Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Garden for bees

2016-4gaillardia - bumble bee - Barb Gorges

There are 4,000 species of bees native to North America and 46 of them are bumble bees. This bumble bee is collecting pollen from a gaillardia or blanketflower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

A version, “Bee aware: How to attract bees to your garden, keep them happy once they get there,” was published April 10, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Bees are wildlife, though we tend to not to think of them in the same category as mice, raccoons and deer. They are however, much more beneficial for our gardens and crops.

We depend on honey bees and native bees to pollinate the flowers of crops to produce up to a third of the value of foods in our grocery carts including almonds, avocado, watermelon, squash, apples–most fruits and many vegetables.

Even crops that are considered self-pollinating, like soybeans, will increase production if pollinated by bees, said Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County.

2016-4coneflower - honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

A honey bee worker collects pollen from purple coneflower. Honey bees are slimmer than native bumble bees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Both the honey bee, from Europe, and our native bees are declining in numbers for several reasons, especially habitat loss. Like other wildlife, native bees lose out every time their diverse native habitat is converted to a weed-less, flower-less lawn, or paved over, or sprayed with pesticides. So what can we do to help them help us?

Wissner believes that if everyone offered blooming plants on their property, native bees could make a comeback, especially if native plants are used. They’d also improve our vegetable garden yields at the same time.

Native bees are more efficient pollinators because they will fly when it is cooler or cloudy. Honey bees want perfect weather.

Native bees are solitary and almost always friendly according to Wissner. Unlike honey bees, they don’t have big colonies to defend. Bumble bees especially are slow and inoffensive. But it doesn’t hurt to have an antihistamine like Benadryl in your gardening first aid kit, or epinephrine if you already know you are allergic to stinging insects.

Getting bees to your garden

Helping bees (and butterflies and other pollinating insects) can be done by planting flowers–natives especially. For years I thought them merely pretty faces to brighten my mood and the view, but now I see them as essential to the ecosystem.

In many ways, what I want in a flower garden is what the bees want as well: flowers that will bloom as early as possible and others that bloom right until first frost.

2016-4Milkweed - most likely female Bombus griseocolis - Barb Gorges

This bumble bee, most likely a Bombus griseocolis, is checking out milkweed. Notice the yellow pollen baskets on its hind legs. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I also want as many different kinds of flowers as I can get to grow in my yard and bees appreciate the variety. I focus on perennials because they are less expensive and less time-consuming than having to start from seed or buy annuals each year. Perennials just get bigger and bigger or spread seedlings each year, offering more and more flowers.

I love the simple, old-fashioned garden plants and the native wildflowers. Turns out bees like simple flowers too. The latest, greatest double or triple-petalled kind are too difficult for bees to navigate through. Bees need to collect pollen and nectar to eat or feed their young, inadvertently pollinating flowers as they move about.

As a lazy gardener, I grow plants close together to shade out the weeds and I don’t prune back the dead stuff until late spring. The old stems help hold leaf mulch in place and interrupt the wind enough to drop a protective blanket of snow for parts of the winter.

This strategy works well as Wissner said there are native bees, and other beneficial insects, that nest in the overwintering stems.

Find a place to plant with an eye for shelter, water and safety for bees

Reevaluate your current garden with an eye for enticing bees. Instead of another flat of exotic annuals this spring, could you plant native perennials?

Can you remove that half-dead juniper and replace it with a flowering shrub like red-twig dogwood?

2016-4potentilla - female Bombus bifarius - Barb Gorges

A bumble bee, a female Bombus bifarius, works over a potentilla flower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Could you expand or add a new garden bed? Is it close to your outdoor water faucet? Is it where you can enjoy looking at it? Will it be out of the way of unofficial paths and yard activities? Is it a sunny spot? Many of the most popular plants for pollinators prefer sun.

Protecting bees from insecticides at all times is absolutely necessary—even those labelled “organic” can negatively affect bees or kill them.

Certain native bees like nesting in tubular spaces. You can drill holes ranging from ¼ to 3/4-inch diameter close together in a block of wood.

Bees need water. If you use a bird bath or dish, be sure to refresh it every few days to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Wissner uses a soaker hose on a timer and has seen the bees line up along its length, drinking.

Decide what to plant

Wissner has a rule of thumb when she visits a nursery—look for the plants buzzing with bees already.

Visiting nurseries is the easiest way to find perennials and there is a plethora of them along the Front Range from here south. However, you may have a hard time finding native plants recommended as nurseries are still learning about this gardening for pollinators movement.

The Audubon Rockies website, http://rockies.audubon.org, has a Habitat Hero program section. There you can find a list of resources and local sources for plants. The closer to home the source of the plant, the better—the better chance the plant will thrive in your garden.

Growing from seed is a possibility, but transplanting from the wild should be avoided unless you have the permission of the landowner and the site is about to be bulldozed anyway.

Be sure your selections are rated for our Zone 5 or colder, like Zones 3 and 4. Get at least three of a kind to plant together to make them more noticeable to passing bees.

Look at your overall plan to see if you have a variety of bloom times, flower colors and shapes, plant heights and leaf textures. Different kinds of flowers provide the bees different kinds of nutrients in their pollen.

A pollinator garden doesn’t need to be installed all at once. Half the fun is keeping a lookout for additions—who doesn’t enjoy an excuse to visit a flower-filled nursery?

About Bees:

Identification

The Xerces Society, www.xerces.org/pollinators-mountain-region/

Bug Guide, Iowa State University, www.bugguide.net

Bumble Bees of Western United States, search for the title at www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers

Favorite flowering shrubs

American Plum, Prunus americana

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Redosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia

Woods Rose, Rosa woodsii

Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Favorite perennial flowers

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Beardtongue species, Penstemon spp.

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Wild Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Aster (fall-blooming), Symphyotrichum spp.

