Category Archives: Perennial plants

Pretty Tough Plants Book Review

I love the name of the new book by the experts at Plant Select. Pretty Tough Plants describes the family of Plant Select plants perfectly.

If you’ve grown any of these beautiful plants that are so well-suited to our gardens, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t grown any Plant Select recommendations, what’s stopping you? These are the plants that can help you be a more successful gardener.

Plant Select calls itself “a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists.” I call it one of the best plant testing and introduction programs in the country.

Pretty Tough Plants: 135 Resilient, Water-Smart Choices for a Beautiful Garden (Timber Press, 2017) is a follow-up to Durable Plants for the Garden: A Plant Select Guide published in 2009.

This new edition seems to be more user friendly, both by its manageable size and in the plant presentations. Plants are divided into groups that include tender perennials and annuals, petites, groundcovers, perennials, grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees and conifers.

Each Plant Select description includes its scientific name, common name, mature size, flower type, bloom time, and best features. Understandable icons give details on sun and water requirements, as well as if the plant attracts pollinators or if deer resist browsing it.

The “Landscape Use” information is meant for gardeners who have difficulty matching plants to place or are unsure of how to combine plants for the most striking effect. The descriptions make suggestions for perfect placement and the best Plant Select companions.

Many of the gorgeous, full-color images show both a close-up view of the plant and a shot of how it looks in the landscape when in full bloom. One of my favorites is Redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) shown as a fabulous specimen plant, and closeups of the star-like single pink flowers and brilliant red hips.

An especially nice feature for this volume is the Plant Reference Guide in the back of the book. This guide provides a quick resource for matching the right Plant Select plant to the right spot in the landscape.

Besides the typical categories, there are two additional and interesting categories: Special landscape use and North American roots. Not every plant has a special landscape use, but when a plant is recommended for “dry shade, cold hardy,” like Denver Gold columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), gardeners can trust the endorsement.

Prairie Jewel penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) is one Pretty Tough Plant in my xeriscape.

I’ve grown many different Plant Select recommendations in my perennial beds, and I can vouch for their resilience – one of the seven qualities a plant has to have to be added to the program.

In addition to being able to stand up to a challenging climate, Plant Select plants have to thrive in a variety of conditions, be water smart, have that “it” factor, resist insect pests and plant diseases, offer long-lasting beauty, and aren’t invasive.

I can tell Pretty Tough Plants was a labor of love by a group of passionate plant people. The photo credits read like a list of area Who’s Who, from well-known horticulturists to CSU Extension Master Gardeners. Pat Hayward and David Winger had the happy task of sorting and selecting images, including many of their own.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener
(Timber Press provided a complimentary copy of Pretty Tough Plants for this review.)

Never Put a $10 Plant in a 10¢ Hole and Other Gardening Tips From Denver Master Gardeners

planting-1898946_1920Passionate gardeners love to talk about gardening, so with that in mind, we recently asked Denver Master Gardeners for their best gardening advice. Responses included tried-and-true practices, creative suggestions and good reminders for all of us as the gardening season kicks into full gear.

As the title of this post implies, we believe that great plants come from appropriate soil preparation. Amending with compost is often imperative as soil in our region tends to lack organic matter. But proceed with caution, as some plants, such as natives, prefer a leaner, less fertile soil. Too rich soil will cause these plants to underperform and often just flop over. It pays to do a little homework before planting, read seed package directions and have your soil tested.

One of our gardeners shared her recipe for amending soil: Add 1/2 a handful of both Alaskan fish pellets and triple super phosphate to half a bucket (such as a kitty litter pail) full of compost. Mix this into the planting hole for strong root development and beautiful blossoms.

