Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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/.

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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.


Perennial fall flower color

2016-10-yampa-river-botanic-park-steamboat-springs-co-sept-8-2016-by-barb-gorges

Yampa River Botanic Park, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Sept. 8, 2016. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 9, 2016, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Fall color for next year’s perennial flowerbeds.”

Find fall color for next year’s perennial flowerbeds (full version)

Text and photos by Barb Gorges

In September, I had the opportunity to visit three public gardens: Chanticleer near Wayne, Pennsylvania; Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts; and Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

What struck me was the colorful perennial flowers that were blooming in the fall. Of course, not everything that grows outside Philadelphia grows here in Cheyenne where we are two Plant Hardiness Zones colder, Zone 5.

We match the western Massachusetts mountains for zone, but they get four times our 15 inches of annual precipitation. Plus, they have acidic soils supporting those billowing mounds of hydrangeas I saw everywhere.

Even in Steamboat, only 700 feet higher in elevation, there are plants that require the protection of a thick layer of snow all winter which we don’t have.

So I decided to look around town, especially our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, to see what blooms late, for the benefit of bees and our own enjoyment.

Annual flowers are colorful right up to first frost, average date Sept. 20 (though in the last few years in some parts of town it may be as late as mid-October). But unless they self-seed, I can’t justify buying flats of annuals every spring to cover all my garden beds, nor have I the greenhouse to start my own. Instead I turn to perennials. Here are suggestions for you to add to your garden next spring. Or if we haven’t had a frost yet, find them on sale and plant them this fall.

2016-10-1-rudbeckia-by-barb-gorgesI’ve done well with black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia species. Their golden yellow petals and brown centers must have inspired the University of Wyoming’s selection of school colors. There are many varieties based on native species: short or tall, diminutive or gigantic flowers, mid-summer bloomers or later. Some bloom a long time—over a month. Some are better at coming back year after year.

2016-10-2-aster-by-barb-gorges            My other success has been the fall-blooming asters, Symphyotrichum species. One variety is a 2-foot-tall shrub of lavender-colored, 1-inch flowers. It’s come back every year for over 20 years, waiting until mid-September to bloom. But another, brighter purple aster in a sunnier spot started blooming three weeks earlier and is still blooming well. Perhaps it is a newer variety bred for a longer bloom time than the native plants.

I hesitate to give you actual variety names because nurseries so often move onto the next best thing. You might as well go for what’s available rather than mourn what you can’t find. However, if you are interested in native perennials, check sources like www.alplains.com.

2016-10-3-gaillardia-by-barb-gorges            Blanket flower, Gaillardia species, is another hard-working perennial native to North America. It can start blooming in early summer. Horticulturists have had a field day designing varieties with different color patterns. A member of the aster family, it has petals that can be plain yellow, yellow with bands of red, or nearly all red-orange with a little yellow trim. Some are short, some tall. The seed heads are prickly little balls. If you deadhead them when they are finished blooming, they will put out more flowers. If you don’t, they will drop seeds that will sprout next year, like many other easy-to-grow perennials.

2016-10-4-hollyhock-by-barb-gorges            I’ve noticed that some of my summer bloomers will bloom into fall if I water them enough. I have a bed with a row of hollyhocks growing along the back. It gets watered by a sprinkler head that does a good job at one end but hardly gets water to the other end. Thus, the hollyhocks on the dry end finished blooming a month before the hollyhocks on the wet end.

2016-10-5-salvia-by-barb-gorges            Perennials that bloom in early summer may start blooming again in early fall—perhaps they don’t like hot mid-summer temperatures. I’ve had ‘Hot Pink’ Salvia, Salvia gregii, come back into bloom this year.

Microclimates make a big difference as to when perennials bloom. Nettie Eakes, assistant education director at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ Paul Smith Children’s Village, said visitors are always telling her how the same flower in their yard is either behind or ahead.

The Children’s Village is lucky to be protected by high stone walls. On their north-facing sides, they provide shade and make a cool, slow-growing microclimate. On the south-facing sides, they absorb sunlight and make a warmer, faster-growing microclimate which can also extend the growing season.

2016-10-6-sneezeweed-by-barb-gorges            The most noticeable perennial I found blooming September 18 at the Children’s Village was sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale, a 6-foot-tall plant with multiple small sunflower-type flowers, each with yellow petals and ball-shaped yellow centers. Nettie said they increase by sending out underground stems, but are not very invasive. Helenium comes in many other variations and bloom times.

2016-10-7-giant-hummingbird-mint-by-barb-gorgesOver by the office door, three-foot tall giant hummingbirds mint, Agastache pallida ‘barberi’, does not have shout-out-loud color. But it is a nice contrast: silvery spikes of tiny purple flowers. And maybe it will attract a late hummingbird—or hummingbird moth.

2016-10-8-karl-foerster-grass-by-barb-gorgesAt the front entrance to the Children’s Village is ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass, Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. It’s a go-to plant for landscape designers these days, but that’s because it looks so neat. Growing around four feet tall, it starts out green in summer. Then the seed heads ripen to a golden wheat color. Finally, the whole plant turns gold. It is tough enough to stand and provide color all winter before getting cut back in spring.

