Thursday, March 31, 2016

Penstemon by Sandy Hollingsworth

Penstemon aka Beard Tongues are terrific additions to your xeric garden with both native and non-native varieties. The flowers are plentiful, tubular and brilliant colors which attract bees and hummingbirds. There are over 250 types with low growing mat penstemon, shorter ones 8” – 10” tall, and many which grow up to two feet tall. The CSU partnership Plant Select program includes quite a number of penstemon tested to do well in Colorado. Here are some that are fun to scout out in the wild or try growing in our higher elevation area.

The Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon Strictus) is a native to the Southwest. It is often found in openings of ponderosa pine and spruce-aspen forest at elevations of 7,000-10,000’. It can grow on rocky, infertile, disturbed soils or in home gardens.  It grows 18” by 18” or taller with lots of midnight blue flowers and narrow, glossy green leaves.

Bluemist Penstemon (P. virens) is low growing and can spread to carpet gravelly slopes. It has light blue flowers and dark green leaves.

Scarlet Bugler (P. barbatus) and Firecracker Penstemon (P. eatonii) can grow up to 3’ with brilliant red flowers along the stalks. They are hummingbird magnets!

In the higher altitude woods, you may spot Whipple Penstemon (P. whippleanus) with its intensely dark purple flowers and in dry open areas you may see the native Grand Mesa Penstemon (P. mensarum) with cobalt blue flowers in spring.

Blue Buckle Penstemon (P. virgatus) is shorter and long blooming with clusters of blue to blue-purple flowers. It has wide, glossy, dark green basal leaves while the stems have very narrow leaves. It is native to a small area in northern New Mexico and northern Arizona, grows up to 9000’, in xeric conditions, cold winters, and poor soils.

Husker Red Penstemon (P. digitalis Husker Red) grows in a thick mound of reddish foliage with white flowers on erect stalks. It grows up to 8000’, blooms in summer, and may grow 18” wide and 24” tall. In autumn and winter, song birds enjoy its seed.

Pineleaf Penstemon (P. pinifolius) has either fire engine red flowers or light yellow flowers. It grows up to 10” tall with narrow leaves resembling pine leaves. It is native to the Southwest.

If you are excited to try Plant Select, selections include:

Prairie Jewel (P. grandiflorus ‘P010S’) with large flowers from white to rose to deep violet. The leaves are silvery. It is evergreen and long-lived in well drained locations.

Silverton bluemat penstemon (P. linarioides v. coloradoensis) has lavender blue flowers with silvery leaves and reseeds to spread.

Red Rocks penstemon (P. x Mexicali ‘P008S’) with rosy flowers and Pikes Peak Purple (P. x Mexicali ‘P007S’) with mounding dark green leaves and violet purple flowers are hybrids. Bridges Penstemon (P. rostriflorus) with scarlet flowers is native to the Southwest. These three like a somewhat lower elevation like zone 4b or 5.

Whatever you plant, or discover in the woods, look closely at the amazing flower patterns and striping on the petals plus watch for bees and hummingbirds sharing the flowers with you!
Photo credits: Eastern Colorado and Dave’s and Irene Shonle.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taking your Soil’s Temperature to Ensure Successful Seed Germination and Plant Establishment by Pete Biggam

For the best success for this upcoming garden season, we can’t just blindly follow the planting dates on the back of seed packs to decide when to plant; we need to get down and dirty and get our soils to open up and say “aaahhh” and take it’s temperature so we know when is the best time to sow our seeds based upon the crops we want to grow.

Why should we care about soil temperature?

Soil temperature is critical when it comes to the germination success of the variety of seeds you may be planning to be sowing in your garden.

Soil temperature also affects plants root development and distribution, soil biological activity and nutrient uptake by roots.

 Crops like cabbage, kale, onion, peas, lettuce, spinach, turnips and potatoes will germinate when soil temperatures are in the 35 to high 40 degree range and are referred to as “cool season crops”.

However, “warm season crops” like tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash and cucumbers will require temperatures closer to 60 degrees and above before seed will germinate.

For specific seed germination requirements for cool and warm season vegetables please consult the Colorado State University Extension Garden Note #720 for specifics.

What affects the temperature of the soil?

Soil moisture content, soil texture, surface cover, aspect and elevation have the greatest influence on soil temperature.

Soil moisture content is the amount of water in the soil pore spaces, and is influenced by the available water holding capacity (AWC) of the soil. Water has a high heat capacity, meaning that it can absorb a lot of heat without changing temperature. Air, on the other hand, has a much lower heat capacity.

Soils with their pore spaces filled with water will be cooler than drier soils that have their pore spaces filled with air. In the spring, wet soils will take longer to warm than drier soils.

All things being the same, clayey soils will tend to be colder than sandy or loamy soils due to a higher AWC, and a higher soil moisture content.

Potting soils or soils with lots of decomposed organic matter also have a high AWC and tend to be colder than sandy or loamy soils.

Sandy soils with little or no organic matter will be your warmest soils in the garden environment, as they have the lowest AWC of all soil textures.

The greatest variation in soil temperature occurs at the soil surface and becomes more stable at lower soil depths.

Soil within 3 or 4 feet of south facing buildings, fences, garden walls or other garden features that soak up heat will be warmer than soil further away from the heat sink.

South facing slopes in full sun will always be warmer because the angle of the sun hits them more directly.

A good way to determine where the warm spots are in your yard is to watch where the first new green weeds and grass show up in the next few weeks.

How Do You Measure Soil Temperature?

