Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Rabbits and gardens

2019-06-Eastern_Cottontail--wikipedia

Cottontail Rabbit courtesy Wikipedia.

Help rabbits control their taste for gourmet greens

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 26, 2019, “Keep your garden safe from rabbits.”

By Barb Gorges

“Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”

–The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

It must have been Peter Rabbit I caught snipping my green tulip buds the morning of May 1 as they lay helpless in a patch of melting snow. I saw him through a window and ran out in my bare feet to shoo him away. Then I walked the dog back and forth a few times—this being the unfenced front yard.

I picked up the six tulip buds, each left with a 4 to 6-inch stem, and put them in a vase inside. I’m happy to say they ripened and opened. The other buds, left unscathed, recovered from the snow and also bloomed.

The tulip vandal couldn’t have been my regular rabbit, one of Peter’s well-behaved sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy or Cotton-tail. There’s a rabbit sitting in the front yard almost every day and my garden beds have never been attacked before. Well, except the time I tried pansies in the whiskey barrel planter and the rabbits jumped in and ate them all. Since then I grow only hardy perennials in the front yard.

The backyard is where Peter Rabbit would find his favorite vegetables, but there are three rabbit deterrents: the raised beds (higher than the old whiskey barrel), the dog, and the concrete block wall. The gates have vertical bars in the lower half less than 2 inches apart. Our biggest garden problem is hail attacks and so our tomatoes grow under hardware cloth-covered frames.

But last summer, I was shocked when the 900 seedlings and assorted mature plants we planted in the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (between the flagpole and parking lot) were nearly completely obliterated by rabbits.

2019-06rabbit fencing Habitat Hero garden

By the time the fence was erected around the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens mid-March, not more than two of the 900 perennials planted the previous season could be found. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Last fall we planted a couple hundred bulbs there and the rabbits didn’t dig very many up before we fenced it in March. It isn’t an elegant fence, but it is keeping the rabbits out and allowing plants to make a comeback. Perhaps when the plants mature and get tough stems, we can try going fenceless.

I realize it is ironic that we are establishing wildlife habitat and fencing out rabbits. There is plenty for rabbits to eat in the rest of Lions Park. They are food for other animals. They are prolific, but only live two years, providing they are the 15 percent making adulthood. The CBG rabbits feed the resident Cooper’s hawks.

2019-06 duck

Rabbit-proof fencing allows other wildlife access and protects spring bulbs in mid-April. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Laramie County Master Gardener Kim Parker said her solution is dogs and fencing, “At our house, we have successfully used low, 18″ fencing to keep the bunnies out while my garden establishes, then we take it down and ‘let them eat cake.’

“Most of the year, I don’t think they eat hardly anything (at least not that I notice), although I notice that in the winter they nibble on some grass and grape hyacinth leaves. Weird. They also have spots in our buffalo grass lawn where they like to rest, but the dog keeps them from lingering long.

“So, dogs and fencing (I recommend), and perhaps using plants that they don’t want to eat, or that are vigorous enough that it doesn’t matter if they get eaten, grape hyacinth or fall asters for example.”

The Wyoming Master Gardener Handbook says there are rabbit repellants you can spread around or spray on your plants, but they are only effective until it rains. Be careful what you spray on vegetables you’ll eat. Ultrasonic devices are ineffective. Eliminating access to hiding spots, like nearby brushy areas (or that juniper hedge next to the Habitat Hero garden) is important.

Fencing is the only sure-fire cure. For cottontails, the handbook recommends 30 inches high and for jackrabbits (hares), 36 inches, preferably something like chicken wire with small openings. If rabbits gnaw on your trees and shrubs, wrap pieces of quarter-inch hardware cloth around trunks, 30-36 inches high.

2019-06 garden greenup

Seedlings planted last summer make a comeback in early June once the rabbits were fenced out. The fencing was put up three months before (see first garden photo). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At the CBG much of the fence is up against the sidewalk so rabbits can’t dig their way in. Otherwise, you need to allow for an extra 12 inches of fencing beyond the height you want: 6 inches at the bottom bent at a 90-degree angle to the outside of the garden and then bury that flange 6 inches deep.

Remember, if you decide to have a rabbit for dinner, you must follow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting and trapping regulations.

 

2019-06 bronze rabbits

These larger-than-life bronze rabbits are by Dan Ostermiller, Cheyenne native and Loveland, Colorado sculptor. They and other bronze animals will be on display at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens through August 2019. By mid-May, the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden, seen upper left, had begun to recover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden ribbon cutting May 20

2019-05 BOPU HH demo garden early spring

Early spring in the BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden

You are invited to the ribbon-cutting May 20, 3 p.m., for the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities headquarters, 2416 Snyder Ave. A few words from dignitaries and light refreshments.
The garden showcases Water Smart Landscapes that save water and are wildlife friendly. Bee Smart! Water Smart! The garden was created in part with a grant from the National Audubon Society awarded to the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society.                      Contact Dena, BOPU, degenhoff@cheyennebopu.org, 637-6415.


