Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Apply to be a Habitat Hero

Habitat Hero logoThe Habitat Hero program recognizes people who have reduced the size of their water-loving lawns and planted native, water-smart plants that benefit birds, bees, butterflies (and bats) and other wildlife.

Audubon Rockies, the regional office of the National Audubon Society for Colorado and Wyoming, offers information about wildscaping and the application to become a Habitat Hero at   http://rockies.audubon.org/programs/habitat-hero-education.

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society and Laramie County Master Gardeners are already planning the 5th annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop for spring 2019. To be notified about the details when they are available, sign up for the blog posts at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/.

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Starting gardens: find sun, soil, water

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 1byBarbGorges

This perennial garden keeps expanding. The raised bed with the hail guard on top is where we grow the vegetables, the sunniest spot in front or back yard. Photo by Barb Gorges. 

By Barb Gorges

Is this the year you’ve decided you’ll spend more time on flowers and vegetables and make that boring expanse of lawn more colorful and edible? Here’s how to start.

Find the sun

Find where the sun shines on your yard and where the shadows are. This is the very first and most important step you must take. If you didn’t notice last year, you can estimate.

See where the shadows of currently leafless trees fall during the day. Find the sunny, south-facing side of your house.

For vegetables you want the sunniest location possible, at least 6 hours of full, summer sun. Do you have overgrown or dying trees and shrubs that need pruning or removal? However, a little shade by late afternoon keeps veggie leaves from temporarily wilting.

Keep vegetable gardens close to the house so it is easier to step out and pull the occasional weed and pick the ripe tomatoes.

Flowers aren’t as picky about sun because there are kinds suited to different light levels: sun, part sun, part shade and full shade. If you desire to grow a certain kind, google its light requirements.

Block the wind

In most residential neighborhoods there are enough obstacles, houses and landscaping, to blunt the wind. But if you are out on the prairie, you might want to put delicate plants in the lee of the barn or plant a windbreak first.

Get the dirt

Soil is anything a plant can stick a root into.

Good soil for vegetables (and other annuals) has lots of microorganisms that help feed the roots. Most vegetables are big feeders. They use lots of nutrients, so you’ll want to dig in compost the first year and then add layers of leaf/plant/kitchen compost mulch after that as needed. No need to dig again in future years.

If you use chemical fertilizer instead (unfortunately limiting good soil microbes), remember to follow the directions. Too much nitrogen gives you leaves and no fruit and too much of any fertilizer gives you sick or dead plants. And remember, Cheyenne has alkaline soils so do not add alkaline amendments like lime and wood ash.

Perennial plants rated for our zone 5 or colder (Zones 3 and 4), especially native plants, are really quite happy with whatever soil is available. If you are trying to grow flowers in the equivalent of pottery clay, gravel pit or sandbox, you might look for native species adapted to those kinds of soil. Or consider growing your plants in a raised bed or container you can fill with better soil.

Water carefully

Here in the West, water is a precious commodity so save money by not throwing it everywhere. If you have a sprinkler system, make sure it isn’t watering pavement.

The new era of home landscaping encourages us to replace our lawns with native perennials because they use less water. Native plants also provide food for birds, bees and butterflies, and habitat for beneficial insects. The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities is installing a demonstration garden at its headquarters this spring.

But you will need to water a new perennial garden regularly until it gets established, and at other times, so figure out how far you want to lug the hose or stretch a drip irrigation system.

Once established, a native perennial garden not only takes less water than a lawn, but it doesn’t require the purchase of fertilizers, pesticides or gasoline for the mower. Your time can be spent admiring flowers instead of mowing. Although if you convert a large lawn to a meadow, you may want to mow it once a year.

Vegetables are water hogs. The fruits we harvest, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, are mostly water. Unless you like to contemplate life while watering by hand, check out drip irrigation. You can even put a timer on the system.

Sprinklers, on the other hand, waste a lot of water, especially when it evaporates in the heat and wind before it can get to the plants. If you abstain from watering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you’ll lose less to evaporation.

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 3byBarbGorges

It cost me $3000 to have the turf dug up for this garden…and the broken sewer pipe replaced. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Deleting lawn

While you can rent a rototiller to open up an area for planting, I prefer to use a sharp spade. I dig one clump of grass at a time, only about 8-10 inches deep, break and shake off as much soil as possible and put the remaining chunk in the compost bin—or fill in a hole in the remaining lawn.

It’s slow going, but I disturb fewer tree and shrub roots that underlay my entire yard. When I get tired of digging, that means I’ve reached the amount of new garden I have the energy to plant this year. I don’t want gardening to become a chore!

The plants and details

In the six years I’ve been interviewing local gardeners and writing monthly columns, I’ve accumulated a lot of information, from seed starting to native grass lawn alternatives to growing giant pumpkins and native perennials. Go to my website, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com, and on the right side of the page use the search function or scroll through the list of topics.

If you are using your phone, select “About” from the menu and find the search function and topics at the very bottom of the page.

2018-03-05Coneflower&beebyBarbGorges

I love this kind of garden visitor. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Language of Flowers for Valentine’s Day

2018-02 Language of Flowers by Barb Gorges (2)

In the Language of Flowers, this arrangement of flower seed packets means Delight (Gaillardia and Columbine), Faithfulness (Echinacea–coneflower), Interest (Rudbeckia–Black-eyed Susan), Virtue (Mint–Bee Balm), Always cheerful (Coreopsis–Tickseed), and Petition–Please give me your answer (Penstemon). The potted fern translates as Sincerity. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 4, 2018, and at Wyoming Network News.

Language of Flowers provides many options for Valentine sentiments

By Barb Gorges

With the florists’ largest holiday approaching, I thought we should look at getting floral messages right.

The most well-known floral message is red roses for love. But red roses also make an environmentally unfriendly statement. An article at inhabitat.com, https://inhabitat.com/100-million-roses-for-valentines-day-emit-9000-metric-tons-of-co2/, last year explained that the red rose-growing industry uses a lot of water, energy and an enormous amount of pesticides, and then more energy to get the roses from South America, where most are grown, to the U.S.

Here’s an idea: a bouquet of colorful seed packets—and the promise to help prepare a garden bed or container later when gardening season arrives. You can find seeds at:

High Country Gardens, https://www.highcountrygardens.com/wildflower-seeds;

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, http://www.johnnyseeds.com/perennial-seeds-plants; and

Botanical Interests, of Colorado, https://www.botanicalinterests.com/.

There are hundreds of kinds of flowers that have sentiments attached to them, especially by the Victorians, famous for “The Language of Flowers.” They were very fond of sending each other floral messages and apparently every home had a floral dictionary on the shelf next to the Bible.

Here are my favorite native perennials for Cheyenne and what the Language of Flowers has to say about them. Keep in mind there is often more than a single meaning for each. And yes, they do sound like the sentiments printed on candy hearts, often addressing the early stages of romance.

Columbine – Delight – I enjoy being in your company

Coneflower – Faithfulness – Fear not, I am true

Coreopsis – Always cheerful

Gaillardia – Delight – Being with you gives me great joy

Liatris (Gayfeather) – Joy – Your attention warms my heart

Mint (choose Monarda, beebalm) – Virtue

Penstemon – Petition – Please give me your answer

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) – Interest – I would like to talk with you more

Yarrow – Everlasting love

Mid-February is the perfect time to plant those seeds using the winter sowing technique. Plant them in semi-covered containers left outdoors. See my previous column about it at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/.

Many of the most romantic sentiments may require a trip to the nursery if you can’t find seeds. Here in Cheyenne you may have to make do with an IOU accompanied by pictures from catalogs until planting season in late May.

