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  • Wildscape takes root on rocky Wasatch slope

    Native plants replace spurge-filled Salt Lake City landscape

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


    A Habitat Heroes Before/After Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

    -- Erin A. and Craig B., homeowners

    Plant Lists

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

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

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

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

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

    Lavandula stoechas Portuguese Giant with RosmarinusLavandula stoechas Portuguese Giant with Rosmarinus


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

    Lavender's Cultural Preferences

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

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

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

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

    Planting Time Matters

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

    Fertilizing and Mulching

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

    What's New: Lavender Introductions

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

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

    Lavandula angustifolia 'Wee One' (English lavender)

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

    Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead Violet' (English lavender)

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

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

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

    Lavandula stoechas 'Portuguese Giant' (Spanish lavender)

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

    Lavandula 'Grosso'Lavandula 'Grosso'

    Lavandula intermedia 'Grosso'

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

    Lavandula 'Silver Frost'

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

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

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

    Bumble bee on Viburnum Customer Photo: Bumble bee on Viburnum


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

    Happy Faces and Bumble Bees

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

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

    Important Pollinators

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

    What's for Dinner?

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

    Bumble Bees are Social Creatures

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

    Where's Home?

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

    Don't Forget the Grass

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

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

    Go Natural and Organic

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

    The Xerces Society

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

    Be Pro-active and Plant Flowers

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

    Bumble Bee Attracting Old World Plants

      Bumble Bee Attracting Native Plants*

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

    • Summer Blooming Bulbs

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

      Great flowers the first summer


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

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

      Dahlia

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

      Lilies

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

      Gladiolus

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

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

      Canna Lilies

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

      Calla Lilies

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

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

      Triteleia (Starflowers)

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

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

      Text and Photos By David Salman

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

    • Top 10 Gardening Websites & Books For Western Gardeners

      Our Favorite Gardening Resources

      Founder & Chief Horticulturist David Salman's Favorite Gardening Resources


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

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

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

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

      Websites

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

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

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

      Books

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

      Plant Driven Design

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

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

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

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

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

      Organizations

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

      Text and Photos By David Salman

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

    • Honey Trumpet hybrid Foxglove (Digitalis 'Honey Trumpet')

      Digitalis Honey Trumpet Honey Trumpet hybrid Foxglove (Digitalis 'Honey Trumpet')

      Stately Flowers All Summer Long


      The genus Digitalis is an Old World group of perennial and biennial plants found across much of Europe, west and central Asia and northwestern Africa. The Latin name Digitalis means "finger-like," perhaps referring to the fact that the flowers fit easily, like a thimble, over the tip of the human finger.

      In the Garden

      Unlike the most the popular and well known of the foxgloves, the biennial Digitalis purpurea*, Digitalis 'Honey Trumpet' is a true perennial. The result of a bee pollinated cross between two dryland species in the Oregon garden of Xera Plants nursery, this spectacular hybrid is destined for greatness. Flowering begins in late spring and continues all summer, with a mature plant boasting six or more tall spikes of plump, speckled flowers the color of amber and honey. Clip off the faded flower spikes where they poke out of the foliage to encourage more spikes to appear. The evergreen foliage is also attractive and resembles that of a lily. The plant is propagated from softwood cuttings, although this is a challenge because the plant is rarely out-of-bloom. Being a hybrid, it won't come true from seed.

      Digitalis Honey TrumpetHoney Trumpet hybrid Foxglove (Digitalis 'Honey Trumpet')

      Pollinators

      In the garden these flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees, who also fit nicely into the large thimble-shaped flowers. I've seen foxglove listed as a hummingbird attracting plant, but have not witnessed this myself here in western gardens, where there are so many hummingbird pollinated plants. Perhaps in other parts of the country, in the absence of better choices, hummingbirds will sip the flowers for their nectar.