A tip borrowed from the Rock Garden Society is to plant bare root. By gently shaking off most or all of the soil that the plant is purchased in, the plant will adjust to the garden soil without the soil interface (or boundary) that can occur between two soil types. Bare root planting promotes healthy root development.

mulch-1100555_1920Mulch, mulch, mulch is the mantra of many of our survey respondents as it keeps weeds out and moisture in. Add it like crazy each time you dig in the veggie, perennial and annual gardens and don’t forget container plants too. Small to medium-sized bark chips are popular, practical and pleasing to the eye. Natural mulch options are very effective, including not quite finished compost from the compost bin which will add carbon, feed living organisms, prevent water runoff and prevent compaction. Local arborists are often willing to drop off wood chips which would otherwise fill up the landfill. In the fall, mow over your leaves and spread them throughout the yard, they’ll breakdown by spring and add organic matter to your soil. Consider purchasing a chipper to grind up branches and other garden waste.

garden-hose-413684_1920Suggestions for responsible use of water include watering when the plant needs it instead of on a set schedule. Soaker hoses, often made from recycled material, are effective for watering plants at the soil line. Plants (even xeric ones)  need moisture to maintain healthy roots and overall strength, but often less than we think. For example, the Water Smart Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is watered about seven times during the season.

Weeding can feel like a no-win battle, but attacking weeds after a soaking rain makes the task easier. Pull weeds and unwanted volunteer shrub and tree seedlings when they are small, before they take hold in the ground or develop seed. Add stepping stones to the garden to avoid stomping on plants and compacting soil when working in the garden.

bindweed-1207738_1920A clever tip to eliminate stubborn weeds, such as the nasty bindweed shown here, is to take a large piece of heavy cardboard, make a cut from the edge to the center. Keep the cardboard as level as possible, slip the vine in the center and spray the vine with the herbicide of your choice or horticultural vinegar, which is sold in garden centers. The cardboard will protect surrounding plants from overspray. Aggressive weeds may require multiple treatments during the season.

One of our members recommends a tomato planting technique passed on through generations of farmers. She adds blackened banana peel to the soil and feeds them with skim milk upon planting and again one month after that. This less conventional practice yields her sweet, abundant fruit. While CSU can’t vouch for the scientific efficacy of this, the banana could be adding potassium and the addition of calcium may reduce the chances of blossom end rot.

plant-1585251_1920Growing tomatoes in containers is recommended for those with limited space. Select varieties which produce smaller fruit such as Patio, Cherry or Sungold. Use a large container (18+ inches in diameter), a sturdy support and a tray with casters. This allows plants to be moved from the path of hail or to optimal conditions. Container plants of all kinds benefit from weekly feeding of 1/2 strength fertilizer.

To keep pests at bay, try a thorough weekly spray of water during the growing season, including the walls of the house and fence. It’s a kinder way to shoo pests away.

If your vines need a sturdier trellis consider building one out of remesh, which can be found at hardware stores. It makes a durable, cost-effective support and can easily be cut with bolt cutters. It also can be attached to supports to create a dog run or create plant cages.

botanical-garden-413489_1920In the flower garden, invest in perennials for texture and dimension and add annuals for bold color. “Enjoy the randomness of some plants that choose their own spots to thrive” suggests one gardener. What a positive way to think of the seedlings that sprout up at this time of the year. Remember, too, that perennials may not come into their glory until the second growing season.

Gardening is a four season hobby. Winter watering of trees and shrubs will help keep them healthy and  veggie gardeners can get a jump on the season by using a cold frame or floating row cover to get an early start on lettuce, spinach and other cool season crops. Fall is a fantastic time to fertilize, aerate and over-seed the lawn. It is also an ideal season to divide perennials so that they settle in and are ready to take off in the spring.  Share your divisions with your neighbors, too, or trade for plants you’ve admired (envied?) in their yards. If you need more gardening space, solarizing or sheet composting is an excellent technique to ready a new garden bed and can be started throughout the year.

And lastly, a veteran gardener advises us to “Remember each little garden flower or planting arrangement is a moment in time. It will change. Don’t worry about it or take it too seriously.”

 

Written by Linda McDonnell with thanks to the many Denver Master Gardeners who shared their advice.

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

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’

Under the Denver Sun

Beginnings of a Small Italian Garden

Italy. Hazy grey vistas are punctuated with narrow vertical trees. Nodding sunflowers laze in stony fields.  Knotty ancient thick-trunked olive trees hold forth in blazing sunlight. Window boxes are crammed full of vibrant red Pelargoniums or cascading petunias. Peeling walls, old doors and white sculptures are pierced with long rays. Shadowy evenings are filled with bees humming, and the breeze surprises with soft scents of lavender, roses and rosemary. Fountains play, and nearby the pergolas and arbors anchor verdant vines.  At once the designs are structured yet informal.  Italian gardeners tend to trim, pollard and generally shape many aspects of their plantings so keeping discipline within the freedom of the overall design. How could I bring these colors, textures and smells to a small sunny south-facing Colorado garden?

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Imposing Facade Bramasole, Cortona , Italy

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Roses, Lavender, Hibiscus, and Bees, Bramasole

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Blues in Foliage, Movement in Growth Pattern of Lavender Bed, and Lemon Trees in Movable Containers. Credit Patty Hollis Bramasole Photographs

We actually have some similarities here in Colorado to Tuscany: the purity of the sunlight, the ability to grow many of the same plants, and the often-disappointing soil!  Moreover, in Denver there is a propensity of Italian style houses needing yard work done, so as to create harmony with the home design.
We had this situation: a somewhat imposing stone house, with a tile roof, overwhelming a sad small lawned plot. We needed a plan that captured the essence of Italy. An Italian garden is rigid in some ways, but flowing and full of playful surprises as well. First, I put in the new curving flagstone pathways, then we had a focal point gate inserted in an existing wall (the only big expense), and I marked-out (with garden hoses) the new meandering borders for future flowerbeds.

Spring 2015, I laid six layers of newspaper, then topsoil and finally mulch (begged from a tree felling crew) on the new borders. Meanwhile, we planted the biggest items first so trees were positioned in the remaining grass areas. This stage included three small standard flamingo willow ball topiaries, and we were happy with how their pink spring delicate leaves brought in movement. In June I put in marker flags and then dug holes and planted the bulk of the borders.

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The New Reclaimed Border: Newspaper Layers, Topsoil and Mulch with Roses, Lavender, Speedwell, Tiny Dusty Miller, Boxwoods AND June Hail

From the house foundation to the front this was the order: Spiraea on one side (part sun), alongside large Rose of Sharon shrubs (full sun). Also, dusty pink climbing roses mixed with Russian sage were set-in at the base of the sunny wall. Then Moonstone™ floribundas were the next tall, back layer. Coming forward I placed Veronica (speedwell), and then lavender (both grouped in threes and fives), catmint (in a sometimes boggy drain outlet area), Bonica roses, and in front random plantings of soft grey Dusty Miller (which I planted as a annual but has thrived into this year). Finally, I nestled in boxwoods at the front of the new borders.

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New Garden Gate- Early Days

Boxwoods were intrinsic as a uniting design element, but I worried in this hot aspect that they might not thrive. They have done well so far (after some initial winter bronzing that righted itself) and although slow growing they add dark green shiny all-year round formality. I planted many more this year, and slowly I will add different sizes to bulk out the design. Also, I just put in a mixture of own-root end-of-year bargain miniature roses, in the same soft pink scheme.  Someone else might have chosen to go for more vibrant colors in so much sunshine, but for us the dusty pink and muted blue palette suited and followed our Tuscan inspiration.

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Cosmos: First Year Quick Dramatic Interest with Daisies and Spiraea

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Boxwood, Roses, Catmint, Russian Sage, Climbing New Dawn Roses and Trumpet Vine

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Moonstone Rose Large and Long Lasting

There was also an arid area around a large blue spruce so my latest additions have been barberries, grasses and low growing, tight growth junipers.

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Dwarf Hameln Grass, Barberry and Blue Spruce

Additionally, we have a small curved 270’ pathway that needed a focal point. I had a thriving eight foot Aspen, along with cankers and overnight new saplings.  It did hurt to rip it out, but it needed to be done. Ideally, a hundred year old olive tree was called for. But for a substitute we have just planted a Twisty Baby Black Locust to add the gnarly element that mimics a grand olive tree. I have given it a weekly dose of sugar water to possibly help with rather dramatic transplant shock more information here. This specimen tree should be interesting winter interest too, and we are hoping in time it will produce its lovely large white spring blossom.

