04 Jun 2024

June Gardening

Now that summer has arrived, it is a good time to add mulch to the garden beds. Mulching is an important landscaping step that is often overlooked despite the fact that it provides many benefits to the existing landscape such as:

  • Improving soil structure and increasing water infiltration.
  • Preventing soil erosion and compaction.
  • Temperature moderation through insulation and moisture retention.
  • Weed control as the barrier that bark products create prevents many weed seeds from germinating, effectively reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

 

Raised Garden Beds

Highway Fuel Co. carries a wide variety of bark and compost products for use in the landscape. Our Bark Products are byproducts of the timber industry and are made locally in the Pacific Northwest using bark from cedar, fir, or hemlock trees. Our base compost is USCC Certified and is produced on-site from local recycled yard debris.

Cedar

The benefits of using Cedar include:
  • It breaks down very slowly and won’t need to be replaced as often.
  • It naturally releases an oil that smells pleasant and repels some insects like mosquitos, ants, flies, fleas, and ticks.
  • When used as mulch it retains water, suppresses weeds, and provides insulation.
cedar-chips
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Cedar Chips and Hog Fuel are nice, natural golden-colored bark products that are a great option to use as ground cover, paths, dog runs, and under play structures. 

Hemlock

Hemlock is known for its naturally beautiful long-lasting color. We carry both Red and Dark Hemlock. Red Hemlock is fresh and has a rich red/brown color whereas Dark Hemlock is aged, giving it a warm brown color. It can be used in soil mixes, as mulch, and on trails.  Hemlock Bark is a favorite for gardeners as it has the following benefits:

  • The fibers are soft fibers and therefore have fewer slivers than other bark products which makes it more child and pet friendly.
  • Beautiful, natural, long-lasting color.
  • When used as a mulch it retains water, suppresses weeds, and provides insulation.
  • Can help acidify the soil around acid-loving plants like azaleas, blueberries, rhododendrons, and trees.
Red Hemlock
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Fir

Fir bark is a favorite among landscapers and offers the following benefits:

  • Used as a soil amendment, it can help break up clay in compacted soils or provide erosion prevention on sloped areas, pathways, and running trails.
  • Can help acidify the soil around acid-loving plants like azaleas, blueberries, and rhododendrons.
  • Makes a nice mulch in flower beds and vegetable garden beds as it helps retain moisture, reduces weeds, and stabilizes the temperature.
  • Can be dyed either Red or Brown color, which will last 2 to 3 times as long and contain fewer slivers than the undyed product.
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Fir is the most popular bark product that we sell as it is an efficient and economical choice that creates a natural appearance. It comes in a variety of sizes and colors including Medium Fir, Dark Fir, Dark Fine Fir, Chips, Nugget, Hog Fuel. We also stock our dyed in-house fir products: Mocha Bark and Coastal Red. Fir bark is versatile and can be used as a soil amendment, in soil mixes, as mulch, and on trails. 

Compost

Fir bark is a favorite among landscapers and offers the following benefits:

  • Used as a soil amendment it can help break up clay in compacted soils or provide erosion prevention on sloped areas, pathways, and running trails.
  • Makes a nice mulch in flower beds and vegetable garden beds as it helps retain moisture, promotes healthy plant growth, and improves soil health to plants in an organic form.
  • Rich, dark brown color.
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For those in the need of mulch with a higher nutritional value, Compost is a great option. Our Base Compost is a popular and economical choice, though we also have additional options such as Fine Dairy Compost and Compost Mix, which is a mix of the two different types. Ask us about our USCC certified Compost!

Us Composting Council
05 Apr 2024

Celebrate Earth Day & Ag Fest with us!

We are looking forward to an exciting weekend Friday 4/26 through Sunday 4/28. Earth Day, Ag Fest, along with planting and gardening at home, let’s get ready for a great Summer!

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Who: Marion County community members are welcome to come party at the park. This event is family-friendly and free for everyone.

What: Get outside and enjoy earth-friendly activities to celebrate Earth Day.

When: Friday, April 26th from 3pm – 7pm

Where: Spong’s Landing County Park

Why: Learn about environmental work done by local agencies and celebrate our Earth with fun activities!

RSVP

 

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Join us at the Oregon State Fairgrounds for over 25 hands-on activities for kids to learn more about where their food, fiber, and flora come from. Family fun includes horse and wagon rides, stage entertainment, food demonstrations, and much more! At Oregon Ag Fest, you can ride ponies, watch chicks hatch, dig for potatoes, plant seedlings, enjoy the petting zoo, and watch a sheep get a haircut.

We strive to bridge the gap between urban and rural life and to share the wonder and abundance of Oregon’s bountiful and diverse harvest. Most importantly, we do this in a family-friendly way, where kids 15 and under receive free admission, and virtually all activities at the event are free of charge. Come check it out for yourself: join us April 27-28, 2024 for the 32nd annual Oregon Ag Fest.