2016-10-9-russian-sage-by-barb-gorgesA wispy, shrubby perennial also favored by landscape designers in our area is Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia. Each branch sprouts from ground level, with silvery leaves on the lower half and small blueish lavender flowers on the upper half of each stem. It likes sunny spots and will spread.

Chatting with my Laramie County Master Gardener friends, Steve Scott and Kathy Shreve, I also have this list of fall bloomers for you to think about planting next year:

2016-10-10-autumn-crocus-by-barb-gorgesAutumn crocus, Colchicum species. Corms are planted in July or August. The blossoms are much larger than spring crocus.

Blue sage, Salvia azuria, native to central and eastern North America.

2016-10-11-goldenrod-by-barb-gorgesGoldenrod, Solidago species, blooms are branches of tiny yellow flowers. Many are native to North America.

2016-10-12-joe-pye-weed-by-barb-gorgesJoe Pye weed, Eutrochium species, another North American native, sometime varieties are 5 feet tall, with panicles of purple-pink flowers.

2016-10-17-maxmillian-sunflower-by-barb-gorgesMaxmillian sunflower, Helianthus maximiliani, native to the Great Plains, 2 to 10 feet tall, branches with many yellow flowers.

2016-10-13-purple-coneflower-by-barb-gorgesPurple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, daisy-like, native to North America, many varieties, 1 to 4 feet tall.

Snakeweed, Gutierrezia species, a shrub with yellow flowers native to western North America.

2016-10-14-rabbitbrush-by-barb-gorgesRabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseousus, or Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus. Both are yellow-flowered shrubs. The native varieties grow on our drier prairies.

2016-10-15-autumn-joy-sedum-by-barb-gorges‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, Sedum telephium, is a stonecrop. The fleshy stems grow 1-2 feet tall, topped with bunches of tiny purple-pink blossoms. It can be found in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens perennial bed.

2016-10-16-obediant-plant-by-barb-gorgesObedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, looks like a 2 to 4-foot-tall snapdragon with pale lavender-pink flowers. It is also at the Gardens.


Garden for bees

2016-4gaillardia - bumble bee - Barb Gorges

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

2016-4coneflower - honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

Getting bees to your garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-4potentilla - female Bombus bifarius - Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

Decide what to plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bees:

Identification

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

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

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

Favorite flowering shrubs

American Plum, Prunus americana

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Redosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia

Woods Rose, Rosa woodsii

Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Favorite perennial flowers

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Beardtongue species, Penstemon spp.

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Wild Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Aster (fall-blooming), Symphyotrichum spp.

2016-4squash-honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

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


Winter sowing

 

Winter sown seeds 3 - Michelle Bohanan - by Barb Gorges

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Winter sown seeds 1 by Barb Gorges

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

How to winter sow

 

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

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

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

Winter sown seeds 2 by Barb Gorges

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Winter sown seeds 4 by Barb Gorges

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

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

 

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

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

Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

Timing and location

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

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

What to grow

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

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

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

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


Firewise: Preparing your home for wildfire season

Bob Lick's defensible space

Bob Lick keeps brush and native grass mowed next to his house in the forest west of Cheyenne, creating a defensible space in case of wildfire. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published May 31, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Take steps to become Firewise.”

By Barb Gorges

In the summer, when we smell smoke from the forest fires in Colorado and beyond, we might think we are safe here in Laramie County.

But several grassfires this winter and early spring should give us a heads up, whether we live within the city limits or “out in the county,” as people say around here.

It only takes an ignition source lightning, a burn pile, a cigarette ember), fuel (dry grass, resinous wood, anything flammable) and oxygen.

But there are things you can do with your house and landscape, especially if you live in what the firefighting community calls the wildland/urban interface, to reduce fuel, which can improve your chances of firefighters being able to defend your home.

Firewise Community sign

The community of Granite Springs Retreat in Wyoming is now a designated Firewise Community. The sign informs wildland firefighters that residents have taken action to make firefighting easier and safer. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Firewise Communities

Betsey Nickerson is the Laramie County coordinator for Firewise, a national program that works through the Wyoming State Forestry Division to help property owners, especially in forested areas, assess their fire risks and develop mitigation plans. Sometimes funding can be found to implement the plans.

The Firewise Communities program, in which a town or a group, like a homeowners association, works together, is most effective.

Bob Lick of Granite Springs Retreat, a development in the ponderosa forest 25 miles west of Cheyenne, attended one of Betsey’s talks about three years ago and realized his homeowners association needed to get onboard immediately.

This is the second year since it qualified as one of more than 1,000 Firewise communities nationwide. This Firewise committee educates neighbors and takes actions such as thinning pines along access roads and establishing one location where everyone can bring their tree prunings for safe burning.

On a rainy day in early May, as I visited Bob and his neighbors, it was hard to remember the approaching hot, dry and windy summer days ahead. Ironically, a wet spring means grasses will grow tall and lush. But when cured brown by mid-summer, they will provide perfect tinder.