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Dramatically Staked Rather Droopy New “Twisty Baby”

 

Recently we were pleased with how things were shaping up, but we still felt our house overwhelmed the plot and we were missing some movement, texture and color. I realized the design was devoid of a crucial element that separates the Italian landscape from any other, and without which Tuscany and even Renaissance landscape paintings would be dull.  The strong narrow verticals dotting all the land, lining the roads to cemeteries and grand villas.  I needed some upward movement.  In lieu of cypress I have planted, somewhat symmetrically, some Blue Arrows and Medora junipers. They have added the strong missing element, and should be interesting in our monochromatic winters.

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Assisi, Umbria Vertical Inspiration

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2017 One of the New Vertical Evergreens

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Whimsy. Perfumed and Perfect

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Structure in the Design, Clipped Hedges and Flamingo Willows.

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Blue Arrow Vertical Defining House with Speedwell & Sweet Drift Rose

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Part Sun Textural Plantings and New Verticals.

Late summer sees our humble garden at its best.  It is textural, perfumed and the air is filled with bees. As the boxwoods grow larger, and the narrow upright junipers extend upwards, the design will strengthen.  But for the moment I am content with the first steps on this project. Once established it has been low maintenance, with little room for weeds to grow. Ideal additions would be a little flagstone wall to step the front lawn, more beds, a sculpture or a sundial, and citrus in movable pots.
Anne Beletic.
A Denver County Apprentice Master Gardener

Appendix : Other Images Showing Details

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Bees and Hummingbirds

List of Main Plants:

Barberry: Berberis thunbergii for winter interest; slow growing  and perfect in front of blue spruce and Spiraea)

Lavender ‘Munstead’: Lavandula angustifolia for bees and constant summer blooming

Lavandin: L. angustifolia x L. latifolia

Russian sage:  Perovskia atriplicifolia  as a foil for roses and kept in check behind them

Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’: Nepeta racemosa covers unsightly gutter and run off area

Dusty miller: Jacobaea maritima gives a lot of bang for the buck and adds amazing light grey and texture to the design; much taller than the 10” I expected!

Speedwell: Veronica longifolia was cut well back in July for a substantial second bloom

Yellow trumpet creeper: Campsis radicans  f. flava Still waiting for flowers- value to be decided!

Junipers:  Juniperus scopulorum ‘Medora’ and Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’

Flamingo willow: Salix integra ‘Flamingo’

Boxwoods: Buxus sps

Black locust : Robinia pseudoacacia  Twisty Baby™

Roses:  ‘New Dawn’ – climbing; ‘Moonstone’™ – floribunda, highest maintenance, has had aphids, rose midge and very bothered by Japanese beetles, but are flourishing at end of summer with massive blooms; ‘Nearly Wild’; Bonica™; Blushing Knockout®; Pink Double Knockout®; Sweet Drift®; Whimsy™ – miniature, amazing fragrance.

Pre-existing:

Michaelmas daisy:  Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Spiraea  sp. Large and formally cut box shape house foundation plant, dark green leaf and few white flowers

Spindle:  Euonymus japonicus

Rose of Sharon: probably Hibiscus syriacus ‘Collie Mullens– has  very short “giving season” but is glorious August and September.

