Multiply Your Perennials Through Division

After you’ve dug holes for new plants, move mulch away from the mother plant and dig out the rootball, keeping as many roots as possible.

Suppose you have a few empty spots in your garden that you want to fill with perennials, bulbs or grasses.  You run to the nursery and buy more plants, right?

Not necessarily.  You may already have plants that you enjoy and would like to spread around.  Why not propagate them on your own?

Perennials, bulbs and grasses come back every year, and they often reproduce on their own through reseeding.

But if your plants don’t reseed, don’t worry.  There are other means for propagating them, such as by taking cuttings and rooting them, or by division.

Rooting cuttings requires skill and patience.  Division doesn’t.  I like division.

You can divide grasses, bulbs and a slew of perennials, such as agastache, bee balm, coneflower, penstemon, catmint, candytuft, veronica, yucca, bleeding heart, coneflower, dianthus, Joe Pye weed, sedum and Shasta daisies, just to name a few.

Propagating perennials2

Notice all of the roots on the plant chunk to the left once the mother plant has been sawed in two. That’s what you want so the new plant can get a healthy start.

But there are also perennials that don’t divide well.  They’re typically plants with large taproots, such as prairie winecups and wild indigo (Baptisia australis), or plants with several stems rising from a single crown, such as peony. 

University of Minnesota Extension offers an outstanding worksheet on individual perennials with specifics on when and how to divide each one.

So, what’s the process for dividing?  It’s basically the same, whether you’re dividing perennials, bulbs or grasses.

Propagating perennials3

Insert the baby plants into your pre-dug holes, backfill, and gently snug the soil around the base of the plants.

Step 1.  Dig holes for where you want your new plants to go after you’ve divided the mother perennial.  Once the mother perennial is out of the ground, it’s important to replant the chunks quickly so roots don’t dry out.

Step 2.  Clear mulch away from the mother perennial and carefully dig up the rootball, preserving as many roots as possible.

Step 3.  Separate the rootball into two or more chunks, making sure that each chunk has plenty of roots attached.  Sometimes the rootball will fall into pieces on its own.  Other times, you’ll have to saw it apart.

Step 4.  Place each chunk into its pre-dug hole and backfill the hole with a mixture of soil and compost, in most cases.  For plants that prefer lean soil, leave out the compost.

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Water and mulch the baby plants. I also water after mulching to hold the mulch in place in case of windy weather.

Step 5.  Water the new plants and add mulch.  I also water after mulching to help hold the mulch in place.

One more thing:  Don’t divide plants when they’re in bloom.  The need to use their energy for establishing new roots, not for producing flowers.

Besides giving you more plants for your money, division is actually good for the health of your plants.  Why?  Because the new plants have more space for roots to grow, soak up nutrients from the soil, and absorb water.

Spring is an ideal time for dividing most plants.  Why not give a try soon?

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Know When to Pull Them, Know When to Hold Them

Mojave sage has an appealing growth habit and beautiful foliage, not to mention its colorful bracts and flowers when in bloom. But either this plant isn’t cold-hardy enough for my yard or its roots rot, causing it to die over the winter.

Have you ever grown a highly touted plant, only to have it poop out on you?  Have you carefully provided correct sunlight, appropriate watering, and even talked to it periodically, only to be disappointed?

It happens to all of us.  That’s not to say a particular plant is an utter failure or that you are, either.  It’s just that the plant may not be a good fit for your yard.

I’ve had my share of misadventures.

Take Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla), for example.  After listening to a fellow gardener in Denver rave about this plant’s virtues, I planted three of these beauties in my front yard.  I love this sage’s silvery evergreen leaves, mauve bracts, and violet flowers.

Mojave’s cultural requirements:

  • Moderate water during establishment.
  • Full sun.
  • Loam, sandy or dry clay soil. Dry clay.    I amended the soil for better drainage, planted the shrublets in the driest, sunniest section of my yard, and virtually ignored them after establishment.

