Native Plants in a Suburban Setting, Part 2

Side yard before new garden

Last month, I shared my process for designing a simple pollinator garden in my yard using native plants.  In this post, I describe selecting and installing the 50+ plants in the new garden.

The criteria I used to choose the plants included:

  • Attractive to native pollinators
  • Tolerant of clay soil 
  • Thrive in hot, dry, southern exposure
  • Provide waves of color from spring to fall
  • Minimally aggressive
  • Varying height and width

From a design perspective, I wanted taller plants at the back near the house with shorter plants toward the front of the bed.  I focused on perennials and grasses.  Color is important to me; so despite online design advice to create large swaths of a few colors, I decided on a mixed rainbow effect using 3-5 plants each of about 12 species.  I used several websites for plant information – CoNPS, CSU Extension, and City of Boulder primarily.  Two of these sites also had a list of native plant retailers.

With my criteria and the garden dimensions (41’ x 13’), I created a plant spreadsheet and used it as my buying guide.  I ordered most of the plants online from garden centers during the shelter-in-place order and picked them up curbside the following month.  Also, I verified with the garden centers that the plants had been grown without the use of neonicotinoids.

Here are species I bought and their color families.  

Yellows: Berlandiera lyrata, Zinnia grandiflora, Rudbeckia hirta, Solidago rigida  

Reds:  Salvia gregii, Callirhoe involucrata, Mirabilis multiflora, Penstemon pseudospectabilis, Agastache rupestris, Ratibida columnifera 

Blues:  Linum lewisii, Liatris punctata, Machaeranthea tanacetifolia  

The two grasses, Bouteloua gracilis and Schizachyrium scoparium, added green/yellow and blue/green to the palette.

To be honest, not all the plants were strictly Colorado natives.  For example, I included a couple of Hesperaloe parvifloras which could be considered regional natives.  I like the texture they add; and hummingbirds love the red flowers.  

Before putting in the plants, my husband and I removed the arborvitae, existing foundation shrubs, dug out turf, edged the bed and placed stepping stones.

June prep/planting – looking west

Since native plants here generally don’t do well in rich soil, I didn’t amend the soil other than to mix a small amount of expanded shale with the planting dirt.  And that was only for a couple of species like Hesperaloe that prefer somewhat rocky soil or good drainage.  I mulched with 3” of pea gravel and lined the bed with river rock.

June growth – looking east

From June to mid-July, I hand watered the plants almost daily.  Many have grown by at least a third, and some have doubled in size.  I’ve now cut back the watering to twice a week and will gradually decrease it heading into autumn.   By next year, they shouldn’t need any additional water except during a drought period.

July growth – looking east
July growth – looking west

A couple of lessons I learned:  1) design-wise, a garden needs height and visual weight, so I’m adding a native deciduous shrub; and 2) be careful of irrigation overspray when turf adjoins a garden of native plants that like dry conditions.  

I’m happy with my new pollinator garden.  Already, several neighbors have complimented it. And unless it’s wishful thinking, I’m seeing tiny bees which I’m guessing are native.  So on to the next adventure – identifying native insects!

Ann Winslow, Master Gardener volunteer since 2019

Meet the Garden Squad–Renata Hahn

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Renata Hahn is a Denver native and a CSU-Extension Master Gardener for Denver County. (Images courtesy of Renata Hahn)

If you ask Renata Hahn to describe herself, she’ll say simply, “I’m a gardener.” But how many gardeners do you know who have been confronted by a Secret Service agent or scolded by a former first lady?

All that happened when Renata was one of the gardeners working at the retirement home of President Gerald Ford in Beaver Creek, Colo.

“The place was crawling with Secret Service and I was quietly walking around the house one day when I surprised a Secret Service agent and he pulled his gun on me,” she said.

“All I had was a dandelion digger and pruners in my hands, then we laughed about it.”

She also had a memorable encounter when former First Lady Betty Ford criticized her for cutting back dead daffodil foliage too soon. (It wasn’t too soon, Renata noted.)

