Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Bulb forcing brings spring indoors mid-winter

2017-10 Bulb forcing 1

This classic bulb-forcing vase holds a hyacinth bulb. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 15, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “An indoor spring…during the winter.”

By Barb Gorges

It’s the season for buying spring-blooming bulbs. But not all of them need to go in the garden—at least not right away. Some of them can be kept back for forcing.

Bulb forcing allows you to enjoy crocus, the small iris, hyacinth, daffodils and even tulips indoors earlier than they bloom outside. Think of them as a deep winter gift to yourself, or for someone else.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith recently gave me background on the practice and a few tips.

The science and history

Smith said the trick is to use bulbs from temperate climates that need winter—such as the bulbs we plant in our gardens for spring bloom. They can get by with a shorter winter, or artificial cooling period, to bloom. Bulb growers in Europe started taking advantage of this about 300 years ago, as relayed by Patricia Coccoris of Holland in her book, “The Curious History of the Bulb Vase.”

The timing

Buy spring-blooming bulbs now. Bulbs ordered from catalogs begin shipping here around the beginning of October because bulbs normally need to be planted outdoors when the soil cools, but before it freezes in December.

For bulb forcing, figure 12 weeks minimum of “cool treatment,” however tulips need 13 weeks or more. Once the minimum is met, you can stagger when you start warming up the bulbs. You can aim for specific bloom times during our cabin fever months, January through March, or maybe even later into spring when we get those depressingly late, tulip-breaking snow storms.

The best bulbs

Smith said he used to tell people to buy the premium-sized bulbs for forcing, but now he thinks he gets more bloom for his buck with the smaller grades of bulbs. Premium hyacinth bulbs go for more than a dollar apiece in the John Scheepers catalog, but you might find smaller bargain bulbs and have more, if only medium-sized blooms, for the same amount.

Smith said some varieties of bulbs are easier to force and bulb catalogs often will mention which ones. Varieties seem to go in and out of vogue so don’t be surprised if Smith’s are hard to find.

Hyacinth is the classic forcing bulb, growing 10-12 inches tall. Each stalk is covered in tiny florets. Smith looks for Pink Pearl, Queen of the Pinks, White Pearl, L’Innocence (white), Blue Jacket, Delft Blue and Blue Giant.

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Crocus-sized bulb-forcing vases are harder to find. Photo by Barb Gorges.

All varieties of crocus force well. Smith’s favorite varieties are Remembrance (purple), Blue Ribbon, Giant Yellow and Jeanne d’Arc (white). Only 4-5 inches tall, they are usually planted as a mass.

Iris reticulata, though related to the summer-blooming bearded iris, grows only 4-6 inches high. Recommended for rock gardens, mine bloomed outside at the end of last February, but it would be nice not to have to brave winter winds to enjoy it. Smith said all the varieties force well. Scheepers lists eight ranging in color from white to blue to deep purple, all marked with a bit of yellow.

Almost any daffodil (narcissus) will work well for forcing, said Smith. The popular Paperwhite narcissus, however, is a tropical bulb, so it doesn’t need cooling.

Tulips, said Smith, are the hardest to force. They need the longest cooling time, minimum 13 weeks. They also may get floppy and need staking. Look for the earliest varieties, those that would otherwise bloom outdoors here (winter-hardiness zone 5) in April.

There are a variety of other, more difficult spring-blooming bulbs to experiment with: snowdrops, grape hyacinth (muscari) and squill (scilla).

Bulb-forcing vases

Bulb-forcing vases are not easy to find this fall. Your best bet is Amazon or eBay. These vases, usually glass, are pinched near the top, providing a cup for the bulb to sit suspended so that only its base touches the water. You watch as the roots grow to fill the rest of the vase and the flower stem sprouts. For this forcing method, you can cool just the bulbs in your refrigerator for the recommended time. Be sure hyacinth bulbs don’t touch produce.

If you are lucky enough to find a bulb forcing vase, remember to change the water regularly.

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These hyacinth bulbs have been potted up and will be set in a 2-foot deep trench in the vegetable garden and mulched with straw or pine needles for their 12-week “cool treatment.”  Small bulbs, like crocus, need a half inch of soil covering them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Potted bulbs

Smith pots his bulbs. Without a cellar between 35 and 45 degrees, he instead buries the pots in a 2-foot-deep trench in his vegetable garden. He then backfills the trench with straw or pine needles. The mulch allows moisture to percolate down, whether the bulbs are watered by hand or by snow, and allows in air.

Pots can be plastic or clay. However, if you have a fancy one, you may want to use it as a cache pot in which you insert the utilitarian pot that was buried.

Put only one type of bulb in a pot because different types sprout at different rates.

The depth of the pot should allow 2 inches or more of potting soil under the bulb with the bulb tip just a little below the rim of the pot.

Smith said regular packaged potting soil will do. Potting soil can be very dry, so mix it with water in an old dishpan or bucket before spooning it into the pot as the layer that will be under the bulbs. Then set the bulbs on top, right side up. The root end can have bits of root left and the shoot end is usually pointier.

You can pack the bulbs in, nearly shoulder to shoulder, leaving just a little space between them. Then fill in with more potting soil. Smith said the top third of the bulb can be left exposed, but crocus and iris bulbs need to be covered a half inch deep.

Label the pot so you remember what’s in it—especially if you do more than one kind. Mark where you bury the pot. And mark your calendar for when to bring the pot in.

Chill out

While the potted bulbs are chilling in the dark, make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. You may need to lift the mulch and water once a month if it’s a dry winter.

