Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Guide to growing fruit trees and shrubs in Cheyenne

Chokecherry is a native shrub in Wyoming. It usually blooms late enough to avoid the last frost and provides for pollinators. Later it provides fruit for birds–and sometimes for people. It can become a small tree or pruned so as to remain a shrub.

Here is a general guide to growing fruit trees and shrubs in Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

           Commercial fruit growing is not viable in the Cheyenne area, primarily because of the limited water supply and the vagaries of our weather, but in the home garden, especially if your other plants have low water needs, a few fruit trees and shrubs could be justified.


           I spoke recently with Catherine Wissner, the University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County and she said watering fruit trees and shrubs is crucial to a successful harvest—not enough water and you won’t even get flowering, much less fruit.

           She said the rule of thumb is 10 gallons per 1-inch diameter of the trunk every 7 to 10 days during the growing season, adjusting for hot, dry and windy weather. Fruiting trees and shrubs need more water than the lawn they may be planted in the middle of. Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water.

Fruit types

           Tree fruit grown in our area includes apples (see my column on Wyoming heirlooms,, cherries, plums, pears and even experiments with peaches. Look for fire blight-resistant varieties.

           Fruiting shrubs like chokecherry, a local native, can be very bountiful. Cheyennites also grow serviceberry, elderberry, gooseberry, raspberry and currant.

           The other crucial factor is selecting the right variety. It helps if a variety of tree or shrub flowers late enough not to be caught by a May frost or snow–yet has fruit ready to harvest before frost. Catherine is currently researching the best varieties for Laramie County. One apple that stands out, Yellow Transparent, matures by late August.  For a state-wide look, see “Wyoming Fruit Variety Survey Data ‐ Recommended Varieties” at, under “New for the Season.”

           Find out if the variety needs cross pollination with a second tree. This could be a second tree you plant or another close by in the neighborhood.


           Once you find the right species, the tree or shrub can be planted anytime the ground isn’t frozen but it must be planted right (see The two biggest tips are to gently spread the roots and make sure the soil level is right at the transition between roots and trunk and below the graft if it is a grafted tree. For shrubs, soil level should be between stem and root, right where the soil line was in the pot.


           Catherine said fruit trees and shrubs need fertilizer annually, preferably before June 1. The fertilizer should have numbers like 5-10-5 or 5-20-5, nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium, also abbreviated NPK. Remember, most of the roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and will spread farther than the tree’s canopy.

Pruning and mulching

           Pruning is essential for fruit trees. Homeowners tend to “limb up” their trees so they can more easily mow the lawn underneath, creating a shade tree with fruit benefits. Protect all kinds of tree trunks by mulching a circle one to two feet wide around the trunk—yet keep the mulch from touching the trunk.

For shrubs, a circle of mulch is also good and can keep competing weeds and grass away from them.

Instead of limbing up, you can do what Catherine said commercial orchardists do, prune from the top down to keep the tree small and easier to pick fruit from. The top of my experimental apple tree grown from seed died back this winter, so I guess it will be a “prune down” experiment now.

Use standard pruning advice for removing deadwood and crossed limbs (see my interview with Catherine, Research or ask Catherine about pruning methods specific to types of fruit trees.

Fruiting shrubs, like the chokecherry hedge in our backyard, need pruning regularly. Over the last 30 years we have removed a few stems each year that are more than 3 or 4 inches in diameter. They can get too tall and become trees. We’d rather they stay brushy. It’s easier to pick the fruit and it provides a better bird habitat and privacy screen. Because chokecherries regularly sucker, there is always a new generation coming up.

Pests and diseases

Adequate watering helps keep fruit trees and shrubs stress-free and healthy. Remove the occasional diseased branches 6 to 12 inches below the infection using tool blades sterilized between cuts with 10 percent bleach solution—but do not put any “wound dressing” on any cuts—that goes for all kinds of trees.

Your best bet for identifying and determining treatment of pests and diseases is to photograph the damage and email it to Catherine at She does yard calls if necessary.

I asked Catherine how she protects fruit from predators, like birds and other animals. She isn’t a fan of netting, unless the mesh openings are less than 1.5 inches. Otherwise, the birds get tangled and often die.

She said to keep an eye on the ripening progress each day and pick the fruit before the birds or racoons do. But sometimes it seems the birds prefer their fruit less ripe than we do.


