Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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House cats and Houseplants

2018-11CatGrass-Barb Gorges

Sprout nutritious oat grass seeds for your cat and maybe it will leave your houseplants alone. Photo by Barb Gorges.

House cats and houseplants are not necessarily mutually exclusive

Also published at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/garden-gossip-for-nov-2018-house-cats-and-houseplants.

By Barb Gorges

            “You can have a cat or you can have houseplants. But you can’t have both!” –The cat in the “Pickles” cartoon by Brian Crane, Oct. 11, 2018

Things go bump in the night at our house. About 4 a.m. recently I heard a thump on the other side of the wall, in the bathroom where we’d shut the 6-month-old kittens for the night. The sound had a plastic edge to it—probably a pot falling off the 6-foot-high shelf over the toilet.

Miraculously, the pot of angel-wing begonia flew off the end of the shelf and landed upright in the sink, four feet away. Only a couple leaves were lost. The kittens were no worse for wear.

When I put most of my houseplants out on the patio last spring, we had no cats—until one of the Master Gardeners told me about finding a litter of kittens. “We’ll take two,” I said, having been cat-less for nearly two years.

In September I realized I was going to have to integrate house cats and houseplants again. With plans to thin the indoor garden anyway due to scale-infested spider plants and too many geraniums, I sorted my potted garden. Those that did well in the garage window last winter went there again: geraniums, aralia, schefflera. Those that do OK in dimmer light went downstairs: Boston fern, spring cactus, jade plants. The northeast window plants never went outside: philodendrons and azalea.

The bathroom with its skylight and high shelves is great for ferns, begonias, the peace plant and numerous small specimens of tropical understory plants.

But the amaryllis, orchid and better-looking geraniums need the bright dining room window—in kitten territory. One geranium pot ended up on the floor to make room for a catnap in the sunshine. But now that I’ve left that space open, everyone’s getting along OK. I had to remove the one-year-old amaryllis sprouts though because they resembled grass too much. Later we sprouted some oat grass seeds, “cat grass,” meant to be chewed. A big hit.

I asked Leigh Farrell, a vet at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic if they see plant toxicity problems. “We do see the occasional house plant toxicities—almost all of them are lily (like Easter lily or lilies in flower arrangements) ingestion by cats. If a cat ingests only the smallest amount, it is still deadly…call a veterinarian immediately. There is also Animal Poison Control, 1-888-426-4435. There are a few “fake” species of lilies, not true lilies, and these are not toxic. There are toxic plants in the garden too: onion, red maple leaves, foxglove and oleander.”

While eating some plants will give both cats and dogs intestinal discomfort, or burn their mouths, lilies affect only cats. Amaryllis, also in the lily family and more likely to be seen during the winter holidays, is considered toxic—with the bulb the most toxic part.

You can find a list of plants toxic to cats (or dogs or horses) and a list of non-toxic plants at the ASPCA’s website: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.

Even though I’ve had cats doze next to toxic plants for years, “It’s whatever is new and different, like seasonal flower arrangements,” said Rebecca Marcy, vet and owner of Yellowstone Animal Health Center, that get even adult cats in trouble.

Beyond toxicity there are other house cat-houseplant issues, like cats scratching in the dirt in big pots. Vally Gollogly had kittens to give away at the last Tuesday farmer’s market of the fall. To protect the bare soil in her big pots, she said she covers them with smaller pots. I tried ponderosa pine cones earlier, but the kittens just pulled them out and batted them around. Luckily their fascination with dirt has waned.

I worry, however, about the kittens knocking pots off tables and shelves and getting hit by them. All my ceramic pots are in rooms the kittens are not allowed in. Everything else is lightweight plastic, and not bigger than the 1-gallon size.

For the safety of the flying begonia, I placed it farther from the end of the shelf. In its original location I put a tissue box right on the edge so it doesn’t look like a landing spot. So far, so good.

Do you have suggestions for increasing the compatibility of indoor house cats and houseplants?