The less flammable house

The Firewise website, http://firewise.org, has recommendations for the least flammable roof, wall, widow and vent materials.

Decks and fences attached to the house are considered part of the house. Bob and Marty Gill, another Granite Springs Retreat resident, have both used plastic lumber for their attached decks, which will melt in a fire, rather than burn.

Wooden fences need to be separated from the house with something that is not flammable, such as a metal gate or a brick pillar.

When there’s threat of fire, homeowners should remove straw welcome mats, patio cushions and other flammables.

The first 5 feet

The good news is that landscaping with rock is in fashion these days. Bob is in the middle of arranging a 5-foot-wide border of rock along the edge of his deck. Around the rest of the house is gravel, including his driveway, and more underneath the deck, to make sure nothing can grow, dry out and provide a rogue ember with tinder.

Barb and Milt Werner have built a terraced stone patio against one side of their log house that does double duty as a firebreak.

The three homes have hardly any foundation plantings. But with a beautiful natural setting, why bother?

Here in the city or out on the prairie, foundation plantings seem more aesthetically necessary.

Even though I live only 200 feet away from a fire hydrant, Betsey thinks I should remove the junipers that grow against my house. More than any of the other evergreens, junipers are about as flammable as a can of gasoline, she keeps reminding me.

Also consider the pine trees that lean over people’s homes, shedding needles on the roof and in the gutters. Talk about good tinder.

Deciduous plants are much less flammable than evergreens. The list of less flammable plants on Natrona County’s Firewise website is a roll call of native species found in mountain meadows. They are becoming more available through local nurseries.

A Firewise demonstration garden planned by Betsey and Laramie County Master Gardeners is being installed this summer at the Curt Gowdy State Park visitor center to show there are lots of aesthetically pleasing flowering plants that are fire resistant.

Barb Werner

Barb Werner and her husband Milt keep their pines limbed up, removing lower limbs to the recommended height to avoid ground fires from “laddering” up the trees and crowning. She also removes pine needles and cones within her defensible space. The wet day in early May belies the hot, dry summer days to come. Photo by Barb Gorges.

30 feet out

When firefighters refer to “defensible space” around a home, homeowners get a vision of moonscape. True, you wouldn’t want your propane tank here, or the cute shed with the wood shake shingles, or your wood pile.

Trees are fine, in small, isolated islands, not in a continuous mass like a windbreak. Short shrubs, mowed grass, and gravel paths between flower beds can make a charming, fire-resistant landscape.

Even pine trees can be acceptable if they aren’t too close together. One secret Bob learned is that you can remove one pine in a clump of three, for instance, to allow the other two to take up more water, making them more fire resistant.

Also, limbing a pine tree—removing the lower branches—keeps a ground fire from laddering. That is, using branches, fire can easily make its way up the tree to reach the crown. Here, the flames catch more air and wind, billow out and throw fire-brands at nearby roofs and trees.

The recommendation is to remove evergreen limbs up to 6 to 8 feet above ground level. However, the pine trees near Barb and Milt’s house are hardly 12 feet tall so they use the other rule: remove no more limbs than those in the first third of the tree’s height.

One unexpected benefit is that more grass grew under the trees, Barb said.

While her gardening is limited to half a dozen containers well-fenced to keep deer out, Barb does put a lot of effort into raking up pinecones and excess pine needles that could be fuel for a stray ember.

30-100 feet out

Those in neighborhoods with less than 100 feet between their house and property boundary realize the need to work with their neighbors.

Out on the prairie, after the ground-nesting birds have fledged in late June to early July and the taller grasses begin to turn brown, it may be time to mow this zone.

Homeowners in the forest may have grass to mow there also, as well as trees and shrubs to manage as in the 5-30-foot zone.

Maintenance

Once you’ve had your property assessed for wildfire risk, and you spent the next few years completing all the recommended mitigation, you still have to keep up with maintenance. Check for leaves and needles in gutters, debris under the deck, dead wood, vegetation growth, and clutter.

Just chant the Firewise mantra: “clean, lean and green.”

Access road improvements

The homeowners’ association has worked to make the roads more passable and safer for wildland firefighters by removing, thinning and limbing trees along access roads. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Insurance

Short of moving downtown, following Firewise principles is the best insurance against the increasing risk of wildfires during hotter and drier summers, and even dry winters.

Would using Firewise make a difference in home insurance policies? Betsey said she hasn’t heard of anyone receiving a discount, though it might help prevent loss of insurance.

But it should make for more restful nights for the increasing numbers of homeowners who take fire preparedness into their own hands.

Resources

Betsey Nickerson, 637-4912, 421-8012 cell

University of Wyoming Extension, “Living with Wildlfire in Wyoming,” http://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/_files/documents/resources/wildfire2013/wildfire_web.pdf

Firewise Natrona County, plant list, http://www.firewisewyoming.com/

Colorado State University Extension, Firewise Plant Materials, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06305.html

National Fire Protection Association, Firewise Communities, http://firewise.org