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  • 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.

  • Inspired Inferno Strips: Santa Fe-Style

    Cordova Road Inferno Strip Garden Native blue grama grass, Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low' (Gro Low Sumac), purple leaf Cotinus (Smoke Bush) and vining Campsis (Trumpet Vine).

    Many years ago, in the mid-1990's, Lauren Springer Ogden coined the term "Hell Strip" to identify that parched strip of land that occupies the space between the sidewalk and street curb. I softened the word and coined the name "Inferno Strip" and began offering a pre-planned garden to help homeowners make the conversion from grass to flowers.

    I knew this was a great concept from the first time I learned of it from Lauren and have been promoting the use of xeric (waterwise), heat tolerant plants for planting these inferno stripes. It's also an ideal way to create pollinator habitat from what is typically considered wasted space.

    Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, walls and fences often mark the boundaries between street and home, a very Old World way of providing privacy. But for the landscaper, this creates a very hot, difficult-to-maintain strip of dirt to populate with plants. Here are a trio of very nice New Mexico-style solutions to the Inferno Strip conundrum. While these designs have a very Southwestern feel to them, the concepts are widely applicable to all areas of the country and reflect how, with a little imagination, what might be considered wasted space can become a strip of color and beauty that enhances our communities.

    Cordova Road, Santa Fe

    Achillea Moonshine (Yarrow), Nepeta faassenii (Catmint), and Perovskia (Russian Sage) Moonshine Yarrow, Catmint, and Russian Sage.

    The Cordova Road strip (photo at top) is planted with a nice mix of native blue grama grass edged along the foot of the wall with Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low' (Gro Low Sumac), purple leaf Cotinus (Smoke Bush) and vining Campsis (Trumpet Vine). The grama grass is mowed about once a month and the homeowner has not let it produce its graceful and attractive seed spikes. But I would.

    Old Santa Fe Trail , Santa Fe (Yes, the same route used by the wagon trains 140 years ago.)

    The front of this showplace estate is surrounded by an architecturally stunning, brick-capped territorial-style wall planted with simple but gorgeous mix of plants. This photo, taken in late fall, shows the pyracantha (Firethorn), with its bright orange berries shining out from behind the smoky blue flower spikes of Perovskia (Russian Sage) to create an eye-catching combination. While many of the perennials that provide spring and summer color have gone green, the plant selection shows how a succession of colorful flowers and fruit make this planting of year-round interest.

    A mix of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials.This planting is a mix of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials.

    This hot, south-facing wall demands the use of very heat and sun tolerant perennials. There are only four species planted but they provide months of colorful flowers. The mix includes Nepeta faasseni 'Select Blue' (Hybrid Catmint), Achillea 'Moonshine' (Yellow Yarrow), Penstemon pinifolius 'Compactum' (Dwarf Pineleaf Beardtongue) and Callirhoe involucrata (Poppy Mallow).

    Upper Canyon Road, Santa Fe

    This planting (photo below) is a mix of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and flowering perennials that enhance the Old World feel of this house nestled up against the narrow, winding road that leads up the city's primary reservoir at the top of Canyon Road. I particularly like the use of Origanum 'Rotekugel'(ornamental oregano) which was still blooming in mid-October. Evergreen Delosperma nubiginum (Yellow flowered Ice Plant) softens the rock edging as it spills to the street. The pyracantha and Perovskia (Russian Sage) theme is repeated from Old Santa Fe Trail, but has been modified by the presence of Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' (Chinese Maidenhair Grass) adding a nice touch with its bronze flower spikes.

    Upper Canyon Road Inferno Strip
    This inferno strip includes ornamental oregano, yellow flowered ice plant and russian sage.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • What To Do In Your Garden This Fall (Part 2)

    Our Dry Area Wildflower Mix is perfect for fall seeding.

    Our top 10 list continues with tips 6-10.

    6. Sow Wildflower Seeds

    Many perennial wildflower seeds need a period of cold, moist conditions to be convinced that winter is done and it's time to germinate. So most perennial flower seed mixes are best sown in the late fall.

    - Rake the soil with a stiff bow rake to clean up debris and leave behind shallow furrows to capture the seed.
    - Mix the seed to be sown into a bucket of slightly moist playbox sand (or arroyo/creek sand) that has been inoculated with a three or four of tablespoons of Plant Success® mycorrhizal spores. The sand helps to more evenly spread the seeds over the area to be sown and the mycorrhiza spores will germinate with the seeds and greatly improve germination , the survival of the young seedlings and hasten blooming.
    - If practical, mulch with a thin layer of clean wheat or barley straw or compressed, shredded wheat straw pellets (StrawNet™) to protect the seed from the wind and hold moisture needed for germination.

    7. Make notes on planting for fall color next spring

    Berberis fendleri whole bush in fruit. Berberis fendleri adds a bright spark of color to the late fall landscape.

    The most common missing ingredient I see in American landscapes is the lack of late summer/ early fall flowers and seed heads, shrubs with colorful fall foliage and woody plants with colorful fruit to feed song birds.

    This often happens because we so often do the bulk of our planting in spring and naturally bring home from the nursery lots of spring blooming plants. But by taking a look at your fall landscape, you'll quickly see where some late summer/early fall color would be a welcome improvement. And it's vitally important to provide our precious pollinators with sources of late season flowers to help them build their food stores for winter.

    8. Wrap the trunks of young trees

    In the sunny Western US, the winter sun can sunburn the bark of young shade, flowering and fruiting trees. This is called Southwest Winter Injury and happens when the soil is frozen and the sun heats up the southwest side of the tree's truck causing sunburn of the thin, immature bark. This is easily prevented by wrapping the trunks of your young trees with a truck diameter (caliper) of less than 3 to 4 inches. Using tree wrap, cover the bottom 4 to 5 feet of the trunk in late November and remove it in April.

    9. Make compost with your tree leaves

    Tree leaves are a valuable source of nutrients for feeding the soil. Instead of kicking bags of leaves to the curb for the trash collectors, shred them and use them as fertilizer or mulch. You can rent a shredder or run over small piles of leaves with your bagging lawn mower to chop the leaves into a coarse grind that's ready to use as mulch or pile to breakdown by composting. There is lots of information about composting, so study up and use your leaves; don't throw them into the landfill.

    Zinnia grandiflora seed It's easy to collect and preserve seed for future planting.

    10. Collect seeds

    I'm frequently asked about collecting seeds in the fall. They seem to be ripening everywhere when we look around in our gardens, fields and forests around us. It's easy and only takes some paper bags and a pair of clippers to harvest a bounty of seeds.

    For many annuals and perennials, I cut the flowering stems off just above the leafy base of the plant and place the stems seed pods down into a paper grocery sack to dry and cure. Other plants, the seeds can be pulled from the stems and put into paper sacks. Once dried (it takes a week or so) the seeds can be separated from the stems or shaken from their seed pods and put into envelopes for storage. Sometimes, I just collect the stems full of seed pods and spread them out over an area of my yard where I want them to grow.

    Fall is an excellent time to sow wildflowers, so these seeds can be sown as soon as you've processed and cleaned them. There are many books on seed collecting that will give you specific instructions for various species of plants. Seed collecting can be addicting and you'll find yourself doing more and more of it to provide you and your friends with a great source of new plants. So try your hand at it this fall.

    Read Tips 1-5

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • The Top 10 Things To Do In Your Garden This Fall

    1. Feed the soil

    Chilopsis with Muhlenbergia grass Chilopsis with ornamental Muhly grass

    The most important thing we can do for the health of our landscapes, lawns and vegetable gardens is to keep the soil healthy and well fed. I'm dedicated to following organic gardening principles as best I can, so when gardening organically, I feed the soil to feed my plants. And I use a blend of 1/2 Yum Yum Mix (or Yum Yum Mix Winterizer) and 1/2 high quality compost. Spread 1/4 to 1/2" across the top of the soil, either scratched or watered into the surface of the soil and covered with mulch. (Spread the fertilizer mix first, then mulch.)

    The soil has a vibrant and complex underground ecology of flora and fauna that will digest this organic food and release it into the soil for plant roots to absorb when they need it.
    And most importantly, swear off the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicide laden "Weed-n-Feed" fertilizers, as they are harmful to the soil, damaging to the environment and detrimental to the long term health of your plants!

    2. Mulch

    Mulching is an essential practice in arid climates. In parts of the country where natural precipitation is more than 25 inches annually, mulching is not as important. Long-term use of mulch in moist climates may actually create problems by providing moist habitat for slugs, earwigs and root diseases.

