Starting Seeds: Containers

Raise your hand if you remember starting seeds in elementary school. Perhaps they sprouted in the cells of a cardboard egg carton. Sound familiar? Now, did your seedlings grow and thrive? Hmm, thought so. Granted, you probably forgot to water them, or you dropped the whole shebang on the way home from school. But it wasn’t all your fault. Egg cartons make awful seed starting containers.

What should you use to start those little seedlings? There are a number of excellent choices. Suitable containers share several attributes.

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Starting Seeds: Seeds

You’ve decided to grow your own transplants this year. You’ve checked your average last frost date, so you know when to start. Now it’s time to think about seeds.

catalogs-lahThe seed catalogs that arrived around the first of the year are now well-worn, with pages dog-eared and varieties circled. I spent blissful hours going through every one, comparing glowing descriptions and luscious photographs. Having a pre-determined planting list[1] and budget helped me exercise at least some self control. I finally made my order about a month ago, which is much later than usual. Now I’m haunting the mailbox, waiting for my seeds to arrive. Next year I’ll make a point of ordering in January, so I’m prepared when spring comes.

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Starting Seeds: Timing

Crumbly potting soil, warm water, tiny seeds—I love starting my veggie garden. Even though we had almost a foot of snow two days ago, I was happily planting lettuce and tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, kale and cabbage. When your growing season is as short as mine is, it’s essential to start many crops indoors.

pepper-cotyledons-vs-leaves-lahOf course, you can buy started seedlings at your local garden center. But where’s the fun in that? I prefer to take advantage of the wider selection of varieties found in the seed catalogs. I want seedlings that are stocky and healthy, not leggy and root-bound. Plus, there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that you grew your plants yourself.

The first step to success is planning. What is the average last frost date for your area? You can ask a gardening friend, contact your local Master Gardener help desk, or check the Farmer’s Almanac website.

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A Garden for the Birds

The following article was first published by the Colorado Springs Gazette on March 21, 2009:

broadtail-hummingbird-keystone-20may07-lah-837rA brightly colored hummingbird zooms past on its way to a feeder. A finch fills the air with music. Birds provide us with hours of entertainment. How can you welcome more wild birds into your yard?

Like other animals, birds have a basic need for five essential elements: water, food, shelter, safety from predators, and a place to raise their young. While it’s fun to provide bird houses and feeders full of seed, you can design your landscape to offer these necessities and truly give yourself a yard for the birds.

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Growing Minor Bulbs

In my previous posting, I described a number of so-called “minor bulbs” that can have a major impact in the late winter garden. This time, I’ll focus on how to grow them.


You have to plan ahead to enjoy these little beauties. They all need to be planted in the fall, early enough so that they put out some root growth before the ground freezes. Most aren’t easy to find at local stores, and must be ordered from a catalog or online. I prefer to make my decisions on next year’s order while this year’s plants are in bloom.

Unlike the giant hybrids, these bulbs should increase year after year. Since they will be left undisturbed during that time, preparing the soil before planting is especially critical.

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Minor Bulbs, Major Impact

Iris hyb_HAS-ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_6429.nefNothing lifts our spirits like the first crocuses of spring. They are popping up all over town, like bright Easter eggs in our dreary gardens. After months of plants that are brown and lifeless, spring blooming bulbs are an almost magical treat.

Everyone is familiar with tulips and daffodils, and crocuses and hyacinths are recognizable as well, but the assortment of bulbs available to high altitude gardens extends past these familiar flowers. The following flowers are classified as “minor bulbs,” perhaps due to their diminutive size, but they can have a major impact when planted in large enough numbers.

Snowdrops Continue reading “Minor Bulbs, Major Impact”

Foiling Flickers

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! My story about flickers was fictionalized, but based on personal experience. Last spring, flickers really did invade our home.

By August, my husband and I realized we’d nailed scraps of wood across 15 large flicker-sized holes. Piles of fluffy insulation littered the ground beneath each one. That fall we replaced much of the cedar siding on our house, to the tune of over a thousand dollars. The question became critical: What could we do to prevent the birds from drilling into our new wood?

A lot of people must be having the same problem. A quick web search turned up plenty of suggestions, but not much in the way of success stories. Inflatable owls don’t work—the birds are smarter than that. Flickers quickly become accustomed to hanging strips of aluminum, Mylar balloons, and small colored windmills. What else could we do?

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What’s that bird that’s driving me crazy?

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. I was awakened early this morning by insistently loud hammering on the metal chimney guard on our roof. Yup, it’s that time again. Our resident Northern Flicker is announcing his ownership of our property. This year we’re ready. But last year we had a major issue with these woodpeckers. They drove my husband crazy, and inspired me to write the following story:

Not even the cat is awake before 5 am. Soft snoring comes from the bedroom, darkened by shades against the early appearance of the sun this time of year. It’s a lazy Saturday morning in mid-March. Nothing important is scheduled for hours. Later there will be errands to run, chores to catch up on, phones ringing and dishes. Right now, all is peaceful, all is calm.


Like a staccato burst of machine gun fire, the noise reverberates off the metal gutters directly outside our bedroom window.

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A Memorable Owling Trip

I went camping last weekend.

Why would anyone even partly sane choose to go camping in February? This was no trip for sissies. We set up camp at 9,500 ft., on top of a mountain in Colorado. It was definitely cold. One weather website claimed a low of 8º F, much lower than the predicted 16º. While I am a die-hard camper, this was pushing even my limits. So why did I do it? One word: owls.


As I’m sure you know, owls are active at night. Therefore, if you want to see one, you must become a night-owl too. And, if you’re going to be up that late, you might as well spend the night. At least, that was the theory.

Why this time of year? Owls are early nesters. They are currently flirting with one another, pairing up (sometimes with last year’s mate), claiming territories, and in general, going about the business of making baby owls. (Ornithologists explain that the predilection for winter nests produces hatchlings just when most rodents are having their litters, ensuring plenty of small, newborn prey for the owlets.)

A birding friend is doing a survey (part of Colorado’s Breeding Bird Atlas II project) to determine which bird species are breeding on her assigned quadrant at, you guessed it, 9,500 ft. elevation in the Pike National Forest of Colorado. She needed to go count owls. Well, we couldn’t let her go all by herself, could we? So we packed our hot cocoa and hand warmers and set off. Continue reading “A Memorable Owling Trip”

Xeriscaping: Watering Zones

In our part of the world, water use is a huge issue. Western gardeners need to take their garden planning one step further, and think of plant materials in terms of their water needs.

Many of our traditional garden trees, shrubs, and flowers come from areas of high rainfall, such as the eastern United States and Europe. They need more water than they will receive naturally in this area. In order to keep them healthy, we have to irrigate on a regular basis. This puts a strain on our limited water resources.

Little water, bright color
Little water, bright color

Instead of buying the same old plants, why not take advantage of our distinctive western climate and grow plants suited for Colorado?

Xeriscaping just means making efficient use of the limited irrigation water we have available. This is done by planting in watering zones. The concept is simple: different plants need different amounts of water to survive and thrive. Just as most familiar plants need constantly damp soil, many of our most beautiful and interesting Colorado species will rot if their roots are always wet. Continue reading “Xeriscaping: Watering Zones”