Category Archives: Garden Maintenance

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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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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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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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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Take Steps Now to Protect Your Landscape

Wrapping young, thin-barked trees can help prevent the sun scald shown here.     (Photo courtesy of Robert Cox)

Wrapping young, thin-barked trees can help prevent the sun scald shown here. (Photo courtesy of Robert Cox)

Now that we’ve had a couple of snowstorms in Denver, you may think it’s too late to take steps to protect or improve your landscape.  However, that’s not the case.  Here are a few tasks you can perform to enhance your outdoor environment.

* Wrap the trunks of your young, thin-barked trees to ward off sun scald and frost cracking, and leave the wrapping on until late April.  I’m talking, in particular, about young maple trees and fruit trees, including crabapples.  If you’re in doubt as to whether to wrap a particular tree, wrap it anyway.  It won’t hurt.

* Twine jute cord or chalk line from bottom to top around your your upright evergreens to protect their branches from snow breakage.  Think Hicks yews and arbovitae.  Unwrap them in late spring after the risk of heavy snowfalls has passed.

* Prune your trees and shrubs, now that they’re leafless and their shapes are easier to see.  Once the ground is frozen, you won’t compact it as you navigate around your woody plants.

* Let sleeping leaves lie and decompose on your soil over the winter.  Then turn the material into the soil next spring.

* Smother grass in areas where you want to create planting beds.  On the grass, place six layers of newspaper topped with one inch of topsoil, then one inch of compost.  Be sure to seal the edges of the newspaper with rocks, bricks or other material to prevent sunlight from reaching the covered grass.  Over the winter, the grass will die and you’ll wake up to a fertile planting bed in April.

* One more thing. . .do not prune your roses.  Pruning encourages new growth, which will be zapped by the winter cold.  Wait until late April or early May for rose pruning.

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