Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Assessing the gardening season

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

Seedlings

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

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

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

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

Thrips

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

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

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

Bare-root planting

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

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

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

Fall-blooming asters

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

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

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

Stressed trees

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

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

Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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


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Undaunted gardens are the future

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

Undaunted gardens are the future for Cheyenne

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit the Gardens on Spring Creek

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

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

Washington Post map and article:

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


Drip irrigation shopping list

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

drip irrigation filter
Drip irrigation Y-filter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallons per hour calculations

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

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

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


A weed by any other name

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

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle July 4, 2020.

A weed by any other name can smell sweet

By Barb Gorges

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

William Shakespeare

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

Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Tiger Swallowtail

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

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

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


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

Advice for the weed-weary

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Water

           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, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2018/05/04/wyoming-heirloom-apples/), 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 http://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/, 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.

Planting

           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  https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/how-to-plant-a-tree-in-cheyenne-wyoming/). 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.

Fertilizing

           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, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/pruning-trees-and-shrubs/). 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 cwissner@uwyo.edu. 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.

Picking

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

veggies

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, https://www.lcmg.org/.

The UW Extension folks have a variety of videos and recordings about Wyoming gardening available at https://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/live/recordings.html.

While my book on how to garden in Cheyenne won’t be ready for several months, the contents are currently available online at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ 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, https://www.highcountrygardens.com/.

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, http://www.bringingnaturehome.net/, 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), https://fortcollinsnursery.com/, 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, https://www.lccdnet.org/.

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.

Irrigation

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 https://www.fcgov.com/utilities/residential/conserve/water-efficiency/xeriscape.

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, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/.

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

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 https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/how-to-plant-a-tree-in-cheyenne-wyoming/.

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 https://rockies.audubon.org/habitat-hero 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.

Shrubs

Buffaloberry

Chokecherry

Golden Currant

Red-twig Dogwood

Mountain Mahogany

American (Wild) Plum

Rabbitbrush

Silver Sage

Western Sandcherry

Serviceberry

Yucca

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


Seed-starting lights

2020-03 lights-seeedlings

Mark started tomato seedlings under a fluorescent shop light a week before this photo was taken. We have utility shelves set up in the unused bathtub in the hall bathroom. The rest of the year the shelves are filled with houseplants that do well with only light from the bathroom’s skylight.

Published Mar. 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Better lighting means stronger seedlings”

By Barb Gorges

When hours of daylight are quickly lengthening and seed packets are showing up at garden centers, you know it’s time for flower and vegetable seed starting. If you’ve never tried, it’s time to learn how.

You can go to my archived columns at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ and search “seed starting.” You’ll learn how starting from seed saves you money and gives you options for tomatoes and other vegetables adapted to Cheyenne. Get tips on selecting seeds, potting soil and pots. Learn how to time planting, how deep to plant seeds, how and how much to water and how to avoid damping off. Then learn how to harden off seedlings before transplanting them.

This year I want to talk about light. The right light will give you nice, stocky green plants instead of spindly, sickly ones.

There’s a misconception that windowsills work great for starting vegetable seeds. After all, millions of houseplants can’t be wrong. But houseplant origins are typically the shady understory of tropical forests. Vegetables prefer full sun. Also, many windows are now treated to improve energy efficiency (lowering heat transference) by blocking parts of the spectrum. Greenhouses work better than windows because they give plants direct light from more directions for more hours per day.

Without a greenhouse—glass or hoop house—we’re talking supplemental lighting. On a recent trip to my nearest big box store I found all kinds of grow light bulbs that will fit in a lamp but are not adequate for more than a couple pots. The store also had ordinary 4-foot-long fluorescent shop lights which fit perfectly over two flats of seedlings and will produce decent growth, whether you find full-spectrum bulbs or special grow light bulbs.

But LED lights are taking over. At the same big box store, I found 4-foot LED shop lights. The bulbs are integrated with the fixture and come in a variety of brightnesses, 3,200 to 10,000 lumens, with a range of prices to match, $15 to $75.

