Perform a Sacred Act: Plant a Tree

In a few weeks, my newly planted autumn brilliance serviceberry will turn this color.

In a few weeks, my newly planted autumn brilliance serviceberry will turn this color.

I’ve always considered planting a tree to be one of life’s sacred acts.

Besides making the environment more beautiful, trees combat climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They cool your home and streets, conserving energy. They provide food and a habitat for wildlife. What’s not to like?

So this week, as a first step in redesigning my front yard, I planted a multi-stem autumn brilliance serviceberry tree. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m gaga over serviceberries.

As far as I’m concerned, every garden needs at least one. Serviceberries provide white blossoms in the spring before other trees even wake up. Then in the summer, these plants produce delicious blue berries treasured by humans and birds alike. Finally, in the fall, serviceberries dazzle passersby with outstanding fall color. The autumn brilliance turns red-orange. Another of my favorites, the regent serviceberry, turns a fabulous golden color, sometimes mingled with coral.

So if you’re thinking about planting a tree, serviceberry or otherwise, now’s a good time. Trees are on sale at nurseries because garden centers want to reduce their inventories before winter. In addition, fall is one of the best times to plant because of increased rainfall after dry summers.

When planting a new tree, such as this autumn brilliance serviceberry, mulch around the root ball, but not on top of it.

When planting a new tree, such as this autumn brilliance serviceberry, mulch around the root ball, but not on top of it.

Although I’ve planted many trees and never lost one, I always check the Colorado State University website for the latest updates on tree-planting techniques before I plant a new tree. Techniques change as researchers discover new information about tree establishment and growth. So this time, I used Colorado Master Gardener GardenNotes #636, Tree Planting Steps. I especially like the labor-saving tip about creating a saucer-shaped planting hole during the backfill process.

One of the most common mistakes that homeowners make when planting a tree is planting the root ball too deep. So pay special attention to the depth of the planting hole in relation to the height of the root ball. I planted my young serviceberry so the top of the root ball was one inch above grade.

And don’t be shy about tearing into that root ball to untangle any girdling roots. If you plunk the tree into the ground without untangling the roots, the roots will likely continue to grow in a circle around the root ball instead of venturing out into surrounding soil for nutrients.

If you plant a tree correctly (and yes, you can do it yourself), you’ll enjoy a beautiful, healthy tree for years to come.

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Bindweed in Bloom–Show No Mercy

Bindweed's trumpet-shaped flowers are about an inch wide.  After flowering, the plant moves into the seed-forming stage.  (Photo courtesy of Tom Heutte, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Bindweed’s trumpet-shaped flowers are about an inch wide. After flowering, the plant moves into the seed-forming stage. (Photo courtesy of Tom Heutte, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Bindweed.  You’ve seen it. It’s everywhere–little morning-glory-like flowers on vines with elongated, arrowhead-shaped leaves.

This ubiquitous plant enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a noxious weed, with a mugshot on the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s noxious weed page, and a listing on the Colorado Weed Management Association website.

Why does bindweed resemble a morning glory?  Because it’s a member of the genus Convolvulus, which includes the beautiful garden-variety morning glory. But while the Cinderella version is an annual, bindweed (the ugly stepsister) is a perennial that blooms from May through August.  After blooming, bindweed produces seeds that can remain viable for 50 years or so, providing generation after generation of these invasive vines. The invader spreads by both seeds and roots, which reportedly extend as far as Nebraska and the Chinese mainland (just kidding). 

Bindweed's vines can grow up to five feet long and can strangle desirable plants, including shrubs. (Photo courtesy of Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org)

Bindweed’s vines can grow up to five feet long and can strangle desirable plants, including shrubs. (Photo courtesy of Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org)

There’s no getting rid of it completely, but there are ways to control the plant’s spread.

