Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

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.


Laramie County Extension Office

Catherine Wissner, 307-633-4383,

Trees and all other plants.

Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division

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.

Fair flowers educate

2017-09 Floriculture Dept by Barb Gorges

The Floriculture Department at the Laramie County Fair includes perennials, annuals, herbs, potted plants and flower arrangements. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Sept. 17, 2017 “Fair gives lesson about best oflowers to grow locally.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t thinking of our county fair being a learning opportunity until I overheard one woman visiting the floriculture department say to another, “You should try that in your garden.”

I realized then that the open class entries (all the entries that are not 4-H or FFA) could tell me a lot about what Laramie County gardeners grow, and grow well, at least at the beginning of August.

Checking the fair results at, in horticulture (fruits and vegetables), there were only 81 entries, indicating a growing season with a slow, cold start. However, for floriculture [starting on page 148], there were many more entries: perennial flowers (146), annual flowers (84), culinary herbs (64). The other categories, flower arrangements, dish gardens and potted plants, had a total of 55.

Why wouldn’t you plant perennials, the most popular category, in the first place? They take so little work once established. And once you’ve planted a perennial, why wouldn’t you snip three identical flowers the first week in August, place them in a clear glass jar, carry them to the fair and hope for a blue ribbon and $6 premium?

I’ve entered numerous quilts in fairs over the last 35 years (one to two hundred hours or more of work for a chance at the same $6 premium) and understand quilt judging, but I wasn’t sure what floriculture judges were looking for.

The fair book will tell you a little bit, but the 2017 edition is no longer available and the 2018 edition won’t be on the website until next spring. You can contact the Floriculture Superintendent, Chris Wright, through the fair office, 307-633-4670, if you have questions now.

Unlike other competitive endeavors, fair judges give out as many blue ribbons in any class as they feel are warranted. The entries are judged by how well they represent the class. For instance, all seven pansy entries received blue ribbons. However, all the Monarda (beebalm) entries received red ribbons and only $4 premiums.

I chatted with one of the two floriculture judges afterwards. Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator and Extension horticulture specialist, explained he thought all the beebalm was a little past its prime.

Beebalm flower heads are made up of tiny florets that bloom in groups, one concentric ring at a time. Mine had already been in bloom five weeks. But pansies have no florets, just five petals per flower. Mine have been putting out fresh flowers nearly every day since they started blooming in April.

Hilgert has been judging several fairs a year for the last 14 years. He looks for entries that are healthy—no sign of disease or pests. You can pinch off bad leaves, but you can’t remove very many bad flower petals without ruining a bloom.

The containers don’t matter, Hilgert said, though he prefers that they be a size matching the stem length. He’d rather not fish flowers out of the water when they fall into too tall vases. Our fair’s rules call for clear glass or plastic containers and it doesn’t matter to Hilgert whether they are vases or just jars and bottles.

2017-09 Rudbeckia entry by Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia entry in a jelly jar gets a blue ribbon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

When a class description asks for three stems, or three blooms, the three need to be as uniform as possible: same size flowers, same length stem, and flowers at the same stage of bloom. This year I had a bumper crop of Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy or black-eyed susan), but in over 100 blooms, only three were identical, and luckily, were fresh enough to last the whole week of the fair.

Avoiding wilting, another of Hilgert’s benchmarks, was easy this year—it was a cool, rainy day when we brought our entries to the Exhibition Hall. However, during hot weather, the fair’s rules stating that all open class entries must be turned in between noon and 8 p.m., but not judged until the next morning, doesn’t work well for the tender plants. And it is another day before the public can view them. Volunteers keep the containers of flowers and the potted plants watered during fair week.

There is a simple strategy for entering floriculture at our fair. Before the entry deadline at the end of June, put in online for every class for which you have something planted. There is no entry fee. No one can predict what will look best the beginning of August when the flowers need to be picked. While seven people had great Shasta daisy entries this year, mine were already finished blooming. Of the 35 classes I put in for, I only brought 14 entries. I didn’t even have hail damage this year. It was just a matter of bloom timing.

There is a competitive aspect to the Floriculture department—those other awards that give you bragging rights: Superior, Best of Show, Reserve Champion and Champion. Those are the purple ribbons, some with fancy rosettes, that transcend the classes.

This year gardeners were rewarded with them for an exceptional hybrid tea rose, a sunflower, a salpiglossis, two mints, three potted plants and a fairy garden. A truly wonderful flowering tuberous begonia, entered by one of my neighbors, Jean Profaizer, was the champion.

