Tag Archives: urban garden

Is Your Xeriscape Ready for the Spotlight?

xeriscapeIf you think your water wise garden is ready for its close up, the Denver Botanic Gardens would like to hear from you. The DBG is looking for showcase gardens to feature on its Bonfils Stanton Water Wise Landscape Tour this spring.

Denver metro area gardeners who’ve taken their landscape water conservation efforts to the next level are encouraged to apply to be a tour garden. Selected gardens demonstrate the key principles of a water-wise landscape design.

To be considered, your xeriscape should feature a yard with either less traditional lawn or lawn alternatives, include native flowers and shrubs, have plantings of other drought-tolerant plants, and use water-conserving irrigation systems. It should also be beautiful, too.

The selected landscapes need to be in peak shape on Saturday, June 17, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

If you have an anxiety attack at the thought of a few hundred people strolling through your backyard, this opportunity might not be for you. But if you’d like to help inspire others with your xeriscaping efforts, you might enjoy chatting with people throughout the day and answering questions about your experience, how the design saves water, how much maintenance is required, and the names of individual plants.

If you’re interested, apply sooner rather than later. “This is a rolling admission process so early submissions may improve the likelihood of selection,” says the DBG. For more information and to receive an application, send an email to Rachael Jaffe (rachael.jaffe@botanicgardens.org) or call 720-865-3613.

Getting Started with Xeriscaping

If your landscape isn’t tour-worthy – or you’ve been thinking about xeriscaping and don’t know where to start – now’s a good time start planning. Start by rethinking the ways you currently use water in your yard.

If that sounds overwhelming, start by transforming a small portion of your landscape. Small xeriscapes will still help conserve water. Look around your landscape and find the places where water use is the highest. Then find ways to reduce or limit irrigation, like seldom-used areas or parts of the yard that are highly maintained.

One of the best ways to save water in the landscape is by cutting back on turfgrass. How much irrigated lawn do you need and how much can be replaced with a lawn alternative? Just because you’ve always had a large lawn doesn’t mean you use it. Low-water grasses, ground covers, perennial flowers, and drought-tolerant shrubs can fill the space.

Another way to save is by rethinking ways to irrigate lawn areas separately from planting areas. Traditional systems can be replaced by low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers. In flower beds, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses under mulch.

Fill your xeriscape with colorful, climate-adapted plants that are known to grow well in our area, like the plants introduced through the Plant Select program. Group plants by their water needs, clustering together those that use less water in drier areas and those that need slightly more water in moister areas.

Mulch is also an important part of a xeriscape because it helps maintain soil moisture and reduce soil temperature. Depending on the plants you select, you may need rock, gravel, bark, wood chips or straw. Some xeric plants do better with inorganic mulches that let fast-falling rains percolate down to plant roots while reducing runoff.

CSU Extension has many excellent (and free) resources for getting started with xeriscaping. This fact sheet on transforming a conventional landscape to a xeriscape may lead to having your yard be part of a water wise garden tour in the future.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Advertisements

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.

Balcony Gardening – Green Walls

First it was “Green Roofs” now it is “Green Walls” or Living Walls.   You can create an outdoor Green Wall on your balcony.

a couple of trellis, anchored in a pot of dirt against one of your balcony walls. Depending on the amount of light you could grow flowering vines in the summer then plant peas in early spring.

metal shelving or a bookcase against the wall with planters on each shelf.  If your balcony is shady your “wall” can be made up of indoor plants – philodendron or other trailing plants.

– there are more sophisticated systems of hanging Green Wall “pockets” that look kind of like a magazine rack or sets of pots that can be attached to a wall in rows.   You could have edible plants like herbs and lettuce which require very little soil.  An internet search on green wall gardens will show you many options. 

As always, weight, water and building rules remain considerations for any system attached to the wall.  Ask before you invest.

Visit a local green wall.   “July Walking Tour – Sensory Garden’s Green Wall” by Angie Andrade Foster, Senior Horticulturist, Denver Botanic Gardens.

Colorado State University has a residence hall with an indoor green wall.  It is the Pavilion at Laurel Village.   An internet search will yield a variety of stories and photos.

Send me a comment and let me know where you find other indoor or outdoor Green Walls in Denver.

Balcony Gardening – Succulent Gardens

The Summer Solstice is past, Fourth of July is coming up. What if you forgot to water the flowers, the vegetable plants did not get enough sun and then it hailed!

Denver Botanic Gardens - Succulent Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens – Succulent Garden

There is a succulent garden for all budgets and all spaces:

–  buy individual cactus and arrange the pots on a tray a quick solution and many can become house plants at summer’s end.

– many garden centers have succulent gardens ready for purchase, ask how to care for them

–  buy annual or perennial rock garden plants and create your own using a shallow container, cactus type potting soil and gravel

– Winter-hardy cactus could be an option for your balcony

Plant Select Petites  has “Garden Treasures for Small Spaces” and a lot of suggestions for plants, planting and maintenance.

Pay attention to where you buy your plants.  If they were indoors they will do best  in a shady location.  If they were outside in full sun they will enjoy a sunny balcony.

If a cactus or succulent looked sunburned that is very possible if it was too much sun too soon.  Put your succulent garden in a part sun, part shade location to begin.  Even a cactus can get sunburned.       

 When in doubt – don’t water.  Too much water will cause the roots to rot and the damage is hard to spot until it is too late.  (I’ve had succulents surprise me by just falling over!)

The internet has lots of information on succulent gardens.  If all this sounds like a better project for next month, then a few pots of red, white and blue petunias is a cheerful alternative.  Enjoy!

Balcony Gardening – Soil, Light and Plants

French Tarragon 1 year after planting in container

French Tarragon 1 year after planting in container.

Time to plant your balcony garden

Soil for container plants is easy to find. Don’t use “Top Soil”. It is likely to be mostly clay and too heavy for your balcony use. Potting soil (with or without time release fertilizer) will be just fine.

If you buy plants – fit them tightly into the pot.  You will have a nice showy pot and it is unlikely that they will outgrow the space over the summer.  If you plant seeds, don’t put the pot in full sun.  Keep seeds moist until they germinate by covering the pot with plastic wrap to keep the soil from drying out and

How much sun your balcony gets will determine your choice of plants.   Don’t forget reflected light from nearby buildings.  Your balcony may receive direct sun only in the morning, but also receive reflected light from the building next door in late afternoon.  This article lists 5 ways to categorize sun and shade for choosing plants (about 2/3 down into this article is the list). More information is there is you want the details. 

Vegetables:  most container vegetables like full sun but may need shade from reflected afternoon light or direct afternoon sun.  Vegetables need to be checked every day to see if they need water – many will, especially when putting on fruit.   Recommended Container Vegetables are listed by type and by name.

Herbs:  Basil is a standard and will probably need water daily in hot weather.  Try cilantro or a chocolate mint plant.  Most perennial herbs grow well in containers and may survive the winter.  Good choices are  French Tarragon, any of the Thyme varieties, Winter Savory, Chives.  Here is more information about Growing Herbs in Containers.

Flowers:  If you would like to screen the view from your balcony – plant tall annuals.   An 8 inch deep pot is best.  All of these grow easily from seed:  sunflowers, cosmos, morning-glory (add a trellis for it to climb).  Amaranth is a grain ( not very edible) and grows 6 feet tall!  Look for the burgundy variety.

Balcony Gardening – Containers

Time to get your balcony garden ready for planting.

Rules:  ask the building management or homeowner’s association if there are any rules about having planters on your balcony.  You don’t want to invest money in pots and soil and not be able to use them.

Containers:  Check last year’s containers for cracks or sun-fading.  If you are buying new containers check out this link about container gardening basics 

When researching containers be aware that some articles may focus on patio containers – where weight and water run-off is not a consideration.  This link to house plant containers has useful information that could be applied to balcony containers.

You can buy up-scale containers that are light-weight plastic but look like ceramic or stone.  Most of these do not have a drainage hole.  Planting directly into these containers you run the risk of over-watering and drowning your plants.  It is best to put a saucer inside this pot and another container with a drain hole.

If you would rather re-use and re-purpose  – local thrift stores have many different types and sizes of pots and planters.  Just wash them out with regular dish soap.  In most cases that is sufficient.

Pots with a drainage hole need a saucer under them.  You do not want to water your plants and have the excess drip down into your neighbor’s balcony.  Deep saucers with sides at least an inch or more will work the best.  You can pour water into the saucer and the plant will soak it up from the bottom.

Pot sizes:  You can use large pots on your balcony if you do not fill them completely with soil.  Most annual plants and culinary herbs only about 6 inches of soil.  Fill the bottom of your 2 foot tall container with empty water bottles or other light weight items that will take up room and not break down in the soil.   You can top off the container with a saucer and a pot with the plants in it.  Or you could top with a saucer and then fill the top with soil.  Some soil and water will drip down into the bottom of your container but that will not usually not cause any problems.

Check back next month to hear about soil and plants or you can jump ahead to more detailed information in this Colorado State University Fact Sheet on container gardening.