  • Don’t let it go to seed. The minute you see a vine in flower, remove it. Some sources say to just pull it; others say that you should cut the vines off at ground level because pulling encourages additional growth. You decide. You can also use a hoe or weeding tool to dig out as much root as you can. Don’t leave pieces of bindweed in the soil, though, because plants can regenerate from small pieces.
  • Whenever you seen a bindweed vine, whether it’s in bloom or not, remove it as soon as possible. By depriving the plant of foliage and the ability to photosynthesize, you’re weakening the plant.
  • You can use chemicals, particularly quinclorac, to reduce the vine’s spread. Be sure to read the active ingredients on the front of the herbicide bottle. You’ll find quinclorac in Spectracide Weed Stop for Lawns Plus Crabgrass Killer. Picloram (Tordon), as well as dicamba (Banvel), have also been found to be effective against bindweed, according to The Nature Conservancy. But they’re more expensive than quinclorac. If you’re interested, you can read The Nature Conservancy’s report for yourself. 
  • Bindweed mites are another means of control. The Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Palisade Insectary provides them. However, their availability is limited in Colorado. According to a July 15, 2015 release by the Fort Collins Conservation District, the district isn’t taking any more bindweed orders until it has filled those for existing customers. The situation may be the same in other counties.
  • In lawns, discourage bindweed by increasing the density of your grass. Fill in bare spots and overseed your lawn every spring or fall, if needed.

Bindweed is a curse that almost every C0lorado homeowner must live with. But by preventing it from going to seed and removing existing plants, you can get a handle on it so it doesn’t take over your lawn and garden.

 

 

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How to Discourage Thumper from Eating your Plants

In this garden, rabbits would tend to avoid tiger eyes sumac (center, yellow), elderberry (upper left) , Karl Foerster grass (upper right)  and fuzzy lamb's ears (lower right.  But they would relish the tall garden phlox (at left, pink) and prairie winecups (bottom, center).

In this garden, rabbits would tend to avoid tiger eyes sumac (center, yellow), elderberry (upper left) , Karl Foerster grass (upper right) and fuzzy lamb’s ears (lower right. But they would relish the tall garden phlox (at left, pink) and prairie winecups (bottom, center).

When I was a child, my sister owned a white bunny named Thumper. Although Thump didn’t have a sparkling personality, he was an OK pet, and it was fun to watch him munch grass in the back yard.

Nowadays, I have one or two Thumpers who visit my yard. Steve, my cat, discourages them sometimes, so at least my yard isn’t Wild Kingdom like my neighbor’s place across the street. But the critters still damage my garden occasionally.

As a result, I’ll be installing more rabbit-resistant plants. Note that I didn’t say rabbit-proof. If rabbits are hungry enough, they’ll eat just about any plant. So I’ve been developing lists of some of my favorite plants that reportedly are rabbit resistant, and I thought I would share them with you.

Generally, rabbits don’t like plants that are smelly, prickly, fuzzy, oozy (as in white sap-producing), leathery, fibery or toxic. Think about it: Would you want to chomp a mouthful of prickles? That’s why you won’t find me chowing down on roses, for example.

My preferred rabbit-resistant trees include Eastern redbud, hawthorn (especially Russian), honey locust, mountain ash, oak, pine and spruce.

Rabbits don't like munching on roses' prickles.  So they would likely leave this Livin' Easy rose alone.

Rabbits don’t like munching on roses’ prickles. So they would likely leave this Livin’ Easy rose alone.

My favorite shrubs that deter the furry critters are butterfly bush, barberry, dogwood (such as Isanti), purple smokebush, sumac, cotoneaster (especially hedge, or C. lucidus), daphne, viburnum, broom, rose and mockorange (especially Cheyenne).

As for resistant perennials, I like agastache, yarrow (such as paprika), English lavender, catmint (as in Little Trudy), bleeding heart, coneflower, day lily, penstemon, goldenrod, salvia, hardy geranium (such as the long-blooming Rozanne), lavender cotton (Santolina), soapwort, sedum, veronica (especially V. pectinata and V. prostrata), orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) and yucca (as in the dramatic, yellow-and-green color guard yucca).

Then, of course, there are bulbs to consider: ornamental onion (Allium), daffodil, Siberian squill, winter aconite, snowdrop, hyacinth and autumn crocus (Colchicum—beautiful, but poisonous).

For more information about plants that are resistant to critters, check out this Colorado State University publication.

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Whip Out the Chemicals: It’s Time to Wage War on Weeds

There's no denying that this aspen sucker is beautiful.  But when suckers pop up willy-nilly throughout the yard, they become a nuisance.

There’s no denying that this aspen sucker is beautiful. But when suckers pop up willy-nilly throughout the yard, they become a nuisance.

Are you one of those people whose herbicides languish on a shelf because you have a weed-free yard? I didn’t think so.