How do you decide when fruit is ripe? Taste test. Fruit gets sweeter the riper it is, although chokecherries never get sweet. And if apples fall off the tree, pick them up and make applesauce!

A honeybee is enjoying the blossoms of an American plum planted by birds.

Tough year for trees

2019-10 Lions Park--Barb Gorges

Cottonwoods need a lot of water, growing naturally along streams and lake shores. Sloans Lake in Lions Park, Cheyenne, Wyoming, photo by Barb Gorges.

2019’s top horticultural questions in Laramie County include trees and prairie

By Barb Gorges

The phone calls Catherine Wissner gets are a good snapshot of what is going on in Cheyenne yards. She is the University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County.

When gardeners or property owners notice something amiss with their crops, landscaping or houseplants that they can’t figure out, Catherine gets their calls and will often visit. I asked her what the most frequent topic was this summer.

Trees and fungus

“Trees,” she said. Mistreat a tomato plant and you don’t get tomatoes. Mistreat a tree and you lose a major financial investment when it either dies immediately, or lingers for years, looking stunted and unhealthy.

This year, we can blame the weather for a lot of tree problems, Catherine said. April through June we had nearly as much precipitation as our annual average, 12-15 inches. All that moisture aided the growth of fungus.

The most common was verticillium wilt. It’s in the soil and gets into trees, shrubs or other plants through the root system. Damaged roots are most susceptible. Sprays and injections don’t work on fungus.

The fungus moves from the roots through the tree’s vascular system (think sap instead of blood) and within a week of showing signs of stress, the tree is dead.

Some tree species or varieties are more resistant, Catherine said. You must do your homework when looking for a replacement tree. But don’t plant the new tree in the same place.

2019-10 oak--Barb Gorges

Due to a wetter than normal spring, fungus affected these oak leaves. It’s mostly a cosmetic problem, not life-threatening. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Another fungus affects oak leaves, leaving brown splotches. Just clean up the leaves when they fall off. Next year the trees may not be affected.

2019-10 pine--Barb Gorges

Without intervention, this type of damage to the tips of pine branches will eventually kill the tree. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Pines can be attacked by a tip-boring insect—it bores into the tips of branches causing them to look lumpy. Because she values pollinator insects and birds, Catherine recommends pesticides as a last resort. In this case, without using a systemic pesticide like Safari, absorbed through the trunk or as a soil drench around the trunk, the tree will be lost.

Get Catherine’s advice before choosing a pesticide. Read the directions and avoid methods that could blow the toxins onto other vegetation and animals.

Trees and drought

July through most of September we had no rain to speak of. Trees depend a lot on the roots in the top 1 to 2 feet of soil—and out much further than the reach of their branches. Many of the trees planted in Cheyenne are not drought tolerant, including cottonwoods which in nature grow along streams.

This year, many people in my neighborhood seemed to be saving money by not watering their lawns during those droughty months. That’s fine if the grass only goes dormant. If it dies though, the noxious weeds will move in.

No lawn watering means trees that are not drought tolerant start losing leaves prematurely and become victims of stress and disease. Catherine pointed out that watering your mature spruce tree is cheaper than the $1500 it would cost to have it removed if it dies.

This fall, and warm winter days once a month, is the time to make it up to your trees. Water your whole lawn if you have mature trees.

Late fall and winter are also the best times for tree pruning.


2019-10 WHR--Barb Gorges

The shortgrass prairie outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, doesn’t need mowing. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Prairie problems

People moving to acreage and unfamiliar with the prairie are smart to contact Catherine for basic instruction.

The worst thing to do to the prairie is mow it. But do mow the patch of bluegrass lawn the kids play on and the firebreaks immediately around the house and along fence lines.

Unmown prairie benefits you and provides bird habitat–grassland birds nest on the ground. Grasses shade the ground and keep it cooler and they will trap snow, giving it a chance to melt and sink in. Cooler ground is less likely to burn.

Mowed prairies encourage warm-season grass species at the expense of cool-season species which keep the prairie cooler.

Don’t mow the thistles! It encourages rhizomes, underground stems, to spread and pop up more plants. Catherine said to spray the individual plants when they are blooming or after the first frost. Thistle is a tough, non-native invasive plant that requires tough measures.

Catherine makes yard calls for free or you can bring in a diseased twig (in a sealed plastic bag) to her. You can also email photos to her.


Laramie County Extension Office

Catherine Wissner, 307-633-4383,

Trees and all other plants.

Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division

Tree species recommendations, planting and maintenance instruction, city tree ordinances, certified arborist list.

Laramie County Conservation District

Clark Young and Dale Beranek, 307-772-2600.

Trees, especially windbreaks.


Rooted in Cheyenne plants trees

2019-04 Rooted in Cheyenne 4 crew planting

A crew of Rooted in Cheyenne volunteers plants a street tree.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle April 14, 2019, “Laying down roots, Rooted in Cheyenne to plant more trees, offer tree and garden tour.” All photos courtesy of Rooted in Cheyenne.

By Barb Gorges

Street trees and their canopy of green are prized, especially here in Cheyenne, located on the naturally treeless prairie. Trees keep cities cooler, break the wind’s ferocity, add to property value, remove pollutants and sequester carbon.

Cheyenne residents started systematically planting in 1882 and have continued planting in successive waves.

The latest wave of tree planting was instigated by Mark Ellison, city forester. He noticed many street trees have disappeared, victims of disease and old age. A windfall of $25,000 helped set up a tree planting 501(c)3 nonprofit, Rooted in Cheyenne. The name harks back to our city’s tree history and forward to a tree-full future.

The funds came from mitigation for the historic residential block replaced by Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s Cancer Center, said Stephanie Lowe, involved with Historic Cheyenne, Inc., the group set up to disburse the funds.

2019-04 Rooted in Cheyenne 1 home

Trees are planted in the right of way.

Ellison and the Rooted in Cheyenne board organized an incentive program to encourage property owners to have trees planted in the right of way, between curb and sidewalk, or if the sidewalk abuts the curb, on the other side of the sidewalk.

In the spring of 2017 they bought 100 trees, and for $50 each, offered to plant a tree for a property owner as well as stake it and care for it for one year, including weekly watering in summer and monthly watering in winter.

Rooted in Cheyenne has continued to offer 100 or more trees twice a year. Some trees are available at no cost to people who qualify.  This year, the actual cost of $150 per tree, including planting supplies, was also supported by a state forestry grant and the Laramie County Conservation District. Additional sponsorships and donations are welcome.

The trees this spring come from nurseries in Colorado, Nebraska and Oregon in 15-gallon containers. They are 8 to 10 feet tall with a caliper (diameter) of 1.25 to 1.5 inches.

Ellison has taken the precaution of offering a variety of trees suited to our area. You can see photos and descriptions at It’s a list to work from if you are planting on your own.

When I spoke to Ellison mid-March, nearly all this spring’s trees were spoken for. If you missed your chance, there’s another planting being scheduled for September.

Consider volunteering May 18 on a planting crew for half a day. City Council Ward I member Jeff White is enthusiastic about his experience on a crew last spring and the importance of the effort: “So many of the trees in our city have reached their shelf life. We would become treeless. It’s important to have Rooted in Cheyenne.”

Each crew plants 10 trees in four hours. A crew is led by one or two people from the green industry (landscapers, arborists, yard care company employees, etc.) who know how to correctly plant a tree.

If you plant trees yourself this spring, see the Cheyenne Urban Forestry department’s website, Look under the Education tab for the Wyoming Tree Owner’s Manual. It describes safe planting locations and best planting practices.

Volunteers are also needed to do weekly summer watering. A crew of two drives a pickup around with a tank of water and a hose in the back.

2019-04 Rooted in Cheyenne 2 home

When sidewalks abut the curb, trees are planted on the other side of the sidewalk.

All the trees planted so far have survived, except a handful hit by hail last summer, and one tree loved to death. Once the critical first year is over, novice tree owners should be able to handle the maintenance.

“Word of mouth has been carrying the program pretty well,” said Ellison. Now Rooted in Cheyenne wants to get the word out about their Tree and Garden Tour, a mix of education, fun and fundraiser June 9.

Ticket holders will tour the Historic Dubois Block yards and gardens, viewing 30 different trees and shrubs plus other plants suited to Cheyenne.

Activities will include food trucks, Ask an Arborist, lawn games and tree planting and care workshops.


