Grow a Garden Workshops Take Root

Pallas Quist, DUG Master Community Gardener, leads a Growing Green workshop in Denver.

What do you get when you mix 25,000 seed packets with 29,000 vegetable transplants and 18 organic gardening workshops?

Thousands of happy Grow a Garden participants for the 2017 gardening season.

Grow a Garden is the new name for Denver Urban Gardens Free Seeds and Transplants program. This program helps income-qualified individuals, families and gardening groups by providing free seeds, plants and know-how for growing productive vegetable gardens.

This year DUG is partnering with CSU Extension to present the “Growing Green” vegetable gardening workshops. This collaboration represents a full circle of gardening education because CSU Extension initially offered similar workshops to the community about 20 years ago.

DUG developed the workshop content and slide show to focus on organic gardening basics for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. The goal is to help gardeners of all levels plant, grow and harvest their homegrown fresh produce to help stretch their grocery dollars.

Teams of facilitators—a DUG Master Community Gardener and a CSU Master Gardener—met at a train-the-trainer session led by Jessica Romer, DUG’s director of horticulture and Dan Goldhamer, CSU Extension horticulture agent.

Facilitators then joined forces to present information for getting started, planning and designing the garden, amending the soil, timing the planting, and maintaining the garden.

“I feel like I’ve been launched,” said beginning community gardener John Anduri after one of the Denver Grow a Garden workshops. “I thought the information was perfect because I don’t know beans about gardening.”

Like CSU Extension Master Gardeners, DUG’s Master Community Gardeners attend horticultural training classes, but they also have specialized training in community gardening and community organizing. It was a unique and satisfying collaboration for volunteers from both organizations.

After the workshop, Grow a Garden participants picked up their supply of seed packets so they could start planting their cool-season gardens. Warm-weather transplants, like tomatoes and peppers, will be available at distribution centers in May.

As continuing support through the season, Grow a Garden participants can attend any of DUG’s other gardening classes for free.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Science in our Back Yards

We love our gardens for their beauty, color and scent. We love seeing the movement that passing breezes create and the hoar frost shining on bare branches in winter. Maybe our gardens provide food for our family and friends. And for sure, our gardens nurture our spirit and exercise our bodies. But behind all that beauty there are hard sciences at work.  And yet, the nearest we get to thinking in scientific terms is the NPK (nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium) information on a bag of fertilizer.

Now, my chemistry and physics education is minimal, and my math is not much better, so I struggle sometimes to understand the more scientific explanations and explorations that are going on in modern horticultural (and other) research. Still I’d like to share with you some of the fascinating ideas I’ve come across.

Origami

The Japanese art (or, science?) of paper-folding is more than a fun party trick. We can learn to make a paper airplane, a bird, a star, a frog. But did you know that origami exists in the natural world?

ladybug-55056_1280Think of a how a ladybug’s wings unfold from below her bright red outer “wings” when she takes off into the air. Her flight wings are much bigger than her outer protective wings, so they need to be folded away when not in use.  See it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P335P-LtA10.

 

A butterfly’s wings sibutterfly-1518060_1280 (7) - Copymilarly are folded tight inside the chrysalis and must be unfolded as it emerges before it can fly.  See it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5QH3bGF4uU.

beech-754155_1280The buds of a beech tree are long, slim and pointed – a little like a furled umbrella. Yet they contain a full-size beech leaf. When the bud opens, the leaf which is tightly folded, gradually opens out by unfolding. See it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nUi-kmr-8k

Even our brains are folded to provide a much bigger surface area than our skulls could contain if the brain had a simple smooth surface. Folds not only enable large surface areas to be contained in small spaces but can also produce extremely strong structures.

Using mathematics and computer programs, scientists are studying the complex folding techniques that occur in nature to produce everything from huge light weight aeroplane wings and solar arrays for use in space to creating to tiny robots and medical implants, e.g. arterial stents, which unfold once injected into the body.