Although you may dislike the thought of using chemicals to kill weeds, you’re likely to encounter situations where there’s no other way to get weeds under control. I didn’t say eliminate weeds completely. . .I said get them under control, because that’s about the best we can hope for.

After closing on my latest home in Fort Collins earlier this month, I drove straight to the new property, hopped out of the car, and began pulling the heads off of dandelions and other weeds. Yes, I know it sounds obsessive; guilty, as charged. But the first step to controlling weeds is to make sure you don’t let existing weeds go to seed and spread their bounty all over.

Then after doing a few other things, such as moving in, I walked the property to assess the damage. I spotted bindweed, Canada thistle, aspen suckers, you name it. Although I pulled quite a few intruders, I realized that simple pulling wasn’t going to make a dent in this mess.

So I’m resorting to chemicals. I want to use them judiciously, though. Some chemicals kill some weeds, and other chemicals kill other weeds. So I have to check the weed list on the herbicide label, and match the herbicide to the weed.

Incidentally, I spot-treat the weeds instead of broadcasting weed spray all over the yard.

These wild violets don't look so perky after being sprayed with herbicide.  It may take more than one application, though, to kill these weeds.

These wild violets don’t look so perky after being sprayed with herbicide. It may take more than one application, though, to kill these weeds.

For more common weeds, I’m using Spectracide Weed Stop. Weed Stop contains quinclorac, which is the most effective chemical control I’ve used so far for bindweed. Without harming my Kentucky bluegrass, this herbicide kills many common weeds, such as dandelions, wild violets, Canada thistle, clover, purslane, yada yada and more yada.

Then there are the aspen suckers. I haven’t tackled them yet. But I’ve been researching them online. One of the most effective controls, according to my research, is Garlon 4. But it comes in a 2.5 gallon container that costs $250. So I’m looking at another option, Tordon, that costs about $22 a quart, although you’ll find it at lower prices with a lot of shipping charges tacked on. I’ll try cutting the suckers and then painting Tordon on the freshly cut areas. I’ll let you know how it works.

Finally, there are the grassy weeds to consider. For them, I’ll use glyphosate, my very last resort, because it reportedly kills everything (except bindweed and aspen suckers). I could give you a brand name, but I have such strong objections to the corporate policies of the company that produces it, that I’m not going to give the product name here.

I’m not happy about using any of these chemicals. But my weeds need to understand who’s the alpha dog here.

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Create an ARRR-guably Playful Wind Chime

Pirate wind chimeFor those of you who can’t get enough of crafting wind chimes from recyclable materials, let me introduce the pirate family chime.

Note the resemblance between Daddy and Baby, who inherited Dad’s skin tone, as well as Mother’s hair. The two teenagers are going through a rebellious phase, what with the chalk line dreadlocks and irreverent facial expressions. Mother looks stressed and disheveled from managing her brood.

To begin this creation, I drilled a hole in the bottom of each can, then painted the can with latex paint. Oops paint (mis-tint) samples from the hardware store may be plentiful and cheap to use if you don’t have paint already sitting around.

Once the latex paint dried thoroughly, I used acrylic paint, fabric scraps, yarn and chalk line to personalize each can. If you don’t want a pirate family, you might use your own family members as models for the chime.

For the hanging supports, I chose purple smokebush stems for their color and character. Any wood will do, however.

Finally, I decided on rustic jute twine to string the cans and attach them to the supports.

Unlike silverware wind chimes, which offer a tinkly sound, the pirate family wind chime produces a clunking sound—which, when you think about it, is probably similar to sounds you might hear on a pirate ship.

Incidentally, I’m scheduled to facilitate a Dirt-Cheap Garden Whimsy workshop on June 24 at Denver Botanic Gardens.  If you plan to be in the Denver area, I’d love to see you there.

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Want to Move Your Plants Without Killing Them? Try Trenching

Plants stand, mulched in their trench, until their move to a permanent home.  Identifiable tenants (from front) include autumn brilliance serviceberry, Cheyenne mockorange, Genista lydia and Isanti dogwood.

Plants stand, mulched in their trench, until their move to a permanent home. Identifiable tenants (from front) include autumn brilliance serviceberry, Cheyenne mockorange, Genista lydia and Isanti dogwood.

Have you ever turned down a friend’s offer of free plants because you didn’t know where to plant them? Or have you missed an opportunity to move plants from one home to another because you didn’t know how to care for them? If those occasions arise again, consider parking your trees, shrubs and perennials in a temporary trench. That way, you can keep them alive while you prepare a more permanent location for them.