2018-11FlyingBegonia-Barb Gorges

A feat of feline engineering moved the angel-wing begonia from the shelf, top right, to the sink…upright and barely damaged. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Growing lavender in Cheyenne

2018-10 Cathy Rogers-lavender by Barb Gorges

Cathy Rogers inspects her lavender crop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/lavender-is-a-perfect-plant-for-cheyenne, and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Oct. 21, 2018.

Lavender is a perfect plant for Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Lavender is an herb held in high esteem across the ages, even back 2,500 years when it was used in mummifying pharaohs in Egypt, according to Google.

Lavender, a member of the mint family, is edible. As a dried wreath or spray, its soft gray-green leaves and stems of lavender, pink, blue or white flowers are classic. As an essential oil or dried herb, it has medicinal uses. It is often used in perfumes and other products because its scent has a reputation for calming the mind. Even photos of great fields of it in Provence, France, or garden borders in England give one a sense of peace.

All those attributes may have been what Laramie County Master Gardener Cathy Rogers was looking for when she went to her first lavender festival several years ago.

“I became interested in lavender because it has always been my favorite fragrance,” she said. It led her to want to fill her pasture on Cheyenne’s north side with mounds of lavender shrubs. She brought home several varieties to try.

Growing conditions here are perfect for many kinds of lavender: dry weather, lots of sunshine and well-drained, low fertility, alkaline soil. The alkalinity enhances the fragrance.

Deer don’t like lavender, but bees do—two more reasons to consider growing it.

Although many of the 450-plus named cultivars of lavender are rated Zone 5, Cheyenne’s growing zone, mulching after the first freeze will protect them from being killed by our region’s tendency for multiple freeze-thaw cycles each winter.

On a hot day in August, Cathy took me out to her garden to inspect the kinds of lavender she chose from festival vendors as most suited to Cheyenne:

Impress Purple

Gros Blue

Folgate

Buena Vista

Edelweiss (Grosso white)

Grosso

2018-10 Cathy Rogers prepares cutting--by Barb Gorges

Cathy Rogers snips a soft, non-woody growing tip to start a new lavender shrub. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lavender will seed itself, though it won’t grow true to its parent. It can be propagated from cuttings, which is what Cathy did to establish the long row in the pasture.

She prefers to make hers from the softwood—the flexible, non-woody branch ends. She cuts them about 5 inches long and strips the leaves off the lower half. Then she dips the ends of the stems in rooting hormone and inserts them in seed-starting medium, usually a light potting soil made up of ingredients like peat, vermiculite, perlite—not plain old garden soil. You can try rooting the stem in water too. Cathy had 80 percent success with her seed-starting soil method.

It takes about three years for the new plants to mature. Cathy waited a year before planting her cuttings out in the field where she had suppressed the pasture vegetation with weed-barrier cloth. Proper spacing is important—lavender shrubs can be as large as 30 inches wide as well as 30 inches high.

Lavender requires little care most years, once it’s established. Cathy had only irrigated the row once as of mid-August. But plants require annual pruning when mature. Removing one-third of the shrub, usually in spring right after last frost, will give you more flowers. But sometimes branches are harvested during the growing season.

When and what is harvested depends on what product is the goal. For decorative craft purposes, snip branches when the flowers are barely open. Potpourri and sachets use only the flower buds, again, barely open.

For use in food, often paired with lemon flavors in desserts or roasted with chicken or vegetables, check the recipe. Some call for dried or fresh flowers, others for the leaves. A little goes a long way—maybe two teaspoons of dried buds for an 8 x 12-inch pan of lemon bars.

There’s also lavender infusions, lavender sugar, lavender syrup, lavender jam, lavender vinegar and lavender lemonade.

Distilling essential oils requires a big copper distiller like a moonshine still. It can use whole branches, leaves and all. Essential oils get used in cleaning and beauty products.

Cathy’s best sources of information have been the workshops and vendors at the Lavender Association of Western Colorado festival. The next one is June 29, 2019, in Palisade, Colorado, outside Grand Junction. The association’s website, https://coloradolavender.org, has detailed information on growing lavender in a climate similar to ours.

“I use The Lavender Lover’s Handbook, The 100 Most Beautiful and Fragrant Varieties for Growing, Crafting, and Cooking, by Sarah Berringer Baden, as my primary reference, at least until I can get to Provence, France, or Sequim, Washington,” Cathy said. Both are centers of the lavender industry.

This fall is the perfect time to plan and prepare a spot to plant lavender next spring.

2018-10 Cathy Roger's lavender by Barb Gorges

Most of Cathy Rogers’ lavender plants are lavender colored. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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Fall-planted bulbs start spring early

2018-09 Crocus-Barb Gorges

Crocuses are some of the earliest spring bloomers. Leaves make good mulch for bulbs if they don’t don’t get packed down too much by snow. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 9, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle . Also published Sept. 10, 2018, at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/fall-planted-bulbs-start-spring-early.

Fall-planted bulbs start spring early

By Barb Gorges

I made a list of spring bulbs to plant this fall at the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

And then I looked at how the perennials we planted at the end of July were doing. The 450 black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and 450 other assorted prairie-type plants got hit with hail. Most are fine, except the Rudbeckia, reduced to tough sticks with hail scars, though a few still had blooms on top, but either no leaves or new leaves nibbled back.

Rabbits?! My Rudbeckia at home survived hail and they have plenty of leaves despite cottontails napping nearby.

Gardening somewhere besides home is like trying to give another parent child-rearing advice: what you know may not work for someone else or somewhere else.

I’m wondering if it will be a waste to plant anything besides daffodils which are known to be somewhat deer and rabbit resistant. Or maybe plant alfalfa as a cover crop so the rabbits have something better to eat. At least we will have plenty of bare places to plant bulbs this fall.

Below are my picks for a Habitat Hero spring-blooming bulb garden, designed to provide flowers early for bees, and to be self-propagating from year to year, or “naturalizing” or “perennializing” as they say in catalogs.

In each category I picked the cheapest bulbs which, as Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan agrees, is a good indication of how hardy and easy they are to grow.

Some bulbs have a reputation for being deer, rabbit and rodent resistant. All are rated for wintering one or two horticultural zones colder than Cheyenne’s zone 5.

Bloom times are relative depending on spring weather. Microclimates, either hotter (next to a south-facing wall) or colder (north-facing), can make a difference, also. And I looked at color, trying to predict what bulbs might bloom at the same time.

Most spring bulbs are native to the Mediterranean or parts of central Asia with cold and dry climates like Wyoming’s, so it’s easy to be successful with bulbs. I have most of these in my own garden, though not the exact varieties.

  1. Species tulip, Tulipa turkestanica, blooms March/April, 8 inches tall, ivory petals with orangish bases, naturalizes.
  2. Species or snow crocus mix, March/April, 4 inches, white, blue, yellow, violet, deer resistant, naturalizes.
  3. Iris reticulata mix, early April, 4 to 6 inches, blue, purple, yellow, naturalizes.

    2018-09 Iris reticulata-Barb Gorges

    Iris reticulata can bloom earlier than crocus if it is planted close to heat-absorbing concrete or brick. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  4. Siberian squill, Scilla siberica, April, 5 inches, blue, naturalizes, deer and rodent resistant.

    2018-09 Squill-Barb Gorges

    Bees love Siberian squill and through pollination, squill produces lots of seed that increases the patch of blue from year to year. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  5. Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxa, April, 5-6 inches, blues, naturalizing, deer and rodent-resistant, multiple flowers per bulb.

    2018-09 Glory of the Snow-Barb Gorges

    Glory of the Snow, at only 5-6 inches tall, survives our spring snowstorms quite well. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  6. Large cupped daffodils, April, 18-20 inches, yellow, naturalizes, deer, rodent and rabbit resistant. These varieties are the most popular of the 13 divisions of daffodils and are available all over town.

    2018-09 Daffodil-Barb Gorges

    There are a multitude of kinds of daffodils to choose from. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  7. Grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, April/May, 6 inches, blue, naturalizes, deer resistant. Other Muscari species are white and even pale pink.

    2018-09 Grape Hyacinth-Barb Gorges

    Grape hyacinth come in many shades of blue, and even pale pink. In this garden they bloom about the same time as the phlox groundcover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  8. Species tulip, Tulipa linifolia, May, 6 inches, red, naturalizes.
  9. Single late (Darwin) tulip, May, 22-30 inches, all kinds of plain and blended colors available. These are the most popular tulips and most available in local stores.

    2018-09 tulips-Barb Gorges

    This patch of tulips lasted a couple weeks when temperatures stayed cool, no snow fell and the wind wasn’t too strong. These are past their prime but still make a bright spot visible from the street and our windows. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  10. Allium oreophilum (flowering onion), May/June, 6-8 inches, deep rose. All the alliums, including the giant purple globes I’ve had rebloom for several years, are rabbit, rodent and deer resistant, and popular with bees. But not all allium varieties return reliably.

    2018-09 large Allium - Barb Gorges

    Several years ago I planted five bulbs of a variety of giant Allium. This spring I counted 15 blooms, meaning the bulbs have self-propagated and I could dig them up and transplant some to another flower bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I’m skipping a multitude of tulip types. Some, like fosteriana, kaufmanniana and gregii are good naturalizers and survive our spring snowstorms. Others are advertised as good cutting flowers to be pulled and then replaced by summer annuals: parrot, double early, viridiflora, triumph.

If not available locally, the varieties I’ve mentioned might be available from catalogs like www.johnscheepers.com. Directions with each order or package will tell you how deep and how far apart to plant each kind of bulb.

Let’s hope the bunnies at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens give the bulbs a break.

Laramie County Master Gardener Fall Bulb Sale deadline Sept. 21, 2018

This year Kathy Shreve put together three bulb collections for the Laramie County Master Gardener bulb sale. All the bulb varieties are available individually as well. One collection, the “Pollinator Buffet,” looks good for Habitat Hero gardens.

You can find the order form and photos of the selections at http://www.lcmg.org/event/2018-bulb-sale/.

Orders, with payment, must be mailed or turned in by 5 p.m., Sept. 21, to the Extension office at Laramie County Community College.

Bulbs will be available for pickup Oct. 20 at the Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave.

Contact Kathy at keshreve@yahoo.com if you have questions.

2018-09 pink tulips-Barb Gorges

A little bit of wire fence protects the tulips by slowing down small dogs and rabbits. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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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, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/garden-gossip-what-ive-learned-as-a-master-gardener.

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 https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/. 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.


Habitat Hero demo gardens get started

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

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

The seeds included:

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)

Monarda (Bee Balm)

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan).

2018-07Rudbeckia hirta-Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018-07Monarda fistulosa-Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

2018-07Gaillardia-Barb Gorges

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower). Photo by Barb Gorges.

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

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

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

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

BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden Plant List

Agastache aurantia “Sunlight” (Hyssop)

Agastache cana “Sonoran Sunset” (Hyssop)

Aster alpinus “Goliath” (Alpine Aster)

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

Bergenia crassifolia “Winterglut” (Bergenia, Pigsqueak)

Buddleja sp. “Blue Chip” (Butterfly Bush)

Buddleja davidii “Miss Ruby” (Butterfly Bush)

Echinacea purpurea “Magnus Superior” (Coneflower)

Fragaria vesca “Alexandria” (Runnerless Strawberry)

Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Avena Grass)

Juniperus scopulorum “Blue Arrow” (Juniper)

Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri Evening Primrose)

Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal” (Switchgrass)

Papaver orientale “Salmon Oriental” (Poppy)

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

Prunella lacinata (Lacy Self-Heal)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasqueflower)

Ribes rubrum “Red Lake” (Currant)

Sedum sieboldii “October Daphne” (Sedum)

Veronica pectinate (Wooly Creeping Speedwell)

2018-07Echinacea purpurea Cheyenne Spirit-Barb Gorges

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


Geraniums easy to grow–both zonal and wild

2018-06geraniums 1-Barb Gorges

Zonal geraniums of various colors fill a whiskey barrel planter. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 10, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Geraniums easy-to-grow…and spectacular,” and at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/geraniums-easy-to-growand-spectacular

By Barb Gorges

Geraniums are one of my favorite houseplants.

Serious gardeners look at me askance: “But they are so easy to grow!” Exactly. Besides, in the summer I can set them outside to dress up the porch. In addition, there are the wild geranium cultivars that seem just as easy to grow and propagate.