Whether you ever intend to enter the fair and make some “seed money,” it is worth reading the Floriculture results to see what can bloom in Cheyenne in late summer. I counted over 20 kinds of culinary herbs (although these don’t need to be in bloom), 16 kinds of annuals and 30 kinds of perennials. The most popular, if you put all four classes of it together (white, yellow, pink and other), was yarrow, with 25 entries. It happens to be an easy perennial to grow, too.

2017-09 Echinacea entry by Barb Gorges

Echinacea is another popular fair entry because it is in bloom in early August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Other late summer standbys are Echinacea (coneflower), Gaillardia (blanket flower), daylily, lilies, various roses, violets, and as previously mentioned, Rudbeckia.

Among the annuals are geranium, cosmos, bachelor buttons, snapdragon, sunflower, marigold, petunia and pansy (though my pansies sometimes come back, acting like short-lived perennials).

When you walk through the display of flowers at our fair, each vase or jarful with its entry tag that you see gives you more familiarity with local possibilities. If you are lucky, the gardener has added the variety name—it’s supposed to give them extra competition points.

With all that information, now is the perfect time to assess your garden, make plans and gather or order what you need for next season. Any end of the season sales on perennials at nurseries? How about seeds, both flower and vegetable? Although they are never seen at the fair, don’t forget spring-blooming bulbs. And think about planting flowering trees and shrubs.

The downside? You may have to dig a new bed to accommodate all your future flower plans. But the bees, birds, butterflies and bats thank you.

Garden for bees

2016-4gaillardia - bumble bee - Barb Gorges

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

2016-4coneflower - honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

Getting bees to your garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-4potentilla - female Bombus bifarius - Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

Decide what to plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bees:


The Xerces Society,

Bug Guide, Iowa State University,

Bumble Bees of Western United States, search for the title at

Favorite flowering shrubs

American Plum, Prunus americana

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Redosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia

Woods Rose, Rosa woodsii

Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Favorite perennial flowers

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Beardtongue species, Penstemon spp.

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Wild Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Aster (fall-blooming), Symphyotrichum spp.

2016-4squash-honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

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

Wyoming vineyard


Danny and Pam Glick consult with Chris Hilgert from the University of Wyoming Extension (right) in late April while the vines are still dormant. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Oct. 11, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Introducing the rare but fruitful Wyoming vineyard. Wyoming has what it takes to grow grapes. A Laramie County couple’s vineyard produces a Frontenac variety that was developed for colder climates.”

Photos and text by Barb Gorges

A vineyard is a rare sight in Wyoming.

When the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ advanced class was invited to learn about and practice pruning grapes at a local vineyard, it was hard to believe one existed.

The destination was Pam and Danny Glick’s place outside Cheyenne. You might recognize Danny as our county sheriff.

Good thing Prohibition is long past.

grapevine pruning

An advanced master gardener practices pruning grape vines at the Glick’s vineyard. For maximum grape production, what seems like severe pruning is necessary. Photo by Barb Gorges

It was late April, a little bleak on the High Plains, and the vineyard was dormant– just gnarly trunks and leafless canes.

While there are several methods of training grape growth, the Glicks are set up for a two-wire system known as the “Four-cane Kniffen.”

Our job was to look at each plant, now several years old, and figure out the best shoots to be the leader, and backup if necessary. The 12 students made significant progress on the 500-plus vines in an afternoon, getting more confident as they went.

The pruning seemed so ruthless. But the instructor, Chris Hilgert, state Master Gardener coordinator for the University of Wyoming Extension, assured everyone this is what is needed to produce grapes.

Even if a shady arbor is the goal, ruthless pruning will benefit it.

Still, grapes are very forgiving of novice pruning attempts.

checking grapes

Pam Glick checks on her grapes in mid-August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Choosing varieties

In mid-August, I met with Pam to see how the grapes were doing and find out more about how she and Danny got into this agricultural niche.

A few years ago, Pam said she and

friends went on a Wyoming wine tour, including Chugwater, LaGrange and Torrington.

That got her excited. So she and Danny thought it might be a good investment for their retirement to get a small vineyard going. They did their research, including consulting Patrick Zimmerer who, with his family, owns the Table Mountain Winery and vineyard by Huntley, just south of Torrington.

As small and new as their operation is compared to Patrick’s 11,000 vines, the Glicks have sold as much as 500 pounds of grapes to the winery one year. Production is dependent on weather more than anything, but vine maturity—and good pruning—can increase the yield.

Frontenac grapes

Frontenac wine grapes growing in Table Mountain Winery’s vineyard near Huntley are nearly ready for harvest in late September. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Glicks chose to grow Frontenac, a red wine grape introduced in 1996, and Frontenac gris, a white wine grape introduced in 2003.

The varieties, with origins in Rochester, New York, were developed specifically for cold climates and disease resistance by the University of Minnesota, which holds the patents. According to their website, “Frontenac has the potential to produce outstanding dry red, sweet red, rosé, and port wines.”

More recognizable French varieties trace their roots to grapes that are not hardy in our climate. But Frontenac comes from a wild American grape ancestor and does well here. Success is also dependent on lots of sunshine, and sandy soils because “grapes don’t like to have wet feet” – clay soils can hold water a long time.

As for the vines? Despite the severe pruning we had given them in April, they had grown and leafed out.


The Glicks made a bulk order that amounted to about $3 per vine. Each was about 2 years old, 1 foot tall, but with 3 feet of roots. They used an auger to make planting holes.

Blue plastic tubes provided collars to protect the new plants from rabbits. Of the 535 vines friends and family helped plant, only a few were lost, Pam said.


There are several problems to solve in a vineyard: water, weed control and pest control.

The Glicks have drip irrigation set up to water the entire vineyard once a week overnight, 5 gallons per plant, with adjustments for the weather.

Weed control isn’t so simple.

Pam, a recent graduate of the Laramie County Master Gardener program, does not use herbicides. She has been experimenting with different kinds of mulch, grass clippings, straw, discarded feed sacks, and cardboard.

Tilling around the vines would disturb their roots. However, hand weeding has the added benefit of giving the viticulturist a chance to inspect the vines.

Vines need tying up as they grow and suckers need pruning. Every evening, Danny walks the vineyard for an hour, and early on Saturday mornings too, Pam said. It has become his therapy when his job is stressful.

Harvest hazards

In June, the vines were hit by a hailstorm that totaled the roof of the Glicks’ house, but at the time of my visit nearly two months later, the vines had pretty much recovered.

The other hazard to grapes is birds.

I called Pam on Sept. 14 to schedule another visit to see the ripe grapes. But she had bad news: The grapes were gone.

They had set aside a day in early September to put up netting. This protects the grapes until they are ready for harvest.

Unfortunately, that was the day they needed to respond to a family emergency.

Without the netting, the birds had gotten every last grape while they were away, including the table grapes growing on the arbor by the house.

As with other soft fruit, the birds seem to prefer their grapes tart–less ripe than we like them.

Despite losing their harvest, the Glicks will still have to perform fall chores in preparation for next season.

Table Mountain Winery

Patrick Zimmerer, one of the owners of Table Mountain Winery near Huntley, displays a bunch of Frontenac wine grapes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Table Mountain Winery

On Sept. 20, I stopped by Table Mountain Winery to see what Frontenac grapes look like when nearly ready for harvest.

Patrick grows several other varieties, but said Frontenac seems to be the one favored by birds. He also had hail earlier in the season so there were a few little dried brown grapes in his bunches, but only on the side the storm had come from.

A cold, late spring was responsible for the thick canopy of leaves hiding the grapes. He said each year’s weather affects the taste of the vintage—one year he could taste the excess rain, another year, the effect of drought. The soil adds to the flavor, the “terrior,” as well, and apparently in a good way. Table Mountain wines, which include grapes they grow as well as those from small Wyoming vineyards like the Glicks’, have won prizes at prestigious competitions in well-known wine-growing locations.

Time to tunnel?

Before this year’s raid by the birds, Pam was thinking about enclosing the vineyard in high tunnels, something that is being tried in New York and Canada, adding a layer of protection from wind, hail, early snow and birds.

Then perhaps she and Danny won’t have their utility lines filled with robins making their own harvest plans.


If you are interested in growing cold-hardy wine grapes, visit University of Minnesota’s website,, and contact Chris Hilgert,

If you want to know more about the Table Mountain Winery, go to Their wines are available at several retail outlets in Cheyenne.

Composting can be simple

Compost bins

These composting bins built by Don McKenzie of Cheyenne are crafted with a few extra features, such as handholds on the front boards to aid in sliding them up and out when the time comes for turning or removing finished compost. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Aug. 2, 2015 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Journey section, “Don’t be afraid to compost. Put your food waste and yard waste to work; composting is easier than you might think. ”

By Barb Gorges

“Compost, 3. A mixture of various ingredients for fertilizing or enriching land.” (This definition first recorded in print in 1258 A.D.)—The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

It wasn’t long after agriculture was invented, I’m sure, that someone began talking about composting. Maybe it even predated agriculture, and someone simply noticed the plants growing next to refuse piles were larger than the rest.

Today, composting methods can vary, but they ultimately accomplish the same thing: provide a nutrient dense soil for your plants.

Styles of composting

There are the free-form methods of composting where, like jazz, we are inspired to experiment with what’s available. Whatever goes into the piles, eventually decays.

Then there are the methods requiring careful construction, like classical music: a particular size and construction of bin, proper proportions of green and brown materials, and a certain amount of moisture and manipulation to maximize the speed of decomposition.

And of course, rather than make their own music, many folks opt for the radio, sending yard waste to the city’s compost facility. And, hopefully, everyone is also picking up finished compost to use in their gardens.

Benefits of composting

Whatever kind of composting you choose, keep in mind the benefits of applying composted material to your yard:

–Compost provides nutrients, same as chemical fertilizers, plus more micronutrients.

–Compost has microorganisms that help plants absorb nutrients.

–Compost releases nutrients slowly so that plant growth is healthier.

–Compost helps the soil hold water.

–Composting by using leaves and grass clippings as mulch means you don’t have to buy other mulching materials. (If your yard doesn’t produce enough stuff to compost, visit the city compost facility or ask neighbors.)

At the most primitive level, composting can be accomplished with tools you already have for yard and garden maintenance, and with not much more effort than disposing of yard waste.

The science of composting

Over time, Mother Nature rots nearly every once-living thing. Still, there are a few principles to keep in mind for best results.

Several sources say the optimal size of a pile is a cubic yard, 3 x 3 x 3 feet. Using some kind of container–a bin, trash can or fencing–holds it together.

Composting requires the right amount of moisture. With our dry climate, you may need to add water sometimes.

Composting requires oxygen, or you may begin to get the odor of anaerobic decomposition. Holes in the side of the bin or wire mesh sides help. So does turning the pile, so that the stuff in the center trades places with the outer part.

Introducing good microbes speeds the process and is as easy as adding a little dirt—even soil clinging to weed roots may be enough.

Mixing green stuff, like grass clippings, with brown stuff, like dried leaves, with the addition of regular turning, can make the compost “cook” hot, possibly hot enough to kill weed seeds and diseases. But like me and my husband, most folks I talked to don’t manage their compost at that level–not enough to reach that sanitizing heat level.

What not to compost

We are primarily discussing composting yard and garden waste and so everything is a candidate. However, we should talk about a few exceptions:

–No seeds of weeds. Add weeds to compost before they go to seed.

–No weeds that sprout easily from little segments of roots, like bindweed and creeping bellflower. (Creeping bellflower has lavender bell-shaped flowers, and is common in Cheyenne.)

–No diseased plants.

–No woody stuff unless it is chipped into small pieces. If it doesn’t decompose in one batch, sift it out and add it to the next, or put it under your shrubs and trees as mulch.

–Nothing that has been treated with herbicides within two months. Same goes for pesticides, especially if it is intended for the vegetable garden.

Manure is a more complicated subject. It has to be from a grazing animal—not from cats, dogs or people. It could be full of seeds. It could be full of salts, which our soils do not need. It could be full of medications. It could be too hot—too strong—and burn your plants if it hasn’t aged enough.

Composting kitchen waste is something I’ve never been able to get my family interested in. But what I’ve learned is you want to stick to plant materials. No meat, no dairy, no grease, no oils, no salt, no processed food with unpronounceable ingredients. Maybe eggshells. To be safe, just stick to fruits and vegetables—including coffee grounds.

And no wood ash. Gardening books written by easterners forget that places like Cheyenne already have alkaline soils and wood ash will make it worse.


Years ago, Mark and I bought a system that is essentially a sheet of heavy green plastic with several stakes that fit into any of multiple slots in the sides to form it into a barrel shape 3 feet high and 8 feet around (2.5-foot diameter). We throw stuff in and when we need some compost, perhaps months later in the spring, we dig out the stuff at the bottom.

We have four large trees that shed plenty of crispy curled brown leaves in the fall. Some of those we layer in the vegetable garden after frost to decompose. Some I use in the perennial flower bed for winter insulation—thinning them out in the spring if necessary.

The rest we bag up to keep them from blowing away, saving them for spring. Then, we dig more of them into the vegetable garden, use them as mulch or add them to the bin between layers of lawn clippings—though clippings are often used as mulch as well.

I recently visited Laramie County master gardener Maggie McKenzie to see what she is experimenting with these days.

Her husband, Don, built a nice three-bin system, much like the one you can see next to the green shed at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. One bin is for collecting, one for cooking and one is available for spreading.

Lasagna gardening

Hugelkultur, a European gardening method in which compostable materials are layered over logs and wood debris, is catching on in the U.S. Maggie McKenzie established this bed last year and her husband, Don, decided to add the retaining wall. Photo by Barb Gorges.

She is also having success with “lasagna gardening.” To start a new garden bed, lay down a thick layer of wet newspapers (The Wyoming Tribune Eagle is printed with soy-based ink and is safe to use) or wet cardboard.

Top that with a 2-to-3 inch layer of peat, then a 4-to-8-inch layer of yard waste, then more peat, then more yard waste, until you have built up 18 to24 inches. As it ages, it will shrink. Letting it overwinter is best.

Maggie’s lasagna is for vegetables and is set up inside a raised bed frame, which keeps the wind from taking it apart. For annual upkeep, just add more layers. It is supposed to be ideal for starting and maintaining any kind of garden.



(Hugelkultur) Hugelkultur, a European gardening method in which compostable materials are layered over logs and wood debris, is catching on in the U.S. Maggie McKenzie established this bed last year and her husband, Don, decided to add the retaining wall. Photo by Barb Gorges

Maggie is also trying a variation of lasagna gardening that includes logs and other woody debris. Known as a hugelkultur bed, the woody layer is placed on top of the wet newspaper or cardboard.

The decomposing wood provides a steady supply of nutrients and holds moisture. Don finished the mounds nicely with retaining walls of sandstone.


Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Look for the brochure on composting under “Gardening Tips.”

University of Wyoming Extension Department, Search for “composting.”

“Organic Gardener’s Companion, Growing Vegetables in the West,” by Jane Schellenberger, editor of the “Colorado Gardener,”

“The Colorado Gardener’s Companion,” by Jodi Torpey of Denver.

“Lasagna Gardening,” by Patricia Lanza.

Keep a lookout for Emerald Ash Borer in Cheyenne

Emerald Ash Borer adult

The Emerald Ash Borer adult is 10-13mm long, or less than a half-inch. Photo by S. Ellis, USDA-APHIS.

Published March 16, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “What could this little bug do to this BIG tree? More than you might think. The emerald ash borer has been spotted in northern Colorado. Experts say there’s no need to panic here, but you should keep a close eye on your ash trees.”

By Barb Gorges

Last fall, an invasive menace to trees was found for the first time in the West: the emerald ash borer, in Boulder, Colo.

Green Ash leaf

Green Ash has a compound leaf, with 5 to 7 leaflets. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you own an ash tree in Cheyenne, the experts say hold off on taking action at this time, as there have been no reports of the beetle here. But keep an eye on it.

Don’t let any unscrupulous people talk you into treating your tree with pesticides without confirmation from local experts who have been trained to diagnose emerald ash borer. Become informed. And be sure that your tree is a true ash, and not a mountain ash, which is not related or affected.

Borer history

The emerald ash borer is native to China, Korea, Japan, Mongolian, the Russian Far East and Taiwan.

Michigan was the site of the first North America discovery in 2002. The original immigrants may have arrived unintentionally via wooden packing materials in shipments from Asia. Imported packing crates now have to be treated.

The invasion soon spread to the other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces and the states adjacent to those.

Green Ash bark

Mature Green Ash trees have deeply furrowed bark. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There are 16 species of ash trees in the U. S., mostly in the eastern forests, and their loss is going to change ecosystems, maybe even extirpating two dozen species of butterflies.

A U.S. Forest Service expert estimates that 50 million ash trees have already been lost. Millions of dollars have already been spent in eastern and midwestern cities removing dying trees.

Ash has been popular as a street, park and yard tree across the country, as it is here, comprising 10 percent of Cheyenne’s trees, mostly green ash.

Borer biology

The emerald ash borer life cycle begins between mid-May and mid-August, when an adult lands on an ash tree and lays eggs. They aim for the upper parts of the tree so you may not catch a glimpse of the elegant, emerald carapace of the adult.

After a couple weeks, the eggs hatch and the emerging larvae tunnel into the tree, finding the area just under the bark where the tree’s water and food delivery systems are coursing.

If you peeled back the bark, you would see S-shaped galleries—tunnels chewed away by the larvae between August and October.

If the tunnels under the bark girdle a tree limb, the flow of water and nutrients is disrupted and that limb dies. In two to four years, the whole tree dies.

Emerald Ash Borer exit hole

An Emerald Ash Borer D-shaped exit hole shows where the adult tunneled out, to fly off to lay eggs on another ash tree. Photo by Gerald Wheeler, from USDA-APHIS.

During the winter, the larvae are dormant under the bark and then between May and June they emerge as adults, leaving 1/8-inch, D-shaped exit holes.

Why D-shaped? The larvae are D-shaped in cross-section, flat on the back and round on the underside.

What about Cheyenne?

Boulder is about a 90-mile drive from Cheyenne, but Boulder was 600 miles from the nearest emerald ash borer outbreak, in Kansas City, Mo. You would think with prevailing winds blowing in the opposite direction, this weak-flying insect, not finding continuous ash forest in between, would never make it to Colorado.

So it’s clear that EAB arrived in Boulder with help—probably inadvertently, such as travelling in a load of firewood.

Currently, Boulder is quarantined, so presumably infected wood will not be exported to Cheyenne.

On the other hand, experts now think the Boulder invasion began at least four years ago, so there is a possibility that it is already here in Cheyenne and no one has recognized it yet.

Keep in mind, there are several other insects which leave tree damage that could be mistaken for emerald ash borer.

To treat or not to treat

There is no vaccination for emerald ash borer. Do not apply pesticides to your ash tree without consulting our local experts (see adjacent box). Otherwise, you are wasting your money and needlessly killing beneficial insects and birds.

Trees suffering the early stages of an emerald ash borer infection have been successfully treated with injections in their trunks or in the soil using particular systemic pesticides, a much better option than spraying.

These pesticides travel throughout the tree, just under the bark where the emerald ash borer likes to feed. However, there are several reasons even these pesticides may not be a good option.

1—Injections are expensive, $250 per tree per year. And once the emerald ash borer is in your neighborhood, you’ll have to keep them up year after year.

2—Injections in the trunk mean punching holes. Any damage to bark increases a tree’s chances of becoming infected with other diseases, even if it survives emerald ash borer.

3—Ash trees with other health problems or growing in bad locations, such as under power lines, shouldn’t be considered candidates for preservation.

4—Scientists know that the active ingredients in these systemic pesticides, the neonicotinoids, are toxic to bees. Systemics injected into the ground under trees can travel to nearby flowering plants, making their pollen toxic, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation,

The emerald ash borer is however, susceptible to cold.

Rob Venette, a U.S. Forest Service research biologist interviewed in the Jan. 10 episode of National Public Radio’s “Science Friday,” reported that with only a few minutes at minus-20 degrees, 50 percent of the larvae overwintering may die.

The firewood problem

Firewood, and wood chips, from ash trees brought to Cheyenne could bring emerald ash borer. However, we should also consider what happens to trees cut down here.

The Cheyenne compost facility accepts wood up to 12 inches in diameter that they can chip, but larger logs may end up in the landfill, admitted the owner of one local tree service company licensed to prune and remove trees in Cheyenne. (It seems to me a place for local people to drop off and pick up oversized wood for firewood or carpentry could be set up somewhere.)

Mark McCoy, of Arbor Solutions, another licensed company said, “I have two local guys that do firewood that I give all my wood to. If it is diseased wood, they are supposed to keep it under plastic for a year before processing it.”

That would definitely be a help if there are any emerald ash borer s lurking in Cheyenne.

Lisa Olson, director of Cheyenne’s Urban Forestry Division, told me the trees the city removes are checked for invasive insects before they are picked up by a firewood company that won the bid to do so. Infected wood is buried in the landfill.

Plant replacements now…but not ash

The best advice I’ve heard is to take the savings from not treating your ash tree and plant a replacement nearby now, instead of waiting for its demise—but don’t plant another ash tree as your future source of shade, not only because it could fall victim, but nursery stock could be infected, especially if it is from back east.

There are alternative shade tree varieties recommended for Cheyenne by the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Stop by or visit online, Click on “Gardening” and then “Garden Tips” and find the “Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers” PDF.

Also check with the Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division and their website,

Meanwhile, stay vigilant and check for 1/8-inch, capital D-shaped holes this spring.

Where to go for help identifying insect damage

–Urban Forestry Division of the Cheyenne Parks and Recreation Department, 637-6428.

–Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension Horticulturist, 633-4383.

–Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, 637-6458

–Laramie County Conservation District, 772-2600