Monthly Archives: June 2020

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

https://content.yardmap.org/learn/making-messy-look-good/

https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Create/At-Home

https://plantselect.org/design/downloadable-designs/

https://conps.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/NativeGarden-Front-Range-4-11-2016.pdf

https://resourcecentral.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Naturally-Native-2020.pdf

https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07228.pdf

https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/411.pdf

https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/413.pdf

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 MindBodyGreen.com

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener