Category Archives: Perennial plants

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Pass-Along Plants

Many plants in my garden came from the gardens of friends.  I call these pass-along plants.
The Ginnala maple in my back yard is turning red and today the leaves are blowing off. This tree came from Virginia’s yard as a “stick” not quite 1 foot tall.  I managed to over-winter it for a few years on my back porch, moving it to a larger pot as needed.  Now it provides a hiding place and a launching pad for the little birds that eat at my bird feeder.  Ginnala Maple
Also in my back yard is the rhubarb plant that Patti brought back from her parents’ farm in Iowa.  It has done well here, in Denver.
The walk to my front door is lined with Maximilian sunflowers. These tall, happy perennials came from Jane’s yard. They tend to spread on their own, which makes them a good pass-along plant.
Perennials that spread and self seeding annuals are wonderful gifts if the giver warns the next gardener about the plant’s habits.

The story of the pass-along plant can live on after both gardener and garden are gone.  Take a minute to remember or to plan the pass-along plants in your garden.

A Summer Garden Full of Drama

This year’s gardening season had enough drama to sell out a theatre. There were the performances that played out on the big screen, like waiting to see which trees and shrubs would bounce back from November’s flash-freeze. And there were the dailies, wondering if the wild weather would end the season before it even began. Instead of Splendor in the Grass, my garden was more like something from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Ambush bugThis was the first summer I’d ever seen oddly shaped insects called ambush bugs on the brown-eyed Susan flowers. I didn’t know what they were when I first spotted them and had to do some research. These members of the assassin bug family have perfect yellow and brown camouflage that allows them to hide on plants and flowers. When an unsuspecting insect lands, they attack quickly and use their sharp pincers to hold the unfortunate while sucking the life right out of it. Ambush bugs (subfamily Phymatinae) land in the good bug category when striking and killing flies; the bad bug category when they happen upon a honey bee.

Funnel Web spiderI’ve seen many orb weaver spiders in my garden through the years, but this summer was the first time I had the chance to watch a funnel web weaver at work. I’m glad these spiders (Agelendiae) are some of the good guys. They capture their prey with a sheet-like web that features a tunnel retreat where they lie in wait for their prey. When a flying insect hits one of the barrier strands suspended above the tunnel, it falls into the sheet below. That’s when the spider dashes from inside the tunnel to drag its dinner inside.

Grasshopper hidingOne of the bad critters in my garden this year had a voracious appetite. Grasshoppers were practically everywhere in my garden, some hiding in plain sight. They gnawed on the long sedge leaves, feasted on flowers and tore through the beautiful foliage on my eggplants. Fortunately, they left the tomatoes and squash alone. Because I didn’t want to use insecticides or traps in my garden, I suffered through the worst of the invasion before their numbers started to dwindle.

Hollyhock weevilAnother bad bug appeared in my garden in the form of hollyhock weevils (Apion longirostre). These tiny insects enjoyed crawling up the tall hollyhock stalks and eating the leaves, seeds and buds of one of my favorite perennial flowers. These evil weevils use their long beaks for chewing into the flower buds so they can lay their eggs. Then the grubs feed on the seeds which can spell the end to hollyhocks in the future. I spent many enjoyable summer mornings picking these destructive pests off the plants and crushing them with my fingers. Damaged pods have to go, too.

squirrel damageThe ugly damage left behind by furry four-legged pests doesn’t bother me as much as having insects eat the garden. Squirrels are so entertaining that I don’t mind sharing a few cherry tomatoes or baby butternut squashes with them. I think it’s a fair trade for a front-seat at one of the best garden shows around.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

Five Favorite Bulletproof Plants for Denver Gardening

Just about every gardener I know lost a favorite plant or two over the winter. Most of my hardy roses died to the ground, but eventually returned.  Sadly, the tall and lovely redleaf rose (Rosa rubifolia) is gone for good. Whether a rose, shrub or fruit tree, losing a prized plant is like losing an old garden pal.

The only way to get over the loss is to replant with something that will survive the challenges of living in our climate. Here are five bulletproof plants that seem to thrive in spite of the vagaries of weather:

Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle smallKintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulata ‘Kintzley’s Ghost’)

If you’re looking for a dependable woody plant, Kintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle is it. I planted this Plant Select recommendation years ago and it continues to surprise me every year. The vine does well with only the precipitation it receives. When there’s wet weather through the winter and spring, it grows a bit taller with more foliage. During drier years it still shows up and looks good. In addition to its low-water, low-maintenance needs, I appreciate the eucalyptus-like foliage on vines that crawl up and over the picket fence.

Gold flame spirea smallGoldflame spirea (Spirea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’)

In 2001 I planted three of these tidy shrubs and they’re still going strong. Even after the shock of the sudden freeze last November, all three returned with only a few dead branches. A quick trim was all they needed. This spirea is a compact deciduous shrub that grows to about 3 feet tall and just as wide. Drought-tolerant once established, it can brighten any spot with crimson-red leaves in spring that turn to vibrant green by summer. Reddish-bronze fall color is an added bonus. Small pink flowers can bloom twice over the season if dead-headed.

Silver Fountain butterfly bush smallSilver Fountain butterfly bush (Buddleia alternifolia)

This Plant Select winner is a beautiful shrub with graceful arching branches. In spring there are tons of light-purple flower clusters that attract butterflies like crazy. If you plant one, be sure to give it plenty of room because it can grow to more than 10 feet tall and wide. I’ve found the only downside is the long branches are surprisingly brittle during winter and some may break under heavy loads of snow — nature’s way of pruning so you don’t have to. This butterfly bush prefers well-drained soil and is adaptable to low-water conditions.

yarrow smallMoonshine yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’)

Some gardeners think yarrow is the least sophisticated of the xeric plants, but I appreciate it because it loves my landscape. Its tall, shrub-like habit makes a nice backdrop in a xeriscape garden and the silvery-gray foliage and bright yellow flowers really shine in summer. I started with two plants but yarrow needs to be divided every few years, so I’ve transplanted more around the yard. I leave some flowers on the plant through winter, but I also clip some to use in dry table arrangements and crafts projects.

Brown-eyed Susans smallBrown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)

Brown-eyed Susan is smaller than its black-eyed cousin, and that’s fine with me. This biennial coneflower behaves more like a perennial because of its generous seed-sowing nature. My large collection started as two small starts and have spread throughout the garden on their own. The sunny yellow, daisy-like flowers have beautiful brown “eyes” and stand tall from mid-summer through fall. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the long-lasting blooms, but they make nice cutting flowers, too.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

Garden Getaway – CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden

CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden

CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden

Want a break from  weeding and deadheading? Need to recharge your plant-loving soul? A trip to the Colorado State University Annual Flower Trial Garden on the grounds of CSU makes a fun mini-getaway and maybe just what you crave during these dog days of summer.

The CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden is one of many official All American Selections public gardens across the country where you can see new varieties (introduced in the last three years) of annuals and perennials which are being grown, studied and rated for exceptional performance. Colorado gardeners know this means the ability to withstand intense sun, cooler evenings, relatively low moisture (most years) and everyone’s arch-nemesis, hail!

A stroll through the gardens is a treat, especially now when plants are at their peak. In fact, the plants are rated by the official judging team of CSU horticulture students and faculty, green industry representatives and advanced Master Gardeners each year in early August. Over 1100 varieties of annuals, grouped by genus and arranged by  color, provide a symphony for the eyes. The perennial gardens are equally beautiful, with the added benefit of being trialed for two winters before being judged. A Pansy/Cool-season Crop Overwintering Trial garden has also been added to test the over-wintering abilities of the plants.

So, grab your camera, water bottle and sun screen and head to Fort Collins. Have a great time exploring  the gardens and don’t forget to record your favorites and compare them to the judges’ picks at the end of the season. You are likely to return home inspired, ready to tackle your own garden and possibly with a touch of flower envy.

For more information about the gardens, past winners and photos galore, check out www.flowertrials.colostate.edu.

By Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

Early May in the Garden

poppy pair

Early May brings us the beauty of iris, the  continuation of tulips and the grace of the shade loving Bleeding Heart. As of May 5th,  we are past our 10 year average final frost date. Even so, many gardeners watch evening lows for the next week or so before putting out tender plants such as basil, tomatoes and many annuals. If worried about a plant in your yard, a good tip is to cover it with a bucket or sheet. A light dusting of snow generally doesn’t cause harm; in fact, it serves as an insulator.

Now is a good time to evaluate your perennial beds.frontgarden

  • Will there be early, mid and late season color?
  • Would some plants do better in another area?
  • Is there an interesting variety of spikey, round and open faced flowers to create visual interest?
  • Do you have a mixture of foliage, color and shape?
  • Are there areas that are too sparse or too crowed?

All of these elements contribute to an interesting, informal, season-long garden. “Perennials sleep in the first year, creep in the second year and leap in the third”, is a common garden adage to keep in mind when designing a garden bed.

The Plant Select brand of plants, which are tested for success in our climate by Colorado State University, the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Colorado landscape industry. Given the wide array of  these plants, you are likely to find many to fill your needs. Check www.plantselect.org for information on plants and creative garden design layouts.

We hope you’ll join us for our  Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale  for an  amazing array of veggies, herbs, annuals and perennials (including some Plant Select varieties). Stop by on Saturday, May 16th from 8-3 or Sunday, May 17th from 10-3 at the Denver Extension office, 888 E. Iliff Avenue. Here’s a small sample of the gems our Master Gardeners are growing:

  •  Lemon Cucumbers – yellow, round and sweeter than classic types. A new one to try.
  • Pumpkin on a Stick or Tree Pumpkin – a bright and curious ornamental that is long lasting in a vase. Fun for kids and adults alike.
  • Tomatillos – easy to grow plant produces lots of fruit for your authentic salsa.
  • Silver Fur Tree Tomatoes – Heirloom variety which produces heavy crops of red fruits. Unique ferny foliage which performs well in a pot.

Enjoy early May in the Garden!

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