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Master Gardeners will miss retiring specialist

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Master Gardener

Washington State University bid a fond farewell last week to Donald D. Tapio, WSU Extension regional specialist, Grays Harbor/Pacific counties who will be retiring. We were lucky to have Don as a consultant for agriculture-related questions in Mason County for many years. His career with WSU Extension began in the summer of 1969 when he was hired as a summer work-study student in the Pierce County Extension office in Tacoma. He was assigned to work with a horticulture agent who was very pleased to have him in the office to take the hundreds of calls that came each week from home gardeners. WSU was well aware of the demand for home gardening information and soon installed a Dial a Garden Tip service with daily messages on seasonal pest problems and options for their control.

After graduating from WSU, he was hired by WSU Extension as a horticulture program assistant in Seattle. Home gardening calls coming into the King County office averaged more than 100 per day. Most days he never got off the phone for more than a short lunch break. In addition to the incoming calls, dozens of letters and plant samples were delivered to the office daily. A year later, he was asked to work in the Pierce County office in the mornings and the King County office in the afternoons. He says that WSU made it clear he would never receive agent status without an advanced degree. After completing his graduate degree, he was hired as the horticulture agent in Snohomish County. Soon after that was when WSU developed the Master Gardener program to help answer home gardening questions. They could never have imagined what this program would grow into and how many people would be educated and assisted with Master Gardener's help.

I first met Don when I attended Master Gardener's training in 1997. He was.a favorite speaker and well-respected by the volunteers and staff. He has contributed many times to the information in this column. He will be truly missed, but we wish him well in retirement. The tips provided below are from Don Tapio:

Most blooming plants will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures. Keep the plant in a well-lit location away from drafts, heat, vets, fireplaces, or other heat sources. Well-drained soil is a must for Christmas cactus. Use a commercially packaged potting mix for succulent plants or mix your own by combining two parts potting soil with one part clean sand or vermiculite.

Watering seems to be the source of most problems with the Christmas cactus. The plant is a tropical type cactus and is not quite as drought-tolerant as the name implies. It can, however, store a reasonable amount of water in the leaves. Water it thoroughly when the top half of the soil in the pot feels dry. Discard the excess water, and then do not water again until the top half becomes dry. The time between waterings will vary with air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity.

More abundant blossoms are produced on plants that have been exposed to highlight intensity. Keep them in a sunny location indoors. After blossoms fade, the plant isn't much to look at. A little extra care will bring it back to full bloom next year. Pruning your Christmas cactus after blooming will encourage the plant to branch out. Remove a few sections of each stem by pinching them off with your fingers or cutting them with a sharp knife. These sections can be rooted in moist vermiculite to propagate new plants.

I would like to wish all the readers a very happy New Year. I look forward to continuing to provide relevant gardening information to you in 2014.

Copyright 2014 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 2, 2014

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