2016-4squash-honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

A honey bee worker climbs out of a female squash flower. Pollen grains still stick to it and will hopefully be transferred to another female squash flower, as they were to this blossom. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Winter sowing

 

Winter sown seeds 3 - Michelle Bohanan - by Barb Gorges

Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan displays one of the milk jugs she uses for winter sowing.

Published Mar. 6, 2016, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Winter sowing starts garden at perfect time.”

By Barb Gorges

When I asked her for tips on starting perennial seeds this spring, Laramie County master gardener Michelle Bohanan said, “winter sowing.” I soon discovered it is an increasingly popular concept and practice.

Winter sowing is what our native and other temperate zone plants do naturally. After they set seed, the flowers and fruits dry. Within months or years, they either shatter and release the seeds, a messy bird picks at them, or the wind blows them. You might shred a few dried flower heads yourself from time to time.

The seeds eventually come in contact with the ground where they are subjected to moisture and cold. That, and the cycles of freezing and thawing, eventually break the seed coat which is necessary if it is tougher than the strength of the seedling.

Surprisingly, many seeds require light to germinate. Day length, or cumulative solar warmth, tells them when it is safe to sprout.

With our occasional spring snowstorms, it’s good that not all seeds, even of the same variety or species, require the same exact amount of light and heat. If the first up are frozen out, the slower germinating fill in behind.

Of course, the plants that have winter sowing down to a fine art are the weeds.

The problem with merely sprinkling seed over your flower bed is that seed is expensive and you don’t know how hungry your local birds and mice are going to be.

It occurred to New York state gardener Trudi Davidoff to safeguard her winter sowing by seeding in shallow, covered containers she set out in her garden. In spring, there was no need to harden off the seedlings since they were already acclimated to the outdoors. She merely transferred them into her garden. Another benefit? No need for grow lights or heat mats. She’s been spreading the word since.

 

Winter sown seeds 1 by Barb Gorges

Cut the milk jug just below the handle, forming a pot 4 inches deep, and a separate cover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to winter sow

 

I visited Bohanan on a nasty day in January with half a foot of snow on the ground. I brought along a translucent plastic gallon milk jug and a little packet of alpine aster seed I’d received in a seed exchange.

With a pair of heavy-duty scissors, Bohanan punctured the jug just below the handle and cut all the way around, creating a 4-inch high pot and a separate cover. She put in about 3 inches of her favorite commercial potting soil, already moistened.

Next, she spilled a couple dozen seeds onto a plastic container lid and with a toothpick, sorted through them, kicking out any unfertilized seeds. They look lighter because they don’t have the germ of the seed needed for germination.

Winter sown seeds 2 by Barb Gorges

Seeds that require light to germinate are placed touching the surface of the potting soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Like many small seeds, these require light, so Bohanan gently pressed 16 into the soil but didn’t bury them. Then she forced the upper half of the milk jug, upright, into the bottom half to protect the seeds, leaving off the jug’s cap.

 

In other, wetter climates, the top and bottom can be slashed to allow snow and rain to water the seeds and then drain, but in our drier climate, Bohanan has had, over seven years, good results without making additional openings.

However, I found I had to puncture the bottoms after the snow on top of my jugs began to melt.

On the Internet, a search for “winter sowing” shows many kinds of recycled containers. The bottom needs to be at least 3 inches deep for the soil and the top needs to clear the soil surface by at least 2 inches. The top also needs to be clear or translucent. You provide adequate ventilation and drainage openings as needed.

On the jug in permanent marker Bohanan wrote the name, source and number of seeds and the date of planting.

Winter sown seeds 4 by Barb Gorges

The planted milk jugs can be safely left out in the cold and snow. The seeds will sprout in the spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Back at home, I put the milk jug in a snowdrift on the northeast side of our back fence. While I wait for spring, I’ll empty more milk jugs and try planting more seeds.

 

Bohanan already had 35 jugs going and figured she was only 25 percent of the way through her winter sowing plans.

This technique is easier than my experience last year sprouting orange butterfly weed—a type of milkweed. I had to leave the seeds, planted in moist potting soil and covered with plastic, in my refrigerator for 6 weeks to achieve “stratification,” the term for this cold treatment.  Other seeds need scarification, scratching a break in the seed coat, and this winter sowing method can help.

Maintenance

While seeds left lying on the ground require no help from us, ones in containers do.

Bohanan’s milk jugs have the opening at the top, plus the gaps where the upper part of the jug is pressed into the bottom, that allow for some snow and rain to seep in and some heat to escape when it warms up in the spring. She forgoes slits in the bottom because she puts some jugs in her unheated sunroom and would rather not have them leak on the floor.

However, she does check her jugs regularly to make sure they don’t dry out, especially the ones under cover of her hoop house. She can tell by the lighter color of the soil (although this doesn’t work for all potting soils), or she can lift the jug and tell by the weight if it needs watering.

Knowing how much water to add might be a trick, and if you think you might be prone to overwatering, you should probably add bottom drainage openings.

When the weather gets warm, to keep seedlings from baking, it is necessary to pull the top off and prop it on the bottom diagonally or even remove it entirely during the day.

Timing and location

All of this still sounds easier and cheaper than setting up lights or buying starts next spring. With our last frost nearly three months away, there is enough time to accommodate even seeds that need 8 weeks of cold.

But figuring out where to put your jugs is also important. Placed along the south-facing wall of your house may cause some seedlings to sprout too soon. Along a north-facing wall may delay them. But the mini-greenhouses are easy to move. Just experiment.

What to grow

Try native perennials from our northern temperate climate, Zone 5 or colder, especially if you are turning your lawn into bird, butterfly and bee-friendly habitat. Popular flowers include varieties of penstemon, coreopsis, milkweed and gaillardia.

Try cold-tolerant vegetables from the cabbage family, herbs and flowering annuals, but probably not slow-starting annuals like petunias. It would take all summer for them to finally bloom.

