Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Bulb forcing brings spring indoors mid-winter

2017-10 Bulb forcing 1

This classic bulb-forcing vase holds a hyacinth bulb. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 15, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “An indoor spring…during the winter.”

By Barb Gorges

It’s the season for buying spring-blooming bulbs. But not all of them need to go in the garden—at least not right away. Some of them can be kept back for forcing.

Bulb forcing allows you to enjoy crocus, the small iris, hyacinth, daffodils and even tulips indoors earlier than they bloom outside. Think of them as a deep winter gift to yourself, or for someone else.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith recently gave me background on the practice and a few tips.

The science and history

Smith said the trick is to use bulbs from temperate climates that need winter—such as the bulbs we plant in our gardens for spring bloom. They can get by with a shorter winter, or artificial cooling period, to bloom. Bulb growers in Europe started taking advantage of this about 300 years ago, as relayed by Patricia Coccoris of Holland in her book, “The Curious History of the Bulb Vase.”

The timing

Buy spring-blooming bulbs now. Bulbs ordered from catalogs begin shipping here around the beginning of October because bulbs normally need to be planted outdoors when the soil cools, but before it freezes in December.

For bulb forcing, figure 12 weeks minimum of “cool treatment,” however tulips need 13 weeks or more. Once the minimum is met, you can stagger when you start warming up the bulbs. You can aim for specific bloom times during our cabin fever months, January through March, or maybe even later into spring when we get those depressingly late, tulip-breaking snow storms.

The best bulbs

Smith said he used to tell people to buy the premium-sized bulbs for forcing, but now he thinks he gets more bloom for his buck with the smaller grades of bulbs. Premium hyacinth bulbs go for more than a dollar apiece in the John Scheepers catalog, but you might find smaller bargain bulbs and have more, if only medium-sized blooms, for the same amount.

Smith said some varieties of bulbs are easier to force and bulb catalogs often will mention which ones. Varieties seem to go in and out of vogue so don’t be surprised if Smith’s are hard to find.

Hyacinth is the classic forcing bulb, growing 10-12 inches tall. Each stalk is covered in tiny florets. Smith looks for Pink Pearl, Queen of the Pinks, White Pearl, L’Innocence (white), Blue Jacket, Delft Blue and Blue Giant.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 2

Crocus-sized bulb-forcing vases are harder to find. Photo by Barb Gorges.

All varieties of crocus force well. Smith’s favorite varieties are Remembrance (purple), Blue Ribbon, Giant Yellow and Jeanne d’Arc (white). Only 4-5 inches tall, they are usually planted as a mass.

Iris reticulata, though related to the summer-blooming bearded iris, grows only 4-6 inches high. Recommended for rock gardens, mine bloomed outside at the end of last February, but it would be nice not to have to brave winter winds to enjoy it. Smith said all the varieties force well. Scheepers lists eight ranging in color from white to blue to deep purple, all marked with a bit of yellow.

Almost any daffodil (narcissus) will work well for forcing, said Smith. The popular Paperwhite narcissus, however, is a tropical bulb, so it doesn’t need cooling.

Tulips, said Smith, are the hardest to force. They need the longest cooling time, minimum 13 weeks. They also may get floppy and need staking. Look for the earliest varieties, those that would otherwise bloom outdoors here (winter-hardiness zone 5) in April.

There are a variety of other, more difficult spring-blooming bulbs to experiment with: snowdrops, grape hyacinth (muscari) and squill (scilla).

Bulb-forcing vases

Bulb-forcing vases are not easy to find this fall. Your best bet is Amazon or eBay. These vases, usually glass, are pinched near the top, providing a cup for the bulb to sit suspended so that only its base touches the water. You watch as the roots grow to fill the rest of the vase and the flower stem sprouts. For this forcing method, you can cool just the bulbs in your refrigerator for the recommended time. Be sure hyacinth bulbs don’t touch produce.