For more on this watch the PBS Nova program, ‘The Origami Revolution’ here http://www.pbs.org/video/2365955827/

Fibonacci (fib-on-arch-ee)

Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who lived in the 12th century. He identified the mathematical sequence of numbers where the following number is always the sum of the preceding two numbers:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and on and on

This sequence or pattern is found all over the place in the natural world. It exists in the number of petals on a flower, the number of seeds on a plant, the arrangement of a plant’s branches and leaves as well as in the shape of a nautilus shell and a hurricane.

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Examples of Fibonacci petal arrangements include Lily and Iris (3), hardy Geranium (Cranesbill), Columbine (5), Delphinium (8), Cineraria, Ragwort (13), Chicory, Shasta daisy (21), Plantain, Pyrethrum (34), Asteraceae family (55, 89).

columbine-1154950_1280   oxeye-daisy-538024_1280

That is not say that all flowers have petals that follow the Fibonacci sequence. For example, there are many flowers with four petals. Wallflowers and Evening Primrose are just two.
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Pine cones are arranged in two spirals which conform to the Fibonacci sequence.  The seeds of a sunflower are arranged in a complex ‘Golden Spiral’ to pack the maximum possible number of seeds onto the seed head.

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It is thought that the precise arrangement of petals, leaves and seeds enables plants to obtain the optimum in terms of available sunlight and rainwater and the maximum seed production.

The shell and the hurricane conform to the ‘Golden Spiral’ which is based on the ‘Golden Ratio’ which is based on the Fibonacci sequence. For more on these, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number

Of course, you can argue that we see the sequence in nature because we look for it. That is, it’s not an immutable “law of nature” which was just waiting there for a mathematician to spot. Either way, it is interesting.

For a more detailed look at mathematics in nature, go here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/describing-nature-math.html

Chemistry as communication

Research taking place all over the world is revealing that plants and their relationships with the surrounding environment are  much more complex that had been realized.

Mychorrizae (soil fungi) in the soil combine with plant roots and create pathways between separate plants. These pathways allow the exchange of moisture and chemicals between plants and the mychorrizae. Plants stressed by drought will communicate that with other surrounding plants prompting those other, as yet un-stressed, plants to close their leaf stomata, reducing transpiration and so conserving water.

Plants can also communicate through the air, by way of air-borne VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Experiments have shown that beans give off VOCs when attacked by aphids. The VOCs prompt nearby bean plants to give off different VOCs that attract aphid-eating wasps and repel the aphids.

Mature trees “help” seedlings and saplings by providing them with extra carbon through the mychorrizal network. The suggestion is that these young trees might not survive otherwise on the shaded forest floor.

It is known that some plants use allelopaths to inhibit growth of nearby plants thus reducing competition for light, water and nutrients. Examples include Acacia, Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven) and Juglans nigra (black walnut).

See more here http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38727/title/Plant-Talk/ and here http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet

Apologies to the scientists and mathematicians among you for my low level take on all this. I just think it is fascinating to see these features and connections in our natural world. Many of them are things we can identify in our own back yards if we just look a little more closely. Many of them occur too in the vastness of outer space (and beyond?). Unseen connections in the atmosphere and underground are shaping the way our world develops and grows as well as our own back yard spaces.

Anne Hughes
A Denver County Master Gardener

All photos courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com, a source of royalty free images.

Save the Date! Denver Master Gardener Annual Spring Plant Sale May 20 & 21

Saturday May 20th 8am – 3pm & Sunday May 21, 2017 10am – 3pm

CSU Denver Extension, 888 E Iliff Ave, Denver CO 80210

For more information: (720) 913-5270 or denvermg@colostate.edu

12th annual Denver Master Gardener plant sale featuring heirloom tomatoes, New Mexico chiles, annuals and perennials! Master Gardeners on hand to answer all of your questions! Rain or shine. Credit cards, cash and checks accepted!

Master Gardeners Heart Barbara Hyde Boardman

barbara-hyde-gardening-in-the-mountain-westWhen Barbara Hyde Boardman says she’s had the book thrown at her, she means it.

