Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Vegetable growing advice

 

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Laramie County Master Gardener Kathy Shreve prepares a trench for seeds in a raised bed set up with soaker hoses. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 4, 2017, “Time to get your garden growing.”

 

By Barb Gorges

I spent a recent evening in the garden with Kathy Shreve, Laramie County master gardener, reviewing what to know about local vegetable gardening. The topics mentioned here are covered in greater depth in the “gardening” section of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, http://botanic.org, which also has the link to the archive of my previous columns.

Timing

Wait until the end of May or later to transplant tender veggies like tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers or put them under a season-extending cover like a low tunnel. You can also plant them in containers you can scoot in and out of the garage.

However, Shreve started cabbage and onion plants indoors and planted them before the snow May 18-19 and they were fine. Some vegetables, like members of the cabbage family, don’t mind cold as much.

While peas, cabbage types, lettuces and other greens, can be planted earlier than the end of May, most vegetable seeds planted directly in the garden prefer warmer soil temperatures. Measure with a soil thermometer found at garden centers.

Shreve said we can plant as late as June 20. Plant fast growing crops as late as July if you want a fall harvest.

Location

Keep in mind the vegetable garden needs a minimum of six hours of sun per day, preferably morning sun.

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Shreve transplants cabbages she started indoors. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Transplants

Because of our short growing season, tomatoes and other tender vegetables are started indoors. Always look for the short season varieties of these plants. Shreve said she looks for 80 or fewer “days to maturity.”

If the plant was not outside when you bought it, it will need hardening off. Start with the plant in the shade for two or three hours and day by day increase the amount of sun and the length of exposure by a couple hours. Keep it well watered.

When transplanting, Shreve advises digging a hole for your plant, filling it with water, then letting it drain before planting.

To remove a plant from a plastic pot, turn it upside down with the stem between your forefinger and middle finger. Squeeze the pot to loosen the soil and shake it very, very gently.

If there are a lot of roots, you can gently tease them apart a bit before putting the plant in the hole.

Hold the plant by the root mass so that it will sit in the hole with the soil at the same level of the stem as it was in the pot. Fill soil in around the roots, then tamp the soil gently.

However, tomatoes can be planted deeper since any part of their stem that is underground will sprout roots, the more the better. In fact, Shreve said to pinch off all but three or four leaves and bury the bare stem.

Lastly, keep plants well-watered, not soggy, while they get established. Wait a couple weeks before adding fertilizer to avoid burning the plants.

Mulch

Shreve mulches with certified weed-free straw available at local feed stores, but grass clippings and last year’s leaves can also be used.

Placing mulch 2 to 3 inches deep keeps the soil from drying so fast, shades out weeds and keeps rain and overhead watering from spattering dirt onto plants, which may spread disease. It can also keep hail from bouncing and inflicting damage twice.

 

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Seed

Root crops, like carrots and beets, don’t transplant well, so you are better off starting them from seed.

While fresh is good, Shreve said she’s had luck with seed seven years old. But the germination rate isn’t going to be great. She might spread carrot seed a little more thickly if that was the case, and it’s easy to thin to the proper spacing (and the thinnings can be tasty).

Because Cheyenne is dry, Shreve plants in a little trench. That way, when moisture comes, it will collect down where the plants are.

Seed packets tell you how deep to plant. The rule of thumb is three to four times deeper than the breadth of the seed. Lay the seed in the bottom of the trench and sprinkle that much dirt on them. Then water well, but gently, so you don’t wash out the seeds. Keep the soil surface moist until the seeds germinate.

Lightly mulch when the seedlings are visible, adding more as the plants get bigger.

Mark rows with popsicle sticks or plastic knives left from picnics.

Water

Once plants are established, let the top 1-2 inches of soil dry out between waterings. Test by sticking your finger in the soil. Water deeply.

Shreve waters every other day using soaker hose and drip irrigation systems, except when it rains. She originally tested her system for 30 minutes to see if water made it to the root depth and decided on 40 minutes.

Water in the morning, or at least make sure leaves are dry before dark.

Bugs and weeds

Mulch should eliminate most of the need to weed. Shreve said to keep up with it—it’s easier to pluck weed seedlings than to have them establish deep roots and go to seed.

For bugs, Shreve said it is easy to Google “what insect is eating my cabbage,” or take the critter, or evidence, to the Laramie County Extension horticulturist, Catherine Wissner. Her office is now out at Laramie County Community College, fourth floor of the new Pathfinder Building.

Never use pesticides until you identify your problem, and then try the least toxic method first. Again, more is not better. Never apply more than the directions indicate.

Slugs—my nemesis—indicate a garden is too wet.

Shreve said to roll newspaper to make 1 to 2-inch-diameter tunnels. Place rolls around affected plants in the evening. By sunrise, the slugs will be inside the rolls to get away from the light and you can dispose of them, rolls and all.

Fertilizer

Never add wood ash or lime to our alkaline soils as those work only on eastern, acidic soils.

Shreve likes slow-release products which are less likely to burn the plants, as are the natural fertilizers. Additionally, compost tea is a good soil conditioner.

Again, more is not better. Shreve uses half of what is directed until she sees how the plants respond.

Over-fertilization of fruit-producing vegetables like tomatoes often keeps them from producing the flowers that become the fruit. Shreve said they need to be stressed a little bit because it gets them thinking about preservation of the species and producing seed, rather than just enjoying life and producing leaves.

“Just leaves” is OK if you are growing leafy vegetables like lettuce, kale, spinach and chard.

Trellis and cage

If you are growing vining vegetables, getting them off the ground means fruits stay cleaner and don’t rot, and they are easier to find and pick. Use old chain link gates, bed springs, or anything else—be creative.

Hog panels make sturdy tomato cages 5 feet high and 2.5 feet in diameter for larger, indeterminate varieties, with chicken wire over the top for hail protection. Otherwise, use jute twine to loosely tie the stem to a bamboo stake.

Add flowers

Adding annual flowers like alyssum, marigolds and sunflowers, or herbs including dill and oregano, attracts pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden.


Trellis and vine

Trellis and clematisPublished Nov. 1, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Trellis and vine: A guide to vertical beauty for Cheyenne gardens”

Story and photos by Barb Gorges

Once the leaves are gone for the winter, we have five or more months to admire the structure of deciduous tree trunks and branches.

So how about adding more vertical interest to your garden or the side of your house with a trellis?

The purpose of a trellis is to get vining plants off the ground, which is handy in the vegetable garden. The simplest methods involve stakes, string and wire cages. But these are temporary.

Instead, let’s look at more permanent trellis ideas used with ornamental vines.

Some trellises are attached to walls, some are free-standing, and some are formed into arbors, meant to be walked under. Some can even be sculptural parts of dead trees or scrap metal. Or perhaps one of the porch posts will do.

Lattice trellis

David Mullikin built this trellis from lattice panels. It supports several different vines.

Sometimes, the desire for a trellis comes first, rather than the desire to grow a vining plant. Is there a plain wall or fence that needs something to dress it up? Is there a view you would like to block? Is there a view you would like to frame with an arbor? Are you looking for some shade? Need a little height to give your garden some pizazz?

Trellises with engineered straight lines and perfect curves can offer contrast to natural vine shapes. Trellises with a less formal structure can blend in with nature.

As you drive around town this winter, look for trellises. Some are obviously the kind you buy, the simple fan shapes, lattice panels or ladder shapes. But there is some original artwork out there.

Wood is the easiest for most of us to build with, but if you are thinking long-term, be sure to use wood that will endure, like cedar. You don’t want to get trapped into having to paint your trellis, especially if you are contemplating a perennial vine that adds growth from year to year. But if the vine gets cut back annually, re-painting might be possible.

Car spring trellis

Bruce Keating’s unique trellis, made from an old car spring, bounces in the wind.

Metal is the best. Wrought iron looks good for a long time and it is sturdy enough for heavier vines.

Or how about pipe? Copper looks really nice and might not be so hard to work with, although you don’t want it to be publicly visible or someone will steal it for its cash value.

Bedspring trellis

Jeff and Mary Weinstein attached box springs to their fence to support grape vines.

But perhaps you aren’t a welder. Then it is time to think creatively about repurposing. My friends Mary and Jeff Weinstein had an old box spring they needed to dispose of. After removing the cloth and wood, the springs are attached to their wood fence and covered by their grape vine.

An arbor or pergola is roof-like. It can include sides that are trellises or just the support posts. The roof can be flat or arched. Short arbors form a doorway from one area of the garden to another. Martha Mullikin, a Laramie County master gardener, makes sure her arbors frame views, even a focal point as simple as a container of bright annuals. Despite her several arbors being made of different materials, she chose them all to be flat-topped, echoing the same form.

rose temple

Bruce Keating welded this Victorian rose temple together from scrap metal and trellises.

More elaborate is the “Victorian Rose Temple” in Bruce and Carla Keating’s garden that Bruce welded, offering support for climbing roses on all sides. Plus it is a shady place to sit.

Recommended vines

As artful as a trellis may be, it needs a vine. I asked Susan Carlson, also a Laramie County master gardener, for her list of recommendations for our area, and I also checked the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website’s handout, “Vines for the High Plains Landscape,” available at www.botanic.org, under “Gardening Tips.”

Susan said perennial vines are not going to cover the new trellis at once.

“Annual sweet peas and morning glories can act as filler for a few years where slower growing vines are planted. It takes a few years for the roots to become established.”

And she had some advice on where to plant vines.

“Some protection from wind would be beneficial, she said. “I have vines on all sides of the house, except the west.”

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Martha Mullikin’s arbor, adorned with a new clematis, frames a view of her yard.

As I researched each of the recommended vines, I noted they prefer sunny to partly sunny locations. All vines flower, some more noticeably than others. Except for grapes and hops, any fruit produced is appropriate for birds, not people. All vines mentioned are perennial, except morning glory and annual sweet pea.

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

Orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. It can be an aggressive grower. Flowers on new wood, so it can be pruned in early spring without affecting blooming.

Clematis species (Clematis spp.)

Needs to keep its roots cool, either shaded by low growing perennials, mulch, or a rock. Many species and varieties are available with different growth habits. Recommended for Cheyenne:

Clematis

Clematis

–Jackmanii—purple flowers, spring & early summer blooming, can be pruned in early spring.

–Henryi—white flowers, blooms in June on last year’s wood, blooms again later on new wood.

–Nelly Moser—pink flowers, late spring and summer. Prune no more than top third.

–Sweet Autumn—white flowers bloom on new wood so prune after blooming. Native and very hardy.

Hops (Humulus lupus)

Odd, but interesting green flowers. It dies back after frost and grows new shoots from the roots in spring. Hops are an ingredient in many beers.

Morning glory

Morning glory (annual)

Morning Glory (annual) (Ipomea purpurea)

Blue-flowered varieties are most popular. Blooms most prolifically beginning in late summer. Needs lots of sun and water. Can be seeded directly when soil temperature is 60 degrees, but speed things up by starting inside three weeks early. Prefers poor soil. Supposedly grows 8 feet long but mine went 18 feet this summer. Grow multiple vines in each location.

Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)

Purplish-pink flowers fade to white and are not fragrant. Blooms mid-season. A low water and low maintenance plant. Seeds are poisonous.

Sweet Pea (annual) (Lathyrus odoratus)

Fragrant blue, pink, purple and white flowers. Prefers cool, but sunny locations and lots of water. Plant seeds up to 3 weeks before last spring frost.

Kintzley’s Ghost Honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulate)

Yellow flowers in late spring, but large, silvery leaves are its hallmark. First propagated and grown by the Kintzley family in Iowa in the 1880s and rediscovered in Fort Collins and propagated by Scott Skogerboe.

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Red trumpet-shaped flowers bloom much of the summer. Blooms on previous year’s wood, so prune after flowering. Japanese honeysuckle is less hardy here, but is considered an invasive problem in 29 eastern states.

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Flowers are not noticeable, but the birds love the berries and drop seeds that sprout all over my yard. Leaves turn red in fall. Little disks allow vines to adhere to walls, a problem when removing them.

Silver lace vine

Silver lace vine

Silver Lace Vine (Polygonum aubertii)

White flowers bloom in late summer, early fall, and well into October this year, Martha Mullikin told me. It is considered a relatively fast and hardy grower.

Climbing Roses (Rosa spp.)

Technically, climbing roses don’t twine around or attach themselves to trellises, but they can use the support.

Grape arbor

A grape arbor marks the entrance to Martha Mullikin’s vegetable garden.

American Grape (Vitus labrusca)

scrap metal arbor

Bruce Keating’s scrap metal arbor, festooned with clematis, makes a gateway to the garden.

Table grape varieties that do well in our area, according to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ tip sheet, include Concord, Valiant, Reliance, Himrod and Swenson Red.