There are also LED bulbs, both regular and grow lights, that will replace the bulbs in your T8 or T12 fluorescent fixtures, but they won’t be quite as energy efficient as the integrated ones.

You’ll notice LED bulbs can be about four times more expensive than normal fluorescents, but they cost less than half as much to run and are supposed to last longer.

Then there are the industrial LED grow lights that emphasize blue and red lighting—the important part of the spectrum for growing plants. They come with industrial prices as well. Choosing one gets quite technical. Check out the Colorado cannabis grow suppliers for advice.

However, the few weeks of light our tomato seedlings need hardly justifies industrial lighting.

Light set-up

Because you want to keep the light about a couple inches above the tops of the seedlings, you need to be able to adjust the distance as they grow. Too close and seedlings dry out. Too far and they get spindly. Hang the shop light using the chains that come with it, shortening as needed. Joe Lamp’l, host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World, suggests using ratchet pulleys instead.

Or, rather than move the light, you can stack boxes under the flats to bring them up to the light and remove the boxes to adjust the distance as the plants grow.

How do you hang the shop light? You can hang it from the ceiling over a table, especially somewhere like an unfinished basement room.

A set of adjustable utility shelves works well if there is a way you can attach your light fixtures to the underside of the shelves and adjust them. Keep in mind the distance between shelves must accommodate seedling height at six or eight weeks plus a couple inches of space and the light fixture thickness.

Mark and I put freestanding utility shelves in our unused bathtub. For the top shelf we put an expandable shower curtain rod over it and hang the shop light from it.

Plugging it in

Some shop lights can be strung together. Otherwise, if you have multiple lights, you are looking at a power strip, giving you a handy way to flip them off at once. Or, plug the power strip into a timer. Lamp’l’s latest home research shows 16 hours of light per day is about right—seedlings need to sleep too.

Additional tip

Mark and I use electric heat mats under the flats and clear plastic domes or plastic wrap over them to keep the moisture in. But at the first sign of seed germination, they should both be removed.


Terrarium techniques

2020-02 Denver BotGarden-Edwardian case

This early type of terrarium, photographed at the Denver Botanic Gardens, is known as a Wardian case. In the 19th century it protected plants brought from exotic locations.

Published Feb. 23, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “The terrarium: A little world at your command”

By Barb Gorges

Planting a terrarium sounded like a good way to get my hands in dirt mid-winter and protect tasty houseplants from marauding kittens.

The concept is simple: a glass container with potting soil and plants. Plants that enjoy humidity grow in a closed container. Plants that like a dry climate, like succulents and cacti, are in open, but high-sided containers.

Closed terrariums, once you get the moisture level right, can putter along for weeks on their own—perfect for busy people and frequent travelers.

Sometimes a terrarium features just one plant. More often, a miniature landscape is created. The watery corollary is the single goldfish in a bowl compared to an aquarium complete with multiple fish, aquatic plants and decorative elements. Empty fishbowls and aquariums can become terrariums.

Laramie County Master Gardener Susie Heller offered me advice based on her extensive experience. Her terrariums are scattered all over her house and range from clear glass bulb-shaped hanging ornaments to a 5-gallon clear plastic water bottle. Her most recent project was a basket she lined with plastic fabric, planted and then topped with a clear plastic hood.

Inspired by Susie’s stories of finds at vintage and thrift stores, I checked out Goodwill and for only $2, came home with a 4-inch-diameter glass food storage container with a glass lid that clamped on.

Susie uses sand or pebbles for the bottom layer of the terrarium. Excess water in a normal pot drains away, but in the closed terrarium system, roots would rot in excess water if it didn’t collect below the soil level.

The WikiHow article I read suggests digging up some gravel from your driveway. Mine’s concrete and I didn’t have sand like Susie uses, so I went to the pet store’s aquarium section. They have a huge selection of gravel of different sizes and colors. I decided against hot pink. My selection, a 5-pound bag of fine, golden-brown gravel, was $6.  I poured a layer in the bottom of the container. Figure half an inch for small ones, up to 2 inches deep for large former aquariums.

The WikiHow article suggested a layer of activated charcoal next to keep things smelling sweet. This is not charcoal briquettes. But it is the same as activated carbon sold for aquariums. I bought a jar of small pellets for $11. A thin layer is all that is necessary—plenty left for future terrariums.

Next, potting soil. I always have a bag of the peaty stuff around. If I were planting succulents and cacti, I would look for the sandy potting soil they require. WikiHow suggested digging up some dirt from outside but it’s frozen this time of year, mine is clay-like anyway, and I don’t want to have to bake it to sterilize it—it smells up the house.

I moistened my peaty potting soil in an old dishpan before putting it in the container. It comes dry and is hydrophobic when I first pour water on it, so I give it a few minutes to soak.

How much soil do you add? That depends on the size of the container and the plants you want to grow. But on the other hand, plants in a terrarium don’t need the soil depth they get in a pot. Aesthetically, you want the drainage material and soil to be one-third or less of the height of the container. You can trim long roots or, after putting in most of the soil over the charcoal, spread the roots out and cover with more soil.

2020-02Terrarium 1            Picking the plants was the toughest part of the project. Susie said the plants in one container should all have the same moisture and light requirements. I found three small tropical houseplants ($4 each) at the store with labels indicating they all shared the same levels. I also had cuttings at home I thought might work.

Most of my plants were too big for the Goodwill container, and even the two other containers I found in my basement, a 7-inch diameter glass cookie jar and a 6-inch diameter 1-gallon pickle jar. The leaves aren’t supposed to touch the glass. Pruning helps. And if you didn’t select slow-growing plants, you’ll soon be pruning anyway.

Susie adds moss and interesting trinkets to the soil surface of her tropical dioramas. I found some stones outside and some twigs and bark from the woodpile. The half-decayed twigs sprouted fungus within two days, so I took them out.

Some of Susie’s terrariums have narrow openings and she has MacGyvered long-handled implements to help place plants and objects.

The last steps are to wipe clean the inside of the glass, put the lid on and put the terrarium near light: either window, grow-light or fluorescent light. It will take a little experimenting to determine how much light each of my new jars of plants prefers.

Moisture is easier to control. If the glass steams up, I leave the lid ajar for a day. If the soil gets dry, I will mist the plants.

I will strive to be benevolent master of these small universes I have created.

2020-02 Terrarium 2


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Panayoti Kelaidis to inspire Wyoming gardeners to go native Feb. 29

“Going Native: International plant explorer Panayoti Kelaidis wants to inspire Wyoming gardeners”

Published Feb. 9, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com/features/outdoors/international-plant-explorer-panayoti-kelaidis-wants-to-inspire-wyoming-gardeners/article_213c7e0a-9bc6-5de5-9130-d5521285bd47.html.


Habitat Hero logo6th Annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Workshop: “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping – Native Plant Gardening 101”

Feb. 29, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Laramie County Community College

$25 fee includes lunch. Register by Feb. 27 at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4463444, where the complete schedule can be read.

Questions: Mark Gorges, 307-287-4953, mgorges@juno.com.


By Barb Gorges, with Niki Kottmann

Panayoti Kelaidis stepped out to pour us a couple cups of Ceylonese tea. While I waited, I noticed his office at the Denver Botanic Gardens has floor-to-ceiling shelves full of plant books for parts of the world he’s travelled to.

Numerous plaques and certificates on one wall commemorate his contributions to horticulture over a lengthy career. His latest accolade is to being chosen as a judge at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show.

The windowsill features a parade of small, unique succulents and cactuses, part of Kelaidis’s extensive personal plant collection at his Denver home. I toured the nearly half-acre garden on the Garden Bloggers Fling last summer.

Kelaidis, senior curator and director of outreach for the Denver Botanic Gardens, will be the keynote speaker at the sixth annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop Feb. 29.