After spending 17 years with CSU Extension as a Boulder County horticulture agent, she retired and wrote the first of her gardening books, called Gardening in the Mountain West.

The publisher took issue with her manuscript because it included “too much Latin” and refused to publish it or return her original.

Because she didn’t have a copy of the book, she was relentless in pestering him for the manuscript. Then one evening he drove to her house and threw it on the front steps where it landed with a thud.

“I didn’t care,” she says. “I got my book back.”

As the first woman to graduate from CSU’s Horticulture Program in 1977, and just the second female horticulture agent in the U.S., Barbara had to learn to stand up for herself in a male-dominated agricultural industry.

Barbara, now 93 and living in Longmont, had a long and successful career with Extension even though it was tough for a woman in those days. Apparently agriculture agents didn’t think women belonged in horticulture.

Whenever there was enough money in the Extension telephone budget, she’d make long-distance calls to the other female horticulture agent so they could commiserate.

Barbara grew up in Colorado and says she always loved gardening. Her father came from an Iowa farm and her mother raised flowers so she learned gardening at an early age. She says she always had a little spot in the garden that was all hers.

“I could plant anything I wanted and some things were dreadful.”

That early start eventually led to gaining two degrees in horticulture from CSU. Working with other Extension agents around the country, she helped get the Master Gardener program off the ground. Eventually more than 500 volunteers had signed on in Boulder County before she retired in 1990, according to her bio.

In addition to Gardening in the Mountain West (published in 1999), Barbara authored three other books. The most recent is a gardening book for children and their grandparents. She also wrote weekly gardening columns for newspapers in the region and still writes for several garden club newsletters.

The second edition of Gardening in the Mountain West is a classic text on how to garden in one of the most challenging climates in the country (and it’s still available from online sellers). She dedicated it “to the volunteer Master Gardeners of Cooperative Extension. They have had a major impact on the level of horticultural excellence now achieved by the gardeners of this nation.”

Her affinity for CSU Extension and the Master Gardener program continues today. She’s contributed a tidy sum to start the Barbara J. Boardman Fund at the university.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Horticulture Therapy Connects People With Plants and Potential

 

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The Horticulture Therapy Garden at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Englewood, CO

 

Plant lovers know the personal benefits gained from working in the garden. Nurturing plants and playing in the dirt seems to energize the spirit, stimulate creativity and dissolve life’s inevitable speed bumps. But not only does it seem to, it really does. In fact, even a walk in nature  has measurable advantageous effects on our brain.

These positive benefits are the foundation for the science-based field of horticulture therapy, which uses specially designed gardens or plant activities in targeted treatment programs within rehabilitative, vocational, medical or communities. Individuals with physical limitations, post traumatic stress syndrome, cognitive and memory impairment or vocational challenges are among the populations who benefit from professional horticultural therapy.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, “a therapeutic garden is a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature.” Therapeutic gardens are designed to be safe and comfortable, invite exploration, build confidence, stimulate senses,  improve dexterity and increase physical ability.

 

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The Anchor Center Horticultural Therapy Garden in Denver

The Anchor Center in Denver, which provides early intervention and education to blind and visually impaired children age 0-6, has offered horticulture therapy for over ten years. Erin Lovely, Horticultural Therapy Coordinator and Denver Master Gardener (DMG) says that on most days, children can be found interacting with the child-scaled garden which is planned to stimulate senses, build fine and motor skills and increase sensory awareness. The sweetness of the space, which was designed with the help of  DMG Angela Vanderlan, belies the rich learning opportunities within the garden.

kids

 

Some of the purposeful, yet playful, activities include:

  • navigating changing surfaces and hardscape  while using a walking stick;
  • identifying flower colors, which are strategically placed to highlight contrasting textures and colors, especially yellow, purple and red, which are easiest for the visually impaired to see;
  • sowing seeds to increase fine motor skills which aide in learning braille later in life;
  • petting a fuzzy leafed plant, touching a prickly pine needle and taking in the glorious scent of basil;
  • filling a watering can and carrying it to its destination while navigating pebbles, mulch and concrete paths;
  • harvesting and eating produce from the “Pizza Garden”;
  • splashing in the water and crawling around large rocks.

