Bury Bulbs Now for Spring Surprises

Corydalis ophiocarpa’s yellow blooms brighten the landscape in early spring.

Some things in life are just worth the wait. Take spring-blooming bulbs, for example.

In autumn, you dig a hole, gently insert a small vegetative object and cover it with soil. Then you wait. Come late winter or early spring, vibrant little beauties start poking their heads above ground, and before long you’re looking at a lavish display of pre-season blossoms–an end-of-winter announcement.

October is prime time for planting spring- and early-summer-blooming bulbs in Colorado, but you can get away with planting in early November, as well.

If you haven’t bought bulbs yet, you probably can still find some at nurseries, hardware stores and even big box stores, such as Costco.  The ones from the hardware and big box stores may not be premier quality, but they’ll get you by—especially if you just want to experiment.

Siberian squill’s nodding blooms add a woodland feel to the garden.

If you want top-quality bulbs from, say, mail-order catalogs, you’ll have to wait till late April/early May for the best selection of spring bloomers.

Why bother with bulbs?  Because they extend your growing season. Some bulbs, such as crocus and winter aconite, bloom as early as February, long before most perennials start waking up in April or May.

On top of that, bulbs are cheerful, exotic and easy to grow.  And they come in a massive variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

Allium 'Globemaster'

Globemaster allium, with its giant head that measures 6 to 8 inches across, is astonishing. It blooms in late spring or early summer.

Some of my favorites are Corydalis ophiocarpa with its ferny leaves and bright yellow flower stalks; Siberian squill with its delicate, nodding blue heads; and allium with its dramatic drumstick-like demeanor.  If you can’t find Corydalis ophiocarpa, you can find its darling cousins, such as C. solida or C. lutea.

Then, of course, there are ever-popular tulips and daffodils.

When planting bulbs, be sure to dig the hole two to three times as deep as the bulb’s height.  So if you have a tulip bulb that’s one-inch tall, for example, make your hole two to three inches deep.  Also, make sure that you insert the bulb so the pointy end faces up.  Otherwise, you’ll never see blooms.

I’ll admit that bulbs aren’t the first plants that I install in a landscape.  I want to get the trees, shrubs and perennials in place first.  But once that’s done, I like to tuck bulbs into small openings here and there in the garden.  They create such a nice surprise.

Try a few bulbs.  You’ll see what I mean.




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New Man Kick-starts Garden Corner

Mini Man viburnum requires some shade and medium moisture. Eventually, this shrub will grow 4-6 feet high and wide.

There’s a new man in my life.  No, it’s not a garden gnome; it’s Mini Man dwarf Manchurian viburnum.

He’s the cutest thing on a wood trunk.   Right now, he’s loaded with bright red berries that are beginning to turn blue-black.  His small, velvety, medium-green leaves may soon turn maroon and hang on until late autumn.  Then next spring, he’ll explode with clusters of creamy white blossoms that will persist for several weeks.

He’s currently a foot high and wide, but may reach 4-6 feet high and wide at maturity.

Red and blue-black berries adorn Mini Man viburnum in the fall.

Although some descriptions indicate that Mini Man will grow in full sun or part shade, I would definitely lean toward part shade in Colorado.  His leaves are a little sunburned right now, but by spring the dogwoods next to him will grow higher and provide more shade.

Homeboy Scott Skogerbee, chief propagator of Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery, discovered this darling by accident in 1999 while visiting a nursery in Montana.  He noticed a single compact shrub nestled in a 50-foot hedgerow of taller Manchurian viburnums (V. burejaecticum).  The little guy was identical to his taller brethren except for size.

In 2016, Plant Select announced Mini Man as one of its winners.  Plant Select is a nonprofit consortium of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists. The purpose of this collaboration is to test and select plants that will flourish in the high plains and intermountain regions.  Each year, Plant Select announces a small number of winning varieties from around the world.

For years I’ve listened to gardeners rave about their viburnums.  I’ve never grown one, though, because they usually morph into behemoths that would devour my yard.  The 15-by-12-foot Manchurian viburnum is a prime example.  So I’m delighted that Mini Man has come along.

If you’ve never tried a viburnum, you might dedicate a spot for Mini Man in your own garden.

