Inspired by Douglas Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, this spring I decided to create a native pollinator garden in my 1960s suburban Denver yard. It was my first adventure in using all native plants.
Most yards in my neighborhood are primarily turf and evergreens with some popular but non-native blooming shrubs or perennials. As Dr. Tallamy explains, these plants are mostly unpalatable for our native pollinator friends at their various life stages.
As the new neighbor on my block, I wanted to showcase a native pollinator habitat that was beautiful and naturalistic without looking “wild” – a common complaint about native plant gardens. The Habitat Network and National Wildlife Federation websites gave me tips on how habitat gardens can fit into a typical suburban landscape.
For the garden site, I chose the side yard between the house and street — a long, narrow space that resembled a landing strip. It had thirsty turf, an overgrown arborvitae, and a narrow foundation bed with a few struggling shrubs and a dwarf blue spruce. It also had full sun – perfect for many Colorado native plants.
Besides southern exposure, my site analysis showed heavy clay soil, average drainage with no slope from the house to 15’ out, and westerly winds. In addition, it was easy to see that the side yard served no purpose for my family – making it a good site.
From there, I looked at specific examples of garden and plant designs on the websites of Plant Select, Colorado Native Plant Society (CoNPS), and Resource Central. These gave me ideas for shape, dimensions, and plant placement.
I was finally ready to design the garden. CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.228 on xeriscaping and Garden Notes #411 and #413 on water wise landscaping were useful resources even for my smaller project. Native plants and xeriscaping work together well, giving me both the habitat and water-savings I wanted.
Keeping in mind my budget and the available labor (my husband and me), I decided to simply enlarge the existing foundation bed into a half-oval shape twice its original size and fill it with blooming perennials.
By enlarging the existing bed on level ground, I eliminated the need for terracing which would have added expense. I did decide to use sandstone pavers as stepping stones through the new garden giving it some hardscape interest.
Now that planning and design were finished, I was ready to move on to the next phase in my suburban to native adventure.
Join me in July when I share the fun and sometimes challenging experience of researching, selecting, and installing native plants in my pollinator garden.
By Ann Winslow, Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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?
Last week I attended a bee info session with Thaddeus Gourd, Director of Extension for Adams County to introduce new-bees to Dat Buzz Lyfe (I can’t believe this hashtag hasn’t been acculturated into the lexicon). Thad walked us through the bees we may encounter locally, how they got here, some typical and atypical behaviors, as well as a truly charming attempt at convincing me to bring bees to my own yard, regardless of my wife’s severe allergy, as he shows us his son bare-handing his GoPro at the bottom of a brand new bee abode. The bee community, it turns out, is pretty righteous. They are passionate about the bees livelihoods and are nearly involuntarily bursting with facts and love and recruitment strategies. As far as I can tell (and I’m pretty far), not only are bee keep-have-and-lovers informed of the goings-on of the world around them, they are also deeply involved in their communities with the idealism that we still stand a chance.
One of my favorite parts of preparing for this post was reveling in how smitten everyone who writes, studies, or just enjoys, beescannothelpthemselves to the low hanging fruit of the ever-accessible bee puns. I won’t go so far as to say it’s obligatory to at least dabble in the punny when writing about bees, but it’s pretty darn close (how’d I do?).
To my surprise, North America has no native honey bees that produce large amounts of honey, and the bees we have working for us now were imported (intentionally and accidentally) by European colonizers. The European honey bees are typically docile and too busy to be bothered by folks approaching or tending to the hive-unless of course, the alarm is sounded and whatever intentions the intruder has are being interpreted as a threat, which apparently smells a bit like banana. File this under Lessons I hope never to encounter, and yet, how interesting!
If you do happen to get stung, Thad informed us that the venom sack dislodges from the honey bee (essentially causing it to bleed to death, major bummer) and will continue pumping venom for another minute or so after the initial sting. To stop this, simply scrape the stinger from the entry point with a credit card or fingernail. DO NOT try and pluck it with your fingers or tweezers–this just pumps all the venom directly into the wound all at once. Expect the site to be a bit itchy after the initial shock and scramble settles, and write it off as an ouch! and a thank you for your service.
Of course, a small sting is literally nothing compared to the plight the bees face. Documentaries and campaignsarebeleaguering (the opportunities for bee-utifying this entire post are just too much) the fate of our planet, and news reports of the extents of human willpower and reliance on the honey makers to keep the decline in bee population discussions plentiful. The main threats include loss of habitat, diseases and mites, pesticides, and climate change.
As lovers of the living, albeit animal or vegetable, pesticide-speak can draw that line as firmly in the sand like many of our other hot button political issues. Be ye not afraid, comrades. We don’t have to go to the polls with this one, but we do have to follow the law (cue that GBU soundtrack). Treating plants–weeds included–with pesticides (neonicotinoids) while the plant is flowering transfers the chemicals into the nectar, and the feasting bees bring the toxins back to the hive. Truly, this seemingly innocuous move one time could kill an entire hive. Always read the labels, folks. Take your time and educate yourself on all the possible management strategies before grabbing the glyphosate.
We are inundated with problems and presented with conveniently packaged solutions. We have come to a place that is moving so quickly that it’s too easy to keep in motion and miss the very real consequences each step incurs along the way. Unfortunately for bees, they are getting caught in our wake of rapidity. How can you take one extra breath, second, or step to consider your impact?
For those with a burgeoning interest in the apiary, one great way to check yourself is to plug into a community of other beekeepers/havers/enthusiasts. From what Thad was telling us, many organizations and groups are looking to help you get started, problem solve, or just ponder the wondrous life of bees. CSU Extension is an excellent resource for research and education on bees; they are continuing to compare hive designs to determine which work best for Colorado. There are also lots of beekeeper mentor programs, beekeeper associations, and even folks who you can hire to set-up and care for a hive on your own property. These folks have lots of experience and want to propagate more interest in beekeeping by mentoring and sharing. Getting into bees is definitely not something to go at alone or from a quick study. Taking risks is part of beekeeping, why not expand yourself right at the start by making new connections and community building?
By McKenna Hynes
Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019
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.”
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
Posted onJuly 25, 2019|Comments Off on A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.
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.
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
Comments Off on A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.
It’s Pollinator Week 2018, a time to show some garden love to the bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators that provide services essential to our food supply.
This year, let’s put the emphasis on other insect pollinators.
It’s easy to admire beautiful butterflies sailing effortlessly from flower to flower. We all know how important it is to provide nectar and pollen for native bees. But how many gardeners really, truly appreciate flies? How about other non-bee insects, like moths, wasps and beetles?
These less lovable insects are what some researchers refer to as the “unsung heroes of the pollination world.”
Bees certainly get the most notice for their important work, but they couldn’t do all the pollinating on their own. They need help from other less attractive insects.
In a revealing research study, one Washington State University doctoral student discovered that flies are an important pollinator, too. During her research, Rachel Olsson found that about a third of the insects visiting farm crops were syrphid flies, also known as hover flies.
These flies mimic the behavior of bees, help with pollination and do a bit more. In their juvenile stage, syrphid flies help control aphids, too.
Rachel’s research was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. She spent several years studying whether non-bee insects contribute to sustainable crop pollination on a network of 24 organic farms in Western Washington.
During her study, she learned pollinators were drawn to one type of crop over another. She had hoped to observe bee and non-bee insects interacting in a way that could improve pollination efficiency.
Still, these overlooked pollinators provide a valuable service and need to be part of conservation efforts, too. That’s why Rachel thinks the results of her research are applicable to Colorado gardeners. It’s important to understand and protect all pollinators, especially the underdogs of the insect world.