Voles, Rabbits & Ascochyta Leaf Blight: What’s a Gardener to do?

Long-blooming Rozanne cranesbill edges the border in front of the Autumn Brilliance serviceberry, providing a focal point for passersby.

Long-blooming Rozanne cranesbill edges the border in front of the Autumn Brilliance serviceberry, providing a focal point for passersby.

Last September, I tore out my old landscaping and redesigned my front yard. The voles and rabbits wiped out some of my new plants, but most of the installation survived.

As you may be aware, it takes about three years for a new landscape to come into its own. I’m now almost one year into mine.

The Rozanne cranesbills in front of my Autumn Brilliance serviceberry have been real show-stoppers, blooming bright purple flowers since late May. They should continue blooming until frost. This morning, I cut some of them back because they had grown leggy. They’ll fill back in and rebloom. In the meantime, there are still some blooms for the bees to visit.

The pink and white soapwort groundcovers along my front foundation performed like the stalwarts that they are, and they set seed so for babies next spring. I’m aiming for a sea of tiny pink and white flowers along the foundation next spring.

Xeric plants, such as (front to back) Little Trudy catmint, Mojave sage and Sunset agastache make this arid corner look almost lush. My transplanted Genista Lydia (left) looks scruffy right now, but will eventually be beautiful again. The Pawnee Buttes sand cherry behind it is very happy in its home.

Xeric plants, such as (front to back) Little Trudy catmint, Mojave sage and Sunset agastache make this arid corner look almost lush. My transplanted Genista Lydia (left) looks scruffy right now, but will eventually be beautiful again. The Pawnee Buttes sand cherry behind it is very happy in its home.

In my front, dry corner, my Norbonne blue flax died, so I replaced it with Little Trudy catmint, which is very happy in its location. I also discovered that one of my Genistas Lydia survived the move from Denver, so I transplanted it from the trench in my sister’s yard to my front yard. Although Lydia resents transplanting, she did bloom in June. I’ve pruned her back some, but she’s looking sparse and ragged. Once she recovers, however, she’ll be her usual gorgeous self.

I decided to tear out two of my three existing Peking contoneasters because they were planted too close together. After digging and chopping on one of the stumps for about five hours, I received an offer of help from my neighbor, Teo, who owns a landscaping company. He kindly came over and used his winch to pull the stump out of the ground, saving me another three or so hours of labor. After that experience, I decided to simply recut my other stump and paint it with Tordon so that it will rot away.

Since installing my new plants, I’ve noticed a decided uptick in pollinators. The bees love the Rozanne cranesbill and agastache, in particular. As for the swallowtail butterflies, they were in flight when I spotted them. But given that they like serviceberries, I think it may have been the Autumn Brilliance that attracted them.

Now that I’ve cleared more rock mulch from the far side of my yard and done away with two of my three cotoneasters, I have a swath that would lend itself perfectly to creating a butterfly corridor from the public sidewalk to my serviceberry. I haven’t created a drawing for that area yet, but I already know that it has to have butterfly weed, which is a host and nectar plant for the monarch. So I’ve installed a Hello Yellow variety. Normally, I would have planted the orange variety, but I already have plenty of orange from the orange carpet hummingbird and sunset hyssop in that area.

The Color Guard yucca (foreground) contrasts with the orange carpet hummingbird groundcover. Eventually, the Color Guard will grow about 3 feet high and wide.

The Color Guard yucca (foreground) contrasts with the orange carpet hummingbird groundcover. Eventually, the Color Guard will grow about 3 feet high and wide.

All but one of my Pawnee Buttes sand cherries died from spending eight months in a trench at my sister’s house. With voles, bunnies and a lack of water, it’s amazing that any of them made it. So I bought three more sand cherries, as well as a Regent serviceberry, and gave them a home.

This fall, the reddish-gold foliage of the Regent serviceberry should complement the orange-red of Autumn Brilliance, the reddish-yellow of the Tiger Eyes sumac and the yellow of the Cheyenne mockorange.

The Color Guard yuccas near the front porch have grown more slowly than I expected. They’re only about four inches tall and wide. It’ll be awhile, apparently, before they reach three feet tall and wide.

