Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Hail Busters keep icy vandals away

Hail Buster demo

Pete Michael demonstrates how easy it is to remove a Hail Buster from one of his raised beds. When in use, the corner posts hold it above the foliage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Aug. 17, 2014 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Garden Hail Busters: Keep icy vandals from destroying your plants”

By Barb Gorges

How bad was the hail damage in your garden this summer?

After three hail storms decimated gardens in various parts of Cheyenne, I decided to look into how one man uses what he calls “Hail Busters.”

Pete Michael also busts bad guys for a living. As the Wyoming attorney general, he’s the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

As it turns out, he’s perfected a system for keeping hail behind bars. Well, bouncing off half-inch hardware cloth, anyway.

One popular hail protection device used around town is what I think of as the “duck and cover” method. At the sound of the first hailstone on the roof, you duck outside and cover your garden with a tarp or blanket, hopefully not getting injured yourself.

One variation is to install a series of poles in middle of the garden ahead of time so that the weight of the covering and the hail doesn’t flatten the plants.

Another variation is the one my husband, Mark used. He is growing all our tomatoes and most of our eggplants and peppers in containers this year. He runs out and drags them under the patio roof.

Shredded rhubarb leaf

Hail shredded this rhubarb leaf in minutes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The problem is that you may not be home when hail hits. Or you may not be quick enough, or the tomatoes have gotten too big to lug around. Thus, in our garden we had scars on the tomato stems, shredded rhubarb leaves and a puddle of rose petals.

Low tunnel

The first contraption Pete showed me that he’d built was essentially a “low tunnel,” often used for season extension.

His is a 16-foot long portable wooden frame 3 feet wide that sits on the ground. Plastic tubing meant for circulating water in radiant floor heating makes 2-foot high hoops spanning the width at 18-inch intervals. The ends of the hoops fit into attached 6-inch lengths of electrical conduit pipe.

Low tunnel

A portable low tunnel saved one of Pete’s squash plantings from hail devastation. Sections of electrical conduit hold the ends of plastic tubing hoops. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The whole thing is like a covered wagon with white polyester floating row cover (he uses Agribon) stretched tight and kept in place with strips of lathe nailed over it around the wooden frame. The long loose ends are pulled together and staked out to keep the wind from lifting the frame.

Pete is growing fancy squash that profited from the extra heat of being covered. And it was protected from the hail July 13—though the cover material is now shot with holes.

Hail Busters

Pete is a serious vegetable grower. He says he’s tried growing just about every vegetable imaginable. His backyard is filled with raised beds 3 feet wide (same width as the hardware cloth comes) by either 6 or 8 feet long. Each has a hail busting wooden frame made with one-by-twos in the same dimensions as the raised bed. The frame is screened with the half-inch hardware cloth, wire screen with half-inch openings. It stops a lot of hail or at least slows it down so it is less damaging.

He built everything with salvaged lumber, but he did say having to buy a roll of the hardware cloth was a bit pricey.

I have seen other gardens built with screen roofs. The difference here is that the roofs, the Hail Busters, can be set at different heights depending on plant growth.

The tomato cages in one raised bed are sturdy enough that the screen lays on top of them.

In other beds, several stakes planted in the bed support the screen. When it’s time to tend the plants, the screen can be set aside.

A lot of hail comes sideways, but these beds are close together, offering some protection.


Hail protection turns out to be only one use for these screens.

Two raised beds become cold frames in the fall. Their screen tops, built with more substantial 2-by-4s, are hinged to the raised beds on one side, then covered with salvaged clear plastic. Pete finds much of his salvaged materials just from being observant.

Early in the growing season, when birds might otherwise steal the seeds he just planted, Pete can lay the regular screens directly on the raised bed frames.

When tender seedlings emerge, the screens keep the bunnies out. And when starting cool season lettuce in August, the screening itself, or some added floating row cover, can give them necessary shade.

In the fall, floating row cover—or blankets—are easily supported to protect vegetables on freezing nights, extending the growing season.

Flowers in hail

Growing vegetables under cover is one thing, but no one who admires flowers would want to look at them through Hail Busters unless they were growing a valuable crop for market or seed.

Pete does grow flowers, without cover, including a magnificent stretch of hollyhocks in the middle of a vegetable bed located between the sidewalk and street. They were a little worn looking from the hail two weeks before, as were the thick bunches of Shasta daisies growing around the house. The big beds of penstemons at the front gate had gone to seed.

His secret is to grow perennials. Annuals, which people plant at the beginning of the season and which are supposed to bloom continually until they die in the first frost, are easily wiped out by hail.

But, he said, perennials bloom in waves—if you are strategic. Say your penstemons are at their peak when the hail comes and knocks off all their flowers (their stems tend to be tougher than your average annual). After the storm, you can decide whether they look bad enough to cut back, or if they just need a bit of trimming, leaving them with plenty of green to continue photosynthesizing, storing energy for next year.

But coming up behind the penstemons might be your daisies. At the time of the storm, their buds were small enough to be missed by the icy missiles.

And if you choose perennials with skinny leaves, they aren’t as much of a target for hail.

Pete also has a very nifty greenhouse with 5/16-inch glass touted to be hurricane resistant. He has lots of progressive ideas on organic gardening, which he admits he gets from his son, who with his wife, has a Community Supported Agriculture operation.

It’s the Hail Busters though, that keep hail away and give Pete peace of mind.

Scarred tomato stem

Though hail has scarred the stem of an unprotected tomato plant, two weeks later, a new shoot shows it is on its way to recovery. There may be time to grow a tomato before frost. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Know your Cheyenne trees

Tree Walk sign

Look for this sign by the Beach House at Lions Park. Below it is a map of Cheyenne’s Tree Walk. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published July 20, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Know your Cheyenne trees.”

By Barb Gorges

Summer is a good time to appreciate Cheyenne’s trees. Each one is a bit of a miracle since most trees are not native to the High Plains except for cottonwoods along creeks.

In addition to enjoying their shade, you may want to study our landscape trees if you are thinking about planting one yourself. For up-to-date planting considerations and methods, see my recent WTE column archived at

One way to find trees that grow well here is to follow the Tree Walk in the southwest corner of Lions Park, set up by the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division. There is a map on a sign next to the beach house. You can also pick up a booklet with a map and tree descriptions at the nearby Forestry office located at West 8th and Carey avenues.

A few not so hardy trees are missing. Plus, since the horrendous hail storms in June and July, some trees may be a bit ragged.

The Tree Walk features 31 trees marked with sign posts. I’ll highlight 12 here, many illustrated with photos of 50-year-old trees from my own neighborhood so you can see them in proportion to the houses.

As you travel around Cheyenne admiring our trees, see how many more species you can find. If you need identification help and the Forestry office is closed, try

Tree traits

For more information on each species, check the library, or online at a site like Wikipedia, or see the University of Wyoming Extension’s “Landscaping: Recommended Trees for Wyoming,”

On the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website,, under “Gardening Tips,” you can find a list of water-wise trees and shrubs that thrive with less water—too much can actually kill them.

First, learn these codes

Here are codes for describing my top-12 trees everyone in Cheyenne should be able to identify.

E–Evergreen tree. All types provide winter protection for birds

F–Fall color, loses leaves

H–Hail hardy

N–Native to the West

W—Wildlife likes the fruits



Ponderosa and Pinyon

1. Ponderosa Pine (L) and 2. Pinyon Pine (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

1. Ponderosa Pine

E, H, N, W, WW

Surrounding the Forestry office is a grove of extremely tall, skinny examples. However, in my neighborhood, single specimens look nice and full. I.D.: Look for bundles of two or three needles 5 inches or longer.

2. Pinyon Pine

E, H, N, W, WW

Iconic, drought-tolerant trees of the Southwest, they’re short, even after 50 years. If you are lucky, they could produce the prized pinyon pine nut. I.D.: needles 1.5 – 2.5 inches in bundles of two.

Bristlecone & Spruce

3. Bristlecone Pine (L) and 4. Colorado Spruce (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

 3. Bristlecone Pine

E, H, N, W, WW

They grow very slowly but live a long time—one in California is more than 5,000 years old. I.D.: drooping branches full of needles look like bottle brushes.

4. Colorado Spruce

E, H, N, W

Growing several stories high, spruces can grow too wide, forcing homeowners to prune away their skirts. There are new varieties that are narrower. I.D.: needles are single, short, stiff and very prickly.


Fir and Juniper

5. White Fir (L) and 6. Juniper (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

5. White Fir

E, H, N, W

It looks like, and grows as tall as a spruce, but it’s a soft version. Another soft-needled, spruce-like tree is the Douglas-fir. I.D.: flat, short, single, flexible, soft needles.

6. Juniper

E, H, N, W, WW

There are many varieties of upright junipers available through nurseries. They all produce little waxy bluish berries. Birds also appreciate their windproof foliage. I.D.: no needles—just green scales.


Cottonwood & Oak

7. Plains Cottonwood (L) and 8. Bur Oak (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

7. Plains Cottonwood

F, H, N

Wyoming’s state tree has tough, heart-shaped leaves. But cottonwoods require a lot of water, and after about 50-60 years, these huge trees start deteriorating, dropping limbs on hot summer days.

8. Bur Oak

F, W

We aren’t too far from this species’ native range. Slow growing, it may take a while to produce significant shade, but meanwhile, wildlife will enjoy the acorns. It was hard-hit by the hail, but will recover.

Mtn ash & Linden

9. European Mountain-ash (L) and 10. American Linden (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

9. European Mountain-Ash

F, H, W

Bunches of little white flowers in the spring will develop by midsummer into orange berries that are quickly devoured by birds. The small leaflets seem to avoid hail damage.

10. American Linden

F, W

The hail was hard on it, but this is a great shade tree. Plus it has fragrant flowers and produces bunches of little fruits. I.D.: leaves are heart-shaped, but not tough like cottonwood.

Honey Locust & Crab

11. Honey Locust (L) and 12. Flowering Crabapple (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

 11. Honey-locust

F, H, W

Look for the thornless type. Its small leaflets avoided some of the hail. May have 7-inch-long brown pods if it isn’t a fruitless variety.

12. Flowering Crabapple

F, W

These were hard to miss this spring, blooming profusely pink or white for weeks along Cheyenne streets and in parks and yards. They are popular with wildlife, which may eat the flowers as well as the fruit. I.D.: Oval leaves and small apples–always a few left on the ground.

How to enter flowers, fruits and vegetables in the county fair

Fair entries winning a first premium get a blue ribbon--and a check for the amount of the premium: first is $6, second is $4 and $3 for third.

Fair entries winning a first premium get a blue ribbon–and a check for the amount of the premium: first is $6, second is $4 and $3 for third.

Published June 15, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Grow a winner. Find out how to enter fruits, veggies, flowers and more in the Laramie County Fair.”

By Barb Gorges

If you grew up in town, you might not realize any Laramie County resident can enter the Laramie County Fair.

This year, the fair is set for July 27-Aug. 9, but now is the time to start planning what you’re going to enter.

“I thought you had to be from a farm. I thought it was all 4-H, but these were people like me” Timi Saville, Laramie County Master Gardener, said of her revelatory experience at the Park County Fair in Powell some years ago.

The following year, her Mexican Hats, a type of coneflower, won a blue place ribbon.

Open Class refers to all the fair competition categories open to the public. Besides the crop and livestock departments, there are also Open Class departments in art, crafts (everything from wood and metal work to jewelry), culinary, needlework and photography.

Since this is a gardening column, we’re going to look at how to enter in the Horticulture Department–fruits and vegetables–and the Floriculture Department–flowers and house plants.

Why enter the fair?

Your work will be judged by experts. That sounds stressful to some, but this is actually an opportunity to get some free advice, since it doesn’t cost anything to enter items in our fair.

And there’s community recognition, possibly causing WTE columnists to call you for pointers on entering the fair.

And there are the ribbons and premiums. In fair language, premiums are prize money. At our fair, first premium equals $6; second premium, $4, and third premium, $3.

If there are 10 plates of cucumbers competing, it is possible that all 10 entries could qualify for first premium—or none may qualify. But premiums checks can add up to seed money or more if you enter several items.

The very best plate of cucumbers will get a purple “superior” ribbon for that class.

And of all the people with purple ribbons in the Horticulture or Floriculture departments, someone will become Reserve Champion and someone Grand Champion.

So, are you in? You are? Good. Now let’s demystify the process of entering the fair.

This is the final year for a print version of the Laramie County fair book. It is already available online.

This is the final year for a print version of the Laramie County fair book. It is already available online.

Step 1–Find the Fair Book

This is the final year the Laramie County Fair is printing the 120-page book available at local agricultural supply businesses like Murdoch’s, the University of Wyoming Extension office, 310 W. 19th, Suite 100, or the office at the Archer fairgrounds, 3967 Archer Parkway (I-80 Exit 370).

The book is available online at as a PDF. You may have to look for the link under News/arrival (of fair book).

Step 2–Peruse the categories

Turn to page 46 for Horticulture and page 52 for the Floriculture departments.

Catherine Wissner, superintendent of the Horticulture Department, advises you to checkmark each class that you have the remotest chance of having a plant, flower, fruit or vegetable that would qualify.

Early in the season, when entry forms are due, she said it is hard to know what will be ready at fair time. If you enter a category but end up not having an entry ready—it’s all right—it didn’t cost you anything but the time to fill in one line of the form listing all your entries.

Also check out the Fair Fun contests on page 10, which are open to everyone. There are seven in all, everything from scarecrow building to pie baking contests. The entry form is on page 21.

Step 3–Fill out the Static Entry Form and get it in by July 14

Horticulture and floriculture entries are static entries—because unlike livestock, they don’t move. Find the form on page 117 and 118. Only children need to fill in the age information and have their parents sign.

Once it’s filled out, send it in [Page 10 is where you’ll confirm the information for sending in entry forms.]:

–online at,

–OR print a Static Entry Form from the website (or cut it out of the book) and

–scan and email it to,

–OR fax the form to 634-4511,

–OR mail the form to 3967 Archer Parkway, Cheyenne, WY 82009.

Step 4—Pick up entry tags at Archer, July 24-25, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Corrections can be made at this time, so check your tags over before taking them home.

"Tomatoes - Specimens should be uniform in color, shape, and size, and free from cracks, sun scald and blemishes, ripe, solid and without stems." Disclaimer: these tomatoes are from the store.

“Tomatoes – Specimens should be uniform in color, shape, and size, and free from cracks, sun scald and blemishes, ripe, solid and without stems.” Disclaimer: these tomatoes are from the store.

Step 5—Prepare your entries

While most Open Class departments accept entries July 31, noon – 8 p.m. (Culinary is the following Tuesday), Floriculture and Horticulture accept entries Aug. 1, 8 a.m. – noon.

This means your tougher fruits and vegetables can be harvested the night before, and tender stuff early in the morning. Flowers should be hardened off the day before (see accompanying information).

Timi Saville, who placed in nine of the 11 classes she entered last year, said to make sure you follow all the specifications.

Read vegetable descriptions on pages 46 – 49 so you know exactly how to prepare each item.

Once, her entry was disqualified because she only had four stems instead of the five required for chives—one got lost in the trip to the fair.

“It might be a good idea to cut a few extra to have on hand in case a flower gets crushed,” she said.

And bring extra water, she added.

In Floriculture, the required flowers need to be in plain, clear glass or plastic containers. Any container not plain enough could disqualify the entry. Timi uses containers she finds at the dollar store or food jars with labels completely removed. House plants are fine in their regular pots.

For vegetables, you will need a plain white paper plate with the entry form taped or stapled to it. Make sure your entries are very clean—sometimes judging requires tasting.

Step 6—Bring your entries to the Exhibition Hall

On Aug. 1, 8 a.m.-noon, head over to Frontier Park, where you will pass your entries over to fair volunteers who will set them on display.

Step 7—Return to see judging results

Judging is Aug. 1, 1 – 5 p.m. and is closed to the public.

The Floriculture and Horticulture entries are on display between judging and release of entries. During the fair, the Exhibit Hall is open to the public 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Step 8—Pick up released Horticulture and Floriculture entries

Entries in these departments will be released Aug. 4, 5-7 p.m.

You’ll want to collect your ribbons, vases, potted plants and any of your fruits and vegetables that are salvageable.

Other static open class entries are released Aug. 9.

Step 9—Get your premium check

Premium checks are usually available when other open class entries are being released at the Exhibit Hall, which is Aug. 9, 3-5 p.m.

If you don’t claim your check, it will be mailed to you.

Step 10—Consider entering the Wyoming State Fair

You do not need to enter a county fair to enter Open Class at the state fair, which will be held in Douglas Aug. 9-16. Horticulture and Floriculture entries can be delivered Aug. 9 or 10, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Pre-entry is not necessary, but there is a $1 processing fee per entry. Explore your options at

How to keep your flowers fresh or

How to harden off your flower exhibit

It is generally recognized that afternoon–especially cutting in late afternoon, when the greatest amount of sugar has ascended into the leaves and blooms–as well as a “hardening off” process, will help insure a winning entry.

Flower stems should be cut cleanly at an angle with a sharp knife or pruning shears and plunged into deep, hot water: 110 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Plunging plants up to their necks in cool water works as well.

It is a good practice to carry a bucket of water to the garden and to place each cut specimen in the water at once. Lightly crush the base of woody stems on plants such as lilacs to improve the intake of water. Some flowers, such as Dahlias, Euphorbias and Poppies, need to have the cut tips seared over an open flame.

Following cutting and water treatment, specimens should be placed in a cool, darkened room. After several hours, when the water has come to room temperature, add ice to the water and leave the flower material undisturbed overnight or place flowers in a refrigerator or cooler at a temperature between 38 and 40 degrees for six or more hours before they are to be shown.

Flowers prepared in this way improve their substance and will hold their freshness longer.

From the Wyoming State Fair Premium Book

You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne

John Davis roses

“John Davis” is one of the Explorer series of hardy Canadian roses that Rhea Halstead grows that does not require covering for the winter, even in Cheyenne. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Published May 18, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne”

By Barb Gorges

Gary Halstead probably didn’t promise his wife a rose garden.

With the Cheyenne weather as it is, most would bet on that becoming a broken promise.

But 10 years ago, when Rhea Halstead and her husband were finished with their list of major home improvements, she looked out at the backyard and was inspired to recreate a scene from Country Home magazine: a small, vintage travel trailer smothered in roses, with a little bistro table and chairs for two out front. The serene vision appealed to Rhea, who has a career that often brings her face to face with the dark side of humanity.

Ten years later, I am charmed by the oasis the Halsteads have grown, protected by hedges and trees. The tiny vintage travel trailer is there, embedded in roses, and should be covered in blooms within a month. Rhea found another, slightly larger trailer at a garage sale for $50 and fixed it up–antiques are her other passion. She calls it the Honeymoon Cottage, though, apparently her daughter didn’t take her up on the offer to stay there on her honeymoon.

Over to one side is a tiny cottage that’s really the potting shed. Another small building is the summer kitchen—the Halsteads love to entertain outdoors. And there’s the gazebo and a greenhouse. Circuitous gravel paths are sparked by a scattering of colored glass pebbles.

Rhea’s 150 rose bushes are tucked into protected corners or in small beds in which white picket and other kinds of fencing provide backdrops. And everywhere there are bits of vintage memorabilia to discover.

Rhea was not a gardener when she decided to plant her first rosebush. Instead, she researched and learned from members of the Prairie Rose Society, a local club. Today, she gives informative talks on growing roses for the Rose Club.

How does Rhea grow roses?

Rose garden

Rhea has created an oasis for her collection of 150 roses and vintage memorabilia. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Right location

Roses need 6-8 hours of sun, preferably morning sun, because heat fades blooms.

Right variety

Most of Rhea’s roses grow on their own roots—they are not fussy varieties that require grafting onto sturdier root stock—and they tend to be repeat bloomers. Many are hardy enough they don’t need winter protection.

Spring planting

March and April are when Rhea consults her wish list and researches where to find new varieties she wants to try.

If you do plant a grafted variety, “grown on a union,” bury that union 2-3 inches deep, Rhea said. For the latest, best planting instructions, search online for “how to plant a rose bush.” This site,, has great directions.


Rhea waters as needed, which can be as often as every other day when it’s hot. She has considered drip irrigation but has chosen to walk her garden with the hose.

“That’s the whole Zen thing,” she said, and it helps her de-stress, she said. It only takes 30 minutes and it allows her to spend time with the roses and see how they are doing.

Summer maintenance

Before the roses leaf out, Rhea treats any with signs of magnesium depletion by spreading a half cup of Epsom salts per plant.

She tried using all the natural fertilizers, but the dogs ate them. Now when she checks mid-summer for the need to fertilize, she uses conventional products.

Each year she replenishes her wood chip mulch, which feeds the roses as it decomposes as well as represses weeds. And for weeds that do show up, “We get on our hands and knees and pick,” Rhea said.

She aims for rose varieties that aren’t as susceptible to pests and diseases, and if she needs to, she uses Neem oil and sometimes Bayer products.

Chlorosis can be another problem. Our alkaline soil can tie up iron and leaves will grow gangly and yellow. Roses like slightly acidic soil and so applying iron sulfate as directed can help. Consult the Laramie County Extension office for a definite diagnosis.

Deadheading, removal of flowers that are finished blooming, encourages the repeat blooming varieties to keep flowering.

Fall preparation

In September, Rhea quits deadheading to make it easier for the roses to go into dormancy. She reduces watering to once a week.

rose covering

With it’s bottom removed, this pot is placed over the rose bush and filled with leaves and a little dirt to act as winter insulation. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Winter covering

In November, about 60 percent of Rhea’s bushes get covered, and always the ones in their first year in her garden. Covering is about trying to keep the rosebush cold so it stays dormant, she said. If she has a variety that doesn’t die back, like the floribundas, it doesn’t need a cover.

But hybrid teas and some others, and new bushes do need a cover. So Rhea buries the base of the bush in about 6 inches of top soil, from either her garden or a garden center. Using an old plastic pot from a nursery, with the bottom removed, she places the cylinder over the plant and fills it with a mix of dry, brown leaves and a little more dirt. The open top allows water to leach in, but the leaves allow enough air to prevent mildew.

Spring uncovering

Rhea removes the covers between April 15 and 30. At the time of my visit April 26, she had removed the covers, but not the mounds of soil, which were fine protection for the coming spring snowstorms. [Rhea said she did re-cover the bushes before the 11 inches of snow we had May 11 and 12.]

Eventually, she waters out the protective soil, cuts canes back to the last green growth, blows the leaves out, picks the weeds and puts in new wood chip mulch.

Propagation is possible

Rhea has perfected the art of propagating roses from cuttings. It requires warm, stable temperatures and 95 percent humidity. Over the years she has improved her success rate from 10 to 90 percent.

The Rose Club’s latest project is propagating cuttings from the old roses in the Cheyenne cemetery, single bloomers (blooming once a year), probably centifolia, floribunda and cabbage rose types. Since they were planted decades ago and have survived without time-consuming cultivation practices, they should be perfect for the modern homeowner.

If you missed them at the annual Laramie County Master Gardeners’ plant sale May 17, check with Rhea to see if any are still available.

Mary rose

“Mary” is a variety of David Austin rose that Rhea recommends. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Rhea’s advice on choosing roses for Cheyenne

Canadian roses, which are varieties developed by Agriculture Canada for harsh prairie conditions, are a better bet here in this climate. Some varieties to consider: the Explorer series roses, John Davis, William Baffin and Alexander Mackenzie. Also, Morden Blush, Hope for Humanity and Winnipeg Park are solid roses.

Knockout roses seem to do well here. These are varieties developed in Wisconsin and introduced in 2000.

The David Austin roses were developed in England beginning in the 1960s and cross old garden varieties roses with modern. These are very winter hardy: Winchester Cathedral, Mary, Crown Princess Margareta and Strawberry Hill.

If you have to go with a modern rose, floribundas are hardier than the hybrid teas. A few that survive well here and are quite beautiful are Europeana and Strike It Rich. They will require winter cover.

The floribundas can be found at most nurseries and box stores. Canadians can also be found at local nurseries or online.

The older Explorer roses will likely have to be bought online. David Austins can be found in Colorado nurseries or online.

The Flower Bin in Longmont gets a massive amount of roses every Mother’s Day and you can find many new and old varieties there.

High Country Roses in Denver carries many older varieties of roses that do well in this climate.

Roses rated for Zone 5 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness map will mostly do OK here. Though Cheyenne is rated zone 5, roses rated for zones 4 and below do better here.

The Rose Club

The Rose Club meets in Cheyenne monthly, June through September. To attend, call Rhea, 637-3114.

How to plant a tree in Cheyenne, Wyoming

tree planted

Steve Scott explains how to plant a tree. He is the head horticulturist at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published April 20, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “How to plant a tree in Cheyenne: 21st Century planting techniques improve Cheyenne tree survival.”

By Barb Gorges

Tree-planting is, in theory, as simple as dropping it into any old hole in the yard. The tree might survive, but then again, it might not.

Just what, exactly, do you need to do to make sure the tree survives and thrives?

We turn to a local expert, Steve Scott, head of horticulture at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. He’s been planting trees at the gardens for 16 years, long enough to see the results of his techniques.

When and how to purchase

Steve believes spring–late March and April–is the best time to plant, before trees leaf out. It’s easier to get enough water to new trees in spring and summer. Plus, tree selection at the nursery is better than in the fall.

Trees are either grown in containers or grown in the field and dug up, leaving their roots bare or in a ball of dirt covered in burlap. Whatever type, it’s important that roots have not been allowed to dry out at any point.

Bare root trees

This is Scott’s favorite type. These might be little whips, 12 inches to 3 feet tall. Buying a bundle of them could be the way to go if you are establishing a windbreak or other large planting.

Besides being economical, studies show the smaller the tree, the more quickly it gets established and begins to grow. Within a few years, it will overtake a larger tree planted at the same time, even though that other tree started with a trunk diameter three times the size.

Scott demonstrated his planting techniques the day I visited with a tree he planted in the gardens’ nursery as a whip five years ago. Today it’s about 8 feet tall, maybe even 10.

 Balled and burlapped trees

This is Scott’s second preference. Back in the old days, it was thought that buried burlap would disintegrate and roots would grow through the wire basket, but my husband, Mark, and I discovered burlap that survived 20 years–and roots that were deformed by the wire basket, causing deformed branches.

Scott suggests snipping away the wire basket at the bottom only, before setting the tree in the hole and then removing the rest of it, as well as any twine or fabric, before backfilling.

 Container trees

These are the most problematic because the roots often start circling inside the pot. Scott doesn’t hesitate to lift a tree from its pot to have a look at the roots before deciding to buy it. Roots should be firm and whitish. A nasty-looking root mass can be “butterflied,” sliced in an X from the bottom, so that the roots can be spread out in the planting hole. Or in extreme situations, all the dirt can be washed off so the roots can be arranged properly.

The right tree in the right place

Don’t forget to give some thought to where you plant that tree.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Cheyenne is in Plant Hardiness Zone 5, minimum temperature of -15 to -10 F. But most Cheyenne gardeners select trees and other perennials for Zone 3 or 4 to avoid winterkill in those record-low years.

Around your house, plant evergreens on the north side to protect it from winter winds and cut heating bills. Plant deciduous trees on the south and southwest sides to shade the house in summer and lower air conditioning bills, and later, when the leaves fall away, winter sunlight will warm your house.

People forget to plan for mature sizes of trees. Plant too close to power lines and you and the utility company will have to keep hacking away branches every year. Also, Cheyenne’s safety zones require clearing vegetation 14 feet above the street and 8 feet above the sidewalk.

Aggressive growers, like silver maples, can damage concrete house foundations and driveways. Keep them at least 15 feet away.

Avoid planting trees with messy fruit, like mountain ash, where it will fall on sidewalks and parked cars.

Preparing the site

At least two days before you dig, you are required to call 811 to have your underground water, gas, sewer and electricity lines marked, at no cost, so you can avoid them.

Measure the depth of your tree’s root ball, from the top of the uppermost root, and dig your hole 6 inches deeper. Measure the width of the spread of the roots. Dig your hole twice as wide. You may want to also remove grass farther out because it will eventually steal moisture and nutrients from tree roots.

Next, add back a 6-inch mound of dirt in the center of the hole. This is where you will set your roots. Allow the roots to drape gracefully.

Do not add any fertilizer, organic matter or other amendments to the hole, Scott said, otherwise the roots won’t be encouraged to grow beyond that space, which they will need to do to anchor the tree firmly.

tree depth measuring

Steve uses a pole to measure to make sure the tree is sitting at the right depth. The top of the roots should be right about even with the ground surface. Photo by Barb Gorges

Setting the tree

One of the biggest reasons for the failure of trees to thrive is that they have been planted too deep, Scott said.

So after you set your tree in the hole, take a stick or a rake handle and lay it next to the trunk, across the hole, to see if the top of the roots is at ground level. If not, remove or add dirt to the mound as needed.

Staking the tree

Most people do this after planting, but Scott, because he usually plants trees by himself, finds staking holds the tree in place while he backfills.

He uses two metal, T-style fence posts set out a few feet from the trunk, to the north and south, so that the fence posts and trunk form a line perpendicular to the prevailing west wind.

tree staking strapping

Two straps of webbing used to stake the tree will be gentle on the bark. Photo by Barb Gorges

He uses two fabric webbing straps, gentle on tree bark, each looped once around the tree trunk at about one-third of the way up the tree’s height. A length of wire makes up the distance between the grommets in the ends of the straps and the posts.

The old-school folks staked trees much higher, but if a tree doesn’t get a chance to bend with the wind a bit, it won’t develop proper taper—the trunk should grow widest at ground level.

After a year, two at most, stakes are not needed anymore and need to be removed.

Backfill and water

Throwing dirt back in the hole seems simple enough, but when only half full, Scott used the hose to water the dirt down between the roots before adding the rest of the backfill. To avoid injuring roots, don’t tamp down the dirt with your feet or shovel.

Wait to prune until next year

Old-school methods would have you prune the top of the tree to match the size of the roots. But when the tree was dug up from the field for bare root or balled and burlapped, it lost 70 percent of its roots, Scott said.

You need all the leaves you can get because they gather the energy the roots need to regrow. Other than broken branches, wait until next year to start pruning for form.

staked and mulched tree

The newly planted tree is expertly staked and mulched. Photo by Barb Gorges


Mulch keeps down the competition, which is really important to your tree since most of its roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and will eventually extend several times farther out than the branches.

The great thing about organic mulch like wood chips is that unlike weed barrier cloth, it allows in the nutrients—and it actually provides nutrients as it breaks down. The city composting facility has a ready supply of wood chips to renew your mulch each year.

Three inches of mulch chokes weeds and doesn’t suffocate tree roots. But be sure to keep it several inches away from the trunk.

A side benefit to mulching trees is that it keeps the lawn mowers and weed whackers far away so they won’t injure the bark.


winter trunk protection

A previously planted tree no longer needs staking, but protection of the trunk with corrugated plastic drainpipe from November to April for a couple years will protect it from winter damage. Photo by Barb Gorges

Trunk protection

Scott said for two or three years while the tree is re-establishing roots, the trunk needs protection in winter. He uses corrugated plastic drain piping slit lengthwise, putting it on at Thanksgiving and taking it off by Easter.

Relax, enjoy—and water

Tom Heald, a former Casper Extension agent, recommends finding out how long you have to water to wet the top 12 inches of your yard’s soil—where most of the tree roots are. Water for an hour and then dig to see how far the moisture went. You may have to repeat the experiment in half hour intervals, but once you know, you’ll know how long to water.

The Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division has more information on tree care, including when to water in winter.

Trees recommended for Cheyenne

One of the best resources for researching kinds of trees is the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division. Visit them at their office, 520 W. 8th Ave., or online,

The other is the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. You can pick up information at the greenhouse in Lions Park or go online, They have also identified trees around the gardens so you can see what grows here.

Keep a lookout for Emerald Ash Borer in Cheyenne

Emerald Ash Borer adult

The Emerald Ash Borer adult is 10-13mm long, or less than a half-inch. Photo by S. Ellis, USDA-APHIS.

Published March 16, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “What could this little bug do to this BIG tree? More than you might think. The emerald ash borer has been spotted in northern Colorado. Experts say there’s no need to panic here, but you should keep a close eye on your ash trees.”

By Barb Gorges

Last fall, an invasive menace to trees was found for the first time in the West: the emerald ash borer, in Boulder, Colo.

Green Ash leaf

Green Ash has a compound leaf, with 5 to 7 leaflets. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you own an ash tree in Cheyenne, the experts say hold off on taking action at this time, as there have been no reports of the beetle here. But keep an eye on it.

Don’t let any unscrupulous people talk you into treating your tree with pesticides without confirmation from local experts who have been trained to diagnose emerald ash borer. Become informed. And be sure that your tree is a true ash, and not a mountain ash, which is not related or affected.

Borer history

The emerald ash borer is native to China, Korea, Japan, Mongolian, the Russian Far East and Taiwan.

Michigan was the site of the first North America discovery in 2002. The original immigrants may have arrived unintentionally via wooden packing materials in shipments from Asia. Imported packing crates now have to be treated.

The invasion soon spread to the other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces and the states adjacent to those.

Green Ash bark

Mature Green Ash trees have deeply furrowed bark. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There are 16 species of ash trees in the U. S., mostly in the eastern forests, and their loss is going to change ecosystems, maybe even extirpating two dozen species of butterflies.

A U.S. Forest Service expert estimates that 50 million ash trees have already been lost. Millions of dollars have already been spent in eastern and midwestern cities removing dying trees.

Ash has been popular as a street, park and yard tree across the country, as it is here, comprising 10 percent of Cheyenne’s trees, mostly green ash.

Borer biology

The emerald ash borer life cycle begins between mid-May and mid-August, when an adult lands on an ash tree and lays eggs. They aim for the upper parts of the tree so you may not catch a glimpse of the elegant, emerald carapace of the adult.

After a couple weeks, the eggs hatch and the emerging larvae tunnel into the tree, finding the area just under the bark where the tree’s water and food delivery systems are coursing.

If you peeled back the bark, you would see S-shaped galleries—tunnels chewed away by the larvae between August and October.

If the tunnels under the bark girdle a tree limb, the flow of water and nutrients is disrupted and that limb dies. In two to four years, the whole tree dies.

Emerald Ash Borer exit hole

An Emerald Ash Borer D-shaped exit hole shows where the adult tunneled out, to fly off to lay eggs on another ash tree. Photo by Gerald Wheeler, from USDA-APHIS.

During the winter, the larvae are dormant under the bark and then between May and June they emerge as adults, leaving 1/8-inch, D-shaped exit holes.

Why D-shaped? The larvae are D-shaped in cross-section, flat on the back and round on the underside.

What about Cheyenne?

Boulder is about a 90-mile drive from Cheyenne, but Boulder was 600 miles from the nearest emerald ash borer outbreak, in Kansas City, Mo. You would think with prevailing winds blowing in the opposite direction, this weak-flying insect, not finding continuous ash forest in between, would never make it to Colorado.

So it’s clear that EAB arrived in Boulder with help—probably inadvertently, such as travelling in a load of firewood.

Currently, Boulder is quarantined, so presumably infected wood will not be exported to Cheyenne.

On the other hand, experts now think the Boulder invasion began at least four years ago, so there is a possibility that it is already here in Cheyenne and no one has recognized it yet.

Keep in mind, there are several other insects which leave tree damage that could be mistaken for emerald ash borer.

To treat or not to treat

There is no vaccination for emerald ash borer. Do not apply pesticides to your ash tree without consulting our local experts (see adjacent box). Otherwise, you are wasting your money and needlessly killing beneficial insects and birds.

Trees suffering the early stages of an emerald ash borer infection have been successfully treated with injections in their trunks or in the soil using particular systemic pesticides, a much better option than spraying.

These pesticides travel throughout the tree, just under the bark where the emerald ash borer likes to feed. However, there are several reasons even these pesticides may not be a good option.

1—Injections are expensive, $250 per tree per year. And once the emerald ash borer is in your neighborhood, you’ll have to keep them up year after year.

2—Injections in the trunk mean punching holes. Any damage to bark increases a tree’s chances of becoming infected with other diseases, even if it survives emerald ash borer.

3—Ash trees with other health problems or growing in bad locations, such as under power lines, shouldn’t be considered candidates for preservation.

4—Scientists know that the active ingredients in these systemic pesticides, the neonicotinoids, are toxic to bees. Systemics injected into the ground under trees can travel to nearby flowering plants, making their pollen toxic, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation,

The emerald ash borer is however, susceptible to cold.

Rob Venette, a U.S. Forest Service research biologist interviewed in the Jan. 10 episode of National Public Radio’s “Science Friday,” reported that with only a few minutes at minus-20 degrees, 50 percent of the larvae overwintering may die.

The firewood problem

Firewood, and wood chips, from ash trees brought to Cheyenne could bring emerald ash borer. However, we should also consider what happens to trees cut down here.

The Cheyenne compost facility accepts wood up to 12 inches in diameter that they can chip, but larger logs may end up in the landfill, admitted the owner of one local tree service company licensed to prune and remove trees in Cheyenne. (It seems to me a place for local people to drop off and pick up oversized wood for firewood or carpentry could be set up somewhere.)

Mark McCoy, of Arbor Solutions, another licensed company said, “I have two local guys that do firewood that I give all my wood to. If it is diseased wood, they are supposed to keep it under plastic for a year before processing it.”

That would definitely be a help if there are any emerald ash borer s lurking in Cheyenne.

Lisa Olson, director of Cheyenne’s Urban Forestry Division, told me the trees the city removes are checked for invasive insects before they are picked up by a firewood company that won the bid to do so. Infected wood is buried in the landfill.

Plant replacements now…but not ash

The best advice I’ve heard is to take the savings from not treating your ash tree and plant a replacement nearby now, instead of waiting for its demise—but don’t plant another ash tree as your future source of shade, not only because it could fall victim, but nursery stock could be infected, especially if it is from back east.

There are alternative shade tree varieties recommended for Cheyenne by the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Stop by or visit online, Click on “Gardening” and then “Garden Tips” and find the “Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers” PDF.

Also check with the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division and their website,

Meanwhile, stay vigilant and check for 1/8-inch, capital D-shaped holes this spring.

Where to go for help identifying insect damage

–Urban Forestry Division of the Cheyenne Parks and Recreation Department, 637-6428.

–Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension Horticulturist, 633-4383.

–Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, 637-6458

–Laramie County Conservation District, 772-2600

7 Seed Starting Secrets


Seed starting aids

Seed starting aids, photo by Barb Gorges

Published Feb. 16, 2014 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “7 seeds of knowledge: It might be cold outside, but now is actually a great time to start your garden by planting seeds indoors. Here are some helpful tips.”

By Barb Gorge

Why start seeds?

“It is so much fun to grow your own stuff,” said Barb Sahl, who teaches Laramie County Master Gardener classes.

Plus, you can grow varieties that may not be available at local nurseries. Best of all, you can time their growth so that they are the optimum size for transplanting to the garden.

Yes, even though it looks a lot like winter, now is actually a great time to start your garden.

Step 1 – Read the seed packet

Get seeds that are in packages dated for this season. The older the seeds, the less likely they will germinate.

Look for short-season vegetables so you can harvest before frost.

The “Silvery Fir Tree” tomato that I tried last year is supposed to produce a ripe tomato in 58 days after transplanting outdoors.

Most vegetables have short-season varieties available, even eggplant. “Orient Express” is rated for 58 days to maturity, and “Marketmore,” a cucumber rated for 60 days.

Cheyenne native Willi Galloway, author of “Grow Cook Eat,” recommends 75 days for our area.

Check to see if seeds are better directly seeded in the garden—some don’t transplant well.

Look for how many weeks before the last frost you should start seeds indoors. Our average last frost date is May 24.

The packets will also tell you proper planting depth. For tiny seeds, it is so scant, place them on the soil surface, sprinkling a little dry soil on top and moistening with a mister.

Check to see if your seeds need special handling. To germinate, some need soaking or nicking or exposure to direct light or to sit in darkness. Some even need to cool in the refrigerator.

Seed-starting medium

Seed-starting medium, photo by Barb Gorges

Step 2—Use seed starting soil

Kathy Shreve, another Master Gardener mentor, is adamant about buying special soil designed for starting seeds. It’s available in most places selling gardening supplies. You will have a higher rate of success because it’s sterile—it doesn’t carry fungus that can kill seedlings, and it’s lightweight so the seeds don’t have to struggle through the heaviness of typical garden soil.

I don’t need a lot of this special mix. Once the seedlings have several true leaves, not just those first two “seed leaves,” I can move them into larger pots with regular, cheaper, potting soil.

Because the seed starter soil is super-dry, be sure to mix it with water before filling the pots.

Accelerated Propagation System

Lee Valley’s “Accelerated Propagation System,” photo by Barb Gorges



“Accelerated Propagation System,” showing water reservoir and wicking system, photo by Barb Gorges

Step 3—Use sterile pots

Kathy and Barb both swear by “accelerated propagation systems.” There are several brands, but the one we use is from The clear plastic dome keeps the soil surface moist until the seeds sprout.

But the water reservoir is key. A wicking system waters each cell from below so that seeds are never jostled from top watering. And before seeds sprout, the reservoir may not need filling for several days, letting you take a vacation before the more demanding part of plant parenthood begins.

Because the seedlings require only a few weeks before they need repotting, I have been able to start all my small seeds in shifts in this watering system, which is the size of an egg carton. More robust seed varieties do well in other containers covered with plastic wrap until they sprout.

I scavenge for my other containers, carefully reusing plastic pots from plant sales and nursery purchases, as well as whatever stores throw out. It’s appalling how much plastic waste the horticultural industry produces.

Any container you can sanitize can be reused—styrofoam cups, tall drink cups (especially for tomatoes), yogurt cups—just be sure to poke a lot of holes in the bottom for drainage. Clean them and then soak them in a 10 percent bleach solution for a few minutes, then rinse.

There are pots made from compressed fibers of various kinds. The idea is that you can plant the pot and all right into the garden and the roots will grow right through the walls. My experience is that the roots stay in the pot. It is better to tear it away when transplanting and throw the pot in the compost pile.


PotMaker makes pots from newspapers, photo by Barb Gorges

Last year I tried the “PotMaker,” a little wooden cylinder that you roll a strip of newspaper around several times, fold the bottom inch or so underneath and crimp the fold. Remove it from the cylinder and fill it with potting soil. If handled carefully, or rather not handled after setting in a plastic tray, these little pots will hold up until the plant is ready for transplanting outdoors. While newspaper is degradable, I prefer to remove it, if there aren’t too many roots already growing through it.

You could use any cylindrical object to make the size pot of your choice. Wrap the paper around two to three times, but not so tightly you can’t slip it off. And use a freshly read newspaper—nothing that’s been sitting out for weeks accumulating disease spores.

heat mat

Heat mats provide heat under a flat of seedlings, photo by Barb Gorges

Step 4—Provide bottom heat

Some types of seeds, such as vegetables of tropical origin such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, are happier with warmth from an electric heat mat placed beneath them. Vegetables from cold climates, like cabbage and broccoli, don’t care so much. Yes, this is an investment, but especially necessary if you are starting your seeds in a chilly basement.

Last year, I dispensed with the heat mat when I decided to start my seeds in the hall bathroom instead of the basement. It has no windows, just a skylight, and is the warmest spot in the house—over 65 degrees. No one uses the bathtub now so I put in freestanding shelves and hung up lights.

Step 5—Provide extra light

“A windowsill is hardly ever sufficient to grow good stocky seedlings,” said Kathy.

Catalogs are happy to sell you special grow lights, but for the brief time seedlings are with you, a 4-foot shoplight with two fluorescent bulbs, 5000-6500 degrees Kelvin (daylight is approximately 5,600 degrees), is adequate for two standard 10-by-20-inch flats.

Turn on the lights when you get up in the morning, and turn them off at bedtime.

Keep the top of the plants about 1 to 2 inches from the light bulbs. Either hang the lights on chains so that their height can be adjusted, or stack stuff under the flats to bring them close to the lights.

Step 6—Provide wind

Really! Both Barb and Kathy keep small, ordinary oscillating fans going across the room from their seedlings. It prevents damping off disease, when seedlings keel over and die.

Also, plants respond to air movement by reinforcing the strength of their stems so you’ll have stockier, stronger plants.

This has worked for me when I started seeds two years ago. Last year, in the bathroom, I didn’t use a fan and didn’t lose any plants. However, Kathy and Barb’s plants did look better than mine.

Step 7—Water and fertilize carefully

More indoor plants are lost to overwatering than anything else. Once your seedlings germinate, take off any plastic covers and make sure the surface of the soil gets a bit dry before the next watering. As the seedlings grow, their watering schedule will change. Plan to check them at least every day.

Most seed-starting and regular potting soils have fertilizer added, so let the little plants chew on that a few weeks before giving them anything more—and then figure half strength of whatever the directions recommend.


Don’t worry if by the end of May your plants aren’t blooming and as mature-looking as the ones at the store. Blooming plants sell better, but often their roots are pot-bound in those tiny containers and the plants, especially flowers, may not really recover to grow much the rest of the summer.

You can make sure your starts aren’t pot-bound and are at just the right stage to jump into the garden and keep growing.


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