      Growing the Plant

      'Honey Trumpet' grows easily in a wide range of soils, including clay-loam, as long as it is well drained and not too rich. It needs a half to full day of sunshine. Leave the stems standing over the winter and clip off any damaged or dead foliage in mid-spring. Water moderately once established and fertilize the plant in fall by top dressing the soil with a mixture of high quality compost and Yum Yum Mix. Scratch it in and mulch with composted bark, pine needles, crushed nut shells or other coarse textured mulch materials to tuck the plant in for winter.

      salvia nemerosa may nightMay Night European Sage

      Companion Plants

      The stately architecture of the flower spikes makes this an exciting perennial to mix into your flower beds. In partial shade, I like to use Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), Blue Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), pink Kashmir Sage (Phlomis cashmeriana) and coral-pink Westin Pink Coral Bells (Heuchera). In sunny beds, 'Honey Trumpet' is right at home with Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Sharon Roberts Twice blooming English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Sharon Roberts') and May Night European Sage (Salvia sylvestris 'May Night').

      ⃰ Digitalis purpurea is a biennial (grows vegetatively the first growing season then flowers and dies the second growing season).

      Text by David Salman

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

    • How To Plant A Butterfly Garden

      Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden The Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden's beautiful blooms will attract pollinators to your yard.

      Tips for Attracting Butterflies to Your Yard


      A butterfly garden can be a wonderful part of your landscape and will make a meaningful difference by creating habitat for our imperiled Lepidoptera friends.

      And gardening for butterflies is something anyone who loves growing plants and flowers can do. A garden that's good for butterflies is also good for other pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds who often share the same nectar plants and utilize the same habitat.

      Liatris ligulistylis with Monarch ButterfliesMonarach butterflies on Liatris ligulistylis
      Photo Credit: Prairie Nursery

      Many years ago, as a kid living in subtropical Houston, TX, I devoted much of my time studying butterflies, moths and beetles and creating an extensive collection of mounted specimens. In fact, my involvement with plants began as part of my insect collecting hobby; I started to raise moth and butterfly caterpillars to adults and needed to learn about their food plants. This was my original introduction to the web of life.

      Collecting butterflies is no longer appropriate with so many species experiencing big declines in their populations. But back then, they were abundant with many species finding a home in the rich Piney Woods habitat of my childhood home.

      The Four Basic Elements of a Butterfly Garden

      Butterfly gardening is easy and, like any horticultural endeavor that creates habitat, depends on providing four basic elements:

      Flowers and food: by planting a mix of flowers that bloom from the start of spring through fall and food plants for caterpillars.

      Shelter: leave bare patches of ground, have small brush piles (in unused corners of the yard) and leave the herbaceous plants standing over the winter to protect overwintering eggs and caterpillar pupae waiting to emerge.

      Water: a mud puddle is ideal for butterflies providing them with a source of water and salt.

      A Safe, Pesticide-free Environment: Don't use chemical insecticides (especially systemic ones), use caution when applying organic pesticides and use herbicides only for a weed emergency.

      Caterpillar on ParselyCaterpillar on parsley
      Photo Credit: Customer Shelley K.

      A Little Butterfly Biology

      Butterflies and moths have three stages in their life cycles before becoming the flying adult insects we recognize.

      • The mother butterfly lays eggs on preferred food plants.
      • The eggs hatch into caterpillars who feed on their food plants. These caterpillars grow to their full size before going dormant as a chrysalis (butterfly) or a cocoons (moth) in preparation for adulthood.
      • Then caterpillars go through metamorphosis and emerge as flying adults.
      • The adults immediately mate, lay eggs, feed and die leaving behind the next generation.

      What to Plant?

      Often the flowering plants that feed the adult moths and butterflies are different from the plants on which their caterpillars feed. For a butterfly garden, the gardener must plant both. Most flowers that attract butterflies and moths will feed a wide range of species. When it comes to feeding their caterpillars, butterflies and moths can either have a need for very specific food plants or have a taste for a wider range of plants. This depends on the species of each moth and butterfly as they will have different requirements.