Every year for three years, I would go out in the spring to find one or two of them had died over the winter.

I suppose I could have mulched them heavily for winter, but then I would have run the risk of retaining soil moisture that would rot their roots in my clay soil.  So I’ve concluded that I probably would be better off growing this sage in only loam or sandy soils (if I had them), even though High Country Gardens says it can be grown in dry clay.

I’ve replaced my Mojaves with blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens).  The grasses offer stunning blue color with no maintenance other than cutting these darlings back each spring.

Then there’s Miss Molly butterfly bush (Buddleia x ‘Miss Molly’).  When I spotted this shrub at the nursery, I had to have her.  Molly’s blooms are so intensely pink.

But our relationship hasn’t been good over the past four years.  Instead of growing 4-5 feet high and wide, Molly has become scrawny, growing 4 feet high, but only 2 feet wide.  I’ve pruned her to the ground each spring, which is what we do with butterfly bushes in Colorado.  But she refuses to fluff out, so I’ve given up on her.

I’ve noticed that butterfly bushes are more difficult to grow in Fort Collins than they are in Denver.  Then again, maybe I haven’t found the right cultivar yet.

In spring when plants come alive, purple pillar rose of Sharon begins producing leaves at her base. But the top part of the plant looks like ugly sticks for a good part of the spring. She doesn’t flower till September, and her blooms are sparse. You can see purple pillar’s twigs sticking up just to the left of the serviceberry tree.

Purple pillar rose of Sharon (Hybiscus syriacus ‘Gandini Santiago’) looks like she would make a perfect specimen or small hedge with her columnar growth habit and splashy red-and-pink blooms.

But Sharon has issues.  First, she’s extremely slow-growing.  Second, she takes forever to leaf out in the spring.  Third, her blooms are sparse compared to other cultivars of rose of Sharon.  Fourth, she’s a late bloomer.  Last year, she started blooming around September 6.  On September 8, a snowstorm with record cold temperatures blew into Fort Collins for two days.  You can guess what happened to Sharon’s blooms.

I’ll likely grow tiger eyes sumac (Rhys typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes) in Sharon’s place as a specimen.  Tiger’s leaves are slow to emerge in the spring, but once they do, Tiger looks spectacular and stays that way till fall.

Finally, there’s Zinfin Doll hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘SMNHPRZEP’).  I planted Zinfin in part shade with amended soil.  Like all hydrangeas, she requires lots of water, so I watered her regularly.  Her blooms are spectacular.  But the blooms didn’t start showing up until September in 2019.  And in September 2020—well, you know what happened.

Although Zinfin Doll is a gorgeous plant, she’s not a good fit for my yard.

These disappointing experiences won’t stop me from experimenting with new plants.  After all, I’ve had far more successes than washouts.

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Happy Holidays!

Dale Chihuly’s stunning sculpture from his 2014 show at Denver Botanic Gardens provides inspiration for the holiday season and all year round.

As this difficult year comes to an end, I wish you the happiest holidays possible under the current circumstances.

The year 2020 has been disappointing in so many respects. I have been appalled at the lack of basic decency among a subset of Americans.  Those individuals have contributed to so many tragic and unnecessary deaths.

On the other hand, I have seen health care professionals and others rise heroically to meet our challenges. For those exceptional individuals, I’m humbly grateful.

Stay safe and well so that we can all garden together in the spring.  I’ll see you in March.

 

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It’s Time to Get Cagey in the Garden

This easy-to-make cage protects a small Pawnee Buttes sand cherry from attack by marauding rabbits.

As weather turns wintry in Colorado, it’s prime time for installing cages over young shrubs to protect them from critters.

In my yard, critters are mostly rabbits and squirrels.  In your yard, critters might include deer, as well.

I’ve noticed that rabbits particularly savor new growth on my young Pawnee Buttes sand cherries.  So I protect these shrublets during their first two to three years with cages from early winter to late spring.