Semi Arid area under blue spruce tree:

Red barberry:  Berberis thunbergii

Mound grass: Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ – divided and planted late summer, so hoping it will thrive

Juniper: Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star – hoping to block out bindweed in time

Annuals:

Red fountain grass: Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’

Verbena  sps – in pots with boxwood 2016

Pelargoniums: Pelargonium peltatum ‘Contessa White’ – ivy’type for window boxes. I didn’t actually succeed in overwintering these and expense prohibited from re-buying, also they were not exactly an ivy geranium in their growth pattern, having only a slight “tip-over”

Other Plantings:

Bulbs, Cosmos, Chinese bellflower – Platycodon grandiflorus-  and ground covers including several Veronicas

List to do in Fall:

Anti-desiccant spray liberally on boxwoods and young evergreens

Wrap trunks of new trees

Twine wrapped around length of blue arrows (so snow doesn’t open the growth)

Collar grafted floribunda roses, pile mulch around other roses

Fertilize remaining lawn

Top-up mulch for general root protection and neatness esthetics (dark brown)

Colorado’s Iconic State Flower

August 1st marks the 140th anniversary of Colorado’s statehood. The Rocky Mountain Columbine is the state flower and a beloved Colorado symbol. How much do you know about the plant’s history and care? Read on to see.columbine-flower-13

The Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) was discovered in 1820 by a hiker on Pike’s Peak. It became the state flower seventy-nine years later, thanks to a vigorous campaign led by Colorado school children.

The colors of the Rocky Mountain Columbine are symbolic: the blue petals represent the state’s clear sky, the center white cup reflects the snow-capped mountains and the yellow stamen symbolizes the region’s gold mining history.

Columbine is the Latin word for dove, a name befitting the graceful, long spurred blooms. We are fortunate that most of the 70 species of columbines can be grown in our climate. Cultivation requires a half day of sun, good drainage and moderate moisture. A fairly short-lived perennial (about 4-5 years), it self-sows with ease. Beware, seedlings can be mischievous chameleons, returning as a different color than the mother plant.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, native bees and bumblebees are attracted to columbine nectar. Many columbine varieties do not like heat, so flowering will decline in the hottest part of the summer. Blooms can re-appear when temperatures moderate, especially if  spent blooms are deadheaded.

The Denver Gold Columbine® (Aquilegia chrysantha)  has become very popular in recent years. While not an official plant of the city, it is an unfussy, heat tolerant, hardworking yellow bloomer which can flower from May through September.

Want more?

  • Check out this site to learn about the official flowers of other states.
  • Additional information on growing columbines, including suggestions for varieties suited for higher elevations can be found here.
  • Subscribe to our blog or like us on Facebook so you’ll never miss a post from Denver Master Gardeners.

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help, My Garden is Wilting!

Have you ever noticed your perfectly healthy plants wilting at the end of a hot, sunny day? This is the plant’s way of protecting itself from the elements, much like our bodies adjust to temperature changes. Plants routinely gather moisture and nutrients from the soil through their roots and move it up transpirationtheir stems and leaves. Moisture is then emitted back into the air through pores on the underside of the leaves, called stomata. This process is called transpiration. On an especially hot day, the leaves will begin to emit more moisture than the roots can supply, which triggers the pores to close. As a result, the leaves lose rigidity and wilt but the plant is protected from further loss of moisture. While all plants transpire, broadleaf plants such as cucumbers, squash, hydrangea and many annual flowers are especially susceptible to heat wilt.

To  help your plants recover:

  • If the soil is moist about an inch under the soil line, the plant will likely recover on its own in the cooler night air. If it is dry, water the plant at the soil line and check in the morning; again, the plant should have perked up.  If the coming day will be another scorcher, consider a bit more morning water to avoid further late day stress.
  • Be gentle around the limp foliage, it is stressed and can easily break.

To reduce the potential for heat wilt:

  • Add 2″-3″ mulch around  plants, stopping at the outer edge of the plant so water can be absorbed easily.
  • Promote healthy roots by routinely watering deeper a few times a week versus a daily short spritz.
  • When adding new plants, loosen soil deeply and add organics such as compost to aid in drainage and root development.
  • Consider location when planting. Afternoon sun is very likely to wilt plants that need only partial sun. Also pair plants needing the same water and light conditions together.
  • Add succulents and plants requiring less water to your garden. They will thrive during the dog days of summer.