Denver County Master Gardeners have been associated with the Anchor Center for many years. In addition to Erin and Angela’s work at the Anchor Center, each spring and summer, groups of Denver anchorcenter3Master Gardeners contribute time to the Anchor Center’s garden by teaching and guiding  gardening activities to groups of community volunteers. Past efforts have included planting trees, expanding garden beds and supporting the center’s compost program.  From experience, I can attest to this being an inspirational way to share gardening knowledge with others.

If you are interested in learning more about the field of horticulture therapy and other programs in Colorado, here are some resources:

Colorado State University and the Horticultural Therapy Institute’s concentration in horticultural therapy.

Mental Health Center of Denver’s Horticulture Therapy program’s excellent video.

Denver Botanic Garden’s newly expanded Sensory Garden and therapy programs.

World-renowned Craig Rehabilitation Hospital’s blog on using ikebana flower arranging in their horticulture therapy program for patients with spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries.

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Photos used with permission of Craig Hospital (photo 1) and the Anchor Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Air Plants”: Trendy Tillandsia

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Houseplants like clothing and interior design follow trends. There is a revival of the popularity of “air plants”(loose common term), or, more specifically, the sub-group tillandsias. From a design perspective, especially in winter months, these structural plants are useful. They can be frequently moved around, and have the flexibility to be displayed in non-restricted ways.  They can be hung vertically, aerially, or just plopped down to bring greenery and create spontaneous ‘intention’.

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The name “air plant” is misleading as these delightful plants still require light, water and nutrients. Generally they are rootless; if they have roots they are for attachment purposes rather than nutrient uptake (tillandsias are epiphytes the largest component of the bromeliad family). They are suited to Denver and city living as they do not like the damp and are perfect for scaled-down city living spaces.

Tillandsias fall fairly neatly into two groups: xerophytes (desert, xeric origin) and mesic (tropical rainforest) varieties. The origin of the plant dictates both its leaf structure and texture, as well as its light and water requirements.
Xeric (desert origin) tillandsias need less water, and can therefore sustain drought periods. They will  flourish when placed in mid to late Colorado afternoon light.  Note that the xeric plants will generally grow more slowly, but can better tolerate being neglected! On the other hand, the mesic group needs more and frequent watering, and flourish when located in plentiful but gentle light (eastern is optimal).  Versatile tillandsia plants can be temporarily displayed in a darker setting as long as they are put back into light within a week. Normal house temperatures are fine as “air plants” are not too fussy. All tillandsias will enjoy sitting outdoors in clement weather, however they should not be exposed to extreme temperatures. Helpfully their leaves indicate if their nutrient requirments are being met. As far as fertilizer goes, natural is best and applied to an already hydrated plant which can then either be misted, dunked or soaked (err on the stingy side with the fertilizer to water ratio). Zinaida Sego suggests a balanced NPK food but I have seen success with an extremely high N content, specifically sold for air plants. Feeding should encourage flowering if desired.


Depending on the species, flowers are sometimes insignificant, but often are dramatic single stems. The flowers may be highly fragrant. Some leaves and flowers can undergo specific and beautiful color changes in inflorescence. A few tillandsias produce new growth in a chain pattern after inflorescence, but most tillandsias reproduce new “pups” at the base of the plants (they also produce seeds for airborne distribution). Pups may look quite different in form to the adult plant. This, along with the fact that there are hundreds of naturally occurring tillandsias, plus the addition of recent hybrids, can make identification tricky. Here is a short List of Popular Tillandsias with beautiful images.
Tillandsias are easy to care for and have few problems.  However, they will rot in a damp environment, for example: when sitting on moist soil, in a humid terrarium or when droplets are left gathered in their leaves. Do not be concerned about overwatering the tillandsias, just be sure to dry them off quickly. Click for watering suggestions and an image of hydrated verses dehydrated leaves: Three Hydration Methods. Personally I prefer the soak method,  however note that this will occupy a sink for awhile! Other people prefer the frequent misting method as it is fairly “zen”, especially if you like a little chat with your plants!

