Planting Information

How to Transform a Landscape into a Xeriscape

frontyard xeriscapeAbout 16 years ago, after months of house hunting, the realtor stopped in front of a little ranch-style house and I instantly knew I was home. This one definitely had curb appeal and it spoke to me.

The house was shaded by a large ash tree on one side of the yard and a small maple on the other. The lawn was lush and emerald green. In my excitement I failed to notice the yard had no sprinkler system.

I might as well confess, I’m a really lazy gardener, so I had no idea the amount of hose-dragging that lawn would need in order to stay green.

This is Colorado after all. Despite the amount of snow that falls in the mountains each winter, the state’s average annual precipitation is only 17 inches. That means we almost qualify as a desert. But with average precipitation, and a little irrigation, our lawns can be just as rich and thick as any to the east.

Organic Gardening Tip Protects Cucumber Seedlings

plastic berry boxI hate it when something eats my cucumbers before I do. Especially before they even get the chance to grow into those cool fruits.

Cucumber seedlings are especially attractive to garden pests, but I think I’ve found a simple, organic gardening method to outsmart the hungry critters, like cutworms and birds.

Last season, the trouble cropped up right after planting the seeds.

I’d soak the seeds overnight to soften them a bit for planting, then I’d prepare the garden bed, plant the seeds, and celebrate seeing the first seedlings pop up from the ground.

The next day their heads would be missing, leaving a tiny stalk standing.

My first thought was that cutworms were feasting on the cucumber seedlings, so I tried protecting them with collars, toothpicks, and other homemade guards.

But when these defenses failed, I knew I had other pests, probably birds and squirrels were snacking on the seedlings.

How to Plant and Grow a Healthy Tree

poor tree plantingWhy would anyone intentionally kill a new tree?

That’s the thought that crossed my mind when I saw this little tree while walking through my neighborhood.

Obviously, these folks wanted to grow a tree. They invested money in buying a tree, they spent time digging a planting hole and they even took time to stake the thing.

Too bad they didn’t do some research on the best ways to plant it. I don’t hold much hope for this tree that has soil piled high up against its trunk with its little trunk flare buried deep.

I wish these people knew the average life expectancy of a landscape tree is less than 10 years because of where and how it’s planted.

That’s certainly a sad statistic for a plant that does so much for us.

If you’re going to invest the time and money to add a tree to your landscape, be sure to spend the extra effort it deserves in planning, planting and maintaining it to ensure a long, healthy life.

Add a Tropical Planter to any Patio Garden

Tropical planterMy dry Colorado garden is thousands of miles away from Hawaii’s sandy shores, but I can still enjoy the tropics in my own patio garden.

All I need is a large tropical-looking container, a few tropical plants and some Tiki torches to create the perfect mood.

For this tropical planter I chose a Tropicanna Canna Lily because I fell for its oversized multi-colored leaves and the large, jungle-like tangerine-orange flowers that shoot up from the center.

Canna Lilies that grow in containers reach about 4’ tall. If I lived in any of the warmer Zones, the lily could spend the winter outside. But in my Zone 5, tropical plants like these need to be removed from the container and stored in a cool, dry place over winter.

As a complement to the large lily leaves, I planted mounds of brilliant orange-red Begonias. These plants filled in along the container edges as a nice contrast to the brilliant lime green container I chose for the arrangement.

Planting Miniclover as a New Lawn Alternative

green cloverMiniclover could be the answer to questions on what works as a good bluegrass lawn alternative.

It’s worth a try.

The idea occurred to me when Outsidepride.com sent a small sample of Miniclover seeds (Trifolium repens) to members of the Garden Writers Association.

Miniclover is a perennial small-leaf clover that grows low to the ground.

Clover has few, if any, fertilizer needs, it uses less water than turfgrass, and there’s no required mowing.

If it grows thick enough there’s no need for pulling or killing weeds.

I asked Outsidepride for more free Miniclover seed to use for renovating a small backyard that needed help.

This yard, in southeastern Colorado, was in desperate need of something. A combination of drought, insect pests and neglect had turned the lush lawn into a weedy patch filled with my most-hated garden foe — crabgrass.

Start the Gardening Season with the New Edition of The Colorado Gardener’s Companion

Colo Gardener's Comp 2nd Ed Final Cover 72ppi blog The second edition of my first book is ready in time for gardening season!