Rooted in Cheyenne

To sign up for a tree, volunteer, donate or sponsor, see or call the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division.

Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division

Call 637-6428 Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. See for resources on city tree ordinances, trees and tree planting.

Rooted in Cheyenne Tree and Garden Tour of the Historic Dubois Block, June 9, 1 p.m.

Check the Rooted in Cheyenne Facebook page. Tickets are $10.00 per person or $15.00 per family at or at the event.  All proceeds from ticket sales go to plant trees in Cheyenne through Rooted in Cheyenne.

2019-04 Rooted in Cheyenne 3 Tiger Tree crew


What I’ve learned as a Master Gardener

2018-08Garden tour-Barb Gorges

Outside Ft. Collins, Colorado, one woman, over 20 years, has created a garden refuge. Photo by Barb Gorges.



Published Aug. 12, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and at Wyoming Network News,

By Barb Gorges

This is my seventh season as a Laramie County Master Gardener (and Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columnist). I know more now than when I finished the training because there’s always someone to talk to who knows more than me about any aspect of gardening.

I’ve interviewed many people, including other Master Gardeners, for previous columns which are archived at Here’s what I’ve learned:

Always evaluate gardening information. Where does that gardener garden? Is it a garden with a similar climate or microclimate, soil and growing season to mine? Will the treatment harm my soil?

There’s a difference between sticking stuff in dirt and growing plants with more mindfulness—and record-keeping.

You can grow many things in Cheyenne, but not all things. Just keep experimenting with the short-season veggies and consider building a greenhouse or high tunnel.

Cheyenne’s blooming season is longer than you think. In my garden some spring bulbs bloom in March. Some years the frost doesn’t finish the asters until the end of October.

Garden beauty is subjective but good garden design is practical:  put short plants in the front of beds, veggies by the kitchen door and don’t plant trees under power lines.

Every growing season is different. Not every year has powdery mildew, black spot or blossom end rot.

Know when to give up. Or try the plant in a different location. Or try a different variety.

Gardeners are generous. They share plant thinnings and seeds because they can’t bear to compost them.

Propagation from root divisions, cuttings and seeds is rewarding, especially when you share.

Never add lime, an alkaline substance, to Cheyenne’s already alkaline soils.

Gardeners like a challenge, even as extreme as planting acid-loving blueberries in buckets full of specially mixed acidic soil.

Soil is every gardener’s most valuable asset. Preserve its structure and microbiome by tilling and hoeing as little as possible and let mulch keep the weeds down.

Composting your discarded plant material in your own bin or pile saves you money on fertilizer and the cost of having the sanitation department haul it away.

Getting watering and mulching right is more important to plants than fertilizer.

Good pruning benefits trees and shrubs by making them look good and grow better.

Right plant in the right place—not all trees are growing in the right place.

Hail is a fact of life here. Protect tomatoes with hardware cloth screen overhead and grow skinny-leaved and skinny-petalled flowers.

Replacing your lawn with gravel is not less work in the future. It gets weedy. And gravel doesn’t shade the ground, which makes your yard hotter. You are better off with a low-growing ground cover.

Chemical pesticides are rarely necessary in the residential garden. You can pick off pests and remove diseased plant parts by hand.

Stressed plants (too much or too little water, too much fertilizer, too much or too little sun) attract disease and pests.

The sooner you pull a weed or cut it off at ground level, the less work it is later.

Always take care of weeds before they set seed.

Tending a garden is stress-reducing. Many of the gardeners I’ve interviewed have high stress jobs: lawyer, judge, law enforcement, social worker, doctor.

Gardening is good exercise. Even if you aren’t vigorously digging a new bed, just walking around pulling the occasional weed and deadheading the roses is better for you than sitting.

Gardeners see more bees, butterflies and birds—just more of nature.

Visiting botanic gardens when you travel makes for beautiful memories.

Reading to prepare for and dreaming about next year’s garden will get you through a long winter.

Want to start gardening or garden more intentionally and with more knowledge? Become a Laramie County Master Gardener. It’s not too early to find out about the next class. Call Catherine Wissner, Laramie County Extension horticulturist, 307-633-4383.

2018-08 Asters Snowy Range 7-18 Barb Gorges

Asters bloom and attract a bee in a natural rock garden July 18, 2018, in the Snowy Range in southeastern Wyoming at an elevation of 9,000 to 10,000 feet. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Know your Cheyenne trees

Tree Walk sign

Look for this sign by the Beach House at Lions Park. Below it is a map of Cheyenne’s Tree Walk. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published July 20, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Know your Cheyenne trees.”

By Barb Gorges

Summer is a good time to appreciate Cheyenne’s trees. Each one is a bit of a miracle since most trees are not native to the High Plains except for cottonwoods along creeks.

In addition to enjoying their shade, you may want to study our landscape trees if you are thinking about planting one yourself. For up-to-date planting considerations and methods, see my recent WTE column archived at

One way to find trees that grow well here is to follow the Tree Walk in the southwest corner of Lions Park, set up by the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division. There is a map on a sign next to the beach house. You can also pick up a booklet with a map and tree descriptions at the nearby Forestry office located at West 8th and Carey avenues.

A few not so hardy trees are missing. Plus, since the horrendous hail storms in June and July, some trees may be a bit ragged.

The Tree Walk features 31 trees marked with sign posts. I’ll highlight 12 here, many illustrated with photos of 50-year-old trees from my own neighborhood so you can see them in proportion to the houses.

As you travel around Cheyenne admiring our trees, see how many more species you can find. If you need identification help and the Forestry office is closed, try

Tree traits

For more information on each species, check the library, or online at a site like Wikipedia, or see the University of Wyoming Extension’s “Landscaping: Recommended Trees for Wyoming,”

On the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website,, under “Gardening Tips,” you can find a list of water-wise trees and shrubs that thrive with less water—too much can actually kill them.

First, learn these codes

Here are codes for describing my top-12 trees everyone in Cheyenne should be able to identify.

E–Evergreen tree. All types provide winter protection for birds

F–Fall color, loses leaves

H–Hail hardy

N–Native to the West

W—Wildlife likes the fruits



Ponderosa and Pinyon

1. Ponderosa Pine (L) and 2. Pinyon Pine (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

1. Ponderosa Pine

E, H, N, W, WW

Surrounding the Forestry office is a grove of extremely tall, skinny examples. However, in my neighborhood, single specimens look nice and full. I.D.: Look for bundles of two or three needles 5 inches or longer.

2. Pinyon Pine

E, H, N, W, WW

Iconic, drought-tolerant trees of the Southwest, they’re short, even after 50 years. If you are lucky, they could produce the prized pinyon pine nut. I.D.: needles 1.5 – 2.5 inches in bundles of two.

Bristlecone & Spruce

3. Bristlecone Pine (L) and 4. Colorado Spruce (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

 3. Bristlecone Pine

E, H, N, W, WW

They grow very slowly but live a long time—one in California is more than 5,000 years old. I.D.: drooping branches full of needles look like bottle brushes.

4. Colorado Spruce

E, H, N, W

Growing several stories high, spruces can grow too wide, forcing homeowners to prune away their skirts. There are new varieties that are narrower. I.D.: needles are single, short, stiff and very prickly.


Fir and Juniper

5. White Fir (L) and 6. Juniper (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

5. White Fir

E, H, N, W

It looks like, and grows as tall as a spruce, but it’s a soft version. Another soft-needled, spruce-like tree is the Douglas-fir. I.D.: flat, short, single, flexible, soft needles.

6. Juniper

E, H, N, W, WW

There are many varieties of upright junipers available through nurseries. They all produce little waxy bluish berries. Birds also appreciate their windproof foliage. I.D.: no needles—just green scales.


Cottonwood & Oak

7. Plains Cottonwood (L) and 8. Bur Oak (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

7. Plains Cottonwood

F, H, N

Wyoming’s state tree has tough, heart-shaped leaves. But cottonwoods require a lot of water, and after about 50-60 years, these huge trees start deteriorating, dropping limbs on hot summer days.

8. Bur Oak

F, W

We aren’t too far from this species’ native range. Slow growing, it may take a while to produce significant shade, but meanwhile, wildlife will enjoy the acorns. It was hard-hit by the hail, but will recover.