The Tiger Eyes sumac, too, has grown more slowly than I anticipated. So although it should display outstanding fall color, it’ll likely turn into a brown fuzzy stick again this winter.

I’ve been waiting for my turf to recover from the ascochyta leaf blight brought on by a rainy spring, followed by a drought-like summer. As Gilda Radner used to say, “It’s always something.”

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Pollinators Add Magic to Your Garden

Hello, Readers.

I’ve been so busy, working part-time at a local nursery and landscaping, that I haven’t had time to post blogs on my site lately.

But if you want to read about how to attract pollinators, please check out my piece on pollinators at the Fort Collins Nursery blog.

More later.

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Cross One Off the Bucket List: Trial Garden Planting at CSU

Lavender Charme was one of many show-stopping verbenas that we planted.

Lavender Charme was one of many show-stopping verbenas that we planted.

Since becoming a Colorado master gardener in Denver in 2003, I’ve regarded Colorado State University as the mother ship and the CSU trial gardens as the mecca of master gardenerdom.

Last year, I moved from Denver to Fort Collins, and transferred my gardenership from Denver County to Larimer County. This fortunate relocation made it possible for me to volunteer to help install the 2016 annuals trial garden at CSU—something I’ve dreamed about since my first visit to the garden several years ago. Just imagine getting to examine and touch all of the most recent varieties of flowers as you nestle them into the ground.

There’s a lot riding on trial gardens for growers and research professionals. These folks want to find out how well the newest varieties will perform in Colorado’s growing conditions. Toward the end of each growing season, CSU evaluates more than 1,000 annuals varieties on their appearance, growth habits, tolerance of environmental conditions, and other criteria. Then the university publishes a report on its findings on its trial gardens website.

CSU research associate David Staats (kneeling) explains the planting process to Larimer County master gardeners, including (from left) Jim Carroll, Paula Mann, Gerry Hoffman (in straw hat), Daniel Owen, Craig Seymour and Karen Halberg (hidden behind Jim).

CSU research associate David Staats (kneeling) explains the planting process to Larimer County master gardeners, including (from left) Jim Carroll, Paula Mann, Gerry Hoffman (in straw hat), Daniel Owen, Craig Seymour and Karen Halberg (hidden behind Jim).

Earlier this week, six fellow Larimer County master gardeners and I, along with several CSU horticulture students, planted about one-third of the total annuals beds under the able direction of David Staats, CSU research associate, and Sean Markovic, a CSU graduate student currently serving as the annuals trial garden coordinator. My fellow master gardeners included Jim Carroll, Karen Halberg, Gerry Hoffman, Paula Mann, Daniel Owen and Craig Seymour.

We nestled dozens of stunning varieties of verbena, coleus, geranium and dahlia, to name a few. Some of my favorites included Lanai Blue Eyes, ES Lavender Charme, and Royal Peachy Keen Superbena verbenas; Flame Thrower Spiced Curry and Flame Thrower Chili Pepper coleus; and Labella Medio Pink Eye dahlia. I look forward to seeing whether these beauties thrive in Colorado’s challenging climate.

Paula Mann and David Staats (foreground) settle verbenas into their holes, as (from left) Jim Carroll and Craig Seymour work in the background.

Paula Mann and David Staats (foreground) settle verbenas into their holes, as (from left) Jim Carroll and Craig Seymour work in the background.

To begin the planting process, we master gardeners arrived at 9am May 26 at the vacant garden site, where David provided a short planting demonstration.  Crews had already placed signs identifying each new variety and had dug two rows of nine holes each so we could install 18 plants of the same type behind each sign. A tray of plants had been carefully placed in front of each sign. Our job was to make sure the plant varieties matched the signs, and then to unpot each plant, place it in the pre-dug hole and backfill the hole. Because the soil had been amended well, we could simply use our hands, rather than trowels, for planting.

So we each gravitated to our favorite plants and went to work, yakking along the way. At noon, we took a break to enjoy the barbecue lunch prepared by Dr. James Klett, CSU professor of landscape horticulture, ornamentals, and nursery management. Jim is one of those rare individuals who understands how to recognize and reward volunteers. Master gardener volunteers don’t just get to plant the new varieties and enjoy a free lunch; they also later receive the chance to participate in the trial garden evaluation and take home leftover plants.