The following definitions are from the floral dictionary included in the novel, The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Alyssum – Worth beyond beauty

Cactus (Opuntia) – Ardent love

Cosmos – Joy in love and life

Daylily – Coquetry

Dogwood – Love undiminished by adversity

Goldenrod – Careful encouragement

Lilac – First emotions of love

Morning glory – Coquetry

Nasturtium – Impetuous love

Pansy – Think of me

Peppermint – Warmth of feeling

Phlox – Our souls are united

Pink (Dianthus) – Pure love

Speedwell (Veronica) – Fidelity

Sweet William – Gallantry

If you want to plan for romance next spring, plant some bulbs next fall:

Crocus – Youthful gladness

Daffodil – New beginnings

Hyacinth, blue – Dedication – I shall devote my life to you

Hyacinth, white – Beauty

Jonquil – Desire

Tulip, red – Declaration of love

Vegetables, fruits and herbs can have good messages too, so you may want to include some of those seed packets:

Allium (onion) – Prosperity

Cabbage – Profit

Corn – Riches

Grapevine – Abundance

Oregano – Joy

Parsley – Festivity

Strawberry – Perfection

Wheat – Prosperity

Not all floral definitions express happy thoughts. Thistle, for example, means “Misanthropy” in one dictionary. Not surprisingly, bindweed and burdock translate as “Persistence” – most of us work hard trying to eradicate them.

But if you don’t like one definition, look for another. Peony means “Anger” in one book and “Contrition – Forgive my thoughtlessness” in another. In a third collection, peony stands for “Happy life, happy marriage.” Maybe the last two definitions are related after all.

The houseplant option recommends itself over cut roses that droop within a week, if you want something that will remind your true love of you for awhile (providing they have the palest of green thumbs):

Ivy – Fidelity

Orchid – Luxury – I shall make your life a sweet one

Maybe roses are still your best bet. Think about planting a bush that will last a long time. Rose growers in Cheyenne look to High Country Roses, http://www.highcountryroses.com/, in Colorado for hardy varieties. Each color has a meaning:

Burgundy – Unconscious beauty

Orange – Fascination

Pale peach – Modesty

Pink – Grace

Purple – Enchantment

Red – Love

White – A heart unacquainted with love

Yellow – Infidelity

Yikes! I like the old yellow climbing roses. Guess I better find a different dictionary.

Obviously, the recipient of your floral expression might be oblivious to or not speak the same floral language you do. Be sure to provide the definition you intend your flowers to speak.


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Modern botanic gardens: How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare?

2018-01-15 g Cheyenne Botanic Gardens 2

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith addresses a crowd of more than 100 people at the opening of the Grand Conservatory in August 2017. To the left is Cheyenne, Wyoming, mayor, Marian Orr, in blue. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Modern botanic gardens: How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare?*** Click any of the smaller photos to see them full size.***

Also published at Wyoming Network News

By Barb Gorges

I’ve become a connoisseur of botanic gardens the last five years. Everywhere we travel I’ve found at least one. How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare, now that it has acquired a conservatory? What makes a modern botanic garden?

The roots of botanic gardens come from ancient royalty, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and medieval monastery gardens for study and propagation of medicinal plants. The roots of major botanic gardens today are similar, often former estates of the wealthy or associated with universities, but also built, like ours, with community support.

The American Public Gardens Association, of which the CBG is a member, requires members are:

–Open to the public at least part-time

–Have aesthetic display, educational display and/or site research

–Maintain plant records

–Have one professional staff member, paid or unpaid

–Provide visitors ways to identify plants via labels, maps, etc.

The association’s definition doesn’t say it, but refreshing the public’s soul is an important outcome.

The six gardens I visited last fall fit the definition in very different ways, but have much in common with each other and our local botanic gardens.

Longwood Gardens water garden, fountain display and conservatory. Photos by Barb Gorges.

Longwood Gardens, https://longwoodgardens.org, outside Philadelphia, was Pierre du Pont’s personal garden started in 1907 with a 600-foot flower bed. Today it has 1,083 acres, including the 4-acre conservatory of plant exhibits, 1,300 employees and volunteers, and 1.5 million visitors annually. Longwood has all the additional components of a modern botanic garden: special events including concerts and classes; volunteer, internship and membership programs; and plant research and conservation work.

Modern gardens also have sustainability programs. Longwood has a 10-acre solar field and composting and integrated pest management programs although the Flower Walk beds were bordered by little white signs: “Danger, Pesticides! Keep Out.” It might be expected of a garden founded by a past president of the duPont chemical company.

2018-01-15 b Buffalo Botanic Gardens 1

The walk to the front entrance of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is lined with flowers from the Proven Winners trials. Photo by Barb Gorges.

On a much smaller scale, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, https://www.buffalogardens.com/, is set in a city park, as is our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Inside the graceful glass domes of its Victorian-era conservatory, the theme is recreating habitats from around the world which share the degree of longitude passing through Buffalo, New York.

The garden was opened in 1900 by horticulturally-minded citizens, including Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York City’s Central Park. Its magazine advertises educational, volunteer and membership opportunities.

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The herb garden at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is divided into 17 sections including teas, dyes, food, medicinal, spiritual, and even literary references. The walls are made from local rock. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Cornell Botanic Gardens, www.cornellbotanicgardens.com, part of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, comes from academic roots, but it also qualifies as aesthetically pleasing. It too has members, volunteers and a calendar of cultural and educational events.

Educational components include:

–The bioswale garden absorbing and purifying water from the parking lot.

–The visitor center’s green roof covered in succulents (the CBG also has a green roof).

–The Climate Change Garden comparing growth on otherwise identical hot and cool plots.

–And like our botanic gardens, a website full of information.

Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens rose garden (left) and butterfly habitat and pavilion (right). Photos by Barb Gorges.

However, in Ontario, Canada, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit/nature-garden/botanical-gardens-2, is more of a tourist attraction. It has the aesthetics and plant labels, but I found no membership or volunteer information. It is home to the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, where students sign up for a 36-month regimen of labor and coursework.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve includes woodland, meadow and wetland habitat, attracting birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

A better example of a modern botanic garden was Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve https://bhwp.org/, near New Hope, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1934 at the junction of woods, meadows and wetlands, it offers a nursery full of native plants for sale and advertises membership, volunteer and educational programs.

Churchville Nature Center has a wildlife garden demonstrating how to landscape for wildlife: shrubs, trees, flowers and water features. Wild turkeys dropped by. Photo by Barb Gorges.

My favorite garden this trip was the wildlife garden at the Churchville Nature Center, https://www.churchvillenaturecenter.org, outside Philadelphia. Even though the center is municipally-owned like the CBG, there are, like our botanic gardens, membership, volunteer and educational opportunities.

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Inside the Cheyenne Botanic Garden’s new Grand Conservatory tropical plants flourish. The building also includes offices, two classrooms, an orangery and gift shop. The original greenhouse is being remodeled and will continue to provide bedding plants for the city.  Photo by Barb Gorges.

Our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compares well with all these gardens: we have an informative website for local gardeners, https://www.botanic.org/, and educational programming including a strong children’s program. The CBG has free admission, even now with the brand-new conservatory, because its city parks-funded budget is augmented by strong membership and volunteer programs.

One unique aspect of the CBG’s mission I didn’t see at any of the gardens I visited is the commitment to service and therapy: “Provides meaningful opportunities for seniors, handicapped and youth-at-risk volunteers who are essential in growing the Gardens.”

With the new conservatory building that opened last summer, the CBG can do even more to fulfill its mission. And you can help. I’ll let you in on two secrets.

One is that if you become a member, there is a reciprocity agreement that allows you to visit many other gardens for free, including the Denver Botanic Gardens. Of course, I spend my savings in the gift shops.

The second secret is that being a garden volunteer is fun. It is something you can’t easily enjoy at faraway gardens, but you can right here at home.