Although you can purchase a soil thermometer at you local garden store, a stainless steel kitchen meat thermometer will also work well, with the instant read digital output models that are at least 6 inches long a good affordable choice. 

Glass thermometers should not be used, as they can be easily broken trying to insert them into the soil.

Soil temperatures should be taken between 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM by inserting a thermometer 4 inches deep into the soil surface.  After the temperature has stabilized, and after noting the temperature, remove the thermometer from the soil.
Why a depth of 4 inches at 8:00 AM you ask? This is a depth and time in which the soil is in equilibrium between the colder nighttime temperatures and the warmer daytime temperatures.
If you have difficulty inserting the thermometer, you can use a screwdriver to make a small pilot hole, and then insert the thermometer
Different areas of the garden can have different soil temperatures, so be sure to take measurements at several locations.
Soil temperatures should be consistent for several days before seeds are sown to ensure that the seeds are being exposed to optimal temperatures for germination.

Garden Management Techniques to Manipulate Soil Temperature

1. You can apply a thin sheet of black polyethylene sheet on the surface of the soil or on top your garden beds, which will absorb heat from the sun during the day and prevent heat loss during the night.

2. Add a darker mulch or organic matter and compost to the surface of the soil, which will absorb more sunlight and increase the soil temperature.

3. Gently cultivating the soil in the spring will help aerate your soil and allows excess soil moisture to evaporate, warming the soil. 

Remember: Even if soil temperatures are warm enough for germination and growth, you should still be concerned about frost damage to tender sprouts, so be prepared after germination to protect your young plants.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

FIRE MITIGATION and LANDSCAPING – ZONE 1 ‘Steppables’, and VERY low growing perennial ground covers by Molly Niven

Ready for a wild fire?  Time to jump on this opportunity and add diversity and color to your landscaping.  Bottom line – we don’t want to put lives of any firefighters in danger saving our home nor do we want to endanger our neighbors’ lives or property.

ZONE 1:  0 – 15’ - 30’ outward from your home. Increase the distance on the downhill side.  Avoid planting anything in the 5 feet closest to your structure.  Think native rock covered with lichen!

Below are a few of my favorites for 8,800’, south-facing

PRIORITIES:  low to the ground (1”- 4”); a low sap resin content; drought tolerant at 8,800’; and easy to maintain once established.  These plants
·         are in full sun, some  partial shade;
·         are in decomposed granitic soil amended with a little compost (5%) – well drained soil, no fertilizer;
·         terrain is ‘sculpted’ so that water from gutters, roof and slope naturally irrigate plants needing a little more moisture
·         watered in until established;
·         not invasive at this altitude;
·         are transplants or purchased in small containers grown in nurseries or by Gilpin County Master Gardeners! 
·         flammable pine needle duff mulch is replaced with native gravels

Pussytoes  Antennaria parvifolia (Littleleaf),  and Antennaria rosea (Rosy)  Native; silvery green leaves form a dense mat 1” – 3” tall;  tiny white or rose rayless flowers soft to touch,  attracts butterflies and bees; sun/partial shade.

Sulphur flowered buckwheat erigonum umbellatum  Native; 4” – 12” tall;  grey green mat with yellow flowers are tinged with deep orange, copper or rusty red.; keep their color when dry;  great for flower arrangements!


Kinnikinnick (Bearberry)  Arctistaophylos uva-ursi  Native; spreading woody perennial; 3”-6” tall; waxy green evergreen leaves; little white flowers in spring and red berries in fall; attract birds, hummingbirds and small mammals; slow to get established; fabulous year round; remove dead branch tips in spring. 

Dwarf Mountain Fleabane  Erigeron compositus  Native; 3” tall; mounding plant; attracts butterflies;  pinkish purple ray flowers have yellow centers; blooms early throughout summer. 


Turkish Veronica Speedwell Veronica liwanensis Intense blue  flowers can last 6 weeks at this altitude; bright glossy green leaves year round; 2” high;  spreads to form dense mat, show stopper! 

Creeping Cinqfoil  Potentilla reptans   Small yellow flowers; spreads by underground runners; 2” –  5” high; spreads rapidly in some environments.

 My two favorite hardiest sedums:

Dragon’s Blood Sedum Sedum spurium  Succulent with bright green leaves about 2” tall that turn shades of maroon towards fall; pink, reddish flowers are small and star shaped.


Blue Spruce Sedum Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce' I like its spruce needle like leaves and yellow flowers; spreads slowly; evergreen.


3 hardy thymes:

 Creeping Thyme Thymus praecox Purple flowers are attractive to bees; spreads slowly as mat; deer resistant; edible; fragrant; steppable.

Elfin Thyme Thymus serpyllum  Forms very dense mat 1” high; aromatic; steppable; green to grayish foliage in summer; attracts bees. 

Woolly thyme Thymus. pseudolanuginosus  A little taller than creeping thyme 2” – 3”; tolerates light traffic;  aromatic , deer resistant; edible.
Irish Moss  Sagina  Dense, moss-green cushions that like shade; 1-2” tall; tiny white flowers in springtime; deer resistant.  I planted a few of these in our dry streambed, underneath the roofline to catch moisture on the north side of our house.  In 3 years they are filling in around the rocks nicely.




 Read more:
·  Webinar on fire wise landscaping by Gilpin County Extension Agent Irene Shonle
· Specifics on zones and creating defensible space
·  Overview of  slash burning, grants for fire mitigation, videos on ignition zones and landscaping
·  grass seed mixtures to reduce fire hazards
· - Colorado native Plant society has retail suggestions on where you can purchase container plants and native seeds