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  • Growing Catmint (Nepeta): Pick the Best and Enjoy the Show

    Walker's Low Catmint (Nepeta) with Alba Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber) Walker's Low Catmint (Nepeta) with Alba Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber).

    The catmints (Nepeta) are some of our best garden perennials being long lived, very easy-to-grow, resistant to browsing animals (deer and rabbits) and colorful with a profusion of flower in various shades of blue. And "yes", as the name suggests, cats often find them irresistible*.

    Mostly perennial, this genus is widespread across the Old World parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Many species are excellent in the xeric (low water garden) and they grow well in a wide range of soil types including dry clay. They grow well with at least a half day of sun, but flower best in full sun. And for pollinators, especially honeybees, catmints are an excellent source of nectar. I often joke in my presentations that "if you can't grow catmint, you should take up another hobby." They are a great beginner's perennial.

    Choose the Best Catmint Varieties

    There are several hundred species of Nepeta and many additional selections (cultivars) that had been selected for improved garden performance. But I recommend caution when purchasing catmint plants for your yard. I strongly recommend planting only sterile hybrids and avoiding any Nepeta that are propagated from seed. The seed-grown catmints can be aggressively weedy, spreading themselves throughout the garden and crowding out neighboring perennials.

    I've experimented with numerous species and selections of Nepeta in my gardens over many years. And based on my experiences I can enthusiastically recommend two outstanding, sterile (no seeds), long blooming varieties.

    Delosperma dyeri Red Mountain Flame Nepeta Delosperma dyeri Red Mountain Flame and Nepeta faassenii 'Select Blue'.

    • Nepeta faassenii 'Select Blue' - a selection I made back in the early 1990's from a patch of plants I found in an office park landscape, this low growing, non-spreading plant has beautiful lavender blue flowers. In In early summer after the first flush of flowers have faded, Shear off the flower spikes just above the foliage to get the plants to re-bloom again later in the summer.
    • Nepeta 'Walker's Low'- named after an English castle and not for its size, this cultivar has showy deep blue flowers on tall flower spikes.. 'Walker's Low' grows as a neat, non-suckering, well behaved plant and blooms for many months from late spring into mid-summer. Deadheading (shearing off the faded flower spikes just above the foliage) will encourage stronger re-blooming.

    Salvia 'Caradonna' with Nepeta Walker's Low Salvia 'Caradonna' with Nepeta Walker's Low

    Catmint Companion Plants

    Nepeta's blue flowers mix beautifully with all the other flower colors. And they thrive in the same growing conditions of these perennials:

    *Nepeta cataria and a few other Nepeta species are the "drug" of choice for house cats. They contain nepetalactone which binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, typically resulting in temporary euphoria.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

  • High Country Gardens A Sponsor of the Pollinator Partnership

    Pollinator Partnership High Country Gardens is a 2015 sponsor of the Pollinator Partnership.

    High Country Gardens is sponsoring the Pollinator Partnership for 2015. Working throughout North America, this non-profit organization is dedicated to the protection of pollinators and their ecosystems.

    The Pollinator Partnership's website explains why we should all be concerned about the health of pollinators: “Many pollinator populations are in decline and this decline is attributed most severely to a loss in feeding and nesting habitats. Pollution, the misuse of chemicals, disease, and changes in climatic patterns are all contributing to shrinking and shifting pollinator populations. In some cases there isn’t enough data to gauge a response, and this is even more worrisome.”

    The organization supports creating and protecting pollinator habitat, and promotes the importance of pollinators through a number initiatives in government and industry, consulting, public outreach programs. This includes initiatives to protect the Monarch butterfly and educational outreach efforts such as the Bee Smart School Garden Kit.

    Monarch Butterfly on EchinaceaMonarch butterfly on Echinacea.

    Practical Tips to Help Pollinators

    By visiting the Pollinator Partnership website, you can find practical information geared toward gardeners and farmers, including a variety of simple conservation techniques that you can use in your own back yard. The Pollinator Partnerships has the following suggestions to help pollinators:

    • Reduce pesticide use.
    • Supply salt or mineral licks for butterflies and water for wildlife.
    • Install houses for bats and native bees.
    • Replacing lawns with flower beds or groundcovers.
    • Choosing native plants for your landscape.
    • Make sure your garden has blooms all season long.
    • If you’ve planted a vegetable garden, make sure to plant flowers around near your veggies to draw pollinators, ensuring better crop production.

    For more information, you can visit their website at: Pollinator.org.You can download a Selecting Plants For Pollinators Guide for your region by visiting: http://pollinator.org/guides.htm.

  • Introducing Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame (Delosperma x PPWG02S)

    Delosperma Red Mountain Flame Introducing Red Mountain® Flame Ice Plant (Delosperma).

    A Brilliant New Color for Cold Hardy Ice Plants

    Delosparma Red Mountain Flame with Nepeta Red Mountain® Flame Ice Plant (Delosperma) with Catmint (Nepeta)

    After two trips to the Republic of South Africa and over two decades growing and testing South African flora in the high, cold desert of northern New Mexico, I've become a great fan of these Old World plants. And the cold hardy Ice Plants (Delosperma) are among my favorites. Few plant genera can compete with the brilliance of their flowers, the attractiveness of their foliage and their value as a nectar source for honeybees.

    Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame (Delosperma x PPWG02S) is my latest introduction and one I'm particularly excited about. The original mother plant showed up as a seedling among a large group of ice plants that I grew from seed. Its performance in my trial garden demonstrated it to be a superior plant exhibiting both excellent cold hardiness and outstanding durability as a groundcover. Flame blooms beginning in mid-to late spring and sets the garden on fire with its large, brilliant scarlet-orange flowers. Low growing (only about 2" tall in bloom), it grows to form a dense mat of evergreen foliage that has a pleasing bronze color over the winter months.

    Delosparma Red Mountain Flame Close Up Red Mountain® Flame Ice Plant (Delosperma), close up.

    Delosperma is an indispensable groundcover for the Western US, and will be successful in other parts of the country when grown properly. Here are some helpful hints about growing them in your yard.

    • Plant them in a well drained, non-clay soil in full sun (except 'Gold Nugget' which likes afternoon shade).
    • Delosperma does best when grown in beds covered with gravel mulch. The plant loves to ramble across the gravel which keeps its stems and leaves out of direct contact with the soil, while the roots are cool and moist under the gravel blanket. Keeping the stems and leaves dry during the soggy freeze/thaw cycle of spring is key to keeping these plants alive and healthy.
    • In arid climates, they need irrigation during the growing season; they don't like to be grown too dry. (But over the winter, "dry" is good.)
    • In cold climates, condition the plants for winter by withholding irrigation water during the fall months.
    • In areas where snow stays on the ground for long periods of time over the winter and spring, protect the plants from wet conditions by covering them with a piece of frost blanket fabric (also known as "row crop cover").
    • Protect from rabbits who love the water-filled leaves.

    Salvia Little Night with Oenothera Marcrocarpa Dwarf Silver Salvia Little Night with Oenothera Marcrocarpa Dwarf Silver are great companion plants to Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame

    Companion Plants

    Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame is an excellent companion plant for other late spring blooming perennials and shares a need for similar growing conditions.

  • Creating a Crevice Garden: The Newest Technique in Rock Gardening

    The Denver Botanic Garden's Crevice Rock Gardens The Denver Botanic Garden's Crevice Rock Gardens in early April. Photo by Wendy Hatoum

    Images From The Denver Botanic Garden's Crevice Rock Gardens

    Rock gardening is a very popular style of gardening that uses small growing plants to create miniature landscapes. A majority of these plants come down from the mountains and other high elevation regions of the world. And these hardy little plants often have deep growing tap roots that need a fast draining soil. For many parts of the US, providing excellent drainage can be a challenge. Ample rain and snowfall keeps soils moister than many rock garden plants prefer.

    Thank You Czech Republic

    Well, leave it to the Czechs, who are some of the most avid of the European rock gardeners and whose ranks include some of the most accomplished wild plant seed collectors, to come up with a fantastic new rock gardening technique known as the "crevice garden." Instead of placing rocks into the soil berms (mounds of soil) from the side like stepping stones up the side of a hill, they use flat stones (such as pieces of flagstone or slate) that are pushed down into the soil vertically from the top. These vertical pieces are closely spaced leaving deep, narrow channels of soil that for planting.