Kids 15 and under are FREE. 16 and over $15.00 admission. Saturday 8:30 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Parking is FREE courtesy of Ag Fest.

Sorry, no pets are allowed. Service animals only.

02 Nov 2023

The rainy season has arrived!

Rainy Season Has Arrived!

November typically marks the beginning of the rainy season in Oregon, and this year it looks like it is going to arrive right on time as a burst of heavy rain and an atmospheric river are forecasted to drop 1 to 2 inches of rain in the Willamette Valley over the next few days.  This may cause some urban flooding impacts due to leaves blocking the storm drains causing water to pool on roadways.

The City of Salem has issued guidelines for residents and business owners to dispose of fallen leaves responsibly, as blowing or dumping leaves into the streets may block drains, potentially causing street flooding and water backups. Residents are encouraged to gather fallen leaves from their properties and place them in yard waste or compost bins for disposal. While it’s necessary to keep the leaves out of the storm drains it is also important to know that they do not belong in the landfill. There is no oxygen in a landfill to decompose organic matter properly, which causes anaerobic conditions and the generation of methane, which is a greenhouse gas. 

Leave Some of the Leaves

Turf grass is the single largest “crop” grown in this region which leaves a disproportionate ratio of lawn to garden in most yards and is the main reason we rake, mow, and blow leaves in our yards. While a thick layer of leaves is too much for turf grass to handle, a thin layer can provide benefits like adding organic matter to the soil, suppressing weeds, and moisture retention. Any remaining leaves can be piled up a couple of inches thick around ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials and used as free mulch. Fallen leaves have a lot of the same properties as shredded wood mulch as they are high in Carbon. If you still have extra leaves that need to be disposed of, please take them to a composting facility such as Highway Fuel, where they will be safely recycled into compost.

14 Aug 2023

Preparing for a heat wave

It has been a hot and dry summer in the Pacific Northwest and the region is expected to experience a heatwave this week as temperatures rise 10-15 degrees above normal. It’s important to keep gardens and landscapes hydrated during heatwaves. Here are some tips to keep your garden and landscape plants comfortable:

  • Water plants deeply either in the evening or early morning before the high temperatures arrive. Getting water on the leaves can lead to fungal diseases in some plants, like squash, so watering in the morning is ideal.
  • Container plants need to be checked frequently as they dry out faster than inground plantings and during a heatwave and they may need to be watered more than once each day. Consider moving container plants into shady areas or set up some shade cloth for the duration of the heatwave,
  • Learn what your plants’ watering requirements are and adjust them accordingly. Some prefer almost zero water during summer (i.e., manzanita& madrone) whereas other ones will wilt even when they have water (i.e., hydrangea & rhododendron).
  • Visually check for watering needs by using a moisture meter or by simply just watching plants; if they droop, it’s time to water.
  • Newly installed plants are among the highest priorities for watering during a heatwave. These plants have not been rooted into the ground completely and are at a greater risk of drying out in the heat.
  • Add a layer of mulch around your plants such as compost, aged bark, or woodchips to help maintain soil moisture. Sandy soil will need more frequent watering than clay soil, especially if it isn’t amended with organic matter.
  • Make sure to not transplant, prune, or fertilize during a heat wave as these activities are all stressful for plants.

Since heatwaves are occurring more frequently, here are some additional tips that can help prepare your garden and landscape for future heatwaves:

  • Grow drought-tolerant plants and try grouping them together; consider xeriscaping a portion or all of yard.
  • Use drip systems and soaker hoses for the most efficient watering. They get the water directly to the plant’s roots.
  • Stay on top of weeding in the garden as they compete for nutrients and water.
  • Amend soil regularly with organic material, like compost, as it will increase the water-holding capacity in any soil type.
  • Last but not least, make sure you’re also staying hydrated!
 
02 Aug 2023

Sizzlin’ Summer

One of the most common calls we get at Highway Fuel is from people looking for “Mulch”. The term mulch seems to be the new green buzz word around the landscaping and gardening communities. So, what is mulch, exactly? The word mulch most likely comes from the German word molsch, which is the word used to describe something that is soft and starting to decay. A mulch layer typically consists of a layer of organic material covering the soil, especially found around trees or shrubs. Some examples of organic materials that can be used to mulch include wood chips, bark, compost, sawdust, leaves, & straw. Organic mulches are best for adding nutrients to the soil and suppressing weeds, but they don’t fully block all weeds. Inorganic materials such as landscape fabric, gravel or stone can work well for blocking weeds and holding in moisture, but don’t add any nutrients to soil. Gravel and stones can work well as mulch for plants that like hot weather or gardens that need good amount of drainage such as rain gardens.