Coming in from the cold

When you bring a pot in, Smith recommends putting it in a dim room at 60 degrees or cooler until the shoots are a few inches tall. Then move it to a bright window and 65 degrees. “Buried to blooming” may take two weeks. Turn pots every day to keep plants growing straight.

Flowers can last a week or two. Once in bloom, you can prolong it by setting the pot farther from the window and keeping the room’s temperature at 65 degrees.

Afterward

The advantage to planting forced bulbs in potting soil is that you can give them a second life. Cut back the spent flowers and keep watering until the leaves turn yellow. Plant the bulbs out in the garden when the soil thaws, where they might bloom again in two years.

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Iris reticulata bulbs were forced to bloom indoors one spring, then replanted outside in the garden in early summer where they bloomed the next spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Fair flowers educate

2017-09 Floriculture Dept by Barb Gorges

The Floriculture Department at the Laramie County Fair includes perennials, annuals, herbs, potted plants and flower arrangements. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Sept. 17, 2017 “Fair gives lesson about best oflowers to grow locally.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t thinking of our county fair being a learning opportunity until I overheard one woman visiting the floriculture department say to another, “You should try that in your garden.”

I realized then that the open class entries (all the entries that are not 4-H or FFA) could tell me a lot about what Laramie County gardeners grow, and grow well, at least at the beginning of August.

Checking the fair results at http://www.laramiecountyfair.com, in horticulture (fruits and vegetables), there were only 81 entries, indicating a growing season with a slow, cold start. However, for floriculture [starting on page 148], there were many more entries: perennial flowers (146), annual flowers (84), culinary herbs (64). The other categories, flower arrangements, dish gardens and potted plants, had a total of 55.

Why wouldn’t you plant perennials, the most popular category, in the first place? They take so little work once established. And once you’ve planted a perennial, why wouldn’t you snip three identical flowers the first week in August, place them in a clear glass jar, carry them to the fair and hope for a blue ribbon and $6 premium?

I’ve entered numerous quilts in fairs over the last 35 years (one to two hundred hours or more of work for a chance at the same $6 premium) and understand quilt judging, but I wasn’t sure what floriculture judges were looking for.

The fair book will tell you a little bit, but the 2017 edition is no longer available and the 2018 edition won’t be on the website until next spring. You can contact the Floriculture Superintendent, Chris Wright, through the fair office, 307-633-4670, if you have questions now.

Unlike other competitive endeavors, fair judges give out as many blue ribbons in any class as they feel are warranted. The entries are judged by how well they represent the class. For instance, all seven pansy entries received blue ribbons. However, all the Monarda (beebalm) entries received red ribbons and only $4 premiums.

I chatted with one of the two floriculture judges afterwards. Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator and Extension horticulture specialist, explained he thought all the beebalm was a little past its prime.

Beebalm flower heads are made up of tiny florets that bloom in groups, one concentric ring at a time. Mine had already been in bloom five weeks. But pansies have no florets, just five petals per flower. Mine have been putting out fresh flowers nearly every day since they started blooming in April.

Hilgert has been judging several fairs a year for the last 14 years. He looks for entries that are healthy—no sign of disease or pests. You can pinch off bad leaves, but you can’t remove very many bad flower petals without ruining a bloom.

The containers don’t matter, Hilgert said, though he prefers that they be a size matching the stem length. He’d rather not fish flowers out of the water when they fall into too tall vases. Our fair’s rules call for clear glass or plastic containers and it doesn’t matter to Hilgert whether they are vases or just jars and bottles.

2017-09 Rudbeckia entry by Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia entry in a jelly jar gets a blue ribbon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

When a class description asks for three stems, or three blooms, the three need to be as uniform as possible: same size flowers, same length stem, and flowers at the same stage of bloom. This year I had a bumper crop of Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy or black-eyed susan), but in over 100 blooms, only three were identical, and luckily, were fresh enough to last the whole week of the fair.

Avoiding wilting, another of Hilgert’s benchmarks, was easy this year—it was a cool, rainy day when we brought our entries to the Exhibition Hall. However, during hot weather, the fair’s rules stating that all open class entries must be turned in between noon and 8 p.m., but not judged until the next morning, doesn’t work well for the tender plants. And it is another day before the public can view them. Volunteers keep the containers of flowers and the potted plants watered during fair week.

There is a simple strategy for entering floriculture at our fair. Before the entry deadline at the end of June, put in online for every class for which you have something planted. There is no entry fee. No one can predict what will look best the beginning of August when the flowers need to be picked. While seven people had great Shasta daisy entries this year, mine were already finished blooming. Of the 35 classes I put in for, I only brought 14 entries. I didn’t even have hail damage this year. It was just a matter of bloom timing.

There is a competitive aspect to the Floriculture department—those other awards that give you bragging rights: Superior, Best of Show, Reserve Champion and Champion. Those are the purple ribbons, some with fancy rosettes, that transcend the classes.

This year gardeners were rewarded with them for an exceptional hybrid tea rose, a sunflower, a salpiglossis, two mints, three potted plants and a fairy garden. A truly wonderful flowering tuberous begonia, entered by one of my neighbors, Jean Profaizer, was the champion.

Whether you ever intend to enter the fair and make some “seed money,” it is worth reading the Floriculture results to see what can bloom in Cheyenne in late summer. I counted over 20 kinds of culinary herbs (although these don’t need to be in bloom), 16 kinds of annuals and 30 kinds of perennials. The most popular, if you put all four classes of it together (white, yellow, pink and other), was yarrow, with 25 entries. It happens to be an easy perennial to grow, too.

