Category Archives: Plant Geekiness

Want to Attract Pollinators? Easy Fix for Sunny Yards

Pollinator plants surround a small grassy area in my front yard. In the forefront (back row, r to l), you’ll see little Trudy catmint, orange carpet hummingbird trumpet and Mojave sage. In the front row, going counter-clockwise, you’ll see dwarf broom (scruffy blue shrublet), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, Sonoran sunset hyssop, sunset hyssop, autumn brilliance serviceberry, Rozanne cranesbill, tiger eyes sumac, more Sonoran sunset hyssop and Karalee petite pink dwarf whirling butterfly (a new Proven Winners annual).

When I headed out my front door this afternoon to pick up my mail, about 20 painted lady butterflies fluttered up from my flowers and began flitting around me.  I felt like Snow White in a Disney film!

Granted, there has been an unusually high number of painted ladies along Colorado’s Front Range this year.  I’m just delighted a small flock of them decided to visit my garden.

Don’t forget annuals when planting for pollinators. This Salvia farinacea is a huge hit with bees and butterflies. Notice the painted lady butterfly at the top of the tall spike on the right.

Nearly every plant in my front yard is a nectar source.  And some of the plants, such as butterfly weed, serve as butterfly hosts (egg-laying sites and larval food sources), as well.  Which only goes to show that your garden doesn’t have to look like a weed patch to attract pollinators.

Since installing all these plants, I’ve noticed that my yard has turned into a virtual pollinator factory, with buzzing and flitting going on throughout the day.

What are some of these critters’ favorite meals?  Well, bees go gaga over little Trudy catmint (Nepeta ‘Psfike’ Little Trudy). Hummingbirds and butterflies, meanwhile, feast on sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’) and orange carpet hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii).

It’s important to ensure you have flowers blooming throughout the growing season to provide a continuous food source.

So in the spring, my serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), Cheyenne mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), dwarf broom (Genista lydia), ornamental onion (Allium ‘Globemaster’) and soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) provide sustenance.  Little Trudy begins blooming in early May and keeps going till frost.  Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne) blooms in May, as well, and will keep blooming into fall if you cut it back when it starts fading in late summer.

Small but mighty, this Miss Molly butterfly bush from Proven Winners adds a glorious touch of fuchsia to the garden while feeding butterflies and other insects. This shrub will eventually grow four to five feet high and wide.

Then in summer, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’), orange carpet hummingbird trumpet, hyssop, Stella d’Oro daylilies, butterfly bush (Buddleia x USPP 23423 ‘Miss Molly’), Pollypetite rose of Sharon (Hibiscus sp. ‘Rosina’ USPPAF) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus in my side-yard rock meadow) generate blossoms.  Except for lavender and butterfly weed, all of these summer bloomers keep generating flowers well into fall.

And, of course, I have annuals blooming in pots and in the ground to provide yet another food source.

Long-blooming orange carpet hummingbird is one of the top two plants in my garden for attracting hummingbirds. The other top hummingbird plant is agastache.

Granted, I have a few plants that pollinators don’t visit for food.  There’s my Kentucky bluegrass, for example.  It doesn’t produce nectar, but it does provide a runway, which butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate for zooming around.  My tiger eyes sumac isn’t a food source either, but its dense foliage can provide shade and storm shelter for pollinators.  As for my groundcover roses, they don’t produce nectar for pollinators, but bees will visit them to collect pollen.

In my rock meadow in the side yard, pollinators can feast on snapdragons, daylilies and columbine, as well as soapwort and prairie winecups. The potentilla in the upper right will be removed soon as part of my efforts to install a large pollinator garden near the back yard patio.

Besides food, host plants, shelter and runways, pollinators require water.  A shallow saucer filled with sand and water will enable butterflies, for example, to rehydrate themselves and ingest important minerals.

If you don’t have many pollinator plants in your garden, consider planting more next year.  You’ll be surprised at the difference they make.

For more information on enticing pollinators, check out Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies to Your Backyard by Sally Roth.  Or download the Colorado State University Extension fact sheet 5.504 on butterflies.

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PWs’ Lantana & Double Calibrachoa Rank Among Favorites for 2017/2018

The blooms of Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana emerge in pink, yellow and coral before turning into a gorgeous magenta set off against deep green leaves.