The seeds of tropical plants, like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, may also get started too late to produce before first fall frost. Instead, see tomato growing advice archived at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

Resources

Winter Sown, www.wintersown.org: Trudi Davidoff’s site.

Dave’s Garden, http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/ws: Gardeners all over the country have recorded their success winter sowing a variety of plants, but be aware of what zone they report from.

Alplains, http://www.alplains.com/: This catalog specializes in native plant seeds and has essential propagation information. However, use the following website to translate the Latin names.

The Missouri Botanic Garden’s Plant Finder, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/: This is one of Bohanan’s favorite sources of information.

Typical native perennials for the Cheyenne, Wyoming area: Blanketflower, Gaillardia spp.; Gayfeather, Liatris punctata; Tickseed, Coreopsis spp.; Beardtongue, Penstemon spp.; Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia spp. All photos by Barb Gorges.


Orchid adventure

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-Phalaenopsis1-by Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis orchids were in bloom at the Fantasy Orchids greenhouse in Louisville, Colo., in early December. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  • Denver Orchid Society show and sale, March 14, 2016, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and March 15, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at Tagawa Garden Center, 7711 S. Parker Rd., Centennial, Colo., http://denverorchidsociety.org
  • Fantasy Orchids, www.fantasyorchids.com, 830 W. Cherry St., Louisville, Colo.

Published Jan. 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “The wide world of orchids.”

By Barb Gorges

There is nothing in the middle of winter quite like the feel of Hawaiian humidity–that gentle touch on the cheek. And there’s a bit of it close by, in Louisville, Colorado, at Fantasy Orchids.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-greenhouse center-by Barb Gorges.JPG            A look at the outside of the greenhouse, set between a residential neighborhood and a shopping mall, doesn’t prepare you for the view inside from the doorway. Beyond the doors is a vast expanse–10,000 square feet–of nothing but 30,000 to 50,000 orchids, accompanied by Hawaiian music.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids gardener Hannah Leigh Myers with prize-winning orchid-courtesy

Hannah Leigh Myers provided this photo of her and her prize-winning orchid.

Upon entry, I was lucky to find gardener Hannah Leigh Myers working, and willing to be my guide, teaching me about growing orchids at home.

Orchids can be an obsession. Myers brought home her first one five years ago and now has 50. Seeing all the new varieties coming in the greenhouse must make them hard to resist. She still has that first plant though. It won a blue ribbon at a recent Denver Orchid Society show.

No one is going to be able to collect all the orchids—there are 27,000 species. That doesn’t include the brisk orchid hybridization industry has produced 100,000 varieties.

Some people run out of room and build additions to their houses. Other people board their non-blooming orchids at Fantasy Orchids, waiting for a call to pick them up when they are in bloom again. They can also board them while away on vacation.

Orchid collectors can be another breed altogether. Susan Orlean’s book, “The Orchid Thief,” touches on the stories of murder and mayhem committed in the historical pursuit of rare orchids. Collecting them in the wild has since been banned by the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Cheyenne’s most notable orchid grower was the late Judge Clarence Brimmer. You can see some of his orchids at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens greenhouse.

The orchids Myers showed me are propagated by cloning in flasks. Once out of the flask, an orchid can take 3 to 5 years to bloom. Fantasy Orchids general manager Kent Gordon visits Hawaii and selects varieties that will appeal to his customers, and provide a succession of blooms throughout the year.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-greenhouse-by Barb Gorges

This is a view of less than half of Fantasy Orchid’s greenhouse, where young orchids may take a few years to grow to flowering age. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The day I visited, the center isle was overhung with gorgeous colors, but the majority of the plants were green, just busy growing. The bigger they get, the more valuable they are. You won’t find any tossed out because they are finished blooming.

It was tough choosing just one orchid. I liked the Cattleyas, the classic corsage orchids that can fill the house with perfume. They can bloom several times a year. There was Sharry Baby, an Oncidium with a scent of chocolate. Whole tables were filled with Dendrobium species and hybrids.

 

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-slipper orchid-by Barb Gorges

One kind of slipper orchid may bloom only once every seven years. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Myers brought out a slipper orchid, with its big pouch, related to some of the 27 native, terrestrial (grows in soil) orchids in Wyoming. Some slippers bloom once every seven years.

The butterfly orchids were intriguing as well, but only one fantastical flower opens at a time.

I decided on Phalaenopsis, one of the moth orchids. They are most forgiving, most likely to find my not so bright house favorable. They can be expected to bloom for months at a time.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-Phalaenopsis2-by Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis orchids, the “moth” orchids, are recommended for beginners. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Dendrobium orchids have different “faces.” Photos above by Barb Gorges.

            Most orchids in the trade are tropical epiphytes. They need no soil, usually growing on trees in their native habitat. Several fine specimens were growing on a tree in the middle of the greenhouse including a 20-year-old Vanda that has bloomed five times this year with giant flowers, a Volcano Trick with a large spray of small orange and red flowers blooming seasonally and a particular Dendrobium that has been blooming continuously for nine years. Myers assured me they are all fine in our homes, even in our dry climate.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-Volcano Trick orchid-by Barb Gorges

“Volcano Trick” grows on a tree in the Fantasy Orchids greenhouse, just the way epiphytic orchids would in the tropics. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to take care of an orchid

My new orchid came, as many at Fantasy Orchids do, in a clear plastic pot, with the merest hint of a bottom, filled with a mix of fir bark, horticultural charcoal and sponge rock, mainly meant to support the plant and retain a little moisture, rather than nourish it. The thick aerial roots often climb outside pots and are even photosynthetic.

But when watering it, I need to imitate a tropical rain shower. I’ll know when to water, maybe in 5 to 7 days or 2 weeks, when the roots turn whitish or the pot feels much lighter.

One expert suggests watering in the morning so water accidentally sitting in a leaf axil has more time to evaporate in warmer daytime temperatures, than at night, when it might cause rotting.

Myers said to set the orchid in the sink and let lukewarm water run over the roots for 1 to 2 minutes. When the roots turn green it means they have opened their pores. Once the roots are open, I can treat them with the recommended general fertilizer solution as directed.

Fantasy Orchids sells its own fertilizer concoctions and since they are what they use, I picked up some. They’ll also be suitable for some of my other flowering plants.

I also picked out a ceramic orchid pot. The special design is full of holes, so roots can breathe, but Myers said to just put the clear pot inside it. At least the ceramic pot is heavy enough to keep the plant from toppling over. It will be awhile before it needs repotting as orchids need to be somewhat root-bound.

2016-01bFantasy Orchids-wood mounted-by Barb Gorges

Epiphytic orchids can be grown on slabs of wood. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Alternately, you can mount your orchid on a slab of wood, though that seems messy—especially for watering.

The flowering stems of orchids mainly want to hang down, as they would from trees. But if my orchid is in a pot, I want to see the little flower faces. Orchids have bilateral symmetry, just like human faces. So to lift them, orchid flower stems are staked. Little clips hold them to simple wooden bamboo sticks dyed green to blend in.

Different kinds of orchids have different light needs at different times in their growing cycle. Phalaenopsis flowers have been known to last 6 to 9 months if night temperatures are 50-60 degrees and they are kept away from heat vents, cold drafts and rapid temperature changes. They need only indirect light.

When flowering is finished, I will move my plant to a brighter spot. For Phalaenopsis, the preferred exposure is within 2 feet of an east-facing or southeast facing window, or shaded in a south or west window. If the plant won’t re-flower, it probably needs more light, or fertilizer. I might have to augment natural with fluorescent light. Also, a 10-20 degree temperature difference between day and night is necessary next fall to encourage re-blooming.

Fantasy Orchids offers repotting services and, surprisingly, a trade-in promotion that includes plants bought at the grocery store. It’s a way to introduce you to the wider world of orchids. And give you the confidence you need to grow your own.

“There’s something really wonderful about tropical flowers when there’s snow outside,” said Myers. “And orchids can out-live us. They get better and better.”

Cattleyas are the orchids for classic corsages, and they smell nice, but they also make good house plants. Fantasy Orchids carries a number of varieties. Photos below by Barb Gorges.


Keep Christmas plants alive

2016-01Christmas Cactus (pink)-King Sooper's by Barb Gorges

Christmas cactus, unlike true cactus, prefer less sunlight and more water. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 3, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Christmas plants: How to keep them alive year-round.”

Keep the plants of Christmas alive year round

By Barb Gorges

Did you buy or receive one of the iconic Christmas season plants? Did you know they can be kept alive to bloom again? Some are more of a challenge than others, but it’s worthwhile to try.

Amaryllis

Once these amaryllis are finished blooming, the pebbles used for their growing medium should be traded out for regular houseplant potting soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Amaryllis

Mail-order amaryllis arrive as bare bulbs, or bulbs planted in pots barely bigger than they are. They love being snug, with only an inch to spare between them and the edge of the pot.

I received a bulb by mail years ago. After enjoying its big blooms, I cut away the withered flower stalk. But the big strappy leaves were still a nice green accent on the windowsill so I kept watering. Over the summer I put it outside, under our clear patio roof, where it would be protected from hail, and it kept adding leaves. The following March it flowered and has every spring for seven years.

At the time, standard advice on getting an amaryllis to re-bloom involved letting it go dormant, then beginning watering two months before bloom was wanted. Maybe people didn’t want to put up with the floppy leaves or maybe they wanted it to bloom again at Christmas and not March.

This particular red amaryllis has a bulb that is now 6 inches in diameter with two off-shoots. In contrast, a pale pink variety I’ve had even longer has a bulb that never grows bigger than 3 inches in diameter, but it has been producing daughter bulbs. Last year I separated and replanted seven.

Amaryllis like plenty of light and do well with our average home temperatures and humidity. Karen Panter, University of Wyoming Extension Horticulture Specialist, said for fertilizer, use half of what the label says.

Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens reminds us an amaryllis is poisonous, “Keep it away from kids and dogs.”

Poinsettia

Poinsettias come in many colors. The color is actually modified leaves. The flowers are the petal-less nubbins in the middle. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Poinsettia

You may see poinsettias growing outside some place tropical, but not here.

Keep them watered, making sure water can drain out through the bottom of the pot and isn’t impeded by decorative wrapping.

The colorful “flowers” – which are actually bracts, or specialized leaves—will eventually fade and fall off. My experience is that by summer poinsettias are rather leggy, and may look disposable.

Karen thinks we should buy fresh every year—to support her friends in the poinsettia-growing industry.

But if you want the challenge, there are directions I found online. In March, cut back the stems to 4 to 6 inches, put it in a sunny window and apply diluted fertilizer every two weeks.

In May, after last frost, put it outside in shade, eventually moving it into 6-8 hours of sun per day. Pinch shoots once or twice between late June and mid-August.

In mid-September, before first frost, bring the poinsettia in and place it in a sunny window. By early October give it complete darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.—no artificial light. The bracts should develop good color by early December.

Will you accept the challenge this year?

Christmas cactus

Modern varieties of Christmas cactus may not require 12 hours of darkness per day next fall in order to bloom again. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Christmas Cactus

Shane said the word “cactus” in their name gives people the wrong idea about caring for the Christmas cactus.

“Instead, they need less light and more water than cactus,” he said. “They are known as forest cacti and naturally live in the crotches of trees in the tropics. They love being root bound,” he said.

Getting Christmas cactus to re-bloom involves very particular light therapy, said Karen. Referred to as a short day plant, it is actually a long night plant, requiring darkness greater than 12 hours beginning a couple months in advance of Christmas. It needs to be protected from all light sources between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., every single night. Perhaps you’ll have to put a box over it. But during the day it needs lots of light.