2017-09 Echinacea entry by Barb Gorges

Echinacea is another popular fair entry because it is in bloom in early August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Other late summer standbys are Echinacea (coneflower), Gaillardia (blanket flower), daylily, lilies, various roses, violets, and as previously mentioned, Rudbeckia.

Among the annuals are geranium, cosmos, bachelor buttons, snapdragon, sunflower, marigold, petunia and pansy (though my pansies sometimes come back, acting like short-lived perennials).

When you walk through the display of flowers at our fair, each vase or jarful with its entry tag that you see gives you more familiarity with local possibilities. If you are lucky, the gardener has added the variety name—it’s supposed to give them extra competition points.

With all that information, now is the perfect time to assess your garden, make plans and gather or order what you need for next season. Any end of the season sales on perennials at nurseries? How about seeds, both flower and vegetable? Although they are never seen at the fair, don’t forget spring-blooming bulbs. And think about planting flowering trees and shrubs.

The downside? You may have to dig a new bed to accommodate all your future flower plans. But the bees, birds, butterflies and bats thank you.


Ground covers

2017-8 Sweet Woodruff by Barb GorgesPublished Aug. 13, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Covers of Color, ground covers good for replacing grass or gravel, and feeding bees”

By Barb Gorges

Gardeners consider ground covers to be short plants that act as living mulch, suppressing weeds and preventing erosion.

Your bluegrass lawn is a ground cover. Because it is so popular, its growing needs are well known. You can easily find someone to grow and mow it for you. Even simpler is growing native grasses—less water and much less mowing [search “Buffalograss” at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com].

However, when I surveyed the Laramie County Master Gardeners for their favorite perennial ground covers, a variety of short, flowering plants were listed requiring various amounts of sun and water.

All have big advantages over mulches like gravel or wood chips. Established ground covers out-compete weeds. Rock and wood chip mulches, on the other hand, eventually fill with weeds. Plants keep the ground around themselves cooler. Rock mulch makes an area hotter. Plants recycle carbon dioxide and make oxygen. Rocks and woodchips don’t.

A blooming ground cover offers more for bees and butterflies than rock, wood or a plain lawn. You can combine plant species in a mosaic, or in what’s being called a tapestry lawn by researchers at the University of Reading in Britain.

And you are in luck, late summer is a great time to find perennial ground covers on sale at local garden centers.

Plant now, a month or two before winter weather sets in, and you should see most of your investment sprout in the spring.

How close together you plant depends on how big a hurry you are in to get an area to fill in.

When comparing hardiness ratings, keep in mind Cheyenne is rated Zone 5, but many local gardeners look for hardier varieties rated down to the colder Zone 4 and even Zone 3.

Stonecrop, Sedum hybridum, is recommended by Catherine Wissner. There are many varieties of these succulents, but this one is only 4 inches high. It produces yellow flowers in late spring and early summer. It needs full sun, low amounts of water (after establishment) and is rated Zone 4.

Birdseye Speedwell, Veronica filiformis, is another of Wissner’s choices. This Zone 3 speedwell is only 2 inches tall. Fast growing, in some climates it can invade turf. Small blue flowers with white centers bloom mid-spring.

2017-08 Turkish Veronica Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica, by Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica (or Speedwell), Veronica liwanensis, is one of three kinds of ground covers Martha Mullikin grows between flagstones. They all do well because they get the extra moisture running off the stone. This Zone 4 perennial becomes a blue-flowered carpet 1 to 3 inches tall in spring. It prefers sun with afternoon shade and a drier situation. Linnie Cough said hers blooms for two months. It is a Plant Select variety developed by the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University for thriving in western gardens.

Woolly Speedwell, Veronica pectinata, is a favorite of Susan Carlson. It is like Turkish Veronica, but the leaves are silvery instead of glossy. Both stay green over the winter.

Woolly Thyme, Thymus lanuginosus, and Lemon Thyme, Thymus citriodorus, are the other two forming mats over the flagstones at Mullikin’s. Both are good to Zone 4. Both like full sun and do well in xeric (dry) conditions. Lemon Thyme has the added benefit of being considered a culinary herb.

Red Creeping Thyme, Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus,’ listed by Tava Collins, is a red-flowering ground cover that doesn’t mind being stepped on a little. A Zone 4, it is drought tolerant once it has been established.

Mullikin is enamored with Dianthus ‘Tiny Rubies,’ Dianthus gratianopolitanus, which forms a 2-inch tall mat of leaves covered in pink flowers mid-spring to mid-summer. It prefers full sun and doesn’t mind the colder temperatures of Zone 3.

Barren Strawberries, Waldsteinia ternata, will remind you of strawberries, but the small yellow flowers (Mullikin has a variety with pink flowers) produce fruit considered inedible by people—no word on whether squirrels like them. A Zone 4, it likes full sun to part shade, and is somewhat drought tolerant.

2017-08 Periwinkle by Barb Gorges

Periwinkle, by Barb Gorges

Small-leaved Periwinkle, Vinca minor, Kathy Shreve said, “can take shade, and will grow under a limbed-up spruce tree if given enough water.” A Zone 4 less than 4 inches high, its periwinkle-blue flowers show up in May and early June. Mine, despite being in deepest shade, still plots to take over the world so I prune it when necessary.

Sweet Woodruff, Galium odorata, is another that does well in shade (it doesn’t like full sun), but I think mine would do better if I watered it more—it might reach the listed height of 6 to 12 inches. A Zone 4, its tiny white, fragrant flowers show up in May. Tava Collins said when it is stepped on or cut (or mowed), you may get the sweet smell of hay.