    Denver Botanic Garden Crevice Rock Garden Crevice gardening allows rock gardeners to successfully cultivate a wider palette of plants. Denver Botanic Garden in early April. Photo by Wendy Hatoum)

    This technique provides optimum growing conditions by limiting the amount of soil around the roots. And the rocks help to channel rain and snow melt water down more deeply into the soil encouraging deeper root growth while keeping the soil dry around the crown. Crevice gardening has been a game changing technique allowing rock gardeners to successfully cultivate a wider palette of plants including some that have been considered intractable (ungrowable) or limited to hypertufa trough culture.

    Lean, Well Drained Soil for the Crevice Garden

    To create a lean, well-drained soil for your crevice garden, I recommend mixing by volume, 1/2 soil and 1/2 large perlite (or small crushed gravel or expanded shale pellets) and Yum Yum Mix at recommended rates.

    Planting Techniques for crevices

    When planting a crevice garden, the first question that comes to mind is how to wedge the rootball of a potted plant into the narrow crevice between two vertical rocks? Even plants grown in small 2 1/2" wide pots are too wide. Bare-root planting is required.

    Here are the steps.

    1. Let the soil in the to-be-transplanted plants dry down a bit so that the soil mix can be readily separated from the roots. (It's very difficult to bare-root a plant in soggy soil.)
    2. Trim off excess hair roots with scissors or sharp clippers (remove about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bottom fine, hanging roots), but don't cut the tap-root.
    3. Using a narrow planting trowel, a Hori Hori gardening knife or weed fork, push aside the soil and gently lower the roots straight down into the hole.
    4. Then fill the hole with loose soil and firm into place.
    5. Water twice: once with clear water and again 5 to 10 minutes later with a mix of SuperThrive and liquid seaweed (Root Stimulator Combo Pack).
    6. Mulch with 1/2" of fine crushed gravel.
    7. Finally, position a couple of rocks leaning on each other, such that it shades the plant from the sun. Leave the rocks there for about a week to 10 days to help the plant re-establish its roots.

    Plants are best planted bare-root before daytime temperatures become too hot. So early to mid-spring and fall are optimum times. But by providing shade and regular irrigation, bare-root planting can also be done later in the spring and even into the summer months.

    Denver Botanic Garden Crevice Rock Garden Crevice gardens are especially good for growing xeric plants including cold hardy cacti and South African succulents. (Denver Botanic Garden Crevice Rock Garden in early April. Photo by Wendy Hatoum)

    Not Just for Tiny Plants

    Crevice gardens are especially good for growing cold hardy cacti, South African succulents and other xeric plants whose roots are sensitive to wet soil conditions. This is also a great way to grow larger growing xeric (low water plants) like Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Lavender (Lavandula), Sundance Daisy (Hymenoxys), Beardtongue (Penstemon) and native Sage (Salvia) in moister climates. Just make a berm using a well drained soil mix (see above). Bury some big flat rocks close together to create a vertical pocket crevice and plant.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

  • Deer say “Yuck”: New and Easy-To-Grow Deer Resistant Plants

    Plant a deer resistant garden.Learn to plant a deer resistant garden. Photo by customer Linda S.

    As deer populations have been exploding in many parts of the country, especially in the eastern US, the damage they are inflicting on suburban and rural landscapes has gotten out-of-hand. Gardeners have a few different options to protect their landscapes. And realistically, homeowners will need to utilize a combination of different techniques to gain the upper hand.

    Here are three:

    1. The first and most effective way to protect your yard is to install fencing, but it needs to be at 7 to 8 ft. tall to thwart the deer who can easily clear lower heights. (Special low-visibility fencing mesh helps to minimize its visual impact.)
    2. Second is the use of a rotating menu of deer repellants sprayed on established plants that are vulnerable to browsing, especially during the fall, winter and early spring months.
    3. Pink Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber Roseus) Pink flowered Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber
      Roseus) is deer and rabbit resistant.

    4. Thirdly, planting plants that are unpalatable to hungry deer is an essential deterrent.

    Aromatic Plants and Ornamental Grasses

    There are many plants that deer don't favor when they're out looking for a meal. In general, plants with strongly aromatic foliage like Lavender (Lavandula), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Sage (Salvia and Artemisia), Lavender Cotton (Santolina), hyssop (Hyssopus) and Hummingbird Mints (Agastache) are not on the deer dessert list. The aromatic oils contained in the plants are bitter and generally unpalatable. Also, many ornamental grasses are generally not heavily browsed as deer prefer to eat the stems, bark and leaves of woody plants.

