Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Select a Favorite Native Plant /My Choice Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) by Lorrie Redman

Courtesy of Irene Shonle

Why would you select a native plant?  Natives are wonderful in the mountains because they are adapted to our varied microclimates, they feed our wildlife, and they keep our unique plant heritage alive. 

When I am deciding, I go straight to one of my favorite resources, the field guide “Meet the Natives” by M. Walter Pesman.  This book has lots of high quality plant photos organized by family and color and it provides information on where and when to look for each plant when hiking in Colorado.   Unfortunately, not all of the natives are available to the public so I then use the following website’s Colorado Native Plant Society 5 guidelines for obtaining native species.

·         Check with local nature centers or experts for recommendations.
·         Read labels on “wildflower” mixes to verify they don’t include noxious weed species.     
·         Ask for plants by their scientific name as common names may vary.
·         Buy from reputable nurseries: ask about the origin of seed and plants.
·         Seed / Plant gathering from public lands is typically prohibited (this includes National Forest Service Land).

To find a reputable nursery I use the same website and click on Committees/ Education and Outreach/ Horticulture and Restoration/ and finally Retail Vendors.  The website has an easy to follow chart of native plants, their bloom times, heights, environmental conditions and elevation limits.
Courtesy of Irene Shonle
How I decided: I wanted to incorporate a new delicate but showy plant into the front of my garden.  I am obviously thinking pink because of Valentine’s Day and, therefore, I chose Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum). This plant can be easy to miss since it is only 6 to 18 inches high, has dusky pink nodding flower heads, and fern like foliage that can blend in.  When established it can form a great semi evergreen groundcover.  Yet, like many plants we love, this plant surprises us and creates fluffy whimsical seed heads that remind us of a cross between the dandelions and feather dusters we played with as children. When the seedpods burst they look like pink smoke in the meadow.  Finally, it had to meet my challenging mountain garden requirements!  
·         Zone: 3-7     
·         Elevation: to 10,000 feet             
·         Color/ Bloom Pink /Spring
·         Culture: Best grown in well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade and refers afternoon shade in hot summers.  Prefers cool summer climates.
·         Life Zone: Foothills, Montane, Subalpine, (common in meadows and aspen forests)

Challenge yourself to find a new favorite native!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Maximizing Your Harvest in a Small Garden by Sharon Faircloth

So, are you starting to get spring fever with all these nice days in February?  It really doesn’t take very much space to grow a variety of interesting vegetables in satisfying quantities.  Recent postings give you some ideas about varieties to try with realistic growing periods.

Rectangular beds can be DIY with minimal expense and labor.  If you don’t have that handy gene, you can purchase premade beds from catalogs and garden centers.  If you choose raised rectangular beds, try a block style planting rather than long rows.  Plant, using equal distance spacing in each direction.   Yield is higher; weeds should be minimal; plants are easily reachable for harvesting and it’s easier to cover in sketchy mountain weather.  Detailed information on block planting can be found in CMG Garden Notes #713.

Containers are also a great idea for the mountains because they can be moved about for optimum weather and water; they can be located away from critters, and harvesting is easy.  Consider height and length of roots when choosing containers. Use existing pots you can find a plethora of containers for sale specifically for vegetables.  Be aware that most vegetables need continuous moisture and nutrients so containers need watching.  Additional information is found in CMG Garden Notes #724

Planting against a wall can be a perfect location for cold weather vegetables in an early planting and then be way to hot later in the summer. Remember plants that call for full sun might thrive better in partial shade in Colorado.  As with all these suggestions, you will have to experiment and use your imagination.  Take pictures and notes!  If you write down your successes and challenges, it will give you a leg up next year. 

Emphasizing vertical plants will give you more room for variety, but will likely require trellising.  Interplanting or the practice of planting fast growing with slower growing plants makes sense for salad vegetables like lettuces, radishes, spinach and beets.  Use succession planting to extend your yields from early spring to late fall. There are many ways to protect, research Garden Notes #722.    Don’t forget to throw in flowers!   Flowers can aid in pest control and many are edible, all add to the color and interest of your plantings.

Friday, February 13, 2015

6 Steps to a High Altitude Tomato Watering System by Sandy Hollingsworth

It’s always fun to talk with friends and family about gardening ideas. My nephew told me about a high altitude tomato self-watering system he and a friend each constructed and tried last summer. He lives at 6500’ and we live at 8700’ so it peaked my curiosity. The main components are reused pieces most gardeners have on hand or can get from another local gardener. You’ll need one five gallon bucket (outer/reservoir bucket), another five gallon bucket or a black plant pot with drain holes in the bottom (inner/planting bucket), a 4” diameter pot like a yogurt container, deli container or a net pot (wicking basket), potting soil, a PVC pipe longer than the height of the outer/reservoir bucket, and a drill.
  1. Cut a large hole in the bottom, center of the interior/planting bucket that is slightly smaller than the wicking basket. Then cut a hole in the bottom, outside edge of the interior bucket that is slightly larger than your PVC pipe. Using a ¼ inch drill bit, drill extra drain holes into the bottom of the interior bucket.
  2. For the wicking basket, put lots of small holes in the yogurt or deli container, or just use a net pot as is.
  3. Place the wicking basket into the outer/reservoir bucket. Then nest the interior/planting bucket into the outer one, sitting on top of the wicking basket. Align the large hole of the inner bucket with the wicking basket.
  4. Put the PVC pipe in the similar sized hole so that it almost touches the bottom of the outer/reservoir bucket. (This allows you to water into the pipe so that the water goes into the reservoir. The PVC pipe also helps stake the plant.)
  5. Drill a ¼” hole into the side of the outer/reservoir bucket about 1/4” below the bottom of the inner/planting bucket. (You know you have put enough water in when it reaches this hole.)
  6. Put potting soil into the wicking basket and inner/planting bucket, then plant the tomato deeply into the inner bucket. (When the wicking basket is surrounded by water, the water will soak the soil that’s in the wicking basket and be pulled up into the planter as needed. The ¼” holes in the bottom of the bucket allow excess water to drain out. You could also try other plants covering the root ball.)
My nephew said that his version did better and produced much more fruit than other methods he’d tried and bested his friend’s tomato plant. Apparently, because the potting soil absorbed the water for even moisture but didn’t get wet feet, the tomato rooted well. They had used the same tomatoes which led to the conclusion that that the PVC pipe and net pot allowed more aeration and leaned toward a hydroponic method. He sent me a link to a DIY tutorial on Thanks to author Mike Lieberman. Given growing tomatoes at altitude is always a challenge and not always very productive, this new method is sure worth a try this season.
Here is a photo of one version: