Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

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

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.


            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.


            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.


            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.


            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.


            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.


            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.


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,,  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.


            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   

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,

 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

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.


 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 ( 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.


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.


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


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,

            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,, 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:

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.

Guide to growing fruit trees and shrubs in Cheyenne

Chokecherry is a native shrub in Wyoming. It usually blooms late enough to avoid the last frost and provides for pollinators. Later it provides fruit for birds–and sometimes for people. It can become a small tree or pruned so as to remain a shrub.

Here is a general guide to growing fruit trees and shrubs in Cheyenne

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 12, 2020.

By Barb Gorges

           Commercial fruit growing is not viable in the Cheyenne area, primarily because of the limited water supply and the vagaries of our weather, but in the home garden, especially if your other plants have low water needs, a few fruit trees and shrubs could be justified.


           I spoke recently with Catherine Wissner, the University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County and she said watering fruit trees and shrubs is crucial to a successful harvest—not enough water and you won’t even get flowering, much less fruit.

           She said the rule of thumb is 10 gallons per 1-inch diameter of the trunk every 7 to 10 days during the growing season, adjusting for hot, dry and windy weather. Fruiting trees and shrubs need more water than the lawn they may be planted in the middle of. Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water.

Fruit types

           Tree fruit grown in our area includes apples (see my column on Wyoming heirlooms,, cherries, plums, pears and even experiments with peaches. Look for fire blight-resistant varieties.

           Fruiting shrubs like chokecherry, a local native, can be very bountiful. Cheyennites also grow serviceberry, elderberry, gooseberry, raspberry and currant.

           The other crucial factor is selecting the right variety. It helps if a variety of tree or shrub flowers late enough not to be caught by a May frost or snow–yet has fruit ready to harvest before frost. Catherine is currently researching the best varieties for Laramie County. One apple that stands out, Yellow Transparent, matures by late August.  For a state-wide look, see “Wyoming Fruit Variety Survey Data ‐ Recommended Varieties” at, under “New for the Season.”

           Find out if the variety needs cross pollination with a second tree. This could be a second tree you plant or another close by in the neighborhood.


           Once you find the right species, the tree or shrub can be planted anytime the ground isn’t frozen but it must be planted right (see The two biggest tips are to gently spread the roots and make sure the soil level is right at the transition between roots and trunk and below the graft if it is a grafted tree. For shrubs, soil level should be between stem and root, right where the soil line was in the pot.


           Catherine said fruit trees and shrubs need fertilizer annually, preferably before June 1. The fertilizer should have numbers like 5-10-5 or 5-20-5, nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium, also abbreviated NPK. Remember, most of the roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and will spread farther than the tree’s canopy.

Pruning and mulching

           Pruning is essential for fruit trees. Homeowners tend to “limb up” their trees so they can more easily mow the lawn underneath, creating a shade tree with fruit benefits. Protect all kinds of tree trunks by mulching a circle one to two feet wide around the trunk—yet keep the mulch from touching the trunk.

For shrubs, a circle of mulch is also good and can keep competing weeds and grass away from them.

Instead of limbing up, you can do what Catherine said commercial orchardists do, prune from the top down to keep the tree small and easier to pick fruit from. The top of my experimental apple tree grown from seed died back this winter, so I guess it will be a “prune down” experiment now.

Use standard pruning advice for removing deadwood and crossed limbs (see my interview with Catherine, Research or ask Catherine about pruning methods specific to types of fruit trees.

Fruiting shrubs, like the chokecherry hedge in our backyard, need pruning regularly. Over the last 30 years we have removed a few stems each year that are more than 3 or 4 inches in diameter. They can get too tall and become trees. We’d rather they stay brushy. It’s easier to pick the fruit and it provides a better bird habitat and privacy screen. Because chokecherries regularly sucker, there is always a new generation coming up.

Pests and diseases

Adequate watering helps keep fruit trees and shrubs stress-free and healthy. Remove the occasional diseased branches 6 to 12 inches below the infection using tool blades sterilized between cuts with 10 percent bleach solution—but do not put any “wound dressing” on any cuts—that goes for all kinds of trees.