2019-12Panayoti_Kelaidis            As part of his job at the gardens, Kelaidis leads plant tours to foreign countries, most recently Tibet. A tour of the Sichuan, China, planned for June will depend on world health concerns. It’s helpful he reads Chinese, having once been a student of the language.

Kelaidis is also enthusiastic about Wyoming, where he visited two favorite aunts as a child. In the 1980s, he also travelled our state for his native seed business. He likes to take people on plant tours to the Cody area. As the president-elect of the North American Rock Garden Society, he’s considering a future convention in Cheyenne—we have natural rock gardens nearby to show off.

Kelaidis’s plant knowledge is extensive, especially grassland and alpine species. He co-authored the 2015 book “Steppes, The Plants and Ecology of the World’s Semi-arid Regions,” about the four major steppe regions in the world, including the Great Plains. He also writes a blog called Prairiebreak, http://prairiebreak.blogspot.com/, and he established the Rock Alpine Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

How does he describe himself? “Plant nerd” and a friend calls him a plant geek. I think he’s both. He’ll tell you he isn’t a garden designer, but I’d say he looks at an even bigger picture. And that is why he’s been invited to be the Habitat Hero workshop’s keynote speaker.

Kelaidis’s Feb. 29 talk, “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping—Native Plant Gardening 101,” will echo Douglas Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home.” Both it and Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” mark sea changes in our relationship to nature. Carson’s book, published in 1962, showed the devastation caused by indiscriminate use of pesticides, while Tallamy’s 2007 book showed us our conventional landscaping and gardening practices are detrimental to native insects, birds, other wildlife, and consequently, people. We need to plant native plants to support native insects, including native bees and butterflies. They are the foundation of the healthy ecosystems we enjoy and require.

At first, Kelaidis thought Tallamy was a little too radical, saying all ornamental plants from elsewhere needed to be replaced with natives. For many generations, the goal of landscaping and ornamental gardening has been beauty, Kelaidis said. But now he recognizes the other goal must be “ecological services.”

“We really need to figure out how to create a garden that is part of the natural system, not an obstacle,” said Kelaidis. Can that be beautiful? Can we shift the paradigm completely?

Can we make beautiful gardens with native plants? What we mean by “native” varies. For some American gardeners, it means the species originated on our continent, even if 3000 miles away. Or “native” for Cheyenne could mean any Great Plains species, or even just those from the prairie outside town.

Xeriscaping, gardening with less water, began about 45 years ago in the Denver area, Kelaidis said. With a growing population that could quickly run out of water, smart people realized changing from landscape plants popular in parts of the country with high rainfall to plants that need less water would help. The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities promotes this philosophy as well. Many of the more xeric plants are natives.

Kelaidis worked with the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University to help form Plant Select, https://plantselect.org/. The brand develops plants native to our high plains and intermountain region for the nursery trade. It makes it easy for gardeners to grow beautiful plants by planting those that love to grow here—and use less water. Although, Kelaidis said, there’s still room to grow the occasional prized non-native, water-hungry ornamental.

The water-wise and pollinator-friendly movements were combined a few years ago by Audubon Rockies’ Habitat Hero program. The five previous workshops in Cheyenne have been well-received. I think it’s because people enjoy doing something positive like gardening to support our environment.

After Kelaidis’s keynote address, “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping – Learning from the Natives,” the workshop’s other presenters will walk attendees through the steps to take to make a Habitat Hero garden.

Talks will include how to protect and maintain natural prairie if you have some already, deciding on a location for a garden, removing unwanted plants whether turf or weeds, choosing plants, proper planting techniques, maintaining plants and gardens, and how to apply to be a certified Habitat Hero. The two hands-on components will be about how to install drip irrigation and how to use the winter sowing technique to grow native plants from seed (seeds, soil and containers included).

PK at Soapstone

Panayoti Kelaidis checks out plants at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area in northern Colorado.