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Soaking Method of Hydration.  A Couple of Hours at least once a Week. Just for the record this is not a toilet!

 

Lastly, I should note, that the only other thing to watch out for are mealybugs. Mealybugs will look like white cotton on the tender new growth and require (in order of severity) a dousing of water wash-offs, mechanical cotton bud removal, or, if extensive, a couple of treatments of natural pesticide (the second later application for eggs that hatch subsequently).

Tillandsias can be tidied up to meet your aesthetic needs, oddly shaped and yellowing leaves can be taken off, inflorescence can be carefully snipped at the base when no longer pleasing.  As the old growth at the base of the plant turns brown gently remove these leaves, taking care to look for new pups. Depending on your species, new pups, blushing leaves, and/or inflorescence may be signals that a plant is beginning the dying cycle.  This decline process can take a year.img_7324  In conclusion, how you chose to display your plants is only limited by your imagination!  In fact, the photos in this blog are of the same two plants. If you are looking for more information I recommend  Air Plants, The Curious World of Tillandsias by Zinaida Sego, of which there are several copies in the Denver Library System.  This elegant book documents the history, buying, care and display of air plants in a most beautiful, informative and comprehensive format.  The second part of the book is chiefly devoted to design and has useful information as to companion plants, waterproof natural glue, as well as hooking and hanging systems. For example there is a tripod screw, Thigmotrope Satellite, that attaches to the wall, and this is specially designed to “float” “air plants” practically invisibly. If you haven’t been convinced by the beauty of tillandsias this extensive but curated book should persuade you! Another, more basic, internet resource for decorating with “air plants” is  Tillandsia Display Ideasimg_7325

All Photos. Top: Tillandsia juncea : Tillandsia harrissi. Please correct me if you disagree!

                                                                     Anne Beletic,  Colorado Master Gardener, Denver

 

 

Isley, Paul. 1987. Tillandsia. The Worlds Most Unusual Airplants

Sego, Zenaida. 2014. Airplants. The Curious World of Tillandsias

 

Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.

One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs.  It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.

Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground.  To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees.  A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.

To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close

Shop light suspended from chain.

Shop light suspended from chain.

over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture.  The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.

To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.

Seed tray and clear cover

Seed tray and clear cover

The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.

Partial set up showing on light fixture.

Partial set up showing one light fixture.

Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.

As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture.  Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,

Trays under lights after germination.

Trays under lights after germination.

keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level.  Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.

Happy plants.

Happy plants.

About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind.  Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast.  Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.

After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.

For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:

Plantalk 1034: Starting Seeds Indoors

Fact Sheet 7.409: Growing Plants from Seed

Fact Sheet 7.602: Saving Seed

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

Is Your Xeriscape Ready for the Spotlight?

xeriscapeIf you think your water wise garden is ready for its close up, the Denver Botanic Gardens would like to hear from you. The DBG is looking for showcase gardens to feature on its Bonfils Stanton Water Wise Landscape Tour this spring.

Denver metro area gardeners who’ve taken their landscape water conservation efforts to the next level are encouraged to apply to be a tour garden. Selected gardens demonstrate the key principles of a water-wise landscape design.

To be considered, your xeriscape should feature a yard with either less traditional lawn or lawn alternatives, include native flowers and shrubs, have plantings of other drought-tolerant plants, and use water-conserving irrigation systems. It should also be beautiful, too.

The selected landscapes need to be in peak shape on Saturday, June 17, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

If you have an anxiety attack at the thought of a few hundred people strolling through your backyard, this opportunity might not be for you. But if you’d like to help inspire others with your xeriscaping efforts, you might enjoy chatting with people throughout the day and answering questions about your experience, how the design saves water, how much maintenance is required, and the names of individual plants.

