get left behind this fall. Take the necessary steps now and you will be rewarded with a beautiful, green, weed-free lawn next spring!


September is Houseplant Month
close up of a ZZ Plant

This Week: ZZ Plants

Dutch nurseries started wide-scale commercial propagation of the Zamioculcas, or ZZ plant, around 1996. This herbaceous plant grows from a stout underground succulent rhizome. It’s normally evergreen, but becomes deciduous during drought, and survives due to the large potato like rhizome that stores water until the next rainfall resumes.

Over-watering may destroy this plant; erring on the side of dryness is preferable to risking tuber rot. Bright, indirect light is best for the ZZ plant, although it will tolerate very low light. Some sun will be tolerated - very early in the morning, though.

The ZZ plant may be propagated by leaf cuttings. Typically, the lower ends of detached leaves are inserted into a moist gritty compost and the pot enclosed in a polythene bag. Though the leaves may well decay, succulent bulb-like structures should form in the compost and these may be potted up to produce new plants. The process may take upwards of one year.


September is Houseplant Month
close up of a Snake Plant

This Week: Snake Plants

If a prize were being given out for the most tolerant plant, Sansevieria or the Snake Plant would certainly be one of the winners. Snake plant care is very straightforward. These plants can be neglected for weeks at a time; yet with their strappy leaves and architectural shape, they still look fresh. Put them in indirect sunlight and don’t water them too much, especially during the winter. In fact, it’s better to let these plants dry out some between waterings. The most important thing to remember is that they require a free draining soil so their roots remain dry.

There are around 70 different species of snake plant, all native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are all evergreen and can grow anywhere from 8 inches to 12 feet high. Other common names include mother-in-law’s tongue, devil’s tongue, or snake tongue. Additionally, they can survive low light levels, drought and have few insect problems. Snake plants are able to help keep the air inside your home clean by removing toxins. In short, they are the perfect houseplants.

  • Assorted colors of thick textured foliage
  • The leaves store water
  • Low light needs
  • Low water needs
  • Great houseplant for a dark corner or office where a light source is a challenge.

September is Houseplant Month
close up of an Anthurium

This Week: Anthuriums

The anthurium, also known as Painted Tongue, Flamingo Lily, or Tail Flower, is a large genus of possibly 1000 species, belonging to the arum family. With their brilliant glossy spathes (the brightly colored ornamental part of the flower), and slender spadices, anthuriums are classic tropical flowers. The favored "flower" of this plant is actually a bract, or a modified leaf flaring out from the base of a fleshy spike (spadix) where the tiny real flowers grow. Their bracts display bold color including white, pink, red or green with a high-shine, gathered texture. The true flower in yellow, green or white is the spadix, the slender protrusion above the bract.

Owing to the meaning and symbolism of anthurium with its open, heart-shaped flowers and tropical disposition, it's no wonder that anthuriums have come to symbolize hospitality. It is a warm flower that inspires happiness and abundance. Exotic and compelling, with bold flowers and shiny, dark green foliage, anthuriums, like the hospitality they represent, are long-lasting and irresistibly beautiful.

With eye-catching blooms and attractive foliage, the anthurium, is an herbaceous perennial native to tropical America. Its seductiveness lies in the fact that the plant adapts effortlessly to any interior and any style: traditional or modern, on its own or in a large group. The anthurium feels at home anywhere, and remarkably retains its character every time in any setting whether it is placed in an earth pot or in a glass container.

As well as its exotic background, the anthurium's popularity is assured because its undemanding nature. That means both experienced plant lovers and beginners can care for it effortlessly. And in return for such little attention, the anthurium gives back a surprisingly large amount of pleasure by flowering almost all year long.

  • Featuring glossy, green foliage
  • Bright light; no direct sun to promote blooms
  • Fertilize regularly in April to August
  • Keep soil evenly moist - especially during warmer seasons
  • Flowers last a long time before fading to green.

In the Pacific Northwest we are fortunate to have a seasonal weather pattern this is ideal for gardeners to plant in the fall. Our normally dry, warm fall days allow for root growth before the winter months arrive.

Fall Planting

Heuchera planted in the ground

The cool evenings, and eventually cooler days of autumn, will slow down the loss of moisture through ‘transpiration’ - the loss of water through their leaves. New plantings don’t dry out as quickly as in the intense spring sun. The soil is still warm, encouraging root development.

In the winter, nature provides free, effortless irrigation. The top growth slows or stops when the temperatures drop, and the daylight shortens. Although the soil is cooler, the available moisture provides slow-growing roots with plenty of water.

In early spring as the days lengthen and the air warms, plants begin putting energy into their top growth. The roots continue to develop for the coming surge of growth in shoots, leaves and flower buds.