Hummingbird Trumpet, Epilobium canum ssp garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’ also goes by Zauschneria garrettii. Shreve reports it is a “great xeric ground cover, does not seed around indiscriminately, and hummingbirds really do love the orangey-red flowers. Also, it blooms in late July-August when most everything else has pooped out.” This is precisely when migrating hummingbirds passing through Cheyenne would appreciate it. A Zone 3, it is also a Plant Select variety.

2017-08 Soapwort Saponaria Mary Ann Kamla

Soapwort, by Mary Ann Kamla

Mary Ann Kamla recommended several plants including Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, a Zone 3 with yellow flowers mid-summer. Mildly invasive, she keeps it contained with the edge of the patio.

Another that is doing well for Kamla is Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis. A Zone 3 with pink to white flowers, it appreciates water. Its leaves have historically been boiled to make a bubbly liquid soap.

Tava Collins is a fan of Spotted Deadnettle, Lamium maculatum. She grows two varieties: ‘Purple Dragon’ and ‘Pink Chablis,’ the names describing the flower colors. Hers bloom throughout the season, Collins said. The leaves are silvery with green edges. These varieties are Zone 4, but some others aren’t as cold hardy. Cutting back will encourage new blooms. The bumblebees love Lamium, Collins said.

2017-08 Spotted Deadnettle by Barb Gorges

Spotted Deadnettle, by Barb Gorges

Also on Collins’ list: Black Scallop Bugleweed, Ajuga reptens ‘Black Scallop.’  Ajugas are good ground covers in general. This one has leaves that look nearly black when grown in full sun. Early summer it has blue flower spikes. A Zone 3, it can be invasive in the garden.

Richard Steele simply grows clover instead of grass. It’s mowable, takes less water, he says, and it feeds his bees, which provide him with honey.

There are two ground covers I planted this year that Shane Smith, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director, mentions in his garden tips at www.botanic.org. One is Creeping Phlox, Phlox subulata. A Zone 3, it should have no problem coming back next year, but since it prefers sunnier spots, I’ll see if it its pink and white flowers will develop in the shade.

The other is Snow-in-Summer, Cerastium tomentosum, another Zone 3, with silvery green leaves. Maybe next year it will give me more than one white flower. Patience, patience. Growing perennials is a long-term investment


Vegetable growing advice

 

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Laramie County Master Gardener Kathy Shreve prepares a trench for seeds in a raised bed set up with soaker hoses. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 4, 2017, “Time to get your garden growing.”

 

By Barb Gorges

I spent a recent evening in the garden with Kathy Shreve, Laramie County master gardener, reviewing what to know about local vegetable gardening. The topics mentioned here are covered in greater depth in the “gardening” section of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, http://botanic.org, which also has the link to the archive of my previous columns.

Timing

Wait until the end of May or later to transplant tender veggies like tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers or put them under a season-extending cover like a low tunnel. You can also plant them in containers you can scoot in and out of the garage.

However, Shreve started cabbage and onion plants indoors and planted them before the snow May 18-19 and they were fine. Some vegetables, like members of the cabbage family, don’t mind cold as much.

While peas, cabbage types, lettuces and other greens, can be planted earlier than the end of May, most vegetable seeds planted directly in the garden prefer warmer soil temperatures. Measure with a soil thermometer found at garden centers.

Shreve said we can plant as late as June 20. Plant fast growing crops as late as July if you want a fall harvest.

Location

Keep in mind the vegetable garden needs a minimum of six hours of sun per day, preferably morning sun.

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Shreve transplants cabbages she started indoors. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Transplants

Because of our short growing season, tomatoes and other tender vegetables are started indoors. Always look for the short season varieties of these plants. Shreve said she looks for 80 or fewer “days to maturity.”

If the plant was not outside when you bought it, it will need hardening off. Start with the plant in the shade for two or three hours and day by day increase the amount of sun and the length of exposure by a couple hours. Keep it well watered.

When transplanting, Shreve advises digging a hole for your plant, filling it with water, then letting it drain before planting.

To remove a plant from a plastic pot, turn it upside down with the stem between your forefinger and middle finger. Squeeze the pot to loosen the soil and shake it very, very gently.

If there are a lot of roots, you can gently tease them apart a bit before putting the plant in the hole.

Hold the plant by the root mass so that it will sit in the hole with the soil at the same level of the stem as it was in the pot. Fill soil in around the roots, then tamp the soil gently.

However, tomatoes can be planted deeper since any part of their stem that is underground will sprout roots, the more the better. In fact, Shreve said to pinch off all but three or four leaves and bury the bare stem.

Lastly, keep plants well-watered, not soggy, while they get established. Wait a couple weeks before adding fertilizer to avoid burning the plants.

Mulch

Shreve mulches with certified weed-free straw available at local feed stores, but grass clippings and last year’s leaves can also be used.

Placing mulch 2 to 3 inches deep keeps the soil from drying so fast, shades out weeds and keeps rain and overhead watering from spattering dirt onto plants, which may spread disease. It can also keep hail from bouncing and inflicting damage twice.

 

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Seed

Root crops, like carrots and beets, don’t transplant well, so you are better off starting them from seed.

While fresh is good, Shreve said she’s had luck with seed seven years old. But the germination rate isn’t going to be great. She might spread carrot seed a little more thickly if that was the case, and it’s easy to thin to the proper spacing (and the thinnings can be tasty).

Because Cheyenne is dry, Shreve plants in a little trench. That way, when moisture comes, it will collect down where the plants are.

Seed packets tell you how deep to plant. The rule of thumb is three to four times deeper than the breadth of the seed. Lay the seed in the bottom of the trench and sprinkle that much dirt on them. Then water well, but gently, so you don’t wash out the seeds. Keep the soil surface moist until the seeds germinate.