If you’re interested, apply sooner rather than later. “This is a rolling admission process so early submissions may improve the likelihood of selection,” says the DBG. For more information and to receive an application, send an email to Rachael Jaffe (rachael.jaffe@botanicgardens.org) or call 720-865-3613.

Getting Started with Xeriscaping

If your landscape isn’t tour-worthy – or you’ve been thinking about xeriscaping and don’t know where to start – now’s a good time start planning. Start by rethinking the ways you currently use water in your yard.

If that sounds overwhelming, start by transforming a small portion of your landscape. Small xeriscapes will still help conserve water. Look around your landscape and find the places where water use is the highest. Then find ways to reduce or limit irrigation, like seldom-used areas or parts of the yard that are highly maintained.

One of the best ways to save water in the landscape is by cutting back on turfgrass. How much irrigated lawn do you need and how much can be replaced with a lawn alternative? Just because you’ve always had a large lawn doesn’t mean you use it. Low-water grasses, ground covers, perennial flowers, and drought-tolerant shrubs can fill the space.

Another way to save is by rethinking ways to irrigate lawn areas separately from planting areas. Traditional systems can be replaced by low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers. In flower beds, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses under mulch.

Fill your xeriscape with colorful, climate-adapted plants that are known to grow well in our area, like the plants introduced through the Plant Select program. Group plants by their water needs, clustering together those that use less water in drier areas and those that need slightly more water in moister areas.

Mulch is also an important part of a xeriscape because it helps maintain soil moisture and reduce soil temperature. Depending on the plants you select, you may need rock, gravel, bark, wood chips or straw. Some xeric plants do better with inorganic mulches that let fast-falling rains percolate down to plant roots while reducing runoff.

CSU Extension has many excellent (and free) resources for getting started with xeriscaping. This fact sheet on transforming a conventional landscape to a xeriscape may lead to having your yard be part of a water wise garden tour in the future.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

It’s Winter and, Yet, I Dream of Cactuses

It’s January.  As I write, it’s cold.  It’s snowing.  The garden is frozen solid.  There isn’t much that can be done out in the garden.  But indoors, we can do a lot of thinking about and planning for about our gardens.  For me, this also includes thinking back to what has already been achieved. My special joy has been planning, making and planting my “desert garden”.

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Prickly pear peeks out of the snow

Having gained my gardening skills and horticultural knowledge in the temperate south of England, I was excited on moving to Colorado to try my hand at growing these interesting, drought tolerant plants.  Cactuses in England are generally small prickly jobs which sulk year-round in dry pots on the windowsill, gathering cobwebs.  I knew virtually nothing about them when I came to live in the USA.  My husband wasn’t much better; he told me he knew his cactuses had been over-watered when he saw mushrooms growing in their pots!

Call it what you will – rock garden, trough garden, crevice garden, desert garden. From big deserts to tiny tufa troughs, cactuses and succulents can be grown and enjoyed in many situations.  I know it’s the middle of winter right now, but I’m thinking of the sunny joy of seeing the Community Heroes Crevice Garden in Arvada and the new steppe gardens at Denver Botanic Gardens in the summer of 2016.  These showed me what could be achieved.  And as I gaze at the tips of Opuntia (prickly pear and cholla) plants poking through the snow in my front yard today, I am in awe at the extremes these amazing plants can tolerate.

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Opuntia x pinkavae

 

 

Our front yard faces north, not auspicious for cactus growing, but safely out of bounds to the dog and small grandchildren, and raised up above the sidewalk, so safely out of reach of passers-by.  The area I designated to be the “desert garden” is about 20 x 10 feet, bisected by the path from the sidewalk to the front door.  Despite its northerly aspect, this area does get a lot of sunshine from spring to fall.  A minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily is recommended for cactuses.  When we moved in, this part of the garden was just a boring flat patch of clay soil with rather elderly wood mulch strewn over it.  Again, not exactly the well-drained, lean (in terms of nutrients) soil usually associated with cactuses.  But I like a challenge!

