Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Native plant gardening for SE Wyoming

What we learned at the 6th Annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Workshop

Published April 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

What we learned at the recent Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop is there are three alternatives to standard landscaping (turf and foundation junipers).

Water-wise plantings

Western cities like Cheyenne and Ft. Collins are encouraging businesses and homeowners to install landscaping that takes less water than bluegrass lawns so that there will be enough water for their growing populations.

Many Wyoming native grasses, shrubs, trees and flowers fit this definition, as well as many plants from desert lands in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Plant Select features these kinds of plants for xeric gardens. The plants can be found at independent Colorado nurseries and by mail order from High Country Gardens, https://www.highcountrygardens.com/.

Pollinator-friendly/wildlife-friendly gardens

The drastic decline in native bees and butterflies has been in the news for years now. Choosing to grow flowering plants is a happy way to do something for the environment.

Native plants

However, not all flowering plants appeal to our native bees and butterflies. Douglas Tallamy, http://www.bringingnaturehome.net/, points out that native bees and butterflies are adapted to the plants native to their own area. Native insects need native plants so that they can become food for native birds.

There are different levels of native. If you are raising honeybees (natives of Europe), anything producing pollen will do, if it hasn’t been improved by horticulturists too much–double and triple-petal cultivars are often sterile–no pollen.

Plants native to distant parts of North America will not do much for most Wyoming native bees and butterflies and may require too much water for water-wise gardens.

Plants native to the western Great Plains–if they haven’t been domesticated too much, will provide what our native critters crave. Skip the ones that naturally grow in wet areas unless you have a natural wet area.

Finding the right species—see plant list—is still difficult. Ft. Collins Nursery (offering online ordering and curbside pickup this spring), https://fortcollinsnursery.com/, has the closest, large selection.

Maintaining native prairie

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Laramie County Master Gardener Wanda Manley wants you to appreciate our native prairie—and treat it right if you are lucky enough to own a piece of it.

Don’t treat the prairie like a lawn. Frequent mowing creates more of a fire danger. Mowing March – July kills ground-nesting birds.

Keep an eye out for invasive plants and consider renovating your prairie. Consult with the Laramie County Conservation District, https://www.lccdnet.org/.

Don’t graze when the grass is actively growing. It’s cheaper to feed hay than to repair the damage.

Locate and design your native garden

Laramie County Extension horticulturist Catherine Wissner can give you a three-hour lecture on how to select a site for a new garden. If you are proposing a new vegetable or ornamental flower garden, you look at sun, slope, wind, soil, proximity to water source and kitchen.

However, if you are replacing water-hogging turf with natives, you have more options. There are native plants that like sun (like vegetables), others that prefer part sun and a few that need shade. There are some that like sandy soil and others that are fine with clay. Some like rocky soil.

And for pollinators, you want to strive to have something in bloom from late March to early October.

Figuring out which plants go where takes a little research. By next year the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities hopes to have a plant finder database to help you match plants with your conditions.

Irrigation

You must water new plants the first year—even xeric species—to get them established. It’s possible to pick plants that need very little supplemental water after that—and maybe none at all.

But any irrigation that uses 50 percent less than what bluegrass turf requires is applauded by BOPU.

You might still have one bed of traditional flowers requiring frequent watering and other areas that are more xeric. If you don’t want to drag hoses around all summer, you can set up sprinkler systems and/or drip irrigation for differentiated zones.

Katie Collins, Ft. Collins Water-Wise Landscape program manager, who spoke about and demonstrated the technicalities, has information at https://www.fcgov.com/utilities/residential/conserve/water-efficiency/xeriscape.

Prepare for planting

At this point in the season, your best option for removing turf is with a shovel as soon as the most recent snow melts and the soil dries out a bit.

If you have really nice turf, you might be able to get someone to use a machine to strip it off and use it to repair damaged turf elsewhere—what we did for the BOPU Habitat Hero demonstration garden.

