Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

veggies

My beginner’s garden included green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and summer squash.

Also published May 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Mail-order seed companies report that they are running out of seed—vegetable seeds primarily. Seems like we’re all wanting to take a step towards self-sufficiency this spring when there are so many other aspects of life beyond our control.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County, assured me Cheyenne’s garden centers, including the big box stores, have plenty of seeds. And the Laramie County Master Gardeners plan to have their annual plant sale, one way or another, May 31, including a virtual plant sale already in progress, https://www.lcmg.org/.

The UW Extension folks have a variety of videos and recordings about Wyoming gardening available at https://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/live/recordings.html.

While my book on how to garden in Cheyenne won’t be ready for several months, the contents are currently available online at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ as an archive of all my Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columns since 2012. You can search for information about growing vegetables and it will be suited to Cheyenne and in more detail.

If you’ve gardened elsewhere in the country, there are three things you need to know about vegetable gardening in Cheyenne: use drip irrigation, prepare hail protection and never add lime to our alkaline soils.

If you’ve never gardened before, well, it’s mostly about choosing the right vegetables for our climate and season length, giving plants the right amount of water, and mulching.

2016-6a raised beds 2

Cheyenne gardener Barb Sahl uses several kinds of raised beds. Raised beds can also be made with wooden boards or cinder blocks.

Step 1 – Find a spot for a vegetable bed or containers.

It should be sunny for at least 6 hours a day, preferably morning, and relatively level and within reach of a hose or a drip irrigation system.

Keep the veggies close to your back door so that it is easy to saunter out every day to admire them and pull a couple little weeds.

If the site currently doesn’t even grow weeds well, it could be subsoil left behind by the builders. The soil can be amended and over time, become productive. But for success this season, think raised bed or containers (see my archives).

Also, if this is your first attempt at vegetable gardening, keep the size of the bed reasonable, maybe 4 feet wide (what you can reach across from either side) by 6 or 8 feet long.

Step 2 – Prepare the bed.

I have never used a rototiller. I prefer the (husband with) shovel method. Digging by hand will keep you from creating a bed bigger than you can manage, especially if this is your first garden.

If you have any compostable material, like last year’s tree leaves, lawn mowings not treated with pesticides, vegetable debris from the kitchen or any old plant materials that don’t include weed seeds or invasive roots, you can dig that in.

Dedicated gardeners will send soil samples out for analysis on exactly what the soil needs for growing vegetables. Think about doing that later this season.

Some gardeners work their soil until it’s as fine and chunk free as cocoa powder, but that isn’t necessary—in fact, it’s hard on the soil microbes that can help you. You might want to smooth a row a few inches wide for planting tiny seeds and make sure there aren’t any canyons that will swallow the cucumbers.

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early (55 days to maturity), determinate variety. These were grown with seed from Pinetree Garden Seeds, a mail order company in Maine.

Step 3 – Shop for seeds.

If you know any successful gardeners in our area, see if they will gift you some seeds.

Otherwise, you need to read the seed packets carefully. Keep in mind our average last day of frost is around May 25 and our average first day of frost is mid-September. It’s a short season. You need to look for short season vegetables.

Each packet will tell you how many days from seed germination until maturity (harvest). Remember, some seeds take a week or more to germinate. Look for vegetable varieties that are in the range of 45 to 70 days. Next year you can try starting tomatoes indoors or growing them with some kind of season extender like a hoop house or row cover.

Meanwhile, look for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers ready to transplant.

Easy to grow from seed are the squashes, beans, kale, chard and leaf lettuces (not head lettuce).

Step 4 – Plant seeds and transplant plants.

Follow the seed packet directions on when and how to plant. Make sure your soil is moist already.

For transplanting, normally you plant the plant so it sits at the same height as it did in the pot. However, if it’s a tomato that looks a little leggy, you can bury a few inches of its stem.

Step 5 – Mulch.

We use old tree leaves and pesticide-free grass clippings at our house. Straw is good, but not hay or anything with seeds. An inch or two of mulch will keep down the weeds and keep the soil from drying out too fast.

Step 6 – Water.

Catherine said consistency is most important. Once the plants are established, you can let the top inch of soil dry out (test it with your finger) in between thorough waterings, but if you are not consistent with providing enough water, you will not get good yields.

If you seem to have impenetrable clay soils, try watering for a couple minutes, then water elsewhere and then come back 15 minutes later and see if the soil will absorb the rest of the water it needs.

Step 7 – Fertilize.

Seedlings don’t need fertilizer for a few weeks, but vegetables are soon hungry. Organic gardeners use compost—like your mulch as it decays, or “teas” made from soaking compost—read up first. Avoid all manure, Catherine recommended. It tends to be salty (bad for our soils), full of weed seeds and may harbor pathogens. Avoid chemical fertilizers with too much nitrogen too—nitrogen grows great leaves but little if any fruit. Do not use weed and feed products—they will kill your veggies.

Step 8 – Weed.

If you mulch and don’t overwater, you shouldn’t have much of a weed problem. Visit your veggies every day and pull them or use a dandelion digger (don’t hoe) on any little green interlopers. It’s much easier than waiting until the weeds grow roots to Earth’s core and shed seeds across the continent.

Step 8 – Protect.

Everything is out to get your veggies before you can harvest them: frost, wind, hail, antelope, rabbits, insects, diseases. There are preventative and non-chemical actions you can take. Check my archives.

Step 9 – Harvest.

I remember the first summer after I became a Master Gardener. I told my husband, our family’s vegetable grower, that I wanted to try to grow vegetables myself from start to finish. I did, and they had the most incredible flavor.

2019-01 sandra cox vegetable garden

Cheyenne gardener Sandra Cox used large amounts of compost when starting a garden at her new house and had fantastic results.


Native plant gardening for SE Wyoming

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

Published April 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

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

Water-wise plantings

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

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

Pollinator-friendly/wildlife-friendly gardens

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

Native plants

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining native prairie

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

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

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

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

Locate and design your native garden

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

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

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

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

Irrigation

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

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

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

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

Prepare for planting

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

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

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

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

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

Perennials from seed

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

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

Picking and planting

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

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

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

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

Become a Habitat Hero

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

Popular Southeast Wyoming Native Plants

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

Shrubs

Buffaloberry

Chokecherry

Golden Currant

Red-twig Dogwood

Mountain Mahogany

American (Wild) Plum

Rabbitbrush

Silver Sage

Western Sandcherry

Serviceberry

Yucca

Perennial flowers

Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerula

Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Gaillardia, Gaillardia aristata

Fleabane Daisy, Erigeron species

Gayfeather or Blazing Star, Liatris punctata

Harebells, Campanula rotundifolia

Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa

Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Penstemon strictus

Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrate

Native Yarrow, Achillea millefolium


Seed-starting lights

2020-03 lights-seeedlings

Mark started tomato seedlings under a fluorescent shop light a week before this photo was taken. We have utility shelves set up in the unused bathtub in the hall bathroom. The rest of the year the shelves are filled with houseplants that do well with only light from the bathroom’s skylight.

Published Mar. 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Better lighting means stronger seedlings”

By Barb Gorges

When hours of daylight are quickly lengthening and seed packets are showing up at garden centers, you know it’s time for flower and vegetable seed starting. If you’ve never tried, it’s time to learn how.

You can go to my archived columns at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ and search “seed starting.” You’ll learn how starting from seed saves you money and gives you options for tomatoes and other vegetables adapted to Cheyenne. Get tips on selecting seeds, potting soil and pots. Learn how to time planting, how deep to plant seeds, how and how much to water and how to avoid damping off. Then learn how to harden off seedlings before transplanting them.

This year I want to talk about light. The right light will give you nice, stocky green plants instead of spindly, sickly ones.

There’s a misconception that windowsills work great for starting vegetable seeds. After all, millions of houseplants can’t be wrong. But houseplant origins are typically the shady understory of tropical forests. Vegetables prefer full sun. Also, many windows are now treated to improve energy efficiency (lowering heat transference) by blocking parts of the spectrum. Greenhouses work better than windows because they give plants direct light from more directions for more hours per day.

Without a greenhouse—glass or hoop house—we’re talking supplemental lighting. On a recent trip to my nearest big box store I found all kinds of grow light bulbs that will fit in a lamp but are not adequate for more than a couple pots. The store also had ordinary 4-foot-long fluorescent shop lights which fit perfectly over two flats of seedlings and will produce decent growth, whether you find full-spectrum bulbs or special grow light bulbs.

But LED lights are taking over. At the same big box store, I found 4-foot LED shop lights. The bulbs are integrated with the fixture and come in a variety of brightnesses, 3,200 to 10,000 lumens, with a range of prices to match, $15 to $75.

There are also LED bulbs, both regular and grow lights, that will replace the bulbs in your T8 or T12 fluorescent fixtures, but they won’t be quite as energy efficient as the integrated ones.

You’ll notice LED bulbs can be about four times more expensive than normal fluorescents, but they cost less than half as much to run and are supposed to last longer.

Then there are the industrial LED grow lights that emphasize blue and red lighting—the important part of the spectrum for growing plants. They come with industrial prices as well. Choosing one gets quite technical. Check out the Colorado cannabis grow suppliers for advice.

However, the few weeks of light our tomato seedlings need hardly justifies industrial lighting.

Light set-up

Because you want to keep the light about a couple inches above the tops of the seedlings, you need to be able to adjust the distance as they grow. Too close and seedlings dry out. Too far and they get spindly. Hang the shop light using the chains that come with it, shortening as needed. Joe Lamp’l, host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World, suggests using ratchet pulleys instead.

Or, rather than move the light, you can stack boxes under the flats to bring them up to the light and remove the boxes to adjust the distance as the plants grow.

How do you hang the shop light? You can hang it from the ceiling over a table, especially somewhere like an unfinished basement room.

A set of adjustable utility shelves works well if there is a way you can attach your light fixtures to the underside of the shelves and adjust them. Keep in mind the distance between shelves must accommodate seedling height at six or eight weeks plus a couple inches of space and the light fixture thickness.

Mark and I put freestanding utility shelves in our unused bathtub. For the top shelf we put an expandable shower curtain rod over it and hang the shop light from it.

Plugging it in

Some shop lights can be strung together. Otherwise, if you have multiple lights, you are looking at a power strip, giving you a handy way to flip them off at once. Or, plug the power strip into a timer. Lamp’l’s latest home research shows 16 hours of light per day is about right—seedlings need to sleep too.

Additional tip

Mark and I use electric heat mats under the flats and clear plastic domes or plastic wrap over them to keep the moisture in. But at the first sign of seed germination, they should both be removed.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


By Barb Gorges, with Niki Kottmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PK at Soapstone

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

 


Great garden books old & new

2020-01Roses,Herbs,Edible Flowers“Great garden books to read in January” was published Jan. 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

January is the traditional time gardeners read seed catalogs. There’s nothing to do outside but maybe prune a few dormant shrubs and trees. It’s also my favorite time to read garden books, old and new.

New “Home Grown Gardening” series

Last year, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt started sending me volumes from their new series, “Home Grown Gardening” and I’m finally getting around to reading them. So far, the series has four installments. They are mostly derived from books published around 1999, several from the Taylor’s Weekend Guide series.

All the books feature detailed introductions and pages and pages of lush new photos, on average one plant per page.

2020-01Container&FragrantGardens“Container and Fragrant Gardens” is derived from two previous works by Peter Loewer, a prolific garden author in North Carolina.

The plants in the container section are all listed as perennials, including small trees, though in our area, those in Zones 6 and up would be considered annuals. The fragrant part of the book includes annuals and perennials. They could be grown in containers, too.

“Best Perennials for Sun and Shade” is another combination of two books featuring two pages per plant—a nearly larger than life photo on one and growing information on the second. What I like is the little box for each plant that sums up growing zone, bloom time, light requirement, height and “interest”—leaf and flower description—in case you hadn’t noticed the full-page photo opposite.

2020-01Perennials for Sun&Shade“Best Roses, Herbs, and Edible Flowers” could conceivably have some of the same plants as the previous books. In addition to pages of luscious closeups, there is a chapter on harvesting and preserving herbs.

2020-01Birds&Butterflies“Attracting Birds and Butterflies” is a derivation of author Barbara Ellis’s previous work. It is supplemented with excerpts from books published by Bird Watcher’s Digest.

In addition to plant profiles, there’s a page apiece for each butterfly and bird species that appreciates flower nectar. What I like is the critter profiles include a range map so you can concentrate on attracting the species you might see where you garden. However, the western birds profiled don’t include the seed eaters that also visit Cheyenne gardens.

For growing information for perennials—roses, herbs, flowers, shrubs, you would be better off consulting local information—don’t add lime to our soil as recommended in one of the books! And if you are growing our native perennials, don’t try to turn your soil into deep loam as suggested—our hardy prairie flowers don’t think much of luxury.

2020-01Garden Gossip bookOld “Garden Gossip”

My favorite winter garden reading is much older garden books. I find them at used bookstores and the local Delta Kappa Gamma annual book sale.

In Houston I found “Garden Gossip, Chronicles of Sycamore Valley” by Dorothy Biddle, editor of Garden Digest, and Dorothea Blom. It was published in 1936 with a price of $1. It was signed by the author as “Dorothy Biddle Johnson” in June of that year.

Informally, this column I write is known as “Garden Gossip” and the online archive is www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com, so I couldn’t resist bringing the book home—for $20.

A small book, it has only a few plates of black and white photos inserted, but every chapter heading has a detailed ink sketch. And the chapters seem to be gossip, for instance “Color, Drama and Tomatoes, Mrs. L’s Garden.”

But the cover’s inside flap writeup suggests the people and gardens profiled may be serving an educational purpose, “Through the successes and mistakes of Sycamore Valley gardeners the reader receives a wealth of suggestions, many of which he will apply in his own garden.”

The mythical Sycamore Valley is probably based on Dorothy Biddle’s hometown of Pleasantville, New York, so I take the 85-year-old gardening advice with advisement. But the generalities still work.

For instance, Mr. and Mrs. B manage to make a lovely garden on a very limited budget. Dorothy writes, “Gardeners crave a little money to bury in the soil, but what happened in their garden happened almost entirely from labor and thought blended.” Now there’s a statement that can stand the test of time.

Dorothy Biddle was also Mrs. Walter Adams Johnson. Her co-author, Dorothea Blom, was her daughter. Dorothy founded the Blue Ribbon Flower Holder Company (one of her other books was “How to Arrange Flowers”) and when I checked a couple years ago, her granddaughter still owned the business. Dorothy died in 1974 at age 87, garnering an obituary in the New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1974/10/19/archives/dorothy-johnson-wrote-of-flowers.html.


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.

FREE TREE ADVICE

Laramie County Extension Office

Catherine Wissner, 307-633-4383, cwissner@uwyo.edu.

Trees and all other plants.

Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division

http://www.cheyennetrees.com

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.


Irresistible farmers market flowers

For hidden captions, hover cursor over photo.

Irresistible flowers offered at farmers market

Published Sept. 1, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Irresistible flowers at farmers’ market”

By Barb Gorges

My guilty pleasure at the Tuesday Farmers Market is not the baked goods. It’s the flowers. This year I caved and started bringing home bouquets.

This is the fifth year Vally Gollogly of Cheyenne has been offering cut flowers at the booth she shares with partner Rusty Brinkman (see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/heirloom-veggies-for-taste-and-variety/). They are also the proprietors of Crow Creek Catering. Their vegetables look delicious, but the flowers look like candy. I think the grocery stores figured this out long ago.

Many of Vally’s arrangements are under $10 and fit in glass jars, a personal size. I try to remember to bring my own drink cup to transfer them, so I can put them in a car cupholder for the trip home.

This year, the gladioli in the arrangements stand out–so many vibrant blooms lined up on one stalk.

I don’t think of this elegant, exotic relative of the iris, its name Latin for “sword” (think “gladiator”) being something easy to grow in Cheyenne.

A tropical plant, most of the 250-plus gladiolus species are not expected to overwinter here. They require “lifting,” as the horticulturists say. When the leaves wither and before the first freeze, the gladiolus corms or bulbs, fat roots, need to be dug up and dried in the sun a couple days. Then you brush the dirt off and store them loosely indoors someplace that stays cool and dark and where any excess moisture evaporates rather than forms mold. Gollogly winters her bulbs in an old darkroom.

2019-09 Gladiolus 'Atom' grown by Vally Gollogly

Gladiolus ‘Atom’

I can’t resist gladioli at the market and Vally can’t resist buying gladioli bulbs to grow. Some of her selections this year are Acidanthera bicolor (fragrant, white with maroon center), Gladiolus ‘Windsong’ (pink with yellow centers), G. ‘Atom’ (bright orangey red with white edges), G. ‘Glamini Charlotte’ (buttery white) and G. ‘Green Star’ (lime-green).

Vally is experimenting with Gladiolus nanus this coming winter. It is among the smaller glads, 12-18 inches tall. It is rated as hardy in USDA Zone 4, or 5–Cheyenne’s winter-hardiness rating. I noticed High Country Gardens, specializing in plants for Rocky Mountain-area gardening, suggests they be well-mulched.

2019-09 Vally Gollogly in hoop house--Barb Gorges

Vally grows tender flowers in a high tunnel. 

Anyone in Cheyenne who is a serious market gardener grows the tender vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, in a hoop house, or high tunnel. Vally and Rusty have two. Much of one is devoted to gladioli, dahlias, Persian and regular zinnias and other cutting flowers. In the soft light the flowers, especially the dahlias, grow longer stems, great for flower arranging.

Juicy blooms, like juicy fruits and vegetables, require a lot of water. The high tunnels are on drip irrigation so no water is wasted by the wind.

Juicy blooms are appealing to pests. In summer the tunnel sides are rolled up to regulate the temperature inside. This year, big yellow grasshoppers have volunteered to trim the dahlia flowerheads perfectly. They take off only the petal tips, leaving a tight cone of color. It’s so perfect, you think it is supposed to look like that, good enough for a flower arrangement.

For hidden captions, hover cursor over photo.

Vally’s preferred time to cut flowers for market is the evening before. If a few leaves are left on the plant when you cut the gladiolus stalk, it helps it regenerate. Cutting either evening or early morning when they are unstressed means flowers will last longer—nearly a week for Vally’s arrangements. Her greenery and other flowers come from the volunteers along the edges of the vegetable patches–whatever catches her eye before market day.

Having a good eye is important in the presentation of fruits, vegetables and flowers at the market, or at the Laramie County Fair. Vally walked off with 42 blue ribbons (plus two Grand Champions and one Reserve Champion) this year, not only in floriculture and horticulture, but also in culinary, especially preserves and dried foods.

Vally’s enterprise echoes the slow flowers movement, https://slowflowers.com/, the idea that we should support local flower growers instead of buying flowers flown in from South America. The Front Range of Colorado was a hotbed of floriculture until the U.S. encouraged South Americans to get into the U.S. cut flower trade in the 1980s in lieu of growing opium poppies, so I’ve heard. Buying local flowers at the farmers market is a first step in reclaiming our regional heritage.

Vally remembers the lush greenness of a childhood in Ireland and how tough it was to adapt to desert gardening when the family moved to Santa Fe. In comparison, she finds Cheyenne to be a happy medium. Growing flowers makes her happy. Bringing her flowers home makes me happy.

2019-09 Vally Gollogly market display--Barb Gorges

Find Vally’s flower arrangements at the Tuesday Farmers Market, 3-6 p.m. at the mall, outside J.C. Penney, under the orange awning, now through Oct. 8, 2019.