Lightly mulch when the seedlings are visible, adding more as the plants get bigger.

Mark rows with popsicle sticks or plastic knives left from picnics.

Water

Once plants are established, let the top 1-2 inches of soil dry out between waterings. Test by sticking your finger in the soil. Water deeply.

Shreve waters every other day using soaker hose and drip irrigation systems, except when it rains. She originally tested her system for 30 minutes to see if water made it to the root depth and decided on 40 minutes.

Water in the morning, or at least make sure leaves are dry before dark.

Bugs and weeds

Mulch should eliminate most of the need to weed. Shreve said to keep up with it—it’s easier to pluck weed seedlings than to have them establish deep roots and go to seed.

For bugs, Shreve said it is easy to Google “what insect is eating my cabbage,” or take the critter, or evidence, to the Laramie County Extension horticulturist, Catherine Wissner. Her office is now out at Laramie County Community College, fourth floor of the new Pathfinder Building.

Never use pesticides until you identify your problem, and then try the least toxic method first. Again, more is not better. Never apply more than the directions indicate.

Slugs—my nemesis—indicate a garden is too wet.

Shreve said to roll newspaper to make 1 to 2-inch-diameter tunnels. Place rolls around affected plants in the evening. By sunrise, the slugs will be inside the rolls to get away from the light and you can dispose of them, rolls and all.

Fertilizer

Never add wood ash or lime to our alkaline soils as those work only on eastern, acidic soils.

Shreve likes slow-release products which are less likely to burn the plants, as are the natural fertilizers. Additionally, compost tea is a good soil conditioner.

Again, more is not better. Shreve uses half of what is directed until she sees how the plants respond.

Over-fertilization of fruit-producing vegetables like tomatoes often keeps them from producing the flowers that become the fruit. Shreve said they need to be stressed a little bit because it gets them thinking about preservation of the species and producing seed, rather than just enjoying life and producing leaves.

“Just leaves” is OK if you are growing leafy vegetables like lettuce, kale, spinach and chard.

Trellis and cage

If you are growing vining vegetables, getting them off the ground means fruits stay cleaner and don’t rot, and they are easier to find and pick. Use old chain link gates, bed springs, or anything else—be creative.

Hog panels make sturdy tomato cages 5 feet high and 2.5 feet in diameter for larger, indeterminate varieties, with chicken wire over the top for hail protection. Otherwise, use jute twine to loosely tie the stem to a bamboo stake.

Add flowers

Adding annual flowers like alyssum, marigolds and sunflowers, or herbs including dill and oregano, attracts pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden.


Iris farm shares beauty, growing tips

2017-04C & T Iris Patch 14 Barb Gorges

A visitor walks a corner of  C and T Iris Patch last June. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published April 30, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Iris farms, sharing beauty and growing tips

By Barb Gorges

There is an annual flower phenomena less than an hour south of Cheyenne, just east of Eaton, Colorado, from mid-May through early June. And after you find it, you might think you’d been to Eden.

It’s thanks to a tradition among iris farms to open to the public while the iris are blooming. Last year was my first visit to C and T Iris Patch’s acre of beauty, and it won’t be my last.

There is a gap between the spring bloom time and the best time to transplant iris—July into August—but Charlette Felte, of C and T Iris Patch, takes pity on spring visitors and allows them to take home select plants. I bought several and as per her instructions, cut the blooms and put them in a vase, then trimmed the leaves and planted the rhizomes (fat root-like appendages) in a sunny spot.

2017-04C & T Iris Patch, Charlette Felte, 58 Barb Gorges

Charlette Felte has a special patch of iris for spring visitors to buy from if they can’t wait for the traditional July-August transplanting season. Photo by Barb Gorges.

With 3,000-4,000 visitors, it’s good everyone doesn’t succumb to immediate gratification and can wait until orders are shipped in summer. If you can’t visit, the color photos in the online catalog are nearly as inspiring.

When Felte reached retirement age, she announced to her husband Tim that she wanted to move to the country to raise iris.” Fine,” he said, “find some land.” Two days later Felte had picked out a place.

Felte knew a lot about iris already. Growing up, her father would send her and her siblings down the street to help an elderly neighbor who had an iris garden.

“I thought they were the prettiest flowers,” Felte said.

Variations

C and T Iris Patch opened in 2000. It now carries 3,200 varieties of iris. The largest category is the bearded iris (the beard being the fuzzy patch on the falls—the petals that bend downwards). Within bearded iris there are classifications based on height.

[Here are the classes of bearded iris beginning with the earliest to bloom: Miniature Dwarf Bearded, Standard Dwarf Bearded, Intermediate Bearded, and then blooming at the same time as the Tall Bearded (mid-late spring), Border Bearded and Miniature Tall Bearded.]

If you are lucky, your iris may rebloom in the fall—when temperatures resemble those during the spring bloom. Some varieties are identified as rebloomers because they have a propensity for it, but it isn’t something to count on.

Now if you think all iris are blue or yellow, you really need to check out what’s available, either online or during bloom time. There’s also peach, orange, pink, brown, red and violet, and some are bi-colored, tri-colored, spotted, striped, and edged with accent colors. And for some reason, flower breeders are always trying for “black.”

The names people dream up for each new hybrid are sometimes beautiful, “Come Away with Me,” “Kiss the Dawn,” “Mist on the Mountain.” Sometimes they make you laugh “All Reddy” (a red iris), “Awesome Blossom,” “Coming Up Roses,” “Darnfino,” “Get Over Yerself,” “Got Milk” (all white and ruffled). And some might be a bit naughty: “Sinister Desire,” “Sunrise Seduction,” “Hook Up.” Or named for someone, usually a woman, “Sarah Marie,” “Raspberry Rita,” “Evelyn’s Echo.”