    Companion Planting Turns Them Away

    Companion planting of deer resistant plants with other non-resistant plants is also a good strategy. Deer smell the aromatic plants and leave the whole planting alone. Planting lavender alongside and around roses or Clematis vines for example, is an effective and aesthetically pleasing strategy. Or Russian Sage (Perovskia) planted in among and on the outer edge of a xeric planting will keep the deer away as well.

    Pendulous African Lily (Agapanthus inapertus ssp. Pendulus) Pendulous African Lily (Agapanthus inapertus ssp.
    Pendulus) is a spectacular wildflower
    Lily of the Nile that is deer resistant.

    Here is a list of NEW deer resistant plants for spring 2015

    Look for the no deer symbol throughout the catalog and website plant descriptions for both new and previously offered deer resistant plants.

    Deer Repellents

    Be sure and apply deer repellent to new transplants. Nursery grown plants don't realize their deer repellent properties until they have been growing in the soil of their new home for a few months to accumulate the bitter tasting oils that make the plants unpalatable.

    Regional Preferences

    It's also important to remember that the plants deer don't like to eat will vary somewhat from region to region. So I always recommend checking in with local Agricultural Extension offices and Master Gardener organizations to verify that the plants on your deer resistant "want list" are not being eaten in your area.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

  • Wildscape takes root on rocky Wasatch slope

    Native plants replace spurge-filled Salt Lake City landscape

    Wasatch Slope transformation After (June 2013): Native plants stabilize a rocky slope on Salt Lake City's Wasatch Front.

    A Habitat Heroes Before/After Transformation

    Spurge carpeted the slope. Before (2010): The noxious weed spurge carpeted the slope.

    The truth is, we didn't set out to create a wildscape. We live on the foothills of Salt Lake City, at the base of city-purchased green space. We were happy to let the mountain landscape for us. Zero water, zero cost, zero work. Little did we know the mountain was in the thrall of a villain that was carpeting our backyard—myrtle spurge! We pulled a full carload of this noxious weed off our rocky slope. Then we had to stabilize this ridiculously steep, swath of dirt. Plants from the dry mountain west were our only good choices. It turns out the critters like them, too.

    It’s four years later and we've pulled a lot more spurge and put about 200 plants on our back slope. New sage and rabbitbrush emerged after the spurge was cleared. We are coaxing along other shrubs and trees, including Golden Currant, Rhus trilobata, Apache Plume, Serviceberry, Fernbush and Scrub Oak, among others. Bunch grasses lend texture and cover while the shrubs grow.

    During: Planting perennials. During: Spurge cleared from the slope as the area is prepared for planting.

    We didn't expect such a huge burst of wildlife. We've spotted up to 14 different bird species in our yard in one day. Hummingbirds, not seen here before, now fight over the flowers. Butterflies, bees and other bugs set whole patches in shimmering motion. A trio of baby owls learned to fly on our yard. We enjoy the bunnies, squirrels and deer. Our daughter is growing up with a community in her backyard.

    -- Erin A. and Craig B., homeowners

    Plant Lists

    Upper Slope: Amelenchier utahensis, Arenaria macradenia, Asclepias tuberosa, Artemisia tridentata, Artemisia ludoviciana (High Country carries other varieties of Artemisia), Chamaebatiaria millefolium, Chrysothamnus nauseosus, Clematis lingusticifolia, Eriogonum umbellatum, Gaura lindheimeri, Muhlenbergia 'Pink Flamingo,' Monardella odoratissima (High Country carries Monardella macrantha), Opuntia, Penstemon digitalis, Penstemon pinifolius, Penstemon rostriflorus, Physocarpus malvaceus, Rhus trilobata, Yucca elata (High Country carries other varieties of Yucca), Ribes sanguineum, Ribes aureum, Rosa woodsii, Salvia pachyphylla, Schizachyrium scoparium.

    Bottom Terrace: Agastache rupestris, Fraxinus cuspidata, Kniphofia, Phlox subulata, Salvia pitcherii (similar to Salvia azurea), Schizachyrium scoparium, Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia (similar to Sphaeralcea munroana), Symphoricarpos orbiculatos, Zauschneria garretti.

    Side Terraces FallAfter (October 2014): Terraces in Autumn - Native plants can span the seasons, adding long-blooming color.

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

  • The Bold and the Beautiful: New and Recent Lavender Introductions

    Lavandula stoechas Portuguese Giant with RosmarinusLavandula stoechas Portuguese Giant with Rosmarinus

    I've always had a keen interest in aromatic plants. And as it so happens, many xeric plants that are native to arid regions of the world, have fragrant leaves and flowers. Which is fortuitous, since I've gardened in the high, cold desert of northern New Mexico for most of my life. Here I have developed a great love and appreciation for Lavender as both an invaluable ornamental and essential nectar source for pollinators.

    Lavender's Cultural Preferences

    The key to successful cultivation of Lavender is lots of sun, well drained soil and infrequent but deep watering once established. Here's the catch; it's essential that new lavender transplants been watered regularly the first growing season. Their preference for dry conditions begins their second year in the ground as they begin to mature. Plants will reach their full size by the end of the third year in the ground.

    Lavandula 'Silver Frost' hybrid lavenderLavandula 'Silver Frost' hybrid lavender

    English and French hybrid lavender like heat and cold, but their enemy is high heat and high humidity. If you're living in a part of the country like Texas, Oklahoma and the Southeastern US where the combination of extreme heat and humidity is common, stick with Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) as French hybrid and English lavenders will not be long lived. Look around and see what species are growing in your area, but don't be hesitant to experiment.

    Pruning is desirable to the health and appearance of lavender. I recommend waiting until mid-spring to prune out any winter damaged branches and gently shear off a few inches of the branch tips to shape a round, mounded plant. Deadheading will also encourage more flowers, especially for twice-blooming English types like 'Sharon Roberts', 'Pastor's Pride' and 'Buena Vista'.

    Planting Time Matters

    In colder climates (zones 5 & 6), Lavender is best planted in spring and early summer to become well established before winter. In mild winter/hot summer climates (zones 7-10), early spring or fall is the best time to plant. But in both cold and mild winter climates, winter watering is essential when conditions are dry. (When the winter day's are 45°F or warmer, pull out the hose and soak the ground.)

    Fertilizing and Mulching

    Lavender is not a hungry plant and does best in low nutrient soils. But it's essential to keep their soil healthy. So I recommend fertilizing in the fall with a combination of Yum Yum Mix and Planters II trace mineral fertilizer as both are slow acting nutrient sources for the soil's microbial population and the lavender plants. Keep lavender mulched with a 1 to 2 inch layer of small, crushed gravel or pine needles to protect the crown from being splashed with water and mud.

    What's New: Lavender Introductions

    A collector at heart, I've been busy over the years amassing a collection of some of the best and most colorful lavender varieties. Here are our most recent additions.

    Lavandula 'Wee One' with trowel, to show size.Lavandula 'Wee One' with trowel, to show size.

    Lavandula angustifolia 'Wee One' (English lavender)

    For lovers of small plants and owners of small yards, 'Wee One' is a dwarf grower that appeared in one of my gardens. It's a bee-facilitated cross between 'Thumbelina Leigh' and dwarf white English lavender. But it's smaller than both parents and very xeric once established. Mass it by planting 7 or more plants around ornamental grasses like Festuca 'Boulder Blue' or in front of other large-growing lavender, Salvia, Echinacea, Gaillardia and Nepeta varieties.

    Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead Violet' (English lavender)

    A plant I spotted growing in a Santa Fe landscape, this volunteer seedling has the most eye-catching violet-blue flowers I've seen, even darker and more richly colored than 'Hidcote Superior'. It also has very silver mature foliage and is long blooming, from late spring into mid-summer.

    Lavandula stoechas 'Lutzko's Dwarf' (Spanish lavender)

    An exciting dwarf growing cultivar discovered in California, this low growing beauty is covered with dark violet flowers in mid-spring and forms a tidy, low spreading mound of evergreen, gray-green foliage. It's wonderful planted around Rosemary or Sage.

    Lavandula stoechas 'Portuguese Giant' (Spanish lavender)

    Selected by Andy and Melisa Van Hevelingen of Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery in Portland, this plant comes to us directly from its native land of Portugal. A batch of wild collected seed was germinated and the biggest and best growing plant, 'Portuguese Giant' was selected and put into propagation via cuttings.

    Lavandula 'Grosso'Lavandula 'Grosso'

    Lavandula intermedia 'Grosso'

    A returning favorite, 'Grosso' or Fat Bud (translated from French) is one of the best French hybrid varieties that blooms in mid-summer with a fantastic display of dark blue flower spikes. Large growing, give this beauty at least 3 to 4 feet of width to mature.

    Lavandula 'Silver Frost'

    One of my favorite hybrid cultivars, 'Silver Frost' offers gardeners both great flowers and foliage. Not only does it bloom all summer with extremely aromatic spikes of deep lavender-blue flowers, but it's showy silver, evergreen foliage is just fabulous. It's extremely heat tolerant and is an excellent choice for hot, lower elevation hot climates through-out the intermountain West.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

  • Gardening with A Big Buzz: Providing Habitat for Bumble Bees

    Bumble bee on Viburnum Customer Photo: Bumble bee on Viburnum

    Bees. Bees are a cornerstone of nature's system for the pollination and reproduction of flowering plants. Without bees, many of the planet's important web-of-life food plants that feed animals and humans would not exist. Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of the honeybee and Colony Collapse Disorder. But there is also an urgent need to protect our bumble bees. Providing habitat-friendly gardens and landscapes are the most important thing gardeners can do to make a meaningful difference in helping to conserve and protect our native bumble bees and wild bee populations. By understanding their needs and planting to support them with food, we can help to undo what mankind has been inflicting on our wonderful insect friends.

    Happy Faces and Bumble Bees

    For me, no other insect so readily brings a smile to my face than to watch a busy bumble bee buzzing around the garden. These slow flying, big fuzzy insects are a delight to have around us. These are the largest of our native bees and in many ways some of our most threatened. So it is very important that we educate ourselves, our neighbors and our communities' farmers and ranchers about how to work with the bumble bee to protect them from our activities like pesticide use, overgrazing and the destruction of nature areas resulting in the fragmentation of their habitats.

    Bumble bee on Echinacea. Customer Photo Bumble bee on Echinacea.

    Important Pollinators

    Bumble bees are very important pollinators of both wild native plants and agricultural crops. Because bumble bees have the ability to fly in cooler temperatures and when it is darker, they will be pollinating flowers earlier and later in the growing season and during the lower light of dawn and dusk. This ability is unique to bumble bees, as they are one of the few insects that are able to generate body heat (thermoregulation) and fly when it's cold, allowing them to live in more northern climates and at higher elevations.

    What's for Dinner?

    Bumble bees are generalists when it comes to choosing the flowers they pollinate while foraging for nectar and pollen. In general, they have a preference for blue, purple, pink and yellow flowers and are actually color-blind to red (unless the red flowers have ultra-violet markers they can see). Bumble bees, more so than other native bees and honeybees, prefer perennial plants as opposed to annuals, as perennials tend to have larger quantities of nectar. (See the list at the end of this article to learn the genera of perennial and woody plants that they prefer.)

    Bumble Bees are Social Creatures

    Unlike most native bees, which are solitary, bumble bees are social insects that live in colonies. Unlike honeybee hives however, these colonies are much smaller and vary in numbers from 50 to 500 members. And they also differ significantly from honeybees in the lifespan of these colonies. Honeybees are perennial, with hives surviving the winter on stored honey and pollen. Bumble bees however, are annual with the individual bees living one season, with only the queen bumble bee surviving through the winter. At the start of spring she emerges from hibernation to begin foraging and looking for a suitable nesting site where she lays her eggs and re-establishes the colony.

    Where's Home?

    Providing undisturbed places for queen bumble bees to nest is a very important part of bumble bee stewardship. While there is much yet to be learned about the nesting requirements of different bumble bee species, we know that they can utilize both natural and man-made structures. Buildings, rock walls, abandoned underground burrows, under rock piles, cavities in dead trees, abandoned bird nests and bird nesting boxes are all utilized by the queen to establish and shelter her colony. This is why near-surface and subsurface disturbance of the ground by digging, tilling and plowing can be disastrous for bumble bees (and other native bees that also burrow in bare ground).

