Monday, June 29, 2009

Pots “R” Us (In special places) by Gardener Dave

There were a couple of problem areas in my yard where nothing seemed to grow well. I didn’t want to put a lot of work into them for reasons which I will explain. One location is in a far corner with a utility pole in it. The grade there is already a bit higher than my neighbor’s and would require a preliminary dig-out to put in a raised bed so as not to harm the fence. However, I kind of like the way my yard slopes gently up to that stage-like corner. The other reason for not putting in an extensive/expensive raised planter bed there - the plants would get pretty well destroyed if the “Power to the People” (Xcel) crew decided that major work is needed up the transformer pole, or (heaven forbid) the pole needs replacing. Since the corner was slightly elevated, I decided to put some “characters” on my little stage in the form of graduated-size terracotta pots. These I plant with annuals each spring. This year I put a row of Calibrachoas in front of the pots. The pots are filled with moisture-retaining potting soil and everything is watered by drip irrigation so maintenance is pretty much just fertilizing and a bit of deadheading. In the late fall I remove the annuals, let the pots go dry, and cover them with plastic to keep the soil dry so it doesn’t expand and crack the pots. If the Power People need to work there, at least they won’t be destroying perennials or an elaborate raised bed, and the pots can be moved.

The other problem area was below my deck in one end of a brick planter that was built at the same time as the house. It gets no direct sun. The light source there is primarily reflected light off the concrete driveway. This seems to be adequate for Impatiens and a few other shade plants. It looked bad, so I decided to give it the “graduated size pot treatment” also. There was room for only three “sized” pots, which I planted with New Guinea Impatiens, “Can Can” Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Can Can’), and a “Little Lantern” Ligularia (Ligularia x hessei ‘Laternchen’) which I have not tried before. So far they all seem to be happy there. I wish I had a “before” picture to show you, as it’s like the expression “You Had to be There” to see what it was like originally, with Oregon Grape Holly trying to extend itself into those shady conditions from the middle of the planter. It got tall and lanky and very weedy-looking. Needless to say, it is no longer there. Good riddance!

Gardener Dave

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mulching Around Trees

There is a very simple way to mulch around trees without killing the grass with glyphosate, digging up sod or using landscape cloth or plastic to smother the grass. Use newspaper instead! Four to six pages of newspaper with mulch on top will effectively kill the grass. Your trees will love not having to compete with grass for nutrients and water and the newspaper will decompose and continue to feed the tree. Newspapers use soy-based inks so there is no fear in harming the earth!

See how easy:

And voila! Ten minutes later:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Garden Problem Spots – Invasive Roots from Older Trees and Shrubs by Gardener Dave

I am soliciting some advice from you other blogging gardeners. My yard has several areas where I would like to plant perennials, but invasive, wide-spreading feeder roots from existing older trees and shrubs make new planting difficult and rob the soil of moisture and nutrients. These are areas that are 5-10 feet or more from the main tree trunks or shrubs. Some areas are shady, some are sunny.

I have had some success in recent years with making a couple of raised flower beds in these areas, covering the original existing soil and the inside sides of the wood bed material with high-quality woven weed barrier before adding improved planter soil. In one, I doubled the layer of weed barrier before adding soil. The raised beds are 12-14 inches high. They are planted with perennials in the back and center, leaving the front edges open for annuals.

Since my weed barrier is quite permeable to water and oxygen, I believe I am doing the existing trees and shrubs little damage, since the beds are watered regularly and the bed soil is quite light and porous, similar to standard potting soil. Also, the beds do not cover a large portion of the tree/shrub root area. Water, even heavy rain, seems to drain easily through both the soil and weed barrier. So far (in 2-3 years), the perennials seem to thrive in this environment, and the original tree and shrub invasive root problems seem to be alleviated. Whether the weed barrier will stand up to them long-term remains to be seen.

What I am wondering is: In your experience, are there many common herbaceous perennials that require a root depth of over 12 inches to attain healthy maturity? I have “Googled” to some extent to determine this, but would welcome your experiences and knowledge in this area. Thanks!

Gardener Dave

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What to do with the side yard? by Donna Duffy

Have you noticed how narrow side yards have become in newer neighborhoods? They are usually covered in rock and serve only as a pathway from the front yard to the backyard. In older neighborhoods, like mine, side yards are typically wider and offer more options for development.

