The Evergreens No One Talks About

In late November, evergreen color guard yucca is beginning to take on red tones. My tabby, Steve, normally takes no interest in this plant unless I'm photographing it.

In late November, evergreen color guard yucca is beginning to take on red tones. My tabby, Steve, normally takes no interest in this plant unless I’m photographing it.

Is there someone in your family that relatives don’t talk about? The crazy aunt, or the cousin with three drug convictions?

Well, it’s a similar situation with evergreens. Everyone talks about stately firs and majestic pines. But no one mentions the no-needle plants that, year in and year out, quietly add color to the winter landscape. Unlike weird relatives, these stalwart performers are good guys.

Take soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), prostrate speedwell (Veronica prostrata) and woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata), for example. These ground-hugging plants remain attractive all year round. Soapwort and prostrate speedwell display medium green foliage, whereas woolly speedwell turns slightly purplish in cold weather. Then when flowering bulbs peek out of the ground in early spring, these ground covers provide a carpet to showcase crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils and the elegant miniature Iris reticulata.

Robust soapwort retains its healthy green color throughout winter.

Robust soapwort retains its healthy green color throughout winter.

Taller, more woody evergreen ground covers include creeping Oregon grape holly (Mahonia repens)and kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Oregon grape holly ground cover grows about a foot tall, and it will take over an area quickly, if you let it. Kinnikinnick is a cold-weather-loving plant that will reach about eight inches in height. This berry-producing native prefers northern and eastern exposures in Colorado.

Mojave sage's appealing foliage lends a soft blue tone to the winter landscape.

Mojave sage’s appealing foliage lends a soft blue tone to the winter landscape.

Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla) lends a subtle blue hue to the winter landscape. Its leaves may eventually turn yellow as winter progresses, but even then, this perennial subshrub provides winter interest with its gently upright form. Lavender, too, is a praiseworthy choice for providing blue tones in winter.

Other evergreen beauties are Manhattan euonymus (Euonymus kiautschovica ‘Manhattan’) for protected areas, manzanitas, yuccas (such as the variegated Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’), and brooms, including my favorite dwarf broom, Genista lydia.

So if you want to create year-round color in your landscape, consider some of these cold-hardy choices.

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Harbingers of Fall Finally Show up

Tiger eyes sumac takes center stage with its fiery orange display. Eventually, this little treasure will grow five to six feet high.

Tiger eyes sumac takes center stage with its fiery orange display. Eventually, this little treasure will grow five to six feet high.

Normally, fall lasts about two weeks in Colorado.  We go from the heat of summer in August to freezing temperatures in September and October.

This year, however, is different, and the foliage is taking its time to put on its annual autumn show.

I’m seeing hints of the beauty to come, though.

Autumn brilliance serviceberry is gradually turning red against the backdrop of my neighbor's yellow honeylocust.

Autumn brilliance serviceberry is gradually turning red against the backdrop of my neighbor’s yellow honeylocust.

My tiger eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’), for example, has been gracing my front yard like a burst of fire  for the past two or three weeks.  This little gem is currently only 29 inches tall, but just imagine what it will look like when it grows up.

And my Autumn Brilliance serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) is beginning to turn its trademark red-orange color.  Eventually, this tree will grow 15 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide.  It may take 15 years or so, however, because serviceberry is a slow grower.

Sweet potato vine does double duty--first as a backdrop for my flowering container annuals and then as a nest for an autumn pumpkin.

Sweet potato vine does double duty–first as a backdrop for my flowering container annuals and then as a nest for an autumn pumpkin.

My flowering container annuals have bitten the dust, so the sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) that normally serves as the backdrop for those blossoms now has been converted to a nest for a fall pumpkin.  The vine’s gorgeous lime-green leaves make this darling a versatile companion for all kinds of plants.

Before long, my Pawnee Buttes sandcherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’) grouncover will turn bright red, and my Regent serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’) will transform itself with its rich golden hues.

Happy Autumn!

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Proven Winners’ Purple Pillar, Zinfin Doll Survive Tough Summer

Purple Pillar rose of Sharon displays toothy leaves that make the plant attractive even when it's not in bloom. But boy, when it blooms, the flowers are remarkable.

Purple pillar rose of Sharon displays toothy leaves that make the plant attractive even when it’s not in bloom. But boy, when it blooms, the flowers are remarkable.

Last spring, Proven Winners sent me plants from its Spring 2017 Preview Collection. After growing them this season, I’ve settled on a few favorites.

  • Purple Pillar Hibiscus syriacus. This spunky little rose of Sharon is still a baby and is nowhere near its mature size of 10 to 16 feet tall and two to three feet wide. But I’ve developed a fondness for its attractive, toothy, medium-green leaves and spectacular lavender blooms with deep red centers. I also like the shrub’s columnar growth habit, which is ideal for hedges or for backdrops along fences. Purple Pillar began blooming in August and is still pumping out flowers in late September. It looks somewhat comical right now, though, because it’s currently just 16 inches tall and 10 inches wide, yet it produces these 2 ½-inch blooms. I guess the little thing will have to grow into its blooms the way a baby grows into its nose.