I recently sold my Denver home to a developer. It’s not something I wanted to do, but because my house had severe mold issues and was sitting on valuable land, selling the house for a scrape was the most sensible option.

Fortunately, the builder told me that I could take all of the landscape plants with me. That, of course, wasn’t feasible. So I gave many of the plants away to neighbors so my babies could live on in the neighborhood. There were quite a few plants, though, that I took with me—stalwarts, such as Genista lydia, Isanti dogwood, serviceberry and Cheyenne mockorange.

I moved the plants temporarily to my sister’s home in Windsor, CO in late February, which is just about the worst possible time to move plants. I dug a trench about 1 foot wide, 25 feet long and 5 inches deep. The ground was frozen, so the clay soil came up in massive, solid chunks. I then placed the plants in the ground, preserving their root balls as best I could, and replaced the soil chunks, piling them around the root balls. Needless to say, there were all kinds of air pockets around the roots—not a good situation. But as the weather improved and the soil softened, I began filling in the air pockets.

It’s now late March, and the plants are starting to bud out and behave normally.

Shade-loving Corydalis ophiocarpa stays alive and even puts on new growth in the sunny trench.

Shade-loving Corydalis ophiocarpa stays alive and even puts on new growth in the sunny trench.

Is this a good long-term situation for the plants? Absolutely not. But for the 2 ½ months until I move to my own place and transplant them, they should be fine. Even my corydalis, which prefers shade, is hanging in there, putting on new growth in the sunny trench. I planted my ground covers in an area of the trench that’s about an inch below grade to help them retain water in Windsor’s dry, windy climate.

I water the plants every other day. It’s a good idea to keep them mulched for water conservation, weed prevention and soil temperature moderation. Dig your trench a foot or so deep, if the soil’s not too hard, to provide maximum room for roots. And try to move your plants when they’re not in bloom, so they can focus on growing roots instead of producing flowers.

Tiny red leaflets emerge from stems of the fire meidiland ground cover rose.

Tiny red leaflets emerge from stems of the fire meidiland ground cover rose.

The next time someone offers you plants or you move to a new home, don’t leave beloved plants on the table simply because you don’t have the perfect spot for them yet. Dig a trench to create a small parking lot. Chances are, your plants won’t mind, as long as they don’t have to stay there for more than about 3 months.

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Ogren’s ‘Allergy-Fighting Garden’ Can Help You Breathe Easier

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

When I consult with my landscape design clients, I typically ask if any family members have allergies. Over the years, I’ve learned that landscaping with low-allergen plants can improve an allergy sufferer’s quality of life considerably.

For a reference guide, I’ve used Thomas Leo Ogren’s Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary New Guide to Healthy Landscaping. This week, Ten Speed Press released Ogren’s latest book, The Allergy-Fighting Garden, and I like it even better than his earlier book.

In The Allergy-Fighting Garden, Ogren again includes his Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) for ranking various plants. He has updated the rankings since publishing Allergy-Free Gardening in 2000. He also devotes a chapter to eliminating mold spores, a major source of allergic reactions. Then there’s his chapter on allergy-blocking hedges.

Ogren rates plants on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest in allergens, and 10 being highest. Using Ogren’s rankings, what low-allergen plants might you install in your Colorado garden?

For ground covers, you could use prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), veronica, soapwort (Saponaria), orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) and cranesbill geraniums, all of which I’ve grown successfully in my Denver garden. They rank from 1 to 3.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

As for taller bulbs and perennials, try iris, allium, tall garden phlox, geum, Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), hummingbird mint (Agastache), sea lavender (Limonium), wild indigo (Baptisia australis), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus).

Then of course, there are trees and shrubs to consider. They’re particularly important because the males (who are the pollen producers) generate significantly more allergens than smaller plants do. Good choices include hawthorns (Crataegus), barberry (Berberis), butterfly bushes (Buddleia), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), deciduous viburnums, serviceberries (Amelanchier), and some maples, such as Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Glory’, ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset.’

Avoid most grasses, especially Kentucky bluegrass, whose male cultivars carry a 9 rating. But be aware that the female cultivars (if you can find one) carry only a 1 rating. A good choice for turf grass is tall fescue, which Ogren ranks at 3.

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