As I was perusing the catalog this winter, I noticed that each description mentioned the date the hybrid was introduced. The fun of breeding new hybrids actually goes back centuries to the origins of these iris in Europe, North Africa and Asia. North America has wild iris, but they usually prefer swampy conditions.

In Felte’s catalog there are varieties from the 1930s: “Rhages,” “Wabash,” and “William Setchell,” and from 1912, “Romero,” and the oldest, from 1904, “Caprice.” Among other kinds of plants, the older varieties are not as disease resistant. However, Felte said that the older iris hybrids, especially from the 1950s through 1980s, are hardier. The newer, rufflier, lacier, frillier, don’t winter as well. Plus, they don’t have as much fragrance.

Iris photos taken at C and T Iris Patch by Barb Gorges.

Growing iris

Iris are not fussy plants. They prefer drier conditions (they will rot if they aren’t dry enough) so they fit with today’s water-smart gardens.

Felte also recommends her Wyoming customers not choose the tallest, the 40-inchers, because they take so long to bloom, and Cheyenne is already two weeks behind Eaton. The delay is probably due to a combination of Eaton being 1,200 feet lower, 45 miles south, and having sandier soils that warm up faster in spring.

Iris leaves grow in fan arrays. In July, when irises are normally dug up for transplanting, the fan is trimmed to a 6-inch tall diamond. Otherwise, leaves are not trimmed until the following spring.

The rhizomes are covered with an inch of soil, up to the point where the leaves turn from white to green. Felte recommends giving the transplants an inch of water the first time, and then about half an inch per week until mid-September. Deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering.

Felte recommends rabbit feed (pellet form) for fertilizer, which is high in phosphates and other nutrients iris need for good blooms. They need very little nitrogen. The best time to fertilize is mid-to-late March, and again in July for the reblooming varieties or plants newly divided. Felte warns on her website to never use manure.

Trim the flower stalks after blooming to keep the color of the bloom true next year. Trim dead leaves away after winter, Felte said.

In three or four years, your irises will have multiplied and need to be dug up and thinned to keep them blooming. You can either increase the size of your iris garden or give the excess fans to friends.

New hybrids

While bees will pollinate iris and cause seed pods to form, Felte recommends removing them. Unless you have controlled conditions, the seeds will not grow true to the parent plant.

I asked Felte if she has ever registered her own hybrids and she said no, it’s about a 10-year-long process. First, you must provide enough seed true to the hybrid for 75 growers around the country and overseas to grow it out. They keep records for four years and submit them to the American Iris Society which will decide if your hybrid is different enough from all the registered varieties. [Some of the larger iris farms, such as Schreiner’s Iris Garden in Oregon, contribute new hybrids annually.]

Area iris farms open this spring

C and T Iris Patch will be open to the public this year May 20 through June 11, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., seven days a week, at 20524 WCR 76, Eaton, Colorado, at no charge. The website, www.candtirispatch.com, has extensive information about growing iris, and they are ready for online orders as are other Colorado iris farms:

In Boulder, Colorado, Longs Gardens will be open to the public now through June 11, seven days a week, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., at 3240 Broadway. See www.LongsGardens.com for more information.

In Denver, check the website for Iris4U Iris Garden, 2700 W. Amherst Avenue, for their public hours, www.iris4u.com.

2017-04C & T Iris Patch 6 Barb Gorges

C and T Iris Patch in Eaton, Colorado, grows a wide variety of bearded iris and allows the public to visit during the May-June blooming season. Photo by Barb Gorges.


The Mint Family

Photos courtesy of Jane and Robert Dorn. Hover over image for name of plant.

Skullcap, Scutellaria brittonii, 8 inches tall, native perennial found in rocky and gravelly places.

Coyote mint or mountain beebalm, Monardella odoratissima, 12 inches tall, prefers moist places in full sun.

Horsemint or purple beebalm, Monarda fistulosa, and cultivars, 2 feet tall, easily found in area nurseries. Transplants easily.

Giant (or anise) Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum (also called hummingbird mint),  3 feet tall, blooms July through September. Found for sale at nurseries.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 19, 2017

Introducing the mint family: from here, there and everywhere

By Barb Gorges

I was thinking a good winter pastime would be to research the mint family, Lamiaceae of which there are 7,500 species. I found tales of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Some mints were invited over to the New World because they were thought to be good garden plants, capable of providing medicinal uses, if not culinary flavor.

But some of them escaped the picket fences, becoming weeds that hang out on the dusty edges of civilization. Some poisoned livestock. Others just didn’t fit in the preferred landscape and have been periodically eradicated, especially the ones that insist on infiltrating the monoculture of lawn.

New World natives, while never originally confined to the cultivated garden, were valued for their medicinal know-how, but over time some recipes have been lost. They have been admired for their beauty and ability to thrive, each in its favorite wild place, providing sustenance to the local wildlife population. Only recently have we invited them into our cities and towns. But often we expect them to be made over into a showier version of themselves.

No matter where mints are from, they almost always share square stems and opposite leaves and they smell nice when you brush against them or crush their leaves.

Well-established garden mints

Immigrating people often take along their favorite plants from home. A surprising number of our favorite cooking herbs we grow in Cheyenne are mints that have travelled:

–Basil, Ocimum basilicum, traces its roots to India but is important to many cultures from Mexico to southeast Asia;

–Spearmint, Mentha spicata, Europe and Asia;

–Peppermint, Mentha x peperita, Europe and Middle East;

–Oregano, Origanum vulgare, Eurasia;

–Sweet marjoram, Origanum majorana, Middle East;

–Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, Mediterranean;

–Garden sage, Salvia officinalis, Mediterranean;

–Common thyme, Thymus vulgaris, Europe;

–Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, Mediterranean;

–Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, Europe, Iran, Central Asia.