Even if you have a light accident, your Christmas cactus may still bloom depending on the variety.

Spring, or Easter cactus, is a different species and requires semi-dormancy (less water) in fall and winter, but the same light treatment to produce blooms.

These cactus can be propagated from leaf cuttings.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce

Of all the varieties of evergreens sold as miniature Christmas trees, only the Dwarf Alberta Spruce are likely to survive Cheyenne’s climate if planted outside. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Miniature Christmas Trees

The Jackson and Perkins catalog features 18-inch-tall, live, coniferous evergreens in beautiful pots, decorated with lights and ornaments.

You might be thinking about where to plant the little tree next spring. But not all of these trees can survive outside in Cheyenne.

Trees identified as European or lemon cypress, or Italian stone pine, are all rated warm-climate, Zone 8-10. Treat them as house plants. We live in Zone 5, though we tend to favor plants rated for Zone 4 and lower, for extra assurance they will survive winter.

But you can plant the Dwarf Alberta spruce outside. A paler green than the familiar blue spruce, with very short needles, it is rated Zone 2 through 6 and does well here. However, it may only grow about 12 feet high in 25 years.

“But if it has been grown in the house for a long period, its hardiness might decline due to the shock,” Shane said.

It is best if live Christmas trees you want to plant outside next spring are not in the warm house long enough to break dormancy, meaning the bundles of new needles begin opening.

After less than a week you may have to put your tree out somewhere cool, like your garage, but not so cool the roots freeze.

Check every once in a while to see if it needs watering. When the ground thaws in April, you can plant it outside. Use the tree-planting methods explained in a previous column archived at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

General houseplant care instructions

Any potted plant has the potential to become a permanent resident of your home. If the information tag doesn’t tell you how much sun and water it requires, look it up on the Internet. Then figure out where in your house will suit it best.

Karen said many houseplants can adapt to a wide range of conditions and are happiest if left to adapt to one place. The most important step for success is to train yourself to water them the right amount.

Check a newly acquired houseplant daily for a couple weeks to get a sense of how quickly the soil dries out (and if it has bugs). Vigorous growers in a warm house in small pots with soil that doesn’t hold water well may need water every few days. More absorbent potting soil under opposite conditions may take two weeks for the top inch to dry out, the sign for most plants that watering is finally required. In the winter it might be a week or two between waterings.

Add water a bit at a time until it begins to drain into the saucer underneath. Empty the saucer or use a turkey baster (not to be used for cooking again) to siphon up the overflow.

Regarding fertilizer, Karen recommends the slow-release type. The one commonly available in Cheyenne stores is Osmacote. Measure out an application as directed and you won’t have to think about it again for months.

It’s quite possible your gift plant will continue growing, even flower again, and perhaps even multiply, allowing you to pass new plants on as gifts to others.


Trellis and vine

Trellis and clematisPublished Nov. 1, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Trellis and vine: A guide to vertical beauty for Cheyenne gardens”

Story and photos by Barb Gorges

Once the leaves are gone for the winter, we have five or more months to admire the structure of deciduous tree trunks and branches.

So how about adding more vertical interest to your garden or the side of your house with a trellis?

The purpose of a trellis is to get vining plants off the ground, which is handy in the vegetable garden. The simplest methods involve stakes, string and wire cages. But these are temporary.

Instead, let’s look at more permanent trellis ideas used with ornamental vines.

Some trellises are attached to walls, some are free-standing, and some are formed into arbors, meant to be walked under. Some can even be sculptural parts of dead trees or scrap metal. Or perhaps one of the porch posts will do.

Lattice trellis

David Mullikin built this trellis from lattice panels. It supports several different vines.

Sometimes, the desire for a trellis comes first, rather than the desire to grow a vining plant. Is there a plain wall or fence that needs something to dress it up? Is there a view you would like to block? Is there a view you would like to frame with an arbor? Are you looking for some shade? Need a little height to give your garden some pizazz?

Trellises with engineered straight lines and perfect curves can offer contrast to natural vine shapes. Trellises with a less formal structure can blend in with nature.

As you drive around town this winter, look for trellises. Some are obviously the kind you buy, the simple fan shapes, lattice panels or ladder shapes. But there is some original artwork out there.

Wood is the easiest for most of us to build with, but if you are thinking long-term, be sure to use wood that will endure, like cedar. You don’t want to get trapped into having to paint your trellis, especially if you are contemplating a perennial vine that adds growth from year to year. But if the vine gets cut back annually, re-painting might be possible.

Car spring trellis

Bruce Keating’s unique trellis, made from an old car spring, bounces in the wind.

Metal is the best. Wrought iron looks good for a long time and it is sturdy enough for heavier vines.

Or how about pipe? Copper looks really nice and might not be so hard to work with, although you don’t want it to be publicly visible or someone will steal it for its cash value.

Bedspring trellis

Jeff and Mary Weinstein attached box springs to their fence to support grape vines.

But perhaps you aren’t a welder. Then it is time to think creatively about repurposing. My friends Mary and Jeff Weinstein had an old box spring they needed to dispose of. After removing the cloth and wood, the springs are attached to their wood fence and covered by their grape vine.

An arbor or pergola is roof-like. It can include sides that are trellises or just the support posts. The roof can be flat or arched. Short arbors form a doorway from one area of the garden to another. Martha Mullikin, a Laramie County master gardener, makes sure her arbors frame views, even a focal point as simple as a container of bright annuals. Despite her several arbors being made of different materials, she chose them all to be flat-topped, echoing the same form.

rose temple

Bruce Keating welded this Victorian rose temple together from scrap metal and trellises.

More elaborate is the “Victorian Rose Temple” in Bruce and Carla Keating’s garden that Bruce welded, offering support for climbing roses on all sides. Plus it is a shady place to sit.

Recommended vines

As artful as a trellis may be, it needs a vine. I asked Susan Carlson, also a Laramie County master gardener, for her list of recommendations for our area, and I also checked the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website’s handout, “Vines for the High Plains Landscape,” available at www.botanic.org, under “Gardening Tips.”

Susan said perennial vines are not going to cover the new trellis at once.

“Annual sweet peas and morning glories can act as filler for a few years where slower growing vines are planted. It takes a few years for the roots to become established.”

And she had some advice on where to plant vines.

“Some protection from wind would be beneficial, she said. “I have vines on all sides of the house, except the west.”

wooden arbor

Martha Mullikin’s arbor, adorned with a new clematis, frames a view of her yard.

As I researched each of the recommended vines, I noted they prefer sunny to partly sunny locations. All vines flower, some more noticeably than others. Except for grapes and hops, any fruit produced is appropriate for birds, not people. All vines mentioned are perennial, except morning glory and annual sweet pea.

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

Orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. It can be an aggressive grower. Flowers on new wood, so it can be pruned in early spring without affecting blooming.

Clematis species (Clematis spp.)

Needs to keep its roots cool, either shaded by low growing perennials, mulch, or a rock. Many species and varieties are available with different growth habits. Recommended for Cheyenne:

Clematis

Clematis

–Jackmanii—purple flowers, spring & early summer blooming, can be pruned in early spring.

–Henryi—white flowers, blooms in June on last year’s wood, blooms again later on new wood.

–Nelly Moser—pink flowers, late spring and summer. Prune no more than top third.

–Sweet Autumn—white flowers bloom on new wood so prune after blooming. Native and very hardy.

Hops (Humulus lupus)

Odd, but interesting green flowers. It dies back after frost and grows new shoots from the roots in spring. Hops are an ingredient in many beers.

Morning glory

Morning glory (annual)

Morning Glory (annual) (Ipomea purpurea)

Blue-flowered varieties are most popular. Blooms most prolifically beginning in late summer. Needs lots of sun and water. Can be seeded directly when soil temperature is 60 degrees, but speed things up by starting inside three weeks early. Prefers poor soil. Supposedly grows 8 feet long but mine went 18 feet this summer. Grow multiple vines in each location.

Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)

Purplish-pink flowers fade to white and are not fragrant. Blooms mid-season. A low water and low maintenance plant. Seeds are poisonous.

Sweet Pea (annual) (Lathyrus odoratus)

Fragrant blue, pink, purple and white flowers. Prefers cool, but sunny locations and lots of water. Plant seeds up to 3 weeks before last spring frost.

Kintzley’s Ghost Honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulate)

Yellow flowers in late spring, but large, silvery leaves are its hallmark. First propagated and grown by the Kintzley family in Iowa in the 1880s and rediscovered in Fort Collins and propagated by Scott Skogerboe.

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Red trumpet-shaped flowers bloom much of the summer. Blooms on previous year’s wood, so prune after flowering. Japanese honeysuckle is less hardy here, but is considered an invasive problem in 29 eastern states.

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Flowers are not noticeable, but the birds love the berries and drop seeds that sprout all over my yard. Leaves turn red in fall. Little disks allow vines to adhere to walls, a problem when removing them.

Silver lace vine

Silver lace vine

Silver Lace Vine (Polygonum aubertii)

White flowers bloom in late summer, early fall, and well into October this year, Martha Mullikin told me. It is considered a relatively fast and hardy grower.

Climbing Roses (Rosa spp.)

Technically, climbing roses don’t twine around or attach themselves to trellises, but they can use the support.

Grape arbor

A grape arbor marks the entrance to Martha Mullikin’s vegetable garden.

American Grape (Vitus labrusca)

scrap metal arbor

Bruce Keating’s scrap metal arbor, festooned with clematis, makes a gateway to the garden.

Table grape varieties that do well in our area, according to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ tip sheet, include Concord, Valiant, Reliance, Himrod and Swenson Red.


Wyoming vineyard

vineyard

Danny and Pam Glick consult with Chris Hilgert from the University of Wyoming Extension (right) in late April while the vines are still dormant. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Oct. 11, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Introducing the rare but fruitful Wyoming vineyard. Wyoming has what it takes to grow grapes. A Laramie County couple’s vineyard produces a Frontenac variety that was developed for colder climates.”

Photos and text by Barb Gorges

A vineyard is a rare sight in Wyoming.

When the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ advanced class was invited to learn about and practice pruning grapes at a local vineyard, it was hard to believe one existed.

The destination was Pam and Danny Glick’s place outside Cheyenne. You might recognize Danny as our county sheriff.

Good thing Prohibition is long past.

grapevine pruning

An advanced master gardener practices pruning grape vines at the Glick’s vineyard. For maximum grape production, what seems like severe pruning is necessary. Photo by Barb Gorges

It was late April, a little bleak on the High Plains, and the vineyard was dormant– just gnarly trunks and leafless canes.

While there are several methods of training grape growth, the Glicks are set up for a two-wire system known as the “Four-cane Kniffen.”

Our job was to look at each plant, now several years old, and figure out the best shoots to be the leader, and backup if necessary. The 12 students made significant progress on the 500-plus vines in an afternoon, getting more confident as they went.

The pruning seemed so ruthless. But the instructor, Chris Hilgert, state Master Gardener coordinator for the University of Wyoming Extension, assured everyone this is what is needed to produce grapes.

Even if a shady arbor is the goal, ruthless pruning will benefit it.

Still, grapes are very forgiving of novice pruning attempts.

checking grapes

Pam Glick checks on her grapes in mid-August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Choosing varieties

In mid-August, I met with Pam to see how the grapes were doing and find out more about how she and Danny got into this agricultural niche.

A few years ago, Pam said she and

friends went on a Wyoming wine tour, including Chugwater, LaGrange and Torrington.