Renata is a CSU-Extension Master Gardener for Denver County. She’s one of the few Denver natives, having grown up in the Washington Park area before it became Washington Park. She remembers playing in the street because there wasn’t much traffic then. She also recalls her parents making her help in the garden. “I did not like it,” she said.

She left Denver and spent time in Vail and then moved to Alaska before returning to Colorado about 15 years ago. That’s when she started her small landscaping company called Ladyscapes.

“I don’t do irrigation or hardscapes. I just like to do the pretty things” of gardening. Some of that includes planting annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. Lately she’s encouraged her clients to include more fruit trees and edible gardens.

Goji berry shrubs produce bright red superfruits and would make a beautiful hedge if grown along a wooden fence.

Her own landscape serves as inspiration, especially because she grows lesser known plants that are good for you. Some of  her plantings include honeyberries, blueberries (grown in a buried pot of peat moss), goji berries, aronia berries, borage and a rosemary plant that she’s successfully overwintered for about 10 years.

That’s in addition to garlic, edamame, kale, potatoes, cape gooseberries, and raspberries planted in a 15-gallon buried container to keep canes from spreading.

Her approach to gardening is to “let things go and see what happens.” If it’s her yard, she might pull up a plant that’s not performing; if it’s a client’s landscape, she gives them whatever they want, although she tries to point them in the right direction.

Renata is a beekeeper and this year raised butterflies indoors.

In addition to being a gardener, Renata is a beekeeper, and she tried something else this year: raising Monarch and Black Swallowtail butterflies in a separate enclosure in her house.

“They complete the life cycle in one month and become butterflies in the house and then I release them outside. It’s super fun and easy and really quiet,” she said.

Becoming a Master Gardener

In 2005 Renata attended the CSU-Extension Master Gardener class and became a Certified Gardener.

“In taking the classes I found out how much I loved it and the program,” she said. With a little more work she was able to switch to become a Master Gardener.

Although she said she feels “very lucky and insanely proud” of being a Master Gardener, she was uncomfortable in the role during her first few years.

To gain more confidence in her skills, she’d stand at the CSU Extension-Master Gardener table at farmers markets, listen to questions from the public and grab the big green notebook to research the answers right on the spot.

Crocus bulbs are drought-tolerant and the saffron threads make beautiful, delicious meals.

Renata also credits three experienced Master Gardeners, Carol Earle, Carol Amy and Jeanne Najar, for helping guide and support her during those early years.

She repays that help by volunteering to be a mentor for those Master Gardener apprentices who are just getting started. Renata said one of the best things about being a mentor is getting to take the classes again – plus she has the chance to get to know and bond with the mentees.

“I’ve been lucky to be a mentor five or six times, and I still keep in touch with all the apprentices,” she said.

Because she understands the 2020 class of Master Gardener apprentices may feel disconnected because of social distancing, she’s offering to help anyone who needs it.

“I’d like apprentices to know that if they want to call me, I’ll try to help if I can. I want people to feel included.”

To get in touch with Renata, login to the Colorado Master Gardener Volunteer Management System (VMS) and look for her name and contact information listed on the Member Roster.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Planting in Summer’s Heat

Without fail, every year I find myself adding plants to the perennial garden during the hottest part of the season. Sometimes the plant is  a gift from a friend’s yard, other times it’s a couldn’t resist variety at the garden center. Given this spring’s quarantine, trips to the nursery were delayed and even now are limited, somehow making the visits even more special.  

I seem to always be able to find room for another perennial, telling myself it is the one that will complete the garden (are gardens ever really finished?). Or perhaps it will perfectly fill an empty space, bloom when others have faded, add the ideal color, or supply needed texture.  Whatever the rationale, how could it not come home with me? 