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Hyssop—A Magnificent Must-Have for Your Garden

There are some perennials that simply scream, “Plant me in your garden!  You’ll love me!”

Hyssop (Agastache ssp.) is one of those plants.

Why is this drought-tolerant stalwart a must-have perennial?  For all kinds of reasons.

Brian, my resident hummingbird, visits my hyssop several times daily for his latest dose of nectar.

It attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators.  At 5:40 last evening, I spotted Brian, my resident hummingbird, chowing down on nectar from my sunset hyssop.  Brian visits several times a day.  A couple of days ago, Brian even brought a friend with him.  I have two clusters of three hyssops in my back yard.  If you add orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) ground cover to the mix, you may entice even more hummingbirds.

It adds vibrant color to your garden for at least two months.  Hyssop delivers not only purple, orange and pink blossoms, but blue ones, as well.  My favorites are sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris) and Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset).  They begin blooming around mid-July and keep supplying flowers until frost.

Hyssop adds a stunning backdrop to lower-growing plants in the garden, such as dwarf broom (Genista lydia), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes) and blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). The fuchsia beauty in the back left is Sonoran sunset hyssop. To its right, you’ll see the orange-and-purple sunset hyssop.

It provides dramatic sprays that act as a backdrop to lower-growing plants in the garden.  In my garden, both the sunset and Sonoran sunset hyssops grow about 42 inches tall.

It’s a long-lasting cut flower.  I never thought hyssop would be a viable cut flower because the blooms look so delicate.  But I tried it as a background for zinnias and coneflowers in a simple arrangement, and the hyssop lasted nicely for four or five days.  I typically add half a teaspoon of sugar to the vase water to help flowers stay fresh longer.

Hyssop offers a lively background to this informal arrangement of zinnias and coneflowers.

It provides fragrance.  As a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, hyssop imparts a pleasant, minty aroma.

It offers food and drink for people.  You can add sunset hyssop’s edible blooms to salads and fruit dishes, or mix it with cream cheese or butter to make a tasty spread, according to medical herbalist Tammi Hartung in her blog, Desert Canyon Farm Green Thoughts.  You can also use the blossoms to make herbal tea.

The only downside to hyssop is that it’s not a long-lived perennial.  I lost two of them after three years.  But the other seven that I planted at the same time are still blooming reliably.  So I’ll simply replace these lovelies as needed.


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Breathtaking New Cultivars Flourish at CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden

Pots, lined up with military precision, display the latest coleus, geranium, petunia and calibrachoa cultivars, as well as cultivars from other genera.

If you drive by Colorado State University’s Annual Flower Trial Garden on August 7, you’ll notice a horde of individuals, armed with clipboards and electronic devices, roaming around.  They’re green industry professionals, CSU Extension master gardeners, and university faculty, students and employees, all participating in evaluation day.

More than 1,000 annual flower cultivars await evaluation by green industry professionals, CSU faculty and employees, and CSU Extension master gardeners on August 7, 2018.  Some of the flowers are in pots, but most are in the ground.

The evaluators’ task is to rate more than 1,000 new cultivars of annuals on uniformity (whether all plants of the same variety look similar), vigor, floriferousness (number of blossoms), and tolerance to environmental and abiotic stress (sunlight, day/night temperature extremes, soil pH, clay texture, etc.).

Green Fuse Botanicals has developed a new kangaroo paw cultivar, Kanga Jump Red. It’s exciting to see kangaroo paw here in the U.S., given that it’s native to Australia.

Once the results are tabulated, the winning varieties for 2018 will be posted on the CSU Flower Trial Garden website.

Evaluation day represents the yearly culmination of trialing efforts at CSU.  In the spring, growers from around the country ship cuttings to CSU, where students, employees and master gardeners transfer them to 4” pots at CSU’s state-of-the-art greenhouses so the growing can begin.  Seed companies send their newest offerings to Denver’s Welby Gardens, where the seeds grow into small plants under controlled conditions.

In late May and early June, CSU students, employees and master gardeners transplant most of the seed- and cutting-grown plants into pre-dug holes in the ground.  The plants and planting areas are carefully labeled to ensure that the right plants end up in the right holes.  The planting area is regimented, with two rows of nine plants of each new cultivar installed next to other new cultivars of the same type and similar color.  For example, 18 red geraniums from, say, Proven Winners might be planted next to 18 red geraniums from, say, Dummen Orange.  That makes it easier for evaluators to compare one red geranium variety to another.

How luscious is this? Proven Winners has created a stunning new coleus, ColorBlaze Torchlight.

Besides planting in the ground, workers also install many of the plants in large pots with about five plants per pot.

Sometimes hail storms and other environmental events occur that can wipe out new plants.  For that reason, CSU grows backup plants and stores them in its greenhouses.

Among my favorite annuals this year are Green Fuse Botanicals’ Kanga Jump Red Anigozanthos (the beloved kangaroo paw from Australia), Proven Winners’ richly colored and highly textured ColorBlaze Torchlight Coleus, Dummen Orange’s Confetti Garden Cupcake Smarty Party Portulaca, Floranova’s Apollo Pink Cosmos, and Danziger’s Lia Mix Calibrachoa.

Dr. James Klett, CSU professor of landscape horticulture, and David Staats, department of horticulture research associate, supervise the operation of the annual trial program.

CSU’s garden is one of about 80 trial sites throughout the U.S. and Canada.  The yearly trial is operated as part of the All-America Selections program, whose purpose is to test new, unsold cultivars; inform gardeners about the winners; and instill trust in AAS winners.

Besides trialing annuals, CSU also trials perennials and cool-season plants, such as violas and pansies.

So, if you want a leg up on the latest plant varieties, visit the trial garden.  You probably won’t be able to buy your favorites right away.   But if they do well in the trials, you’ll likely find them in your local garden center within a year or two.

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What Now??? Rozanne Succumbs to Mosaic Virus

Cucumber mosaic virus, like other mosaic viruses, causes yellow mottling on the leaves and can lead to leaf distortion and plant stunting.

A couple of weeks ago while mowing my lawn, I noticed yellow splotches on the leaves of one of my robust Rozanne cranesbills.  “Looks like some kind of mosaic virus,” I thought to myself.

So I hopped on my computer and started googling away on cranesbill geranium issues.  Within minutes, I discovered that cucumber mosaic virus can attack cranesbills and that it’s often vectored by aphids.  So, I figure that an aphid probably visited the plant, sucked on it, and in the process, infected Rozanne.

Weeds apparently provide a great food and disease source for aphids, and I happen to live between the two weediest yards in the neighborhood.

The virus can also be transmitted via garden tools and gardeners’ fingers, according to The Royal Horticultural Society.  That’s why it’s important to clean tools and hands with soap and water.

Besides causing yellow mottling, cucumber mosaic virus can lead to leaf distortion and plant stunting.

It’s important to dispose of diseased plants to keep them from infecting other plants in the garden.

Worst of all, there’s no chemical control for the virus.

After reading all that, I raced outside, dug up the infected cranesbill, conducted a speedy funeral, and tossed the plant into the trash.  It broke my heart to destroy a gorgeous two-year-old cranesbill.  But it was the only thing I could do.

Next, I checked the four cranesbills surrounding the infected one.  Fortunately, I didn’t see any mottling on the other plants.

Normally, I blast a plant with water to dislodge aphids.  But in this case, I wanted to take more definitive action.  So I whipped out my Ferti-lome Triple Action insecticide/fungicide/miticide and sprayed all of my geraniums, roses and Pawnee Buttes sand cherries.  When I used Triple Action on my aphid-infested sand cherries last year, the plants recovered nicely.

I’ve been growing hardy geraniums, including Rozanne and bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), for ten years or so, and have never had any problems with them.

My online research indicates that allium can repel aphids.  Interestingly, though, I did have one allium growing near the Rozannes, and still had this mosaic problem.  Maybe I need more alliums.

Other plants that reportedly repel aphids are catnip/catmint, garlic, chives and mint.

I grow Little Trudy catmint next to my roses, and so far, haven’t spotted any aphids on the roses.  All of my roses are own-root roses.  So fortunately, I don’t need to be concerned about another virus– rose mosaic virus—on those plants because that disease attacks only grafted roses.  It’s yet one more good reason to plant own-root roses, such as those sold by High Country Roses.



