Friday, May 31, 2019

Tired of Waiting! Instant Garden! Container Plants!

by Lorrie Redman
In the mountains, we always have to wait for the snow to clear, soil to warm up, and frost to end.  I admit I am impatient and always have to find ways to garden before these events occur.  I overcome my frustration by growing seedlings, potting Christmas bulbs, nurturing micro greens, and watering houseplants.

Come May though, I can’t control my need to garden and I want an instant garden.  My solution is container planting.  I can design, shop, plant and enjoy my mini gardens all in one day. 

My three favorite mini gardens are shade containers, perennial containers, and herb containers.
Container garden by Lorrie Redman
      Shade Containers add lots of color to problem areas that are hard to grow annuals in. I can add a container under a tree and bring interest and height in those spots that nothing else grows.  Plants I like to use are begonias, coleus and, impatiens.  There are so many new varieties to choose from and they have similar water and sun needs.

      Perennial Containers are wonderful because you get more for your money. You can enjoy them on your deck or patio all summer and then replant them into your regular garden in the fall.  Plants I love to combine are salvias, rudbeckias, yarrows and lavenders.  

      Herb Containers are edible and fragrant additions to your living space.  Who doesn’t love to cook your favorite pasta sauce and grab a few basil leaves for flavor or chop up cilantro into your homemade salsa?  With herbs, I love to use one herb per pot so I can control my plants watering needs.  Then I group the containers together for a variety of textures and heights. 

Container gardens do have some special considerations to think about before you plant.  They include:
Perennial garden photo by Lorrie Redman
Choosing a Container:
    Any container can be used but it must have good drainage and drainage holes so your plants do not become waterlogged.
    If choosing edible plants make sure the container is not made with toxic materials. 
    Porous materials such as clay and wood need to be watered more often than non-porous materials like ceramic, plastic, and metal containers.  Porous materials do offer more air circulation into the root zone. 

    Choose soil mixes that are free of insects, disease and weed seeds. It is recommended that you change out your soil yearly.
    Native soils are not recommended since they compact easily and prevent oxygen from getting to the root systems.
    Soil mixes vs soilless mixes tend to have some of the same ingredients but soilless mixes tend to be lighter. Research your plants to determine which medium is better for your choice of plants.
 Watering and Fertilizing:
    These are problem areas for containers. Container do require more watering and fertilizing than your regular gardens. 
    Containers tend to lose moisture faster since they are above ground and the number of plants in such a small space increases the need for more regular fertilization.
    Letting your pots dry out completely is not recommended since the finer roots will die and your plants will suffer.
    Even if you add slow release fertilizers to your soil mix it is recommended in Colorado to use additional soluble fertilizers to feed your plants.
    With increased watering and fertilizing good drainage is also necessary to reduce salt build up from added fertilizers.  Recommendations include draining your saucers often and having containers that accommodate the root depth of your plants.  

Now go out and create your own instant garden!

For additional information about container gardening, check out the CSU Extension Fact Sheet Container Gardens.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Succulents and Cacti at Altitude

By Jan Boone
Many of us have a quiet sunny corner in a room where favorite winter houseguests have camped out for the past 5 months or so.  These are the best kind of guests because all they require is sun, occasional water and loving words as we pass by.  As much as we enjoy their presence in that sunny corner, it’s getting time to consider who can maybe return to outside decks, who needs a new container and who is tolerant enough to be planted outside in the sun.  Succulents provide diversity in colors, shapes and textures in our gardens and decks.
Photo by Jan Boone
Whether inside or outside, start with the premise that for the most part succulents & cacti demand attention to 3 fundamental basics in order to survive our high, cold and dry growing zones. These include light (depending upon varieties, at least 4 hours of direct sun and afternoon shade); soil to promote drainage since soggy roots simply produce root rot or fungus; and lastly, water.  While many cultivars are drought resistant perennials, it’s important to know plant water needs may require a more selective approach, especially when planting adjacent to one another. Watch to see what your plants tolerate. Succulents store their water in their fleshy leaves or stems and we all know when the temperature drops, those leaves may freeze and the plant is damaged or killed.  

A fourth area of consideration is the more common type of insect infestations you may discover before you start shifting containers or planting for the summer season.  These can include mealy bugs, whitefly, scale, aphids and some mites.  Inspect your plants closely.

Whether in smaller terrariums or larger outside settings, cacti are most selective about their clay soils, good drainage and limited watering needs.  Ball and barrel shapes may add diversity to your decks or rock gardens but winter protection is essential so containerizing these may be a safe bet. 

Perhaps you’ve hosted some of these visitors during winter months:

Jade plant Crassula ovata. Mine is a cutting from my mother’s immense container plant that lived on a balcony in direct afternoon sun in California for years.  Originally part of a diverse plant genus from Africa, the Jade plant has undergone a variety of scientific classification name changes.  This is a popular indoor only houseplant that can thrive on neglect!  My only issue is susceptibility to mealy bug.  At least once a year I find myself gently cleaning leaves w/q-tips, alcohol and soapy water.  These varieties are popular in small terrarium size plants or as large container plants. It does bloom, but more frequently in larger mass plantings. They will not overwinter outside at our altitude but may be content with an occasional secluded warm afternoon on an outside deck. Water is stored in the leaves, stem and roots.  Roots can do well in compact container settings.

Aloe pup 
Aloe Vera Aloe barbadensis.  Aloe is a good specimen to have in a container for the dramatic leaves as well as for its medicinal qualities.  Break a leaf spike off and you’ll find a gel good for burns and minor cuts.  Because I ignored this plant for quite a while, other than occasional watering, I learned what plant pups are!  Like many succulents, this plant reproduces by growing ‘pups’ from a main root. (Also referred to as offsets, or root portions that develop leaves and sprout a new plant).  Break pups off carefully, soak for 24 hours prior to re-potting and you have a new plant.           

