Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Ground covers

2017-8 Sweet Woodruff by Barb GorgesPublished Aug. 13, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Covers of Color, ground covers good for replacing grass or gravel, and feeding bees”

By Barb Gorges

Gardeners consider ground covers to be short plants that act as living mulch, suppressing weeds and preventing erosion.

Your bluegrass lawn is a ground cover. Because it is so popular, its growing needs are well known. You can easily find someone to grow and mow it for you. Even simpler is growing native grasses—less water and much less mowing [search “Buffalograss” at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com].

However, when I surveyed the Laramie County Master Gardeners for their favorite perennial ground covers, a variety of short, flowering plants were listed requiring various amounts of sun and water.

All have big advantages over mulches like gravel or wood chips. Established ground covers out-compete weeds. Rock and wood chip mulches, on the other hand, eventually fill with weeds. Plants keep the ground around themselves cooler. Rock mulch makes an area hotter. Plants recycle carbon dioxide and make oxygen. Rocks and woodchips don’t.

A blooming ground cover offers more for bees and butterflies than rock, wood or a plain lawn. You can combine plant species in a mosaic, or in what’s being called a tapestry lawn by researchers at the University of Reading in Britain.

And you are in luck, late summer is a great time to find perennial ground covers on sale at local garden centers.

Plant now, a month or two before winter weather sets in, and you should see most of your investment sprout in the spring.

How close together you plant depends on how big a hurry you are in to get an area to fill in.

When comparing hardiness ratings, keep in mind Cheyenne is rated Zone 5, but many local gardeners look for hardier varieties rated down to the colder Zone 4 and even Zone 3.

Stonecrop, Sedum hybridum, is recommended by Catherine Wissner. There are many varieties of these succulents, but this one is only 4 inches high. It produces yellow flowers in late spring and early summer. It needs full sun, low amounts of water (after establishment) and is rated Zone 4.

Birdseye Speedwell, Veronica filiformis, is another of Wissner’s choices. This Zone 3 speedwell is only 2 inches tall. Fast growing, in some climates it can invade turf. Small blue flowers with white centers bloom mid-spring.

2017-08 Turkish Veronica Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica, by Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica (or Speedwell), Veronica liwanensis, is one of three kinds of ground covers Martha Mullikin grows between flagstones. They all do well because they get the extra moisture running off the stone. This Zone 4 perennial becomes a blue-flowered carpet 1 to 3 inches tall in spring. It prefers sun with afternoon shade and a drier situation. Linnie Cough said hers blooms for two months. It is a Plant Select variety developed by the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University for thriving in western gardens.

Woolly Speedwell, Veronica pectinata, is a favorite of Susan Carlson. It is like Turkish Veronica, but the leaves are silvery instead of glossy. Both stay green over the winter.

Woolly Thyme, Thymus lanuginosus, and Lemon Thyme, Thymus citriodorus, are the other two forming mats over the flagstones at Mullikin’s. Both are good to Zone 4. Both like full sun and do well in xeric (dry) conditions. Lemon Thyme has the added benefit of being considered a culinary herb.

Red Creeping Thyme, Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus,’ listed by Tava Collins, is a red-flowering ground cover that doesn’t mind being stepped on a little. A Zone 4, it is drought tolerant once it has been established.

Mullikin is enamored with Dianthus ‘Tiny Rubies,’ Dianthus gratianopolitanus, which forms a 2-inch tall mat of leaves covered in pink flowers mid-spring to mid-summer. It prefers full sun and doesn’t mind the colder temperatures of Zone 3.

Barren Strawberries, Waldsteinia ternata, will remind you of strawberries, but the small yellow flowers (Mullikin has a variety with pink flowers) produce fruit considered inedible by people—no word on whether squirrels like them. A Zone 4, it likes full sun to part shade, and is somewhat drought tolerant.

2017-08 Periwinkle by Barb Gorges

Periwinkle, by Barb Gorges

Small-leaved Periwinkle, Vinca minor, Kathy Shreve said, “can take shade, and will grow under a limbed-up spruce tree if given enough water.” A Zone 4 less than 4 inches high, its periwinkle-blue flowers show up in May and early June. Mine, despite being in deepest shade, still plots to take over the world so I prune it when necessary.

Sweet Woodruff, Galium odorata, is another that does well in shade (it doesn’t like full sun), but I think mine would do better if I watered it more—it might reach the listed height of 6 to 12 inches. A Zone 4, its tiny white, fragrant flowers show up in May. Tava Collins said when it is stepped on or cut (or mowed), you may get the sweet smell of hay.

Hummingbird Trumpet, Epilobium canum ssp garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’ also goes by Zauschneria garrettii. Shreve reports it is a “great xeric ground cover, does not seed around indiscriminately, and hummingbirds really do love the orangey-red flowers. Also, it blooms in late July-August when most everything else has pooped out.” This is precisely when migrating hummingbirds passing through Cheyenne would appreciate it. A Zone 3, it is also a Plant Select variety.

2017-08 Soapwort Saponaria Mary Ann Kamla

Soapwort, by Mary Ann Kamla

Mary Ann Kamla recommended several plants including Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, a Zone 3 with yellow flowers mid-summer. Mildly invasive, she keeps it contained with the edge of the patio.

Another that is doing well for Kamla is Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis. A Zone 3 with pink to white flowers, it appreciates water. Its leaves have historically been boiled to make a bubbly liquid soap.

Tava Collins is a fan of Spotted Deadnettle, Lamium maculatum. She grows two varieties: ‘Purple Dragon’ and ‘Pink Chablis,’ the names describing the flower colors. Hers bloom throughout the season, Collins said. The leaves are silvery with green edges. These varieties are Zone 4, but some others aren’t as cold hardy. Cutting back will encourage new blooms. The bumblebees love Lamium, Collins said.

2017-08 Spotted Deadnettle by Barb Gorges

Spotted Deadnettle, by Barb Gorges

Also on Collins’ list: Black Scallop Bugleweed, Ajuga reptens ‘Black Scallop.’  Ajugas are good ground covers in general. This one has leaves that look nearly black when grown in full sun. Early summer it has blue flower spikes. A Zone 3, it can be invasive in the garden.

Richard Steele simply grows clover instead of grass. It’s mowable, takes less water, he says, and it feeds his bees, which provide him with honey.

There are two ground covers I planted this year that Shane Smith, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director, mentions in his garden tips at www.botanic.org. One is Creeping Phlox, Phlox subulata. A Zone 3, it should have no problem coming back next year, but since it prefers sunnier spots, I’ll see if it its pink and white flowers will develop in the shade.

The other is Snow-in-Summer, Cerastium tomentosum, another Zone 3, with silvery green leaves. Maybe next year it will give me more than one white flower. Patience, patience. Growing perennials is a long-term investment


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‘Bee’ thinking about beekeeping

2017-07-honeybee by Barb Gorges

A honeybee examines a Black-eyed Susan. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 23, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “‘Bee’ thinking about beekeeping.”

By Barb Gorges

Have you thought about beekeeping?

Perhaps one of these reasons draws you:

–The historical romance of beekeeping—it’s been going on since before recorded history.

–You grow crops that would benefit from pollination by bees.

–You have lots of flowers and enjoy the idea of bees buzzing around.

–You like honey.

–You are thinking about going into business selling honey, beeswax and other hive products.

–Or maybe it just sounds like fun.

Either way, you probably have a lot of questions about the hobby. Forty-two folks came to last month’s two-hour presentation on beekeeping by Catherine Wissner, the Laramie County Extension horticulturist and an experienced beekeeper.

At the presentation, Wissner explained how, as hobbies go, keeping honeybees is affordable, beginning around $500 for two Langstroth hives and other essential equipment, plus $175 for the bees, per hive.

As a form of livestock, honeybees take comparatively little work, perhaps 30 hours the first year, for a two or three-hive bee yard, less later, Wissner said. They can often be left to their own devices a week at a time. But they also need someone who will keep them, that is, keep them alive and well. It’s not enough just to buy a “package” of bees and a queen and throw them in a ready-made hive.

Beekeepers inspect, keep records, control diseases, and provide forage, water, shelter, good sanitation and a stress-free hive.

Here’s what to consider before becoming a beekeeper.

2017-07-Kent&LaraShook1

Kent (pictured) and Lara Shook planted 20 acres through the Conservation Reserve Program with a seed mix including flowers to help feed their bees on their place in eastern Laramie County, Wyoming. Bees in town have lots of flowers to pick from. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Location

Wissner said cities, including Cheyenne, are a great place to keep bees because so many people plant flowers that benefit both honey bees and native bees.

The countryside around here is a little tougher—there may not be enough nectar in a 1 to 1.5-mile radius to support your hives, so you will have to grow your own flowering plants. Whenever nectar is in short supply, the beekeeper must feed the bees sugar syrup. Instead of nectar, the bees convert white table sugar (other kinds are not clean enough) into honey.

The hive should be located preferably out of the wind, where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. It needs an obstacle, like a fence, right in front of the exit, forcing departing bees on a trajectory up and over people. It helps if the hive is out of public view since bees make some people nervous.

2017-07-Kent&LaraShook4

Most of the Shooks’ hives are next to an old container, out of the wind. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Regulation

The City of Cheyenne classifies bees as a nuisance, Wissner said, unless the hive is registered with the state. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture allows up to five hives to be registered for free (search “apiary” at their website), which takes care of most hobbyists, and it offers free consultation. It wants to keep honeybees healthy—sick bees in one hive can infect others nearby.

2017-07-Kent&LaraShook9

The white box is the “super.” Bees are “bearding” on the outside, indicating that on this hot day, it is too hot inside the hive for so many bees. Perhaps it is time to transfer some bees to a new hive, say beekeepers Ken and Lara Shook. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Essential equipment

The Langstroth hive is most typical. It is a series of stacked wooden bottomless and topless boxes. The vertical panels within them, the frames, are where the bees build combs and deposit the nectar (in the “supers” boxes), or where the larvae pupate (the “hive body,” bigger boxes). The whole beehive is topped off with a “cover.” A stand is also necessary to get the hive off the ground and keep pests out. A minimum of two hives is recommended.

A smoker, a little pitcher full of burning materials, is used to blow smoke in the hive to lull the bees long enough to make inspections.

A hive tool, like a sharp ice scraper, helps beekeepers separate the parts of the hive after the bees have done their best to seal it all together.

2017-07-Kent&LaraShook7

This retired hive is still getting a little action, Kent discovered, when he pulled out a frame to show where the combs are built and honey is stored. It’s old honey and combs and they have turned brown. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Medication

Research on colony collapse is ongoing. One contributor is the varroa mite. Wissner demonstrated how beekeepers determine when to treat for mites. It involves “sugar rolling” the bees.

Safety

You need to protect yourself from bee stings, thus you outfit yourself with the helmet, bee veil and thick, elbow-length gloves. I would go for the full white suit too. Bees equate black with predators.

Some varieties of honeybees are friendlier than others. The queen determines the mood of the hive and if the mood goes sour, you can remove the nasty queen and introduce a new one.

The beekeeper’s personality can affect the way the bees react. It would be good to find a mentor to show you how to move calmly around bees.

You will also want to have a sting kit handy. In our family, with a child who had had an allergic reaction to stinging insects, that was an epinephrine injector, or EpiPen. But for most of us, Benadryl is adequate.

Removing the stinger correctly helps too. Trying to grab it by the end often causes more toxin to be pumped into you. Scraping the stinger away with the edge of your library card or credit card will work better.

Bees

A package of bees weighs about 3 pounds and includes about 10,000 bees, all workers (females) except for about 50 drones (males) responsible for fertilizing eggs. The queen comes in a separate package, corked with a piece of sugar candy. By the time the workers take several days to eat away at the sugar, they have adapted to her scent and won’t kill her when they finally meet her.

Schedule

This summer is a good time to visit a beekeeper. And it is a good time to build up your perennial flower garden as well as study beekeeping.

Spring is when new hives are set up and the beekeeping suppliers ship packages and queens.

Next summer the bees get established and make the honey they need to eat over the winter—there won’t be enough for you until the second year.

In the fall, about October or so, the bees retire to the hive. You can add sugar patties to make sure they have enough to eat. They keep each other warm, though additional hive insulation is welcome.

Spring can be tricky, fluctuating from sunny flower blooming to snarling snowstorm. It’s crucial to keep an eye on the hive’s food supply so the bees don’t die of starvation, said Wissner, “Bees are super-athletes—they need to eat every day.”

Honey, finally

By the second summer, you could have 60 pounds of honey to harvest.

Half the content of a beekeeping supply catalog features honey extracting equipment, jars of all descriptions (including the little honey bears), molds for beeswax candles and kits for honey wine or mead.

More information

Wissner is willing to answer your local beekeeping questions, 307-633-4480. She recommends these books:

–“The Backyard Beekeeper,” Kim Flottum,

–“Attracting Native Pollinators,” The Xerces Society Guide,

–“Beekeeping for Dummies,” Howland Blackiston,

–“First Lessons in Beekeeping,” Keith S. Delaplane.

Other resources include the American Beekeeping Federation, www.abf.net.

You can find a lot of information at www.dadant.com. Dadant & Sons, Inc., which has been in the beekeeping supply business for over 150 years.

Beekeeping equipment and advice is also available in Fort Collins, Colorado, at Copoco’s Honey, http://copocoshoney.com/.

The next Wyoming Bee College Conference, for all levels of beekeeping interest and experience, will be at Laramie County Community College Mar. 17-18, 2018.

Finally, you can call Lara Shook at the Southeastern Wyoming Beekeepers Association at 307-630-9058.

 

 


Garden for bees

2016-4gaillardia - bumble bee - Barb Gorges

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

2016-4coneflower - honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

Getting bees to your garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-4potentilla - female Bombus bifarius - Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

Decide what to plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bees:

Identification

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

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

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

Favorite flowering shrubs

American Plum, Prunus americana

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Redosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia

Woods Rose, Rosa woodsii

Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Favorite perennial flowers

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Beardtongue species, Penstemon spp.

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Wild Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Aster (fall-blooming), Symphyotrichum spp.

2016-4squash-honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

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