      • To attract and feed adult butterflies, our 'Butterfly Paradise' Pre-planned Cottage Garden provides a beautifully designed garden that supplies many months of nectar-rich flowers for a wide range of butterflies.
      • Flower shapes that attract butterflies are generally either flat topped (Achillea), flower spikes with lots of tiny flowers (Liatris, Buddleia, Agastache) or cone type (Echinacea).
      • Food plants for caterpillars vary but widely feed upon plants include oak, willow, cherry, poplar, birch, apple, alder, dandelions (NO "Weed-N-Feed" fertilizers!), clover and dill.
      • For widespread migrating species of butterflies like the regal Monarch, various species of milkweed (Asclepias) provides both larval food and nectar for adults.

      To attract and provide habitat for regionally specific species of moths and butterflies, gardeners will need to do some research to discover what food plants the caterpillars need to eat and plant them (see "Xerces Society" below).

      Spotted Swallowtail Butterfly on Agastache Blue BlazesSpotted Swallowtail Butterfly on Agastache Blue Blazes
      Photo Credit: David Salman

      No Chemical Insecticides

      It is important to not spray indiscriminately in your yard and kill caterpillars. Even organic formulations like BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) that you would spray to kill corn earworms (moth caterpillars), are broad spectrum and will kill all moth and butterfly caterpillars.

      It's also essential NOT to use systemic chemical insecticides (absorbed through leaf tissue and distributed through all parts of the plants including flowers). Many of these formulations are Neonicotinoids. Systemically treated plants have toxic flowers which will poison the adult butterflies and moths!

      And if you have tomatoes, you'll have "horn worms", the caterpillar of hawk moths. These are the hovering hummingbird-like moths that pollinate flowers at dusk like Evening Primrose (Oenothera) and Hummingbird Mint (Agastache). So plant an extra tomato plant or two and pick off the horn worms, don't spray, leaving some to mature into adults.

      Listen to an interview with David Salman on Utah Public Radio and Learn More About Butterfly Gardening

      The Xerces Society

      The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates (insects) and their habitat. For over forty years, the Society has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.

      The society has just published an excellent new book:
      "Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies" which is available on their website: http://www.xerces.org.

      It will give you a lot more specific information on what to plant regionally to support native butterfly populations in your garden and landscape.

      Text by David Salman

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

    • Announcing Salvia sylvestris 'Little Night' PPAF

      Salvia sylvestris Little Night Oenothera Shimmer
      High Country Gardens 2015 Plant of the Year: Salvia sylvestris Little Night (shown with Oenothera Shimmer in the foreground)

      HCG Plant of the Year 2015


      Every once in a while, there comes a new perennial plant that seems to have it all. And Salvia sylvestris 'Little Night', High Country Gardens' 2015 plant of the year, is one of those rare perennials. It is suitable for planting across much of the U.S. and will quickly become a favorite in your waterwise, habitat-friendly landscape.

      Why You'll Want to Plant It

      The long list of desirable traits that 'Little Night' offers gardeners includes:

      • A neatly compact, mature size (only 10" tall x 12-15" wide).
      • A profusion of tidy, strongly vertical, dark violet-blue flower spikes.
      • A long blooming habit with flowers in late spring (and again in mid-summer when deadheaded after the first flush of flowers).
      • The ability to thrive in heavy clay soil and most other soil types.
      • Excellent cold hardiness and heat tolerance (USDA zones 4-9).
      • Is resistant to browsing rabbits and deer.
      • Being long lived and exceptionally durable, it thrives in all kinds of growing conditions.
      • Is great nectar source for honeybees.

      Salvia Little Night Penstemon pinifolius Salvia Little Night with Penstemon pinifolius.