Then in late spring the temperatures continue to warm with hot days, increasing the loss of moisture through top growth and in the soil itself. If you planted in the fall, you’ll have established roots which are less prone to drought damage, and are ready for a spring surge of top growth.

So for those of us that are able to plant in the fall, you’ll enjoy a quicker start because you gave those roots a chance to get established. With a little pre-planning, it’s a great way to get a couple of extra months of solid growth.

Fall & Winter Vegetable Planting

a hand planting onions

Fall and winter gardening, although an old practice, is an excellent solution for keeping the tilth and fertility of your garden's soil at its peak levels. At the same time it yields crops of delicious vegetables throughout the fall and winter that cost a fraction of produce purchased in the supermarket.

When it comes to vegetable and flower gardening, the climatic patterns of the lower elevation areas west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Northwestern California, and British Columbia are quite suitable for fall & winter gardening. Winter low temperatures range from 35°F to 45°F with occasional cold continental arctic air outbreaks lowering it to +20°F to 0°F or so. The garden soil can freeze 3 or 4 inches deep for short periods, but the usual winters are not severe enough to damage carefully mulched winter vegetable plants.

The key to successful winter gardening is knowing the average date of the first killing frost in your region (for example late October in the Pacific Northwest). You then plant your winter crops early enough to let them reach their full maturity before that killing frost.

feet walking over a leaf-covered lawn

Early Maturing Crops

Plant by mid September (Approximate maturity 30 days)

Rootcrops

  • Chives
  • Bunching Onions
  • Radishes

Leafcrops

  • Broccoli
  • Cover Crops
  • Leaf Lettuces
  • Mustard
  • Spinach

Lawns

Whether you are reseeding, fertilizing or redoing your lawn, fall is the best time of the year. Your lawn will respond better to all your efforts, especially in the months of September and early October.


You may be finding it a little cooler in the mornings, or actually have seen leaves falling. You certainly can’t miss the Back to School reminders in stores where you shop. Maybe you’re just wishing for that break in the heat and a chance to get back out in the garden. Regardless, we have all the fall colors color and textures that you’re hoping for.

rudbeckia blooms

Try adding Rudbeckia hirta, which is commonly called black-eyed-Susan, and is a member of the sunflower family. Other common names include brown-eyed Susan or brown Betty due to its brown center. Rudbeckia hirta is the state flower of Maryland, and is used by many Native American tribal nations as a medicinal herb. Known for being a remedy for colds, flu, infection, swelling and snake bites, it is multipurpose and highly valued. And if that wasn’t enough, Rudbeckia attracts butterflies to your garden when planted in large color-masses.

close up of a rudbeckia hirta bloom

Rudbeckia hirta

  • Upright annual, growing 12-39 inches tall
  • Approx. 12-18 inches wide
  • The leaves are covered with a coarse hair, with stout branching stems.
  • Daisy-like composite flower head approx. 4 inches in diameter, with yellow florets circling a conspicuous brown or black, dome-shaped cone of many small florets.
  • Can be found in a range of sizes and colors including oranges, reds and browns. Perfect for adding fall color to your home or garden!

I know we have a lot more summer left, but is anyone else looking forward to the cooler days of fall? Wrapping up in a warm throw or even trading your flip-flops in for slippers?

Even though it's not quite time for hay bales and fresh-picked pumpkins, there are many other ways to transition into fall. It's a busy time in the garden and home.

Garden

Mums signal the fall for me, and the way millet smells just like syrup on French toast reminds me of a crisp fall morning. Trade out your annuals for the autumn hues of Echinacea. If you can't decide what color to choose, you can enjoy 3 varieties of Echinacea in a single pot with our Tri-color Echinacea pots - grown especially for Al's at The Farm in Hubbard.

closeup of an orange mumGarden Mums
millitMillit
tri-colored echinaceaTri-colored Echinacea

Home Decor

Our Home Decor departments are full of decorative pumpkins of all kinds. We have pumkpins made of tin, glass or wood. You can even find pumpkins made of textile burlap or velvet. We also carry a great selection of seasonal decor including silk flowers and autumn wreaths.

decorative pumpkins
decorative pumpkins
decorative pumpkins
decorative pumpkins
decorative pumpkins
decorative pumpkins

Fall Fashion

Al's Boutique in Sherwood and Woodburn feature all the styles you'll be craving. From Lucy to Prana, Tribal, Sisters and Habitat - we carry a great selection of the new fall styles. Green is a big color this fall. You'll see forest greens and olives, brown green and sage. Add a bag and a scarf, and you're ready to layer your way into fall.

fall fashion jacket
fall fashion sweater
fall fashion scarves