I’ve always considered lantana to be a gaudy, cartoonish flower that has no place in my yard or pots. This plant often exhibits unappealing color combinations, such as white/yellow, orange/yellow, or weird, faded shades of legitimate colors. If you do a lantana image search on Google, you’ll see what I mean. So in spite of the fact that lantana is supposed to be a stellar performer, I’ve never given it a try—until this year.

In May, Proven Winners sent me some new plants to try out, including Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana. This variety has been a game changer for me. I discovered that the blooms, which start out as yellow, coral and pink, mature into a rich magenta set against deep green leaves. And talk about performance—on my south-facing front walk, this plant blooms consistently with no sunburn. This outstanding variety will be available in garden centers in 2018.

I’m thinking that perhaps growers photograph lantana blooms in their early stages to show all of their colors, rather than showing them at a later stage, when one or two dominant colors may be richer and more appealing.  So unfortunately, the early photos may not do the plants justice.  And of course, when we visit garden centers, we usually see plants that haven’t yet matured.

Superbells Double Ruby calibrachoa hybrid’s luxurious double blooms brighten any outdoor flower arrangement. This darling will be available in 2018.

Other standouts in Proven Winners’ lineup of annuals include:

  • Superbells Double Ruby calibrachoa hybrid. This calibrachoa boasts double blooms that resemble tiny carnations. Mine has grown 4 inches high and 2 feet wide since early June. It’s delightful.
  • Superbells Blue Moon Punch calibrachoa. Another solid performer, this cheerful charmer pumps out purple and white blooms with a brilliant yellow throat. Mine cascades down the pot about 16 inches.
  • Prince Tut dwarf Egyptian papyrus. This fast-growing, no-maintenance stunner has reached two feet since I planted it in a pot in early June. It reportedly will reach 30 to 48 inches at maturity.

Proven Winners’ Pollypetite dwarf rose of Sharon produces ethereal pink blooms.  It reportedly grows 3-4 feet high and wide.

In Spring 2018, Proven Winners will introduce a new rose of Sharon, Pollypetite, in garden centers. An endearing shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet high and wide, Pollypetite features delicate pink, iridescent blooms.  Because of its smaller size, this plant will fit nicely in gardens that don’t have room for typical roses of Sharon, some of which can grow 10 feet high and wide.

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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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Eye-Popping Blooms Abound at High Country Roses Near Denver

You can easily drive right by High Country Gardens’ entrance, if you’re not looking for it.

High Country Roses’ humble little road sign can be deceiving. But make no mistake; it marks the entrance to one of the finest rose nurseries in the country.

Six years ago, this family-owned company relocated from Jensen, Utah to Arvada, Colorado. So now it’s within spitting distance of Denver, Longmont, Fort Collins and other communities along Colorado’s Front Range.

High Country Roses’ customers include the Denver Rose Society and Denver Botanic Gardens. That should tell you something about the quality of HCR’s plants.

During a tour of High Country Gardens’ growing facilities, employee Dare Trotter stopped to show me a Livin’ Easy rose.

As for the prices—they’re surprisingly reasonable. Most roses currently cost about $15 to $18 apiece, not including shipping. If you make an appointment to pick the roses up, you can skip shipping costs altogether. Compare that to $40 per rose (usually grafted) at other nurseries.

Granted, HCR roses come in one-quart pots, which are smaller than your typical $40 rose pots. But these babies are extremely healthy, and they grow quickly.

Better yet, HCR’s offerings are own root roses, not grafted roses. With own root roses, the flowering top of the plant is the same as the root. But with grafted roses, the flowering top of the plant is a different variety from the root stock, which is typically a hardier, but less desirable variety.

Deb Lynch keeps roses healthy by making sure they’re watered appropriately.

Why is this important in Colorado and other cold winter climates? A very hard freeze may cause the plant to die down to its roots. But if the plant is an own root rose and it regrows, it will return in its original form. For example, an own root Mr. Lincoln rose will grow back as a Mr. Lincoln.

With grafted roses, on the other hand, a very hard freeze may cause the plant to regrow from the less-desirable root stock rather than from the desired top stock. So, for example, if Mr. Lincoln is grafted onto Dr. Huey, you may end up with a Dr. Huey rose after the freeze.  To reduce the chances of this happening, it’s advisable to plant grafted roses so that the bud union is one to three inches below ground in cold winter climates.

High Country Roses took root in the basement of Dr. Bill Campbell’s urology practice at 17th and Downing Street in Denver. A rosarian and surgeon, Dr. Bill founded the High Country Rosarium in 1970, after spending a decade collecting and testing varieties of old garden roses to see which ones would perform best in Colorado’s harsh climate.