Hens and Chicks Easily one of the most popular of so many colorful and unique Sempervivums.  Check the cultivar for hardiness.  Good in containers as well as planted in the right site.

Snake Plant Sansevierra trifasciata Popular as the Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law’s tongue among interior plant circles, but it is actual a succulent from Africa and Madagascar.  It’s low-light and easy maintenance needs are alluring.  Caution … this is a plant not meant for outdoor containers or use.  It’s perfect for an indoor succulent specimen.

Sansevierra pup
Pencil Cactus Euphorbiaceae tirucalli This is one of the first and more unique succulents I learned about upon moving to Colorado.  It is not an actual cactus despite the name, but a true succulent.  It is part of the Euphorbia family.  Members of this family can be annual, perennial, evergreen, shrub-like in gardens or even tree-like.  My initial encounter was a unique 5’ tall interior specimen.  Years later, I still like the vertical, simple nature of the plant and have a 6” high specimen in a terrarium bowl.   A characteristic this family all shares is the milky white sap that can irritate or be toxic to people and animals.  If you’re taking cuttings for propagation, wear gloves and don’t go near your eyes while handling anything w/sap.  There are more varieties that can be planted in outside beds in warmer zones, but not for our cold.  Keep in mind this family includes spurge varieties and even poinsettias!

Pencil cactus container growth
Stone succulent
Stone Plant Lithops marmorata I’ve always thought these small, funny ‘living stone’ succulents looked intriguing.  I became more interested by these as I’d pass large trays of 2” pots for sale at box store garden centers. From South Africa originally, they grow to mimic the rocks and dry environment they grow among. They will test the most determined grower!  Sometimes they split, sometimes they bloom and sometimes they just die!  I’ve discovered The Denver Botanic Gardens has a bed of them in their Steppes gardens to promote education about the threatened Steppes regions around the world.  The stems and roots are underground, while large rounded   leaves store water.  These are highly sensitive to cold and water, so require protection in winter months the payoff is the interesting addition to a xeric or rock garden space in your yard.  Leave them alone and they’re happy when dry and warm.

These are just a few of my winter houseguests, but as I pass through garden centers now, I think perhaps I need to add a few new varieties to my deck containers this coming season.  A great reference tool for anyone interested in succulents or cacti  is Hardy Succulents by Gwen Moore Kelaidis, Storey Publishing, 2005. Currently it seems everyone is selling containers filled with multi-colored varying succulents, so it’s good to know what can work for your own house and garden environment.  Enjoy the fun!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cool vs. Warm Season Vegetables

by Susan Carter, Horticulture Area, CSU Ext. Tri River Area
With the sun shining, birds chirping and moisture in the ground this year, many of us are eager to jump into the garden.  There are several good things to think about before you just go ahead and plant.  Living in the mountains can have its challenges.  Did you know for every 400’ higher in elevation that you lose the number of growing days?  However, other factors can determine your frost-free days.  When I lived in Silverthorne CO, 8730’, we had many cold mornings.  Silverthorne is in the Valley with the Blue River running thru town.  Cold air sinks and follows rivers.  Leadville’s elevation, which is 10,151’ but is a high flat area where cold can drain off to lower elevations.  Leadville has 87 frost-free days and Silverthorne has about 60 growing days.  Is it good to know your average last day of frost: 

I now live in Fruita and since it is lower in the Valley, it can be a good 10 degrees colder than Palisade.  This is why most of the fruit and vineyards are in Palisade and why crops like hay and wheat and some vegetables are further down the valley.  Fruita can have a 32-degree frost around Mother’s Day where Palisade can have its last frost date 3 weeks earlier.
CSU Dept. of Atmospheric Science image
For mountain gardens, cool season vegetables are your best bet.  Leafy greens like lettuce, kale and spinach work well.   Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers and many root crops like beets and onions are also great cool season crops.  So why aren’t warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash a good choice?  Well, many of these warm season crops need night temperatures of at least 50 degrees and days up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Moreover, I am not just talking air temperature.  These plants prefer soil temperatures of at least 60 degrees.  Even at lower elevations, these plants are planted too early in the season will suffer from that cold stress and are prone to developing viruses and not thriving. 

On a smaller scale, you can use microclimates around your house to allow for a longer growing season.  There are methods of season extension that you can use such as frost blankets, walls of water, cold frames, plastic mulches and low or high tunnels formerly called hoop houses.  Being a plant geek, I had to experiment and try plants at high elevation.  My husband would laugh at my attempt every year to grow tomatoes.  I would plant them in dark pots, in mostly sunshine and place them against our homes wall under the overhang to get extra warmth and protection from the frost and cold.  I purchased Siberian tomatoes, which only need 55-60 growing days to develop.  Now growing days does not include seed to maturity, you have to add in time from seedling to germination to seedling plant before you can plant outdoors.   In this example, growing days equaled frost free days not optimal growing days as that is all I had to work with.  For all my effort, I typically would get about 3 small to medium tomatoes, but hey I grew them at high elevation.
CSU does not endorse any seed company. 
This just shows a shorter season tomato variety.
Now I could have used other methods of season extension to grow my tomatoes as mentioned above.  I did however grow many cool season crops like lettuce and spinach.  Did you know years ago there were lettuce farms in Silverthorne?  Sometimes it is much easier to grow what grows best in your area.  Depends on how much time, effort and money you want to put into it.  Happy Growing Season.