Your best bet for identifying and determining treatment of pests and diseases is to photograph the damage and email it to Catherine at She does yard calls if necessary.

I asked Catherine how she protects fruit from predators, like birds and other animals. She isn’t a fan of netting, unless the mesh openings are less than 1.5 inches. Otherwise, the birds get tangled and often die.

She said to keep an eye on the ripening progress each day and pick the fruit before the birds or racoons do. But sometimes it seems the birds prefer their fruit less ripe than we do.


How do you decide when fruit is ripe? Taste test. Fruit gets sweeter the riper it is, although chokecherries never get sweet. And if apples fall off the tree, pick them up and make applesauce!

A honeybee is enjoying the blossoms of an American plum planted by birds.

How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne


My beginner’s garden included green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and summer squash.

Also published May 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Mail-order seed companies report that they are running out of seed—vegetable seeds primarily. Seems like we’re all wanting to take a step towards self-sufficiency this spring when there are so many other aspects of life beyond our control.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County, assured me Cheyenne’s garden centers, including the big box stores, have plenty of seeds. And the Laramie County Master Gardeners plan to have their annual plant sale, one way or another, May 31, including a virtual plant sale already in progress,

The UW Extension folks have a variety of videos and recordings about Wyoming gardening available at

While my book on how to garden in Cheyenne won’t be ready for several months, the contents are currently available online at as an archive of all my Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columns since 2012. You can search for information about growing vegetables and it will be suited to Cheyenne and in more detail.

If you’ve gardened elsewhere in the country, there are three things you need to know about vegetable gardening in Cheyenne: use drip irrigation, prepare hail protection and never add lime to our alkaline soils.

If you’ve never gardened before, well, it’s mostly about choosing the right vegetables for our climate and season length, giving plants the right amount of water, and mulching.

2016-6a raised beds 2

Cheyenne gardener Barb Sahl uses several kinds of raised beds. Raised beds can also be made with wooden boards or cinder blocks.

Step 1 – Find a spot for a vegetable bed or containers.

It should be sunny for at least 6 hours a day, preferably morning, and relatively level and within reach of a hose or a drip irrigation system.

Keep the veggies close to your back door so that it is easy to saunter out every day to admire them and pull a couple little weeds.

If the site currently doesn’t even grow weeds well, it could be subsoil left behind by the builders. The soil can be amended and over time, become productive. But for success this season, think raised bed or containers (see my archives).

Also, if this is your first attempt at vegetable gardening, keep the size of the bed reasonable, maybe 4 feet wide (what you can reach across from either side) by 6 or 8 feet long.

Step 2 – Prepare the bed.

I have never used a rototiller. I prefer the (husband with) shovel method. Digging by hand will keep you from creating a bed bigger than you can manage, especially if this is your first garden.

If you have any compostable material, like last year’s tree leaves, lawn mowings not treated with pesticides, vegetable debris from the kitchen or any old plant materials that don’t include weed seeds or invasive roots, you can dig that in.

Dedicated gardeners will send soil samples out for analysis on exactly what the soil needs for growing vegetables. Think about doing that later this season.

Some gardeners work their soil until it’s as fine and chunk free as cocoa powder, but that isn’t necessary—in fact, it’s hard on the soil microbes that can help you. You might want to smooth a row a few inches wide for planting tiny seeds and make sure there aren’t any canyons that will swallow the cucumbers.

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early (55 days to maturity), determinate variety. These were grown with seed from Pinetree Garden Seeds, a mail order company in Maine.

Step 3 – Shop for seeds.

If you know any successful gardeners in our area, see if they will gift you some seeds.

Otherwise, you need to read the seed packets carefully. Keep in mind our average last day of frost is around May 25 and our average first day of frost is mid-September. It’s a short season. You need to look for short season vegetables.

Each packet will tell you how many days from seed germination until maturity (harvest). Remember, some seeds take a week or more to germinate. Look for vegetable varieties that are in the range of 45 to 70 days. Next year you can try starting tomatoes indoors or growing them with some kind of season extender like a hoop house or row cover.