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Amaryllis reblooming & propagation

2017-12amaryllis red Barb Gorges

Amaryllis is a popular flower at Christmas time, but without forcing, it prefers to bloom in spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec. 17, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Amaryllis beyond the holidays: reblooming and propagation.”

By Barb Gorges

In the pantheon of Christmas season flowering plants, I’ll take the elegant amaryllis and its big blossoms any day. Oh wait, I don’t have any more room on my windowsill.

What started as two amaryllis gifts 10 years ago has become numerous “daughters” and seedlings.

The amaryllis you see listed in catalogs and for sale at garden centers, florists and grocery stores during the holidays are intended to be disposable. But it really isn’t difficult to get them to bloom again, though there is a trick to get them to perform next Christmas. Growing them from seed you collect yourself takes only patience.

Beware

Beware of amaryllis bulbs encased in colorful wax decorated with glitter. They flower without any need for dirt or water because the bulbs are large and contain nutrients needed for blooming. Just set them on a saucer. But it seems to me cruel and unusual punishment to bind a bulb in wax and let it die after flowering.

Beware the decorative pot that may come with your bulb. It doesn’t have a drainage hole. No fuss, no muss. But if you want to keep your holiday amaryllis from year to year, replant it in a pot with a drainage hole. The proper pot size leaves about an inch between the side of the bulb and the side of the pot. Plant the bulb so that nearly half of it is above the soil.

Watering and fertilizing

Without a drainage hole, you are never sure if you have given a plant enough water or if there’s a big underground puddle rotting the roots. It’s best to water a potted plant a bit at a time until water emerges through the drainage hole and then dump the excess water.

Watering amaryllis once a week works in the winter climate of our Cheyenne house which has 20-40 percent humidity, is at 64 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime and cooler at night. The peat-based potting soil holds water well enough, but I allow the top inch of soil to dry out. Little black fungus gnats mean I’m watering too much.

I fertilize my amaryllis maybe at 25 percent or less of what is recommended on houseplant fertilizer packages. My friend Jane Dorn has an enormous pot of enormous bulbs that bloom two to three times a year and she only fertilizes once a year.

Dormancy for forcing or wintering

If you want to force your amaryllis to bloom for Christmas next year, treat it as a houseplant over the summer. In early September, unearth it carefully, wash off the dirt, trim the roots to 1-2 inches long and trim the leaves 1-2 inches above the neck.

You Tube’s Amaryllis Man Charlie Johnston says to let the bulbs dry for three weeks before refrigerating them for 6 weeks. You can also do this if you don’t have room indoors in the winter for a lot of big floppy-leaved plants.

Take the bulbs out 5-6 weeks before you want them to bloom and repot them. Bulbs are in this condition when you buy them for holiday blooming.

Reblooming naturally

I don’t let my amaryllis go dormant. The first year I had one, I decided to keep watering it year-round and it bloomed again in spring following the next Christmas.

I put my amaryllis plants out for the summer on our covered patio. The roof is translucent plastic, shady by afternoon. It also protects plants from hail and hard rain. I put the plants back inside a sunny window in September and wait.

Looking at my records, flowering begins anytime between the end of February and early April and lasts for a month. My two varieties don’t bloom at the same time as each other.

2017-12amaryllis w daughters blooming--Barb Gorges

This pot of pink amaryllis has a mother bulb, two blooming daughter bulbs on either side, and a couple baby bulbs sending up their first leaves. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mothers and daughters

If you keep your amaryllis from year to year, you may discover your bulb gets bigger and bigger and/or produces offsets, or daughters. You can leave these new bulbs attached and let them mature and bloom. You may have to accommodate them with a bigger pot at some point.

Or, you can carefully unearth the whole mass and break off the daughters and repot them separately, to give away or keep. The Amaryllis Man soaks his bulbs, leaves and roots in a fungicide for 10 minutes before planting, but I haven’t found that necessary.

See the Amaryllis Man for how to force daughter bulbs to develop by “chipping,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAoIelfGWdg.