Sand cherries aren’t the only victims when it comes to nibbling.  Other young shrubs reportedly favored by wildlife include:

  • Barberry
  • Burning bush
  • Forsythia
  • Hawthorn
  • Koreanspice viburnum
  • Lilac
  • Serviceberry
  • Smokebush
  • Eastern redbud

Fortunately, some of these shrubs become less attractive to wildlife as they mature.

All you need for making and installing a garden cage is 1/4″ hardware cloth, tin snips, wire, 3 landscape pins, and gloves. If you can’t push the landscape pins into the soil, you may need a mallet or hammer, as well.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with rabbits attacking my young serviceberries or smokebush.  But I’ve seen squirrels decimate my young burning bushes.  Hence the need for cages.

Cages are easy to make.  First, decide the size of cage you need.  Mine are 16” in diameter and 18” high.  Then buy a roll of ¼” hardware cloth and use tin snips to cut the cloth to the size you need for the walls of the cage.  Curl the cut piece into a circle and secure the ends with lightweight wire.  You now have a circular base.  Then cut another piece of hardware cloth for the ceiling.  If you want to get fancy, you can cut the ceiling in a circle to match the top edge of the base.  As for me, I simply cut a square large enough to cover the base.  Then wire the ceiling to the to the base.  To secure the cage to the ground, I thread three strategically placed landscape pins through the landscape cloth at the base of the cage and then push or pound the pins into the ground.

When you remove the cages in the spring, you can either store them as they are or unwire them to store them flat.

 

 

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Intimations of Autumn

Tiger eyes sumac’s foliage is stunning, but usually short-lasting. This year is an exception.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  Albert Camus

Fall showcases nature at its most breathtaking.  Reds, oranges, and golds of turning foliage combine with vivid late-season bloomers.  This fall, in particular, is delightful.

Tiger eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes) is outdoing itself right now.  In some autumns, I’ve seen it barely turn red before it’s already dropping its branches.  But this year, this show stopper’s leaves and branches are hanging on, creating a remarkable display.

Pawnee Buttes will soon look like it’s on fire as more of its foliage turns red. Sonoran Sunset agastache blooms complement the sand cherry’s fall color.

Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi) is just starting to turn red and won’t reach its peak until after tiger eyes has dropped its branches.

Serviceberries (Amelanchier), including autumn brilliance and regent, are also just beginning their transitions.  Autumn brilliance will turn a fiery orange-red, while regent will complement it with more muted reddish-gold foliage.

Autumn purple ash (Fraxinus americana ‘Autumn Purple’) is showing off deeply colored leaves.  It makes me sad to look at them, though, knowing that the emerald ash borer could eventually destroy many of these magnificent hardwoods.  You may have noticed that many nurseries have stopped selling ashes.

Regent serviceberry’s reddish-gold leaves provide a welcome contrast to the fiery orange-red leaves of tiger eyes sumac and autumn brilliance serviceberry.

Lower to the ground, gayfeather (Liatris spicata) displays its multi-colored foliage, which reminds me of the outstanding colors that the bluestem grasses exhibit this time of year.  Meanwhile, plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) adds red foliage to its already beautiful blue blooms and copper seed heads.

Even Angelina sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is getting into the act.  Her chartreuse summer foliage is morphing into its fall/winter colors of red and orange, which will last all winter long.

If you don’t have enough stunning fall foliage in your garden, consider adding some of these plants.  Other favorites you might include for Colorado’s growing conditions are autumn gold maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn Gold’), bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), western chokecherry (Prunus virginiana melanocarpa), Peking cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolius), golden currant (Ribes aureum and Ribes odoratum), and bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum).

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Water Restrictions are Coming: 10 Steps You Can Take Now

This time of year, prairie winecups produce hundreds of seeds. Harvest and scatter them now if you want more of these drought-tolerant beauties in your yard next spring.

On October 1, 2020, water restrictions will go into effect for customers of the  City of Fort Collins Water District.  This means residents won’t be allowed to water their lawns, wash their cars, spray their sidewalks and patios, or use water features, misting devices, and water toys.  Residents can, however, water trees, food crops and non-lawn parts of their landscapes by hand or drip systems.

City officials are concerned about a potential water shortage because of our drought conditions, the 6-weeks-and-counting Cameron Peak fire, and a Horsetooth Reservoir maintenance project.

So it’s more important than ever to conserve water.

Of course, you can set up drip systems and rainwater-harvesting devices.  But what are some actions you can easily take right here, right now to save water?

  1. Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs and trees. Once established, your plants won’t need as much watering. Group plants together based on similar water needs.  Right now, many drought-tolerant plants are producing seed.  Harvest that seed and spread it so baby plants will emerge next spring.
  2. Avoid throwing fruit and vegetable scraps down your garbage disposal.  Put them in the garbage or, better yet, a compost pile.
  3. Place mulch around trees and plants 2-3 inches deep to retain moisture in the soil.
  4. Raise your mower blade as high as it will go. Higher mowing enables grass to conserve moisture and encourages grass roots to grow deeper.

    Use a water-filled jug or bottle to displace water that would otherwise be used to fill the toilet tank each time you flush.

  5. Indoors, take short showers instead of baths.
  6. In bathrooms, stick a water-filled plastic jug or bottle in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water needed to fill the tank after each flush.
  7. Keep a bucket in your shower stall to catch stray water for watering outdoor plants.
  8. Don’t let water run while brushing your teeth or washing your face.
  9. When hand-washing dishes, use two large containers—one with soapy water for washing and one with clear water for rinsing.
  10. Clean fruits and veggies in a water-filled bowl instead of running tap water.

These easy steps are just a few ways you can contribute to Fort Collins’ efforts to avoid a water shortage.  For more information about the city’s water use restrictions, visit Fort Collins’ utilities website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wild Things, You Make my Heart Sing

The branches of Tina dwarf crabapple veer haphazardly, creating a wild and crazy look.

Have you ever wanted to throw a little wild and crazy into your garden to complement all your tidy, symmetrical blooms?  Just to cut loose a little?

If so, there are a number of whimsical choices. Consider Lydian dwarf broom, tumbleweed onion, Tina dwarf crabapple, or Harry Lauder’s walking stick.  And if you want to venture into downright weird territory, you can always add a few succulents or even create an entire succulent garden.

Here are a few of my favorite wild and crazies:

The mop-like growth habit of Genista lydia ‘Bangle’ resembles that of the popular fiber optic grass. But unlike fiber optic grass, Bangle is cold-hardy.

Lydian dwarf broom. Genista lydia ‘Bangle’, a relatively new introduction, is a shorter, more compact version of the conventional Genista lydia.  However, both are dwarf brooms.

Bangle grows about 1 to 2 feet high and wide, and produces a brilliant display of golden yellow blooms each spring.  Personally, I like her even better when she’s out of bloom because I enjoy the scruffy look of her foliage.

Whether you plant conventional Genista lydia or bangle, plant it in full sun and watch it closely during to first season to determine how much water it needs.  Once established, Genistas are remarkably drought-tolerant.

Note that Genistas are notoriously difficult to transplant, but if you’re careful, you can pull it off.  I’ve successfully transplanted six and lost only one (which I was transplanting a second time).  I plant them in a mix of soil, compost and sand.

Tumbleweed onion (Allium schubertii) looks like something from Star Wars.  This funky plant sends out shoots from the center with tiny rose-purple blooms scattered here and there.  It screams, “Wake up and take a look at me!”  I’ve ordered some for planting this fall.

Tumbleweed onion grows 1-2 feet tall and about 1.5 feet wide with heads 9 to 12 inches in diameter.

Tina dwarf crabapple (Malus sargentii ‘Tina’) is an ideal tree for small yards.  Tina grows about 6 to 8 feet high and wide, is drought-tolerant, and looks like a wedding bouquet when she blooms In the spring.  The bright red buds contrast beautifully against the white blooms.  Then tiny crabapples come along in the summer and hang on during the winter.