    But in dry regions, mulching will:

    • Protect the soil's moisture from being evaporated by the sun and wind.
    • Provide a more favorable root growing environment by insulating them from extreme temperatures.
    • Act as a passive rain harvesting mechanism to help hard, fast rains be absorbed by the soil (especially true when using gravel mulch).

    I favor pine needles, small diameter crushed gravel, coarse composted bark, crushed nut shells (if locally available) and clean wheat or barley straw in my vegetable garden. Mulch should be replenished in the fall and again at the start of summer. And don't forget to put down some compost and Yum Yum Mix before you mulch.

    3. Plant spring flowering bulbs

    A drift of daffodils at the Denver Botanic Garden A drift of daffodils at the Denver Botanic Garden

    To enjoy a beautiful display of tulips, daffodils and other spring blooming bulbs, you need to plant these bulbs now. I like to wait until the leaves are starting to come off the trees and there has been a frost or two to plant my bulbs. So now is an excellent time over much of the country. Keep a bucket of soil mixed with Yum Yum Mix Winterizer (or regular Yum Yum Mix) and high quality compost by your side to put a handful of nutrients into the planting hole for each bulb. Water in thoroughly and apply a one-inch thick layer of mulch to tuck them in for the winter.

    And don't forget to take some photos of your bulbs in the spring to create a photographic map to help you remember where to plant more bulbs the following fall.

    4. Wait to do clean up until spring

    I know many tidy gardeners grit their teeth when I say "wait until spring to cut back your perennials and ornamental grasses." But neatness aside, it's important for your garden's ecology to leave the stems and leaves standing until mid-spring.

    Sedum with frost on seedheads Sedum with frost on seedheads

    • Beneficial insects, butterflies and moths have laid their eggs on the stems and grass blades of your plants and need to be undisturbed until they hatch in spring.
    • Many perennials and ornamental grasses provide beautiful winter color and texture with their seed heads, leaves and faded flowers.
    • Leaving the stems on improves the cold hardiness of perennials and improves their ability to overwinter without damage.
    • In windy climates, standing stems help to capture blowing snow and improve the soil's moisture levels for next year's growing season.

    5. Plant perennials

    Fall is an ideal time to plant and get a big head start on next year's growing season. - For regions of the country that have mild winters (USDA zone 7 or warmer) and hot summers, this is especially true. In fact, for the Southwestern US, TX. the Southeast, the West Coast and the Pacific NW, now is THE BEST time to plant. And it saves water too.

    • In colder climates (USDA zone 6 and colder) fall is also excellent for planting.
    • Perennials with good cold hardiness usually prefer cooler weather to transplant successfully (Oriental Poppies, Columbine, Thyme, Speedwell, Garden Phlox, Catmint, Yarrow and many others).
    • For zones 3-6, a general rule of thumb is to finish your fall planting 6 to 8 weeks before the soil begins to freeze. In USDA zone 5, the soil begins to harden with frost around the end of November/mid-December, so fall planting needs to be done this week! But in zones 6 and warmer, you can keep going later in the fall.
    • But not all perennials like fall planting. Those that need a long stretch of hot summer weather to mature their crown and grow deep roots (such as Lavender, Agastache, Salvia greggii (and greggii hybrids) and Desert Willow) should ideally wait until spring.
    • Read Tips 6-10

      Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • The Resilient Garden

    Crabapple Trees In Fruit, Chicago Botanic Garden Crabapple trees in fruit; Chicago Botanic Garden.

    Our planet is in crisis. And no matter how you slice the argument, mankind is right in the middle of the problem. Being a life-long naturalist, it pains me to my heart what is happening to the natural world. And yet I have often asked myself, what can I do so not to succumb to despair. My answer is, in a word, "gardening". And over the last 20 years my vision of how gardening can help to improve ourselves and our precious planet has been expressed through High Country Gardens.

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

    The premise on which these principles have evolved for me is that garden can make a positive contribution to all aspects of what we do as individuals, as a community and our beneficial interactions with the planet. It's important to note that both ornamental gardening and gardening for food share these foundational principles.

    When we discuss ecologically important concepts of human activity, the word "sustainable" is often used to frame the conversation. But the word is used so often and so broadly, its meaning has become unclear and its impact diluted. As sustainability relates to gardening, I prefer the word "resilient". When using sustainable, eco-friendly practices in the garden, the results of our work is the creation of a resilient garden.