Placing mulch around the landscape is by no means a new technology. Plants have long been naturally creating mulch for themselves by dropping needles and leaves all around them, creating a protective barrier on top of the soil that their roots can grow in. Mother nature mulches annually, as one layer of organic matter decays another layer is added. People have also been using mulch to protect the roots of newly planted shrubs, trees, and plants for as long as people have worked the soil. A layer of mulch around the base of the plants will keep them well-moisturized and free from weeds in the summer as well as prevent erosion and keep the roots warm in the winter. The structure of the soil and overall fertility will improve if mulch is used consistently over time.
If you don’t have enough materials such as bark, wood chips, leaves, or gravel to use as mulch, call or stop by Highway Fuel. We carry many bulk bark products such as medium fir, dark fine fir, dark or red hemlock, dyed fir bark, or fir or cedar wood chips (https://highwayfuel.com/product-category/barks/). All bark products are available by the 5-gallon bucket (Bring Your Own Bucket, or buy one of ours) or by the cubic yard for pick-up, delivery, or installation using our blower truck service. Learn more about our blower service at https://highwayfuel.com/services/blower-truck/.

05 Apr 2023

Spring is here!

Spring Gardening Tips


Spring has officially sprung which means planting season has begun. As soon as the ground is workable hardy plants can be planted! Springtime weather can be quite random in the Willamette Valley. Hail, warm afternoons and frost at night are still possibilities well into May, making It too early to have warm season crops (tomatoes, peppers, dahlias, etc.) out unprotected.

If you haven’t done so already, clean up those overwintered beds and containers, and start planning and planting. Soil is the single most important ingredient required for a productive garden. A plant’s roots grow best in a loose soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Any soil type can be improved by adding organic matter such as compost or bark; this is especially true of sandy and clay soils. Organic matter helps sandy soils hold water and nutrients. It can also provide more air space within compacted clay soils, allowing for more void spaces for air and water. Spring is the best time to add organic matter to the garden.

Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials
Spring is a good time to divide summer and fall blooming perennials that have overgrown their locations, as the cool moist weather provides optimal conditions. Spring is also the ideal time to plant hardy trees and shrubs! 

Our soil specialist, Julia, has a favorite: Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cultivars). They are well known for their beautiful autumn color. They also offer four seasons of beauty, as some have strikingly beautiful colors during first leaf emergence in the spring, followed by beautiful yellow-orange leaves and colorful bark in the winter. Some deciduous shrubs can show amazing leaf color as they emerge in the spring, such as the Forest Flame Japanese Andromeda, Fire Chief Arborvitae, and Gold Flame Spirea.

Lawn Care
Many people think that you need to apply lots of water, fertilizer, and pesticides, to have a nice lawn. However, the Willamette Valley’s mild/wet winters and dry summers provide the ideal environment for growing cool season grasses. The most common turf problems are caused by growing it on a thin layer of poor soil that contains little organic matter or beneficial soil life. It is not difficult to grow a healthy carpet of grass without all of the chemical inputs if you work from the ground up.

 

Important springtime maintenance tasks for lawns:
  • Aerate – The process of aeration allows oxygen, water, and vital nutrients to penetrate the root system of grass. Aerating also reduces thatch build-up; while, preventing compaction to lawn areas.
  • Reduce thatch – Turf problems are often caused by an excessive layer of thatch. Thatch is the tightly intermingled layer of grass stems and roots that form in between the soil surface and the green foliage.
  • Mow – The blades of the grass are the only part of the plant that can photosynthesize, so it’s a good idea to mow slightly on the higher side, leaving at least 2 inches of the lawn. Taller grass is also more drought resistant and will require less irrigation.
  • Feed – Grass needs healthy soil to thrive just like all other plants. One way to cut down on the amount of fertilizer is by recycling grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn to decompose over time.If grass cycling doesn’t work for you, the clippings can be used as a nitrogen source in compost or dropped off at our retail yard, where we accept yard debris. Another way to add nutrients is to top dress with compost. We also carry a full range of fertilizers.
13 Feb 2023
spring garden preparation

Preparing for Spring

Landscaping Chores
Don’t let the dark days of winter stop you from going outside, as there is plenty of winter gardening that can be done in the Willamette Valley. Evergreens are the anchor plants in the garden right now, they are a source of year-round color and provide privacy if needed. To spruce them up, make a weed sweep around the base and remove dead or broken branches. Apply a layer of bark as mulch (such as one of our Fir or Hemlock Bark Products) around the roots. Make sure it does not touch the bark on the trunk, which might cause it to rot. A generous depth of 2-3 inches around the drip line will work best.
There are many living groundcovers in the form of succulents, perennials, herbs, and natives that offer winter interest. Groundcovers can help hold the soil in place on slopes and can be a living mulch around your other plantings and stone pathways. Tidy these up for winter by raking leaves and debris off the winter greens, which will help in preventing mold and mildew from setting in on leaves and bark. A dusting of bark mulch may be necessary to protect any exposed roots.

