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  • The Role of Silver & Gray in the Garden

    Salvia pachyphylla, Prunus cistina, ChrysothamnusSilvery foliage makes a lovely backdrop for other plants. Shown here: Salvia pachyphylla (foreground), Prunus cistina, Chrysothamnus (rear).

    Plants with silver and gray foliage are unusual enough that they readily attract our attention. They are quite different than the typical green leafed plant we're accustomed to seeing. And it's their strikingly different look that provides us with many visually appealing uses in the garden, as companion and specimen plants.

    Echinacea angustifolia ArtemisiaEchinacea angustifolia shown with silvery Artemisia

    The deserts and arid lands of the world are rich in non-green plants because silver/gray foliage helps to reflect the sunlight and its drying heat. And these same plants often have thin leaves because they lose less water than big, wide leaves. So most of these plants discussed here, have foliage with thin, gray, silver and even white leaves, which makes them exceeding well adapted to hot, dry growing conditions and less-than- ideal soils. They are the perfect choice for xeric landscapes.

    How to Use Silver, White and Gray Plants

    There are three primary ways to show off these silver and gray plants and to help them make other plants look better.

    • Place taller silver/gray plants in the rear of planting beds to serve as a backdrop for shorter flowering plants and plants with green or blue foliage.
    • Place silver/gray groundcovers under taller flowering plants and plants with green or blue foliage.
    • Mixing tall and groundcover silver/gray plants with ornamental grasses.
      • Blue bladed grasses look even more exotic when contrasted with gray or silver. Try Festuca 'Siskiyou Blue' surrounded by Snow-in- Summer (see below)
      • Green bladed grasses look less common when they are next to gray or silver.

    Monarda fistulosa 'Wichita Mountains' Artemisia filofolia
    Monarda fistulosa 'Wichita Mountains' in front of Artemisia filofolia

    Some of my favorites Silver/Gray Perennials:

    Favorite Silver/Gray Groundcovers

    Ratibida columnifera 'Yellow' Artemisia frigida
    The blooms of Ratibida columnifera 'Yellow' stand out
    when blended with Artemisia frigida.

    Favorite Silver/Gray Shrubs

    • Artemisia filifera (Sand Sage) - the ultimate silver shrub with fine foliage to plant in back of flowering perennials.
    • Artemisia tridentata (Big Sage) - aromatic, gray and wonderful.
    • Lavandula 'Silver Frost' (Silver Frost Hybrid Lavender) - the most silver foliage of any Lavender, it blooms all summer long and is powerfully aromatic. One of the very best. Available for spring 2015.
    • Santolina chamaecyparissus (Silver Lavender Cotton) - aromatic gray evergreen foliage and bright yellow button-like flowers. Needs a sandy soil for best results.
    • For more in depth information and wonderful photos showing how to use gray and silver plants, I recommend this excellent book on this subject: "Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden," 2005, by Jo Ann Gardner and Karen Bussolini.

      Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Salvia x 'Pozo Blue': A Fabulous Native Hybrid Salvia

    Salvia Pozo Blue Salvia x 'Pozo Blue' is an outstanding California native plant.

    I was bitten by the Salvia bug many years ago and have been pursuing a passion for this incredible genus ever since. Salvia are distributed nearly world-wide and their diversity is enormous, being found in some many different climates and growing conditions across the globe. Closer to home, the western US and northern Mexico is the home of a number of highly ornamental species of Salvia. And they are all highly attractive to hummingbirds, making their inclusion in your garden a must.

    California Native Salvia

    California Salvia are beautiful and quite different from those more familiar species such as Salvia greggii, found in AZ, NM and Texas. Many of these Californians are extremely xeric (waterwise), because they must survive in a Mediterranean climate (winter wet and summer dry) and go for half a year without much water. Many species are also coastal in their native habitat making them also tolerant to salt spray and more saline soils.

