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Central Oregon Landscaping Tips with Brandon Reese of Moonfire and Sun Garden Center

Submitted by Nest Bend on

KAREN: Hi, welcome to House Talk. I’m so excited today to have Brandon Reese here. He’s the owner of Moonfire and Sun Garden Center.

I was actually just there a couple weeks ago buying my grandchildren packs of ladybugs. Of course, I love ladybugs, and I have hundreds of tomato plants and they seem to help on that.

Brandon, welcome to the program.

BRANDON: Thanks for having me, Karen.

KAREN: I’m excited we can talk a little bit about plants. In my business, I know that a lot of buyers come to town and they like to drive by homes before they decide which ones they really want me to show them. Do you have any suggestions when it comes to curb appeal? Is that a common question at your garden center?

BRANDON: Definitely, it’s a very common question. People need to remember the landscape is probably one of the largest surfaces that people see when they drive by, and it’s so important to have that curb appeal.

It’s not that expensive and it’s pretty easy to do. If you’re going to sell your house or you’re going to have a barbeque – or like I did this summer, I had a wedding at my house – get some flowers in there, get some new bark down.

The easiest place to start is with some annuals, like your petunias, your calibrachoa, the pretty stuff that you see.

KAREN: I don’t know what calibrachoa is. What is that? Have I bought that and I just didn’t know what it was, maybe?

BRANDON: They’re more commonly called a “mini-tunia.” It’s a little petunia that is probably about an inch in size.

KAREN: And it does well in our environment here?

BRANDON: It does great here. Prolific flowers, flowers all summer long. But they are annuals, so at the end of the season when we start getting into frost, you’re going to lose them.

KAREN: Do you also have a nice supply of pots? Sometimes I’ll tell a seller, let’s pot this for your front door area or this front porch.

BRANDON: Yeah, we carry a pretty expensive line of pottery, both ceramic and some of the composite materials. Composites are nicer now because they’re lighter. They don’t have the weight of ceramic, but they have the look of something that is really durable.

Most people buy them in pairs and put one on each side of the door. A helpful hint on the big pots is fill them halfway full of empty water bottles.

KAREN: So you don’t have to put so much dirt in there.

BRANDON: Right. Oh, and we call it soil.

KAREN: Oh, I’m sorry. [laughs] Dirt, soil. What’s the difference between dirt and soil?

BRANDON: Dirt is what you sweep out the door. Soil is what you plant in.

KAREN: [laughs] I’m sure there’s special soil for pots as well.

BRANDON: Yeah. We carry a couple different levels of potting soils. Buying good potting soil is very important. You can definitely fill up one of those big huge pots, you can fill up the bottom half of it with just some empty water bottles, the PET bottles, and it really lightens it if you ever have to move it. That’s a helpful hint.

KAREN: So someone could come in there and easily find a great selection of annuals. What’s the best time of year to plant those perennials?

BRANDON: I like to plant stuff in the spring, before it gets like it’s been recently with the very hot weather. As soon as it’s not freezing – actually our landscape company plants stuff year-round, but the smaller the plant, like the perennials or the grasses, generally you start getting into that April, May, June. They’re all good months. You can still plant stuff through the heat, but then you just have to really stay on the watering.

KAREN: Yeah.

BRANDON: The nice thing is if you plant in the spring, they have all summer to root and they really get their roots very extensive. Then they have a lot of nutrients available, or a lot of resources so in the spring they can restart growing very easily.

KAREN: And make it through the winter.


KAREN: Yeah. Boy, it has been hot. [laughs]

BRANDON: Yeah. Throughout the years – I’ve been doing it about 15 years, and it seems like no two summers are the same. This year we’re seeing new issues due to just heat stress from plants that we’ve never seen. Just this morning somebody came in and thought they had blight on a plant, and I would just chalk it up to it’s tired of being in 100-degree weather.

KAREN: What’s blight look like? What is blight?

BRANDON: You start to get yellow around the edges of the leaves. It is a problem in a lot of these plants that all the different diseases manifest the same. The easy ones are the insects because you flip a leaf over and you see the aphids.

You came in and bought ladybugs; ladybugs are very popular this year to help control aphids and mites.

KAREN: I love putting them in the yard, and the grandchildren just enjoyed them so much. You can’t believe how many ladybugs are in one packet. It’s amazing.

BRANDON: Yeah. I think there are 1,500, approximately, per package. They’re a lot of fun. The kids love them, pour them down their arms and let them crawl all over the place. I think since so many people are doing it, we’re actually starting to get a little bit of a ladybug native population here to Central Oregon. Some are overwintering here.

KAREN: Really?


KAREN: You mentioned briefly that you can plant things year-round. Brandon, how do you plant anything in December? [laughs]

BRANDON: As long as the ground’s not frozen solid. You can plant in frozen ground; it’s just a lot more work.

KAREN: Who would want to live in frozen ground? Who meaning what kind of plant would want to live in frozen ground?

BRANDON: The other way to think about it is the plant is already in a pot sitting on top of the ground.

KAREN: So it’s already cold.

BRANDON: It’s already cold, so putting it in the ground is actually a better environment for it.

KAREN: I never thought about that.

BRANDON: But then you run into it’s hard to water, and we have some winters where it’s very dry, and so you actually have to hook up the hose and go water your plants. Generally irrigation systems are off, so you’re out there, you’re the crazy person on the block that’s watering their plants in January in between snowstorms.

KAREN: [laughs] Perfect. We’re going to have to take a break. We’ll be back with Brandon Reese, the owner of Moonfire & Sun Garden Center in Bend.

Hi, welcome back to House Talk. This is Karen Malanga, Principal Broker at RE/MAX Key Properties, and I’m fortunate to have Brandon Reese here. He’s the owner of Moonfire & Sun Garden Center in Bend.

We were just discussing how to create curb appeal, and then we kind of want into planting something in December. [laughs] Brandon, what would we like to discuss now?

BRANDON: Something that comes up in the nursery quite a bit is most of the people moving to Bend are from better climates, like Seattle, San Francisco, even Willamette Valley. They come over here and they find out that Bend has a very difficult climate for both gardening and for working in your yard.

KAREN: It’s challenging. In the Sunset Western Garden Book, are we like Zone 0? What are we?

BRANDON: There are two different – Sunset Garden Book I think goes 0 to 16, and we’re a 0 or a 1. The more common one is the USDA Zone Hardiness Map. Everybody kind of got moved around in the last couple years, and we’re a Zone 6-ish.

But this is where we get into the common myths. The hardiness is just a cold temperature hardiness. There are a lot of plants that are cold hardy to -30 – which I don’t know if we’ve ever seen here in Central Oregon, here specifically in Bend.

The issue is not cold in Bend; it is this oscillation from cold to hot. If you think back to April, we’ll have 2 weeks of a high of like 65-70, not freezing at night. Plant wakes up, starts to leaf out, and wham! We got a 20 degree night.

KAREN: Oh, sure. Always around Pole Pedal Paddle, too. We might get some snow just when everybody’s starting to bud.

BRANDON: Yep. As everything is starting to bud out, we get a hard freeze, the plant loses all its leaves, and it’s starting over. The roots are the batteries for a plant, and they only have so much energy. A lot of plants will not make it through two or three of those hard frosts, and then we lose them.

So it’s not a matter of it being cold hardy; it’s a matter of it leafing out too early or the new foliage not being able to take a frost.

KAREN: Also, not only do we have those differences in just maybe a weekly temperature, but we also can vary 40 degrees in one day. Isn’t that hard on a plant?

BRANDON: It’s not as hard as you may think, most of them. But it does affect the plants.

The other challenge here is we have very, very low humidity. Plants tend to dry out very quickly. They get leaf burn. When you have those either cold windy days or hot windy days, they are very hard on the plants. Those are challenges that we face in Central Oregon that even Minnesota, where it gets significantly colder, is an easier place to grow than Bend.

KAREN: Wow. You know what I noticed when I moved here, which was like 22 years ago? I noticed that everything truly has a season. I came from southern California, where I could go cut flowers all year long, and all of a sudden here I was with nothing in my garden in the winter that is worth cutting and bringing in. But then when spring came, my gosh, the delphinium, the peonies.

BRANDON: Yeah, all your bulbs.

KAREN: Just gorgeous.

BRANDON: Yeah. That’s an important thing as you’re developing your landscape, to shop in all seasons. Somebody that comes in on May 1st and buys their whole landscape, they’re going to buy everything that looks pretty on May 1st. In July they may not have so much flash going on.

KAREN: Probably none. [laughs]

BRANDON: It’s important to come in and buy plants throughout the season so that you get some color all season long.

For the winter, when we don’t have the flowers, it’s a great time – the grasses, don’t cut them back in the fall. Cut them back in the spring. They’ll look beautiful all winter long. There are evergreens. And then there’s just some cool plants that have nice structure even after they’ve lost their leaves. They have a very nice aesthetic. Put some little twinkle lights on them and they’re great year-round.

KAREN: Like what?

BRANDON: Euonymus, a burning bush, is a plant that has a really nice [structure] even after it loses its leaves.

KAREN: It’s so beautiful when it’s turning color, too.

BRANDON: Yeah, it’s coming very soon. They’ll be bright red once they lose their leaves. Feel free to prune them back so that you actually have a nice structure. A lot of the deciduous trees have nice structure. The smaller maples are great trees that I find interesting even in the winter.

KAREN: That’s all good to know. If you were moving here from another climate and you just wanted to start a small patch in your yard to get ready for the next season – say they moved here in the summer, like almost everybody does – what would you suggest putting in that would make it through the winter? Not a no-brainer plant, but something…

BRANDON: The tried-and-trues?

KAREN: The tried-and-trues, that’s a better way to say it. [laughs]

BRANDON: On the perennials, catmint is a wonderful perennial. Blooms bright blue all summer long. The bees love it. It’s a great plant. It has nice foliage and it’s a mint, so it’s naturally deer-resistant, which is also a big challenge here. And rodent resistant.

Catmint is also a great replacement for – it fits the same niche as lavender. Lavender is a little more challenging to grow, but catmint is great. Shasta daisies are great. Daylilies. There’s actually quite a long list of perennials.

You step up into deciduous shrubs, which would be your flowering shrubs. I like the Japanese Spirea. They bloom all summer long.

KAREN: What color do they bloom?

BRANDON: Generally pink. They have a nice pink little rosette flower. They have nice foliage, and the foliage comes in several different colors, from just a true green all the way through a yellow and an orange-ish yellow. So they have nice foliage.

KAREN: So you can create color just with their foliage, which is nice.

BRANDON: Yeah. I consider it a great three-season plant. Spirea along with potentilla both bloom all summer long. In the winter they don’t have the nice structure; they kind of look like a pile of sticks. But that’s why you have to plant some other stuff to offset them.

KAREN: We’re going to take another break, Brandon. Thank you, and we’ll be back with House Talk shortly.

Hi, this is Karen Malanga with RE/MAX Key Properties. Welcome back to House Talk. I’m visiting with Brandon Reese, the owner of Moonfire & Sun Garden Center.

Brandon, we’ve touched on a lot of topics – how to create curb appeal, some tried-and-true plants that people from other areas can put into their garden when they get here – but I want to talk to you about my passion, and my passion is growing tomatoes. It’s been a challenge, but I’m good at it. [laughs]

BRANDON: That’s impressive. That is kind of the golden award here in Central Oregon, if you can pull off growing tomatoes, especially outside. Tomatoes along with peppers.

The warm season gardening crops, your food crops, are definitely a challenge here because they can’t handle the frost. Anything below about 32 degrees, they need to have protection.

This year’s been pretty good. I don’t think we’ve had a frost since mid-June, at least in town.

KAREN: I think the last time I had to cover everybody in my backyard – “everybody,” my 60 tomato plants –

BRANDON: The family.

KAREN: The family – was after Pole Pedal Paddle. Somewhere in there.

BRANDON: That’s the secret, you nailed it, with you’ve got to be ready to protect them. I encourage people that want to grow those warm season crops to get – I think it’s Oregon Scientific, a little thermometer. You put half of it outside, the other half’s inside. When it gets down to 33-34 degrees, an alarm goes off.

When that alarm goes off, you have to be ready to hop up, get your row cover – which is a lightweight fabric that you can lay over your plants – and put some bricks or some rocks down the side to hold it. The heat from the ground keeps that nice bubble of air under the cloth, keeps the tomatoes or peppers warm, and keeps the forest off. That’s the biggest secret, is being ready to get out there and protect your garden.

We have several thousand tomatoes there at the nursery, all started here from seed. We grow them organically.

One of the big things we do at the nursery is just encourage people when they come back in for their second or third time buying tomato starts that, “Hey, you’re not doing anything wrong. Just keep it up.” I encourage them that that one or two tomatoes they will get will be the best-tasting tomatoes they ever get.

KAREN: When you pick them on a warm day like today and then you slice into the tomato, it’s – and the colors. I just love them.

BRANDON: Vine-ripened fruit is always the best, when they can get to their full potential still on the plant instead of picked green and then ripened in some truck on the way up to Oregon.

KAREN: Yeah. I haven’t attempted peppers.

BRANDON: Peppers are a little more challenging. They like a little more heat. This year they’re doing phenomenally because we’ve had so much heat. They really like it up in the 90s.

KAREN: Are we talking bell peppers or jalapenos or poblanos?

BRANDON: All of the above, from little Thai hot peppers to bell peppers. At my house – I live east of Bend; we have a little more frost – I grow all my warm season crops inside a greenhouse. I haven’t shut the door since probably the first part of June.

Since it’s so hot in there – we’re getting into 115 degrees during the day inside the greenhouse – the peppers are doing phenomenal. We have full bell peppers that are three or four inches tall. It’s fun.

KAREN: Wow. Is it too late to put any vegetables in your garden now? Could you still get a crop of kale or lettuce now, or what would happen?

BRANDON: The cold season crops, which are your crops like lettuce, spinach, kale, radish – and they’re very short season, 60 days or less – as it starts to cool down now, fall is a great time to plant your cool season crops.

And if you’re willing to protect your tomatoes or peppers, come on down to the nursery. We have a bunch of stuff that we’ve had all summer, we’ve potted up into five gallons. There’s ripe tomatoes on the plants right now. It’s kind of fun to take it home and you can make salsa the next day.

KAREN: You can grab a pepper plant, a tomato plant, some green onions.

BRANDON: Yeah, go grab a couple Walla Walla Sweets and you can make some pico de gallo at the end of the day.

KAREN: As we are heading into fall, what else would you suggest we start doing in our garden?

BRANDON: It’s very important to keep the watering up through fall. A lot of people like to shut the water down a little early. Since we are a dry climate, it’s important to keep watering it.

And get good fertilization in in the fall. It really sets your plants up to succeed in the spring. Put them to bed correctly and they’ll wake up in much better shape. If they go dormant due to water stress or under stress, they wake up in the spring and they don’t come out quite as strong. It’s very important to put everything that it goes dormant in good shape.

KAREN: I look at my yard and I’ve got such a mess going on. Not with the tomatoes; they look great. But some of the beds, the weeds – I’ve had a hard time with weeds this summer.

BRANDON: That’s another thing. Fall’s a great time to get in there as the plants, especially your perennials, start to die back. It’s easier to get in there and get the weeds out from in the middle of say your Shasta daisy patch.

KAREN: Or the peonies. They’re growing up through the peonies.

BRANDON: Yep. As that starts to die back, it’s usually grass that’s growing up in there, and it’s easy to get in there and pull it out. Cut all your flowering perennials back in the fall. I like to leave the grasses up through the winter. Any of your tender perennials, give them a good heavy mulch to keep them a little more insulated in the winter.

KAREN: Irises are tough, I know that.

BRANDON: Yeah, irises are very tough. They like to spread for you too.

KAREN: Brandon, thank you so much for taking your time. I know you’re busy. How can people find you and Moonfire & Sun Garden Center?

BRANDON: The best way to find us is swing by the nursery. We’re over on Bend’s east side on 27th Street. Head over like you’re heading to Costco and head south on 27th. We’re about a mile down on your left.

KAREN: Yeah, you’re on the east side.

BRANDON: I’m usually in there during the week. Pop your head in and say hi.

KAREN: Thank you again. Thanks for being here.

BRANDON: Thank you.