Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

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Have a black thumb with houseplants?


Pothos tolerates low light. As the vine lengthens, you can make cuttings and replant them in the same pot—just poke a hole in the soil with a pencil. Or if you lay the stem, still attached, on the soil surface, it will root. Or put stems in a jar of water where they can grow for years without soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 19, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

“Have a black thumb? With houseplants, you can cure it with dirt.”

By Barb Gorges

Do you have a black thumb when growing houseplants? The cure is as simple as having the right plant in the right place with the right amount of water.

Ironically, the best way to check the water needs of plants is by feeling the soil—and probably getting a little black dirt on your fingers.

Plants indoors provide several benefits besides accenting your décor. They produce oxygen and add humidity. Some, including the spider plant and pothos, remove toxins from the outgassing of building and furniture materials.

Also, scientists tell us gazing at their natural forms does something good for our psyches, especially over a long winter.

The right plant

Often, people complaining about their black thumbs are having a bad experience with a potted plant that came from a florist. It was in full bloom and now it’s dead.

The likelihood of a beginning indoor gardener finding success with a hothouse plant is about the same as for someone trying Mount Everest for their first hike.

Houseplants are often descendants of tropical plants brought back by Victorian-era explorers in a time when the wealthy could afford glass-walled conservatories. When glass became more affordable, houseplants proliferated.

But these plants come from many micro-climates around the world with varying amounts of humidity, rainfall, light and heat.

Your best bet is to start with the standards, plants that can tolerate a wide range of conditions. These tend to remain foliage-only plants in the climates provided by our homes and offices.

My three favorites, spider plant, jade plant and pothos, which looks like variegated philodendron, are also easy to propagate so you may be able to find a friend who will share cuttings or a starter plant.

With jade and pothos, planting a cut stem is as easy as poking a hole with a pencil into a small container of potting soil and inserting the stem. With the spider plant, a “baby” growing on the end of a long stem can be cut off (or left attached), laid on top of the soil and held in place with a paper clip bent in a u-shape. And then keep the soil moist—not wet—until they start showing new growth.

Spider plant

Spider plants prefer bright light, not direct sunlight, but can survive in shade. Most have a white stripe down the center of the leaf; some have a green stripe or a plain green leaf. Older plants produce stems with new plants, “spiders,” and little white flowers. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The right place

In nature, plants grow where they get what they need. To be a successful indoor gardener, you need to match the plant with the conditions at your house.

Many houseplants prefer sunny, south-facing windows. Others are fine with shorter periods of sunlight on the east or west sides of the house. Some plants prefer dimmer light on the north side, or being placed a distance from a window. Only fake plants survive very dim light. And for some varieties, bright overhead fluorescent office lights will be enough.

How do you tell how much light your plant will need? Read the label that came with it. Or find out what kind it is by asking a Laramie County Master Gardener, or look it up at the library or online.

Experiment with your plants. If they grow long and leggy, or older leaves fall off too soon, they might need more light.

Humidity can be important. I had an avocado I grew from the pit that did very well in a bathroom in which two teenagers showered every day. But then we got a new furnace with a stronger blower that dissipated the humidity better and the plant died. Short of growing humidity-loving plants in a terrarium, it helps to group plants together, so they humidify each other.

Garden soil—at least our garden soil around here—is a bad choice for indoor plants. General, all-purpose potting soil that can be found at any garden supply center will work for the majority of houseplants.

All pots need drainage holes and a saucer that allows you to see when water starts draining out. A pot too big will make your plant look scrawny, besides, many plants prefer cramped roots–it encourages some to bloom. My azalea has been in the same pot 20 years and blooms regularly.

Jade plant

Jade plants are succulents with thick, water-storing leaves. In full sun they grow bushy and may even flower, but even with less than ideal light, they look interesting. Always err on the side of less water rather than more. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Don’t kill your houseplant with kindness. Most types will drown, literally, if you keep the soil soaking wet. Roots need air and as soil dries, microscopic air pockets develop.

On the other hand, if you let the soil get too dry, especially some of the potting soils with a lot of peat moss, they can become hydrophobic and it’s hard to get them to absorb water again.

During the winter, my spider, jade and pothos plants can easily go a week between waterings. But other plants will dry out faster if they have soil that doesn’t hold water well. Same with plants in clay pots, small pots or located near the heating vents. This is where people with black thumbs must get their fingers dirty.

The general rule is that the top inch of soil should dry out before watering again. So a few days after watering, stick your finger in the dirt. You can also learn to evaluate the soil’s dryness by the color of the surface, or if you have small plants in light plastic pots, check how heavy they feel.

My watering method is to pour enough in to fill the pot nearly to the rim, but no more than the saucer below can hold. Then I wait, water other plants and come back in a couple minutes to see if any water is draining out. I repeat this until I see water in the saucer. If water more water is draining out than what would evaporate in an hour, be sure to dump it or suction it up with a turkey baster so the roots don’t rot.


A plant in a livable temperature, receiving the right amount of light and water, is not stressed and is resistant to pests and diseases.

Plants look greener if you trim away dead parts. If you occasionally wipe or wash dust off their leaves, they absorb more light and your plants will grow better. Don’t block pores with leaf polishes.

Directions for houseplant fertilizer may recommend frequent feedings, but be very cautious, especially in the fall as days get shorter and indoor plants grow more slowly.

Wait until early spring to start fertilizing, when plants are really growing again. Even then, don’t be too generous. My three recommendations, spider, jade and pothos, do well enough at my house with hardly any fertilization. Cheyenne tap water seems to be about all they need.

Spider plant shoots

“Spiders,” spider plant offshoots, root easily. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Get your turf ready for winter


Laramie County Master Gardener Martha Mullikin enjoys her Cheyenne lawn in mid-September with her two dogs. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Sept. 21, 2014 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Get your turf ready for winter: Tips from a Cheyenne resident whose lawn is wedding-worthy

By Barb Gorges

Let’s talk about growing grass today—or what folks in the landscape business call turf—and what you need to do to prepare a conventional, Kentucky bluegrass lawn for winter.

I asked Martha Mullikin, a Laramie County Master Gardener, to describe her lawn maintenance schedule.

She has a large lawn, large for being located in the older part of town. It is where famous local architect William Dubois (1879-1953) once had a tennis court. It’s large enough to host large weddings and other parties—which Martha has.


Martha’s rule of thumb is to fertilize on the holidays, depending on weather: Easter, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. She uses fertilizer rated 10-10-10, the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium. This is not a lot of fertilizer because, as she says, “the more you fertilize, the more you have to mow. All you’re doing is watering and mowing.”

And now that he’s retired, that work falls to her husband, David.

They use Ringer Lawn Restore more in the summer, she said, “because it puts (good) bacteria into the soil.”

It’s available locally. Without chemicals, it introduces microorganisms that break down organic materials in it to make nutrients available to plants.

“We don’t use the weed killer-fertilizer combinations because I compost grass clippings,” Martha said. Otherwise, if the clippings aren’t set aside for a year, the residual herbicide will kill flowers and vegetables in gardens treated with the compost.

After the final lawn mowing, she uses a “winterizer” fertilizer, one that is designed to be slow-release—you wouldn’t want a big hit of nitrogen to encourage the growth of tender little grass blades right before winter weather.

It is equally important to read the directions on the packaging and apply the right amount of fertilizer and make sure it doesn’t get washed into the street. Wasting fertilizer wastes your money and pollutes streams and groundwater—where someone—if not you—gets their drinking water.

In some patches of Martha’s lawn, she has white clover growing. Clover is a nitrogen fixer, acting like fertilizer, so if it were growing with your grass all over your lawn, you could reduce the amount of nitrogen you use.


Martha usually digs dandelions and other weeds, seldom resorting to weed killer for persistent spots.

Every time the above-ground parts of a weed are removed, the weed’s ability to feed its roots through photosynthesis is lessened, eventually starving it, and hopefully killing it, just like cows do when they continually graze their favorite plants.

Dealing with weeds on an as-needed basis rather than broadcasting weed-killer over your whole lawn means you save money and might get a sweet surprise, such as little violets blooming in your turf.


Martha has a well for watering, but pumping it has a cost as does using our municipal water. So it makes sense to be as efficient as possible.

Using a sprinkler system like Martha’s means you can set it on a schedule. But that schedule needs adjusting based on how rainfall and summer heat affect how fast your lawn dries out. The length of time an individual zone runs depends on how hot and dry it is compared to the others.

What you want to do is soak the top 12 inches of your yard. This is where most of the tree and shrub roots are, and where the grass roots should be reaching. Lightly watering often will keep roots too close to the surface where they may dry out and die. Plus, wetting a lawn too often encourages diseases.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist, suggests one last deep watering before the ground freezes to benefit turf as well as trees and shrubs.

Also plan to water your yard if we have any of those long, dry spells in winter when it is warm enough to set out a hose and sprinkler. But don’t forget to drain or blow out your sprinkler system before water in the pipes can freeze.

Remove leaves

Martha suggests using the lawn mower to pick up leaves with the grass catcher. “You have to get rid of those leaves or you will have snow mold,” she said.

Considering leaf mulch can be used to keep down weeds in the garden, you can see how detrimental it might be to a lawn. The snow mold, a fungus, breaks down the leaves—and your grass.

The nice part about using your lawn mower is that you will be mixing grass clippings with dead leaves—a desirable combination of green and brown materials for composting. Also, small bits of leaves decay, or compost, faster than whole leaves.

If you don’t have compost bins, use plastic leaf bags, leaving the tops open so moisture will be added by rain and snow. Or dig the chopped leaves into your annual flower or vegetable garden.

For protecting perennial flowers, I’ve found it’s better to use whole leaves that are curled and dried—but not cottonwood leaves that remain flat and form an impenetrable layer. After the killing frost, add a foot or so of the curly leaf mulch. In windy locations, keep it from blowing away by laying some wire fencing over or around it.


With our long, snowless spells, the grass roots benefit from shading by the grass blades, just as in summer.

“David usually mows 3 inches high. The last mow is 3.5 – 4 inches (as high as the mower goes)—pretty high. You don’t want to shock it by cutting it very short,” Martha said.

Rather than a weekly affair throughout the growing season, mowing should be done as needed, so that no more than one-third of the height of the grass is removed at one time. Mowing is needed more frequently in spring to keep up with growth, less often by fall.


Considering our lawns often get a lot of traffic, including walking back and forth to mow, the soil can get compacted, making it difficult for water and fertilizer to soak in. And all the healthy soil microorganisms need air too.           “I really do think aeration helps. We like to do it in the spring right before we fertilize. A lot of places recommend two times a year, but we never have,” Martha said.

So try renting one of those core aeration contraptions. Don’t worry about leaving the plugs on the soil surface if you do it in spring like Martha. They will soon break down.

If you have a thatch problem, core aeration is better than power raking.

The benefits of turf

Some people replace their lawns with rock and gravel, thinking it will cut back on maintenance.

However, dirt blows in on top, allowing weeds to grow, which require pulling or toxic weed killers. Then you have to sift out the dirt out every few years to keep it looking nice.

The advantage of a lawn is that all those growing grass plants add coolness and humidity to our homes’ hot, dry summer environments. And all vegetation, including the lawn, helps absorb sound.

Lawn maintenance can be a lot of work if you use too much fertilizer and water, making the lawn grow faster than necessary.

But there are types of turf, based on native grass species, which require far less maintenance and water. I plan to examine those options early in the spring. Let me know if you have any experience with them.

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.


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