Transpiration fun facts and resources:

  • An acre of corn can transpire 3,000-4,000 gallons of water a day.
  • Transpiration is to thank  for the comforting shade under large trees. Eighty percent of the cooling effect of a shade tree comes from the evaporative effects of transpiration.
  • Much more on the transpiration process can be found on CMG Garden Notes 141 and at http://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycletranspiration.html

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hardy Gardeners Make for a Blooming Great Sale

heirloom tomatoesCloudy skies and the threat of rain weren’t enough to stop gardeners from shopping for plants at the Denver Master Gardener’s annual plant sale. The  number of gardeners on Saturday surely set a record, because by Sunday morning there wasn’t a single pepper plant left on the tables.

“We have never seen as big a turnout from the public as we saw on Saturday morning,” says Merrill Kingsbury, CSU Extension Master Gardener coordinator. “The turnout was phenomenal.”

It takes months of planning and an incredible volunteer effort to make sure the annual sale is a success. In addition to the hours of planning meetings, there were days spent seeding and tending plants in the greenhouse, potting up garden grown plants, writing labels, and transporting plants to the sale.

An army of  volunteers showed up to organize tables, staff them, and then tear them down at the end of each day.

The annual plant sale is a fundraiser and also an educational outreach to the community. At the CSU Extension information table, gardeners could enter to win a hanging basket and pick up handouts on best practices for growing their vegetable gardens. A poster offered ways to deal with Japanese Beetles.

The annual plant sale is a fundraiser and also an educational outreach to the community. At the CSU Extension information table, gardeners could enter to win a hanging basket and pick up handouts on best practices for growing their vegetable gardens. Posters provided suggestions for planting creative containers, plants for butterfly gardening, and ways to control Japanese beetles.

Denver Master Gardener apprentice Susan Hoopfer offers advice for planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to a gardener interested in attracting Monarch butterflies to her garden.

Denver Master Gardener apprentice Susan Hoopfer offers advice for planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to a gardener interested in attracting Monarch butterflies to her garden.

Beginning gardeners had a chance to ask all the questions they wanted for planting their first vegetable garden.

Beginning gardeners buy plants and ask questions to get ready for planting their first vegetable garden.

At the houseplant and patio table, Barb Pitner helps a new gardener find the perfect plant.

At the houseplant and patio table, Master Gardener Barb Pitner helps a new gardener find the perfect indoor plant.

Apprentice Chad Thompson enjoyed his first plant sale by helping answer questions about annuals.

Apprentice Chad Thompson spends his first plant sale at the annuals table, answering questions and offering planting advice.

Now it’s time for Denver Master Gardeners to take a deep breath and nurse sore muscles before starting to plan next year’s sale.

What are your 2016 Garden Resolutions?

picjumbo.com_IMG_7189 (1)Spring is such a tease. One day its warm temperature and brilliant blue sky lure you into the garden, the next day you’re frantically protecting  plants from late season frost with sheets and buckets!  For many passionate gardeners, this transitional season marks the real start of the year. So it follows that Spring also offers a do-over on January’s resolutions. Not the “I’ll never eat another french fry” type, but rather, goals that expand your gardening skills, accomplish something you’ve long wanted to tackle or spark your creativity. Here are a few ideas.

  • Embrace shade. Relocate those plants that used to be in sun, but are now shaded by  vigorously growing taller plants. Observe the kind of shade you have – moist or dry or semi-shady with early or late day sun. Re-plant with plants  that are suited to your area such as Annabelle hydrangea (like moisture, especially to establish), coral bells (many new beautiful varieties), sweet woodruff (vigorous and non-picky), Oregon grape holly, bleeding hearts or plumbago (needs some sun, great for late summer blue color). Many more shade gardening ideas here.
  • Grow something you’ve never grown before. Maybe it’s a new vegetable, like heirloom tomatoes or New Mexico chilies. How about some new-to-you herbs to take your cooking up a notch?  For an extensive variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers, we’re partial to our Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale on May 14th and 15, but wherever you get your plants or seeds, resolve to eat veggies you grow yourself.
  • Shake up your planters. Are you guilty of using the same plants in your container gardens? This year, try mixing perennials, grasses or herbs or using a new color palate. Select plants requiring the same light and moisture which will fit your container once mature. Also  consider waiting to plant containers till after the traditional Mother’s Day weekend when a wider variety of plants, which are often more mature, are in the marketplace. Or, if you have perennials to divide, consider using your new plants in containers. Some that work well include Denver Gold Columbine, Kent Beauty Oregano and May Night Meadow Sage.