Here are a few pointers for successfully establishing herbaceous perennials when summer’s heat, arid conditions and drying winds present challenges. While these best practices are important, equally critical is the gardener’s diligence and consistency. Plants are less forgiving at this time of year and may not recover if ignored.  Conversely, they’ll respond well with a little extra TLC.

  • Choose plants that love the heat and adapt to our semi-arid climate. Native plants and Plant Select® offerings are good bets.
  • Plant in the evening so plants have the cooler nighttime and early morning temperatures to acclimate.
  • Prior to planting, coat  the roots with mycorrhizae (my cor rye zay), a fungus which stimulates healthy root development and improves absorption of moisture and nutrients. Several companies market this ingredient under different names.
  • Remove buds and blooms, which allows the plant to put more energy into establishing roots and foliage.  Admittedly, sacrificing the blooms is hard, but it does help reduce transplant shock.
  • Unless there has been a soaking rain, water daily for the first week or two to avoid dehydration and transpiration.  Watch the plant for the remainder of the season to determine good watering practice. 
  • Apply mulch around the plant, stopping within a few inches of the crown. Mulch will cool the soil and reduce evaporation.
  • Tent the plant with shade cloth during the hottest part of the day.
  • Transplant the plant a temporary home in a large container until late summer or early fall, when adapting to a new home may be less stressful.

Are you adding to your gardens this summer? 



CMG GardenNotes 212: The Living Soil

Help, My Garden is Wilting!

Text and photo by Linda McDonnell, A Denver County Master Gardener

Native Plants in a Suburban Setting

Inspired by Douglas Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, this spring I decided to create a native pollinator garden in my 1960s suburban Denver yard. It was my first adventure in using all native plants.

Most yards in my neighborhood are primarily turf and evergreens with some popular but non-native blooming shrubs or perennials. As Dr. Tallamy explains, these plants are mostly unpalatable for our native pollinator friends at their various life stages. 

As the new neighbor on my block, I wanted to showcase a native pollinator habitat that was beautiful and naturalistic without looking “wild” – a common complaint about native plant gardens.  The Habitat Network and National Wildlife Federation websites gave me tips on how habitat gardens can fit into a typical suburban landscape. 

For the garden site, I chose the side yard between the house and street — a long, narrow space that resembled a landing strip.  It had thirsty turf, an overgrown arborvitae, and a narrow foundation bed with a few struggling shrubs and a dwarf blue spruce.  It also had full sun – perfect for many Colorado native plants.

Besides southern exposure, my site analysis showed heavy clay soil, average drainage with no slope from the house to 15’ out, and westerly winds.  In addition, it was easy to see that the side yard served no purpose for my family – making it a good site.   

From there, I looked at specific examples of garden and plant designs on the websites of Plant Select, Colorado Native Plant Society (CoNPS), and Resource Central.  These gave me ideas for shape, dimensions, and plant placement. 

I was finally ready to design the garden.  CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.228 on xeriscaping and Garden Notes #411 and #413 on water wise landscaping were useful resources even for my smaller project.  Native plants and xeriscaping work together well, giving me both the habitat and water-savings I wanted.

Keeping in mind my budget and the available labor (my husband and me), I decided to  simply enlarge the existing foundation bed into a half-oval shape twice its original size and fill it with blooming perennials.

By enlarging the existing bed on level ground, I eliminated the need for terracing which would have added expense.  I did decide to use sandstone pavers as stepping stones through the new garden giving it some hardscape interest.

Now that planning and design were finished, I was ready to move on to the next phase in my suburban to native adventure.

Join me in July when I share the fun and sometimes challenging experience of researching, selecting, and installing native plants in my pollinator garden.

By Ann Winslow, Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2019

Easy-to-Grow Container Basil

My summer garden wouldn’t be the same without a container of basil growing on the patio. Not only is basil a beautiful plant, but it’s one of the most versatile herbs around. The fresh leaves get tossed into green salads, stacked with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for a Caprese salad, blended into pesto, and plenty more.