That got her excited. So she and Danny thought it might be a good investment for their retirement to get a small vineyard going. They did their research, including consulting Patrick Zimmerer who, with his family, owns the Table Mountain Winery and vineyard by Huntley, just south of Torrington.

As small and new as their operation is compared to Patrick’s 11,000 vines, the Glicks have sold as much as 500 pounds of grapes to the winery one year. Production is dependent on weather more than anything, but vine maturity—and good pruning—can increase the yield.

Frontenac grapes

Frontenac wine grapes growing in Table Mountain Winery’s vineyard near Huntley are nearly ready for harvest in late September. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Glicks chose to grow Frontenac, a red wine grape introduced in 1996, and Frontenac gris, a white wine grape introduced in 2003.

The varieties, with origins in Rochester, New York, were developed specifically for cold climates and disease resistance by the University of Minnesota, which holds the patents. According to their website, “Frontenac has the potential to produce outstanding dry red, sweet red, rosé, and port wines.”

More recognizable French varieties trace their roots to grapes that are not hardy in our climate. But Frontenac comes from a wild American grape ancestor and does well here. Success is also dependent on lots of sunshine, and sandy soils because “grapes don’t like to have wet feet” – clay soils can hold water a long time.

As for the vines? Despite the severe pruning we had given them in April, they had grown and leafed out.

Planting

The Glicks made a bulk order that amounted to about $3 per vine. Each was about 2 years old, 1 foot tall, but with 3 feet of roots. They used an auger to make planting holes.

Blue plastic tubes provided collars to protect the new plants from rabbits. Of the 535 vines friends and family helped plant, only a few were lost, Pam said.

Growing

There are several problems to solve in a vineyard: water, weed control and pest control.

The Glicks have drip irrigation set up to water the entire vineyard once a week overnight, 5 gallons per plant, with adjustments for the weather.

Weed control isn’t so simple.

Pam, a recent graduate of the Laramie County Master Gardener program, does not use herbicides. She has been experimenting with different kinds of mulch, grass clippings, straw, discarded feed sacks, and cardboard.

Tilling around the vines would disturb their roots. However, hand weeding has the added benefit of giving the viticulturist a chance to inspect the vines.

Vines need tying up as they grow and suckers need pruning. Every evening, Danny walks the vineyard for an hour, and early on Saturday mornings too, Pam said. It has become his therapy when his job is stressful.

Harvest hazards

In June, the vines were hit by a hailstorm that totaled the roof of the Glicks’ house, but at the time of my visit nearly two months later, the vines had pretty much recovered.

The other hazard to grapes is birds.

I called Pam on Sept. 14 to schedule another visit to see the ripe grapes. But she had bad news: The grapes were gone.

They had set aside a day in early September to put up netting. This protects the grapes until they are ready for harvest.

Unfortunately, that was the day they needed to respond to a family emergency.

Without the netting, the birds had gotten every last grape while they were away, including the table grapes growing on the arbor by the house.

As with other soft fruit, the birds seem to prefer their grapes tart–less ripe than we like them.

Despite losing their harvest, the Glicks will still have to perform fall chores in preparation for next season.

Table Mountain Winery

Patrick Zimmerer, one of the owners of Table Mountain Winery near Huntley, displays a bunch of Frontenac wine grapes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Table Mountain Winery

On Sept. 20, I stopped by Table Mountain Winery to see what Frontenac grapes look like when nearly ready for harvest.

Patrick grows several other varieties, but said Frontenac seems to be the one favored by birds. He also had hail earlier in the season so there were a few little dried brown grapes in his bunches, but only on the side the storm had come from.

A cold, late spring was responsible for the thick canopy of leaves hiding the grapes. He said each year’s weather affects the taste of the vintage—one year he could taste the excess rain, another year, the effect of drought. The soil adds to the flavor, the “terrior,” as well, and apparently in a good way. Table Mountain wines, which include grapes they grow as well as those from small Wyoming vineyards like the Glicks’, have won prizes at prestigious competitions in well-known wine-growing locations.

Time to tunnel?

Before this year’s raid by the birds, Pam was thinking about enclosing the vineyard in high tunnels, something that is being tried in New York and Canada, adding a layer of protection from wind, hail, early snow and birds.

Then perhaps she and Danny won’t have their utility lines filled with robins making their own harvest plans.

Resources

If you are interested in growing cold-hardy wine grapes, visit University of Minnesota’s website, http://www.grapes.umn.edu, and contact Chris Hilgert, chilgert@uwyo.edu.

If you want to know more about the Table Mountain Winery, go to www.wyowine.com. Their wines are available at several retail outlets in Cheyenne.


Herbs: scent, flavor, flower and fun

Herbs in strawberry jar

Master gardener Kathy Shreve planted a strawberry jar outside her kitchen door this year with Thai basil, “Purple Ruffle” basil, flat-leaved parsley, sage, chives, Greek oregano, French thyme and summer savory, including the herbs required for several of her favorite varieties of ethnic cooking.

Published Sept. 6, 2015 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Journey section, “Herbs, Grow them for scent, flavor, flowers—or fun

Text and photos by Barb Gorges

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Remember me to one who lives there

She once was a true love of mine.

–traditional English ballad verse

            I have to admit, my interest in growing herbs was sparked by old lyrics made popular by Simon and Garfunkel. Back then, these four herbs mentioned were considered “essentials.” Now I grow them for their scents, flavors and flowers.

The definition of an “herb” is a useful plant, the leafy part, used in smaller quantities than vegetables.

Spices come from other plant parts–roots, bark, seeds.

Some herbs are grown as medicinals. However, without the oversight of a trained herbalist, I wouldn’t recommend experimenting with herbal remedies.

Instead, let’s look at culinary herbs in my garden–all easy to grow. My experience in Cheyenne is that some are annuals, while others self-seed. Some are short-lived perennials and some survive a number of winters.