    For example, when our organic soil care has restored vitality to its underground ecology, when our plant pallet is well matched to our region and needs little care, when we're encouraging deep root growth by less frequent, deep watering, we're creating gardens that are more resource efficient and more in tune with nature. And being more resource efficient and in tune with nature are cornerstones of sustainability as it relates to gardening.

    Collectively, the power of knowledgeable, caring gardeners and our gardens can make a huge impact on our planet. And we gardeners are the ones who can educate and show the world, the healing power of plants, one garden at a time.

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

  • Gardening For Four Season Interest

    Garden In Winter It's the skeletons of winter that become the armatures for winter sculptures. Customer Photo: Janice Hedges

    Gardens in winter have their own kind of beauty.

    One of the most enjoyable challenges of gardening is working the landscape with an eye toward winter. There's nothing more dispiriting than looking out a window on a cold blustery day only to see snow blowing every which way. Especially if nothing out that window catches your interest. But with a little ingenuity, that same view can turn into a wonderful winter panorama.

    Usually all our concerted gardening efforts focus on color and intrigue for summer pleasure. However, many plants noted for adding texture and shape to gardens during the warm months can also prove gratifying during the winter as well. You want to look out that window and see a delightful feast of contour and form.

    It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: "The leafless trees become spires of flame in the sunset, with the blue east for their background, and the stars of the dead calices of flowers, and every withered stem and stubble rimed with frost, contribute something to the mute music."

    It's the skeletons of winter that become the armatures for winter sculptures. With hoarfrost and ice clinging to bare deciduous branches, all kinds of designs will appear—and change as they melt and freeze again.

    Against the sky, the dark outline of a leafless tree can also look like intricate pen scratches, providing long moments of attentive gazing. Some of the more common deciduous trees for planting in the western region that show great arrangements of bare branches include maple, willow, elm, alder, aspen, poplar, cottonwood and all the fruit trees.

    Of course evergreen foliage always breaks up a bleak view, and in the harshest of winters pines, junipers and cedars withstand long drying winds. They are most resilient. How delightful to spot icicles dripping from tufts of needles. Then when snow lands on the feathery branches of cedars, it often looks like delicate lace filigree. Some great conifers include the Austrian Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce and Pinon Pine.

    Junipers provide good winter foliage also with a more popular one being Blue Chip Juniper.

    Ornamental Grasses Provide Winter Interest

    Ornamental grasses add delicate designs in winter.

    Then a little closer to the ground are the ornamental grasses. If you don't cut back dead blades and shoots, they'll continue waving in the winter winds. Some of the grasses that naturally drape toward the ground will often sweep delicate designs in new powdery snow like they do in the sands of dunes.

    From tufted and short to upright and arching, grass heights range from one to fourteen feet and are often used for ground covers, erosion control and screens. But if you've ever seen frost caught on the heads of pampas grass, you'll want them in your garden just for winter viewing.

    The list of ornamental grasses in the west is numerous. Following are some of the more common types.

    "Silver Feather Maiden Hair (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silverfeder'); Hardy Pampas (Erianthus); Prairie Sky Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Sky'); Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'); Boulder Blue Fescue Grass (Festuca glauca 'Boulder Blue') and Mountain Mist Grass (Blepharoneuron tricholepis Mountain Mist Grass).

    Some of the semi-evergreen grasses include: Sea Urchin Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina 'Glauca'); Blue Avena (helictotrichon sempervirens); Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampia caespitosa) and Autumn Moor Grasses (Sesleria).

    Finally, beyond the grasses are the weeds—those nameless things we all try to get rid of and out smart. But you just might want to leave a fringe of them on the outskirts of your garden. Again, with frost and snow clinging to branches and twigs these normally irritating wild things can look just fine through a long winter.

    Often the dried leaves and stems of perennials and annuals add a subtle color to the barren landscape. So why not leave them until spring? And of course instead of deadheading spent roses, allowed the fruit to form into rose hips. These can be a source of food for birds during the winter as well as adding attractive color to winter landscapes.

    Certainly, some people will argue that the open space of a dormant garden is attractive. But for the rest of us who want something a little more enticing while looking out on a bleak winter day, a garden planned with winter in mind is just what we're hoping for.

    Text by Cindy Bellinger

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

  • Forcing Bulbs for Early Indoor Color

    Tips on selecting, starting, storing and planting early-blooming bulbs in containers indoors.