Meanwhile, look for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers ready to transplant.

Easy to grow from seed are the squashes, beans, kale, chard and leaf lettuces (not head lettuce).

Step 4 – Plant seeds and transplant plants.

Follow the seed packet directions on when and how to plant. Make sure your soil is moist already.

For transplanting, normally you plant the plant so it sits at the same height as it did in the pot. However, if it’s a tomato that looks a little leggy, you can bury a few inches of its stem.

Step 5 – Mulch.

We use old tree leaves and pesticide-free grass clippings at our house. Straw is good, but not hay or anything with seeds. An inch or two of mulch will keep down the weeds and keep the soil from drying out too fast.

Step 6 – Water.

Catherine said consistency is most important. Once the plants are established, you can let the top inch of soil dry out (test it with your finger) in between thorough waterings, but if you are not consistent with providing enough water, you will not get good yields.

If you seem to have impenetrable clay soils, try watering for a couple minutes, then water elsewhere and then come back 15 minutes later and see if the soil will absorb the rest of the water it needs.

Step 7 – Fertilize.

Seedlings don’t need fertilizer for a few weeks, but vegetables are soon hungry. Organic gardeners use compost—like your mulch as it decays, or “teas” made from soaking compost—read up first. Avoid all manure, Catherine recommended. It tends to be salty (bad for our soils), full of weed seeds and may harbor pathogens. Avoid chemical fertilizers with too much nitrogen too—nitrogen grows great leaves but little if any fruit. Do not use weed and feed products—they will kill your veggies.

Step 8 – Weed.

If you mulch and don’t overwater, you shouldn’t have much of a weed problem. Visit your veggies every day and pull them or use a dandelion digger (don’t hoe) on any little green interlopers. It’s much easier than waiting until the weeds grow roots to Earth’s core and shed seeds across the continent.

Step 8 – Protect.

Everything is out to get your veggies before you can harvest them: frost, wind, hail, antelope, rabbits, insects, diseases. There are preventative and non-chemical actions you can take. Check my archives.

Step 9 – Harvest.

I remember the first summer after I became a Master Gardener. I told my husband, our family’s vegetable grower, that I wanted to try to grow vegetables myself from start to finish. I did, and they had the most incredible flavor.

2019-01 sandra cox vegetable garden

Cheyenne gardener Sandra Cox used large amounts of compost when starting a garden at her new house and had fantastic results.

Native plant gardening for SE Wyoming

What we learned at the 6th Annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Workshop

Published April 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

What we learned at the recent Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop is there are three alternatives to standard landscaping (turf and foundation junipers).

Water-wise plantings

Western cities like Cheyenne and Ft. Collins are encouraging businesses and homeowners to install landscaping that takes less water than bluegrass lawns so that there will be enough water for their growing populations.

Many Wyoming native grasses, shrubs, trees and flowers fit this definition, as well as many plants from desert lands in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Plant Select features these kinds of plants for xeric gardens. The plants can be found at independent Colorado nurseries and by mail order from High Country Gardens,

Pollinator-friendly/wildlife-friendly gardens

The drastic decline in native bees and butterflies has been in the news for years now. Choosing to grow flowering plants is a happy way to do something for the environment.

Native plants

However, not all flowering plants appeal to our native bees and butterflies. Douglas Tallamy,, points out that native bees and butterflies are adapted to the plants native to their own area. Native insects need native plants so that they can become food for native birds.

There are different levels of native. If you are raising honeybees (natives of Europe), anything producing pollen will do, if it hasn’t been improved by horticulturists too much–double and triple-petal cultivars are often sterile–no pollen.

Plants native to distant parts of North America will not do much for most Wyoming native bees and butterflies and may require too much water for water-wise gardens.

Plants native to the western Great Plains–if they haven’t been domesticated too much, will provide what our native critters crave. Skip the ones that naturally grow in wet areas unless you have a natural wet area.

Finding the right species—see plant list—is still difficult. Ft. Collins Nursery (offering online ordering and curbside pickup this spring),, has the closest, large selection.

