Monday, July 18, 2016

Spirea in the Garden by Vicki Barney

I have several plants hiding in plain sight.  Landscaped by the previous owner, my yard has a variety of cultivars tucked into inconspicuous places: hugging a wall, behind a showy perennial, hiding under bushes, and the like.  A white flowering spirea bush is one of them.

Spirea plants (genus Spiraea), part of the Rosaceae family, are deciduous shrubs of various sizes.  They are low maintenance, hardy, prolific bloomers and are a great addition to any garden.  Some species bloom in the spring, others in summer, and the showy tiny flowers grow in clusters along woody stems.  Flower colors may be pink, red, yellow, or white, depending on the variety.  Most varieties tolerate poor soil, need a lot of sun, like to have room to spread out, and do not like wet feet. While they are not classified as xeric, they can manage with little water once established.  Their flowers are more prolific, however, with regular summer watering, and mulch around the plants help retain moisture.

As for plant selection, cultivated varieties are numerous, the species being a horticultural favorite for generations.  The small (2-3 ft) pink flowering varieties of s. japonica are popular, as is the large bridal wreath species (s. prunifolia) which may grow up to 10 feet tall (take note that these two species may not be hardy above 7,500’).   The native spirea (holodiscus dumosus), called rock-spirea or mountainspray, has white flowers and is a good choice for a natural landscape.  The Blue Mist Spirea is another popular plant but, do not be confused, it is a spirea in name only and is a cultivar in the genus caryopteris, part of the Lamiaceae family.

While spirea is low maintenance, it benefits from annual pruning.  Spring bloomers like s. prunifolia should be pruned after flowering as they bloom on old wood.  Pruning helps them keep their shape and size, and cutting out the oldest stems prevents them from becoming woody and unproductive.  For summer bloomers (like varieties of s. japonica), recommended pruning time is early spring, after allowing the larger plant to have a mound of protection through the winter. Pruning a plant in half in early spring will result in a more compact shrub with abundant flowers on new wood.
Best of all, spirea appears to be unappetizing to wildlife.  My garden is visited by both deer and moose and, while they nibble on the red osier dogwood, the pansies, and the daylilies, they leave the spirea alone.   It must not taste very good.

My white flowering spirea is a mystery variety that blooms in the spring.   Parts of the bush look quite healthy but other parts are woody and produce no flowers.  As a spring bloomer, it will benefit from pruning after it finishes flowering, to improve its shape and to remove old woody stems.  It may also benefit from a bit more water in the driest part of the summer, but I will be careful with the water to be sure it does not get too wet or grow too large in its location next to the wall.  Now that I have noticed it, I like how it hides in plain sight.

A long time Steamboat resident and casual gardener, Vicky Barney is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Growing Clematis by Vicky Barney

Last week I had the pleasure of touring some Old Town Steamboat gardens and was particularly charmed by blooming clematis plants.  The cultivars had beautiful blue flowers on long vines, one covering a tall trellis, the other running along a porch roof beam.  Both were several years old and looked very happy.  I went home, inspired to find the clematis growing in my garden (planted by the previous homeowner 5+ years ago), and determined to make it as healthy as the ones I saw.

First, though, I needed more information. I found research-based information and learned that clematis (pronounced CLEM e tis, Greek for vine) is a showy and hardy perennial that fares well in Routt County’s climate.  In the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family, it produces flowers most often in shades of purple, blue, pink, or white and blooms at various times during the summer months, depending on the variety.  Most varieties grow as vines but there are some mounding varieties.
Native Colorado clematis include Clematis ligusticifolia, or Virgin’s Bower, which is a vine that produces numerous small white flowers in mid to late summer and may grow to 20 feet.  Clematis scottii, or Scott’s sugarbowl, grows in a small mound and produces nodding purple flowers in late spring to early summer.