    Zinfin Doll hydrangea performed admirably in Fort Collins' hot, dry conditions. Although it didn't bloom this year, this plant shows definite potential.

    Zinfin Doll hydrangea performed admirably in Fort Collins’ hot, dry conditions. Although it didn’t bloom this year, this plant shows definite potential.

  • Zinfin Doll Hydrangea paniculata. This is one hardy hydrangea, as far as I can tell. At least, it has survived Colorado’s hot, dry summer. I planted it in my experimental garden area, where it gets blasted by southern and western sun. Yes, there’s a little sunburn on the leaves, but this perennial produces a beautiful mound of leaves that currently resembles a groundcover. Right now, it’s only seven inches high and nine inches wide, and it hasn’t bloomed yet, but I have high hopes for this shrub for next season. Zinfin Doll is supposed to grow six to eight feet tall and wide, and produce flower clusters that emerge pure white and gradually turn bright pink from the bottom up.
  • Superbells Tropical Sunrise Calibrachoa. This is my favorite of all the annuals from Proven Winners this year. Tropical Sunrise bloomed its head off all summer long, even though it was shaded during part of the afternoon. The plant displays a uniform, luxuriant growth habit and striped flowers with orange, pink and coral hues.
  • Superbells Hollywood Star Calibrachoa. Striking colors—those are what characterize this glamorous annual. Fuchsia pink petals on the outside give way to a neon yellow throat. It’s a stunning combination.
  • Supertunia Vista Fuchsia Improved Petunia. If you like electric colors, you’ll appreciate this showy annual. Fertilize it every couple of weeks, and it will reward you with lush foliage and blooms. It’s a good idea to cut it back or dead-head it occasionally.

As for other 2017 Proven Winners, the Graceful Grasses Prince Tut Cyperus looked like it had potential as an impressive container plant. It’s supposed to grow 2 ½ to 4 feet tall with finely textured plumes. Unfortunately, the little guy apparently experienced a tough time during the shipping process and died shortly after transplanting.

Let’s Dance Blue Jangles Hydrangea macrophylla is a big-leaf, compact, reblooming hydrangea that reportedly produces blue flowers in acid soils and pink flowers in alkaline soils. Unfortunately, Hydrangea macrophylla isn’t suited to Colorado’s growing conditions the way Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens are. So this baby plant succumbed to permanent wilt fairly quickly. However, Blue Jangles would likely be a showpiece under more moderate growing conditions.

Rabbits showed no interest at all in any of the Proven Winners plants. That’s a huge advantage in my yard.

All of the annuals will pass on once we get a freeze, but I’ll let you know how Purple Pillar and Zinfin Doll perform after another of our harsh winters.

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Flowers on Trial at CSU

CSU affiliates and green industry professionals converged on the annuals trial garden to evaluate this year's entries. That area of bare soil? That's where we planted a variety that didn't survive.

CSU affiliates and green industry professionals converged on the annuals trial garden to evaluate this year’s entries. That area of bare soil? That’s where we planted a variety that didn’t survive.

Today was Colorado State University’s flower trial garden evaluation day.

CSU faculty, research associates, students and master gardeners, as well as green industry professionals fanned out across the annuals trial garden this morning. Each of us was assigned 300 varieties to evaluate.

Proven Winners' Supertunia Vista Silverberry was a real standout in terms of vigor, uniformity and overall appearance.

Proven Winners’ Supertunia Vista Silverberry was a real standout in terms of vigor, uniformity and overall appearance.

I reviewed more petunias, geraniums and callibrachoas than I had ever seen in my life. The criteria included vigor, uniformity, density of blooms, foliage quality, color uniqueness and vibrancy, to name a few. The callibrachoas, in particular, gave me insight into the difficulties of breeding those qualities into a plant. Some plants were lopsided with few flowers. Some had leaves with iron chlorosis (yellowing). Others had sunburned blooms. It was an education.

Those perky verbenas that I planted in the trial garden a couple of months ago? Many of them aren’t so perky now. Verbenas seem to have a difficult time with Colorado’s growing conditions.

Lush and luscious--that's Ball FloraPlant's ColorRush Blue petunia. The blue flag indicates that this is the first year this variety has been trialed at CSU.

Lush and luscious–that’s Ball FloraPlant’s ColorRush Blue petunia. The blue flag indicates that this is the first year this variety has been trialed at CSU.

There were several coleus, though, that were outstanding for their vigor, color and uniformity. In fact, I nominated one variety, Inferno, for best of show.

In all, there were about 1,014 different annual varieties this year.  Plant companies could choose whether they wanted their varieties grown in the ground, in a container, or both.

At the end of the growing season, CSU will issue a garden performance report with information that can be used by the horticulture industry, as well as by the public.  In addition, CSU will announce the 2016 winners on its Flower Trial Garden website. Stay tuned.

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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.”

July 30, 2016 update:  Hummingbird sighting!  About 5pm this evening, I spotted a green-and-blue hummingbird feeding on my orange carpet hummingbird groundcover (Zauschneria garrettii).  The little darling chirped as it moved from blossom to blossom.  After several minutes at the Zauschneria, it moved on to the agastache for a brief snack.  It only goes to show that if you plant it, they will come!

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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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