If you are lucky enough to find a bulb forcing vase, remember to change the water regularly.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 4

These hyacinth bulbs have been potted up and will be set in a 2-foot deep trench in the vegetable garden and mulched with straw or pine needles for their 12-week “cool treatment.”  Small bulbs, like crocus, need a half inch of soil covering them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Potted bulbs

Smith pots his bulbs. Without a cellar between 35 and 45 degrees, he instead buries the pots in a 2-foot-deep trench in his vegetable garden. He then backfills the trench with straw or pine needles. The mulch allows moisture to percolate down, whether the bulbs are watered by hand or by snow, and allows in air.

Pots can be plastic or clay. However, if you have a fancy one, you may want to use it as a cache pot in which you insert the utilitarian pot that was buried.

Put only one type of bulb in a pot because different types sprout at different rates.

The depth of the pot should allow 2 inches or more of potting soil under the bulb with the bulb tip just a little below the rim of the pot.

Smith said regular packaged potting soil will do. Potting soil can be very dry, so mix it with water in an old dishpan or bucket before spooning it into the pot as the layer that will be under the bulbs. Then set the bulbs on top, right side up. The root end can have bits of root left and the shoot end is usually pointier.

You can pack the bulbs in, nearly shoulder to shoulder, leaving just a little space between them. Then fill in with more potting soil. Smith said the top third of the bulb can be left exposed, but crocus and iris bulbs need to be covered a half inch deep.

Label the pot so you remember what’s in it—especially if you do more than one kind. Mark where you bury the pot. And mark your calendar for when to bring the pot in.

Chill out

While the potted bulbs are chilling in the dark, make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. You may need to lift the mulch and water once a month if it’s a dry winter.

Coming in from the cold

When you bring a pot in, Smith recommends putting it in a dim room at 60 degrees or cooler until the shoots are a few inches tall. Then move it to a bright window and 65 degrees. “Buried to blooming” may take two weeks. Turn pots every day to keep plants growing straight.

Flowers can last a week or two. Once in bloom, you can prolong it by setting the pot farther from the window and keeping the room’s temperature at 65 degrees.

Afterward

The advantage to planting forced bulbs in potting soil is that you can give them a second life. Cut back the spent flowers and keep watering until the leaves turn yellow. Plant the bulbs out in the garden when the soil thaws, where they might bloom again in two years.

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Update March 1, 2018:

The bulbs for the vases were left in the refrigerator for a couple of months to cool and taken out in early January.

Also in early January I brought in the pot of hyacinth and the pot of crocus that were buried in the vegetable garden and covered with a foot of leaf mulch.

The bulbs in vases didn’t do well. They couldn’t seem to grow enough roots. That hyacinth stalk of flowers was about 15 percent the size of the ones in the pot.

I felt sorry for the crocus bulbs in the tiny vases and soon planted them in dirt where they were much happier. That proves you could cool your bulbs in the fridge and then plant them in soil, without wintering them in the garden. But the pot of crocus that did spend two months buried did very well. Interestingly, the yellow crocus bloomed before any of the shades of purple.

I would force bulbs again. If I plant the hyacinth bulbs individually, they would be easier to share with friends, or I could stagger the dates I bring them indoors, prolonging the season of sweet-smelling flowers.

2017-10 bulb forcing 5

Iris reticulata bulbs were forced to bloom indoors one spring, then replanted outside in the garden in early summer where they bloomed the next spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Keep Christmas plants alive

2016-01Christmas Cactus (pink)-King Sooper's by Barb Gorges

Christmas cactus, unlike true cactus, prefer less sunlight and more water. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 3, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Christmas plants: How to keep them alive year-round.”

Keep the plants of Christmas alive year round

By Barb Gorges

Did you buy or receive one of the iconic Christmas season plants? Did you know they can be kept alive to bloom again? Some are more of a challenge than others, but it’s worthwhile to try.

Amaryllis

Once these amaryllis are finished blooming, the pebbles used for their growing medium should be traded out for regular houseplant potting soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Amaryllis

Mail-order amaryllis arrive as bare bulbs, or bulbs planted in pots barely bigger than they are. They love being snug, with only an inch to spare between them and the edge of the pot.

I received a bulb by mail years ago. After enjoying its big blooms, I cut away the withered flower stalk. But the big strappy leaves were still a nice green accent on the windowsill so I kept watering. Over the summer I put it outside, under our clear patio roof, where it would be protected from hail, and it kept adding leaves. The following March it flowered and has every spring for seven years.

At the time, standard advice on getting an amaryllis to re-bloom involved letting it go dormant, then beginning watering two months before bloom was wanted. Maybe people didn’t want to put up with the floppy leaves or maybe they wanted it to bloom again at Christmas and not March.

This particular red amaryllis has a bulb that is now 6 inches in diameter with two off-shoots. In contrast, a pale pink variety I’ve had even longer has a bulb that never grows bigger than 3 inches in diameter, but it has been producing daughter bulbs. Last year I separated and replanted seven.

Amaryllis like plenty of light and do well with our average home temperatures and humidity. Karen Panter, University of Wyoming Extension Horticulture Specialist, said for fertilizer, use half of what the label says.

Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens reminds us an amaryllis is poisonous, “Keep it away from kids and dogs.”

Poinsettia

Poinsettias come in many colors. The color is actually modified leaves. The flowers are the petal-less nubbins in the middle. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Poinsettia

You may see poinsettias growing outside some place tropical, but not here.

Keep them watered, making sure water can drain out through the bottom of the pot and isn’t impeded by decorative wrapping.

The colorful “flowers” – which are actually bracts, or specialized leaves—will eventually fade and fall off. My experience is that by summer poinsettias are rather leggy, and may look disposable.

Karen thinks we should buy fresh every year—to support her friends in the poinsettia-growing industry.

But if you want the challenge, there are directions I found online. In March, cut back the stems to 4 to 6 inches, put it in a sunny window and apply diluted fertilizer every two weeks.

In May, after last frost, put it outside in shade, eventually moving it into 6-8 hours of sun per day. Pinch shoots once or twice between late June and mid-August.

In mid-September, before first frost, bring the poinsettia in and place it in a sunny window. By early October give it complete darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.—no artificial light. The bracts should develop good color by early December.

Will you accept the challenge this year?

Christmas cactus

Modern varieties of Christmas cactus may not require 12 hours of darkness per day next fall in order to bloom again. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Christmas Cactus

Shane said the word “cactus” in their name gives people the wrong idea about caring for the Christmas cactus.

“Instead, they need less light and more water than cactus,” he said. “They are known as forest cacti and naturally live in the crotches of trees in the tropics. They love being root bound,” he said.

Getting Christmas cactus to re-bloom involves very particular light therapy, said Karen. Referred to as a short day plant, it is actually a long night plant, requiring darkness greater than 12 hours beginning a couple months in advance of Christmas. It needs to be protected from all light sources between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., every single night. Perhaps you’ll have to put a box over it. But during the day it needs lots of light.

Even if you have a light accident, your Christmas cactus may still bloom depending on the variety.

Spring, or Easter cactus, is a different species and requires semi-dormancy (less water) in fall and winter, but the same light treatment to produce blooms.

These cactus can be propagated from leaf cuttings.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce

Of all the varieties of evergreens sold as miniature Christmas trees, only the Dwarf Alberta Spruce are likely to survive Cheyenne’s climate if planted outside. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Miniature Christmas Trees

The Jackson and Perkins catalog features 18-inch-tall, live, coniferous evergreens in beautiful pots, decorated with lights and ornaments.

You might be thinking about where to plant the little tree next spring. But not all of these trees can survive outside in Cheyenne.

Trees identified as European or lemon cypress, or Italian stone pine, are all rated warm-climate, Zone 8-10. Treat them as house plants. We live in Zone 5, though we tend to favor plants rated for Zone 4 and lower, for extra assurance they will survive winter.

But you can plant the Dwarf Alberta spruce outside. A paler green than the familiar blue spruce, with very short needles, it is rated Zone 2 through 6 and does well here. However, it may only grow about 12 feet high in 25 years.

“But if it has been grown in the house for a long period, its hardiness might decline due to the shock,” Shane said.

It is best if live Christmas trees you want to plant outside next spring are not in the warm house long enough to break dormancy, meaning the bundles of new needles begin opening.

After less than a week you may have to put your tree out somewhere cool, like your garage, but not so cool the roots freeze.

Check every once in a while to see if it needs watering. When the ground thaws in April, you can plant it outside. Use the tree-planting methods explained in a previous column archived at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

General houseplant care instructions

Any potted plant has the potential to become a permanent resident of your home. If the information tag doesn’t tell you how much sun and water it requires, look it up on the Internet. Then figure out where in your house will suit it best.

Karen said many houseplants can adapt to a wide range of conditions and are happiest if left to adapt to one place. The most important step for success is to train yourself to water them the right amount.

Check a newly acquired houseplant daily for a couple weeks to get a sense of how quickly the soil dries out (and if it has bugs). Vigorous growers in a warm house in small pots with soil that doesn’t hold water well may need water every few days. More absorbent potting soil under opposite conditions may take two weeks for the top inch to dry out, the sign for most plants that watering is finally required. In the winter it might be a week or two between waterings.

Add water a bit at a time until it begins to drain into the saucer underneath. Empty the saucer or use a turkey baster (not to be used for cooking again) to siphon up the overflow.

Regarding fertilizer, Karen recommends the slow-release type. The one commonly available in Cheyenne stores is Osmacote. Measure out an application as directed and you won’t have to think about it again for months.

It’s quite possible your gift plant will continue growing, even flower again, and perhaps even multiply, allowing you to pass new plants on as gifts to others.


Give your garden winter interest

Boy in backyard

I’m not sure what our son Bryan had in mind when he ventured forth with his toy shovel–digging to plant something, or digging to escape?

Published Dec. 21, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Give your garden winter interest.”

By Barb Gorges

“Winter interest” is a term you can Google. You’ll get sites wanting to sell you plants that flower in winter—in Zone 10, in Florida. Or maybe you’ll find Minnesota garden columnist Evelyn Hadden’s viewpoint that winter interest is anything that pokes up through the snow.

Cheyenne isn’t the tropics or the snow-covered north. Though we have at least seven months between the first hard frost of fall and the last in spring, we can be snow-free much of the time.

Winter interest is about the view from your window, rather than the summer experience of being in the garden. It’s about enjoying more subtle textures, such as different kinds of bark; and shapes. It’s about the sculptural qualities of branches. It’s about color, of which there is more than you might think.

Although our house was already 25 years old when we moved in, the winter view of the backyard was bleak: a flat lawn, clothesline poles, two big tree trunks, and all walled in by pink concrete block. Sending the kids out to play reminded me of sending them into a prison yard. It’s improved now with various plantings, but maybe it could be more interesting.

Spruce shrub

The spruce hedge at the entrance to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens tapers towards the top so lower branches won’t be shaded and die. In the background is the columnar-shaped Woodward Juniper. Photo by Barb Gorges.

In early December, on what he calls a 50-50 day, 50 degree temperature and 50 mph wind, Shane Smith, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director, and I discussed winter interest and took a tour of the gardens looking for it.

Conifers

The backbone of any Cheyenne garden is the evergreens, providing a backdrop and wind protection. At the entrance to the gardens’ greenhouse, a thick blue spruce hedge about 8 feet high blocks the view of the parking lot.

It started as a row of young, normal spruce trees planted 3 to 4 feet apart, but it’s pruned every year, forming an impenetrable wall. It’s important, Shane pointed out, that the hedge taper, becoming narrower towards the top. Otherwise, the lower branches are shaded, don’t get enough sun and die off.

Besides the typical Christmas-tree shapes, we saw a weeping variety of spruce, developed from trees that are naturally prostrate but can be trained to reach a certain height before cascading.

Junipers perform several functions. Low-growing varieties become ground covers, but Shane said to skip the really low kinds, only 6 inches tall, because they allow weeds to grow up through them.

Another, the Woodward juniper, developed at the old Cheyenne horticulture station, grows tall and narrow, providing a columnar shape that doesn’t take up much ground, and it’s a brighter green than some of the other, shrubbier junipers.

Rabbitbrush

Rabbitbrush is a native adapted to Wyoming’s dry climate. More moisture than regular rainfall will kill it.

One of our native shrubs can provide dried flowers. Rabbitbrush blooms yellow in the fall and the feathery,

pale-colored seed heads persist. The leaves are evergreen. Different varieties can range from a yellow green to a silvery color. You can also check out sagebrush, the epitome of Wyoming’s open spaces, which has silvery leaves year round, plus that quintessential Western smell when you brush against it.

However, both of these natives need to be planted where they won’t be irrigated. More moisture than our natural precipitation can actually kill them.

Deciduous trees and shrubs

It’s easy to think bare branches will be just black silhouettes. But with our abundant, sunny winter days, there is more to see, from gnarly cottonwood to smooth redtwig dogwood. Shane said to keep in mind that for dogwood and other shrubs with colorful bark, only the younger wood will show much color, so it is important to prune part back, close to ground level, every few years to encourage new growth.

Maybe you can choose trees and shrubs with fruit, red rosehips on rose bushes, orange berries on mountain ash, crab apples that cling after the leaves fall away—though how long they last will depend on how hungry the squirrels and birds are.

Karl Foerster grass

“Karl Foerster” is an ornamental type of reed grass. There are several varieties. This one grows 2 feet tall. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Other plants Shane recommended, some of which are growing at the gardens, are ephedra, with its weird bunches of long, match-stick-like twigs; mahonia, which reminds one of holly; mountain mahogany and various hawthorne trees.

Grasses

Ornamental grasses have become part of the professionally designed landscape, including the entrance to the Laramie County Library and many local businesses.

They dry to a nice tawny brown. Unlike other, stronger vegetation, they require only the lightest of breezes to accent the view with motion.

One kind Shane pointed out at the gardens is a variety of Karl Foerster grass growing in a 2-foot tall clump with feathery seed heads.

Another, blue oat grass, resembles a fountain of thin, bluish-green and silver strands which looks good as a lone specimen or as a herd of small, shaggy beasts. Shane said if you have a protected, south-facing exposure, there are other grasses you might try.

 

Blue oat grass

Blue oat grass has a fountain-like look. This specimen measures about 2 feet across. Photo by Barb Gorges.

If, at some point, the grasses are smashed by snow or it’s closing in on spring green-up, it’s time to cut back the tall grasses. Rather than clipping them, Shane simply grabs a bunch and saws through near the base with a small, folding pruning saw.

Perennials and annuals

Vegetable gardens are rather hopeless looking in winter. A good gardener cleans out all that stuff that turns slimy with the first frost. But maybe you left the sunflowers for the birds.

Some perennial herbs have winter color: silvery-looking sage (the cooking kind) and purple-y oregano. And some even stay green.

In the perennial flower bed there are lots of plants that don’t need to be cut back right away. Black-eyed susans, yarrow, and asters have interesting dry flower heads. In my garden, hollyhocks and mullein have big stalks that attract downy woodpeckers.

At the gardens, Shane and I found a clump of golden stalks with dried purple flowers, some kind of ornamental onion. And there was a sedum that had dried nicely.

But there will come a time when some of these dried points of interest break down and you will want to remove them.

Bulbs

Next fall, before heavy frost, get some of those early spring bulbs planted, even if it is just a handful here and there. Finding a crocus in March makes two more months of snow potential much easier to bear.

Ground cover

We still have bluegrass lawn at our house. Where the wind doesn’t blow off the occasional snowfall right away, it gets moisture and looks quite presentable. Native grasses look nice too.

Vinca, a vining ground cover, stays green, as do the leaves of some other low-growing perennials.