Tina’s branches go every which way, giving the tree an appealing, offbeat look.  Although Tina’s head is grafted onto a standard, the grafting isn’t noticeable once Tina’s branches start spreading because they dip below the grafted area.

Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) is a contorted, deciduous woody shrub that offers architectural interest in the garden. Harry will grow 8 to 10 feet high and wide.

I don’t see one often, which leads me to believe that either Harry is difficult to grow or that gardeners find him so ugly that they don’t want to plant him.  He’s reportedly a very slow grower.  All the same, Harry is useful if you want to add uniqueness to your garden.

An amazing Harry Lauder specimen used to grow at the entrance of Alameda Wholesale Nursery, but it’s not there anymore.  So if you want to meet Harry in person, you’ll likely need to visit a botanic garden.

Succulents, which include cacti, are the very definition of other-worldliness, and many are beautiful.  If you plant them outside along Colorado’s Front Range, make sure they’re hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Zone 5 cold-hardy succulents include red false yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), Angelina sedum, blue spruce sedum, autumn joy sedum, ice plants (Delosperma), and white sands giant claret cup cactus (Echinocereus).

Be sure to avoid myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) because it’s classified as a noxious weed in Colorado.

 

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Meet Bob

This is Bob. He’s not just a pretty face. You can grind his berries up to make a meat rub, to sprinkle on hummus and salads, or to make sumac red lemonade.

One morning in early July, I gazed out my patio door and noticed a small reddish blob smack in the middle of my tiger eyes sumac foliage.  When I went out to investigate, I found that Tiger Eyes had given birth to Bob.

My tiger eyes (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes) is about four years old.  So apparently, she has reached sufficient maturity to produce clusters of drupes, known as “bobs.”  My tree is currently 5 feet high by 4.5 feet high, and will reportedly grow up to 6 feet high and wide.  Bob, on the other hand, is 4 inches high.  He’s an only child.

You can see Bob peeking out of the center of Tiger Eyes. Next year, he’ll likely have brothers and sisters.

 

Tiger eyes is late to leaf out (early May in Fort Collins), but when it does, it creates a dazzling display of lacy golden leaves that turn orange/red in the fall.  You can use it as a specimen, accent, or even as a hedge.  It’ll grow in both full sun and part shade.

Because the plant suckers gently, I plant it in unamended heavy clay soil to discourage suckering.  I also don’t water it unless it looks particularly droopy.  You’ll read all kinds of advice online about keeping it watered, but I’ve found that this plant is incredibly xeric.  I’ve got one growing in the rock bed at the side of my house.  It gets no supplemental water, but it does just fine, as long as it has good drainage.

The suckers are easy to dig up for removal.  Because tiger eyes is patented until 2024 (20 years from its introduction date), it’s currently illegal to transplant the suckers.

About three years ago, borers attacked two of my tiger eyes sumacs.  On one sumac, the borers went into the base of the main trunk.  So I cut the plant down and planted the root ball in a pot for a few months to see what would happen.  Eventually, leaves and stems began emerging from the root ball, so I planted the root ball back into my garden, where the new plant has taken off.  Other than the borer attacks, my sumacs have been trouble-free.

Getting back to Bob, I should point out that he has culinary uses.  You can clean, dry, and grind up his berries to make a spice rub for lamb, fish and chicken.  You can also sprinkle the ground berries on salad or hummus.  These little orbs are loaded with antioxidants.

You can even use Bob’s berries to make sumac red lemonade.  Check out the recipe in Farmers’ Almanac.

So as you can tell, Bob isn’t just a pretty face.  He’s an important nutrition provider for humans.  And although his berries aren’t a favorite among wild life, they still provide food for survival.

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Layering: The Key to a Professional-Looking Landscape

One reason this landscape bed is so appealing is the effective use of layering. Notice the tall spruce and ornamental tree used as top layers. Then below, plants progress downward from tall/medium shrubs to tall perennials, and finally, to ground covers.

