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  • Starting From Scratch – Creating a Drought-Resistant Garden

    After: This native, drought resistant garden was created from scratch by Ft. Collins, CO customer Mary R.

    Q & A with homeowner Mary R. of Ft. Collins, CO

    What inspired you to create your garden?

    My house was built just four years ago, so the garden was a blank slate when I started--lots of dirt and rock with not a green thing in sight.

    When I moved, I sold my lawnmower, so I had committed to not having a lawn. I wanted to do something a little different, water saving and interesting.

    I had been a member and active volunteer for many years at The Gardens on Spring Creek, our local botanic garden. The inspiration for my own garden is the lovely rock garden there.

    Before: Piling up the dirt with the Dingo.Before: Mary's son used a "Dingo" to pile up soil for future garden berms.

    I had the opportunity to take a few classes about how to build a rock garden from the designer of that garden, Kirk Fiesler of Laporte Avenue Nursery. He kept saying that anyone could do it if they just rented a Dingo (a piece of equipment like a mini Bobcat). I thought elevation and berms were just what was needed to make my yard interesting, and I decided to give it a try.

    Stones for the rock garden were put in place. Preparing the rock garden, which was inspired by one found at The Gardens on Spring Creek, in Fort Collins.

    What steps did you take in creating your landscape?

    To have it done was going to be more than I wanted to spend, so I really had to do most of it myself. I drew it out on graph paper, asked my college-age son to help. I asked the opinion of a garden designer friend, who made several suggestions.

    I wanted to start in the spring and plant before it got really hot, but we didn’t get started until mid-June. We got the Dingo and the topsoil and positioned piles of soil for the berms, then took delivery of the rocks. My son was the Dingo operator and we spent 3-4 days positioning rock and soil.

    A local landscaper placed a flagstone path between the two garden beds.

    After the rocks were in place, a landscaper came and placed flagstone between the two major beds. They also put in the basics of the drip system. So I just needed to do the planting and the rest of the drip system myself. At the end of the summer I mulched the whole garden with gravel.

    How did you choose the plants?

    I didn’t really have a good system. I knew I wanted them to be xeric (drought resistant), like the Gardens on Spring Creek. I would go to a plant sale, a local nursery, check out the Plant Select website, or read the High Country Gardens catalog and note what would be good. Lauren Springer Ogden’s book, The Undaunted Garden, is also a favorite resource. I knew I wanted a shade tree, a serviceberry, and dwarf conifers for winter interest. I ended up just adding plants around them. Despite planting in the heat, I didn’t lose a lot of plants over the summer. (See Mary’s summer planting tip below.)

    I have an “inferno strip” that is 43x12, and is not irrigated at all. I chose the plants using the water symbols in the HCG catalog, selecting waterwise plants that I only water by hand a few times a year.

    After: This drought resistant garden includes multiple Salvia and Penstemon varieties, Walker's Low Catmint, Creeping Grey Germander, Sundancer Daisy, Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) and others.

    What are some of your favorite plants?

    I have about a dozen different varieties of Penstemon (dwarf Penstemon virens, Scarlet Bugler which is huge and hummingbirds love it). I love the Grand Mesa, which blooms earlier in the season and the Prairie Jewels, which has varying colors.

    I’ve got lots of different types of Salvia, including May Night and Caradonna. Salvia daghestanica is one of my favorites. It requires almost no water. It is in a spot between the patio and the flagstone walkway. I have two patches, one that gets water and one that doesn’t, and they look virtually the same.

    Walker’s Low Catmint, it’s beautiful all year. And I have lots of Sedum for texture and lots of Ice Plant and groundcover Veronicas, which provide tons of color.

    I have one big Iris and several dwarf Iris (6-10 inches tall) that friends have given me that are sentimental favorites.

    Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium) After: Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium) with multiple varieties of Penstemon, Salvia and Ice Plant.

    One of my favorite plants is Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium--available from HCG in July for Fall 2015 delivery). The leaves are beautiful soft gray with orchid purple flowers. It has the demeanor of a spring plant, but blooms from mid summer to winter. It’s maybe my favorite plant in the whole garden, and it gets asked about the most. It has that same structure as candytuft and is a nice combination with every thing else that blooms in the summer.

    I have planted several Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) right outside my living room window, so I can watch the hummingbirds from in my house. My favorite thing about Agastache is the fragrance.