I worked over the winter months to fill this new edition with more of everything to help Colorado gardeners grow great gardens starting now.

The Denver Post newspaper calls the new edition of my gardening book an “an essential manual” for gardeners.

What’s new in edition two?

The new edition features a colorful cover image of one of my flowerbeds from last summer.

That image, taken by John Pendleton, shows off some of the annuals and perennials that grow in one of the hottest, driest parts of my backyard.

In addition to a new look, there’s more of everything else, too! Since the first edition was published in 2007, a lot has changed in the wonderful world of gardening.

So I updated all of the information, included new technologies, expanded plant lists, added new resources and included about nine more inspiring gardens to visit.

How to Start Vegetable Seeds for Gardening

pepper seed sprouting There’s a lot going on in my basement these days.

The eggplant and pepper seeds have germinated and the tiny plants are shedding their seed coat to show off their seed leaves. As these cotyledons grow, they’ll form their first “true leaves.”

The tomato seeds I carefully saved at the end of last season will be starting soon, too. Because tomato seeds take less time to sprout and grow than the eggplant and peppers, I like to wait a little longer.

The weather in spring is so unpredictable, it’s best to wait until the night-time temperatures have settled into a reliable 55 degrees before planting. Warm-season vegetables do best when they get off to a good start early in the season.

If you haven’t started your seeds yet, now’s the time. Plan ahead to give your eggplants and pepper seeds some bottom heat with a heating mat. These seeds will sprout quickly if they’re warm enough.

New Gardening Ideas for 2015

What’s new in gardening this year? Here are some interesting ideas I saw at the ProGreen Expo last week. ProGreen is the premier Rocky Mountain regional green industry conference held annually in Denver.

Expanded shale soil amendment

Expanded shale is the new way to amend clay soil. When incorporated into soil, the expanded shale improves soil drainage, but it can also hold water during drought. The light-weight shale doesn’t break down like organic soil amendments so it should last for many years in the landscape or even in containers. Gardeners should be able to buy either in bulk or 40 pound bags from local nurseries or soil suppliers.

Ash tree treatment for Emerald Ash Borer

The dreaded Emerald Ash Borer has found its way into Colorado, and any gardener who has an ash tree should be concerned. The Expo had quite a few booths dedicated to either new tools for detecting EAB, treatments for trees, or general information about this destructive insect. One of the main concerns from gardeners is how to treat trees without harming beneficial insects and the environment. Some products, like TreeAzin from Canada, claim to be safer than other treatments.  Gardeners should wait until EAB is found within 15 miles of their ash trees before taking action.

Midsummer Report on Harris Seeds Trials

I’m pleased that Harris Seeds invited me to be part of another Home Garden Trials this season.

Harris Seeds of Rochester, New York, invited members of the Garden Writers Association to once again test flower and vegetable varieties in our home gardens this season.

I’m one of 100 GWA members who selected varieties for planting so we can provide feedback to the company. If the testing works as well as last year, gardeners across the country will see the best selections in the Harris Seed catalog next year.

In addition to the flowers, I’m also testing two kinds of peppers, a new variety of squash, a 2014 All-America Selections winning bean and a side-by-side trial of grafted and nongrafted tomatoes.

Here’s a midsummer’s peek at what’s doing well in my garden:

2013 Harris Trials3

New Ideas in Straw Bale Gardening

I can’t think of a single gardener who wouldn’t want to plant a vegetable garden that could grow anywhere–without soil—and never needed weeding.

Straw Bale GardensWhen something sounds too good to be true, in most cases it means watch out for all the pitfalls. Gardeners are used to hearing claims for plants, products and tools that sound perfect, but end up being a big disappointment.

But Joel Karsten’s new book may be an exception. “Straw Bale Gardens” (Cool Springs Press, 2013) promises to be The breakthrough method for growing vegetables anywhere, earlier and with no weeding.

He practically guarantees gardeners can get big yields and grow 100 percent organic anywhere. As proof, he suggests planting in straw bales on balconies or driveways. No soil required.

“You plant your garden directly in bales of straw. Add some water, fertilizer and sunshine (not necessarily in that order) and your garden will explode with beautiful wholesome produce. No tilling, no cultivating, no weeding,” he writes in the Introduction.

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