What began as empty beds are now rows of happy young plants awaiting viewing by hundreds of CSU students and faculty, green industry professionals, and tourists, not to mention many others.

What began as empty beds are now rows of happy young plants awaiting viewing by hundreds of CSU students and faculty, green industry professionals, and tourists, not to mention many others.

After lunch, we spent another hour installing plants. In the next couple of weeks, two more crews of master gardeners and CSU students will continue the planting process until all of the annuals are installed.

CSU’s annuals and perennials trial gardens constitute one of the top tourist attractions in northern Colorado. If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to visit. You may find a plant that you’ll want to grow in your own garden, once the plants become available commercially.

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Garden Gizmos that You Can Make

Handles from broken shovels are just one of many options for do-it-yourself hose guides in the garden.

Handles from broken shovels are just one of many options for do-it-yourself hose guides in the garden.

Gardeners, when left to their own devices, can create not only lovely landscapes, but also the tools to maintain them.

Take hose guides, for example. They’re just what they sound like—gadgets that channel your garden hose between plants so you don’t knock the head off of a small Color Guard yucca, like I did the other day. You can buy hose guides, of course, but where’s the fun in that?

So in my garden, I use the handles of broken shovels to guide hoses. Some gardeners use spray-painted curtain rods, vintage door knobs  or even plain old stakes, among other items.

A limb spreader will separate young branches that are too close together. Remove it after the branches have positioned themselves properly.

A limb spreader will separate young branches that are too close together. Remove it after the branches have positioned themselves properly.

Another useful garden apparatus is one that I learned about from a local nurseryman. It’s a tree limb spreader. If you find that branches are too close together on a young tree, you can make a tree limb spreader, using PVC pipe, to train the branches to grow farther apart. Just buy a short piece of PVC pipe with a diameter that is close to the diameter of your tree branches. Cut the pipe to the length you need, and then, using a hacksaw and pliers, carve a notch into each end of the pipe to fit against the two branches in question. Next, pick up a free, used inner tube from your local tire store, and cut two pieces of rubber from the tube. Fold each piece in half and use them to pad the branches so the PVC notches won’t damage them. Once the tree matures and the branches assume a better position, you can remove the spreader.

For marking vegetables, I’ve found forks with corks to be a fun, versatile and inexpensive choice. On sale days at Goodwill, you can generally pick up forks for a nickel apiece. As for corks, you can easily collect them if you’re a wine drinker, but even if you’re not, you can sometimes find a sizeable bag of them for $4 at a thrift store. Because the corks are dense, I recommend placing a cork on a stable surface and positioning the fork tines above it, and then hitting the end of the fork handle with a mallet to gradually push the tines into the cork. After that, just write the name of the vegetable on the cork and stick the fork handle into the ground. If you want to get fancy, you can wrap jute around the fork and tie a bow.

As for organizing your garden tools in your garage or shed, you can use palletsPVC pipe on plywood, or simply nails in a 2×4.

There’s one more tool that I really like—a grading (landscaping) rake. Grading rakes are extremely handy for evening out loose soil in beds, as well as for spreading compost, mulch and other landscaping materials. But it’s easier and probably less expensive, in the long run, to just go out and buy one rather than to make one.

If you have any favorite gardening tools you would like to share, please leave a comment on this post.

 

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Ready, Set, Plant!

Strawberry Delizz F1 is an ever-bearing variety that is the first strawberry in AAS history to be chosen as a winner. However, it may not be widely available until 2017. You can plant strawberries in early spring. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

Strawberry Delizz F1 is an ever-bearing variety that is the first strawberry in AAS history to be chosen as a winner. However, it may not be widely available until 2017. You can plant strawberries in early spring. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

It’s early April, and the weather still can be cold and blustery at times. But even so, it’s about time to plant your cool-season crops along Colorado’s Front Range. Some of you ambitious types may already have a few crops in the ground.

One of the best ways to determine whether to plant is by checking the soil temperature. To do this, stick a soil or meat thermometer four inches into the soil in four areas of your garden plot. If you’re growing beans stick the thermometer down six inches. Record each temperature. Do this for a few days. If your readings average 40 to 50 degrees, it’s time to plant.

You can even warm the soil faster by covering it with black plastic. It’s not cheating.

Or you can simply check daytime temperatures to make sure they’re not dipping below 40 degrees.

Which are the hardiest cool-season crops? Peas, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and onions, to name a few. I’m not talking about tomatoes and peppers here—those are warm-season crops, which we typically don’t plant until late May or early June after the risk of frost has passed. But you can go ahead now and plant seeds indoors for those crops.

Warm-season crops need outdoor soil temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees.

Candyland is the first currant-type tomato selected as an All-America Selections winner in AAS history. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

Candyland is the first currant-type tomato selected as an All-America Selections winner in AAS history. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

For more information about when to plant various crops, check the Colorado State University Extension website.

If you’re wondering which varieties to plant, take a look at All-America Selections (AAS).

Each year, the folks at All-America Selections carry out rigorous trials on flower and vegetable varieties to determine the best performers. Then AAS posts the winners each year on their website.

It’s a big deal in the green industry for a variety to be chosen as an AAS champ.

For the first time in AAS’ history, the judges have selected a strawberry and a currant-type tomato for 2016. The strawberry variety is the ever-bearing Strawberry Delizz F1, and the currant tomato variety is Tomato Candyland Red.

Often the newly named varieties are difficult to find in garden centers because the seed companies and growers haven’t had time to ramp up production on the winners.

So if you can’t find the 2016 champs this year, simply buy selections from earlier years. You can bet that by next year, seed companies and growers will make the 2016 winners more widely available.

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Hibiscus Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’: Definitely a Winner

My Summerific 'Perfect Storm' hibiscus produced spectacular blooms from late summer to frost, in spite of Colorado's hot, dry summer.

My Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus produced spectacular blooms from late summer to frost, in spite of Colorado’s hot, dry summer.

Last May, Proven Winners sent me a collection of their Spring 2016 plants to try out.

I had just moved into my new home in Fort Collins. The shrub and perennial beds were covered with river rock mulch, except for two tiny beds on either side of the garage. Because of the rock mulch and landscape fabric, it was a horrible job trying to install additional plants. And frankly, I didn’t have time to mess with them.

But I don’t like to let babies die. So I installed several of the plants wherever they would fit. Some made it. Some didn’t. But the Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus surprised me with its ability to tolerate drought and neglect. A hibiscus, mind you. They reportedly need “average to consistent water.”

Perfect Storm is a beautiful, compact plant with red-veined, deep green leaves and, of course, a hisbiscus’ magnificent, show-stopping blooms. Flowers showed up on this baby in late summer and grew about five inches wide. The plant itself reached about 18 inches high and wide. At maturity, it should grow three feet high and about five feet wide with seven-inch-wide blooms. That means I’ll need to move it because I simply plunked this perennial into one of the tiny, concrete-surrounded beds in full sun by the garage.

So if you thought, like I did, that hibiscus need to be babied, think again. Perfect Storm will delight you with its showiness and impress you with its toughness. As a bonus, the plant is also rabbit-resistant.

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Rabbit Resistant or Not? The Poop on 10 Perennials

Rabbits stayed away from Sonoran sunset hyssop in my garden. In general, they don't like hyssops. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Rabbits stayed away from Sonoran sunset hyssop in my garden. In general, they don’t like hyssops. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

When I re-landscaped my front yard last September, I carefully researched lists of rabbit-resistant plants. I already knew that the plants I selected would, for the most part, be hardy and drought-resistant because I had grown several of them successfully in my old garden in Denver.

However, I didn’t have problems with rabbits in Denver. So I didn’t know which plants would really hold up against rabbit munching in my new Fort Collins landscape.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after planting the 10 perennials mentioned below.

Rabbit Food

Narbonne Blue Flax (Linum narbonense). Plant Select introduced this lovely selection in 2013, and I was eager to try it out. Narbonne reportedly has larger blooms, a fuller growth habit and a longer life that its better-known cousin, Colorado native blue flax (Linum lewisii). Unfortunately, rabbits sheared this plant to the ground within 24 hours of installation. So I may have to substitute either Linum lewisii or blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for a spot of blue in that part of the garden.

Orange Carpet Hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii). It’s difficult to miss orange carpet hummingbird in a garden because of its neon orange, tubular blooms. This long-blooming, creeping Plant Select groundcover grows about six inches high and 18 inches wide. Surprisingly, the rabbits nibbled on this plant some, but didn’t eat it all the way to the ground, except on one occasion. So I think it stands a decent chance in the garden, especially because it spreads fairly easily.

Veronica (V. prostrata and V. pectinata). These two low-growing groundcovers have graced my gardens for the past 10 years or so. Because they’re evergreen, they provide an attractive organic mulch under late winter- and early spring-blooming bulbs. Then they produce their own show by carpeting the ground with small blue flowers in late spring or early summer. Unfortunately, the rabbits have taken a liking to some of the plants. I’m not giving up on veronicas yet, though, especially because they spread rapidly and may be able to outdistance the rabbits’ appetites.

Rabbit Resistant

Hidcote Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’). I wouldn’t have a garden without lavender. It’s fragrant and evergreen, and on top of that, it produces delightful violet blue blooms. Hidcote grows about 16 inches tall and will spread as wide as two feet over time. After a few years, Hidcote will even begin producing babies that you can transplant around the garden. Munstead lavender is about the same size as Hidcote, but I prefer Hidcote because its leaves are softer-looking than Munstead’s are.  The rabbits haven’t touched my Hidcotes.

This mojave sage isn't rabbit food. Although the foliage looks green in this photo, the leaves are actually a soft blue in my garden. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

This mojave sage isn’t rabbit food. Although the foliage looks green in this photo, the leaves are actually a soft blue in my garden. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Mojave Sage (Salvia pachyphylla). A friend of mine raved about this plant so enthusiastically that I decided to try it. I love it already, even though it hasn’t bloomed for me yet. Its leaves are a soft blue color that complement the fuchsias, oranges and purples in my garden. This Plant Select winner, which grows about three feet high and wide, has a shrubby growth habit. Mojave is a showy bloomer that produces violet-blue flowers surrounded by mauve bracts. Although my Mojaves sit close to hedge cotoneasters that provide cover for rabbits, the critters haven’t bothered these sages.

Rozanne Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne’). Five of these loose-growing groundcover plants went under my autumn brilliance serviceberry. The geranium’s purple blooms brighten the garden from early summer to frost. Rozanne grows about one foot high and three feet wide. The rabbits left these plants alone.

Sonoran Sunset Hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset). This compact show-stopper produces fuchsia blooms on upright stems from late summer to through fall. One of my plants was still trying to produce blooms well after frost, and all five were still producing basal foliage in early winter. A Plant Select winner, Sonoran Sunset grows about 15 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The rabbits didn’t go near it.

Sunset Hyssop (Agastache rupestre ‘Sunset’). This Southwestern native is another show-stopper with its smoky orange flowers emerging from lavender calyxes. Sunset can grow up to 42 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The rabbits didn’t like it.

Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides). This humble workhorse is one of my favorite groundcovers. It’s evergreen, and it produces white or pink flowers that attract pollinators. I placed it along a path in front of my house to serve as a mulch between pavers. In bloom, soapwort reaches a height of about four inches. The rest of the time, this stalwart hugs the ground. Soapwort looks like a plant that rabbits would savor, but they didn’t.

Color Guard Yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’). As an experiment, I installed two of these bad boys near my front porch for drama. I’ll install a third as soon as one of my existing plants produces babies, which should be soon if these plants make it through the winter. During the growing season, the plant’s spiky yellow-and-green leaves provide excitement on their own. But when Color Guard sends up stems that are three to four feet tall and produces panicles of stunning white flowers, you really begin to appreciate its architectural grandeur. Color Guard is evergreen, but in Colorado, it’s a raggedy evergreen that makes you wish the plant would just dormant altogether. The rabbits have wanted nothing to do with Color Guard.

That’s the news so far on my new perennials and their relationships with rabbits.

In another experiment, I also installed three blue panda corydalis (Corydalis flexuosa ‘Blue Panda’) bulbs for their lacy leaves and early spring blooms. Rabbits have nibbled on them some, but it doesn’t look as though blue pandas are among their favorites.

Happy New Year. May your gardening efforts be wildly successful in 2016.

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