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The Grass is Sometimes Greener in the Neighbor’s Lawn

My grass has looked this green for several weeks now. The color in the photo has not been enhanced. I use water sparingly. Will the grass turn more yellow this summer? Yes, because that’s what Kentucky blue grass does. It’s a cool-season grass.

We take a monkey see/monkey do approach to lawn care on my cul-de-sac.  And sometimes it works.

Recently, I was talking with my neighbor, Rock.  He’s the premier turf grower in the neighborhood, so we swap grass-maintenance tips.

I once asked him why his lawn is so lush and green.  He said a friend told him to apply laundry detergent to his lawn once or twice a year to soften the soil and make it more water-permeable.

In the interest of science, I went out last fall and bought what I thought was the safest laundry detergent I could find—Seventh Generation liquid—and applied it to my lawn with a hose-end sprayer.  It definitely made the soil softer.  I have concerns, though, that Seventh Generation and many other detergents could add harmful salts and boron to the soil, based on information in the book, Greywater, Green Landscape, by Laura Allen.  So rather than eventually killing my grass with unsafe substances, I’ve decided to stick with Revive Organic Soil Treatment, which is designed specifically for lawns.

Earlier this spring, I noticed drifts of what looked like soil thrown here and there on Rock’s front yard.

“What’s that brown stuff on your lawn?” I asked him.  “Compost,” he said.  “I saw you spreading some on your lawn last fall.”

This is the monkey see/monkey do behavior I’m talking about.

I’ve tried other approaches on my lawn, as well.  In late winter, for example, I applied Milorganite for two reasons: (1) to fertilize the grass; and (2) to repel rabbits.  A small University of Nebraska study found that Milorganite, which is reprocessed sludge, was effective in keeping rabbits away from impatiens.  It does seem to help keep bunnies at bay in my lawn.  So does my cat, Steve.

I also get my heavy clay soil aerated each fall to make it easier for water to reach grass roots.

After the aeration last fall, I had planned to overseed my yard, but life got in the way.  So I overseeded this spring.

My lawn looks rather golf-course-like  this year, and it greened up before my neighbors’ lawns did.  I watered it only after days of high winds, which dry out the soil.  Otherwise, I let Mother Nature take care of the rest.

So, here’s my lawn maintenance timeline:

  • Fall 1917: Aerated lawn.  Applied Seventh Generation detergent (but I’m switching back to Revive).  Spread compost to improve soil tilth (ability of the soil to retain water and sustain plant growth).
  • Late winter 2018: Spread Milorganite on lawn
  • Early spring 2018: Overseeded lawn and watered it twice daily for two weeks until Kentucky blue grass seed sprouted.  Then cut back on watering

The only time I water my lawn in the spring is after high winds.  In hot summer months, though, I water about once a week.  Then I back off again the fall, when the weather is cooler and moister.

Consider trying this multi-pronged approach to see if it works for you.  And while you’re at it, have a soil test done on your lawn to determine exactly which nutrients it needs.





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Wait! Don’t Prune those Roses Yet!

Although you may want to prune your roses in April, resist the temptation. Otherwise you’ll have to deal with dieback of tender new growth. This beauty is a low-maintenance Livin’ Easy rose.

Don’t tell me—you’ve been cutting away at your ornamental grasses, perennials and shrubs, so that new growth can emerge unimpeded.  As long as you’re on a roll, you may as well prune those roses, too.  Right?  Nope.

Don’t prune your roses until late May in Colorado.  If you prune earlier, a late freeze is likely to kill any tender new growth stimulated by pruning.

But when you do get around to pruning, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remove the 4 Ds: Dead, dying, damaged and diseased rose canes.  Also cut out canes that rub against each other, exposing the wood to potential disease and insect damage.  Then you can focus on shaping the plant.
  • Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle so that water doesn’t pool on top of the cane and cause it to rot.
  • Cut damaged canes about one-half inch into green live wood and about one-fourth inch above a live bud.
  • Seal the cut canes with carpenter’s glue or nail polish to discourage cane borers.

For more information about pruning roses, visit the American Rose Society’s website .  For a rose-growing calendar for Denver and Colorado’s Front Range, review the Denver Rose Society’s handout.

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