I usually mulch my herb garden in late fall with a 3 to 4-inch layer of crispy, curled, dried leaves from our ash trees. Straw can also offer protection.

Remember to never treat herbs with pesticides of any kind– herbicides, insecticides or fungicides–if you plan to eat or cook with them. Otherwise, they don’t need anything that flowers and vegetables don’t also require.

Fall is a good time to check local nurseries, which may still have a few herb plants you can set on the window sill for the winter and plant outside next spring. Having fresh leaves to pluck means you don’t have to bother with drying.

Thyme sign

Master gardener Linnie Cough grows herbs using drip irrigation and wood mulch, and Victorian-era styled plant markers.

Next spring you can tuck your plants into a mostly sunny corner in your garden the way master gardener Linnie Cough has, next to vegetables or flowers. Or pop them into a strawberry planter like master gardener Kathy Shreve does. She sets it on the deck within reach of her kitchen door.

Herbs are happy in any situation, from containers to the symmetrical beds of formal herb gardens.

The four “essential” herbs

Parsley

Parsley flowering.

Parsley (Petroselinum) – This is a biannual classified into two groups, curly-leaved and the Italian flat-leaved. Mine self-seed and now new plants come up every spring. Chop leaves and add to soups, salads, Italian dishes, just about anything. Or dry or freeze them.

Sage

Sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis) – Don’t mix this up with sagebrush, which has toxic oils, even though it also has a woody stem, is evergreen and has leaves of sage-green (and now other colors). I’ve been able to keep plants growing for several years at a time. We flavor roasts with sage.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Another woody herb, it is often seen as a little potted evergreen tree. Master gardener Michele Bohanan brings hers in for the winter. I’ve been able to mulch and overwinter the prostrate variety a few winters. Rosemary is great in meat and vegetable dishes.

Thyme

Thyme

Thyme (Thymus) – A low growing woody perennial in the mint family, some kinds work well as ground cover between patio stones. Apparently there are dozens of kinds, with different scents and ornamental leaves. T. vulgaris is the culinary type. We’ve admired its tiny flowers more than we’ve cooked with it. Perhaps we should put sprigs under our pillows, as they did in the Middle Ages, to aid sleep and ward off nightmares.

More mints

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can be made into tea. I like it for the lemony scent. But it is a mint and has invaded most of my raised bed. I yank it out wherever I want to plant something else. Wise gardeners keep it in containers as they would with chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’), peppermint and spearmint, in containers, either above ground or in the ground.

Oregano

Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – It’s one of my favorites—for Italian cooking as well as for the tiny flowers that attract lots of bees. It is a mint, but fairly well-behaved, spreading each year just enough to dig up and share some with friends.

The other Italian

Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) – There are many varieties with leaves of different colors and flavors. This annual, is easy to start from seed indoors and transplant to the garden, but the first hint of frost will finish it off. Besides Italian dishes, the leaves are also sprinkled in salads and soups. Pinch off flowers for better foliage, but leave some for the bees. This year Kathy grew “Purple Ruffle” and Thai basil.

Edible flowers—just the petals

Chives

Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – A clump of chives is self-perpetuating. Mine is 25 years old. The grass-like leaves are easy to snip into any dish where onion would be at home. The ball-shaped purple flowers are also edible as individual florets. This is one of the culinary herbs native to North America.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolume) – The showy orange and yellow flowers are reward enough for taking time to grow this annual, but the flowers can add color and a peppery flavor to salads. Direct seed it in the garden in spring.

Lavender

Lavender

Lavender (Lavandula) – I love the scent in soaps and sachets. Leaves can be used with roasts and the flowers on desserts. “Munstead” is supposed to be cold hardy. Mine has overwintered several years now.

Calendula

Calendula

Calendula (Calendula) – This is another self-seeder after it’s been in the garden a season. I’ve grown it for years, though I haven’t tried strewing the petals over dishes, like a poor man’s saffron. Its other name is “Pot Marigold.”

Beebalm

Beebalm

Bee balm (Monarda) – A variety I have with over-sized red flowers has been very popular with hummingbirds that migrate through Cheyenne mid-July through August. A slow-to-spread mint, the crushed leaves smell interesting and the flowers can be added to salads.

Other herbs to try

Cheyenne gardeners have good luck with a number of other herbs: borage, chamomile, cilantro (the seeds are coriander, a spice), dill, fennel, lovage, Greek oregano and summer savory.

Ways to preserve harvested herbs

In her book, “The Garden Primer”—a great all-around gardening book suitable for our climate—author Barbara Damrosch explains that what we’re after, flavor or scent, is the result of plant oils. Harvesting and storage should maximize them—if you aren’t just snipping a few leaves to add immediately to the soup.

Hang dry – The oils are at their strongest just before plants bloom. On a nice day, cut stems and hang them upside down, inside a paper bag, to dry. Strip dry leaves and store in airtight containers.

Freeze in ice cube trays – Basil doesn’t freeze well. Damrosch suggests pureeing it with butter or oil and then freezing it in ice-cube trays, then popping the cubes into a zipper lock bag so it’s easy to pull out what you need later.

Freeze whole in sealed bag – Other herbs with less tender leaves can simply be frozen in a plastic bag.

Preserve in oils and vinegars – Another way to preserve herb flavors is in oils and vinegars. Recipes abound in cook books and online.

Recipes with herbs

Gardening magazines are rife with recipes seasoned with herbs. My old favorite, “Organic Gardening” magazine, has morphed into “Rodale’s Organic Life,” but it still includes recipes, giving me ideas for more herbs to grow. And then I’ll need to look for seeds in the specialty catalogs, like Richters, www.richters.com, in which I counted 38 kinds of mint.

It’s fun having a collection of herbs, even just for rubbing a few leaves so I can enjoy their scent while working in the garden.

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