    Hyacinth are easy to grow (force) indoors.Hyacinth are easy to grow (force) indoors.

    Aside from Poinsettias, two signature flowers, Amaryllis and Paperwhites, are favorites for the winter holiday season. These bulbs are easy to grow with spectacular results. They need no chilling, and once planted can bloom in as little as 3-5 weeks for Paperwhites, and just 6-8 weeks for Amaryllis. But once these blooms fade, many other bulbs can take their place and provide spots of indoor color just when winter winds are their coldest. Forcing bulbs to bloom early, indoors, is not difficult.

    Getting Started by Selecting Bulbs

    A few of the possibilities for forcing include the following: Iris reticulata, Crocus, Hyacinth, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Tulips, Daffodils, and other unique fall bulbs such as Scilla and Chionodoxa.


    • Use a container with a drainage hole. Simple plastic pots can be inserted in a decorative container or basket once the bulbs are ready to bloom.
    • Use a container deep enough to hold a 2-inch layer of good potting soil topped with enough soil to cover the bulbs.
    • Bulbs may be closely spaced, even touching on the sides.
    • Fill loosely with soil allowing a little space below the rim for watering.
    • Water bulbs well immediately after planting.
    • Label the containers with the bulb name, date planted, and the approximate date they can come out of cold storage.

    When forcing bulbs for indoors, they need to be chilled for many weeks prior.When forcing bulbs for indoors, they need to be chilled for many weeks prior.

    Cold Storage

    Bulbs need a period of dark, cold storage to simulate being in the ground. A cold frame, unheated garage, or refrigerator will work. If using a cold frame, mulch the containers so they remain in the dark. Likewise, in a garage or refrigerator, cover the pots loosely with foil so they are not exposed to light.

    The temperature should remain fairly constant at about 40 to 45 degrees. They should not be allowed to freeze. Check the bulbs regularly and water when dry. Keep this period of cold storage from 10 to 16 weeks, depending on the type of bulb. Use the following chart as a guide; but the best way to determine if bulbs are ready to come out of the cold is when growth is visible on top and roots are emerging from the drainage holes.

    The Warm-Up Period

    Once top growth is visible, it's time for the bulbs to come out of cold storage. If necessary, it's better to leave them in cold storage a few days too long rather than bring them out too early. The growth will be very pale but it will turn green after being exposed to light.

    For the first week or two, bulbs should be kept at about 60 degrees in bright, indirect light. Soil should be kept evenly moist. Once the growth is about four inches high, the pots can be moved to a sunnier and warmer location. Most bulbs will start to bloom two to three weeks after they come out of cold storage.

    Before the bulbs bloom, place the plastic pot in a decorative container. You can hide the top of the plastic pot with moss. Once the bulbs bloom, it's a good idea to move them to a cooler location at night to prolong the bloom period.

    When the blooms fade, cut off the flower stalks but not the leaves. Apply a little fertilizer and continue watering until the foliage completely dies down. Remove the bulbs from their pots and store them in a mesh bag in a cool dry place until planting time next fall.

    Forcing bulbs is an inexpensive way to have indoor blooms for a month or two. The only cost is the bulbs themselves and some inexpensive plastic pots. On a cold day in February you'll be glad you did.

    Text by Mary Ann Walz

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

  • Amaryllis: Get Big, Beautiful Blooms Indoors

    Amaryllis Red LionAmaryllis Red Lion is a favorite variety for indoor holiday blooms.

    Amaryllis bulbs produce wonderfully showy and long-lasting blooms, with the individual flowers as large as six-to-eight inches across. They are a favorite of gardeners and non-gardeners alike—they’re that easy to grow! Amaryllis make wonderful gifts and will produce showy, magnificent blooms in as little as 6-8 weeks. If you stagger the plantings, you’ll assure yourself weeks and weeks of stunning blooms. If you want blooms for the holidays, plan ahead and get them potted in mid-October.

    Follow these tips for growing amaryllis, and whether you’re a novice or expert gardener, soon you’ll have big, beautiful indoor blooms.

    Growing Amaryllis Indoors

    The Amaryllis bulbs we sell are the largest available, and are similar in size to a very large onion. Our bulbs are likely larger than those you might find in a “big box” store. Our customers prefer the larger bulbs because they produce more stalks and bigger blooms.

    Amaryllis Bulb Blossom Peacock Amaryllis Bulb Blossom Peacock

    When planting your bulb, select a pot that allows about one inch all around, and at least two inches below the bulb. Don’t worry, they don’t mind crowding! You can use a good quality soil-less potting mix or a blend of one part peat moss and one part coarse sand for planting. Make sure to not plant too deep and leave the top of the bulb ("shoulder') just slightly above the soil.

    Water in your newly planted bulbs thoroughly, but don't water again until the new sprout is well out of the bulb. Once you have a sprout a few inches long, water regularly and soon your amaryllis will produce its spectacular, huge flowers. Remember to turn the pot regularly to make sure the stalk grows straight, as these bulbs have a tendency to grow towards the light.

    Planting Amaryllis Outdoors

    In most of North America, amaryllis are only grown indoors in containers. Amaryllis are native to the Southern Hemisphere (South America and southern Africa), and can be grown outdoors in warmer, frost-free zones. If you live in the southern U.S. (zones 9-11), you can plant these bulbs in September or October. If well cared for, the bulbs will continue to flower for years.

    Re-Blooming Amaryllis

    Amaryllis Christmas Gift Amaryllis Christmas Gift is a pure white variety with a light green center.

    Once your amaryllis flowers have faded, cut the flower stalk back to the top of the bulb. Keep watering and fertilize through the spring/summer. You can move the potted bulb outside in a semi-shade spot or grow it indoors in a sunny window. There are two ways of preparing the bulb to re-bloom.

    - Let them continue to grow until them begin to turn yellow (around early fall). Cut the stem and leaves back and dig your bulb up to refrigerate it. Clean the bulb off and store in a cool refrigerated place (ideally 40-50 degrees) for a minimum of 6 weeks. After the 6 weeks bring them out, re-pot and they should bloom again within 8 weeks.

    - Or leave them outside into the fall, but stop watering in early September and cut off the foliage as it dies back. Bring it inside just before the first frost, and repot the bulb if it has grown to fill the old pot using the measurements above. But keep it dry until late October. Then begin watering the bulb in November to bring it back to life and start the winter bloom cycle yet again.

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

  • The Garden in Fall

    Salvia Raspberry Delight contrasts nicely with Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass

    I think fall is often the most overlooked and under-appreciated time in the garden. Maybe it's like downhill skiing in April. People figure the ski season is over and it's time to pull out your hiking boots. Yet, true "powder hounds" (skiers) know that here in the Rockies, the biggest, deepest powder days arrive with water-laden April storms. Well, the analogy is the same for the fall landscape; some of our most incredible and showy ornamentals are at their best after summer has passed when many gardeners have hung up their trowel.

    Summer Rains and Fall Blooming Native Plants

    Fall is a glorious time in the Intermountain West, Great Plains and the Southwestern US. Many of our native plant species are responsive to the mid-summer rains that bring much needed moisture in July and August (affectionately known as the "monsoon season," when cloud bursts dump rain by the inch). Native plants respond to the monsoons with a burst of fall color, some of which are actually re-blooming after their late spring flush.

    Arizona Honeysuckle VineArizona Honeysuckle Vine

    Plants Provide Fall Habitat

    These fall blooming native plants have always been a focus of High Country Gardens perennial selection. Not only do these plants delight us with their brilliant flowers, but they are integral to the habitat garden, providing:

    • Precious nectar and pollen to migrating monarchs and hummingbirds migrating south to their winter habitats in Mexico/southern most Arizona & New Mexico.
    • Seeds and fruits for songbirds.
    • Nectar and pollen for butterflies, native bees, honey bees and bumblebees so necessary to build winter food reserves.

    While the spring garden is full of smaller, compact flowering perennials and bulbs, the fall garden is the realm of big perennials and ornamental grasses that have been growing all summer before coming into flower.

    Perennial Highlights for Fall

    Garden mums and ornamental cabbage/kale have become a fall flowering cliché', a big box store give away for no-thought gardening . Double flowered mums are of no value to pollinators. (If you're going to plant a fall blooming mum, look for heirloom, single flowered varieties which are nectar-rich.) Take a walk on the wild side and put your funds and labor into more sustainable perennials.

    Yellow Twig Rabbit Brush
    Yellow Twig Rabbit Brush

    Text and Photos By David Salman

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

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