To get things started, I raked off the wood mulch and underlying landscape fabric to reveal a flat, compacted, grey soil surface covered in the wriggling, white stems of bindweed like ghostly spaghetti.  I pulled as much of the bindweed as possible. Then to create some height and slopes I dug and shaped the soil into small hills sloping down towards the sidewalk.  We inherited hundreds of large granite boulders with the back yard, so my son and husband hauled a couple of dozen out to the front for me.  I chose the most attractive boulders and made sure they were of similar or complementary colors.  These were placed on the slopes, either singly as “specimen boulders” or in groups forming little “canyons” in which I could plant.

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Rocks, soil, river rock and neighbor’s turf

The slopes help to ensure rain (when we get it) runs off quickly so the plants don’t sit in puddles.  Pockets of water are trapped by the boulders giving little damp areas against the boulders and allowing water to slowly trickle down into the soil below.  To improve the soil drainage further, I dug in a couple of trailers’ worth of “squeegee” to a depth of approx. six to eight inches.  This is the name around here (I gather) for crushed gravel.  It is pinkish in tone and halfway between pea gravel and sand in size. Areas of small river rock (obtained for free from a neighboring garden which was being “re-done” – I love a freebie!) were laid as a transition from the “desert” to the greener area of the yard and the sidewalk.  After planting, a thick layer of pure squeegee was used as a mulch over the whole area.  This has been very effective at keeping the bindweed at bay, helped by merciless hand pulling of any little shoots that do make it to the surface.

The choosing of plants followed considerable book research, web browsing and advice from local nurserymen.  I used a mix of cactuses, succulents, grasses, small drought-tolerant perennials and bulbs.  Naturally, none of these are hot-house types.  They are all cold hardy down to at least Zone 4.  For many of them their natural environment is arid mountain-sides in Arizona and New Mexico where they bake in the summer and freeze in the winter. A couple of dwarf pines provide year-round green and structure.  (I had to remind myself that these two needed regular watering, unlike the rest of the desert garden, as they are young trees, albeit small.)

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Pinus mugo var. pumilio

Planting took place in June 2015, so these plants are now “enjoying” their second winter in our garden.  They spent two and a half months under snow in winter 2015/6 and came up smiling in spring 2016.  There were just two losses, both small Yuccas which had rotted at the crown.  Fortunately, I had extras safely potted up behind the house, so they were immediately replaced.

For the first summer, I watered maybe twice a week, using the mist spray on the hose head.  The second summer, 2016, I did not water at all.  The winter snow that laid on the area for two or three months or more, had provided a good reservoir of moisture which saw the garden right through the summer.

The immediate effect after planting was of a lot of very small plants stranded in a gravelly desert.  I believe in buying small and being patient for a year or two while the plants bulk up, seed around and acclimatise to their environment.

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Just planted, June 2015

 

And, now, after another summer, they are starting to do so.  I see little “pups” on the Echinocereus.  There are Sedum and Stachys seedlings. The stars are the Opuntias (tree chollas and prickly pears) and the Delospermas.  These have grown quickly and the Delospermas were carpets of jewel-like flowers for months on end.  Dianthus and Artemisias are soft foils to their prickly companions. Groups of Nasella tennuissima provide a feathery backdrop and transition to greener and moister plantings at the rear.  The gentle movement of these grasses is a nice contrast to the static cactuses. The little species tulips ‘Persian Pearl’ popped up beautiful purple-red blooms with yellow centers in spring.  I hope to see more of these this coming spring.

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Tulipa pulchella @Persian Pearl’

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Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’

 

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Summer, 2016 (after the hail storm had knocked off all the flowers!)

 

Now it is getting established, it really doesn’t require a lot work.  No watering if we have enough snow in winter.  Minimal weeding.  A gentle blow-off of leaves and some careful extracting of same from the Opuntias’ prickles with the kitchen tongs once in the fall.  That’s it.

I love my desert garden and see passers-by enjoying it too and that just adds to the pleasure for me.

PS:  Cactus? Cacti? Cactuses?  Who knows … ?? Who cares … !!

