Thursday, September 14, 2017

Rain barrels by Sandy Hollingsworth

Good news for gardeners! Rain barrels are now legal in Colorado. In 2017 House Bill 16-1005 legislation went into effect in August 2016, which allows homeowners to capture rain into containers up to 110 gallons total at any given time. The containers, usually barrels, can be joined together with hoses or separate. 

The rain may only be harvested from your primary house, not a garage, barn or shed, before it hits the ground. It can also be collected on multi-family buildings with four or fewer units. Homeowner associations will allow them, although HOAs can make rules about where they are located, the color and style. At your own house, you can use home-made versions or store-bought ones, paint them fun colors or have them blend in as you wish. To be in conformance with Colorado water law the container must have a sealable lid. This is in part to reduce mosquitoes from breeding in the open water. A spigot low on the rain barrel allows you to turn it on to put water in a watering can or attach a hose going to your garden. An overflow hose at least 8 inches long at the top of the barrel keeps the extra water from spilling over the top and a screen at the top where the downspout goes into the container keeps out twigs and debris.
Water harvested can only be used outside on the same property where it’s collected for irrigation and is not for drinking, dish washing, bathing or indoor uses. It’s best to use it within a week but water can sit up to a month and empty containers at least monthly. Rain water is soft water, low in salts, is unchlorinated and may contain small amounts of nitrogen which benefits your plants.
A first flush diverter is recommended so that the first water entering the container isn’t full of contaminants from the roof, pollen, metals, bird droppings, dirt and other impurities. This diverts the first few gallons to a separate container than your storage container and could be a tip bucket style which dumps out or a float ball that closes off a diverted pipe when the water reaches a certain level, or a filtration diverter on the downspout. In some parts of Colorado there could be airborne arsenic or mercury, so a filter is helpful to reduce this being put on your garden or lawn.
Water collected and used is the not the same as having Water Rights under Colorado Law in effect since the 1850’s. This is a first in time, first in rights system with senior and junior water rights along the path the water travels. There is also a previous water collection law, Senate Bill 09-080, which allows eligible single-family home residents to apply for a Rooftop Precipitation Collection System Permit to capture water and use it for ordinary use inside including drinking, but not for outside uses or for watering plants in a greenhouse. These permit holders may use both collection rules.
For more details please see Colorado State University Extension Fact Sheet number 6.707

Thursday, September 7, 2017


Growing in high altitude certainly has its challenges and everyone who has made an effort to enhance the beauty of their property has experienced them!  Some years I’ve been so thankful anything grew that I didn’t really envision a comprehensive plan.  If it grew, yahoo and if no critters ate it, woohooo and if it came up the next year, OMG!

As a reminder, or for new residents, there are some great resources for help in picking plants more suitable for our environment.  Your best resource website is  Colorado Mountain Gardening Basics can be found within Fact Sheet 7.244.    For perennial flower choices, see Fact Sheet 7.406 called Flowers for Mountain Communities.  These will give you the basics on selecting the right plant for the right spot, taking into consideration sunlight, microclimates, year round moisture, soil quality and amendments.

Once you determine plants that work in your environment, make notes.  Keep track of what worked and what didn’t in a diary.  It’s also helpful to make a wish list of what you would like to try for next season.   Our summers are brief but spectacular and most plants are geared toward late spring and early summer.  But what about the other seasons?

With a little planning, we can create visual interest in our landscape throughout the year.   There are several ways to do that.  One of my favorite choices is bulbs.   Those planted in the fall, bring the first hope of spring.  It’s so satisfying to find lovely little flowers coming out while there’s still snow coming in late spring.  They are such an encouragement!  There are many varieties that suit our alpine environment.  Alliums do well, the Allium giganteum and Allium azureum as well as Muscari or grape hyacinth.  There are many varieties of crocus and iris.
Iris reticulata
Bulbs can also be chosen for summer blooms.  Containers can be useful for these bulbs because they can be moved and protected more easily than planting in the ground.  The Asiatic lilies are nice for color, butterflies and cut flowers but tend to be also attractive to deer and elk.  This way you can enjoy them anyway!  Crocus can also be planted for bloom in the fall.  Look for Crocus speciosus and as well as other unique choices at your garden center or online.  For planting and selection details, look at Fact Sheet 7.410.

