Category Archives: Garden Maintenance

Horrors! It’s Borers!

There’s the tell-tale hole where the borer entered the pith. Very bad news.

Last week while admiring my tiger eyes sumac, I noticed a hole in the pith in one of the stems.  Pith, in case you’re not aware, is the spongy material inside each stem.

I then examined the pith in two other stems that had been pruned before I bought the plant six weeks ago.  All three stems had a hole.

Omigaw! I realized that my baby tree was under attack by borers—currant borers, most likely, which attack currants, gooseberries and black elders, as well as sumacs.

According to Colorado State University, currant borers lay their eggs on the plant’s bark in June and early July.  Then the caterpillar larvae bore into the plant, drilling down into the pith and wood.  The nearly adult pest spends the winter in the base of the canes before pupating and later emerging as a full-grown adult in late May or early June.

Before I pruned it, the tree had two nice, leafy branches. Notice the two upright bare branches? That’s where the borers attacked. They also attacked at the lowest crotch of the tree.

Make no mistake—these bugs can kill the plant, if left untreated.

So I whipped out my pruners and began amputating lengths of branches until I reached non-holey pith.  The worst damage occurred on an auxiliary branch, where the borer had drilled all the way down that branch and into one of the tree’s two main branches.  I could even see the borer in the hole.  This meant I had to make the unkindest cut of all to save the plant’s life—removing a main leafy branch, leaving just one leafy branch on this 30-inch-tall tree.

It wasn’t easy, but I did what had to be done, disfiguring the tree in the process.  Fortunately, sumacs produce new branches relatively quickly, so I expect the plant to recover in the next couple of years.

After pruning, the looks disfigured, but the tree wlll likely grow plenty of new branches in the next couple of years. Notice the healthy pith where the branches have been cut. I sealed the cuts with fingernail polish.

I then sealed the three pruned canes with colored nail polish to prevent further infestation.  Some gardeners think sealing is unnecessary.  Personally, I seal canes larger than 1/8 inch.

Borers attack a broad range of trees and shrubs.  The most infamous borer in Colorado right now is the emerald ash borer (EAB), which began attacking ash trees in Boulder in 2013, and has spread to Longmont and Lafayette.  It’s just a matter of time before the EAB will reach Denver and Fort Collins.

Treatments for borers vary, depending the variety and size of a plant.  For information on borers and their treatment, visit Insects that Feed on Colorado Plants and Shrubs.

Next time you’re strolling through your garden, check pruned branches on your shrubs for borers.  Once the autumn leaves have fallen, pruned canes will be easier to spot.

As for trees, learn to recognize borer entrance and exit holes in the bark, so you can keep an eye out for borers there.


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Tomato Cages? Give me U-Posts Any Day

U-posts topped by a bamboo stick provide a framework for the trellis netting. You can then tie tomato vines to the netting or simply wind the vines in among the netting.

I’ve never liked tomato cages.

They sit there, neatly stacked in the garden center, promising to bestow order on snaking tomato stems. Some of them even come in vibrant colors, as though that might help. But it doesn’t.

IMHO, there isn’t a tomato cage alive that can contain multiple six-to-eight-foot vines without creating a tangled mess. I’m talking about vines of indeterminate tomatoes—the ones that sprawl all over creation.

Then, of course, there’s the storage problem, if you can wrench the cage away from the tomato without destroying the structure at the end of the season. I usually manage to scratch myself with the bits of metal extending from the bottom of the cage.

Regarding storage, folding cages take less room, but usually cost a princely sum. Often, though, they’re still not tall enough to contain unruly vines.

So I’ve tried other approaches. I’ve created a trellis from electrical conduit, securing the corners with nifty 90-degree connectors, then tying trellis netting to the top and sides. This worked until the weight of the vines caused the trellis to fall against my privacy fence. If you’ve got a fence as backup, that’s fine. But don’t rely on electrical conduit for a free-standing structure.