Garden mint turned weed

Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, is considered a medicinal herb, but has escaped cultivation. Originally from Europe, North Africa and Asia, it is now listed in the handbook, “Weeds of the West,” because it has invaded our native grasslands, including here in southeast Wyoming. Wherever there is a disturbance in the natural landscape, look for it. It’s considered a weed because it is unpalatable to livestock.

Robert Dorn, in his book, “Vascular Plants of Wyoming,” lists other weedy mints in our county:

–Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, Eurasia, common in lawns, attracts bees, has been used in beer and cheese making, but is toxic to cattle and horses;

–Dead nettle, Laminum amplexicaule, Eurasia and North Africa, problem in croplands and newly seeded lawns though one variety is considered good landscape ground cover;

–Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca, Eurasia, an herbal remedy, introduced for bees, now invasive;

–Lanceleaf sage, Salvia reflexa, Eurasian ornamental, listed in “Weeds of the West” because it is poisonous to livestock when chopped into or mixed with other feed.

Exotic and native mints excel

But here’s a good mint that has become a naturalized in Laramie County and elsewhere in North America: catnip, Nepeta cataria. It is native to Eurasia and Africa. A hybrid, Nepeta x fassennii, known as garden catmint “Walker’s Low,” became the perennial plant of the year in 2007.

For every difficult mint, there are more mints that contribute positively to society. Here at the north end of the Front Range, and elsewhere in the drylands of the west, we are looking for plants for our gardens that don’t need much water. Some of those are natives and others from similar landscapes on the other side of the world.

Take Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, straight from the steppes of central Asia. It’s become extremely popular around here, plant it and forget it, but I don’t think anyone has taken advantage of its Old World reputation as a medicinal, or put the flowers in salad or crushed them for dye.

Water-frugal homeowners are replacing lawn with various creeping thymes, Thymus spp., and all of them hail from Europe, North Africa or Asia.

Horticulturists are always working on improvements and a catalogue like High Country Gardens shows examples. You’ll notice cultivars (cultivated varieties) with cute names. The improvements can be better cold tolerance, better drought tolerance, longer blooming and or bigger, brighter blooms. Some species are native to Turkey, like a type of lamb’s ear, Stachys lavandulifolius, or another from Arizona, another lamb’s ear, Stachys coccineus.

Wyoming natives

What I am more interested in meeting these days are the Wyoming natives, the plants that know how to get along with the native wildlife, including birds, bats, bees, butterflies, and other insects.

Looking again at Robert Dorn’s book, among the mints found in southeast Wyoming I saw:

–Dragonhead, Dracocephalum parviflorum;

–Drummond’s false pennyroyal, Hedeoma drummondii (used as a minty flavoring in Mexico);

–False dragonhead, Physostegia parviflora (related to obedient plant);

–Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris (a common lawn “weed” and Holarctic native—native to northern areas around the globe);

— Canada germander, Teucrium canadense.

Cultivated natives

These plants don’t show up in Dorn’s book he coauthored with his wife, Jane: “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area.” It could mean they aren’t showy enough or perhaps too difficult to grow. *

However, Dorn and Dorn mention these other Rocky Mountain mint cousins for our gardens:

–Giant (or anise) hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, also called hummingbird mint;

–Horsemint or purple beebalm, Monarda fistulosa;

–Coyote mint or mountain beebalm, Monardella odoratissima;

–Skullcap, Scutellaria brittonii.

Problem family members

Some gardeners have banned all mints from their gardens because they have heard they spread uncontrollably. That is true in my experience with the mentha species.

My chocolate mint, Mentha × piperita ‘Chocolate Mint,’ was well-behaved for 10-15 years until the summer I pruned back the big rosebush nearby and gave it more sun. It went ballistic. By fall I was ripping it out with my bare hands. Standard advice has been to keep crazy mints in pots so they can’t spread.

My lemon balm goes to seed before I notice and seedlings pop up the next year, but it never complains when I dig it up to share and make room for other plants.

Live and let live

The old-time culinary mints share my same raised bed and keep each other in check. Even the Russian sage hasn’t gotten out of hand as it would in a more open spot.

Maybe it’s time to try some of those new native cultivars and spice things up—and see what the bees think.

Note:

To see photos of these plants, search https://plants.usda.gov or Wikipedia, using the scientific names.

*To see Jane Dorn’s list of 25 native plants recommended for Cheyenne gardeners, and to purchase the digital version of “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area,” visit https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/habitat-hero/.


Garden gifts: books, magazines, classes

2016-12-garden-mags-barb-gorgesPublished Dec. 4, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Holiday gifts for the gardener on your list.”

By Barb Gorges

I asked members of the Laramie County Master Gardeners for their top picks for gardening magazines and books to give you ideas for gifts for the gardeners you know.

Gardening conditions in Cheyenne are somewhat unique so advice from these publications must be taken with a bit of local knowledge:

1) We have alkaline soils so ignore advice to add lime and wood ash;

2) We are officially in USDA plant hardiness zone 5 but microclimates can be harsher or milder;

3) Our average annual precipitation is 15 inches. Even if you run your well dry, you can’t reproduce a wetter, more humid location, which some plants require, like somewhere else in Zone 5—say southern Iowa.