Summer color in Vail

Another way to add to year round color is with non-native trees and shrubs.  Fact Sheet 7.423 will give you details on several ideas depending on terrain, elevation and moisture requirements.  Many have beautiful color in the fall giving interest after the summer blooms have faded.  Crataegus ambigua or Russian Hawthorn and, Amelanchier alnifolia or Common Serviceberry both have flowers in the summer and turn orange-red in the fall.
Barberry turns a beautiful shade in the fall; try Berberis thunbergii or Japanese barberry if you’re at a lower altitude.  Cotonoeaster lucidius varieties will do better at higher altitude and provide flowers, fruit to attract birds and orange-red color in the fall.
With a little thought, you can also plant for winter interest.  We have our beautiful evergreens but for an addition of texture, try ground covers like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi or kinnickinnick or their cousins the manzanitas.   If you have an area for ornamental grass, there are a couple of PlantSelect versions that will grow in zones 3 and 4.  Look at Calamagrostis brachytricha or Korean feather reed grass and Schizachyrium scoparium or Standing Ovation little bluestem.   The grasses can be cleaned up in the spring so will give some winter interest.

For continuous blooming and landscaping interest, choose appropriate plants; combine perennials and annuals; utilize containers for multi season interest; and try those bulbs.  Just as you rotate your vegetables, do the same in your flower garden.  Plants can get pricey in a hurry so hold back your enthusiasm until you have thought out how you can maximize your enjoyment throughout the year.  Make a plan; you’ll be happy you did!
Kinnickinnick looks good even in the middle of winter

Friday, September 1, 2017

Garlic by Barbara Sanders

So you think you have finished gardening because the Aspen leaves are starting to turn?
One chore remains: planting garlic!

There are basically 2 kinds of garlic: Hardneck and softneck. The hardneck variety has bigger cloves, is spicier, but stores for a shorter time—3 to 5 months. The beautiful braids of garlic that you might see are softneck which has smaller cloves, is milder and stores for about 6 to 8 months. There are several varieties of hardneck and softneck garlic: Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Porcelain, Artichoke, Silverskin, Asiatic/Turban, and Creole.  My favorites: Music is my favorite in the Porcelain Family; in the Purple Stripe Family, Persian Star and  Metechi; and in the Rocambole Family, Killanrney Red which doesn’t keep too long. I like garlic with large cloves, strong taste, and and one that does well in a cool, wet growing season. I just cooked a dinner with a from-the-garden Music after weeklong cure so it was still quite moist, and dinner was wonderfully pungent!

For seed garlic search for a supplier on the web who can explain the different varieties and how they compare in taste and storage.  My favorite site is Filaree Farm. Much more information is available at the CSU Extension Blog: and search for Garlic.

If you have a whole bulb of garlic, you must gently separate the individual cloves for planting, called popping. Twist the top of the bulb to find the individual cloves. Keep the papery skins on the clove as they protect the clove from moisture and rot. The larger cloves will produce larger bulbs.

The cloves must be planted a few weeks before the ground freezes so they can start some roots. Garlic likes soil that has been amended so it is loose and well draining. Plant the cloves in full sun or partial shade, pointy side up, about 2 to 3 inches deep and about 4 to 6 inches apart. Cover with soil and water to reach deeper than the clove and only as much as needed to keep the bed from drying out. The fall rains should be plenty. A mulch of leaves or straw will protect from frost heaving. Snow is also a good insulator against hard freezes.

So that is how to plant garlic at the end of gardening season. Once the snow melts, the plants will be up and waiting for your attention during the summer.

Barbara Sanders and her husband moved to Steamboat from Hawaii in 1997.  She learned about Colorado plants and trees through the Master Gardener program and while volunteering at the Yampa River Botanic Park.  Barbara finds native plants most interesting as “they are adapted to our crazy, changeable climate and to our different soils” and her vegetable garden the most fun, which she tends with her husband, Bill.