    One other plant I really like is the Western Sundancer Daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis v. ivesiana). I love that it seeds around a little bit, but is never a nuisance, and has those pretty little daisies. This year I’m trying the Thrift-leaf Perky Sue (Hymenoxys scaposa).

    In the "inferno strip” I have Fernbush, dwarf Rabbit Brush, Apache Plume, Penstemons, Mirabilis, Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum, Woolly Speedwell (Veronica), Prairie Clover (Dalea), Globe Mallow, Salvia azurea, Liatris, and a ton of California poppies. My last act before tucking the garden in for the winter that first year was to throw poppy seeds in the gravel mulch of the inferno strip. They are so prolific that I need to clean out the poppies from around smaller plants like Scuttelaria every year.

    Mary filled the "inferno strip" with xeric (drought resistant) plants that only need supplemental water a couple times a year. Plants include Penstemons, Mirabilis, Woolly Speedwell, Prairie Clover, Globe Mallow, Salvia azurea, Liatris, and lots of California poppies.

    This year in addition to Perky Sue, I’m adding Black Foot Daisy and Salvia Ultra Violet to the “inferno strip”.

    Do you have any advice for other gardeners?

    The one thing that really made the difference, because I was planting in the heat of the summer, was to use a root stimulant to help get the plants established. I really think that made a huge difference in planting during the heat.

    If you’re going to use xeric plants, remember, they’re desert plants. They don’t want to have a lot of rich material. Just plant in topsoil, not topsoil with compost. I don’t feed anything in my garden except for a couple roses that I have close to the house. So skip the compost, and don’t use organic mulch. Use gravel and don’t use weed fabric.

    One example of the "happy accidents" in the garden, where plants have naturally grown together. Shown here are Hens and Chicks with Ice Plant.

    People ask me about the garden all the time. Because my house is in a very public area, and my garden is in the front yard, I feel pressure to keep it looking good. But you can have a beautiful xeriscape with a lot less work than I put into it. But to me it isn’t work. I love every minute I spend out there, even the weeding!

    This summer will be my 4th season. There’s a saying about perennials. First they sleep, and then creep and then leap. It was really true. This is year four and everything is just so healthy.

    What are some of the things you appreciate most about your garden?

    I’ve never had a garden with fewer problems and it turned out better than I ever thought it would.

    It’s full of bees. I have a neighbor that was a retired environmental scientist, just comes to watch the bees. He told be one day that the diversity of the insects in my garden is just amazing, and it’s always buzzing with butterflies, sphinx moths, and hummingbirds.

    The prettiest parts of the garden are parts that I didn’t do. It’s taken on a life of its own. Plants are popping up between flagstones and boulders, and it looks very natural. I can’t take credit for all of it. You have to let it just happen and not be concerned with everything being perfect.

    Ice Plant Mix Mixed Ice Plants (Delosperma) have grown between the boulders, creating a very natural look. Shown here are Lavender Ice, Blut and Firespinner Ice Plants.

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission. You are welcome to share a brief excerpt and link on social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest.

  • Shady Characters: Plants for Shade and Part Shade

    Aquilegia chrysanthaGolden Spur Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) hosts a long display of fragrant yellow flowers in late spring. It does best in partial shade, but is quite sun tolerant at higher elevations.

    I've been gardening in the high desert of New Mexico for more than three decades. And I've learned a healthy respect for the strength and intensity of our sunshine. A shade loving plant in too much sun quickly becomes a puff of smoke. So early on, I found it to be very important to define what sun or shade conditions mean to gardeners here, especially to those who've moved from areas with more benign, less sunny climates.

    The intensity of sunshine varies considerably as one moves across the US. This is a huge continent with pronounced regional differences in elevation, heat, humidity, cloud cover and the resulting intensity of the sun's rays. Full sun conditions in Ohio are radically different than New Mexico. In Ohio, cloud cover is more constant. And along with the humid, hazy skies, the strength of the sun's rays are greatly diluted when they reach the ground. Where as in high elevation New Mexico, our 300+ days of cloudless skies and of lack of humidity and haze fail to dull the strength of our intense sunshine.

    Elevation generally has a huge effect on the sun's intensity; the higher above sea level, the stronger the sunshine and the higher the ultra-violet wavelengths. You don't tan at 7,000 ft. elevation, you burn.

    Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) Soapwort is an Old World wildflower and an outstanding groundcover for sun and part sun areas.