    Salvia x 'Pozo Blue'

    I have grown many of the CA species over the years. And one of the very best in my experience, is 'Pozo Blue,' a fabulous native hybrid discovered and introduced to the public by Las Palitas Nursery (specialists in CA native plants). A garden hybrid between Salvia clevelandii and Salvia leucophylla, 'Pozo Blue' is breathtakingly beautiful in bloom with tall spires of clear blue flowers held over pewter-gray foliage. A large shrubby plant in the ground, it matures to 3-5' tall x 3-5' wide and is an invaluable plant for attracting numerous species of butterflies, hummingbirds and quail.

    Agastache Desert Solstice,Desert Solstice Hummingbird Mint Agastache Desert Solstice provides striking
    contrast with Salvia x 'Pozo Blue'

    Cold hardy to about USDA zone 7b, it does best in CA, Arizona, Las Vegas, NV and southern NM and west TX. In colder winter climates it is worth definitely worth growing as a perennial container plant, in part, because of its over-the-top attractiveness to hummingbirds and its tolerance to the dry conditions provided by sunny pots. A pair of 'Pozo Blue' plants at the front gate is a nice touch.

    Companion Plants for Salvia 'Pozo Blue'

    In the landscape, 'Pozo Blue' enjoys being planted with:

    - Caryopteris (Blue Mist Spirea) is a shrub that enjoys a Mediterranean climate and maintains the blue theme by blooming later in the summer when 'Pozo Blue' has finished.

    - Agastache (Hummingbird Mint) is also an excellent companion, enjoying the same poor soils and hot, sunny growing conditions that this Salvia prefers.

    Sphaeralcea munroana, Munro's Globe Mallow Munro's Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea munroana)
    enjoys similar growing conditions as Salvia 'Pozo Blue.'

    - Artemisia 'Sea Foam',with its frothy curls of silver, aromatic leaves is a striking ground cover to carpet the ground around the base of 'Pozo Blue'.

    - Sphaeralcea munroana (Orange Globe Mallow) enjoys similar growing conditions and blooms in brilliant orange.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • 2014 Sedona Hummingbird Festival

    Rufous hummingbird
    Rufous hummingbird photo by customer Jeff Guy.

    Great Beauty, Plants and Hummingbirds!

    I was in Sedona, AZ this past weekend participating in the 3rd annual Sedona Hummingbird Festival. High Country Gardens was the Hummingbird Society's first corporate sponsor and remains a committed supporter of this wonderful group. My education about hummingbirds has been a result of this long time association with the Society's founder Ross Hawkins and his wife Beth Kingsley Hawkins.

    Plants To Attract Hummingbirds & Provide Them Nectar

    I like to use the term "natural nectar" when talking about flowering plants that attract hummingbirds. They provide nectar to the hummingbirds in return for having the birds pollinate their flowers. Many people that enjoy hummingbirds, like to hang feeders filled with a 1 to 4 mix of cane sugar and water. But being a life-long naturalist and gardening fanatic, I enjoy seeing the interplay between plants and birds and the incredible color combinations they provide.

    Below is a short list of plants I recommend to attract hummingbirds. You can download a more complete list of recommended hummingbird plants here: Sedona-Hummingbird-Festival-2014-Plant-List.pdf

    Sedona is for Hummingbirds

    Sedona supports a huge population of hummingbirds this time of year, with a combination of full-time resident Anna's hummingbirds and migrating birds that have finished their nesting and are heading south to winter in southern AZ or Mexico. Broad-tail, Rufus and Black Chin hummers represent the majority of the migrating species. Sedona has an extremely favorable environment for hummingbirds with a year-round creek running through the middle of town, sheltered canyons and moderate temperatures. And they show up in huge numbers.

    While I'm accustomed to having a dozen or so birds in my home garden, the hummingbird counts in Sedona are off the charts. One private residence on the garden tour had several dozen feeders that were constantly buzzing with birds. It was estimated that several thousand hummers were staying in the general area of the house!