Planting and Planning
February is a good month to focus on garden planning and preparing to plant. Bare root fruit trees, vines and shrubs are arriving daily at garden centers. Now is the time to plant these so the roots can establish before the heat of summer kicks in; they can be planted weeks earlier than container trees. Smaller fruits such as strawberries and cane berries can also be planted now as the ground is soft, with plenty of moisture to help establish a good root system. This is a good time to plant new roses; they are available now at most nurseries. Be sure to amend the soil with compost prior to planting bare root trees and shrubs to provide the plant a source of nutrients. Be sure to wait to plant when the temperatures are not expected to dip below freezing.
Seed packets and flower bulbs are also popping up in garden centers, which means it’s time to plot out your garden beds, decided on planting locations, determine companion planting relationships, and look forward to the harvest. Spring blooming bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground. Now would be a good time to mulch around them before they get too big.

The latter part of February is also an excellent time to directly sow radishes, peas, sweet peas, and cold-hardy lettuces/greens seeds. Cold hardy seeds can germinate quickly in cool soil, especially in raised beds. A cold frame can be used to get a jump on spring planting, as they offer a little extra protection for young plants.

We’re excited to announce that Highway Fuel will be carrying evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs beginning in March 2023! Keep an eye on the products section of the website for more details.

05 Aug 2021

All About Raised Garden Beds

Raised bed gardens have become very popular with home gardeners because they can be made in any size or shape and placed almost anywhere. The idea is to plant a garden above the ground using a well-thought-out soil mixture, instead of tilling and amending the ground below. Raised garden beds offer the following benefits over in-ground gardens:

  • Instant gratification – you can have great soil without the wait. It can take years to break up and amend rocky or clay-based soils
  • They can help extend the growing season as the soil warms up quicker and drains faster in the spring
  • Keeps soil compaction to a minimum as there is no foot traffic
  • Aesthetically pleasing as they look neat and tidy because the soil is kept in place and the pathways can be filled with gravel or bark, which will also help keep the area weed free
  • They are more accessible as they can built in all shapes and sizes. They can be built tall enough to provide access for people in wheelchairs or to keep bending over to a minimum

Although raised garden beds offer many benefits, they do have a few disadvantages such as:

  • They are more of a permanent structure compared to in-ground gardens and must be dismantled order to change the area
  • Need more irrigation as they dry out quicker, especially in sunny areas
  • An initial investment is needed to build the boxes and fill them with soil

 

You don’t need a lot of space to build a raised bed, but you must find a spot that receives full sun most of the day, or at the very least six hours. There are many raised bed designs available, and the bed sizes and shapes vary widely. There are a few guidelines that should be followed when constructing a raised garden:

  • Height: 12-18” is ideal, however even as low as 6” can work and be productive as most feeder roots are in the first 6” of soil. Going higher than 18” can potentially cause more structural issues down the road, due to the weight and pressure of all that soil
  • Width: 4 feet is ideal, but three feet can also work. Four feet will allow you to easily reach the center from either side of the bed. It’s important that you don’t have to step into the bed to weed, plant, etc., as that will compact the soil and cause drainage issues
  • Length: Whatever length you need will work. If you stick within a four-foot maximum width, your length is only limited by your space and budget
  • Shape: Any shape will work if you stay within the 4-foot width and can reach all areas of the bed from the edge

One of the most important steps when of building a raised bed is constructing a good healthy soil. Healthy soil contains a complex soil food web that requires a healthy growing medium.
Raised Bed Soil:
The soil in the raised bed will create the environment that either promotes or hinders healthy plant growth. Despite its benefits, the particle size of potting soil is too dense to be used in raised garden beds. Soil can be engineered specifically for raised beds to give plants access to the air, water, and nutrients needed for growth. Healthy soil contains billions of microscopic organisms that all work together to break down organic matter and provide nutrients to plants. There is no need to feed plants with fertilizer, instead feed the soil and it will feed the plants.
Although raised bed soil is more expensive than lesser quality soils, it is best to invest in it as soil is one of the most important factors that determine the success of your garden. Using poor quality soil can have detrimental effects on root growth, which in turn leads to a shortage of produce. The ideal soil type to use in a raised bed is formulated using a combination of:

    • Compost (organic matter and microorganisms)
    • Sandy loam (which is essentially soil that is loose and well-draining)
    • Pumice (enhances drainage and holds moisture)

Highway Fuel’s Power Plant Mix has the ideal combination of Compost, Sandy Loam, and Pumice that makes it our recommendation for your raised bed gardening needs.