Zonal geraniums

The epitome of geraniums is the zonal geranium, not actually in the Geranium genus, but in Pelargonium, native to South Africa. The Dutch brought them to Europe in the early 1700s.

I like the big red flowerheads, about 5 inches across, made of many florets. They also come in white, pink and various combinations. The leaves are roundish and fuzzy with scalloped edges. The cottage with the white picket fence always has them in the window boxes or inside in the windows. There’s also the ivy-leafed type.

I double-checked what I’ve learned in 27 years of growing geraniums with information from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, www.almanac.com, and we agree: geraniums appreciate bright light. Otherwise, they still bloom but they get leggy. When that happens, I cut off the thickest stems, use a pencil to poke a hole in the soil in the same pot or a new pot and insert the stem. It’s that easy to root a cutting.   If soil is not immediately available, the stems can be put in water.

Back when I walked my kids to and from school, I’d stop to chat with a neighbor, Charlie Culp. One fall day, he handed me two plastic grocery sacks, each with a hot pink geranium he had uprooted from pots on his front steps. Frost was predicted and he told me I should winter them.

I potted up both and shared one with one of the teachers. All winter I enjoyed mine. In spring I took it back outside. Some years I planted it in the garden, sometimes I left it in the pot. Sometimes I took cuttings to bring in instead of the whole plant, especially if the plant got too big. Eventually I ended up with half a dozen plants. This went on for 17 years.

2018-06geraniums 2-Barb Gorges

Zonal geranium breeders keep coming up with new varieties. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The last year, I took cuttings, put them in water, couldn’t find time to plant them and when I finally looked closely at them a couple months later, they were covered in aphids and never recovered. But soon a friend shared a beautiful red geranium and I collected shades of pink at the nursery.

For the last 10 years, I’ve hauled in four big pots of geraniums for the winter and put them in the big, southwest-facing window in our attached garage. It’s well-insulated, including the doors, but the wall between the house and the garage is less so.

Watching the thermometer in the garage, there are only a couple weeks when it gets below freezing at night and we must bring in the plants. And yes, we drive our vehicles in and out of the garage a couple times a day. But the door is never open more than a minute or two and the temperature barely changes.

A couple of tips: when you bring in geraniums for the winter, try to make yourself cut back the blooming stems to 6-8 inches tall so the plant won’t be so spindly by spring. You can pot up those cuttings in potting soil (not garden soil).

Don’t over-water, especially if you have the plants in their preferred cool location (50-60 degrees). Let the top inch of soil dry out. Fertilize sparingly, waiting until the days lengthen after the winter solstice. And don’t forget to keep turning the plants so they won’t grow one-sided.

Be sure to remove the flower heads when they get down to the last few florets blooming or remove the florets as they finish.

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Cuttings from true geraniums and their cultivars developed for the garden can also be propagated from cuttings. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wild geraniums

Real geraniums are in the genus “Geranium,” wild geranium. There are several species native to North America. Many of these wild species are also known as “cranesbill” because the seed pod is a long, beak-like shape.

Area nurseries are selling several Geranium cultivars that will do well here. They have a roundish but palmate (having “fingers”) sort of hairy leaf and a pinkish flower that is equivalent in size to the Pelargonium’s individual florets.

My wild geranium makes a great ground cover in shadier areas. The leaves turn red in the fall and persist all winter. When mine started crowding out other plants in the raised bed, I decided to snip a few leafy stems and see if they would root in water so I could then fill in bare spots elsewhere. And it worked!

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White zonal geranium. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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Wyoming Heirloom Apples

2018-05 apple blossom-Barb Gorges.JPGWyoming heirloom apples making a comeback

Also published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 6, 2018, and at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/wyoming-apple-project.

By Barb Gorges

Most people’s image of Wyoming doesn’t include apple orchards.

However, back in the homestead era, settlers brought young apple trees with them and planted them above stream banks. They provided important food in territory where there were no stores nearby. Not only do some apple varieties store well, but others were made into cider or vinegar which was used as medicine and food preservative.

An 1873 follow-up to the Homestead Act, the Timber Culture Act, gave homesteaders an additional 160 acres if they planted trees on 40 acres. Why not plant trees that provided food as well?

By 1880, entrepreneurs were planting orchards outside of Wyoming’s major towns. Ed Young planted 3000 apple trees near Lander, along with other fruit trees.

The Cheyenne Horticultural Station developed hardy Wyoming varieties during its years of operation, 1928-1974.

But by about the 1930s, modern apple storage methods, long distance trucking and grocery stores started to put an end to the golden age of Wyoming apple growing. Farmers turned to growing hay and grain.

Funny thing, those abandoned apple trees persisted, if they weren’t bulldozed. Some even continued to be taken care of. Many are now over 100 years old. With the interest in tasty local and sustainable food sources, Wyoming’s heirloom apples are being sought after.

Jonathan Magby, graduate student at the University of Wyoming, has for the last several years been helping botany professor Steve Miller on his quest to find,  identify and preserve those apples through the Wyoming Apple Project, https://www.wyomingappleproject.com/.

The way apple genetics work, an apple seed will never grow up to be the spitting image of its parent tree. Instead, orchardists propagate apples by taking small cuttings. Magby and Miller are thus able to preserve heirloom varieties by taking these scions and grafting them to other apple tree cultivars grown for their sturdy, Wyoming-hardy rootstock. They are being grown at experimental orchards outside Sheridan and Lander.

So far Magby has used DNA testing to identify 47 cultivars from old apple trees sampled around the state, though not all matched named cultivars.

The cultivar names are often descriptive, and they are often traceable back to Europe. There is evidence the Chinese grafted apples in 5000 BCE.

Wild apples have their roots in Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, which has landscape much like Wyoming’s, which has native crabapples.

If you are the typical home gardener, right about now you are wondering where you could squeeze in an apple tree or two—and really you need to have two so that apples will form—or at least make sure someone nearby has apple or crabapple trees.

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A page from the Wyoming Apple Project’s key.

Next, you are wondering, of the kinds of apples that survived 100-plus years here, which are the best.

Magby updated his website top 10 list for me when we talked:

*1. Wealthy

  1. Haralson
  2. Patten Greening

*4. Yellow Transparent

  1. Northwest Greening
  2. McMahan
  3. McIntosh
  4. Wolf River

*9. Whitney No. 20 Crabapple

*10. Duchess of Oldenburg

  1. Dolgo

Wait! That’s more than 10! The starred cultivars will do particularly well in Cheyenne as well as Florence Crab.

Each apple cultivar has its strengths and weaknesses, uses and flavors. When we lived in Miles City, Montana, in the 1980s, we had an old Yellow Transparent, a hardy Russian cultivar. Its fruit ripened to a pale yellow in August. It wouldn’t keep over the winter like some. In fact, it was practically apple sauce as soon as the apple departed the tree.

The next question you home gardeners will ask is the harder one, where to buy these apple trees?

Look for Scott Skogerboe, an heirloom apple propagator from Fort Collins, Colorado, who sells trees and shrubs at our farmers market. Ask for Wyoming’s heirlooms at our local nurseries. Hopefully, area nurseries will carry apple trees with rootstock suitable for Wyoming, or for your site if you are planting an orchard. Check the Wyoming Apple Project website for advice. Consult your extension agent.

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This old apple tree persists above Crow Creek west of Cheyenne, making use of a little bit of seepage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

If you have an old apple tree that might be an heirloom, you can contact Miller, Fungi@uwyo.edu. Maggie McKenzie remembered the ancient apple trees on the place west of Cheyenne where she grew up and her family still lives. Magby was able to identify three out of four: Jeffries, Wealthy and McIntosh. Most importantly, McKenzie was inspired to get them some pruning love, helping to prolong their productive life.

For more information on caring for apple trees, see the Wyoming Apple Project website and articles from Barnyards and Backyards, http://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard.

Information for this column came from an interview with Jonathan Magby and other sources.

2018-05 Wyo apple trees-Barb Gorges

University of Wyoming grad student Jon Magby was able to identify the cultivars of three out of four of Maggie McKenzie’s family’s apple trees using DNA testing. Photo by Barb Gorges.