      Its Origins

      I spotted the original plant in a friend's garden when traveling around Salt Lake City a few years ago. It was early June and his garden was at peak bloom. And growing off to one side of the yard in among a drift of ice plants was a magnificent specimen of Salvia 'May Night'. As I wandered around looking at all the flowers, I noticed that growing right next to it was a pint-sized version of itself. Clearly a seedling with dwarf genetics had sprouted and established itself.

      I was thrilled to see it and asked for a cutting. That very next week, my friend very generously dug up the whole plant and mailed it to me! So it was off to the races as I began to propagate this little beauty and grow some plants to transplant into my test gardens the following year. And it didn't disappoint.

      Companion Plants

      After several years of testing, 'Little Night' is indeed a dwarf version of 'May Night'. And all the wonderful attributes of its larger parent have been passed along to this stunning youngster. 'Little Night' is a superb companion plant whose dark flowers makes all the other flowering plants around it look even better. Because it grows in any soil type, I have been using it everywhere, pairing it up with all my favorite perennials. Of course, the dwarf size of 'Little Night' makes it useful in tight spaces and small gardens. But its use shouldn't be limited by its size, as it is excellent for massing (using groupings of 5 or more plants) planted in front of taller perennials and ornamental grass or as an edging plant to define paths and perennial beds.

      In the past couple of years, I've paired it with:

    • Glowing Embers® Licorice Mint Hyssop (Agastache rupestris)

      Agastache rupestris Glowing Embers®


      Agastache Glowing Embers Agave havardiana-Melampodium Agastache Glowing Embers with Agave havardiana and Melampodium.

      I started gardening and selecting improved Agastache back in the early 1990's, when I purchased a seed packet of Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) collected from a colony in southwestern Arizona. I had been growing Agastache cana (Texas Hummingbird Mint), a rare native from West Texas and Southwestern New Mexico and come to greatly appreciate both the beautiful and strongly aromatic flowers and foliage and the plant's attractiveness to hummingbirds.

      So it was with great anticipation that I sowed seeds of Agastache rupestris. It didn't disappoint! Once it had grown it to flowering size in my Santa Fe garden, I realized that this incredible, but horticulturally unknown species had great potential. We immediately began to produce larger quantities of seed so it could be offered through the High Country Gardens catalog, which happened in spring 1996.

      Origins of Glowing Embers®

      In the meantime, as I continued to acquire seed and plants of other native Agastache species, I purchased a small quantity of Agastache rupestris seed collected from a different location along the western border of New Mexico in Grant County. When the plants from this New Mexico location bloomed, I immediately realized that they had much darker orange flowers than the Arizona population that I started with. I selected several plants with the darkest flowers for use as stock plants and, after harvesting seed from these glowing orange beauties, gave this selection the name "Glowing Embers®.

      But I lost track of the plants as I worked on introducing other new Agastache species and hybrids. Some years later, I found the seeds and grew it again to plant into my home garden. And after many years of enjoyment at home, I finally decided it was time to get this incredible perennial back into production and onto the High Country Gardens website. So here it is for spring 2015.

      Agastache rupestris Glowing Embers Agastache rupestris Glowing Embers

      Growing Conditions

      Glowing Embers is easily grown when provided with:

      • Arid conditions. (Best in parts of the country that get less than about 25" of precipitation annually.)
      • A "lean" (low nutrient content), well-drained soil and full sun exposure.

      Plant Care

      The plant is cold hardy to USDA zone 5 and is best planted in the spring in zones 5 and 6 so it has lots of summer heat to develop its crown and grow deep roots.

      • Leave the plant standing over the winter for improved cold hardiness and cut it back to the low mound of green foliage at the base of the stems in mid-spring.
      • Fertilize only in the fall with a handful of Yum Yum Mix and compost, which should be scratched into the soil surface and watered in.
      • Mulch with an inch deep layer of small sized 3/8" gravel (crushed is best).
      • Water no more than once a week once established.

      Companion Plants

      These plants look great with Glowing Embers and preferred the same growing conditions.

    • Making "Eco-Friendly" A Part of the Planning and Design Process

      The second in a continuing series of blogs regarding the creation of a sustainable, resilient landscape.


      Forestiera neomexicana NM PrivetNew Mexico Privet provides songbird habitat.

      Our gardens and landscapes can and should be places where we can revitalize our mind and body, expand our appreciation for the natural world and contribute positively to the ecological health of our communities and the planet. It's vital that gardeners understand the principles behind eco-friendly xeriscaping (waterwise gardening) so that we all understand how easily it can be done and recognize the beneficial results of our efforts.

      Planning and Design

      Planning and designing a new landscape or re-doing on old one is an essential but often overlooked part of gardening. So many of us just head out to the local garden centers in April or May with a severe case of spring fever and load up with all the blooming plants we can cram into the car. The frustration sets in when we get home and realize that we have a jumbled selection of plants that may or may not be a good long-term choices for our yard.

      Instead, take the time to walk you property and get to know your yard. And just as importantly, take the time to look out at your yard from inside the house. Late fall, winter and early spring can drag on. And it's important to plant where you can look out and enjoy the dormant beauty of your plants from the kitchen and other rooms where you spend your time.

      Pick a Theme for Your Landscape

      • Do you spend your summer weekends on the lake? Then your design theme should be "low care."
      • Do you enjoy entertaining on your patio? Then your design theme should be "color and fragrance." Always look for especially showy, long blooming and fragrant annuals pallet of perennials when you plant.
      • Do you enjoy hummingbirds? "Hummingbird gardening" is a great theme, especially if you live in the western US where many species of hummers are native. Select annuals, perennials and woody plants that provide them with colorful flowers full of nectar and you'll have lots of hummingbirds buzzing around to entertain you.

      Allium Purple Sensation honeybees
      Keep pollinators in mind when planning your garden. Bees love Allium 'Purple Sensation'.

      Plant for Pollinators

      Our landscapes can provide safe haven and ample food and nectar for pollinators like bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. Provide for them by planting:

      • Flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs.
      • An assortment of perennial plants that includes early spring, late spring, summer and early fall blooming species.
      • Be sure you include lots of fall blooming plants, so pollinators can be well fed heading into winter.

      Plant for Songbirds

      Woody plants and herbaceous annuals/perennials that provide berries and seeds are invaluable food sources for resident and migrating birds. Having a multi-tiered landscape with tall, medium and low growing trees and shrubs provides the best habitat, as different bird species occupy different height zones in your yard.

      Plant for Shade and Wind Protection

      Save energy by planting well-positioned trees to provide summer shade and winter sun. Deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides of buildings reduce air conditioning costs in summer and let in the warming rays of the sun in winter reduce heating costs. In suburban and rural areas where your lot size allows, evergreens that moderate the prevailing winds will increase the comfort of your house and protect your landscape from the drying and stunting effects of the wind.

      Cottonwoods in fall
      Plant diciduous trees on the south sides of buildings.

      Plant Waterwise

      In the arid Western U.S., xeriscaping (waterwise gardening) is an essential principle, as limited water supplies and drought are constant companions. This is especially true when selecting woody trees and shrubs. Plant the ones that can survive with natural precipitation levels, water harvesting and little additional irrigation. A yard full of thirsty plants that perish when the irrigation is shut off is NOT part of a sustainable, resilient landscape.

      The Eight Principles of High Country Gardens Eco-friendly Xeriscaping

      I always use the Eight Principles of Eco-Friendly Xeriscaping as my lens through which to focus and guide my gardening endeavors. They are listed below:

      1. Plan and Design
      2. Create Practical Turf Areas
      3. Use Regionally Suitable Plants
      4. Improve and Maintain the Soil Organically
      5. Use Mulches
      6. Irrigate Efficiently
      7. Practice Water Harvesting
      8. Practice Appropriate Maintenance

      Text and Photos By David Salman

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

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