Category Archives: Perennial plants

Meet the Garden Squad—Gardening Help at the Denver Botanic Gardens

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

Meet the Gardening Help Volunteers

The CSU Extension Master Gardeners usually pick up the gardening helpline at the Denver Botanic Gardens or answer questions when people walk-in the door. Even though buildings at DBG are closed for now, gardeners can still get their gardening questions answered by Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens, only remotely.

The interest in gardening has soared ever since people have had to hunker down at home and find ways to keep busy. First-time gardeners will likely have questions on how to get started, what to plant now, what can grow in containers, and much more.

Even gardeners with some experience have questions, too. All gardening questions can be emailed to gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org and a CMG, working remotely, will reply by email.

Gardening Help volunteers include: Back row, left to right: Jan Fahs, Jan Davis, Ken Zwenger, Mark Zammuto, Gordon Carruth, Fran Hogan
Middle row: Lynne Conroy, Harriet Palmer Willis, Kathleen Schroeder, Leona Berger, Cindy Hanna, Mary Adams, Nancy Downs
Kneeling: Dee Becker, Charlotte Aycrigg, Jan Moran
Not pictured: Mary Carnegie, Linda Hanna, Maggie Haskett, April Montgomery, Ann Moore, Kathy Roth, Amy White

Gardening Help is a project of the CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardeners at the DBG. Volunteers provide reliable and research-based information to thousands of home gardeners each year.

Volunteers commit to at least one year in the role, with a minimum of six shifts spread across the year. The commitment starts early in the year with an orientation and training from Nancy Downs, project coordinator.

Many volunteers are GH regulars and they return to the project every year. In addition to being an active CMG, they have to satisfy DBG volunteer requirements, too. That means they’re a member of the DBG and enrolled there as a volunteer.

Some of the key characteristics of GH volunteers are good research, plant identification and diagnostic skills. Because the project is located at DBG, volunteers need to keep on top of what’s blooming at the DBG by season, so they can answer common questions that might pop up.

Photo provided by Nancy Downs

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad’s Kim Douglas

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

Meet Kim Douglas

Denver Master Gardener Kim Douglas enjoys a day in Crested Butte.

If anyone is cut out to be a Denver Master Gardener, it’s Kim Douglas. She’s as passionate about learning as she is about sharing what she’s learned.

This comes naturally to Kim, a retired English as a Second Language teacher and a current Library Program Associate on staff at Denver Public Library.

Her part-time work at the library includes programming that ranges from helping people learn how to use their smartphones and tablets to hands-on work with sewing and embroidery.

“I’m on my third chapter,” she said. “I’m excited about getting and giving training.”

One of the library programs she’s involved with is called Plaza. This special program is designed to meet the needs of immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations. Kim helps participants learn and practice English, prepares them to take their citizenship test, and lends a hand to children with arts and crafts projects.

“It’s very rewarding and a wonderful experience to help people in a way where they really need help,” she said.

Kim became a Master Gardener apprentice in 2018, something she always wanted to do and the first thing she did when she retired from teaching.

Fourth of July fireworks in Kim’s garden.

Part of the attraction was gaining a sense of accomplishment by taking her gardening hobby to the next level.

“I knew I’d get a lot of information about gardening and get a good grasp of the science behind gardening in Colorado, even though I had been doing it for years,” she explained.

One of her big “aha” moments was when she learned about soil compaction and how important it is to not work in wet soil, something she used to do on weekends when she was working fulltime.

Kim’s advice to Master Gardener apprentices is to take advantage of all the information and experience within the organization. “Be active, be involved, go to meetings and special events, get to know people.”

She’s taken her own advice to heart. At last season’s DMG plant sale she designed a better system to standardize the plant signage. From her experience the previous year, she realized signs could be more descriptive to help customers find exactly what they wanted.

‘Queen of the Night’ tulips add stunning color to Kim’s garden.

Kim said she also enjoys volunteering at the Master Gardener booth at the Farmers Market and helping with the Plant Select plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens annual plant sale.

“It’s fun, interesting and I develop a relationship with those plants,” she said. “I guess it’s just lust—plant lust—that makes me say, ‘I must have that plant’ like the ruby muhly ornamental grass I saw there.”

Her garden is filled to the brim with those love-at-first-sight plants. Part of the front yard is xeriscaped with native and low-water plants displayed in a big swath.

“In my garden I strive for an explosion of colors like gems and fireworks.” One of her favorite displays is a combination of plants that is in full flower around the Fourth of July.

It includes dark red daylilies planted with white Shasta daisies and highlighted with sea holly (Eryngium). She said the “funky, spiky” sea holly plants produce striking purple-blue flowers that look like small glowing thistles.

It’ easy to see why’Black Nigra’ hollyhocks attract attention.

When it comes to the gem colors, she selects plants that have such rich and vibrant flowers that passersby have to slow down or stop to appreciate them.

Some of the show-stopper plants include ‘Dark Magician Girl’ daylilies, ‘Ebony Dream’ iris, ‘Black Nigra’ hollyhocks, and ‘Queen of the Night’ tulips.

In the backyard vegetable garden she plants tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and tomatillos – “everything to make a nice salsa” – plus eggplants and potatoes.

Kim said she’ll be combining her passions for teaching and gardening this season. She’s on the schedule to present programs on propagating plants and raised bed gardening at several library branches this spring.

Images provides by Kim Douglas

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones.  Here are a few of my favs:

Gardenerd Tip of The Week

Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.

https://gardenerd.com/

My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices. 

On the Ledge

I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.

Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives. 

My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back,  fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them

Plant Daddy Podcast

We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.

Epic Gardening

The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge. 

Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants

Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!)  On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.

You Bet Your Garden

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.

A fav episode:

If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

tree walk.

Last Monday, my dear friend and Community Forester, Chuck Sugent, and I took a neighborhood stroll to identify trees because I find myself recommending (or “oh, that’s an oh-no-no’ tree!”) at the farmer’s market; but when it comes down to it, I can hardly identify any trees at all and rely on the Front Range Tree Recommendation List. or the Denver approved tree list. My learning style is not entirely visual but seeing and discussing something certainly increases the likelihood of future accurate recitation. After a minor location miscommunication (“Heading your way!” “Good thing you sent that. I thought I was heading your way. Oy!”), we set off through a tree-lined neighborhood between downtown and City Park.

Chuck is the kinda guy who’s gonna be the good guy: he’s got the information, and he wants to share it (perhaps with an old-timey gangster of New York wiseguy affectation). So he took no pause when I suggested the idea of a tree walk. We’ve talked about the CMG program and community forestry in terms of our own participation for community stewardship, and have oft discussed a crossover—and thus, we went! We set off to name the trees and, in addition, ended up pretend-pruning, dreaming, and trouble-shooting all the ailments. Everything I espouse, I learned from Chuck (it was a very informative afternoon). Here’s an absurdly simplistic overview of the main players:

Crabapples

Gorgeous and quite popular. Responsible for the pinkening of the city each spring. Many varieties of different sizes and fruits. Also, edible. I grew up with a crabapple tree at my grandmother’s house which was the source of many summers dares to the youngest of us to “just try it! You’ll love it!” followed by giggle fits at the sight of desperate acceptance puckering away at the tiny bite. So—raw is a no, but cooked with sugar and acid makes for delicious desserts; or my family fav: Crabapple whiskey. Fill a jar with crabapples, a cinnamon stick, ginger, cloves and top with whiskey. Tuck it away until Christmas, strain and serve.

Silver Maple

Thirsty mother lovers. They grow quickly and provide lots of shade. We have a ton of them in our metro canopy, but they are currently on a moratorium from planting in city right-of-way areas.

Honeylocust/Black Locust

Black Locust has a darker trunk than the Honeylocust. Tiny leaves, gorgeous lemon color through the fall. However, tiny leaves make a mega mess–however, however, the leaves decompose quickly and return the nutrients to the soil. Also, a popular choice in this area, and continues to be on recommended tree lists for a new planting (NOTE: many varieties are on the recommended list, but the Sunburst Honeylocust is also on the moratorium list for street planting in Denver)

Sugar Maple

Classic Canadian flag. Gorgeous flaming fall coloring. The moisture level is moderate for this group, and they do not tolerate salty soil very well but are fairly drought tolerant. 

Hackberry

This one makes Chuck’s shortlist of recommended trees for the metro area. The Hackberry has no known local pest, is native to Colorado, and drought tolerant. The Hackberry can get up to 50 feet tall, so consider this one for a street-side as a shade option. Lovely red berries darken to maroon in the Fall and provide home and a food source to the critters. Chuck calls this one a Hammer Tree; an all-around good selection.

Linden

When we happened upon our first Linden of the walk, Chuck took a step aside and said, “There are two kinds of Linden trees, and here’s how I remember them: LLL.” At this point, he raises his voice to denote the first type “LARGE LEAF LINDEN” followed by a substantially lower volume for the “littleleaf Linden.” He proceeded to crack himself up, and we carried on. There are many cultivars of Linden recommended in this area. Lindens are an attractive pyramidal shape, sensitive to salty soils, and their flowers attract bees and birds. Beware of the area you are considering, Lindens do not love high heat areas and should be planted away from any hardscaping. 

Oak

Ever sturdy and reliable. The oak leaves have a bit of a leathery texture to reduce evapotranspiration, making them more drought-tolerant, and an excellent tree choice for this area. Their leaves differ in pattern depending on the cultivar but typically have the characteristic lobes and sinuses. The Bur Oak (recommended for the Metro area), is roughly obovate with many lobes and is pale and fuzzy underneath.

Ash

If you’re reading this… need I say more? See Plum for contingency planning. We have a million (estimated 1.45 million in the Denver Metro area) Ash trees. Aside from the EAB creeping into town, the Ash tree has a tendency to appear real leggy under the canopy when not properly pruned. We saw many examples of Ash trees with a lot of deadwood inside the canopy; this can be problematic when the wind picks up. They served a great function for our canopy by growing quickly and providing robust shade; but unfortunately, we’ve got to continue considering the impending Armageddon. What build projects shall we consider for a future influx of Ashwood? Denver also has a moratorium on planting Ash trees in public right-of-ways. 

Plum

The purple leaf plum is my fan fav, and will likely be planted in my own front yard next Spring since my future self called and said: “This giant elm thing in your front yard was planted improperly, is massive, and when it goes, your front yard is gonna be U.G.L.Y.” Contingency planning in full swing. I encourage y’all to take a walkabout your own homes and chat with future self, especially regarding anything that is shade bearing. Something I picked up from my buddy whilst traipsing on the tree walk: purple leaf plums require regular pruning for flowering (Is anyone else as smitten by the plurality of prunes in this context?)  Remove the deadwood and prune 1/3 the length of new growth. We found a perfect example and made pernicious prunes with finger scissors.

Colorado Blue Spruce

Beautiful. Also better at a higher elevation. We did see a few stunners, though, and learned a neat trick for tree ID: the leaf of a fir tree will be flat and flexible. Spruce, on the other hand, will be square and sharp (see what he did there?). Grab a leaf, roll it between your fingers, and name it quickly with this handy guide.

Photo by Dids from Pexels

Aspen

May make it to a mature size but inevitably will crash and burn. I’ve been touting this gospel for a while now, and take every opportunity to point out a struggler to my wife. which has become problematic, because now she counters by showing me all the healthy Aspen in the Metro area. The truth of the matter is an aspen tree (or maybe even a small clump of them) has the ability to thrive with the proper tender loving care… for a while. Above and beyond the statistically insignificant number of Aspen in the front range who appear to be doing well, they aren’t built for this elevation, and forcing them to do so causes undue stress, and makes them more vulnerable, hastening their predisposition to die anyway. Don’t do it. Go to the mountains more often and enjoy them in their own territory.


Beyond my self-imposed (and singularly played) trivia that entailed me interrupting, pointing, and shouting guesses; we also discussed the conversational piece of tree maintenance. Chuck indicated he has many chats with his neighbors about their trees and takes these moments to build his community and integrate his passion with friendly educational moments. We discussed the evidentiary tribulations of a tree in demise, that twists it’s trunk and bears the stripes of turmoil. We debated the suckers: their yappy attempts to address internal stress, and what to do with them (should we leave them and let it try to capture the energy it is craving? OR whack them back always? And when?) We talked about injury to a tree, and how the tree may cover and scab the wound, but the wound remains and the tree is still vulnerable. Chuck showed me a hackberry tree covered in galls. We both got lost in our attempts to recall the origins but settled on something about defense mechanisms and how they rarely hurt the tree.

As we were nearing our last corner on the way home, Chuck remembered a tree we hadn’t encountered that he loves. I’ve developed a habit this summer that whenever I see this tree, I shout it’s name, probably because it’s so fun to say, but shouting also seems appropriate just to communicate the whimsy of the CATALPA! Just try and say it without a bit of a shout. The Catalpa is also a recommended and robust tree for our area. It’s got those built-in wands and/or swords for play, and bright green wide leaves provide a huge amount of shade. . They are another tough tree, worthy of your scape.

Other items on Chuck’s “Oh no-no” list? Planting a tree too deep? Oh, no-no. Scoffing at the bare root and opting for a burlapped and caged tree? Oh, no-no. Planting anything from the Birch fam in Denver? Oh no-no.  Hiring an arborist annually to tame your trees? Oh, no-no. With a little reading, Youtube-ing, or friendly forester finding, folks can save bunches of bucks by learning how to make the minor pruning adjustments to your tree every year to avoid the future big bills from an arborist. Trees can easily be grown and cared for by their owners working from reliable and factual info. Of course, always consult a pro when your tree questions start toeing the line safe vs. unsafe. 

https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/#trees

As DMG’s we get loads of questions about trees at the farmer’s markets. We try our best to offer small sagelings of fact-checked info, but what I’ve found to be more helpful is keeping the company of a forester. Trees are just as essential to the garden crew as our lawns, beds, and weeds. I encourage everyone to branch out (a thousand apologies for that one) and get connected–or get involved and become a Community Forester, yourself!


PS. Did you know if you live in Denver you can get nearly *free* trees?

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

The Leafcutter Bee in Action

Rose leaves with leafcutter bee damage

Leafcutter bee damage to leaves is cosmetic and won’t harm the plant.

Have you noticed any circles missing from the edges of your rose leaves? Do some leaves look like little violins?

If you answer yes to those questions, congratulations! Leafcutter bees have taken a fancy to your garden.

Leafcutter bees are native bees and important pollinators for our native plants. These bees are a bit larger than a honeybee and are dark gray with hairy white bands.

Female leafcutter bees cut circular snippets from rose leaves to create wrappers to line brood cells for their young. Think of these rose snippets as blankets for baby bees.

It can take as little as 10 seconds for a leafcutter bee to use her mandibles (jaws) to cut a snippet and fly off to her nesting site. Check for yourself on my short film called The Leafcutter Bee I posted to YouTube.

After seeing the speed at which she can land, snip and fly away it’s no wonder leafcutter bees are included under the family Megachilidae which means “big-lipped.”

pink roses

The Canadian Explorer ‘John Cabot’ climbing rose is a favorite of leafcutter bees.

It’s not easy to catch these bees in action  because they’re so speedy. However, earlier this season I staked out a spot near their favorite climbing rose and patiently waited with camera in hand. Finally one bee flew in and tried landing on a leaf or two before finding the perfect one.

After cutting the leaf, she flew off to her nesting site. The site could be in holes found in a piece of old wood, stems of plants with pithy centers or anything with a hollow center. One year I found leaf snippets stuffed in a piece of unused garden hose.

These pieces of leaves are the construction materials for brood cells that are packed with pollen to feed the young. In CSU Extension Fact Sheet 5.576 on Leafcutter Bees, Dr. Whitney Cranshaw explains that leafcutter bees are solitary bees and don’t produce colonies like honeybees.

Instead, leafcutter bees construct “nest tunnels that may contain a dozen or more cells forming a tube 4 to 8 inches long. The young bees develop and will remain in the cells, emerging next season.”

Every summer I watch for evidence that leafcutter bees have been busy in my garden. As soon as I see rose leaves that start to look like Swiss cheese, I know leafcutter bees are happily at work.

Text and images by Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.

Image by McKenna Hynes

I recently returned from a little summer vaca in the South. New Orleans in July (a questionably timed vacation, albeit) is showy and fragrant; the ferns suckle lovingly to any crack and crevice providing green brush-strokes and blots everywhere, palms fill beds and pots alike, all of my houseplants are thriving in the wide open, the sun is scorching, and as our pilot reminded us as we prepared to de-plane, its humid enough to confuse a frog. I was constantly amazed at how effortlessly everything seemed to grow.

While in New Orleans, I was frequently amused by how the rest of the country (mis)understands Colorado living conditions. For the most part, folks think we spend most of the year dreaming of gardens as we stare out our frosty windows waiting for the snow to melt, visiting floral places abroad, and wearing multiple layers of socks at all times. Soooo… basically gardening at 10,000+ feet? While these perceptions are laughable, I started thinking that even though we don’t live in perpetual wintry wonder, the challenges we face to make anything grow aren’t necessarily less surmountable than our fam in the lofty-actual-mountains.

We were welcomed back to Denver with a remarkable storm featuring lightning, torrential rains, booming thunder… and hail. Of course, the very next day was smokin’ hot with nary a whisper of the siege.  Maintaining a vibrant garden in the Front Range is an extreme sport with our baffling daily fluctuations; the entire notion of keeping anything alive here seems impossible at times, but we’ve gotten pretty good at strategizing. Here are a few resources I’ve tracked down this year to help us all maintain beauty, build our skills, and be stewards to our land and community.

Image by McKenna Hynes

Resource Central is a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that helps communities conserve resources and build sustainability efforts simply and cost-effectively. Their water-saving initiatives include native plant sales with simple designs for home gardens and often include low water perennials. They also have a tool library in Boulder where you can borrow for a couple of bucks per day so you don’t just buy the tamper, hedge trimmer, turf roller, or post hole diggers you need so infrequently. 

The cities of Boulder, Lafayette, and Louisville partnered with Resource Central to give customers a Garden In A Box for turf-removal. Their Grass to Garden initiative is available to all communities with tips and resources to convert high water-consuming turf to low water garden areas. For the North Metro area, they have resources for assistance removing and disposing of turf, landscape architect recommendations, and more.


Denver Water coined one of our most successful water-wise strategies with xeriscaping. And to keep sharing the good water word, Denver Water also partnered with local landscape architects to provide us mere civilians with some FREE! FREE! FREE! creativity. For those of us who are new (it’s me) who struggle with vision (all me), and are easily overwhelmed by the thought of starting fresh with a blank canvas (still, totally, all me), they’ve curated a bunch of plans for a variety of situations. They have plans for sloped xeriscaping, budget-friendly xeriscaping, narrow bed xeriscaping, year-round beauty designs, and many more. July is also Smart Irrigation Month! Head to Denver Water for tips on maintaining irrigation systems, watering rules, and efficiency strategies.

And for the grand finale top-notch gardening game-changer, check out Plant Select for all your future dreaming. Plant Select is a nonprofit partnership between Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists to identify smart plant choices for the Rocky Mountian Region. Their mobile-friendly site has a tool to help you find plants that will suit the conditions you’re facing. I tend to challenge the tool to see how obscure or specific I can get, and it always provides me with something unique and gorgeous. Plant Select: taking “right plant right place” to an accessible and fun platform. Say So Long! to the multiple Google tabs researching the same plant with contradicting information on each site; Goodbye! Big Box Store swindlers promising “You REALLY can’t kill this one!” and go get yourself some good, wholesome, ACCURATE information quickly and easily from Plant Select. They also feature some garden designs and ideas.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Reimagining a Denver Hell Strip

 

A typical hell strip in “Any Town USA”

The hell strip (more politely called a tree lawn) is that pesky rectangular area between the street and the sidewalk. It’s a challenging spot – surrounded by concrete surfaces which make it super hot in the summer and subject to harsh elements in the winter.  Apprentice Denver County Master Gardeners (CMG’s) Elizabeth and Daniel Neufeld challenged themselves to redesign their hell strip by working with, not against the conditions at hand. Their new strip garden incorporates xeric native plants in a creative design which complements their early 1900’s Mayfair bungalow. Here’s a step-by-step description of the project in Elizabeth’s own words.

Site Description and Preparation
The 8.5’ by 16’ site had been a weedy portion of our hell strip. This section of our lawn was never irrigated and though we used a manual sprinkler on it for years, it never really thrived. Weeds from an adjacent bed also crept in and began to take over our lawn.

In June 2017 – after talking to CMG’s at East High’s Farmers Market – we put down 5 mil black plastic over the entire area to solarize the soil and kill the weeds. In March of this year, we removed the plastic and started to work on the soil.

The top several inches of soil was relatively good. Below that, though, was hard packed clay. Based upon our classwork to become CMG’s, and discussions with other CMG’s, we knew that we wanted to create a Native, drought resistant, garden. In order to have the appropriate depth of 2”-3” of pea gravel on top, we needed to dig out the clay. MUCH harder than we anticipated.

First I took every trash can we owned (about 5), and another 3 from a neighbor, and filled them up with just the first 4-5 inches of the topsoil. Then what to do with the clay below?  You can’t put it into the regular trash bins, nor into the city’s green compost bins as  they do not accept soil, primarily because of its weight. I secretly thought I could add just small amounts of dirt weekly and they wouldn’t know the difference. Yet this wasn’t right, and would take forever. We went online and called several places about renting a dumpster, yet the smallest dumpster we could find was going to cost $500, and we’d need to get a permit from the city to place it on the street. We needed another plan.

Perhaps you’ve seen smaller, heavy plastic canvas bags in people’s front yards as they do small remodeling jobs on their homes. These “bagsters” can be bought at a big-box store, and they hold up to 3300 pounds. Once filled, Waste Management will come and collect them for a fee. So we purchased one of these, set it up on our sidewalk next to the hell strip, and completely filled it with about 4” of the clay subsoil. It was truly a Herculean task, and it weighed over a ton, literally.

After the Waste Management dump truck removed the bagster and all its contents, we then put back all of the topsoil we had previously removed. Another day of heavy lifting.

Plant Selection
What to choose, what to choose?! Thank goodness for the CSU Extension fact sheets on Xeriscaping, Low Water gardening, and Native Plants. We also had Pretty Tough Plants, a book by the experts at Plant Select. We  spent a fair amount of time at the Jefferson County Extension office xeric garden, and the Denver Botanic Gardens, and took pictures of plants we liked. We spent a huge amount of time debating which and how many plants to include. The mix and quantities of plants we decided on follow. Click images for plant names.

  • Berlandia lyrate,“Chocolate Flower” (4)
  • Agastache, “Sonoran” (2) and “Coronado” hyssop (1)
  • Delosperma, “Firespinner” and “Red Mountain Flame” iceplants (4)
  • Eriogonum umbellatum, “Kannah Creek” buckwheat (2)
  • Schizachyrium scoparian, “Little Bluestem” (3)
  • Tanacetum densum, “Partridge Feather”  (3)
  • Prunus bessyi, “Pawnee Buttes” Sand Cherry (3)
  • Amorpha fructosa, False Indigo Lead Plant (1)  not shown
  • Miscanthus sinesis  (1) not shown

Design

design
In talking with a fellow CMG apprentice, Brenda Reum – who has her own landscape firm – we decided to put a false arroyo diagonally through the rectangular site. We also wanted a few larger accent rocks, and some medium size rock around the edges. We went to a local sand and gravel company and selected some larger rocks, and got several 5-gallon buckets of mid-size rock. During this time period (late April/early May), we also went camping in Western Colorado for a week. While driving on a dirt road along the Delores River, we came upon a pile of rocks – and collected a few dozen we liked and brought them home!

After creating an outline of the arrangement of the arroyo and the planting on paper, we commenced planting. Like many a good idea, the execution was more time-consuming than anticipated.

Once the planting was complete, we used an online calculator to estimate the amount of pea gravel needed. To have 3” of pea gravel on the site as large as ours, we would need 1 ton of rock. We put a large tarp on the street adjacent to the garden and the delivery truck dumped it on top. We spent hours shoveling the gravel over the dirt, then carefully placed our ‘trophy’ rocks through the arroyo and around the edges. Some clusters of rock are near some of the plants, and we placed a piece of weathered cedar (also found during the camping trip) and a piece of ‘rust art’ in the bed.

Now
20180622_173305The bed has been in for about 6 weeks, and it’s looking great and seems to be happy. We initially watered the plants every 2-3 days for the first 3 weeks, and have now cut back to once weekly. The ice plants and partridge feather are already spreading out, the chocolate flower and hyssop have been blooming. The little bluestem has yet to fully take off, but those plants were the smallest of all when we purchased them. We left plenty of space for the eventual growth and spreading of these plants, and look forward to their ultimate size and height.

Time and Cost of Materials
It is hard to calculate the total amount of time we spent — yet it was easily 3 times more than we thought it was going to be. It was approximately 100 – 150 hours of our own labor.

We found the plants at several independent garden centers as the big box centers did not have any of these. And because of this, the cost was more than we had anticipated, too. We spent approximately $400-$450 on 23 plants.

We spent $30 on purchasing the ‘bagster’, and $120 to have it carted away. We spent $85 on the pea gravel (including delivery), and another $40 on the larger rocks we purchased. All totaled, we spent $675-$725 on the new Native garden.  We are so pleased with the results and hope to expand our collection of native plants in other parts of our garden.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your experience! If you have a question or comment for Elizabeth, she’ll respond in the comment section.

Photo Credits: Plants: Plant Select.org,  Street Image: Bing Free Images, Garden diagram and completed garden: Elizabeth Neufeld

Posted by Elizabeth Neufeld and Linda McDonnell

 

 

Japanese Beetles Make Their 2018 Debut

 

jb_1

The Japanese Beetle – pretty to look at but oh so destructive!

June is a glorious month in the garden, but it also the cue for adult Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) to emerge from the soil. They’ll hit their peak from late June through at least August. I haven’t spotted the metallic green and copper devils in my garden yet, but if the past is any indication, they’ll visit soon.

Colorado State University offers this comprehensive fact sheet with everything we need to know to defend our plants. It’s an especially valuable reference when considering products which may or may not be beneficial in reducing the pests while doing minimal damage to the ecosystem. If there were best seller lists for gardener information, this would be on the top!

Here are important takeaways from the fact sheet:

05601-fig5Japanese beetles feast on foliage, buds and flowers of their favorite plants. Particularly susceptible are roses, Virginia creeper, Linden trees, Rose of Sharon, Japanese maples, Silver lace vine and Gaura are among their favorite targets. Tell-tale signs of Japanese beetle damage are a skeletonized pattern of mutilation on tender, new foliage and deformed flowers or buds. While unsightly, the damage will not kill the plant.

05601-fig8Traps are not beneficial. That yellow trap you’re tempted to hang in your yard is an open invitation for more Japanese beetles to visit. The trap won’t be able to catch them all and the effect is more, not less damage. Perhaps if your neighbor hangs one…?

Picking does help. Japanese beetles are easy to spot in the cooler parts of the day and can be coaxed into a jar of soapy water with a twig or a shake. Catching is preferable to squishing, as a squashed beetle releases a compound which lures more of their kind. While it may not be fun, catching is oddly satisfying!

Do insecticides work? As always, caution must be used to avoid damage to pollinators, especially when plants are in flower. Products containing pyrethrins, azadirachtin and acetamiprid – used in the early morning or at dusk – when bees and other pollinators are less active – are the safest. See the fact sheet for more details and follow all product recommendations carefully.

Consider removing temptation. Can you replace your Virginia creeper with something less enticing? Do you have roses that have struggled for years? Perhaps it’s time to replace with something less alluring. Conversely, when adding to your landscape avoid plants which are irresistible to this insect.

Late season turf damage. Each female Japanese beetle lays 40-60 eggs in her 4-8 week life span. Eggs are laid deep in moist turf soil. Since eggs and subsequent larvae thrive on moisture, keeping soil on the dry side will inhibit grub development and decrease turf damage. Grubs also munch on turf roots, so mowing at a higher height, which promotes vigorous roots, can help reduce turf damage.  More control ideas can be found in this fact sheet.

Have you spotted Japanese beetles in your garden yet?

 

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

Gallery

2018 Plant Sale Shined Despite Bad Weather

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Stormy weather failed to dampen the spirits of gardeners at the 13th annual Denver Master Gardener plant sale.  In spite of cloudy skies and cool temperatures, the cash registers recorded around 4000 transactions! “We definitely had our best sale ever,” … Continue reading

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.)