But what to do with the side yard? It has the house on one side, and often a fence on the other side. It’s usually a shady area, and can be full of tree and shrub roots. It’s a high traffic area, resulting in compressed soil. It’s one of the more challenging parts of the yard for many of us.

When we moved into our house, the side yard had a shed, a locust tree and some spotty grass. I left it that way for a summer or two, then decided it was a waste of water to try and nurture the grass. So I killed the grass and put wood bark mulch in its place. Well, that took care of the water waste, but it was pretty boring. So one summer, I decided to take on the side yard as my main project. I added a meandering flagstone footpath, several large planters, a volunteer sumac, and a hammock under the tree. I planted perennials in the planters, not sure if they would last beyond the first year. At the entrance, I put an greenish metal arbor and gate.

It’s now an interesting, maintenance-free walkway. The perennials have survived in the planters with minimal winter water. The tree drops its leaves on the mulch, and I don’t have to rake them up. It’s a great place to hide out and take a nap in the shade. In the backyard, I continued the flagstone pathway in the lawn all the way to the pergola. For not much money or effort, I solved my side yard dilemma.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stir Up the Compost by Kim Bone

While I was outside I realized I needed to do something I really did not want to do....STIR THE COMPOST BIN!!!
I grabbed my handy shovel and went to work only to realize there was more in there, than I thought, so I emptied the bin and got to work by mixing up the old with the new. As I was doing this I did some spreadin' around and mixed it with some good ol' dirt and gave it a good waterin'. That's all folks!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hori-Hori – You Gotta' Have This! by Donna Duffy

The word “Hori” is a Japanese word for digging.

When I retired last year, a fellow gardener gave me a Hori Hori knife as a retirement gift. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The Hori Hori was originally used for excavating bonsai in the mountains of Japan. Because the tool is small, it’s less destructive than a shovel and can be worked around fragile bonsai roots during excavation. I’ve heard that it’s also called a “diggy diggy.”

As I’ve been working with my fellow Master Gardeners, I’ve noticed that people who own a Hori Hori use it for almost everything. Need to remove sod, transplant or split perennials? No problem! Need to cut through woody roots? Just grab a Hori Hori. One gardener has even used it as a small axe. It’s especially great for those oh-so challenging tasks like opening a bag of soil.

The Hori Hori is available with a carbon steel blade or a stainless steel blade. The blade is razor sharp and serrated. Some blades are marked to serve as a ruler for measuring depth. It has a large smooth wooden handle and is easy to use with one hand. It comes with a sheath that can be attached to your belt.

But beware – the carbon steel blade and wooden handle are easily camouflaged in the earth. I’ve lost mine a couple of times and found it partially buried in soil. Try one! I’ll bet you love it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marriages in the Garden, Achieving Plant Partnerships by Jerry Peterson

All you gardeners out there are invited to a wedding! Actually, every time you plan, arrange, or plant your gardens, you’re participating in a wedding. Just as human marriages succeed when the people involved complement each other and build on differences and similarities, so we as gardeners have opportunities to create successful “plant marriages” when we plant our gardens.

We could call it “Horticultural Harmonies” or “Plant Partnerships” or perhaps some other cute alliterative name, but what we’re really talking about is using landscape plants in a way that creates a harmonious and attractive picture. We can take advantage of the plants’ differences and similarities to accomplish this.

The general idea is to use the color, size and texture of the plants to generate a pleasing combination of plant materials. Many articles have been written about the use of the color wheel with its primary colors, secondary colors, and complementary colors. For all I know, maybe someone could get a PhD in colors! The color wheel indeed is a handy tool that can be useful in designing a garden. However, there are other sources of ideas for putting plants together in pleasing combinations. Some of the best resources are just looking at what others have done, visiting gardens in the area, seeing pictures in books and magazines, and even using those occasions when serendipity allows us to discover a delightful plant combination by accident.

Would you not agree that, if you plant a garden that pleases you and accomplishes your goal for that garden, then the garden is a success. You don’t have to please the experts or your neighbors. You are not accountable to anyone else (well, maybe your spouse). No one else has to like what you like.

Having said that, perhaps from time to time this blog can pass on some tips and ideas about possible plant combinations or other garden design topics. Let me tell you about a “plant marriage” that came about quite accidentally for me, but I’ve grown to like the effect. I’m not a big fan of most junipers. However I do like the low growing mat juniper used as a ground cover.

I once had an area in which I had planted one of these mats. I also acquired a Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides or Waldsteinia ternata) and planted this low growing groundcover next to the juniper. The barren strawberry soon wound its way into and among the juniper and created a very nice display of color and texture. The two plants are different shades of green, the strawberry has small yellow flowers, and the textures meld into what, in my opinion, is a very nice display.

Since then, I’ve used the Barren Strawberry with other plants, allowing it to weave its way between, among, under, and through. It looks very nice with Partridge Feather (Tanacetum densum) and Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum). The Barren Strawberry spreads via runners like our normal garden strawberry, but it’s very easy to just pull out what isn’t wanted, and start it somewhere else in your garden or give it to a friend.

Let’s drink a toast to our marriages!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fungus Among Us by Donna Duffy

I love walking through my neighborhood, checking out the gardens and landscaping. There’s always something new and interesting. Lately, I’ve been slogging through puddles and mud from all of this marvelous rain we’ve had. No surprise, there’s lots of fungus popping up.

This “colony” of mushrooms was growing right beside the sidewalk in some rain-soaked soil. These mushrooms looked like they were growing right on top of each other.

Further down the block, this “fairy ring” caught my attention. I’ve heard about this configuration of mushrooms, but had never seen it before.

Of course, I went directly to the CMG website to learn more. Here’s what I learned:
Mushrooms may grow in a circle around grass, forming "fairy rings." Grass inside these rings can be a darker green and grow more quickly. In some cases, there are so many mushrooms in these rings water cannot penetrate into the soil and the grass dries out, sometimes dying. This leaves a ring of dead, brown grass and another ring of darker green, healthy grass.
Fungicides don't usually kill fairy ring mushrooms in this region. Spring and fall aeration and several applications of a few ounces of dishwashing solution in a gallon of water on the ring will sometimes make the ring less noticeable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bindweed Mites by Mary Small

Recently there was a program on NPR that discussed bindweed mites, a biological control agent of field bindweed and some of its relatives. I found some background information for you on the internet that discusses their biology and also about a distribution program that Adams County is doing in July. You may want to refer folks to this information.

The main points to keep in mind about the mites is that they don't perform well in irrigated sites (i.e. irrigated lawns) and it takes a few years for them to successfully control the bindweed. According to Tony Koski, CSU Extension Turf Garss Specialist, a product that contains Quinclorac (i.e., Ortho's Weed B Gone Max plus crabgrass control) does a really good job of bindweed control in home lawns. Spot treat only.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Music/Photo Essay of Kendrick Lake Garden by Kim Bone

I was watering the xeriscape perennials at Timberline Gardens a couple of weeks ago when a couple approached me wanting know if we had a plant that they saw at Kendrick Lake Gardens. The plant had a bell shaped flower. That was just not enough information for a novice like me. I directed them to Sally with the floppy hat and radio assuring them she would be the better resource. Before they turned to go they asked me; "Have you been out to see the gardens at Kendrick Lake?" I said, "no." They told me I should go that I would have a wonderful time and that the gardens were beautiful.

That very next week I went to Kendrick Lake Gardens and from my visit I created this music/photo essay. I took the photos and my friend Andy Niave, a music writer, wrote the original score. If you haven't visited the Kendrick Lake Garden, you should. It is a truly magical sustainable experience. I also think that the bell shaped flower that the couple was looking for was a Clematis fremontii, a plant that is native to eastern Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. Can you spot it in my photos? What a cutie!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

One Mean Mother! The Yellow Jacket by Carol King

Spoiler of afternoon social events; destroyer of sweet drinks outdoors; culprit in 90 % of bee stings; nominated as among 100 of the “World’s Worst” invaders by the Invasive Species Specialists Group; considered the most dangerous stinging insect in the United States….yes, it is the yellow jacket or Vespula vulgaris, the apt Latin name for this creature.
We know her and her offspring well: they can sting repeatedly because their stingers have no barbs. They will sting for no reason, or because you disturb their nests. They compete with birds and other insects for insect prey and sugar sources; they eat fruit crops and scavenge around trashcans, picnic sites and your garden tea party. They cause deadly allergic reactions in some people. They get into your ice cream, your lemonade, your beer.
Why talk about them now since they reach their peak in late summer and early fall? Yellow jackets can be controlled to some extent if we start early, rather than waiting until they are buzzing around our barbecues.
Yellow jackets are social wasps, living in a community rather than alone. But every spring these communities have to be redeveloped because all the wasps except fertile queens died over the winter. In the spring queens emerge and begin searching for suitable nesting sites. She builds a paper pulp nest from wood pulp that she has gathered from weathered wood, softened by chewing and mixing with saliva. Once the nest is the size of a walnut, she starts laying eggs. The eggs hatch and the workers are sent out to forage. Thant’s when the trouble really begins. A mature colony can have hundreds or thousands of wasps. One colony in Alabama was reported to be the size of a Volkswagen beetle. So now is the time to put out the wasp traps to catch those fertile queens. With any luck, you can catch several dozen queens as they bumble around trying to find a nice home for their families. The chemical heptyl butyrate is included as a lure in the wasp traps. It mimics the ordor of fruit is only attractive to yellow jackets. You will not harm beneficial insects.
So come on; get some traps; do your duty. Save us from Vespula vulgaris. She’s one mean mother!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium) by Dusty M

Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium) occupies the place of honor in my front yard, in the corner of sidewalk and driveway. It is a delightful small tree that intrigues passersby both when it blooms in mid-spring and in winter when its dark brown seed capsules the size and shape of apricots accent its twiggy skeleton. That is, until the squirrels have harvested them all and emptied them of the pea-sized seeds inside.

The Yellowhorn is said to grow to 18 feet in height; mine is about 12, after more than 15 years in place. It has flowered rather reliably, but late freezes have destroyed its blossoms several times. Neighbors across the street have a Redbud tree that blooms at the same time, so I had come to think of them as sharing the same hardiness. This year, however, the Redbud had no flowers.

Michael Dirr, in his Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, says the Yellowhorn is adaptable to well-drained soils, either acid or alkaline. Mine is the latter. It is hardy to Zone 3 or 4, so it should be happy even with our neighbors at higher altitudes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Plant Parking Lot by Donna Duffy

Currently in the parking lot are two daylilies, a variety of mums, one peony, and a volunteer staghorn sumac.

In my backyard, along an old fence, there’s a sunny strip garden that has been there since we moved in. For ten years, I’ve resisted working on it as I merrily added flower beds, sculptures, sitting areas and improvements in other parts of the yard. I finally figured out the purpose for this strip – it’s a plant parking lot.

When I divide perennials, I typically put them in a pot and nurse them back to health for a couple of weeks, then I plant them in this strip garden. When someone gives me a lily or mum as a gift, it ends up in that strip. Later, I tend to move those plants to better, more permanent spots in existing beds, or I dig them up and give them to friends. I’ve done this for years without really realizing the usefulness of this otherwise neglected area.

My plant parking lot serves a very practical purpose for me. It’s an ever-changing palette of colors, textures, heights and shapes. It’s a holding zone, a place where friends can “shop” for plants they’d like to add to their gardens. I don’t have to worry if the plants look good together, because they won’t stay together. I love being able to ignore it and focus on my more purposeful garden projects. Now if I could just figure out where to put a shady parking lot…

Monday, June 1, 2009

Siberian Peashrub by Dusty M

Siberian Peashrub (Caragana arborescens) is a tough utility shrub, useful for hedge, screen or windbreak. As its name implies, it survives harsh cold weather and heavy dry soils. Yellow flowers in May yield short, narrow seed pods that make a popping sound when they dry and open later in the summer. A friend who has four Siberian Peashrubs, each about 10 feet high, in her backyard says she hears the pods popping as she sits on her back porch. Like other members of the pea family, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil.

I noticed in the other morning’s newspaper article on urban homesteading that some folks near Denver City Park are growing Siberian Peashrubs for the concentrated edible protein in the peas they produce. A “homesteader” explained that the peas could also be used as chicken feed. Not to disparage his good intentions, I trust his chicken flock is not very large. The pods are 1-1/2 to 2 inches long and the peas are very small. My shrub has grown to about 6 feet in 10 or 12 years. Were I to try to collect all the peas before the pods opened on their own, I can’t imagine having even a cupful. I would humbly suggest the growing space and other resources be devoted to higher-yielding crops.

See “Deciduous Shrubs” at for a listing of shrubs, including the above, recommended for our area.