Use organic materials as mulch to cover bare spots around trees or in gardens. It’s good for the soil as it decomposes, and it can be interesting to look at, whether it is dried leaves or bark, natural or dyed color. Shane likes the look of pine needle mulch. He’s found if it’s ground up a bit, it doesn’t blow away.

Garden embellishments

Nothing says calendar page photo like snow gathering on a garden bench, wagon wheel or split rail fence. My favorite embellishment is a bird feeder or two, attracting bird color and movement and, even through window glass, cheerful bird sounds.

Junipers

Three varieties of juniper contrast with each other in color as well as growth habit: shrubby, ground cover and upright. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Resources

Go to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ website, www.botanic.org, to the Gardening Tips section, where you will find lists of plants that grow well here.


Gardener’s Wish List

greenhouse

A greenhouse is tops on my gardening wish list. This one is at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Published Dec. 8, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “What’s on a gardener’s wish list? Garden expert Barb Gorges asked her friends, and here’s what they told her…”

By Barb Gorges

Lately, I’ve been listening to what local gardeners want for Christmas.

Most items on their gardening wish lists are, not surprisingly, utilitarian.

Perhaps they are saving their flights of fancy for the spring seed catalogs.

Collapsible rain barrel

My gardening mentor, Kathy Shreve, told me tops on her list is a collapsible rain barrel—something that would need a fraction of the winter storage space as the large, plastic, 50-gallon, imitation wood variety.

I had my digital elves do a search and they came up with the “Heaven and Earth Knockdown Rain Water Barrel.” Think mini portable swimming pool held up by sturdy poles, complete with a lid, leaf filter, plus connections for your gutter downspout and garden hose.

While they may be listed by popular discount stores, try www.brookstone.com, a long-time home and garden supply company that offers them in five sizes, from 52 to 250 gallons.

Tools

My longtime friend Florence Brown has been eyeing a pair of “Snip and Strip Rose Cutters” with which you can snip the stem and then pull it through a notch at the end of the blade to remove the thorns. Try Lee Valley Tools, www.leevalley.com. But if they are sold out, Santa should look for the “Professional Rose Thorn Stripper” at www.wildflower-seed.com.

Susan Carlson, a friend of Florence’s, also has a sharp object on her wish list—long-handled bypass pruners. I couldn’t find any made by her favorite company, Wiss, but another Swiss maker of cutting tools, Felco, has many models.

It can be aggravating to buy garden hand tools that don’t last more than a season or two, Bob Jansen told me. I agree. I’ve snapped cheap hand trowels while digging in our clayish soil and jammed or broken cheap hand pruners. What Bob wants is quality, which will save him time and money.

Maybe he’d like one of the items on my list, a pair of Felco hand pruners, recommended by several people I’ve talked to. They are available through many sources, such as www.leevalley.com, but Felco also has its own website, www.felcostore.com. Each type of pruner can be repaired and sharpened. Felco also makes 13 kinds of loppers Susan could choose from, plus lots of information to help in selection. Prices for loppers run $80-$150, hand pruners, $30-$70.

Bob also mentioned he’d like a strong back and younger knees. No problem. They can be hired.

Ladder

My friend Lila Howell shared her wish list and it really is a list: rain barrels, arborist ladder, new shovel, heat mats for seed starting, new wheelbarrow, plant markers, new hoe, new blade for pruning saw, and a hummingbird feeder. Many of these items are available locally, or through the catalogs I’ve already mentioned (even the hummingbird feeder), but the arborist ladder intrigued me.

A ladder designed for use in maintaining trees is of a sturdier standing, three-legged design. Also known as an orchard ladder, it is available from companies such as http://www.sherrilltree.com, which cater to tree professionals. Who wouldn’t want to go with a product designed to keep professionals safe? The prices range from $250 to over $500. But they are still cheaper than the cherry picker Lila really wants.

Fountains

My birding friend, Donna Kassel, gardens with the birds in mind. She has many berry producing bushes to feed and shelter them, as well as feeders among her trees and perennial flower beds. Garden tools are not on her list, but garden whimsy is.

We’re not talking about concrete bunnies. But Donna would like to add more garden lights. She has several solar-powered types, perfect for avoiding power cables and power bills. She’d love to have twinkling lights in one of her trees, but how does one charge solar lights hung in a shade tree?

What really catches her fancy is a lighted, bird bath fountain.

The first place my digital elves looked, the website, http://www.simplyfountains.com, popped up. They have scads of birdbaths with fountains, even one for $80 that runs on solar energy. Many of them are of classical Victorian/Italianate design sometimes decorated with little birds.

None of the birdbath fountains seemed to have lights, but there were many lighted, outdoor fountains. One, made of faux stone, has recirculating water pouring between four levels of pools. I’m sure birds would be attracted to the moving water for a drink. The pools might be big enough for baths as well. It’s a bit pricy at $350 (regularly $500), but maybe some clever elves in Donna’s family could build one for her.

Greenhouse Gardener's Companion

Reading Shane Smith’s “Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion” is a must before acquiring a greenhouse.

Greenhouse     

More than one gardener, including me, has a greenhouse on their wish list.

I keep seeing advertising in garden magazines for Hartley Botanic, an English company, http://www.hartley-botanic.com. Their largest, non-custom greenhouse is the “Victorian Grand Manor,” measuring 13 feet wide by 13 high by 36 long. It would fit nicely, but no price is listed, not even the calculations for shipping. As they say, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” much less afford to replace the glass after each of our hailstorms.

Reading Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith’s “Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion” would be the first step if I get serious about finding a greenhouse suitable for Cheyenne, or anywhere else.

But Santa, I’d settle for a promise of perfect growing weather in 2014.


August Garden: Pruning, Harvesting, Record-keeping, Hail Protection

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early, determinate variety.

Published Aug. 29, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Busy Bee: August is a busy time of the month when it comes to your garden care.”

By Barb Gorges

In July, I could scarcely believe how much growth my vegetable plants put on. Hot weather is particularly good for tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, my main crops.

And this month brings a full crop of gardening issues: pruning, proper harvesting, note-taking, winter harvest planning and hail protection.

Pruning

It was easy to see that allowing one square foot for each of my yellow cherry tomato plants–as per the seed package directions–was inadequate. By the end of July, I couldn’t even see the support baskets. Plus, since we’d been out of town, I missed my chance to pinch suckers when they are tiny, something the garden books all mention.

But when I checked with local expert Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, he said it wasn’t necessary in this climate—our plants need all the leaves they can get to nourish them in our short growing season. The only pinching that is helpful: tomato blossoms that won’t produce ripened fruit before frost. Cheyenne’s first average frost date is Sept. 20, meaning often it is earlier.

Shane said he also might snip a few leaves from around a tomato to give it more sun and encourage it to ripen more quickly.

Harvesting

When my husband Mark grew prodigious amounts of tomatoes years ago in Miles City, Mont., I was the one who harvested them because his job in fish management kept him out in the field. I just pulled them from the vines.

But now, after talking to Shane and reading the book “Grow, Cook, Eat,” by former Cheyennite Willi Galloway, I’ve learned that snipping or cutting vegetables is best. Or, in the case of beans and peas, at least use two hands, one to hold the plant and one to pinch. A sharp knife is good for harvesting broccoli and the leafy things. As a general rule, it seems it is better to harvest at the young and tender stage. This means checking your garden often enough. Plus, in some cases, harvesting encourages more edible growth.

Next year I plan to be less tomato-centric and learn how to cultivate and harvest carrots, cabbage and maybe cantaloupe.

Note-taking

In addition to starting a wish list of vegetables for next summer, now is the time to make notes on successes and failures.

I also need to remember where I’ve planted tomatoes and their cousins, eggplant and peppers, so I don’t plant them in the same place at least the next two summers—a 3-year break insures no species-specific viruses will lurk in the ground.

Now is the time to figure out why the pansy leaves turned bright yellow with green veins. It’s chlorosis, same as many trees in Cheyenne get. If the yellow isn’t from insufficient watering, it may mean that particular plant has not been able to take up enough iron and needs a treatment of iron chelate. Different kinds of plants and even different varieties of the same kind have different capabilities for wresting iron from our alkaline soils, Shane told me.

Now is the time to find a sunnier spot in the yard for the poppies and peony that didn’t bloom, to prepare for moving them after the first frost.

Spring was the time to make notes on how the tulips and other spring bulbs fared and mark where they are so I don’t accidently damage them while planting more this fall. Late summer is the time to order bulbs and corms and tubers of interesting perennials to plant in that in-between time after the first frost and before the hard ground freeze.

I’m keeping my eyes open for more information about the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ bulb sale beginning September 9 at its annual Garden Walk.

Winter harvest planning

Garden authors Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch harvest vegetables year-round at Four Season Farm in Maine. They harvest greens throughout the winter from cold frames or inside high tunnels with floating row covers over the plants—double insulation.

Some greens they start in August for fall harvest. Others mature by winter and remain static, but alive, for mid-winter harvest. As space becomes available, Eliot gets an early start on spring greens.

The trick is to find a spot that is shady in the heat of summer so the seedlings get started, but that will be sunny by the time leaves fall, Barbara said in a recent edition of her garden column in the Washington Post.

I asked Shane if folks around here have tried this. He said many greens may not survive mid-winter here, but spinach sown in mid-August will green up in April.

We had a cold frame years ago: an old storm window supported over the soil by a frame of boards allowing the window to slope towards the south, with hinges at the back so it could be propped open on warm days.

Mark used it to put seedlings out early. Extending the season in the other direction would be an interesting experiment. But we may have to invest in one of those heat-activated hinges to open the top on hot Indian-summer fall days we are out fishing or we could cook our greens before they are picked.

Coleman’s book, “Four-Season Harvest” is a good guide, especially for interesting greens like mache (put the tent over the “a” for the French accent). It also has a handy time-table for planting in our zone.

Hail protection

Aren’t we proud to be hail capitol of the U.S.? So what does one do to keep her garden from being flattened?

Grant Family Farms, based in Wellington, Colo., plants in fields scattered over a large area, since hail storms tend to be very localized.

Home gardeners are of three camps when it comes to hail.

The first is to build a roof or cage of hardware cloth–wire mesh–over each raised vegetable bed, or make little caps over each plant.

The second is to run out and throw something over the plants when hail threatens. Jan Nelson-Schroll said she puts cushions on top of her tomato baskets. She said this isn’t a solution if you aren’t home or the hail is too big for your safety. Smith suggested installing poles beforehand that are taller than the plants for draping a tarp or sheet over so that the plants aren’t flattened by the weight.

The third is to do nothing. Master Gardener Kathy Shreve said her garden is too big to cover.

For more tips on protecting your garden and recovering from hail damage, visit the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, www.botanic.org, and click on Garden Tips. You may also pick up a copy at the greenhouse.

Annual flowers

Why is it that the sunflowers the birds planted are more successful than the sunflower seeds I bought and babied?

How many annual flowers, like the cosmos I started from seed, can I cut and bring inside to enjoy versus the number to enjoy outside? And of the flowers left outside, how many should I deadhead to keep more blooms coming versus the number of old blooms to leave to go to seed so I can establish a self-seeding stand?

Garden report

By Aug. 16 the heliotrope was finally in full, deep purple bloom. The seed catalog picture did not do it justice. It is worth the wait. We picked our first Japanese-type eggplant July 25. It was only 8 inches long, but now that we have more patience, we’ve let them grow bigger. The “Gold Nugget” yellow cherry tomatoes started ripening the first week in August and the gold rush is picking up as we prospect under the leaves to find them. The red cherry tomatoes are just now ripening. The pumpkin vine has put on yards of growth in the last month, and nearly a dozen pumpkins. The winter squash is a dozen feet long, but no squash. It’s kind of late to try hand pollination and get something to ripen.

So far so good. Can you hear me knocking on the wooden tomato trellis?