One packet of basil seeds means dozens of fresh summer recipes. (Photo by Jodi Torpey)

Every year I grow a container of basil so I can clip the fresh and fragrant leaves all summer. This method of container planting is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to plant basil, and it uses only one packet of seeds. My favorite is the Genovese basil because of the large leaf size.

The basil plants grow well with a limited amount of morning sun, then afternoon shade to keep tender leaves from burning.

Any container that can hold a good quality potting soil and has holes in the bottom for drainage is a potential for planting. My go-to basil container is a plastic window box that has a matching tray to catch water. Paper coffee filters cover the drainage holes to keep soil in.

Here are the three planting steps:

  1. Sprinkle (broadcast) the entire packet of seeds evenly over the top of the potting soil. Gently pat down and cover seeds with a very thin layer of potting soil.
  2. Spray the seeds and top of the soil with water from a spray bottle or plant mister. Spraying keeps the seeds on top of the soil.
  3. Spritz daily or whenever the soil starts to dry out until the little plants begin to grow. Continue gently watering the container with a watering can or hose and nozzle.

Basil seeds sprout and grow quickly. Start clipping the leaves when plants have three to five sets of leaves. Don’t worry about pruning the leaves, because that encourages healthy new growth and branching, plus it keeps plants from flowering too quickly (although the flowers are tasty, too).

Fertilize with your preferred water-soluble plant food or gently dig in a slow-release fertilizer about once a month to keep plants green and healthy.

One of my favorite quick salads is sliced garden-fresh tomatoes, topped with several tablespoons of snipped basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served at room temperature.

How do you like to use the fresh basil from your garden? Please share your recipe ideas in the comments section below.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardeners since 2015

Four Health Benefits of Gardening

It’s been a spring like no other, hasn’t it? I hope you and yours are healthy, safe, and enduring the challenges brought about by COVID-19.  Since health and well-being are more critical than ever right now, let’s take a look at four important physical and psychological benefits of gardening.

Increase the “Happy Chemical.” Fresh air and sunlight (with proper protection) increase serotonin levels in the brain, which researchers believe decreases anxiety and depression and contributes to a general sense of well-being.  No wonder serotonin has earned the happy chemical nickname.

Feel the (moderate) Burn.  Whether you work out religiously or need encouragement to get to the gym, gardening tasks can increase mobility, muscle tone, and stamina. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a 150 pound person burns 378 calories during an hour of general gardening.  Digging, planting, and spading involves upper body, back, and leg muscles; weeding entails lots of lunges and squats; raking uses upper body muscles and done vigorously, you will get a good aerobic workout.

Fresh is Best. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to increase access to healthy foods, teach children about nutrition, explore new food options, and reduce the intake of herbicides and pesticides.  

Life-long Learning. I’ve been a Colorado Master Gardener for several years and am always humbled by how much I don’t know – and grateful for the opportunities to continue to learn. Seeking new information and being curious keeps our brains working at optimum levels. If you want to learn more about gardening, check out Colorado State University Extension Gardening Webinars – new, no cost and open to all.

Stay well and enjoy playing in the dirt.

For more information:

Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, March 2017.

The Research is In: Yes, Gardening Totally Counts as Exercise

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Meet the Garden Squad—New Master Gardeners part 2

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Here’s your chance to meet and greet the new crop of Denver Master Gardeners from the Class of 2020. Class members were invited to introduce themselves by answering one of 10 questions to help us get to know them. Please welcome them to the Garden Squad!

Kimberly Bischoff had no trouble deciding which world-renowned garden she’d like to visit. “The Gardens I would like to visit again (and again) is Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I loved every minute of my 4 hour stroll through the tulips!”

Alan Moores selected his favorite gardening quote by American novelist, gardener and garden writer Jamaica Kincaid: Nature abhors a garden. Alan says, “It gives me some perspective on my role, and that of the food I grow for my table, as ‘introduced’ species in this world, especially on the Front Range.