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Monarchs and Milkweeds

2019-02 Monarch - dead

Explore the mysteries of monarchs and milkweeds in your backyard

Published Feb. 17, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Monarch butterflies are hard to find in Wyoming. This is partly because we have few people looking for them and because of the terrible decline in monarch numbers. I found a dead one last year. I hope this will be the year I see my first live one in my garden.

That one will be descended from a monarch that’s currently wintering in Mexico (not from the group west of the Rockies wintering in California).  It’s the only North American butterfly that must migrate because it can’t survive cold winters like other butterflies.

In spring the generation that wintered in Mexico produces the next generation while on its way north and that one begets another, and so on. After a few months, it may be the fourth generation we finally see here. There are several more generations produced over the summer and the final one makes it all the way back to Mexico in the fall.

Monarchs have been clobbered on both ends of their route. Mexico has established the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the relatively small area they cluster. Here in North America, besides building on and paving over habitat, the problem has been planting herbicide-resistant crops and spraying them with herbicide to kill weeds—which also kills milkweed.

While monarchs feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, they only lay eggs, tiny white dots, on milkweed—it’s the only plant their caterpillars will eat. The good news is that there are about 100 species of milkweed found all along their migration routes. There are 13 species in Wyoming—and four right here in Laramie County.

If you want to join the effort to garden for monarchs, you want to grow our local native flowers. Of course, monarchs are not the only nectar-lovers that will enjoy them.

Two species, Asclepias viridiflora, green milkweed, and A. pumila, plains milkweed, are not seen commercially as seeds or plants. But the other two are quite popular.

2019-02 Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias speciosa, Showy Milkweed, photo by Barb Gorges

Asclepias speciosa, showy milkweed, a perennial, has large round balls of pink florets on stems 2 to 4 feet tall. Its vigorous rhizomes help it spread. I got a few plants from my neighbor who was digging them out of her lawn. But on the other hand, their taproots are sensitive and not all my transplants survived.

I’ve also collected seed from showy milkweed in the unmowed corner of the field where I walk the dog. Seeds are easy to grow if you leave them in the refrigerator for two months to cold stratify or use the winter sowing technique no later than March 1 (https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/).

Plant showy milkweed in full sun for maximum number of flowers. Water it regularly the first summer to get it started. Around the county I see it alongside roads where it gets extra water from runoff when it rains. It is not going to bloom much in a very dry location.

The other local milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, I haven’t grown myself yet. Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan assures me that despite its name, it doesn’t need a swamp. Like showy milkweed, it does best with a little more water than just rain to maximize blooms and nectar production. It grows 2-3 feet high, usually with pink flowers, though Michelle has a white variety.

Considering milkweed has been treated as a weed and grows unaided in weedy places, I wouldn’t worry much about fertilizers or compost.

If your showy milkweed gets ugly late in the season, don’t cut it back until there’s nothing left for caterpillars to eat. And even then, the dried plants are useful for catching snow—free winter watering. I cut them back in spring.

All the websites devoted to monarchs say avoid buying plants treated with systemic pesticides. The long-lasting neonicotinoids get in the nectar and poisons the butterfly—and other pollinators. Avoid these herbicide ingredients: Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid and Thiamethoxam.

Butterflies are also looking for shelter from wind, for sun-warmed rocks and pavement to bask on and for places to puddle on damp sand to get a drink.

The great thing about growing a garden for monarchs is that it also works for bees and birds. But let’s not stop at the garden gate. How about encouraging native flowers along our roads, in corners of fields, in our parks? I’m excited to hear that Nettie Eakes, the head horticulturist at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, has plans for more perennials in city beds. Many natives, we hope.


MONARCH WEBSITES

Area milkweed seed sources with growing tips:

Beauty Beyond Belief Wildflower Seed, Boulder, Colorado, https://www.bbbseed.com/

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

Western Native Seed, Coaldale, Colorado, http://www.westernnativeseed.com/

Wind River Seed, Manderson, Wyoming, seemed to be out of stock, http://www.windriverseed.com

 

Monarch information

University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, Monarchs and Milkweeds, https://www.wyobiodiversity.org

Monarch Joint Venture (government agencies, non-profits, academics), https://monarchjointventure.org


Habitat Hero demo gardens get started

2018-07 BOPU-Habitat Hero Demo Garden planting--Don Chesnut

About 50 volunteers planted the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities office June 2. Photo courtesy of Don Chesnut.

Published July 22, 2018 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Habitat Hero demonstration gardens get started.” Also published at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/habitat-hero-demonstration-gardens.

By Barb Gorges

This spring, my eyes were bigger than my garden. I blame all those luscious Botanical Interests seed packet illustrations (www.BotanicalInterests.com).

March 1, a little later than usual for winter sowing (see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/), I planted 25 cut-open milk jugs with perennial seeds and set them outside.

The seeds included:

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)

Monarda (Bee Balm)

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan).

2018-07Rudbeckia hirta-Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan). Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were sprouts in every gallon jug by the end of April. The Rudbeckia seedlings formed a carpet.