Then there are U-posts. I’ve found that these are much sturdier than electrical conduit. You can install a couple of them in the ground, secure a crossbar up high, and tie trellis netting to the posts and crossbar. As for the crossbar, I’m currently experimenting with a bamboo stick. It’s light, but strong. I tied the stick to the tops of the U-posts, but found that the connection was tenuous. So I placed gorilla tape over the top of the bamboo stick, then wrapped gorilla tap around the tops of the U-posts, securing the top strap of gorilla tape in the process. It seems to be holding well.

If you anticipate an unusually heavy crop, you can add a third U-post in the middle to make your trellis sturdier. I like the 6 1/2-foot posts which, by the way, are easy as heck to store.

Or you can just leave the posts in the ground for next year. It’s a good idea, though, to rotate your tomato crops, so you may end up supporting a different vegetable with those stakes the following season.

Gently tie your vines to the trellis netting with a stretchy material, such as pantyhose or elastic.  That way, the ties will expand as the plant stems grow larger.

So far, my U-post/bamboo structure is working. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

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And Here I Thought Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherries were Indestructible

Last month while performing a daily patrol of my garden, I noticed that one of my normally beautiful Pawnee Buttes

Here, you can see the leaf curling and discoloration that I found on one of my Pawnee Buttes sand cherries.

sand cherries exhibited a severe case of curly leaves and discolored foliage.

Pawnee Buttes are renowned for being drought-tolerant, disease-free, and low-maintenance—just about as bullet-proof as you can get.

So I hopped online to research the problem. Couldn’t find anything on Google about diseases for Pawnee Buttes. Seems that no one is having problems with these shrubby ground covers.

Although not typically life-threatening, curl leaf aphids can certainly disfigure a Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, not to mention other susceptible plants.

The next day, I noticed the same problem on a small part of another Pawnee Buttes sand cherry nearby. So I pruned the damage from both plants in an effort to prevent further spreading.

A short time later, I visited a local nursery, where I spoke with Bobby, my friend and former co-worker. He knows everything about woody plants. I barely got the symptoms out of my mouth, when he proclaimed, “Curl leaf aphids. They love to attack members of the prunus family.” Being a Prunus besseyi, Pawnee Buttes certainly qualifies as aphid bait.

When my sand cherries aren’t infested with aphids, they look happy and healthy like this one. The foliage will turn red in the fall.

So following Bobby’s advice, I drenched all four of my Pawnee Buttes with Fertilome Triple Action Plus insecticide and fungicide. Fortunately, the solution helped dramatically. Other possible treatments include insecticidal soaps, neem oil and canola oil. Given the severity of my aphid infestation, I didn’t mess around with the most basic treatment, blasting the plants with water. But now that the infestation is under control, I may do some occasional blasting.

Although aphids seldom kill plants, they make the plants unsightly and leave behind honeydew, which attracts ants.

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Springtime in the Rockies Turns into Snow Time

It’s April 29 in Fort Collins, and things aren’t looking very springlike in my front yard. To the left, you’ll see stems of three ornamental alliums, scheduled to bloom in early June. Fortunately, my autumn brilliance serviceberry in the upper right has already bloomed and is getting ready to set its delicious blue berries for June harvest.

After moving to Colorado from St. Louis 23 years ago, I popped over to a local nursery in late March, all eager to buy plants for my new garden. Surprisingly, there were almost no outdoor plants on display.

When I asked why, the nursery employee patiently explained that the growing season starts later in Colorado than it does in Missouri, because Colorado can still get frosts well into May.

This year is living proof of a late-season frost. Today is April 29. Last night, the temperature dropped to 31 degrees Fahrenheit in Fort Collins, and tonight it’s supposed to drop to 29. And there’s snow on the ground That’s why it’s advisable to wait until after mid-May to plant annuals along Colorado’s Front Range. Hardy perennials, trees and shrubs–fine. But wait on the annuals, unless you want to plant cold-season vegetables, such as lettuce. You can plant those in March or April.

So if you’re new to Colorado and are eager to start growing annuals and other tender plants, hold off a little. If you’ve already planted tender plants, they may be goners this year unless you covered them with a bucket or some such last night.  Then again, the snow may have insulated them sufficiently to keep them alive.  At any rate, cover them tonight.