Rototilling is not an option—it leaves a lot of grass that will re-sprout. But a shovelful of turf can be broken up, the roots shaken out and composted elsewhere and the soil replaced.

If you have time, you can suffocate turf with 12 layers of newspaper or some cardboard over a few months (usually winter), explained Laramie County Master Gardener Maggie McKenzie. Herbicides are a terrible last resort.

If you are building a vegetable garden, you’ll want to amend the soil with lots of composted organic material but that isn’t necessary for native plants if you match them to your soil type.

Perennials from seed

Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan supervised the winter sowing hands-on activity for all 105 workshop participants, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/.

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

Picking and planting

Nurseries are not open for strolling this spring so Kathy Shreve’s advice on finding healthy plants changes to only accepting plants curbside fulfilling your order that are healthy and not rootbound or misshapen—especially trees and shrubs.

Plant so that the transition between stem and root is at surface level–not below it or above it. Loosen the roots–gently knock off some of the potting soil. For trees, see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/how-to-plant-a-tree-in-cheyenne-wyoming/.

Kathy reminded us that all plants, no matter how well-adapted, need to be watered for months when first planted. Not so much that they drown and don’t let them wilt.

Enjoy your garden often–it’s also an easy way to see if problems are developing.

Become a Habitat Hero

The goal is to be recognized as a Habitat Hero. Take pictures of your yard transformation during the growing season. See https://rockies.audubon.org/habitat-hero for information on applying as well as more on water-wise planting for birds and other wildlife.

Popular Southeast Wyoming Native Plants

It is nearly impossible to find “straight species” at nurseries—you’ll find horticulturally improved varieties instead. If the petals haven’t been doubled or the leaf color changed from solid green, they will probably work.

Shrubs

Buffaloberry

Chokecherry

Golden Currant

Red-twig Dogwood

Mountain Mahogany

American (Wild) Plum

Rabbitbrush

Silver Sage

Western Sandcherry

Serviceberry

Yucca

Perennial flowers

Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerula

Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Gaillardia, Gaillardia aristata

Fleabane Daisy, Erigeron species

Gayfeather or Blazing Star, Liatris punctata

Harebells, Campanula rotundifolia

Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa

Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Penstemon strictus

Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrate

Native Yarrow, Achillea millefolium


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


By Barb Gorges, with Niki Kottmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PK at Soapstone

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

 


Garden gift & New Year’s resolution ideas

Published Dec. 8, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Gift and New Year’s resolution ideas for Cheyenne gardeners.”

By Barb Gorges

Here at the end of the year you may be looking for gardening gift ideas for you or someone else. And are you preparing to make New Year’s resolutions to learn more about gardening? Here are some ideas.

2019-12 Wardian case'scher_Kasten_wikipedia

Wardian case – type of terrarium (Wikipedia)

Gardener gifts

From Garden Design magazine:

How about terrariums? You can make them out of large glass jars or fill antique-looking leaded pane structures with small tropical houseplants. Read up on them at https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Terrarium.

Who knew Crocs come in many rubber-boot styles? But we shouldn’t be out digging in our gardens in the mud because it promotes soil compaction.

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Wave Hill chairs, Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center

Plans for the famous Wave Hill garden chairs are available from http://www.danbenarcik.com/ for $25-$35. Even I could build one, just straight cuts and screws.

Bib-style garden aprons exist, made of canvas and with bigger pockets than kitchen aprons. Keep tools handy and shirt fronts clean!

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Insect house, Gardener’s Supply

Insect house, beehive house, insect hotel, insect habitat—these are all names for assemblages of hollow sticks you can buy. Insects beneficial to your garden can hide their eggs in them.

Anything with flowers on it will probably appeal to the gardener on your gift list—especially a plant.

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Shawnee Pottery teapot, circa 1940s, on Etsy.

Books

There is a cornucopia of beautiful garden books. If you buy a how-to book for you or someone here, just remember to ignore advice to add lime to soil since Cheyenne, unlike many parts of the country, already has alkaline soils. Check out the Timber Press imprint at https://www.workman.com/.

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Nature into Art: The Gardens at Wave Hill by Thomas Christopher, Timber Press

Classes/talks/workshops

The 6th annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Workshop is all day Feb. 29 at Laramie County Community College. Denver Botanic Gardens’ international plant explorer Panayoti Kelaidis’s topic is “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping: Learning from the Natives.” His talk is followed by “Native Plant Gardening 101” taught by the Cheyenne Habitat Hero Committee members. Registration is $25 (including lunch) at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/.

2019-12Panayoti_Kelaidis

Panayoti Kelaidis, keynote speaker, Habitat Hero workshop, Feb. 29, 2020

Register for Master Gardener training taught by Laramie County Extension horticulturist Catherine Wissner. It begins Jan. 6 for 10 weeks, two evenings a week. See https://lccc.coursestorm.com/ (search “Master Gardener”). It’s held at Laramie County Community College. You’ll also find two one-session LCCC non-credit gardening classes taught by Catherine listed at that same website.

The Seed Library will have several events at Laramie County Library. Check details at https://lclsonline.org/events:

–Jan. 25, 2-3:30 p.m., “Pumpkin Growing 101” featuring Andy Corbin, Wyoming’s most recent giant pumpkin growing champ.

–Feb. 27, evening, “Winter Sowing Workshop” and “Give-Take Seed Swap.”

If you are a green industry professional, employed in landscaping, lawn or tree care, attend the free Cheyenne Green Industry Workshop Jan. 24. Register through the City of Cheyenne’s Urban Forestry Division: http://www.cheyennetrees.com/events.

Several organizations schedule lecture series or occasional talks in the spring. Check for updates:

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, https://www.botanic.org.

Laramie County Master Gardeners, http://www.lcmg.org/.

Laramie County Conservation District, https://www.lccdnet.org/.

Prairie Garden Club, https://www.prairiegardenclub.com/.

Garden tours

Last year I went on Road Scholar’s “Victoria and Vancouver: Glorious West Coast Gardens” (#2679) tour (I’ll be giving a public talk about it at Laramie County Master Gardeners’ meeting Jan. 16, 409 Pathfinder Bldg., LCCC, 7 p.m.). It runs several times every summer.

2019-08 Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden, Barb Gorges

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, photo by Barb Gorges.

Another is “Topiaries, Pleasure Gardens and Botanical Gems in Philadelphia and Beyond” (#21967) which runs several times in spring and fall. You can look up the details at https://www.roadscholar.org/. Pop the course number in the search box.

You can also devise your own tour. Did you know that if you are a Cheyenne Botanic Gardens member, they have agreements with more than 300 U.S. gardens through the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocal admissions program, even though they don’t charge admission themselves?

2019-12CBG_garden_dedication

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens conservatory and gardens dedication ceremony, September 2019. The CBG is located at 710 S. Lions Park Drive. Photo by Barb Gorges.

That means CBG members visit free instead of paying $11 at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Ft. Collins which has recently added five acres of new gardens and a butterfly pavilion, or $12.50 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I spend my savings at the gift shops!

Master Gardener wish list

“What’s on your wish list?” I asked several Master Gardeners recently:

“Narrow spade,” said Kathryn Lex.  It would be handy for inserting new plants in her established garden. She can read up on spades at https://www.gardentoolcompany.com/pages/garden-spades-choosing-the-right-one.

“More seeds,” said Michelle Bohanan. She’s on the Seed Library committee.

“No frost after Mother’s Day,” said John Heller. I think he needs a greenhouse.

“Tomatoes ripe by July 4th,” said Catherine Wissner. Wait, she has a high tunnel already. Maybe she wants a traditional glass greenhouse.

“No hail,” they all said. Make that a glass greenhouse with chicken wire over it for protection.

2019-12 Hartley_Botanic_greenhouse

Hartley Botanic greenhouse.


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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


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.


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/.