I planned to have the front yard ready to plant, but between wet weather and various commitments, that didn’t happen. The seedlings were also too small for the Master Gardener plant sale mid-May.

Then the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee got a query from the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Would we be interested in having a Habitat Hero demonstration garden site between the rose garden and the parking lot? I soon realized my winter sowing overflow would be perfect there.

On the other hand, the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee spent months over the winter planning a Habitat Hero demonstration garden with the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities. It will show how to save city residents and business owners money and water by planting a flower garden in place of a lawn. I wrote a successful grant proposal to National Audubon that funded nearly half of the $1,200 to buy plants, plus another for $3,500 for an interpretive sign.

The BOPU garden area, in front of their office, was measured and plans were drawn digitally by Kathy Shreve from Star Cake Plants. She chose an assortment of drought tolerant species that over time will grow into a solid mass of colorful mounds of flowers attracting birds, bees and butterflies. An order was placed for plants in 4.5 and 2.5-inch containers, plus a few shrubs.

The turf was removed mechanically. Volunteers broke up the hard clay with shovels and mixed in compost. A flagstone garden path was installed as well as an irrigation system that snapped into existing lawn sprinkler heads. About 50 people showed up June 2 and planted 428 plants in two and a half hours—and watered them all in by hand and mulched them with wood chips.

At the CBG site however, rather than decide how many plants are needed to fill the space, Kathy is helping me figure out how to use the 900 seedlings I started and any donations of other native-type plants. At least there is no lawn to remove and the soil is reasonable.

2018-07Monarda fistulosa-Barb Gorges

Monarda fistulosa (Bee Balm). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At home, my winter-sown seedlings go directly into the garden, but water wasn’t immediately available at the CBG site, so they are in the greenhouse waiting.

Seedlings can live indefinitely crowded together. The above-ground parts don’t grow much bigger, but the roots get longer and longer and are harder and harder to tease apart so I started “up-potting.” I claimed all the plastic containers from the BOPU planting and more from the CBG and bought six bags of potting soil at cost from Habitat Hero sponsor Gardening with Altitude, enough to fill 33 flats.

After 10 days the first 200 Rudbeckias Sandra Cox and I transplanted had grown 50 times larger than the ones that were still fighting it out in the four remaining milk jugs. I’d forgotten how my winter-sowing instructor, Michelle Bohanan, had carefully counted out 16 or 25 seeds for each jug rather than spill an unknown number. Later, in the Botanical Interest seed catalog, where it states how many seeds are in each packet, it said the Rudbeckia packet has over 2,000 for only $1.69. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe not.

2018-07Gaillardia-Barb Gorges

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower). Photo by Barb Gorges.

The repetitive nature of potting up seedling after seedling for hours made me wonder how much of propagation is mechanized at large companies. While washing pots I listened to a recorded book, “The Line Becomes a River” by Francisco Cantu, about the U.S.—Mexico border issue. It occurred to me this is the kind of tedious work immigrants gladly do just to be in our country.  These soil-based jobs many of our own citizens disdain, leaving the “green” industry shorthanded.

If all goes well with this latest Habitat Hero project, by late summer—or maybe next summer—you may see 450 Rudbeckia plants flowering brown and gold—maybe in time for the University of Wyoming football season. Also stop by BOPU, 2416 Snyder Ave., on a regular basis so you can see the growing transformation.

2018-07Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero garden-Barb Gorges

The Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens looks deceptively small from this viewpoint. It is a crescent about 100 feet long and 25 feet wide at its widest point. It took on average six people nine hours to plant 950 plants (including those donated by Kathy Shreve). Photo by Barb Gorges taken July 31, 2018.

BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden Plant List

Agastache aurantia “Sunlight” (Hyssop)

Agastache cana “Sonoran Sunset” (Hyssop)

Aster alpinus “Goliath” (Alpine Aster)

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae “New England Pink” (New England Aster)

Bergenia crassifolia “Winterglut” (Bergenia, Pigsqueak)

Buddleja sp. “Blue Chip” (Butterfly Bush)

Buddleja davidii “Miss Ruby” (Butterfly Bush)

Echinacea purpurea “Magnus Superior” (Coneflower)

Fragaria vesca “Alexandria” (Runnerless Strawberry)

Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Avena Grass)

Juniperus scopulorum “Blue Arrow” (Juniper)

Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri Evening Primrose)

Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal” (Switchgrass)

Papaver orientale “Salmon Oriental” (Poppy)

Penstemon x mexicali “Pike’s Peak Purple” (Penstemon)

Prunella lacinata (Lacy Self-Heal)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasqueflower)

Ribes rubrum “Red Lake” (Currant)

Sedum sieboldii “October Daphne” (Sedum)

Veronica pectinate (Wooly Creeping Speedwell)

2018-07Echinacea purpurea Cheyenne Spirit-Barb Gorges

Echinacea purpurea “Cheyenne Spirit” (Purple Coneflower) is a cultivated variety that blossoms in a variety of colors from orange and yellow to pink. Photo by Barb Gorges.