MAGAZINES

Most of the magazines recommended are available at local bookstores. Discounted multi-year subscriptions and back issues are available online.

We are lucky that Colorado’s gardening climate is close to Cheyenne’s, making our local choice The Colorado Gardener (www.ColoradoGardener.com, free at outlets, including the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, and online, or $18/5 issues/year delivered). It is a full-color, tabloid-style, 16-page newsmagazine. In addition to articles and a calendar of Front Range garden-related events, even the advertising is informative.

Another option is Rocky Mountain Gardening (www.RockyMountainGardening.com, $24/4 issues/year). Previously known as “Zone 4,” it covers Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. It was recommended by Catherine Wissner, horticulturist at the Laramie County Cooperative Extension office, and several other respondents. Topics in a recent issue included hellstrip gardening (the hot, dry strip along the curb) and frost blankets (written by a Smoot, Wyoming, gardener). Wyoming is well-represented in the news section.

Judy Kowrach was one of two people who endorsed Garden Gate (www.GardenGateMagazine.com, $20/6 issues/year). With no ads, it is full of tips, plant profiles and design ideas. Despite its Iowa origins, much of the information is applicable to Cheyenne. Even without a subscription, you can sign up online for its free eNotes.

Kim Parker and several others listed Fine Gardening (www.FineGardening.com, $29.95/6 issues/year). It does a splendid job of inciting people to commit acts of gardening. I like their warnings on which featured plants are officially classified as invasive in which state and their scientific plant name pronunciation guide. And their deep website full of free garden and plant information.

2016-12-garden-design            I couldn’t come up with an issue of Garden Design (www.GardenDesign.com, $45/4 issues/year), but looking at a preview copy online, it also is sumptuously photographed. Its price reflects the 148 ad-free pages per issue. And its website is also full of free information, even for non-subscribers.

Finally, Rodale’s Organic Life (www.RodalesOrganicLife.com, $15/6 issues/year) is the latest incarnation of Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming. In 1978, that publication printed my interview of a man who built a better bluebird house. These days, think of it as the organic version of Better Homes and Gardens—mostly lifestyle, little gardening.

BOOKS

2016-12-garden-primer-rodales-ultimate-encyclopedia            My primary garden book, recommended to me several years ago by Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, is The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch (2008, Workman Publishing, 820 pages). Written by a gardener from the cold climate of Maine, it covers every aspect of organic home gardening in well-organized chapters, but with an index for quick consultation.

Another option is Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (2009, www.rodaleinc.com, 720 pages). Earlier editions have been on my shelf for years. It’s a tad more technical, but both this and The Garden Primer are good how-to guides and problem solvers.

2016-12-peterson-kaufman-insect-guides            Tava Collins recommended National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders (1980, Alfred A. Knopf, $20) for help identifying garden friends and foes. Similar guides are available in the Kaufman and Peterson field guide series.

Collins also recommended three books written by Colorado gardeners: Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook, John Cretti (2012, Cool Springs Press); Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide, John Cretti (2015, Cool Springs Press); and Cutting Edge Gardening in the Intermountain West, Marcia Tatroe (2007, Big Earth Publishing).

For special gardening techniques that will work in our area, these next two were recommended.

Marie Madison cited The Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits and Edible Flowers by Maggie Stuckey and Rose Marie Nicholas McGee (2002, Workman Publishing).

Susan Carlson, who I interviewed a few months ago about straw bale gardening, apprised me of a new edition of her favorite book: Straw Bale Gardens Complete: All-New Information on Urban & Small Spaces, Organics, Saving Water – Make Your Own Bales With or Without Straw by Joel Karsten (2015, Cool Springs Press, $24.99).

If your giftee’s interest is in growing native plants that attract pollinators or in identifying plants on the prairie, try these. Keep in mind the definition of “weeds” depends on the situation.

2016-12-weeds-of-the-west-rangeland-plants            Carlson listed Rangeland Plants: Wyoming Tough by Smith et. al. (2015, publication B-1265) It is a free download at www.wyoextension.org/publications or $8 at the Laramie County Extension office, 307-633-4383.

Richard Steele found Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science, 2012, $34 at www.wsweedscience.org) to be particularly useful while manning the “Ask a Master Gardener” table at the farmers market this fall.

Collins mentioned the classic Meet the Natives: A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs: Bridging the Gap between Trail and Garden by M. Walter Pesman. It was revised by Denver Botanic Gardens staff in 2012 and republished by Big Earth Publishing.

2016-12-undaunted-garden            The author of one of my favorites, The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty (2010, Fulcrum Publishing), Lauren Springer Ogden, is a firm believer in “the right plant in the right place” and is the originator of “hellstrip” gardening. Her photography is inspiring. She speaks often at garden events on the Front Range.

Her book would be a good accompaniment to the next two books, helping you to pick appropriate local plants to interpret their lessons. These books are about planet-friendly landscape gardening.

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (2015, Timber Press). This may be intended to introduce landscape designers to more natural, sustainable plantings. But you can apply the advice to your own yard, such as using groundcover plants instead of shredded bark mulch everywhere.

2016-12-garden-revolution-planting-in-a-post-wild            The other is Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (2016, Timber Press). Proponents of the “right plant in the right place” too, the authors have designed this book to help you understand their premise: that with knowledge of your eco region and local habitat, you can plant a garden that will evolve over time with a minimal amount of assistance, i.e. chemicals and labor.

LECTURES AND CLASSES

One option: Give your favorite gardener tuition for the 10-week Master Gardener class beginning in January. For more information, call 307-633-4383.

Or give them tickets to the spring gardening lecture series Laramie County Master Gardeners is offering in conjunction with the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Call 307-637-6458.