Anne Hughes/a Denver County Master Gardener

https://communityheroesgarden.jimdo.com/

http://www.botanicgardens.org/

www.coloradocactus.org

Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Moore Kelaidis. Publisher: Storey Publishing.

Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates by Leo J Chance. Publisher: Timber Press

Plant List

Cactuses

Echinocereus coccineus

Echinocereus triglochidiatus ‘White Sands’

Escobaria forcottei ‘Koenesii’

Agave utahensis var. kiahabensis

Tree cholla – Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens ‘White Tower’

Tree cholla – Opuntia arborescens var. viridifloa ‘Santa Fe’

Creeping cholla – Opuntia clavata

Prickly pear – Opuntia x pinkavae

Texas red yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora

Yucca flacida ‘Bright Edge’

Herbaceous perennials, bulbs and grass

Dusty miller/artemisia – Artemisia ‘Beth Chatto’ & Artemisia absinthium ‘Silver Frost’

Woolly thyme – Thymus pseudolanuginosus

Yarrow – Achillea sps. various

Sedum- Sedum spectabile various

Pinks- Dianthus sps. various + garden cuttings

Rock rose – Helianthemum sp.

Ice plants – Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ &  ?

Two row stonecrop – Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’

Other stonecrops – ‘Vera Jameson’, ‘Lidakense’, ‘Angelina’

Mullein – Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polar Summer’

Lambs ears – Stachys byzantinus

Feathergrass – Nassella tenuissima ‘Ponytails’

Species tulip – Tulipa pulchella ‘Persian Pearl’

Trees 

Dwarf mugo pine – Pinus mugo  var. pumilio

Dwarf mugo pine – Pinus mugo ‘Teeny’

A Year in the Life of an Amaryllis

amaryllis_akaIf your holiday amaryllis is nearing the end of its blooming cycle, here are tips to enjoy the plant through the year and give it the best chance to bloom again. Unlike paperwhites, which are one-and-done indoor bulbs, with care, amaryllis can re-bloom for years to come.

While flowering, the plant benefits from bright, indirect light and moisture. When each trumpet-shaped flower is finished, snip it off and when the last flower on the stem has shriveled, cut the entire stem about an inch above the bulb. Leave the strappy leaves in tact. Occasionally amaryllis won’t develop leaves until after blooming, so don’t fret if the plant is foliage-free at this stage. However, adding fertilizer to a bulb without leaves will kill the roots.

Treat the bulb as a houseplant throughout the winter by providing direct sunlight, watering when dry below the soil line and feeding common houseplant food once or twice a month. The bulb should remain snuggled in the original pot, with the top half to one-third above the soil line. In spring, the leaves will yellow and die, signaling that they’ve done their job of providing nutrients to the bulb, a common bulb process. Cut the foliage about an inch from the top of the bulb; new leaves will emerge through the summer. Leaves equal energy, so the more leaves developed at this time, the more vigor the bulb has to flower again. During the summer months, you’ll want to give the pot as bright a spot as possible, either indoors or out. Burying the pot in a partially shaded garden bed is also an option.

In September, reduce water significantly until leaves turn yellow and die. Store the plant in a cool, dark area (45 to 50 degrees) for 8-12 weeks, checking regularly for signs of new life and watering sparingly. This fall “Goldilocks” phase of not-too-hot, not-too-cold is critical to the forcing process so choose the resting spot carefully. When you see fresh growth, move the plant to bright light and resume regular watering. The plant is now ready to produce new foliage and flowers.

Many find this process a snap. If that’s not the case for you, keep in mind that the size and quality of the bulb can effect re-blooming, so from the start choose large, blemish-free bulbs which are heavy relative to their size. Amaryllis forced in water are also unlikely to re-bloom as they lack the energy to survive. But if this experiment doesn’t work for you, you may not want to give up as the bulb can take a year off from flowering and then come back with a vengeance. Growing amaryllis sure can be an exercise in patience!

Posted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver Master Gardener