May 19, 2017 update:  Yesterday Fort Collins received eight, count ’em, eight inches of snow.  Today, we may get a smattering before temperatures rise into the 50’s tomorrow.

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Does Plant Trenching Work? The Story 2 Years Later

The transplanted Veronica pectinata has grown to four times its original size and is now 3 inches high and 2 feet wide.

In February 2015, I moved from my home in Denver to my sister’s home in Windsor, Colorado for a temporary stay while waiting for the closing on my house in Fort Collins.

I brought plants with me from my Denver home, as I wrote in a March 2015 blog post on trenching plants. I dug a trench and used it as a temporary parking spot for the plants. I had intended to replant the plants after three months or so. But that three months stretched into seven.

One Genista lydia (foreground) survived. It’s now 10 inches high and 28 inches wide. In a few weeks, it will be smothered with bright yellow blossoms.

Now that two years have passed, I would like to report how those plants fared. The plants included two Genista lydias, one Veronica pectinata, three Pawnee Buttes sand cherries (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), two Meidiland fire roses, one Cheyenne mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii ‘PWY01S’ Cheyenne), one bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), one regent serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’), two Corydalis ophiocarpa, and three Isanti dogwoods (Cornus sericea ‘Isanti’).

Keep in mind that the ground was frozen when I dug the trench and installed the plants, so there were undoubtedly air pockets around some of the roots. Backfilling a trench with chunks of ice-encrusted clay soil is never a good idea, but I was desperate. During the 2 ½ months that I stayed at my sister’s place, I watered the plants every other day. But once I moved out, the plants received no water other than rainfall until September 2015, when I transplanted some of them to my new yard.

Also, the plants suffered high winds and blasting sun, as well as munching from horses and rabbits.

In other words, I would have been hard pressed to find more miserable conditions for preserving plants.

So, which plants survived this ordeal?

One Pawnee Buttes sand cherry survived in spite of repeated munchings by rabbits and horses. This plant is now 11 inches high and 30 inches wide, and is fast approaching bud break.

Survivors: One Genista lydia, one Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, one Meidiland fire rose, one Cheyenne mockorange, one bloody cranesbill, and one Veronica pectinata.

Decedents: One Genista lydia, two Pawnee Buttes sand cherries, one Meidiland fire rose, one regent serviceberry, two Corydalis ophiocarpa (shade-loving plants), and three Isanti dogwoods.

Concerning the survivors, the Genista lydia still looks straggly, but is gradually filling in, as is the Pawnee Buttes sand cherry. The Meidiland fire is small, but it looks happy. I ended up giving the Cheyenne mockorange to my sister. She divided it into three clumps. Two of the clumps survived. The bloody cranesbill and Veronica pectinata are performing like champs.

Plump buds on the Pawnee Buttes and cherry look as though they’ll burst open within the next week or so. The foliage of this drought-tolerant Colorado native turns a brilliant red in the fall.

As for the decedents, the Meidiland fire rose lived and was transplanted in my new yard. But I didn’t have a sunny spot to park it. So I planted it in a shady spot, which hastened its death. And in fairness to the dogwoods, I have to say that they were in the ground for almost two years because I didn’t have a place for them. But they stuck it out for months until death. The rest of the decedents just conked out over the course of seven months.

So from all of this, I conclude that trenching works well for moving plants, as long as you have decent planting conditions and can take care of the transplants. My plants experienced horrible planting conditions and neglect, yet some of them have survived it, and a few have even thrived. Interestingly, with some identical plants, such as Genista lydia and Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, one plant lived while one or more died. I expected the Genista lydia to transplant much easier than it did, given that it’s drought-tolerant.

If you want to improve your chances of success when trenching, backfill your trench with a mixture of good topsoil and compost, such as two parts soil to one part compost if you have heavy clay soil. Avoid planting in areas with strong western afternoon sun, if possible, so you won’t stress the plants while they’re vulnerable. And keep your plants watered without over-watering them.

Once you’re ready to move the plants to a permanent home, make sure you install them so the plant’s crown is even with or slightly above ground level. If you install plants too deeply, the crown and roots may rot from water accumulation.

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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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Garden Gizmos that You Can Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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