Maintaining native prairie

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Laramie County Master Gardener Wanda Manley wants you to appreciate our native prairie—and treat it right if you are lucky enough to own a piece of it.

Don’t treat the prairie like a lawn. Frequent mowing creates more of a fire danger. Mowing March – July kills ground-nesting birds.

Keep an eye out for invasive plants and consider renovating your prairie. Consult with the Laramie County Conservation District,

Don’t graze when the grass is actively growing. It’s cheaper to feed hay than to repair the damage.

Locate and design your native garden

Laramie County Extension horticulturist Catherine Wissner can give you a three-hour lecture on how to select a site for a new garden. If you are proposing a new vegetable or ornamental flower garden, you look at sun, slope, wind, soil, proximity to water source and kitchen.

However, if you are replacing water-hogging turf with natives, you have more options. There are native plants that like sun (like vegetables), others that prefer part sun and a few that need shade. There are some that like sandy soil and others that are fine with clay. Some like rocky soil.

And for pollinators, you want to strive to have something in bloom from late March to early October.

Figuring out which plants go where takes a little research. By next year the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities hopes to have a plant finder database to help you match plants with your conditions.


You must water new plants the first year—even xeric species—to get them established. It’s possible to pick plants that need very little supplemental water after that—and maybe none at all.

But any irrigation that uses 50 percent less than what bluegrass turf requires is applauded by BOPU.

You might still have one bed of traditional flowers requiring frequent watering and other areas that are more xeric. If you don’t want to drag hoses around all summer, you can set up sprinkler systems and/or drip irrigation for differentiated zones.

Katie Collins, Ft. Collins Water-Wise Landscape program manager, who spoke about and demonstrated the technicalities, has information at

Prepare for planting

At this point in the season, your best option for removing turf is with a shovel as soon as the most recent snow melts and the soil dries out a bit.

If you have really nice turf, you might be able to get someone to use a machine to strip it off and use it to repair damaged turf elsewhere—what we did for the BOPU Habitat Hero demonstration garden.

Rototilling is not an option—it leaves a lot of grass that will re-sprout. But a shovelful of turf can be broken up, the roots shaken out and composted elsewhere and the soil replaced.

If you have time, you can suffocate turf with 12 layers of newspaper or some cardboard over a few months (usually winter), explained Laramie County Master Gardener Maggie McKenzie. Herbicides are a terrible last resort.

If you are building a vegetable garden, you’ll want to amend the soil with lots of composted organic material but that isn’t necessary for native plants if you match them to your soil type.

Perennials from seed

Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan supervised the winter sowing hands-on activity for all 105 workshop participants,

It’s too late now for that technique this year, but you can try direct sowing. Some catalogs specialize in prairie flowers, like

Picking and planting

Nurseries are not open for strolling this spring so Kathy Shreve’s advice on finding healthy plants changes to only accepting plants curbside fulfilling your order that are healthy and not rootbound or misshapen—especially trees and shrubs.

Plant so that the transition between stem and root is at surface level–not below it or above it. Loosen the roots–gently knock off some of the potting soil. For trees, see

Kathy reminded us that all plants, no matter how well-adapted, need to be watered for months when first planted. Not so much that they drown and don’t let them wilt.

Enjoy your garden often–it’s also an easy way to see if problems are developing.

Become a Habitat Hero

The goal is to be recognized as a Habitat Hero. Take pictures of your yard transformation during the growing season. See for information on applying as well as more on water-wise planting for birds and other wildlife.

Popular Southeast Wyoming Native Plants

It is nearly impossible to find “straight species” at nurseries—you’ll find horticulturally improved varieties instead. If the petals haven’t been doubled or the leaf color changed from solid green, they will probably work.




Golden Currant

Red-twig Dogwood

Mountain Mahogany

American (Wild) Plum


Silver Sage

Western Sandcherry



Perennial flowers

Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerula

Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Gaillardia, Gaillardia aristata

Fleabane Daisy, Erigeron species

Gayfeather or Blazing Star, Liatris punctata

Harebells, Campanula rotundifolia

Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa

Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Penstemon strictus

Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrate

Native Yarrow, Achillea millefolium