There are numerous cultivated varieties of clematis.  Gardeners can choose a variety based on size and shape of mature plant, flower color, flower size, bloom time, and zone rating.   Cultivars with a zone rating of 3 or 4 will thrive in our cooler climate; ones with a rating of 5 may need to be placed in a warmer part of the garden.  Most important is to select plants that are healthy looking from the start as they will have the best chance of long term success.  Planted in the right place (lots of sunshine, shaded roots, adequate water, room to grow, and with some varieties, an adequate support system), a clematis may live for 10 to 20 or more years.

As for care, clematis may need special support structures and some pruning.  Unlike hops or morning glories, clematis vines do not grow around a structure; they wrap their leaf stems around something with a small diameter (up to a ½ inch).  Twine, thin branches, and small diameter dowels work best to guide the growth.  The plant may or may not need pruning, depending on the variety.  It’s best to wait until mid-spring to prune and cut back the vines that are clearly dead.

Now for my plan.  When I started tending my new garden 4 years ago, I discovered a sad looking clematis vine in a shady spot and carefully moved it into the sun.  The results have been disappointing; the vine has stopped growing and I’ve yet to see flowers.  My steps to restore it to health are as follows:
1.       Set up a small trellis.  If there is not an appropriate support system, the vining varieties stop growing.  
2.       Check that other plants have not grown up and created shade.  Neighboring plants may need to be moved. 
3.       Feed it.  Unlike my native perennials, this plant is likely a cultivar requiring more nutrients.
4.       Wait. 

Every article I found in my research said that clematis require patience.  It may be several years before my plant is mature enough to produce an abundance of flowers.  But as I saw in the Old Town Steamboat gardens, a clematis in bloom is worth the wait.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Composting in the Yampa Valley by Andy Kennedy – Master Gardener

Compost: to rot your unused organic material in a way that it can be used as a compliment and amendment to existing soil. 

Composting in rural Colorado - a region robust with wildlife and challenged by severe weather- can be tricky, but it can be done. And it should be. Composting is a very important factor in the sustainability of our existence as it both reduces our waste (and impact on the environment) and improves our depleted soil (improving our environment).

The how is the challenge, but it’s easier than you might think. Compost is a natural process of organic decomposition, and if done right, will not attract wildlife or pests, will not be affected by weather, and will provide you with an amazing, free amendment for your soil. 

Items you will need:
A bin – can be purchased or home-made, but should be no bigger than one cubic yard.
A starter pile – should include 2 parts woody or brown material (dried leaves, sticks, straw, etc) and one part organic or green material (grass, kitchen scraps, etc).
Water – keep the pile moist but not sopping wet.
A pitchfork – if you use a home-made box, you’ll need to turn the pile frequently as the decomposition process needs oxygen to break down more quickly. Some purchased bins, like tumblers, will turn themselves.
Patience – it can take 6-12 months until your pile is a rich, dark soil material. 

In a backyard pile, to keep the animals away and grow soil that’s safe for your veggies, do not add meat products (meat, bones, broth), dairy, oils, human or animal waste products (feces), or any “compostable” materials such as compostable cups, paper products, or “cornware.” 

Your compost should not smell bad.  If you begin smelling an odor, add more brown material and turn more often. You also should not have bugs (flies, fruit flies, etc). If you do, reduce your acidic material (citrus fruits) or cover your pile with plastic. Covering will also increase the heat in the pile, and encourage more rapid decomposition. 

Worms make great dirt. “Vermiculture” is another technique that can be used to make a soil amendment, and worms can be added to your compost pile to speed up the process. Alternatively, you can try vermicomposting in an additional bin. 

The timing of adding to your compost pile is up to you, but know that very little decomposition will take place through the winter months. You can continue to compost food scraps, but bury them with material from a brown pile to avoid non-hibernating animal tampering. (A collection of fall leaves is great for a brown pile.)  You will not be able to, nor need to, turn your frozen pile in the winter, but as soon as it’s warm enough, begin to turn it.

When the compost is ready (crumbly texture and earthy smell), add it liberally to last year’s soil in your garden, pots, lawn, trees and shrubs. It is also good for indoor plants.