2017-12amaryllis w stylus pollination-ready Barb Gorges

Each amaryllis flower has six anthers and a stylus. Pollination happens when the pollen on the anthers starts dusting everything and the tip of the stylus opens. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Seedlings

I found growing amaryllis from seed is surprisingly easy, although it can take four years to get blooms.

First, make sure the flowers get pollinated. I had one plant flower in the summer outside where some insects did the job. I’ve also had indoor plants pollinate themselves or I can help them.

Amaryllis flowers make an excellent demonstration of plant reproduction. There are 6 yellow pollen-tipped anthers. You’ll know when the pollen is ripe because it starts dusting everything. At that moment, the end of the single stylus should be open. You can dab pollen on the end of it.

2017-12amaryllisseeds-BarbGorgesIf you are successful, the ovary will begin to swell right behind the flower petals. A three-lobed pod will develop. Leave it on the flower stem. When it turns brown, it will split open and you can collect the seeds.

Each tiny seed is encased in a flat black wafer. You can give the wafers a couple weeks to cure. Their germination rate will be highest if you sprout them right after that.

2017-12amaryllis seedlings Barb Gorges

The wafer-like seeds of the amaryllis can be floated on water until they sprout in three or four weeks and can be transplanted into soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While you can start these seeds as you would flower or vegetable seeds, in a flat of a seed-starting medium like a perlite-peat mix kept moist, I found it more fun and easier (no constant checking soil moisture) to float the seeds on water. After three or four weeks, they sprout tiny leaves and roots with the tiniest bulge of the future bulb. Once they are big enough to grab, you can transplant them as you would any seedling.

But now comes the hard part, waiting for the seedlings to grow up. The Amaryllis Man says some will bloom as early as three years old, but usually it’s four.

Sigh.

That means I have two or three more years before I find out if the cross pollination of my red and pink varieties will yield anything interesting.

2017-12amaryllis seedlings planted Barb Gorges

The amaryllis seedlings on the left are about a year old. The seedlings on the right are newly transplanted after sprouting in water. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Where to buy

If you don’t have any amaryllis yet, it isn’t too late to find them at stores and in catalogs. If you plant a bulb in January, it will bloom at its natural blooming time in early spring.

You may find bulbs marked down at our local garden centers and grocery stores now. Catalogs like Jackson and Perkins or Breck’s offer more variety. And then there’s the Amaryllis Man’s website, http://stores.ebay.com/amaryllisman. If you don’t need your amaryllis in variations of Christmas red and white, he offers some that are orange.

Hmm.

I might have room on my windowsill for one of those if I find another home for my rubber tree….

2018-03-01AmaryllisSeedPodsbyBarbGorgesUpdate, March 1, 2018:

Typically, my amaryllis bloom in February or March. This year they started blooming in mid-January. Only one decided to hold out until the end of February. Just before the petals of one of the early bloomers started to wilt, I touched the anthers to the pistil and now the seed pods are swelling.


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Bulb forcing brings spring indoors mid-winter

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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.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 4

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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Update March 1, 2018:

The bulbs for the vases were left in the refrigerator for a couple of months to cool and taken out in early January.

Also in early January I brought in the pot of hyacinth and the pot of crocus that were buried in the vegetable garden and covered with a foot of leaf mulch.

The bulbs in vases didn’t do well. They couldn’t seem to grow enough roots. That hyacinth stalk of flowers was about 15 percent the size of the ones in the pot.

I felt sorry for the crocus bulbs in the tiny vases and soon planted them in dirt where they were much happier. That proves you could cool your bulbs in the fridge and then plant them in soil, without wintering them in the garden. But the pot of crocus that did spend two months buried did very well. Interestingly, the yellow crocus bloomed before any of the shades of purple.

I would force bulbs again. If I plant the hyacinth bulbs individually, they would be easier to share with friends, or I could stagger the dates I bring them indoors, prolonging the season of sweet-smelling flowers.

2017-10 bulb forcing 5

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.


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.