Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Native plant gardening for SE Wyoming

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

Published April 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

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

Water-wise plantings

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

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

Pollinator-friendly/wildlife-friendly gardens

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

Native plants

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining native prairie

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

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

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

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

Locate and design your native garden

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

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

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

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

Irrigation

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

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

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

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

Prepare for planting

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

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

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

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

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

Perennials from seed

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

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

Picking and planting

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

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

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

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

Become a Habitat Hero

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

Popular Southeast Wyoming Native Plants

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

Shrubs

Buffaloberry

Chokecherry

Golden Currant

Red-twig Dogwood

Mountain Mahogany

American (Wild) Plum

Rabbitbrush

Silver Sage

Western Sandcherry

Serviceberry

Yucca

Perennial flowers

Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerula

Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Gaillardia, Gaillardia aristata

Fleabane Daisy, Erigeron species

Gayfeather or Blazing Star, Liatris punctata

Harebells, Campanula rotundifolia

Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa

Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Penstemon strictus

Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrate

Native Yarrow, Achillea millefolium


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


By Barb Gorges, with Niki Kottmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PK at Soapstone

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

 


Apply to be a Habitat Hero

Habitat Hero logoThe Habitat Hero program recognizes people who have reduced the size of their water-loving lawns and planted native, water-smart plants that benefit birds, bees, butterflies (and bats) and other wildlife.

Audubon Rockies, the regional office of the National Audubon Society for Colorado and Wyoming, offers information about wildscaping and the application to become a Habitat Hero at   http://rockies.audubon.org/programs/habitat-hero-education.

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society and Laramie County Master Gardeners are already planning the 5th annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop for spring 2019. To be notified about the details when they are available, sign up for the blog posts at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/.


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Wildscaping: bringing nature home

Allium

Allium flowers attract a bee. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published May 3, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bringing nature home with wildscaping.”

By Barb Gorges

The idea of wildscaping, landscaping your yard for the benefit of wildlife, has been around for a long time.

But there is a new spin on it. Here, the emphasis is on using native plants to provide shelter and food for wildlife.

Why native?

Let’s say you plant a shrub that is native to another continent–an alien. It may produce berries our birds will eat, but it did not evolve with our local insects, entomologist Douglas Tallamy explains in his book, “Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.”

Our native herbivorous insects usually find the alien leaves to be inedible. And that is exactly why aliens are so popular with gardeners.

But, Tallamy writes, if you fill your yard with insect-edible native plants, there will be plenty of insects for birds to feed their young and your yard would be contributing to the health of the greater landscape—and indirectly, human health.

Don’t worry, in a healthy habitat, your plants won’t be leafless.

So a stand of native trees and shrubs supporting native insects could produce more birds than say, a stand of Russian olive trees, an invasive exotic in Wyoming that has crowded out native species in many places. In fact, land managers are now working to eradicate it.

Beebalm

Beebalm (Monarda). Hummingbirds are also attracted to these tubular-shaped flowers in the mint family. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Gardeners can also choose native plants that will provide nectar and pollen for butterflies and bees. That’s important, as both are suffering declining populations.

Our natives are better adapted to our location, plant biologist and author Susan Tweit told the 100 people who took part at the Habitat Hero workshop in Cheyenne in March, organized by Laramie County Master Gardeners and the Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society. Native plants are also more resistant to our weather extremes.

And in our area, they often require less water than aliens, and little or no fertilizer, she added.

Designing wildscapes

Tweit also discussed landscape design, another of her specialties.

Landscape design is about pleasing combinations of color, form and texture at each season. Wildscaping considers appearance along with providing habitat functions.

The mingling of layers, from trees to shrubs to ground cover, besides aesthetic appeal, provides shelter, or cover, and foraging areas for a variety of species that may each prefer different heights and micro-habitats.

Tweit cautioned that “going native” does not mean a weedy-looking patch. You can still choose formal, cottage style, meadow, or minimalist. Simply fill the space with natives.

How to transition

People moving into a newly-built house usually get to work with a blank canvas. But where do you put native plants in an established yard?

The trick is to keep your high maintenance, water-loving conventional aliens, if you still want them, in one area of your yard. Don’t mix these with native plants, as too much water can be deadly.

Blanketflower

Blanketflower (Gaillardia). Photo by Barb Gorges.

You can gradually replace your alien trees and shrubs with natives. Replace alien annuals (like petunias) with native perennials. Widen your flower borders. And one year at a time, replace sections of your Kentucky bluegrass turf, which is another alien species.

Tweit said her method for converting lawn is to smother it with layers of newspaper held down with rocks.

She doesn’t recommend killing turf with black plastic. That method collects heat and cooks the grass, but it also kills important soil organisms. As a last resort, use Roundup, the least offensive herbicide. Follow directions.

At our house, when expanding flower beds, we cut clumps of turf with a sharp spade and either turn each piece upside down in place, or shake off the dirt and take the roots elsewhere to compost.

Think about naturalizing remaining lawn with small, spring-flowering bulbs, like species tulips. They provide pollen for bees when little else is blooming so early in the season. By the time the grass needs mowing, their vegetation will have died back.

Water

Water is part of the complete wildlife habitat. If you don’t have a pond or flowing water on your property, you can use a recirculating water pump in imaginative ways.

Or a valuable low-tech solution Susan mentioned is water in an upside down garbage can lid embedded in the ground, with rock perches around and in it. You can include a product called a mosquito dunk, which releases a bacteria in the water that is toxic only to mosquito larvae.

You may also try a patch of wet sand to attract butterflies.

Black-eyed Susan

This Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) attracted a bee before its petals fully opened. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Native plant lists

Without being a field botanist, how will you know which plants are native to our area?

One resource is the book “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area,” co-authored by Jane and Robert Dorn of Lingle. Jane was also a presenter at the workshop. It features an illustrated selection of 500 plants, their favorite kinds of habitat and tips on growing them.

Hard copies are available through www.lulu.com. Cheaper, digital copies will be available soon through Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society, http://home.lonetree.com/audubon/.

Meanwhile, the chapter website has the Dorn’s list of 114 native species specifically recommended for our high plains.

Also at the website is a link to “Wyoming Wildscape, How to Design, Plant and Maintain Landscaping to Benefit People and Wildlife.”

It is a jointly sponsored publication of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, Audubon Rockies and Wyoming Partners in Flight.

This publication gets into the nitty-gritty of sustainable gardening practices and also has a plant list.

Finding natives

Native plants, by definition, are the plants that evolved in the local area. But local nurseries are only beginning to catch on to the value of natives.

It is cheaper to start your new wildscape from seed, of course, and there is a lot more variety available that way. Do not dig up native plants in the wild unless the site is about to be bulldozed, and only with permission.

The good news is, savvy nurseries and seed catalogs have more and more natives available. But be sure to read carefully as not every plant offered is suited to Zone 5, our USDA plant growing zone, though Zone 4 seems more appropriate.

Horticulturally improved varieties of native plants—selected for brighter colors, bigger flowers or longer bloom times—can be OK, Tallamy says. They are close enough to the original natives to function in the same way.

When shopping, avoid plants treated with neonicotinoids, types of systemic pesticides that poison bees when they collect pollen from treated plants. For more information, see the Xerces Society website, http://www.xerces.org.

How to become a Habitat Hero

Audubon Rockies wants to recognize everyone who strives to make their yard more wildlife friendly. Check www.HabHero.org to find out how to nominate your yard this summer.

A few native plants for the Cheyenne Area

Courtesy of Jane and Robert Dorn

Trees

Colorado Blue Spruce, Pinyon Pine, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Bigtooth Maple, Boxelder, Common Hackberry, Lanceleaf Cottonwood

Shrubs

Rocky Mountain Maple, Western Serviceberry, Western Chokecherry, Silver Sagebrush, Redosier Dogwood

Perennial and Annual Flowers

Western Columbine, Orange Butterflyweed, Winecups, Purple Beeplant (Cleome), Purple Coneflower, Common Blanketflower, Annual Sunflower, Prairie Blazingstar, Wild Bergamot (Monarda), Penstemon (many kinds), Black-eyed Susan

Grasses

Indian Ricegrass, Big Bluestem, Buffalograss, Basin Wildrye, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Switchgrass

Where to shop

Try local nurseries and garden centers and then look for native plants through these regional sources.

http://alplains.com, www.applewoodseed.com, www.avseeds.com, www.bathgardencenter, www.bbbseed.com, www.fortcollinsnursery.com, www.highcountrygardens.com, www.wyomingplantcompany.com

More info

Douglas Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” – www.bringingnaturehome.net

Susan Tweit – www.SusanJTweit.com

Susan J. Tweit photo

In close proximity to Susan Tweit’s house, this bed of native plants is arranged more formally, with cobbles providing additional texture and mulch. Courtesy/Susan J. Tweit.

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