Mtn ash & Linden

9. European Mountain-ash (L) and 10. American Linden (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

9. European Mountain-Ash

F, H, W

Bunches of little white flowers in the spring will develop by midsummer into orange berries that are quickly devoured by birds. The small leaflets seem to avoid hail damage.

10. American Linden

F, W

The hail was hard on it, but this is a great shade tree. Plus it has fragrant flowers and produces bunches of little fruits. I.D.: leaves are heart-shaped, but not tough like cottonwood.

Honey Locust & Crab

11. Honey Locust (L) and 12. Flowering Crabapple (R) Photos by Barb Gorges

 11. Honey-locust

F, H, W

Look for the thornless type. Its small leaflets avoided some of the hail. May have 7-inch-long brown pods if it isn’t a fruitless variety.

12. Flowering Crabapple

F, W

These were hard to miss this spring, blooming profusely pink or white for weeks along Cheyenne streets and in parks and yards. They are popular with wildlife, which may eat the flowers as well as the fruit. I.D.: Oval leaves and small apples–always a few left on the ground.

How to plant a tree in Cheyenne, Wyoming

tree planted

Steve Scott explains how to plant a tree. He is the head horticulturist at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published April 20, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “How to plant a tree in Cheyenne: 21st Century planting techniques improve Cheyenne tree survival.”

By Barb Gorges

Tree-planting is, in theory, as simple as dropping it into any old hole in the yard. The tree might survive, but then again, it might not.

Just what, exactly, do you need to do to make sure the tree survives and thrives?

We turn to a local expert, Steve Scott, head of horticulture at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. He’s been planting trees at the gardens for 16 years, long enough to see the results of his techniques.

When and how to purchase

Steve believes spring–late March and April–is the best time to plant, before trees leaf out. It’s easier to get enough water to new trees in spring and summer. Plus, tree selection at the nursery is better than in the fall.

Trees are either grown in containers or grown in the field and dug up, leaving their roots bare or in a ball of dirt covered in burlap. Whatever type, it’s important that roots have not been allowed to dry out at any point.

Bare root trees

This is Scott’s favorite type. These might be little whips, 12 inches to 3 feet tall. Buying a bundle of them could be the way to go if you are establishing a windbreak or other large planting.

Besides being economical, studies show the smaller the tree, the more quickly it gets established and begins to grow. Within a few years, it will overtake a larger tree planted at the same time, even though that other tree started with a trunk diameter three times the size.

Scott demonstrated his planting techniques the day I visited with a tree he planted in the gardens’ nursery as a whip five years ago. Today it’s about 8 feet tall, maybe even 10.

 Balled and burlapped trees

This is Scott’s second preference. Back in the old days, it was thought that buried burlap would disintegrate and roots would grow through the wire basket, but my husband, Mark, and I discovered burlap that survived 20 years–and roots that were deformed by the wire basket, causing deformed branches.

Scott suggests snipping away the wire basket at the bottom only, before setting the tree in the hole and then removing the rest of it, as well as any twine or fabric, before backfilling.

 Container trees

These are the most problematic because the roots often start circling inside the pot. Scott doesn’t hesitate to lift a tree from its pot to have a look at the roots before deciding to buy it. Roots should be firm and whitish. A nasty-looking root mass can be “butterflied,” sliced in an X from the bottom, so that the roots can be spread out in the planting hole. Or in extreme situations, all the dirt can be washed off so the roots can be arranged properly.

The right tree in the right place

Don’t forget to give some thought to where you plant that tree.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Cheyenne is in Plant Hardiness Zone 5, minimum temperature of -15 to -10 F. But most Cheyenne gardeners select trees and other perennials for Zone 3 or 4 to avoid winterkill in those record-low years.

Around your house, plant evergreens on the north side to protect it from winter winds and cut heating bills. Plant deciduous trees on the south and southwest sides to shade the house in summer and lower air conditioning bills, and later, when the leaves fall away, winter sunlight will warm your house.

People forget to plan for mature sizes of trees. Plant too close to power lines and you and the utility company will have to keep hacking away branches every year. Also, Cheyenne’s safety zones require clearing vegetation 14 feet above the street and 8 feet above the sidewalk.

Aggressive growers, like silver maples, can damage concrete house foundations and driveways. Keep them at least 15 feet away.

Avoid planting trees with messy fruit, like mountain ash, where it will fall on sidewalks and parked cars.

Preparing the site

At least two days before you dig, you are required to call 811 to have your underground water, gas, sewer and electricity lines marked, at no cost, so you can avoid them.

Measure the depth of your tree’s root ball, from the top of the uppermost root, and dig your hole 6 inches deeper. Measure the width of the spread of the roots. Dig your hole twice as wide. You may want to also remove grass farther out because it will eventually steal moisture and nutrients from tree roots.

Next, add back a 6-inch mound of dirt in the center of the hole. This is where you will set your roots. Allow the roots to drape gracefully.

Do not add any fertilizer, organic matter or other amendments to the hole, Scott said, otherwise the roots won’t be encouraged to grow beyond that space, which they will need to do to anchor the tree firmly.

tree depth measuring

Steve uses a pole to measure to make sure the tree is sitting at the right depth. The top of the roots should be right about even with the ground surface. Photo by Barb Gorges

Setting the tree

One of the biggest reasons for the failure of trees to thrive is that they have been planted too deep, Scott said.

So after you set your tree in the hole, take a stick or a rake handle and lay it next to the trunk, across the hole, to see if the top of the roots is at ground level. If not, remove or add dirt to the mound as needed.

Staking the tree

Most people do this after planting, but Scott, because he usually plants trees by himself, finds staking holds the tree in place while he backfills.

He uses two metal, T-style fence posts set out a few feet from the trunk, to the north and south, so that the fence posts and trunk form a line perpendicular to the prevailing west wind.

tree staking strapping

Two straps of webbing used to stake the tree will be gentle on the bark. Photo by Barb Gorges

He uses two fabric webbing straps, gentle on tree bark, each looped once around the tree trunk at about one-third of the way up the tree’s height. A length of wire makes up the distance between the grommets in the ends of the straps and the posts.

The old-school folks staked trees much higher, but if a tree doesn’t get a chance to bend with the wind a bit, it won’t develop proper taper—the trunk should grow widest at ground level.

After a year, two at most, stakes are not needed anymore and need to be removed.

Backfill and water

Throwing dirt back in the hole seems simple enough, but when only half full, Scott used the hose to water the dirt down between the roots before adding the rest of the backfill. To avoid injuring roots, don’t tamp down the dirt with your feet or shovel.

Wait to prune until next year

Old-school methods would have you prune the top of the tree to match the size of the roots. But when the tree was dug up from the field for bare root or balled and burlapped, it lost 70 percent of its roots, Scott said.

You need all the leaves you can get because they gather the energy the roots need to regrow. Other than broken branches, wait until next year to start pruning for form.

staked and mulched tree

The newly planted tree is expertly staked and mulched. Photo by Barb Gorges


Mulch keeps down the competition, which is really important to your tree since most of its roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and will eventually extend several times farther out than the branches.

The great thing about organic mulch like wood chips is that unlike weed barrier cloth, it allows in the nutrients—and it actually provides nutrients as it breaks down. The city composting facility has a ready supply of wood chips to renew your mulch each year.

Three inches of mulch chokes weeds and doesn’t suffocate tree roots. But be sure to keep it several inches away from the trunk.

A side benefit to mulching trees is that it keeps the lawn mowers and weed whackers far away so they won’t injure the bark.


winter trunk protection

A previously planted tree no longer needs staking, but protection of the trunk with corrugated plastic drainpipe from November to April for a couple years will protect it from winter damage. Photo by Barb Gorges

Trunk protection

Scott said for two or three years while the tree is re-establishing roots, the trunk needs protection in winter. He uses corrugated plastic drain piping slit lengthwise, putting it on at Thanksgiving and taking it off by Easter.

Relax, enjoy—and water

Tom Heald, a former Casper Extension agent, recommends finding out how long you have to water to wet the top 12 inches of your yard’s soil—where most of the tree roots are. Water for an hour and then dig to see how far the moisture went. You may have to repeat the experiment in half hour intervals, but once you know, you’ll know how long to water.

The Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division has more information on tree care, including when to water in winter.

Trees recommended for Cheyenne

One of the best resources for researching kinds of trees is the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division. Visit them at their office, 520 W. 8th Ave., or online,

The other is the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. You can pick up information at the greenhouse in Lions Park or go online, They have also identified trees around the gardens so you can see what grows here.