    Studying Hummingbirds

    Broad-tailed hummingbird
    Broad-tailed hummingbird.
    Photo by Beth Kingsley Hawkins

    A very important part of studying hummingbirds is the practice of banding which helps scientists and bird enthusiasts track the migration of these amazing travelers. And a big part of the Sedona Festival is banding demonstrations where trained ornithologists capture hummingbirds to attach tiny bands to their legs that help to track their movements. Careful records are also collected during the banding process recording the counts and age of each species and banding information from previously banded birds. It's a fascinating process that takes years of training for a person to obtain the skills and knowledge needed to do the work. Feeders are used to attract and trap the birds. And these feeders were constantly filled with multiple birds at each one—an amazing sight to see so much tiny energy and beauty concentrated into one place.

    Learn More About Hummingbirds

    I encourage all my readers to check out the Hummingbird Society's informative website and consider becoming a member.

    Although you don't need to be a member to attend the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, membership dues and money earned from the Festival support the Society's educational and bird conservation activities. And maybe next summer you'll find yourself in gorgeous Sedona, at the side of towering red rock formation, enjoying the cool morning air, watching numerous species of beautiful hummingbirds buzzing around sipping breakfast.

    Bell Rock, Courthouse Rock Sedona, AZ

    Looking north into Sedona's red rock country. (Hell Rock & Courthouse Rock) Photo by David Salman

    Text By David Salman

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

  • Mid-summer Beauty in The Intermountain West

    Chatfield Arboretum Denver Botanic Garden The rain garden at the Denver Botanic Garden's Chatfield Arboretum.

    A Visual Treat and Pollinators Paradise at Denver Botanic Garden Chatfield

    I was just up visiting our Denver production greenhouses, checking the fall crop for High Country Gardens. And on my way back to Santa Fe, I stopped to tour the gardens at Denver Botanic Garden at Chatfield. This beautiful location is nestled against the foothills in the south end of the Denver Metro area.

    The area around the main office was recently re-landscaped in 2012 by landscape designers and plant experts Lauren Springer Ogden and her husband Scott Ogden. Lauren and Scott have a wonderful feel for designing with native plants and dealing with challenging planting situations in an aesthetic manner. They designed and planted the large area around the office with an imaginative palette of grasses and wildflowers that have now matured with their third growing season in the ground.

    Chatfield Arboretum Denver Botanic Garden The welcome center features a lush Buffalo grass lawn at the Denver Botanic Garden's Chatfield Arboretum.

    A Visual Treat and Pollinators Paradise at Denver Botanic Garden Chatfield

    The terrain around the office was extensively graded to raise the building above what is considered to be a flood plain. So several of the large bed areas are sunken as a result. Cleverly, a rain garden was part of the plan, making use of a low area to capture and filter the run-off from the building's roof. There aren't a lot of rain gardens in the Front Range of CO, but this one's an inspiration for others to be planted.

    In the middle of July, many gardens are lacking flowering perennials, having their big burst of color concentrated in late May and June. But not so at Chatfield. The Echinacea (Purple coneflower) were in full color as were the Ratibida (Prairie Coneflower), Asclepias (Butterfly Weed), Amorpha (Lead Plant), Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet®. As you can imagine, the gardens were buzzing with pollinators such as bumblebees, honeybees and native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. What a joy!

    Chartield Arboretum's gardens are abuzz with pollinators. Chatfield Arboretum's gardens were buzzing with pollinators.

    Also of note, are the warm season ornamental grasses, which were also coming into flower. Few designers have the knowledge and enthusiasm for ornamental grasses as Lauren and Scott. And this garden is no exception. Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition' (Blue Grama Grass) has quickly become one of their favorites. And it is used liberally throughout the garden along with Schizachyrium 'Prairie Blues' (Little Bluestem), various Panicum (Prairie Switchgrass), Muhlenbergia reverchonii (Undaunted ™ Ruby Muhly) and Sporobolus wrightii (Giant Sacaton Grass).

    The results are breathtaking and an inspiration for combining herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses. I hope many folks will take these inspiring plant combinations to heart and plant them into their own landscapes.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • New for Fall 2014: Taking Advantage of Fall Planting in your Region

    Fall is a great time to plant.  It's like finding 6 months of low care growing time by getting plants in the ground in fall. It gives them plenty of time to root out before next year's growing season gets under way. And this provides the gardener with bigger, more colorful plants than waiting until spring to plant.

    Here is a short list of some new-for-fall plants that are recommended for fall planting in cold winter areas. For USDA zones 3-6, concentrate on the more cold hardy plants because many of them prefer the cooler weather of fall and early spring to grow and bulk up for next year.

    Gaillardia Mesa PeachMesa Peach Blanket Flower
    (Gaillardia 'Mesa Peach')

    Mesa™ Peach Blanket flower  (Gaillardia grandiflora Mesa™ Peach) - With outstanding vigor, uniform size and summer-long bloom, Mesa™ Peach Blanket Flower is an excellent native plant for parts of your garden where hot, dry, poor soil conditions predominate. The “peach-colored flowers seem to be dipped in golden honey” which makes the blossoms stunningly bright.

    'Gold on Blue' Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora 'Gold on Blue') - A superb prairie native that I selected from a wild population in southern Colorado. It blooms for several months beginning in mid-summer, with a profuse display of golden yellow flowers. The decidedly blue, fine textured foliage is a beautiful backdrop for the flowers. A great xeric groundcover plant.

    Calylophus hartwegii
    High Plains Yellow Sundrops
    (Calylophus hartwegii "High Plains Yellow)

    ‘High Plains Yellow’ Sundrops  (Calylophus hartwegii ‘High Plains Yellow’)  -‘High Plains Yellow’ Sundrops is a long-blooming wildflower introduction that I collected from the rugged, high dry plains of eastern New Mexico. This tough little native perennial is well adapted to heat, cold, wind and drought. Colorful, red speckled buds burst open to revel large, brilliant yellow flowers.  It flowers all summer.

    For mild winter/hot summer regions of the country such as the Desert Southwest (southern, lower elevation parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona), Texas and California, fall is THE best time for planting, not spring.  Here is a short list of some new-for-fall plants that are recommended for fall planting in mild winter areas:

    Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is a best choice for the Desert Southwest, Texas and other very hot summer regions as it is better adapted to these conditions that often "melt" less heat tolerant English and French hybrid types.

    'Portuguese Giant' - 'Portuguese Giant' is a true wildflower, only recently collected from the foothills of the Pyrenees and selected by Oregon's Lavender maestro AndyVan            Hevelingen. A big robust grower, it blooms in mid-spring with showy deep purple rabbit ear type flowers.

    Lavandula stoechas 'Lutsko's Dwarf' Lutsko's Dwarf Lavender
    (Lavandula stoechas 'Lutsko's Dwarf')

    'Lutsko's Dwarf' - for smaller spaces and containers, this dwarf Spanish lavender has      showy purple flowers held over a compact spreading mat of gray fragrant foliage. I plant it around tall growing, upright Rosemary. A showy, but hard-to-find variety!

    Gazania krebsiana Hantamburg Orange
    Hantamberg Orange African Daisy
    (Gazania krebsiana Hantamburg Orange)

    'Hantamberg Orange'  African Daisy (Gazania krebsiana 'Hantamberg Orange') - “Breathtaking” is the best way to describe ‘Hantamberg Orange’ African Daisy in full flower.  Huge glowing orange daisies bloom over long, thin silver leaves for many months.  I found this spectacular African perennial wildflower growing around the base of the fabulous flat topped mountain known as the Hantamberg in the eastern Cape of South Africa nearly a decade ago.

    'Scarlet Tanager'  African Daisy (Gazania krebsiana 'Scarlet Tanager') - A stunning scarlet flowered perennial Gazania with narrow dark green leaves, it blooms spring and fall. The intensely brilliant color of the flowers is unlike anything else you've grown.

    Giant Stipa Grass, Stipa gigantea Giant Stipa Grass (Stip gigantea)

    Giant Stipa Grass (Stipa gigantea) - A little known ornamental grass native to the Mediterranean of southern Europe, Giant Stipa Grass creates a dramatic, eye-catching presence in the landscape.  This grass blooms in late spring with graceful, sunlight catching six-foot-tall flower spikes.  Out-of-bloom, its mound of bright green foliage is only about 15” tall and wide.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Best Late Season Blooming Perennials, Grasses and Groundcovers

    Allium Millenium, Callirhoe involucrata, Salvia pachyphylla Allium Millenium and Callirhoe involucrata brighten the landscape with Salvia pachyphylla as a neutral backdrop.

    So many gardens are planted with a predominance of spring blooming perennials. So by the time mid-summer comes around, many landscapes are looking quite green; lots of foliage and not many flowers. In fact, during July and August, it's a good idea to take some walks through your landscape and identify parts of it that could use some summer flowers to brighten it up.

    Here is my short list of favorite summer blooming perennials, ornamental grasses and groundcovers:


    (some lesser known varieties that need to be more widely planted)

    o Millennium Ornamental Onion (Allium 'Millennium') - one of the very best summer blooming perennials, this tough-as-nails beauty comes into flower in July-August with big 3 inch diameter flower heads. The glossy green grassy foliage is very attractive too. Not to be confused with the June blooming Allium that are planted as bulbs in the fall.

    o Gayfeather (Liatris) - Fabulous for attracting butterflies with their long fluffy spikes of pink or rose-pink flowers, Liatris are carefree growers with deep roots. Liatris punctata is best for drier parts of the country. It's roots have been documented to penetrate the soil to a depth of 14 feet!

    o Fame flower (Phemeranthus) - My favorite succulent wildflower, the large quarter sized magenta flowers open in the afternoon. It's a treat to see a big patch in bloom when you get home from work.

    o Native Sage (Salvia greggi and hybrids) - 'Ultra Violet', 'Furman's Red', 'Raspberry Delight' are just a few of the wonderfully long blooming native sages. You like hummingbirds? Plant these beauties to attract them in huge numbers.

    o French hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia) - The English lavender have finished blooming, but the French hybrids are just getting started by July. 'Gros Bleu' is the most colorful and most cold hardy of the many French hybrids I've grown over the years. The flowers are much darker in color and the plant more compact than 'Provence', the best known of this group.

    o Ornamental Oregano (Origanum) - Not the culinary types, these gorgeous perennials are not well known, but are some of our showiest perennials. 'Amethyst Falls' is fantastic with loads of cascading flowers nice for containers and in the ground.

    Agastache Ava, Salvia reptans Agastache Ava in the foreground, stands out
    against the blue of Salvia reptans.

    o Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) - There are no showier perennials than the Hummingbird Mints. Very aromatic flowers and foliage are a nice complement to the long,colorful flower spikes that bloom in colors of orange, pink, blue and lavender-blue. Grow them where there is lots of sun in a well drained, infertile soil for best results.


    o Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe) - Big magenta cupped flowers like a ground hugging hollyhock, Poppy Mallow blooms all summer and attracts loads of butterflies and bumblebees. Tough and long lived. A great re-seeder to naturalize in your landscape.

    o Magenta Iceplant (Delosperma 'Blut') - The best, most cold hardy, longest blooming of the Delosperma, 'Blut' has deep magenta colored flowers and nice evergreen foliage that turns purple in the winter.

    o Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) - Deep blue flowers in August and burgundy-red fall foliage are like no other perennial. Easy-to-grow, Hardy Plumbago grows in full sun or full shade. Amazing!

    o Max Frei Soapwort (Saponaria lempergii 'Max Frei') - A sadly overlooked soapwort that blooms in July and August with thousands of huge quarter sized pink flowers. It lives for many, many years when happy and is excellent to plant around the bases of taller perennials like Echinacea, Solidago and Lavender. Plant it and you'll be amazed.

    Ornamental Grasses

    o Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition') - Unique and eye catching, this native ornamental grass selection is unlike any grass you've grown before. Flag-like flowers / seed heads hold on the plant through winter for months of garden interest.

    o Undaunted Ruby Muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii) - outstanding pink misty plumes cover the plant in late summer. One of our showiest cold hardy native ornamental grasses!

    o Mountain Mist Grass (Blepharoneuron tricholepis) - a wonderful Western native species that thrives in sunny, dry sites where the misty bronze seed heads catch the low angled morning and afternoon sunlight. I first saw this beautiful grass growing on west facing slopes in the mountains of northern NM and was smitten. Fantastic!

    o Windbreaker Giant Sacaton Grass (Sporobolus wrightii 'Windbreaker') - The giant of our native grasses, 'Windbreaker' was specifically breed for its huge size. The 7-8 ft. tall flower spikes bloom in shades of pink, bronze and blonde. A great specimen or hedge plant.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Introducing Agastache 'Red Happiness'

    (Red Happiness Hybrid Hummingbird Mint)

    Red Happiness Agastache Red Happiness Agastache blooms with red flowers,
    which are very rare in the genus.

    This true red-flowered Hummingbird Mint appeared as a volunteer seedling in one of my xeric gardens several years ago. It came up in a very shady, dry spot under a Desert Hackberry and the plant was struggling. But it's unusual flower color caught my eye and I took some cuttings so I could test the plant in other sunnier, not-so-hostile locations.

    Why the Name 'Red Happiness'?

    Wow! Happiness was the theme of the day when the new plants came into full flower and I could really see what it could do. The plant blooms with red flowers, which are very rare in the genus. Hence 'Red Happiness' was put into production for release this fall 2014. (Note that in really hot weather, the color fades a bit to dusky-red, but deeper red returns as the temperatures cool.)

    How Does it Do in the Garden?

    I'm not sure of the parentage, but I believe it probably involves three native species. (I have a lot of Agastache in all my gardens, so there are many opportunities for cross-pollination.) Here's more about 'Red Happiness':

    o It has excellent hybrid vigor and good cold hardiness (Zones 5-10).

    o Is medium sized, reaching 28-32" in height.

    o Has summer long bloom when deadheaded.

    o Grows mid-green leaves that have a pleasant minty scent.

    o Is very attractive to hummingbirds (Hybrid Agastache seem to have increased nectar production over un-hybridized species.)

    Companion Plants

    'Red Happiness' is adaptable in its growing conditions thriving in lean to average, loamy garden soils as long as the drainage is good. Stay out of the clay! So we have a wide range of companion plants to choose from. The red flowers seem to look particularly nice with yellow flowers. Blue is really nice too.

    I like the following companions:

    1. Sterntaler Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata 'Sterntaler) - a great German strain of Tickseed (loosely translates "Gold Coin") with deep yellow flowers and a bronze eye.

    2. Evening Primrose (Oenothera missouriensis) - big, bright yellow parasol-like flowers open up in the afternoon and the plants make a nice lower growing skirt around the Agastache.

    3. Butterscotch Baby African Daisy (Gazania 'Butterscotch Baby') - the wonder butterscotch yellow flowers are delight with red. A small perennial, it makes a great low growing companion in front of 'Red Happiness.'

    4. Walker's Low Catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low') - big lavender-blue plants go behind 'Red Happiness' and highlight the red flowers for you to enjoy.

    5. English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) - I always plant Lavender with Agastache because blue is such a great combination with all the different Agastache flower colors.

    6. Purple Sensation Ornamental onion (Allium 'Purple sensation') - big purple globes provide a sensational combination with red.

    Fall Planting Agastache

    o I don't like to fall plant Agastache in zone 5 because there is not enough warm weather to grow the crown.

    o Zone 6 and warmer are ideal for fall planting 'Red Happiness' and will help you to establish a bigger plant with more flowering spikes next year.

    o In dry winter climates, be sure there is a nice wide saucer (well) to hold irrigation water.

    o Mulch the saucer with at least on inch of mulch material.

    o Remember to water once every two to four weeks when the day temperatures warm to 45 ° F.

    o Leave the stems standing to increase winter hardiness.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Summer Lawn Care

    Summer Lawn Care - Blue Grama Grass lawn in Santa Fe, NM. Even in drought ridden Santa Fe, blue grama grass provides a cool, green patch of lawn.

    Now that it's officially summer (Solstice was June 21), this is a good time to review how to care for your lawn when the heat is on. Lawns act like a natural air conditioner, cooling the air as they transpire water through the grass blades. So a healthy lawn contributes greatly to the comfort of your home.

    Just Say "No" to Chemical Fertilizers

    The first and most important thing to remember is NOT to fertilize. While many fertilizer companies encourage summer "feeding" with their high nitrogen containing formulations, it is a very bad idea for several reasons:

    o Nitrogen forces excessive growth that increases the lawn's need for water.

    o It increases the need for more frequent mowing.

    o Summer fertilization weakens grass and makes it more susceptible to insect and disease attack.

    Chemical lawn fertilizers are a bad idea anytime of the year, but summer use of these high potency chemical salts is especially damaging to the soil and your lawn. Wait until mid-fall to fertilize. And only use organic or natural fertilizers that feed the soil and improve water penetration and deep root growth.

    Watering When Conditions are Dry

    "Water deeply and less frequently" should be your mantra for summer watering of your lawn and all your other plants. Deep watering encourages deep root growth. When irrigating, be sure the water penetrates down to a depth of six to twelve inches.

    Know how much water your sprinkler system puts out. I recommend placing three or four tin cans (or other flat bottomed, straight sided containers) across the section of lawn to be watered. Run the sprinklers for 30 minutes and measure the depth of the water. You want to spray a minimum of 1/2 to 1 inch of water over your lawn per irrigation cycle. So if thirty minutes puts down 1/4" of water, you'll need to keep the sprinklers on for at least an hour. Look at the grass before you water. If the blades are narrow (folded length wise) and grayish-green in color it's time to water. If the grass is nice and green, wait a few days. It all depends on the daytime temperatures.

    Buffalo and Blue Grama grass lawns need about 2 to 3" of water per month during June, July and August. So a once per week soaking is recommended if there's no rain. Get a rain gauge for your house. This way you'll know how much came down and whether you need to add some more water or not.

    Don't Mow Too Low

    When you mow, leave the grass long. The worst thing you can do to your lawn during the heat of summer is to scalp it by mowing too low. Adjust the deck of your lawn mower to leave the grass 3 to 4" long. This allows the lawn to shade its roots and reduce the frequency of supplemental irrigation.

    Summer Planting Grass Plugs

    Summer is a great time to plant Dog Tuff™ and Legacy® Buffalo grass plugs. The summer heat is what makes the plugs grow rapidly and fill in quickly, as both varieties are warm season growers. The key is to have a reliable water source so you can keep the plugs adequately moist as they get established.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Western Gardening for Eastern Transplants

    Planting in the west. Dramatic low-care plantings are the reward for using regionally suitable plants that thrive in drier Western climates.

    After thirty years spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the retail garden center and greenhouse business, I've come to appreciate the plight of the Eastern Transplant (people that is, not plants). You could always spot folks from Chicago or Connecticut or Pennsylvania. We would find them wandering around the nursery yard or greenhouse with this bewildered "help me" look on their faces as they looked around, overwhelmed by the plant choices, few of which they even recognized.

    Here are some of the essential elements for gardening success when all you know is gardening in the Eastern or Mid-Western US.

    Mulch: It's dry here in the West! In a good year, Santa Fe gets about a foot of precipitation (rain and snow melt). So it is essential to protect the moisture in the soil from the wind and intense sunshine, which quickly steal moisture from the ground.

    Prepare the Soil: When I say "soil" I'm being very generous in describing that alkaline "concrete" we have to dig in. Even for native plants, it is essential to dig into the soil organic fertilizers like Yum Yum Mix and high quality compost to loosen it adequately for roots to grow into. These natural soil builders also inoculate the soil with life giving micro-organisms that are essential for plant health. And don't forget to add earthworms. They are especially helpful in loosening tight clay soils to facilitate root growth and good drainage.

    Inoculate with Mycorrhizal Fungus: Many water-wise (xeric) plants are able to grow in seemingly impossible conditions because their roots are growing with mycorrhizal fungi attached to them. These beneficial fungi help the roots to extract water and nutrients from the soil that roots alone can't utilize. The use of mycorrhizal root inoculants is especially important when you're planting into soils that have been damage and compacted by home or subdivision construction!

    Learn How to Harvest Rain Water onto your Landscape: We need to be sure to capture and use rainwater and snow melt as a supplemental source of water for our water-wise landscapes. Water harvesting can be a simple as taking the water from a rain gutter and using gravity to direct it to a tree or shrub planted near the house. Rain barrels should become a way of life for the western Gardener.

    Water Deeply and Less Frequently: Once established, many water-wise plants do best when watered deeply and less frequently (once every 5 to 10 days) . Roots follow the water down into the depths of the soil. Shallow, frequent water grows plants with shallow roots. You will train your plants to be less thirsty when practicing deep watering.

    Choose Regionally Suitable Plants: There are many annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that actually thrive in difficult western growing conditions. that's why it is so important to learn about these plants and not just try and recreate what is familiar using plants that grew well where you used to live. Making regionally suitable plants available through a catalog was one of my primary objectives when I started High Country Gardens more than 20 years ago. Western gardens have a dizzying array of native and Old World plants that do well out West.

    These are some gardening basics that will greatly improve gardening success in the West. Take the time to learn these new plants and understand these techniques to create a garden that is more self-sufficient, beautiful and low maintenance.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Yarrow - From Small to Tall

    Gold Plate Yarrow with Agastache Achillea makes a gorgeous contrast when planted with Agastache 'Desert Solstice' and its upright flower spikes.

    From my experience gardening for decades in the challenging conditions of the Intermountain West, I have developed a great appreciation for the genus Achillea (Ä kä lee ä).

    • They grow in most any soil type including clay

    • They are deer and rabbit resistant

    • Are xeric (waterwise)

    • Long lived growing for a decade or longer when happy

    • Outstanding cold hardiness

    • Come in a variety of sizes from groundcovers to large specimens

    • Add an invaluable architectural element to the landscape with their flat topped flowers

    • They attract butterflies to their nectar-rich flowers

    But it is important to know the genus and select the best species and cultivars for your garden. There are great ones and there are weedy garden thugs. I only propagate Yarrow varieties (cultivars) that are sterile and must be grown from cuttings or divisions of the crown. Seed grown cultivars like Achillea filipendulina 'Parker's Gold' (or 'Parker's Variety') and many of the Achillea millifolium types (but not all) will take over their space by vigorously reseeding themselves and crowding out their neighbors.

    Here are four of the very best non-seed grown Yarrows that work for most parts of the country.

    Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea 'Moonshine'): a nice medium height variety (18" in bloom) with outstanding gray foliage and bright, light yellow flowers. A consistent re-bloomer, deadheading will keep this beauty in flower all summer long. A winning combination when planted with Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus) and taller Beardtongues (Penstemon).

    Coronation Gold Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina 'Coronation Gold'): A taller cultivar (30-36" tall in bloom) with gray-green foliage. It is a very upright grower that doesn't flop (as long as it's not grown too wet), 'Coronation Gold' is tough and vigorous enough to pair up Russian Sage (Perovskia) for a long blooming combo.

    Red Velvet Yarrow (Achillea millifolium 'Red Velvet'): an improvement on the old standard 'Paprika', 'Red Velvet' holds its deep red color much longer before fading to a pleasing pink. This gives the plant a nice bi-colored look in the garden. It is long-blooming when deadheaded and the foliage has a soft ferny texture. I recommend pairing it with the Old World Sages (Salvia nemerosa cultivars).

    Greek Yarrow (Achillea ageratifolia): a low growing groundcover species with beautiful silver-gray foliage and compact white flowers, Greek Yarrow is very different from the cultivars described above. The foliage is evergreen (ever gray) making it valuable for year-round interest in the waterwise garden. The cheerful white flowers make it an outstanding companion plant for blue flowered Lavender.

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

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