    Definitions for sun or shade during the growing season

    In the Western US:

    Full sun - all day sunshine or a full half day of afternoon sun.

    Part shade - morning sun and afternoon shade after 12 PM. Or all day dappled shade under small leaved trees like honeylocust (Gleditsia) or desert willow (Chilopsis).

    Full shade - no direct sun during the day because of dense overhead foliage or buildings.

    In the Eastern US:

    Full sun - 8 or more hours of sun.

    Part shade - up to 4 hours of sun (during any part of the day).

    Shade - little (morning only) or no direct sun.

    Bottom line: study the light in your yard and become familiar with when the sunlight hits the ground and plant accordingly.

    Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea Firefly)Best in part sun and shade in hot climates, Heuchera (Coral Bells) will do well in full sun at higher altitudes with cooler summer weather.

    Favorite Plants for Full Shade
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    Favorite Plants for Partial Shade (Morning Sun or Dappled Shade)
    View All

    Some Miscellaneous Factors that Affect Plants and Sun Intensity

    Variegated Plants - Plants with variegated foliage will always need less sun that the same species with green leaves. So variegated plants will do best in part sun, dappled or full shade.

    Hot Summer Weather - When day temperatures begin to regularly exceed 90+ ◦F, many plants will benefit from afternoon shade.

    New Homes - In new housing developments, sunlight conditions will change over time as trees mature. What was once a sunny spot may gradually change to part or full shade conditions. So plant for current sunlight conditions and understand that in five or more years, you may need to change out your plants as conditions become more shady.

    Sunny Winters in Cold Areas of The West - during winter, the sun is lower in the sky and the angle of the sunlight shifts. This can change a sunny location into a shady location. This is an important consideration for broadleaf evergreen plants in cold climates. Too much sun during Western winters can result in burned foliage. High intensity sunshine combined with frozen soil prevents the foliage from transpiring (losing moisture through the leaves to cool the plant). So be sure plant your broadleaf evergreens and evergreen perennials like Helianthemum (Sunrose) in a spot where they are more shaded during the winter.

    Text By David Salman

    © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission. You are welcomed to share a short excerpt and a link back to the article on social media websites such as Facebook and Pinterest.

  • Easy-to-Grow Perennials for the Beginning or Not-so-Confident Gardener

    Easy-to-grow Maximilian's Sunflower Santa Fe with Russian Sage. Easy-to-grow Maximilian's Sunflower Santa Fe with Russian Sage.

    Easy is good, especially when it comes to growing plants. I'm often asked when customers are buying a plant, "Is this one easy-to-grow?" Of course the answer depends on your experience as a gardener and where the plant is going to be grown. Some places, like southern California, where the climate is mild and the soil rich, most plants are easy-to-grow. Taking that same plant and planting it into the difficult growing conditions I experience here in the windy, dry, hot and cold high desert of Santa Fe, the answer might be different.

    But in general, I would define "easy-to-grow" plants as ones that are:

    • Forgiving as to their soil preference and do well in a wide range of soil types.
    • Don't get "crispy" when they dry out too much and bounce back quickly when watered.
    • Grow quickly and root out vigorously.
    • Are widely growable across a wide area of the country.
    • Have excellent cold hardiness and do well when transplanted in the fall.

    There are a few steps that gardeners can take that will increase the ease with which a plant will grow. The first month in the ground is the most critical time to provide optimum care.

    • Use a root stimulator at least two or three times during the first month in the ground. I have had excellent success over the years using our High Country Gardens Root Stimulator Combo Pack (liquid seaweed and SuperThrive). When these two liquids are used together, there is a synergistic effect that encourages strong root growth.
    • Inoculate with Plant Success mycorrhiza fungal root inoculant. Let these amazing fungal root buddies do the work of helping your plants to grow.
    • Watch the watering, taking care not to over or under water your new transplant. Push back the mulch and check. If the top of the soil is still damp, wait a day; if the plant's foliage is off-green in color, or the soil surface is crusty, its dry and needs water.
    • Mulching the plant is key to maintaining optimum soil moisture, so I strongly encourage forming a nice wide saucer (slight depression surrounded with a ridge of soil) filled with a coarse textured mulch material to hold irrigation water.
    • When watering, do it thoroughly by filling the saucer several times letting the water soak deeply into the planting hole. The warmer the day temperatures, the more often water will be needed. Perhaps every other day to start.
    • Spray all plants with a repellent (we recommend Deer Off), even deer and rabbit resistant ones, to protect from getting eaten.

    Centranthus Ruber Roseus Pink Flowered Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber) is easy to grow and blooms all summer.

    The Most Easy-to-Grow Plants

    More Experience Needed

    Mark New Transplants

    When planting into an established garden, be sure to mark where you plant your new transplants. I use some flagging tape on a stake. I lose most of my plants because I forget where I planted them!

    The Philosophy of Successful Gardening

    • Of course what you can grow well might be a tough one for me and vice versa. It always surprises me how this works. I think it's mis-matched energy between plant and person. But it can also be that my garden conditions and soil are different than yours.
    • Be a positive gardener because no one really has a "black thumb." If you expect failure, it will most likely be a self fulfilling prophecy.
    • Pay attention and be mindful during your time in the garden. Sing or talk to your plants to focus your time with each plant (George Washington Carver did). Your plants will respond positively even if you're a little off key.
  • Why I Killed My Front Lawn - And Replaced It With Native, Drought Resistant Plants

    Denver Garden - After After: This water-wise Denver habitat garden was created where there was once a traditional blue grass lawn.

    A Before/After Transformation with homeowner Jason B. of Denver, CO;
    A 2014 Habitat Hero award-winner

    What motivated you to create a wildscape garden?

    I created this garden for several reasons. The space started out as about 300 square feet of Kentucky Blue Grass that was difficult to keep looking nice and wasn’t very functional because it was in the front of the house. I wanted to reduce my water use and create a garden that was unique and would attract wildlife.

    Denver Garden - Before Before: This home's Kentucky Bluegrass lawn was replaced with drought resistant native plants.

    Our home’s builder provided the original landscaping. Even though the original landscape included the bluegrass that I eventually replaced, the plants in the border between the house and the grass were a great start to my habitat garden and included snowberry bushes, a hawthorn tree, several ornamental grasses, junipers, and spirea. I wanted to create a cohesive space that blended the original plants with the new.

    What plants did you use?

    I selected plants that were xeric (drought resistant), that primarily have white or pink/red flowers or have silver foliage. In addition to having similar color scheme with the original plants, I wanted to use white flowers, grasses, and silvery foliage so the garden would also look good at night and attract night time pollinators.

    I’ve enjoyed watching the white-lined sphinx moths that visit in the evening. I’ve also included a rain garden concept into the design where I’ve planted Joe Pye Weed and Obedient Plant where the down spout daylights in the garden. This part of my yard which I’ve shared in my photos complements my back yard where I have planted High Country Gardens’ Birdwatcher Garden that I won at one of the Habitat Hero workshops in 2014, and where I maintain a bird bath.

    What steps did you take to replace your lawn?

    I created the garden in the spring of 2012. To kill the lawn, I spread of thin layer of manure and compost over the grass and then covered the area with black plastic.

    After about a month the grass looked sufficiently dead. I rented a rototiller and tilled in the lawn, I removed the spray irrigation lines and extended a drip irrigation line into the new garden.

    I had a load of wood mulch and a few small boulders delivered and placed in the garden. The boulders provide a little bit of interest in the spring when there isn’t much blooming, and they are also very popular stepping stones for the kids that walk by. I’ve added to the garden each year but I still have gaps to fill in.

    What pollinators and wildlife does your garden attract?

    Last year I planted a Furman’s Red Sage and Texas Red Yucca to provide for the hummingbirds that are around from late July into September. I also have a spot reserved for a columnar juniper and some milkweed that I hope to get started this fall.

    My favorite pollinators that I’ve found in my garden are the bumble bees. I’ve observed Brown-belted, Yellow, and Hunt’s bumble bees. They especially like the Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana, Miss Manners), White Swan Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Penstemon, and Agastache. About a year ago I started photographing my bumble bees for the Xerces Society’s Bumble Bee Watch. My kids and I also report observations of ladybugs to Cornell University’s Lost Ladybug Project.

    Habitat Hero Birdwatcher Garden The Habitat Hero Birdwatcher Garden fills in quickly. This native, water-wise garden was planted in April 2014. This photo was taken in fall 2014.

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

  • The Top Ten Ways Gardeners Can Give Back to Our Planet

    Practice organic gardening techniques as much as possible and use our landscapes to provide flowers for pollinators. Custoner photo of honey bee on Russian Sage.