Jessica Harvey (shown with her husband Richard) says her favorite dish to prepare every summer “is a fairly easy one that utilizes multiple things I love growing—a pesto, tomato and cream cheese sandwich!”

Thanks to our new Master Gardeners for their photos and gardening insights. 

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad—New Master Gardeners part 1

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Here’s your chance to meet and greet the new crop of Denver Master Gardeners from the Class of 2020. Class members were invited to introduce themselves by answering one of 10 questions to help us get to know them. Please welcome them to the Garden Squad!

Rhianna Kirk finds exceptional joy from being close to nature. She shares her favorite gardening quote:
“Gardening… cheaper than therapy AND you get tomatoes.”

Aleka Mayr credits three role models for inspiring her to plant and grow. “Both my grandmothers and my mother have been my inspiration, and have shown me planting and growing can happen in an urban apartment, a rural farm, and even a vacant lot in the middle of Manhattan.”

Dudley Clark misses being able to grow rhododendrons in his Colorado landscape. “I have lived in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Virginia where they grow like weeds….year round greenery, wonderful flowers in a range of colors from white to deep purple and not much maintenance…remove spent flowers to encourage growth. Every few years I pay an outlandish price for a ‘rhodie’ at a Colorado nursery, plant it in a shady location, watch it struggle through our scorching heat and plummeting temperatures and finally succumb to the edict wrong plant, wrong place.”

Ashley Hooten (shown with husband Michael) says her favorite summer-time recipe is a “simple and easy Caprese salad with homegrown tomatoes and fresh basil! So delicious and fresh!”

Thanks to our new Master Gardeners for their photos and gardening insights. Watch for Meet the Garden Squad–New Master Gardeners part 2 later this week!

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener Volunteer since 2005

CSU Denver Extension Plant Sale Fundraiser!

plant saleCSU Denver Extension will be having a no contact and social distance plant sale fundraiser for May 21st and 22nd!

We are excited to offer up some of our favorite varieties of sweet and hot peppers for $6 a plant. To learn more about the varieties of peppers available and to order your plants please visit our website:…/csu-denver-plant-…/

All the money raised from the plant sale and donations goes to support the Denver Extension office.

We look forward to seeing you soon and thank you for supporting our office and programs!

Murder Hornet: Reality for Coloradoans


Image via Kenpei/Wikimedia Commons

Recently a report on the discovery of the large, native Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia) in Washington state and British Columbia went viral. The New York Times dubbed it the “murder hornet” because of its striking appearance and size (about 2″ in length, wingspan of 3″), assumed threat to the honeybee population and quarter inch stinger to inject venom into humans.

Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University’s Entomologist and Extension Specialist, offers a constructive look at the Asian hornet and cautions us to look past the dramatic, attention-grabbing headlines.

Cranshaw notes the following:

  • Traps and controls have been developed in Asia and can be adapted for use in the very small outbreak in Washington and British Columbia.
  • While some insects relocate to new areas via packing materials, wood or other carriers, this hornet does not hitchhike well. Given that, to reach Colorado, it would need to navigate difficult terrain from Washington. This is considered unlikely.
  • The insect is a woodland species which lives in low altitude, moist environments. It is not likely to thrive or adapt to the semi-arid Rocky Mountain region. If it did get transported here, it is doubtful it would survive.
  • It is a generalist predator and honeybees are just one of its many predatory targets. Whether the giant Asian hornet will pose any greater threat to honeybees than existing predators remains to be seen. But it is possible that colonies in the wasp’s preferred woodland areas could be the most vulnerable honeybees.

Cranshaw and other entomologists caution that “Murder wasp” is an unwarranted, fear-inducing name. While imposing and unique for its appearance, the Asian hornet’s potential impact needs to be kept in perspective and is not expected to live up to the recent hype.

Additional Resources:

USDA New Pest Response Guidelines

“What’s In A Name? CSU Entomologist Says Title is All Buzz, No Sting”  KUNC Radio Interview with Dr. W. Cranshaw, May 12,2020

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener