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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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