    Don't Forget the Grass

    It is also known that native bunch grasses like Prairie Switchgrass (Panicum), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum), Dropseed Grass (Sporobolus), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium), Big Bluestem (Andropogon) and Grama Grass (Bouteloua) provide nesting sites and protection for the queen to overwinter. (Remember how I'm always insisting that we leave our perennial plants and grasses standing over the winter?)

    Orange Striped Bumble bee on Lavender Orange Striped Bumble bee on Lavender.
    Photo by David Salman

    Go Natural and Organic

    One of the biggest threats to bumble bees (and all bees) are the use of chemical pesticides, especially systemic neonicotinoids, widely sold at the "big box" stores and uninformed nurseries and garden centers. But often overlooked, is the use of agricultural chemicals on the soil such as diazinon (to "control" ground dwelling insects and their grubs), pre-emergent herbicides and fungicides. Unfortunately these toxic chemicals are most commonly associated with lawn care and the lawn care industry. And these toxic compounds are being applied by the ton to the millions of acres of land covered by lawns. For so many reasons, if you have a lawn, care for it organically! (If you do need to protect your lawn from beetle grubs, the primary target of diazinon, use milky spore, a natural grub control. For above ground insects, diatomaceous earth is a safe, natural alternative control.)

    The Xerces Society

    As always when it come to insects, the Xerces Society is the go-to organization for good, scientifically based information on how the can protect our invertebrate (insect) friends. They have an outstanding book all about this incredibly wonderful group of pollinators titled Conserving Bumble Bees; Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America's Declining Pollinators. This is the most comprehensive book on bumble bees and indispensable for learning all about this wonderful group of insects.

    Be Pro-active and Plant Flowers

    Currently it is thought that Franklin's bumble bee, native to southern OR and northern CA is extinct. And while once common, many other species are imperiled. Plant for bumble bees and help protect these incredible creatures. Because a world without bumble bees is a thought too sad to contemplate.

    Bumble Bee Attracting Old World Plants

      Bumble Bee Attracting Native Plants*

      Text and Photos By David Salman © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

    • Summer Blooming Bulbs

      Dahlia Bulbs Cactus MixDahlias are native to Central America and Mexico and love the heat. Shown: Dahlia Cactus Mix

      Great flowers the first summer

      Summer blooming bulbs are a great way to color up your garden. Most bloom their first growing season, many can be used as annuals (in colder climates) and as perennials in mild-winter climates and many are heat lovers, excellent for use in regions with hot, humid summers. In general, these are a versatile group of bulbs where many years of breeding improvements (done primarily in Europe) has created a kaleidoscope of colors and flower forms.

      Dahlia Thomas EdisonDinnerplate Dahlias span up to 8 inches across.
      Shown: Dinnerplate Dahlia Thomas Edison


      Originally native to Mexico and Central America, these showy flowers love the heat. Dahlias make outstanding cut flowers and I recommend finding a spot in your garden where you can cultivate a number of different varieties for an unending supply of late summer cuts. Dahlia Dark Angel® Dracula is a compact single-flowered variety that is excellent for container gardens and will bloom all summer with its nectar-rich purple-red flowers. Engage and amaze your kids by having them plant some Dinnerplate varieties; their huge flowers can be 8 inches across! Many gardeners are unaware that Dahlias can be successfully overwintered in mild winter areas in zones 8 to 10. But I've seen them do just fine in zones 6 and 7 when mulched heavily with 6" of clean wheat straw mulch to keep the ground from freezing.


      These long lived bulbs can be grown across much of the country, but are at their best in cooler climates. Like peonies, the colder the winters the longer they live. And many of them are quite fragrant. I recommend that the taller lilies be planted in among other shorter perennials to fill in around the base of their tall, lanky stems.


      These South African wildflowers have been breed for generations to increase their flower size and color range. While most Gladiolus are perennial in zones 8 to 10, the dwarf hardy Glads are suitable for zones 5, 6 an 7 making a gorgeous display mixed into perennial beds. The taller, less cold hardy varieties make superb, long lasting cut flowers. Plant some future bouquets this spring with a nice mix of tall, large-flowered varieties. 'Purple Flora' and 'Raven' are especially striking with their dark, richly colored flowers.

      Canna Tropicana BlackCanna Lilies prefer hot, moist conditions.
      Shown: Canna Lily Tropicana Black

      Canna Lilies

      The hotter the better for these sub-tropical beauties. In areas of the country where mid-summer heat and humidity is too much for many flowers, Cannas will thrive. They can be grown in regular flower beds or large containers with enriched soil and regular irrigation. 'Tropicanna' and 'Tropicanna Black' are especially showy grown in pots with their large, showy tiger-striped leaves. Or they are excellent bog plants for those of you with ponds and areas with damp, boggy soil.

      Calla Lilies

      Not to be confused with Canna lilies (above), these South African native plants are unusual and exotically colored. I like to use Calla Lilies in container gardens where their unique flowers contrast vividly with petunias and other common annuals. Pair up nearly black 'Black Forest' with the glowing golden 'Best Gold' for a dramatic potted combination. In the garden, these are vigorous perennials for mild-winter areas (zones 8 to 10) of the southern states where the rainfall is more ample. I've not had much success with them in the ground in arid climates. I think they are best grown in pots in the drier intermountain West. But in coastal areas of California, they are a great "no brainer" perennial.

      Starflower Mix
      Starflowers grow well in dry conditions and
      poorer soils.Shown: Triteleia Mix

      Triteleia (Starflowers)

      This genus of native bulbs come to us from the Pacific Northwest. Not well known, these early summer bloomers are easy, long lived and color-up the garden with their starry flowers in white and shades of blue. Starflowers are a good addition to the xeric (waterwise) garden as they grow well in drier conditions and poorer soils. I've even seen them mixed into beds of cacti!

      Stretch your horticultural wings this year and plant some unique summer blooming bulbs. Mixed into container gardens, planted to fill in newly planted perennial beds or as part of your cut flower garden, these flowers are a great way to enjoy quick-to-bloom summer color.

      Text and Photos By David Salman

      © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

    • Top 10 Gardening Websites & Books For Western Gardeners

      Our Favorite Gardening Resources

      Founder & Chief Horticulturist David Salman's Favorite Gardening Resources

      In the ever expanding world of horticulture, it's good to have reference sources to check on plant and gardening information. There are an uncountable number of gardening books, most of which become quickly outdated. But the books listed here have been especially useful to me.

      In the ever expanding world of horticulture, it's good to have reference sources to check on plant and gardening information. There are an uncountable number of gardening books, most of which become quickly outdated. But the books listed here have been especially useful to me.

      A quick work about plant facts on the internet. As with any subject, information on the web is often not fact checked if it's not an official organization, so don't take the first source that comes up as gospel. Always reference a few different sources to make sure the facts are correct.

      These are some of the sources I refer to when looking for information:


      Missouri Botanic Garden website - an excellent source for information on individual plants: missouribotanicalgarden.org

      US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plants Data Base - an excellent source for determining where a plant is native in the US: plants.usda.gov/

      The Southwest Environmental Information Network (SEINet) - an invaluable source of native plant information for Arizona and adjoining states: swbiodiversity.org


      The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty, by Lauren Springer Ogden - an excellent read especially for gardeners new to the western US. Many useful plant lists.

      Plant Driven Design

      Plant Driven Design, by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden - a must read book for anyone embarking on a new landscaping project.

      Durable Plants for the Garden, a Plant Select® Guide - a reference text with excellent photos of all the Plant Select (Denver Botanic Garden/Colorado State University) program's recommended plants.
      Primarily focused on the western US.

      Natural by Design: Beauty and Balance in Southwest Gardens, Judith Phillips - an excellent reference book on naturalistic landscape design. The companion book of plants is a favorite reference for information on propagation and cultural needs in the garden.

      Sunset Western Garden Book, Sunset Magazine - an excellent resource for western plant information, especially California. Ignore their confusing zone system (unless you live in CA) as it doesn't jive with the USDA winter hardiness zones used by High Country Gardens and most other horticultural companies. They also have an excellent online version at: sunset.com/garden/sunset-plant-finder

      The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses: Sedges, Rushes, Restios, Cat-Tails and Selected Bamboos by Rick Darke - an essential guide to ornamental grasses, their classification with descriptions of a huge number of specific species and cultivars.


      Santa Fe County Agricultural Extension Service, New Mexico State University - Most states have Agricultural extension agents associated with state universities. The Master Gardener programs are often associated with the Ag Extension Service where you can meet fellow gardeners.

      Text and Photos By David Salman

      © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

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