One characteristic that visitors often notice in a well-designed landscape is plants of varying heights.

Juxtaposing plants of different sizes is called layering.  This practice generally involves using trees and tall shrubs as backdrops for smaller shrubs, perennials, grasses and bulbs.  With experimentation, you can create layers in your own garden.  It just takes some planning.  And when plants don’t always grow as tall or short as expected, you have to do some plant shuffling.  But fortunately, most plants are portable and relatively easy to move.

When designing a landscape, I think in terms of five layers:

Shade trees and large evergreens.  These landscape giants grow about 30 to more than 50 feet high. Examples are honeylocusts, oaks, maples, Kentucky coffee tree, and American elm.

Ornamental trees and small evergreens. Plants in this category grow about eight to 25 feet high. Some of my favorites are autumn brilliance serviceberry, Tina dwarf crabapple, spring snow crab, Russian hawthorn, and golden raintree.  As for small evergreens, I take their “mature height” on nursery tags with a grain of salt because most of them grow huge.  However, the dwarf Alberta spruce grows very slowly and stays relatively small.

Medium/large shrubs and grasses. Here, I’m talking about shrubs and grasses that grow six feet or taller.  Think of viburnums, rose of Sharon, chokeberries, serviceberries, Peking cotoneaster, redtwig dogwoods, tiger eye sumac, Cheyenne mock orange, bluestem joint fir, mugo pine, and Swiss stone pine, for example.  Tall grasses include big bluestem, giant sacaton, and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus.’  Don’t forget about vines, as well, to add height to your garden.

Tulips and alliums pair well with blue avena grass, adding a layer by poking up above the grasses. Here, coral tulips contrast beautifully with spiky blue grass in terms of color, texture, and form.

Small shrubs and grasses, tall perennials, and tall bulbs. Small shrubs and grasses can range anywhere from about two to five feet tall.  One of my favorite plants in this category is blue avena grass, which grows about 2.5 feet high and wide.  First of all, it isn’t as allergenic as most grasses.  Second, it’s a four-season plant.  Third, it’s blue, which is sometimes a difficult color to find in plants for the garden.  And fourth, it looks fantastic with reds, purples, and oranges.  Pair it with coral tulips in early spring and purple alliums in late spring/early summer.

Some easy-to-grow small shrubs are emerald mound honeysuckle, Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, meidiland ground cover roses, shrub roses, color guard yucca, Carol Mackie daphne, Genista lydia bangle, gro-low sumac, spirea, weigela, and leadplant, to name a few.  The sand cherries, meidilands, and gro-low sumac make outstanding taller groundcovers, especially when you underplant them with shorter groundcovers.

Notice the height progression from the Genista lydia (green in foreground) to the red-leaved Pawnee Buttes sand cherry and on up to the fading tan sunset hyssop. Then in the upper right-hand corner, there’s a taller serviceberry.

Tall (as in two to five feet) perennials that dress up your garden include Joe Pye weed, hyssop, coneflower, shorter varieties of hardy hibiscus, daisies, asters, lavender, crocosmia, black-eyed Susan, oriental poppies, Rozanne cranesbill, bloody cranesbill, red hot poker, and tall garden phlox.

Bulbs that add height in the lower region of the garden are iris, daylilies, alliums, tulips, daffodils, frittilaria, Asiatic lilies, and dahlias.

Ground covers. This category of low-growing (one to two foot), spreading plants often gets short shrift in the garden, even though they provide continuity and help prevent weeds.  You wouldn’t build a house without flooring, so why wouldn’t you want an underpinning for your garden?

I use Veronica pectinata as a fluffy blue carpet from which bulbs can emerge each spring.  Other delightful choices include prairie winecups, orange carpet hummingbird, creeping phlox, Siberian bellflower, Angelina and other sedums, soapwort, candytuft, dead nettle, and creeping thyme.

If you haven’t thought about ways to layer plants in your garden, I encourage you to do so.  You may find the results rewarding.

 

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Is it Time to Fine-tune your Landscape?

Angelina sedum (yellow in foreground) and purple sensations allium add pops of color to the spring landscape. Notice tulip foliage that emerged from blue Veronica pectinata ground cover, which provides a carpet for spring bulbs.

In Colorado, it typically takes a good three years for a new landscape to take off.  At that point, you may notice aspects of the garden that need addressing.  Examples include coloration and bloom times, as well as hardiness, sunlight, and maintenance concerns.

Coloration.  How’s the color balance in your garden, especially in the spring, when plants often don’t bloom as long as they do later in the season?  In early- to mid-spring, for instance, I noticed that my front yard was heavy with purples, blues, and whites, thanks to little Trudy catmint (purple), blue avena grass, Veronica pectinata (blue), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, and serviceberries (whites).  I realized that I needed to add some pops of brighter colors, such as yellows and reds.  So I planted Angelina sedum (yellow) in a few strategic spots.  I also planted fuchsia and coral tulip bulbs.  Just a few vivid plants make the garden more exciting.

Bloom Times.  Bulbs are great fillers in early and mid-spring, when other plants are just beginning to wake up.  Fortunately, Colorado has an ideal climate for most bulbs.  Add some Corydalis solida, daffodils, dwarf iris, tulips or allium, to name just a few.  I’ve discovered that purple sensations alliums, which bloom during the second and third weeks of May in Fort Collins, deliver tall lollipops of violet-purple after most tulips have faded.  Pair your bulbs with low-growing evergreen groundcovers, such as Veronica pectinata or white candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), so blooms will have a lush, colorful carpet from which to emerge.

Sunlight Issues.  You may discover that some of your plants need more sun or shade than you originally thought.  Spring is a great time for plant shuffling.  After four years in my home, I decided to move my autumn brilliance serviceberry tree because: (1) It would likely grow faster if it weren’t so shaded by the next-door neighbor’s large honey locust tree; and (2) I needed more shade in front of a southeast-facing bedroom window.  So I uprooted my serviceberry (a much easier job than I expected) and moved it in front of the bedroom window.  Then I planted a compact merlot redbud tree in the area where the serviceberry originally stood.  The redbud will likely appreciate more shade than the serviceberry did.

Hardiness Issues.  You’ve been so conscientious, reading the plant descriptions before buying and installing your plants.  Heck, some of them are even Plant Select winners, so they’re sure to work well in your garden, right?  Well, not always.

For example, Coral Canyon twinspur performed like a champ for two seasons, then up and died.  I had planted it before when I lived in Denver, and it lived only one season.  So I’m done with twinspur.

Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla), another highly touted plant, has gorgeous silver-blue foliage.  I planted three.  Each year for three years, I replaced one to two plants because they just couldn’t deal with our cold winters.  Now, three splendid blue avena grasses reside where Mojave sage did so poorly.

If plants keep dying on you, either move them to new locations or simply replace them with something else.  Don’t be like me.  I clung to Mojave sage longer than I should have.

Maintenance Issues.  You may find that some plants require more maintenance than you’re willing to give them.  Blanket flower and coreopsis are two prime examples.  They’re lovely flowers, but you have to deadhead them every 15 minutes.  What’s worse is that the blanket flower seed heads are pointy, so you have to wear gloves to avoid getting poked.

Some gardeners won’t grow roses because they don’t want to prune and deadhead them.  I understand.  However, roses vary in their neediness for care.  For example, purple rain roses die back like crazy and require a lot of pesky pruning in the spring.  Red Meidiland roses, on the other hand, don’t die back nearly as much, so pruning isn’t as labor intensive.

While there’s still time to plant, consider fine-tuning your landscape by moving plants around or installing new ones.  What till fall, however, to plant spring-blooming bulbs.

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Filed under Garden Maintenance, Landscape Design, Whimsy