What are your garden resolutions this year? We’d love to hear.

 

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Photo Credit: Picjumbo.com

Seed Research in Fort Collins, CO

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrives a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit, is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).   The  National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) is in Fort Collins, CO.  They collect, store, test and research  both plant and animal genetic resources.

The National Seed Storage Laboratory is part of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

The seed storage lab “opened in 1958 and was expanded in 1992. • Seeds are packaged in moisture proof foil bags for cold vault storage (-18°C; 0°F). • Cryogenically (liquid nitrogen, -196°C; -320°F) stored seeds are sealed in polyole n tubes.”

“The testing and storage protocols developed at NCGRP are shared with other researchers and genebanks and our expertise is used worldwide.”  “Seeds are evaluated for viability (tested for germination or dormancy) before and during storage”.

They recently sent seed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which “included a wild Russian strawberry that an expeditionary team braved bears and volcanoes to collect.”

Field collection of seeds can be a very adventurous scientific career.  Collecting seed from your own garden is usually less exciting — but equally important.  I hope you saved some from last year for use in your garden this year.  Please subscribe to this blog for continuing stories about seeds.

Understanding Steppe Regions: A Key to Successful Front Range Gardening

Can we all agree that Colorado’s climate can be confounding? With wide temperature swings, drought years (2002), wet years (2014), frequent high, drying winds and “seasonal confusion” which  sometimes brings frost in May and snow around Labor Day, this is not a region for the faint-hearted gardener. By understanding the ecological makeup of our area and its relationship to other areas in the world, we can enhance our appreciation of the native environment and use this knowledge to increase gardening success.

Colorado lies in one of four steppe regions which share several key characteristics. The term steppe (pronounced “step”) is of Russian origin roughly translated to “low, wide grasslands.”  The world’s steppes are located in central Asia, central and intermountain North America, Patagonia and South America.

world-map-natural-vegetation

Steppe Regions shown in pink, bottom left on key

 

Characteristics of  steppe regions

  • Transitional climates between desert, mediterranean and maritime regions, typically intercontinental.
  • Semiarid climates typically receiving 10-24 inches of precipitation annually.
  • Seasonal temperature extremes of 0 degrees in the winter, 100 degrees in the summer.
  • Intense winds and solar insolation from bordering mountains.
  • Soil which is mineral rich but low in organics.

It’s clear that steppe plants have sturdy constitutions, able to  endure climatic shifts from season to season and year to year. During drought cycles, some may produce fewer flowers, as a way of surviving and later regenerating when conditions improve. Others may adapt to excess moisture but truly thrive during dry periods. Seeds can also lay dormant in soil for many years before germinating, which explains the seemingly random reappearance of a plant after many absent seasons.

Common examples of steppe plants include bearded iris, asters, dianthus, purple coneflowers, blue gamma grass, ice plants, foxtail lilies and peonies, to name just a few. To learn more about gardening with steppe plants and their native regions, check out the following:

Colorado Gardening: A Challenge to Newcomers – solid, practical tips for gardening in our steppe region.

Plant Select – a collection of plants which adapt well to the western garden, many of which have steppe origins.

Delosperma_2_David_Winger

Delosperma Firespinner – Plant Select groundcover  which was collected by DBG horticulturists on the eastern cape of South Africa.  Photo courtesy of Plant Select.

Denver Botanic Gardens – an opportunity to experience steppe plants in person, explore the steppes through the interactive displays at the Science Pyramid or the website.

Steppes a newly published, thorough, extensive and visually stunning book written by leading  horticulturists at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

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Enjoy these resources during the gardening off season!

Posted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener