Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Garden lecture season lessons

“Nature’s Best Hope,” chaparral gardens, Plant Select, regenerative gardening and farming

Lauren Springer taught a class in chaparral gardening which features shrubby plants like rabbitbrush that need no irrigation once established. Photo by Barb Gorges.

“Gardeners learn lecture season lessons” was published April 10, 2021, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

            In gardening, there’s the growing season followed by the harvest season. And then there’s the lecture season, starting in January and extending into April.

            With many events going virtual this year, there was a lot to pick from.

            More than 300 people signed up for the virtual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Committee annual workshop in January. Many were from out of state, and even from Canada.

The workshop featured Douglas Tallamy, author of “Nature’s Best Hope.” He explained how planting at least 80% native plants in our gardens supports native insects, birds, other wildlife and people.

Jim Tolstrup, from the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland, Colorado, talked about what native plants he grows and sells at the center’s annual plant sale.

Michelle Bohanan, Laramie County Master Gardener, explained how easy it is to start native seeds and the techniques she uses. The links to videos of all three talks are at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/habitat-hero/.

            Fort Collins Nursery always offers a nice lineup of  classes on winter Saturdays. I noticed Lauren Springer was offering one virtually on chaparral gardening.

            Springer, who has gardened in several Colorado Front Range communities over the last 30 years, specializes in what she calls “The Undaunted Garden,” also the name of a book she wrote and a garden she designed for The Gardens on Spring Creek in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

            Her idea has been to create lush arrays using plants hardy for our climate, from wherever in the world they might be found. In the eight or so years since the first time I attended one of her lectures, she has begun to emphasize native plants accommodating pollinators and saving water.

            This year, it’s chaparral—shrubby plants that do well in dry climates like ours. They need water the first year or two to get established and need only natural precipitation after that. They also need little maintenance. Some examples include Wyoming natives: threadleaf sage, fringed sage, rabbitbrush, leadplant, blanketflower, sulphur flower and prickly poppy.

            Springer declared that now at the age of 61, after years of landscape gardening, her knees are shot and she’d rather spend more time hiking and less time gardening. Most homeowners are of a similar mind so maybe this low-maintenance garden fad will catch on.

            The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens invited Ross Shrigley, executive director of Plant Select, to speak virtually. Plant Select is a cooperative endeavor of Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens. It develops plants suited to the Rocky Mountain region and gets them in the stores and catalogs. Some come from what’s now the High Plains Arboretum west of Cheyenne.

            The first part of Shrigley’s talk was a look at successful Front Range gardens and a few disasters. One disaster was a large pine tree that blew over, exposing that it had been planted without removing the burlap and wire cage around the roots and only one root escaped.

            Shrigley highlighted a number of plants to watch for as they come on the market. Not all are native to our region, but those would fit in Tallamy’s 20% non-native category. The non-native honeybees will enjoy them.

            Then I signed up for the four-day “Soil Regen Summit 2021” put on by the Soil Foodweb School, https://www.soilfoodweb.com/. Much of it was geared to farmers and market gardeners from around the world.

            Elaine Ingham, who earned her PhD in the 1970s from Colorado State University and taught at Oregon State, is the director of the school. Her keynote talk explained how healthy soil works. It requires a massive number of microorganisms. They fill roles such as converter of plant materials on the soil surface and converter of minerals in the soil to make useable food for plants and other microorganisms.

            A functioning soil does not require chemical additives. To achieve this, farmers disturb the soil very little and keep it covered, either with mulch or a cover crop. Functioning soil also produces more nutritious crops.

            Market farmer Jean-Martin Fortier of Quebec, Canada, https://www.themarketgardener.com/, explained how he works with regenerative farming guidelines successfully.

            The idea of not pulverizing the soil every year before planting is becoming mainstream. You can read about it on the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service website, https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/. Look for the Soil Biology Primer.

            Ingham made one startling declaration. If all farmers adopted regenerative agricultural practices, enough carbon would be sequestered to solve the climate crisis within six years.

            Farmers are beginning to see a way out of the petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticide cycle that has held them hostage for more than 70 years. There is more to regenerative agriculture than I can explain here so I hope you will investigate it for yourself.     


Shrub pruning basics

Pruning old chokecherry stems promoted growth of new, vigorous stems. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Mar. 13, 2021, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Horticulturist explains best practices for shrub pruning.”

By guest columnist Jessica Friis, horticulturist at Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Shrubs are much more forgiving of pruning than trees. Pruning shrubs is more for aesthetic purposes.

Since trees get big, and the trunk and main branches are supporting most of the tree’s weight against environmental stresses like wind and snow, structural pruning is important. It prevents limbs from breaking and ensures that the trunk develops strength as the tree reaches mature size.

Shrubs, on the other hand, send multiple shoots out from ground level and aren’t supporting as much weight, so structural pruning is not as necessary.

Some of the pruning rules for trees also apply to shrubs. Dead wood should be removed–unless your shrubs are being used as a windbreak. In that case, you can leave the dead wood to provide more wind resistance.

Remove crossing branches to prevent rubbing and fusing, but don’t remove more than a third of the total canopy during the growing season. For safety reasons, remove branches that touch structures, block views for drivers, and obstruct public sidewalks and streets.

Winter is a great time to prune deciduous shrubs. You can see the branches better (but see notes below on blooming shrubs). Cuts should be made at ground level if removing the entire stem, or just above a bud or secondary branch if removing only part of it.

Pruning for aesthetic reasons

Pruning out the older, browner stems of red-twigged dogwood encourages the growth of younger, brighter-colored shoots.

But the most common reason people trim their shrubs is to control their size and shape. While shearing, the practice of cutting off the tips of branches with hedge clippers to produce a formal shape, is tolerated by some shrubs, I don’t highly recommend it, especially in Cheyenne.

Shearing is not necessary in most landscapes and it only cuts off the new growth. The middle of the shrub accumulates dead branches which stop producing leaves when they are no longer receiving enough light. Then, if an early or late frost kills a patch of tender new growth, or a broken branch due to a heavy snow removes a chunk of the shrub, you end up with a gaping hole that may take years to fill back in, or never fill in at all.

I recommend paying attention to the mature size of the shrub and selecting those that will fit into your landscape. For example, some lilacs can grow to be 10 feet tall, so don’t plant them in a place where you want a 4-foot tall shrub. If you do need to control the size of a shrub, cut the taller stems back at ground level, leaving the shorter, newer stems (and remembering the one-third rule).

Some shrubs can be cut completely back to the ground if they need to be rejuvenated, but research first to make sure your shrub will tolerate it, and make sure the plant is properly irrigated and fertilized so that it has the energy and nutrients needed to grow back.

Pruning for pest control and plant health

Sometimes there are pests that prefer older wood, like the lilac borer, so it is recommended to cut the older, thicker stems at ground level to prevent the pest from invading your lilacs. 

For shrubs that are susceptible to powdery mildew and other fungal infections, thinning out some of the stems to promote air circulation around the leaves will help. 

Older shrubs that are not irrigated should be pruned very sparingly. Removing the dead wood is all that should be done during the growing season.

In general, removing up to a third of the older stems at ground level to make room for newer, healthier shoots will improve the look and health of most shrubs, so this is the best practice to start with. Dead limbs don’t count as part of the third, so feel free to remove those at any time.

Pruning to promote blooming

If you have shrubs that bloom, it’s important to understand what type of wood produces the flowers.

In some shrubs, like lilacs, mock orange and viburnum, the flowers are produced on wood that grew the previous year. So, if you prune the shrub before it blooms, you will reduce the number of flowers you get that year. With those shrubs, it’s best to prune as soon as possible after the blooms have faded, to give time for new growth that will provide next year’s flowers. Usually, the shrubs that bloom early in the growing season are blooming on last year’s wood.

Shrubs that flower on new wood, like elder and potentilla, produce flowers on wood that has just grown and can be pruned any time, but may produce more flowers if they are pruned in the winter or early spring.

Some shrubs–including roses, hydrangeas and spirea—have varieties that fall into both categories, so you’ll need to know which type you have. If you are unsure, my advice is to prune right after the blooms are finished, just to be safe.

Colorado State University Extension has a list of flowering shrubs and pruning recommendations in publications at https://extension.colostate.edu/ as does the University of Wyoming Extension  at https://www.wyoextension.org/publications.

           Guest Columnist Jessica Friis is a horticulturist for the Paul Smith Children’s Village at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. This column will be included in the book due out this growing season, “Cheyenne Garden Gossip: Locals Share Secrets for High Plains Gardening Success.” The book is a compilation of columns on this website.


Gardeners busy in February

Amaryllis flower begins to open. Photo by Barb Gorges.

“Gardeners are busy in February” was published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 6, 2021.

By Barb Gorges

            February is a busy time for those of us who enjoy a plant-filled life.

            The first half of the month is overshadowed by Valentine’s Day. Did you know that 80 percent of American-sold cut flowers are grown in Columbia and flown here? Those growing conditions are often toxic to the environment and workers. Read about how that happened at www.BrownPoliticalReview.org, by searching for “Veriflora.”

            Veriflora, a program offered through SCS Global Services, is an attempt to encourage sustainable ornamental horticulture. You are most likely to find certified plants and flowers somewhere like Whole Foods, but try The Home Depot too.

            If your beloved is a gardener, try a gift certificate to a nearby or online nursery instead. Or one of the myriad garden books from Timber Press.

            Winter is when gardeners gather for lectures and conferences—virtually this year. Here in Cheyenne the 7th Annual Habitat Hero Workshop in mid-January featuring Douglas Tallamy and two other speakers had more than 300 people register. You can watch the recordings by using the links at www.CheyenneAudubon.wordpress.com, on the Habitat Hero tab.

            Feb. 27 is the Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference, with a day’s worth of speakers. See https://landscapingwithcoloradonativeplants.wordpress.com/. There you can find the speakers’ handouts from conferences dating back to 2017.

            Fort Collins Nursery has its usual list of Saturday classes, now through early March: https://fortcollinsnursery.com.

Amaryllis flower at its peak. Photo by Barb Gorges.

February is the peak of my amaryllis collection flowering. I don’t put the plants through dormancy to try to get them to bloom at Christmas. Instead, I keep them watered and green year-round and they naturally bloom anytime between January and April.

I now have two Phalaenopsis orchids and their bloom schedule is similar. The new one started blooming shortly after it arrived by mail last April, and a couple flowers never dropped off. At the end of January, as I write this, they are still hanging on, surrounded by fresh blooms.

I might have hyacinth blooming by mid-month. In the fall I buried a pot of bulbs out in the vegetable garden. I marked the calendar for Feb. 2 to dig them up and bring them in.

The geraniums I brought in last fall are also blooming, so I don’t think Mark will be thinking I need more flowers for Valentine’s Day.

February isn’t too late to buy or order seeds. Last year, seed sellers ran short trying to keep up with demand—one garden news source says the pandemic encouraged 16 million people to garden for the first time last spring. Everyone should be better prepared this year.

Try regional online seed catalogs:

–High Desert Seed of Montrose, Colorado

–Wild Mountain Seeds of Carbondale, Colorado

–High Ground Gardens of Crestone, Colorado

–Snake River Seeds of Idaho

–Grand Prismatic Seed Company of Salt Lake City, Utah (also carries seeds for dye plants)

February is my last chance to get my winter sowing done. This is the technique well suited to cold-weather vegetables and perennial seeds, especially those that require cold treatment.

In a translucent milk jug that has been sliced horizontally just below the handle, I put wet potting soil about 3 inches deep. Seeds are planted at a depth of twice their width and then the top of the milk jug is forced into the bottom—they are flexible so it works. Leave the jugs on the north or east side of a wall so they don’t get too much sun.

Maybe move them into a sunnier location in late April, early May, when seedlings start popping up. No expensive lights or heat mats required. Just make sure the potting soil doesn’t dry out and that you slashed some slits in the bottoms of the jugs so that melting snow doesn’t cause all the contents to float.

Itching to spend time outside? Have any tree or shrub pruning to do?

With our lack of snow this winter, you have plenty of time to get out a measuring tape and measure your yard and plot its current accoutrements on paper. Make copies so you can sketch in different ideas for next season. I want to enlarge my front native/perennial/pollinator beds using the ergonomic shovel, HERShovel, Mark gave me for Christmas.

Finally, visit the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens conservatory. Walk through the tropical display on the first floor, following the arrows. The humidity will feel wonderful. Across the lobby in the Orangerie, continuing through March 13, is the Annual Glass Art Show, full of all the colors we crave in winter.  


Fort Laramie strawberries tough, tasty

Our Fort Laramie strawberries have a national reputation for taste and winter toughness.

Photo courtesy Gardens Alive.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Dec. 26, 2020, “Our Fort Laramie strawberries have a reputation for taste, winter toughness.”

By Barb Gorges

            “Fort Laramie Strawberries are from the ‘ice-box’ section of our nation, Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is a super hardy, wonderfully producing everbearing strawberry. You’ll harvest your first berries this very summer! And what berries – HUGE, bright, scarlet-red berries….”

–Burgess Seed and Plant Company, Bloomington, Illinois, online catalog description

            January isn’t too early to order your strawberry plants for spring delivery.

            The strawberry variety, Fort Laramie, touted in many catalogs, was developed here at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station which opened in 1928. In 1974 it changed its mission and became the High Plains Grasslands Research Station.

            Test plantings of strawberries began about 1934. The two most famous varieties, Ogallala and Fort Laramie, are still popular today.

            Retired Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith remembers Gene Howard, the last director of the hort station before it switched, telling him these successful strawberries could trace their genetics back to native strawberries in the nearby mountains. The station’s successful plant varieties were often named for nearby places.

Selecting strawberry varieties

            I talked to Jane Dorn, a veteran home strawberry grower who remembers spending summers with her grandparents on their ranch near Encampment and her grandfather growing Ogallalas. She’s grown Fort Laramies in both Cheyenne and in Lingle, where she and her husband retired.          

            Fort Laramie strawberries are classified as everbearing, compared to day neutrals that bear continuously, and June bearers which are less hardy here.

In Cheyenne, “everbearing” means if there isn’t a late frost that kills the flower buds, they will bear in June or early July. You’ll get a second flush in the fall if an early frost doesn’t get the flowers or ripening fruit. Their hardiness promise, Zone 3-7, is that with a little protection, the plants will survive from year to year.

            While strawberries can be grown from seed, seeds are not as available as one-year-old plants. Fort Laramie plants are widely available online and in spring at local nurseries. Should you want to try other varieties, Jane suggested looking for those labeled as blooming “late mid-season” or “late.”

Chris Hilgert, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist, says other than the hardy Fort Laramie, Ogallala and Charlotte, other varieties may require growing in a hoop house to be successful. Or be prepared to cover your plants when frost threatens during berry development.

            Chris will have a new publication on growing strawberries in Wyoming available early 2021 at https://www.wyoextension.org/publications/.

Fort Laramie strawberry plants are easy to find in online catalogs.

Photo courtesy Gurney’s.

Winter protection

            Jane recommends straw or other winter mulch 6 inches deep. It can be pulled back in the growing season to suffocate weeds and keep the berries clean.

Planting

            The best planting method for everbearers is the hill style. Soil is mounded about 8 inches high in a berm the length you need. The plants are spaced 12-15 inches apart in a double row. Removing runners allows each plant to put its energy into making more and bigger berries. Jane also uses raised beds, even an old water trough.

            Planting starts is a bit tricky, Jane said. There’s barely an inch of stem between roots and leaves. Dig a hole deep enough that the roots can hang straight before you fill in the dirt. She said two-thirds of the crown (where the leaves have been attached) should be above the soil line.

            Renovating your strawberries will be necessary every three or four years. Check there’s no disease before planting in the same place.

Watering

            Don’t skimp on watering. Figure one inch of water a week. Put a container out in the garden and see how long it takes to fill to the one-inch mark when you irrigate. Drip irrigation works well. Morning watering is best. If leaves are damp at night, it increases the likelihood of powdery mildew.

Fertilizer

            Chris said fertilizing each year, and enough water, is the only way to get berries.

Jane is a fan of compost. Once she’s established the strawberry bed, a top dressing of compost will work itself in. You can also buy specially formulated strawberry fertilizer.

Weeds

            Jane weeds by hand. You don’t want herbicides killing your plants and hoeing could disturb the shallow roots. Pull weeds frequently, while they are small.

Predators

            Every bird and other kind of critter loves strawberries! You’ll have to experiment with fencing, floating row cover and netting. Remember, some animals tunnel.

Disease

            Shane mentioned red stele disease which is caused by a soil fungus. It is most prevalent when strawberries are grown in wet conditions in clay soils. The roots rot—the stele, or core of the root turns red. You’ll notice your plants are less productive. He suggests starting a strawberry bed in a new location with resistant varieties.

January isn’t too early to order strawberry plants. They’re shipped at the right time.

Photo courtesy Burgess Seed and Plant Company.


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Gardening gift ideas

Published Dec. 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Gardening gift ideas: books, shovels, orchids”

By Barb Gorges

            Thinking about ways to treat yourself or a gardening friend this holiday season? See what you think of these ideas.

“A Way to Garden: A Hands-on Primer for Every Season” by Margaret Roach            Margaret’s garden blog posts show up every Sunday morning in my email. They are transcripts of her radio interviews with all kinds of people in the garden world. Their chats are always inspiring and informative.

            This book of gardening information is an updated edition of her first book from 21 years before. Margaret, like us, is in Zone 5, but in New York State so some of the advice may need to be adapted a bit for here. I enjoyed the luscious photos and her generous gardening philosophy.


The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants by Jennifer Jewell

Sometimes, on the way to gender equity, we isolate the underdogs to bring them to the public’s attention. I hope in years to come we won’t need to separate by gender anymore for projects like this.

            I found this book to be a fascinating read, not just because it highlights the accomplishments of women from around the world, but because it showcases the enormous variety of their plant-related careers and how they found them.

           

            Margaret Roach, garden journalist (mentioned above), is in here and so is Lauren Springer, garden designer in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

Here are some of the many other careers included: nursery owner, flower farm owner, floral designer, landscape architecture firm owner, horticulturist, public garden leader (various titles from CEO to director), landscape architect photographer, seed education program founder, garden historian, garden artist, garden magazine editor, herbalist, professor, scientist, horticultural therapist, botanist, botanical photographer, botanical artist, ancestral plant medicine educator and advocate, garden writer, biodynamic farmer, seed keeper, plant pathologist, plantswoman, gardener.


HERShovel, Green Heron Tools

            I asked for a shovel last Christmas, one in the style a gardening friend enjoys using. But it wasn’t the same shovel—hers may be out of production. It was heavy, the handle was too thick for my short fingers, the step at the top of the blade was too narrow, and it wasn’t good at scooping.

            Two women came up with a shovel a few years ago designed specifically for women—it’s “hergonomic.” Some men find it more comfortable to use too. For one thing, it comes in different sizes: small for people under 5-foot-2 and large for people over 5-foot-7 and medium in between.

It has a large “D” handle, wide enough to grip with both hands and it is light. I’m anxious to try one. Then maybe I won’t be asking my husband, Mark, to help me dig as often.

Even if you don’t get a HERShovel, or the HERSpadingfork, check out Green Heron Tools, https://www.greenherontools.com/,  for advice on proper shoveling technique and maintenance.

Because the two business owners originally trained in health care, they have illustrated physical health tips for gardeners. The best one is to change activities every 20 minutes or so. For instance, change off between weeding, pruning and digging to give a break to the different muscle groups used in each.


Orchids

            Last spring, I took advantage of Fantasy Orchid’s pandemic mail order sale. It coincided with a couple of warm days and the box arrived from Louisville, Colorado, having been in transit only two days.

            I ordered a Phalaenopsis since I already had one and know that it is cat-proof. It arrived with big buds ready to open within a week, by mid-April.

            The last two of those 15 flowers are still hanging on. The miracle is that now, in early December, the first two flowers of the next wave have opened. There are at least another 10 buds developing that should last well into spring or even summer.

            This orchid has been a wonderful pandemic companion. We have it on our kitchen table and enjoy it every day. Having it 3 or 4 feet from our southeast-facing window means the blooms will last longer in the dimmer light. When it quits blooming, we will give it more sunshine. For more on how easy orchids are to grow, see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/orchid-adventure/.   


We are what we eat and so are plants

“Gardening Without Work” by Ruth Stout

Published Nov. 14, 2020 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

 “You are what you eat,” is a phrase first attributed to a Frenchman in 1826, then a German in 1863. In 1942 it was the title of a book by American Victor Lindlahr. Plants are what they eat, too.

A multitude of sources today tell us we are healthier eating less fat, sugar, and salt. We are also healthier without the chemicals of conventional farming and food processing, as are farmworkers and ecosystems. The enormous growth of the organic food industry in the last decade shows consumers are listening. Even Cheyenne has an all-organic grocery store now.

Back in the 1970s, the organic food co-op I shopped off-campus expected me to bring my own containers and measure out my selections. Today, organic food may come in bulk quantities, but it is often packaged for convenience, even as frozen dinners.

 Organic convenience food costs more than what people may be willing to pay to switch to organic. But there are three ways to make eating organic more affordable.

1) Buy basics

And buy a freezer or take up canning if you buy in bulk. But even if you don’t do food preservation, buying already frozen produce is fine. Simple protein-vegetable-fruit meals from scratch don’t take that long to cook if you plan a bit (observes the woman who lets her husband do much of the cooking).

2) Plan for leftovers

Get them in the fridge or freezer asap so they don’t become part of the 40 percent of food thrown out in this country. Soup I make from last night’s leftovers is my favorite lunch and dinner is often creative casseroles.

Cooking mostly from scratch and not wasting food goes a long way to making organic food affordable.

3) Grow your own food.

But not all home-grown produce is created equal.

Your tomato is what it eats—the nutrition it gets from the soil. To get nutritious soil, skip conventional farming and gardening methods, and conventional commercial fruit and vegetable varieties.

 Donald Davis, University of Texas at Austin, was the lead on a 2004 study titled, “Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999.” It reported that many nutritional elements are lower in today’s varieties because they have been developed to grow fast.

“Uptake of nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth,” Davis said.

 Other studies also show a drop in nutrient values over the decades is due to fewer nutrients available in the soil. The more synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are poured on, the less nutritious the soil becomes because beneficial microbes are starved or killed.

And the more you need to keep pouring on. The for-profit chemical companies have had great marketing campaigns since the 1940s to make you think theirs is the only way to grow.

The alternative is to encourage soil microbes to grow in your garden. What do they eat? Compost and mulch, plant and animal materials. And then they feed your plants. See my column, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/soil-microbes-better-than-rototilling/.

 J. I. Rodale was one of the early proponents of organic growing, and even the inventor of the term, “organic” to refer to the method. He started the magazine, “Organic Farming and Gardening” in 1942.

“Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West” by Jane Shellenberger

Now the Rodale Institute is focused on regenerative organic agriculture. Not just sustainable agriculture but methods that improve ag land. It includes techniques such as permaculture, agroforestry and no-till farming. And organic gardening.

My favorite find at a used bookstore is any book by a garden writer pre-World War II, or even WWI, to find out how they gardened before the age of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Most are not how-to books, however one written in 1961 by Connecticut gardener Ruth Stout is: “Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent.” The cartoon-like cover also says, “no plowing, no hoeing, no cultivating, no weeding, no watering, no spraying.” That describes organic.

A more available book better suited for us is Jane Shellenberger’s “Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West,” published in 2012. She is the publisher and editor of “Colorado Gardener” magazine. Read all issues free online at https://www.coloradogardener.com/.

See my past columns for how to start your new vegetable garden and smother the grass over the winter where you want it to be. Also, Google “organic vegetable seed companies.” You deserve to eat well and be well.


Assessing the gardening season

Varieties of New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, a North American plant native to central and northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada, are popular fall garden flowers. These are at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 10, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Assessing the season: How did your garden grow?”

By Barb Gorges

I’m trying to follow my own advice to use a notebook to track what I plant (and where) and what the results are. That way, in the depths of winter, when the catalogs and nurseries tempt me with their 2021 offerings, I might review my notes and make better informed decisions.

Growing season 2020 in Cheyenne started out well. We had Laramie County Master Gardeners interested in submitting photos for “Show and Tell” for the Zoomed monthly membership meetings in the spring.

But then some gardens were hit with hail in July and sometime in August we realized it hadn’t rained in more than a month and we were having record-breaking heat. Then in early September we had an inch of snow with ice that brought down tree branches but didn’t freeze the perennials. A few weeks later we had a day of thick smoke and ash from the Mullen fire.

The early September snow and ice storm brought down a large branch that barely missed our new trellis (upper left). Photo by Barb Gorges.

Seedlings

 In late spring I transplanted part of my January winter sowing—perennials started from seed in milk jugs with tops cut off and then replaced (https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/). Some seedlings went in my own garden, some to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and Board of Public Utilities Habitat Hero gardens and the rest in 1-gallon pots on the patio to hold over for fall planting.

Sally guards the winter sowing milk jugs (and kitty litter jugs) back in May. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The CBG transplants did not do well because the lack of rainfall eventually made it evident the irrigation there needed to be reconfigured. Because volunteers were absent for several months at the beginning of the pandemic, it took a while before the overworked staff could adjust it.

Funds to buy more plants are lacking since our Habitat Hero workshop in February used the online ticket seller, Brown Paper Tickets. It refuses to pay the $2000 we are owed, citing the pandemic. They have many other victims across the country.

Thrips

The seedlings survived several light hail storms. Mark built a second hail guard when the seedlings were up-potted. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Because of the threat of hail, I had crowded all the patio starts under free-standing hail guards Mark knocked together. They look like wooden card tables with hardware cloth mesh tops. I watered but didn’t look closely until late August when I realized all the patio plants had an infestation that looked like yellow designs drawn on the upper surfaces of the leaves.

Catherine Wissner, Laramie County Extension horticulturist, diagnosed thrips and asked me to take a photo of the leaf undersides too, where I saw little flighty white things. These were the plants I was planning to add to the Board of Public Utilities’ Habitat Hero garden.

Bare-root planting

I read that thrips lay their eggs in the soil so when we planted a couple weeks later, we washed the white insects off with water. Then we knocked off as much potting soil as we could and swished the roots in a bucket of water before planting.

More and more experts are recommending planting without any of the previous soil attached, especially trees, shrubs and perennials. That’s how the crevice garden by the front door of the CBG conservatory was planted.

The advantage is the roots immediately reach out into their new surroundings instead of staying curled up in a pot shape.

Fall-blooming asters

The BOPU garden is looking good—see it at 2416 Snyder. One species, a New England aster variety, is buzzing! Frequently “improved,” this native species now comes in a variety of sizes and shades of white, pinks, lavenders and purples that bloom in fall.

At the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden, this variety of New England Aster is “New England Pink.” Can you find the five bees? Photo by Barb Gorges.

Kathy Shreve’s plant choices for this garden are, this third growing season, filling in nicely and attracting butterflies and birds as well as bees. But the runnerless strawberries that made it through the first winter quit the second winter.

Stressed trees

At the LCMG summer meetings, Catherine shared problems she was seeing on yard calls. Many were trees receiving too little water, becoming stressed, leading to diseases and pests.

I was concerned about the pocket park in my neighborhood and the survival of the eight trees in it when the city cut back its number of employees and didn’t water it this summer. One spruce died. But I’m happy the city found the money to turn the sprinklers on in September. Every little bit helps, even once-a-month watering in winter.

Tomatoes

Catherine’s photos of tomato diseases were alarming, but more easily solved, at least next growing season, by not planting tomatoes in the same location for the next two years and picking disease resistant and better varieties for our area.

This hot summer, the Anna Maria’s Heart short-season, Russian heirloom tomatoes did very well. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Here in our garden, the record-breaking heat gave Mark the best crop of Anna Maria’s Heart Russian heirloom tomatoes in the six years he’s been growing them. Friends who bought his starts at the LCMG plant sale agreed they were early, huge and tasty.

In conclusion, an experienced horticulturist can predict what plants will do well in a particular garden, but every site and every growing season is unique. All you can do is your best to try to match the plant with expected conditions and see what happens.

White Prairie Aster is an intriguing native I found this fall in the field in town where I walk the dog. It’s only a few inches tall in this location and would make a good garden groundcover. Photo by Barb Gorges.
I planted this unknown variety of New England Aster 30 years ago here in the front yard. It grows about 2 feet tall and has loose panicles of flowers. Photo by Barb Gorges.
A friend passed on this unknown variety of New England Aster. In my yard it grows about 3 to 4 feet tall with all the flowers in a topknot. Photo by Barb Gorges.
This more modern (unknown) variety of New England Aster grows short and compact, forming a small mound about 1 foot tall. Photo by Barb Gorges


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Undaunted gardens are the future

“Undaunted garden” is Lauren Springer’s term for gardens that stand up to hail, drought and other vicissitudes of Western climate. Photo by Barb Gorges, Gardens on Spring Creek, Ft. Collins, Colorado, on a smoky day.

Undaunted gardens are the future for Cheyenne

Also published Sept. 11, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Hardy gardens: The future for Cheyenne.”

By Barb Gorges

            Lauren Springer wrote a book in 1994 based on her Colorado gardening experience a few years after moving from the East Coast, “The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-resilient Beauty.” The popular, revised second edition came out in 2010 (under the name she used for a few years, Lauren Springer Ogden).

            After our experiences this summer in Cheyenne, damaging hail in July and no rain to speak of in August, local flower gardeners may want to look for this book. (Vegetable gardeners, just put up your hail guards and put down drip irrigation.)

            Luscious photography illustrates nearly every page, including the lists of plants recommended for various circumstances, including hail, drought, deer, sun, shade. There’s even a chapter titled, “Roses for Realists.” The last 45 pages are “Portraits of One Hundred Indispensably Undaunted Plants.”

One of Lauren’s “Indispensably Undaunted Plants,” Amsonii jonesii, Colorado Desert Blue Star or Jones’s Blue Star, is now a Plant Select offering, https://plantselect.org/.

            Lauren designs gardens and gives talks frequently about her favorite plants. I’ve attended two. She takes her own photos and her garden shots are lush with multiple colors. Was her photography telling the truth about her favorite, death-defying perennials, some native, some exotic?

            I decided it was time for a field trip mid-August to see her Undaunted Garden at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Ft. Collins, Colorado. I saw the potted nursery plants laid out a year ago June and wondered what 14 months’ growth might look like.

            A wildland-fire-smoke-shrouded-90-degree-plus Monday morning meant the gardens were nearly empty. Mark and I were allowed to take our masks off outside and saw few volunteers or other visitors.

            The last few years, this botanic garden has been in expansion mode and the largest part of the additional gardens feature the kinds, and their plants, that do well here (and in Wyoming): Rock Garden, Prairie Garden, Foothills Garden, Cactus Garden and Plant Select Garden (Plant Select varieties are chosen for their western hardiness and are available through nurseries).

The gardens all swirl around each other and the Undaunted Garden. Was it colorful? Yes. Was it as colorful as the Color Garden, the one bed devoted to floriferous annuals as thick as sugar frosting, ala Butchart Gardens? No.

Cut-leaf Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris ‘Laciniata’, a European plant, is another of Lauren’s favorites. This one was photographed in mid-July in the Board of Public Utilities Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

But if you are tired of high water bills and leaves turning to mush in hailstorms, give the organic oatmeal raisin cookies of flowering plants another look. The flowers are just as bright and sweet, and if sometimes smaller, can be more profuse and much more likely to avoid hail damage as well as their thinner leaves. They don’t need mollycoddling—mostly no fertilizer.

If one of these undaunted plants won’t grow in a certain kind of location for you, reread Lauren’s recommendation and try it in a different kind of spot and put something else in its place.

This morning as I looked over the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden, I was reminded of this. The irrigation system and intervening plants have created dry “rain shadows” where plants have died, but other plants have prospered. Recognizing one of the major dry spots, last fall we put a native rubber rabbitbrush in front of the sign. It is doing quite well without irrigation all summer or rain this last month.

There are a couple drawbacks to reducing your irrigation. One is the health of your trees and shrubs. Even the natives are usually found near the creeks where they can find more water.

And for some reason, weeds grow extremely well and green, even in a drought, so you’ll want to consider covering the soil, preferably with drought-resistant, prettier plants.

It used to be we could count the number of days in Cheyenne with temperatures 90 degrees or more on one hand, maybe two. I’ve lost count this summer.

The trend here isn’t getting cooler. The Washington Post featured a map showing areas in the U.S. that have already exceeded two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average annual temperature between 1895 and 2018 and Laramie County is one of them at 2.1 degrees (3.8 degrees F). Albany and Carbon counties, providing Cheyenne’s water via snowmelt, are 2 (3.6) and 1.8 (3.2), respectively.

You’ve heard that if the global average increase reaches 2 degrees Celsius, sea levels rise. In the West we get more algae blooms, forest fires, hail and less snow to melt for our water supply plus nasty insects and plant diseases that survive a warm winter.

Growing an Undaunted Garden is one way to cope. Along with solar-powered air conditioning.

At the Gardens on Spring Creek, the Undaunted Garden includes the largest collection of cold hardy cactus in the U.S. Designed, built and maintained by landscape designer and author Lauren Springer. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Visit the Gardens on Spring Creek

They are currently open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Tickets must be bought online, https://www.fcgov.com/gardens/, for a particular entry time. Masks must be worn in the visitor center to check in and also in the Butterfly House.

Members of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, a reciprocal garden, can get free admission by making a reservation by phone.   

Washington Post map and article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/climate-environment/climate-change-america/


Drip irrigation shopping list

drip irrigation parts
Drip irrigation (from top left): punch gun, 1/4-inch tubing, emitters, loop stakes, 1/4-inch barbed couplings.

“Drip irrigation saves time, money, water and backache,” was published Aug. 8, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

                It’s time for a reprise of the basics of drip irrigation for everyone tired of hauling hoses this summer or who wants to save on their water bill.

                Imagine the twist of a flipper at your faucet or a timer automatically turning on the water. Water travels out to your garden via tubing with little emitters at each plant, or thin tubing with an emitter on the end taking it to farther plants, or through soaker hose tubing.

                Eight years ago, Mark and I installed drip irrigation for our vegetables and flowers at the back of the yard, including a raised bed, hooking it up to our outside faucet.

All the plastic components are still in good shape because they are away from sunlight, mostly under mulch, especially in winter. The few holes were easy to mend. In winter we remove the mechanical parts attached to the faucet and store them inside.

                Installation, including 25 emitters at the ends of 25 quarter-inch spaghetti tubes, took just over two hours.

                It is best if the tubing and fittings are all from the same company, although you may use general plumbing materials to get from the typical ¾-inch-diameter home faucet to the recommended ½-inch-diameter drip tubing for home use.

Whatever brand is sold at your favorite hardware store/garden center, you should be able to find a step-by-step installation manual, such as the one for Orbit, in the store or free online.

                Here is my shopping list from eight years ago (in order of installation from the faucet). Inflation could increase prices by 12 percent, but a check online shows prices vary widely by more than that, even for the same brand.

$3 – Vacuum breaker (3/4-inch), a simple backflow preventer keeps water in the hose or drip tubing from getting sucked back into your household water supply.

$11 – Y-connector (3/4-inch), allows you to hook up the drip system and a hose at the same time and turn them on independently.

$5 – Water pressure regulator (3/4-inch), to prevent blowing up your drip tubing when you turn the water on.

drip irrigation filter
Drip irrigation Y-filter.

$10 – Y-filter (3/4-inch). There are other types, but all keep sediment in the water from clogging emitters.

$6 – Length of PVC pipe, cement, converter to ½-inch tubing, etc. We had the PVC pipe extend to ground level and then attach to the drip tubing.

$0.80 – ½-inch elbow fitting. The tubing is so flexible we didn’t need more than one elbow. There are also T-fittings so that you can have the tubing branch off, down each row of vegetables or to each raised bed. The fittings are forced onto the ends of the tubing—no tool required.

$10 – ½-inch tubing, 100 feet, cuts easily with pruners (make sure it isn’t the heavier tubing for underground sprinklers)

$1.50 – Bag of 10 ½-inch loop stakes to hold the tubing in place.

$10 – Punch gun, makes the right size holes in the ½-inch tubing to fit the emitters or barbed couplings attaching the ¼-inch tubing.

$2 – Bag of 25 ¼-inch barbed couplings to pop into the holes in the ½-inch tubing to connect the ¼-inch-diameter tubing. Each hole corresponds to a plant you want to water. These barbs are not needed if you run your ½-inch tubing right next to each plant and put an emitter in each hole.

$7 – ¼-inch tubing, 100 feet, cuts easily with pruners. I used plain tubing, but there’s also tubing with holes every so many inches, or tubing of a porous material—soaker tubing.

$4 – Bag of 10 emitters, either 1 gallon per hour or 2, to pop into the holes on the ½-inch tubing. Or, if you use plain ¼-inch tubing extensions, you pop them into the ends of those tubes. You can also install little sprinklers that spray instead of emitters which only drip, but that defeats the idea of saving water by keeping it from becoming airborne and evaporating. See box for gallons per hour calculations.

$2 – Bag of “goof plugs” in case you have punched a hole you don’t want and need to plug it.

$1.50 – Bag of 10 ¼-inch loop stakes for holding the ¼-inch tubing in place.

$1 – end cap, ½-inch. If you don’t have this on the far end of your ½-inch tubing, you just have a holey hose!

                We already had some Teflon tape and a wrench for all the plumbing connections so I didn’t count them.

Because I set up my system for 25 plants, I had to buy multiple packages of emitters, barbs and loop stakes. My total was $90. But remember, I’m saving water.

                If you’d like a timer automatically watering on a schedule, one costs an average of $40. It helps you adjust your watering more precisely. And you can always shut it off temporarily if it rains enough.

drip irrigation timer
A drip irrigation timer is something we added later.

Gallons per hour calculations

Which emitters you chose, 1 or 2 gallons per hour, depends on how much water pressure you have, how quickly your ground soaks up water and how long you want to leave the system on during each watering. You can mix them in the same system if some plants need more water than others.

If your faucet flows at 100 gallons per hour, you could, theoretically, use up to 100 1-gallon or 50 2-gallon per hour emitters.

How much water does your faucet produce per hour? Figure out how many seconds it takes for it to fill a 1-gallon container. Take that amount of time and divide it into the number of seconds in an hour. If it takes 10 seconds to fill, divide 10 into 3,600 seconds in an hour and you have the rate of 360 gallons per hour.


A weed by any other name

A battered Western Tiger Swallowtail enjoys nectaring on Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), a prolific, self-seeding flower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle July 4, 2020.

A weed by any other name can smell sweet

By Barb Gorges

 “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?”

William Shakespeare

      “A weed by any other name can be the exuberant flower you fell in love with and planted three years ago.”

Barb Gorges

            There is no official horticultural definition of what a weed is. In everyday usage though, a weed is a plant out of place that is disrupting management goals.

            This spring I realized my perennial flower beds needed renovation, weeding, editing, improving, whatever you want to call it—kind of a Marie Kondo tidying up. Volunteer sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) is taking over the herb bed. Even though me and the swallowtail butterflies love its multiple shades of pink, it is crowding out other plants and about to become a weed.

            I rarely have traditional, ugly weeds like kochia or knotweed because they won’t find enough bare, sunny spots. (See “Advice for the weed-weary” below.) But because the beds were carved out of the lawn, grass is my biggest weed.

I learned an edging solution from Herb Schaal, the landscape architect for the Paul Smith Children’s Village at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. He has beautiful gardens and lawn in Bellevue, Colorado. Schaal digs a trench between lawn and garden about 6-8 inches wide and deeper than the grass roots grow. Then he fills the trench with mulch to keep people from breaking ankles and so that the lawn mower wheels can run on it and no edge trimming is required. He cleans roots out of the trenches once a year and refills them.

            I’m trying the same technique here, but most my beds are already invaded by grass, like the yarrow patch. It may require digging up and trying to sort out the grass roots. Or I could start over, replacing it with a shovelful of uninfected yarrow from somewhere else in the yard.

            Many of the plants in my perennial beds are gifts from plants or birds dropping seeds. Because individual perennial plants can’t last forever, I’ve learned to remove mulch in the spring and let unidentifiable seedlings grow up enough that I can tell whether they are friend or foe. I know that a columbine that sprouts on its own in a shady spot on pure clay left from construction will grow better than anything I can plant, other than another columbine.

            Our mountain ash trees produce a plethora of seedlings every year. I pull them because otherwise they would become a forest. The trees were originally bird gifts, from fruit plucked from the tree across the street.

            After months of winter dormancy, I realized oregano was taking over a bed. Why should I be surprised? It’s a mint and all mints have spreading reputations.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a kitchen herb attractive to bees, but it is also a mint and can spread easily. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I vaguely remember a few years ago looking around for spare plants after enlarging this bed. The oregano in the herb bed needed thinning and bees like the flowers so I planted some along with another mint, bee balm (monarda or horsemint). But the oregano took over half the bed when I wasn’t looking and the bee balm was barely hanging on. Other plants were in hiding, hungering for water and sunlight which the oregano refused to share.

            Maybe I should have harvested the oregano and dried it. Instead, I added most of it to the compost bin. The remainder standing in that bed will make green filler, and later, cut flowers, for bouquets this summer.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

            Then there are the hollyhocks. Years ago, I tried to grow them in the alley, but a neighbor mistook the first year’s leaf rosettes for weeds and mowed them while trying to be neighborly. I then encouraged hollyhocks to grow elsewhere and this year they are finally forming a herd. But then I realized they had surrounded my hardly-ever-blooming peonies. So, I moved a few hollyhocks and discovered how vigorous their root systems are. We will see next year if the peonies appreciate less competition.  

There’s a saying about transplanted perennial plants, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap.” This is the third year for cutleaf coneflowers given to me by a friend thinning her garden. They seem to be living by that maxim’s timeline so I may have some to share with other friends next year.

My new weed philosophy: Sometimes you must take a shovel to plants before they become weeds.


This dandelion is limited only by the mountain climate at 9500 feet elevation in the backcountry of the Medicine Bow Mountains–no one is going to dig it up. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Advice for the weed-weary

            For those of you with traditional weeds, especially in a vegetable or annual flower garden, my advice is don’t till or hoe the soil because it will cause more weed seeds to germinate.

Mulch well, but not up against the stems of your plants and only with clean mulch that has no weed seeds. Use grass clippings, last year’s tree leaves or straw or wood chips if you have to (not the dyed ones).

Look for weed seedlings once a week or more often and pull them gently and steadily by hand to try to get the whole root and disturb the soil as little as possible. It helps to water the garden beforehand. Never let weeds go to seed.

            There is a time and place for herbicides, such as a serious infestation of thistle or bindweed where deep roots are impossible to remove completely and tilling just multiplies them.

Herbicides (even “organic” or “natural” ones) are rarely needed at the city residential property level. Herbicides should never be applied to try to prevent weeds that may show up in the future, such as a “weed and feed” lawn care mix, because they just poison the watershed as they are washed away—and waste your money.