In 1995, the company moved to Jensen, Utah, before returning to the Denver area in 2011.

Although HCR is primarily a mail-order nursery, Dare Trotter and Matt Douglas have been assembling a few orders for local pickup.

Dr. Bill has since passed away, and other family members have helped keep the business going. Now Dr. Bill’s stepson, Matt Douglas, manages the business. Matt and employees Deb Lynch and Dare Trotter comprise HCR’s production crew, which handles the propagation and maintenance of 350 varieties of roses.

What are some of these folks’ favorite roses? Matt likes Golden Wings. Deb prefers Ebb Tide, Angel Face and Livin’ Easy. As for Dare, he likes Distant Drums and Cecile Brunner.

Me? I’m a huge fan of Linda Campbell, a gorgeous red repeat-blooming rugosa rose.

So if you’re in the market for roses, you might consider ordering some HCR roses and making an appointment to pick them up, if you live close by. Otherwise, you can have them shipped to you.

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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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Asclepias: Mother’s Milk to Monarchs & 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year

Perennial butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, serves has a host plant for the monarch butterfly by creating a site for the mother to lay eggs and for the larvae to feed. (Photo courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service - retired, Bugwood.org.)

Perennial butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, serves has a host plant for the monarch butterfly by creating a site for the mother to lay eggs and for the larvae to feed. (Photo courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service – retired, Bugwood.org)

If I wanted to attract butterflies and had room for only one nectar plant, I would choose butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Butterfly weed is not only a terrific nectar plant for many butterfly species, but is also the sole host plant for the monarch butterfly, whose numbers have been decreasing so steadily that they’ve reached “Near Threatened” status with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In cold weather, monarchs migrate between more than 1,000 miles between the U.S. and Canada to forests in central Mexico, where they hibernate until it’s warm enough to head back north. Earlier this week, Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF in Mexico, issued a statement urging the eradication of illegal logging in Mexico’s forest cover and asking that habitat loss be tackled in the U.S. and Canada, as well.

In the meantime, the Perennial Plant Organization has selected Asclepias tuberosa as its Plant of the Year for 2017. Shoot, they’re even selling tee shirts to promote this North American native!

With its striking, deep-green foliage and vibrant orange blooms, butterfly weed is a real showpiece in the garden. It grows 12 to 30 inches tall. There’s a newer, yellow variety called ‘Hello Yellow.’ I planted one in my garden last summer, and it lasted till frost, when it went dormant. I’ll see if it emerges this spring.

Several Colorado gardeners have told me they’ve been unsuccessful in growing butterfly weed in our heavy clay soils. Anticipating problems but being curious, I bought a #1-sized plant from a local nursery about five years ago. I amended the soil with organic matter before installing this beauty, and, surprisingly enough, the plant seemed very happy. It popped up reliably the following season.

For those of you who haven’t had luck with butterfly weed, I have a few suggestions:

  • Install a healthy, #1-sized plant from a reputable nursery. Smaller plants don’t seem to establish as well, according to some of my fellow gardeners.
  • Be aware that butterfly weed has a tap root, and if you damage it in any way, the plant will die.
  • Amend the soil if you have heavy clay. I used compost. Another experienced Colorado gardener suggested using sand or gravel for amending. Good drainage is critical.
  • Wait until drier weather to plant it. In other words, don’t plant it in the spring, when there’s more rain. Wait until a summer month.
  • Plant your butterfly weed in full sun.
  • Keep a close eye out for yellowing leaves. If you see a lot of yellowing, you may be over- or under-watering the plant. Over is more likely. Asclepias tuberosa doesn’t like too much moisture. If you can nurse your butterfly weed through its first growing season, you may be home free. Fortunately, the plant spreads nicely, once established.

    Annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, offers stunning pink, mauve or white blooms. Be careful where you plant it, though, because it reseeds prolifically. (Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org)

    Annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, offers stunning pink, mauve or white blooms. Be careful where you plant it, though, because it reseeds prolifically. (Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org)

There’s an annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed, which also serves as a host for the monarch. Swamp milkweed grows four to five feet tall and produces white, pink or mauve blooms.

If you would like to learn more about butterfly gardening, you’re invited to attend my free program, Butterfly Garden Basics, at the Loveland, CO public library, 300 North Adams, on March 29. The program begins at 1pm. Arrive early, though, because I’ve been told that 50 or more people often attend the gardening presentations at this library.

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