    Happy Earth Day 2015

    "Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the deluge of gifts earth bestows on us, entirely unearned: water, air, food, the ground beneath our feet... So what should be our response to the generosity of the world? Paying attention to it. Drinking it in. Letting its energy flow into us. Celebrating ... the physical and spiritual things, the tranquil and exhilarating things, prayer and poetry and pancakes alike." -- Robin Wall Kimmerer

    While there is much to celebrate on Earth Day, it is even more urgent that we watch Mother Earth's back (as we say in the vernacular). With over seven billion people currently living on the Earth and using her resources, the days of plenty are gone. Conservation, restoration and resting the Earth's resources so that they can recover needs to become our focus. Here are some of my thoughts for doing so as it relates to us gardeners.

    The Top Ten Ways Gardeners Can Help Give Back to Our Planet:

    Practice organic gardening techniques as much as possible. Protect our soil, our water and all the creatures (including ourselves) that depend on plants. Educate yourselves about alternatives to the chemical intensive techniques and products that predominate in the marketplace.

    Grow some food. Learn to appreciate what a gift it is to be able to plant seeds and harvest delicious, nourishing food. Plants are our direct connection to Mother Earth, pulling the goodness from the soil and feeding our bodies. This is our primordial connection to Earth that nourishes us physically and spiritually.

    Chatfield Arboretum gardens abuzz with pollinators. Chatfield Arboretum gardens abuzz with pollinators.

    Use our landscapes to provide flowers for pollinators and habitat for songbirds and other animals. Tens of millions of prairie and forest have been lost to human settlement, having disappeared under houses, shopping malls, offices, roads and highways. Give back by planting to provide food and shelter so other creatures can share our space. There is power in numbers; Think what a difference it would make If a million gardeners make it their goal to create habitat.

    Don't buy toxic gardening products. Let the stores where you shop for gardening products, know that we want organic and natural products. Tell them we want to learn how we can garden without the poisons that currently stock the shelves in the Big Box stores and many of our garden centers. Tell them we don't want to buy systemic pesticides that poison our pollinators (bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and others). Tell them we don't want to spread damaging "weed-n-feed" chemical fertilizers/pre-emergent herbicides on our lawns and under our bare feet.

    Buy organic food. Agra-business (Industrial agriculture) is destroying the planet, abusing our precious farm animals, poisoning our bodies and polluting the Earth's soil, air and water. We can make our voices heard with our dollars. Seek out organic foods.

    Demand that GMO foods be labeled. The dominance of GMO "Round-Up Ready" food crops directly results in the use of millions of tons of toxic herbicides, pesticide and chemical fertilizers that are poisoning the land, the water and our rural farming communities. We demand the opportunity to vote with our dollars by knowing if our food or food products (i.e. high fructose corn syrup) comes from genetically engineered crops. Again we must vote with our dollars if our need for a safe environment is to be heard.

    Buy food from a Farmer's Market, Groceries or Food Coop that support and sell locally grown produce, food products, and grass feed/free range, non-feed lot meats. California, which supplies much of this country's food is in danger of running out of water this year! The catastrophic drought that is affecting the West Coast will directly affect a huge percentage of our food supply. Grow and buy locally. It only makes sense to de-centralize our food supplies so we can build and support a market infrastructure for local farmers.

    Customer Photo - Girl with anemones. Share the love of gardening.

    Teach our kids to grow plants and learn to garden. Video games won't feed us, and food doesn't just magically appear at the grocery store. Support community and school gardening programs.

    Plant a tree. Planting a tree is an investment in the future. A statement that says we need to look to the future and do something about it today. Plant a shade tree to cool your home. Plant a fruit tree to grow some fruit. Plant a flowering tree to feed the bees.

    Enjoy your garden by leaving your cell phone in the house. Be mindful and give your undivided attention to your plants, your soil, your landscape. Nurture a direct connection without the distractions of someone talking in your ear. Enjoy all that gardening and connecting to Mother Earth has to offer. Make your time spent gardening restorative and let it bring you joy!

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Groundcovers You Can Step On

    Pink Chintz Thyme alternative lawn.

    Groundcovers are some of our most versatile and easy-to-grow perennials. Like a well designed house with floors covered by nice rugs and carpeting, the garden is more beautiful when we use groundcovers to cover bare ground. And as the movement encouraging lawn-less landscapes gains momentum, groundcovers take center stage as lawn grasses are removed. Knowing and understanding their tolerance to foot traffic is a key element in deciding what are the right groundcovers for your needs.

    To Step or Not Step

    Groundcovers are usually defined as plants that spread much wider than they are tall. And they are typically plants that have stems that root, creating a spreading carpet of stems and leaves as they grow. How a given groundcover holds up under foot, is a key consideration when choosing which ones to plant. But even the toughest grass will be worn down by constant foot (paw) traffic. So I always recommend putting down stepping stones, flagstone or slate pieces to provide a hard surface where there are paths in your yard and interplanting with groundcovers that have better durability under foot.

    Levels of Traffic Tolerance

    As you might suspect some groundcovers wear better under foot than others. Here is a list.

    Most Durable:

    Veronica Speedwell Alternative Lawn with Flagstone An alternative lawn created with Veronica liwanensis and flagstone.

    Moderately Durable:

    Not Durable:

    *fastest growing varieties ("galloping groundcovers")

    Remember: Not every area of your yard needs groundcovers that tolerate being walked on. Before redoing any area, study where the paths are and use the most traffic tolerant groundcovers to surround the stepping stones. Elsewhere, being able to tolerate footsteps is much less important.


    Groundcovers are some of our best low care perennials.

    Deadheading: Keep them looking their best by "deadheading" them when they finish blooming. This can be done by hand with hedge trimmers or with a lawnmower adjusted to a higher setting. It just needs to be done once per season.

    Fertilizing: Groundcovers growing in healthy living soil will be the most resilient, so apply a mix of Yum Yum Mix, compost (or earthworm castings) and granular molasses broadcast over the foliage and watered in. Do this in mid- to late fall (or mid-spring if your forget in the fall).

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Patio Plants: Container Gardening with Perennials

    Perennial Containers Illustration When designing your container garden, make sure pots have a mix of plants: thrillers, fillers and spillers. Perennial plants that appreciate well-drained soil are a great choice for containers.

    Container gardening has traditionally been focused on the use of annual-type plants. But containers are a great way to garden and we can also be using them to grow many perennials and perennial ornamental grasses. In fact, gardeners living east of the Mississippi will find the use of containers as a great way to expand their palette of growable perennials, especially xeric ones that would be unhappy in the ground because of excessive moisture and soggy freeze-thaw conditions in spring. Perennials that may seem impossible to grow in the ground become easily cultivated in pots.

    Planting perennials in bigger pots adds a dramatic element to your patio garden. Planting perennials in large pots adds a dramatic element to your patio garden.

    A Few Container Gardening Basics

    • Use bigger pots. (Note: I use the words container and pot interchangeably.) Avoid using pots that are too small. Plants quickly become root-bound and it becomes difficult if not impossible to keep them adequately watered and fertilized. I always use at least a 14 inch diameter pot. Remember: The bigger the mature plant, the bigger the pot.
    • Always use a soil-less potting mix. Filling pots with garden soil is a recipe for failure. Garden soil compacts and greatly restricts drainage and air exchange. I always recommend a high quality soil-less potting mix. This potting mix can be reused each season and enhanced with new ingredients.
    • Keep the plants well fertilized. Because we must water pots more frequently than plants in the ground, we need to replenish nutrients that are flushed away. If you want to grow your pots organically, top-dress every couple of weeks with earthworm compost and Yum Yum Mix. Compost tea is also excellent. Growing conventionally, use Osmocote slow release fertilizer mixed into the soil at potting time and supplement with water soluble Miracle-Gro (or equivalent) once every week or two.
    • Don't put gravel in the bottom of the pot; this is a useless technique that can actually restrict drainage in the pots. Fill the pots completely with soil-less mix. If the pot has a large drainage hole, I'll put an irregular rock over the hole that doesn't seal the hole and allows for water to flow out.
    • Leaving pots out-of-doors year-round: If you want to leave your containers outside year-round, I recommend using a fiberglass pot or the pot-in-pot strategy to avoid cracked pots and cold damaged roots. For pot-in-pot cultivation, plant in a plastic nursery container and drop this pot into a slightly larger ceramic pot. Fill the empty space in between with small bark nuggets. This insulates the inside pot from heat and cold and allows winter watering without cracking the ceramic pot.

    Monarda Fireball Bee Balm is a petite variety that does well in pots. Fireball Bee Balm (Monarda) is a petite variety that does well in pots.

    Protecting Pots Over the Winter

    We need to protect the pots and their resident perennial plants from the extremes of the winter weather.

    • After several hard frosts, move them into an unheated garage or cold frame.
    • If this isn't practical or you have a lot of pots to protect, make a straw bale enclosure where the pots can be placed.
      Cover with a couple of sturdy pieces of row crop cover (frost blanket) fabric.
    • Be sure to give the pots a drink every month or so on warm day so the roots don't dry out excessively.
    • In spring, cut the perennials back and move them into the outside position.

    Re-potting Perennials

    When using perennial plants, they can remain in the pot for at least two seasons before re-potting them into a larger one. Or the perennials can be divided and re-planted back into the same pot with fresh soil-less mix.

    Arranging Plants in the Container

    Remember the container gardening mantra, "thrillers, fillers and spillers." The tallest most showy plants (thrillers) go in the middle of the pot. The medium sized plants (fillers) go around the center plant. Soften the edges of the pots by planting trailing (spillers). If you're going to place a pot a container (pot) against a wall, put the tallest plants on the wall-side of the pot.

    Recommended Xeric Perennials for Containers

    I can't recount how many frustrated gardeners have asked me how to grow Agastache (Hummingbird Mint) in cold, moist, Mid-Western or Eastern climates. The answer: plant them in pots. The same goes for Lavender, native Sage (Salvia greggii and hybrids) and other xeric (low water) plants. Containers are also a great way to grow perennials that aren't quite winter-hardy enough for in-ground cultivation in one's region. Gardeners in Zones 4 and 5 gardeners, for example, can enjoy Perennial African Daisy (Gazania krebsiana 'Scarlet Tanager, 'Hantamberg Orange'), native Sage cultivars/hybrids (Salvia greggii) and Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas). These are just a few of many cold-tender perennials that make superb potted specimens.

    Hummingbird Containers Supply Natural Nectar

    As a hummingbird gardener, I recommend planting hummingbird attracting flowers and placing them around your outdoor living areas as a replacement or supplement to hummingbird feeders. Pots filled with Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), native Sage (Salvia), Monardella, Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) and Coral Bells (Heuchera) make colorful, nectar-rich containers.

    Check out The Hummingbird Society's perennial patio garden for hummingbirds:

    Text by David Salman

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

  • Monarchs and Milkweed

    Monarch aclepias syrica Monarch Butterfly on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syrica)

    Feeding Our Winged Royalty

    WASHINGTON — The annual overwintering count of monarch butterflies released today shows a modest population rebound from last year’s lowest-ever count of 34 million butterflies, but is still the second lowest population count since surveys began in 1993. But the 56.5 million monarchs currently gathered in Mexico for the winter still represents a population decline of 82 percent from the 20-year average — and a decline of 95 percent from the population highs in the mid-1990s.

    “The population increase is welcome news, but the monarch must reach a much larger population size to be able to bounce back from ups and downs, so this much-loved butterfly still needs Endangered Species Act protection to ensure that it’s around for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

    Monarch caterpillar on Asclepias Butterfly Weed Monarch caterpillar feeding on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)

    “Despite this small increase, monarch populations are still severely jeopardized by milkweed loss in their summer breeding grounds due to increasing herbicide use on genetically-engineered crops,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure monarchs are protected under the Endangered Species Act.”

    The butterfly’s dramatic decline has been driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crop acres are in varieties made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in the use of Roundup and other herbicides with the same active ingredient (glyphosate) with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwest corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common, iconic orange-and-black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.
    --Press release from the Xerces Society January 27, 2015

    Read the entire article at www.xerces.org

    Say What?

    It's truly astounding that our beloved Monarch butterfly is imperiled and faces the real threat of extinction. As American agribusiness continues it to expand the development and use of GMO, herbicide and pesticide intensive crops, we are now seeing its direct effects on the health of our natural world and the creatures that live in it.

    Monarch butterflies on Asclepias Butterfly Weed Monarch butterflies on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)

    Let's not let the Monarch become the next passenger pigeon, whose vast numbers once darkened the sky when huge flocks would fly overhead. As gardeners, we can and must make a concerted effort to reverse this loss of habitat by planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to help feed the Monarch's caterpillars put in peril by corporate profits and disregard for our planet.

    A Primer To Making your Milkweed Planting Efforts Successful

    While there are many species of Asclepias, a widespread genus throughout North America, it is recommended that we concentrate our efforts on growing five primary non-tropical species of Milkweed:

    • Orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) - a tap-rooted species that requires a fast draining sandy soil, unless you plant the clay form or 'Western Gold' forms which grow in uncompacted, non-moist clay soils.
    • Showy Milkweed (A. speciosa) - a fast growing stoloniferous species from the western US with large pink flower heads.
    • Common Milkweed (A. syriaca) - a fast growing stoloniferous species with large pink flower heads.
    • Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) - an attractive species with fiberous roots and pink or white flowers that grows in swampy to medium-moist soils.
    • Sullivan's Milkweed (A. sullivantii) - a rarer Mid-Western species that is slowly stoloniferous with large pink flower heads.
    • For the ornamental garden, Orange Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed and Sullivan's Milkweed are considered the best varieties. Showy Milkweed and Common Milkweed are aggressively stoloniferous (spreading by underground roots) and are best planted in peripheral areas of the landscape such as along drainage ditches and unused portions of your property where their weediness won't be a problem.

      Seeding Milkweed into Your Landscape

      Neil Diboll, founder of Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin, and a pioneer of prairie restoration says this about seeding Asclepias. "Seeds of all the members of the genus Asclepias that I have worked with benefit from a 30 day Moist Stratification period to break seed dormancy. The seeds germinate best under warm soil conditions. They can be successfully seeded in fall as a “dormant seeding” to improve germination in spring. All species (A. tuberosa, A. syriaca, A. sullivantii, A. incarnata) will also germinate moderately well when seeded into warm ground in mid to late spring with only Dry Stratification treatment."

      Seeds can be moist stratified by mixing seed with moist (not soggy) sand in a zip-lock plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator for 30 days. After 30 days of cold moist storage, the seed's natural chemical germination inhibitors have dissipated and are ready to sprout. Dry stratification is done by placing dry seed in the refrigerator for 30 or more days.

      Monarch on Asclepias Butterfly Weed Monarch butterfly with Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa )

      Planting Potted Plants into your Landscape

      With exception of Orange Butterfly Weed, the other four species transplant readily as actively growing or dormant plants. Orange Butterfly Weed on the other hand has a deep growing tap-root and is much more finicky about the soil in which it prefers to grow. The most commonly available Butterfly Weed seed of this species is grown from populations originating east of the Mississippi and must be grown in sandy, low fertility, acidic soil. It will refuse to grown in heavier, compost enriched loam, clay-loam and clay soils. Mis-matched soil is the most common reason gardeners have difficulty getting A. tuberosa to grow successfully.

      To solve this problem, High Country Gardens sells two distinct selections:

      • 'Western Gold' is grown from seed originally collected in western CO where it grows in drier, alkaline soils. It is the best choice for drier climates with heavier, higher pH soils common in the western half of the US.
      • Clay form is a unique strain originally found growing in a clay field near Madison, WI where it was rescued from impending construction project. The original plant found its way into the capable hands of Neil Diboll who propagated this unique find and introduced into cultivation.
      • Lauren Springer Ogden, renowned author, gardener and landscape designer recommends that Orange Butterfly Weed be transplanted before the heat of summer (April-May) or in the fall. She has observed that the combination of wet roots and hot daytime temperatures favor root rot from soil pathogens. She also points out that this species is "highly soil-specific depending on the strain you grow". Lauren also relates that the plants are susceptible to pill bugs. "They will chew where the root meets the crown. And they love warm moist conditions". Another reason to not wait to plant in the heat of summer and not to mulch. This plant is happiest growing in bare, uncovered ground.

        Easy on the Water

        Orange Butterfly Weed is also sensitive to growing in damp soil, especially after transplanting. Yellow, chlorotic foliage is usually an indication of over-watering. I recommend that new transplants be watered thoroughly after the initial planting. After the initial watering, wait until the plant begins to wilt slight before watering thoroughly again. Once you see new growth, a good soaking every 5 to 10 days will be sufficient. Once established, which happens in a few months, the plants may not need much additional water unless conditions are hot and dry. For those of us with drip systems, be sure to place the emitter off to the side of the planting hole so the roots won't sit in overly wet soil.

        Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • 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.

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