Leaves of Gold

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When we think of adding warm shades to our garden—yellow and orange, gold, lime and chartreuse—we immediately start listing flowers. But it’s time to think beyond the blooms and consider the leaves. Foliage comes in a variety of warm tones, and the color lasts all season—or longer. We don’t need to wait for fall; many of these plants make spectacular focal points in the landscape all summer long.

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Container Makeovers

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We’re nearing the end of August, and both the garden and the gardener are… tired. This has been a long, hot, summer, and the entire state of Colorado is in a drought. The unending parade of 90+ degree days, unusual for our elevation, has left the plants bedraggled, the flowers faded, the leaves with crispy brown edges.

The large pots of color on our deck are the worst. The violas that looked so pretty in June are now covered with powdery mildew. In spite of what the seed packets promised, the cosmos and zinnias grew too tall, towering over the petunias, and the snapdragons stayed too short. My chard leaves are tunneled with leaf miners, and it’s nearly impossible to keep them sufficiently watered. (Memo to self—do not plant chard ‘Bright Lights’ in a container with more xeric annuals, no matter how colorful the stems or how many seedlings are left over after planting the veggie beds!)

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Social Distancing is Not for Plants

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I frequently take walks through our newly-built neighborhood. While my primary motivation is exercise, I also enjoy checking out the landscaping choices made by the new homeowners. The plants are still small, but it’s easy to imagine what the yards will eventually look like. Some clearly have potential, with trees framing a select palette of shrubs, grasses, and perennials. Others are mostly rocks, with the minimum number of widely-spaced shrubs—mostly junipers and shrubby cinquefoil—added to appease the HOA. Social distancing is great for staying healthy, but please don’t make your plants stand on their own. Even a gorgeous star needs a supporting cast.

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Committing Tree-icide: Staking & Protecting

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If we lay perfectly still for weeks and months, we know that our joints will stiffen and become less flexible. Movement will become difficult. Bending will hurt. Holding perfect still is bad for our health. And it’s bad for trees as well. Yet, every year hundreds of trees are splinted into immobility by well-intentioned gardeners. It’s no better for them than it is for us.

We have a tendency to regard a newly planted sapling as fragile, and we want to protect it as best we can. That trunk looks so flimsy, as if the first breeze will snap it in two. So what do we do? We stake it so it can’t wiggle. And that’s a very bad idea. Movement causes trunks to enlarge and strengthen. Trees that are firmly staked will never become strong.

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Springs-Specific Gardening

There is certainly no shortage of advice when it comes to gardening. Everyone has an opinion, and when that fails, there’s the Internet. When you garden in Colorado, however, you quickly learn that much of the advice available doesn’t apply. It’s aimed at gardeners on the coasts, or the Midwest, or even the south—but not a place with harsh winters, false springs, sudden freezes, minimal rainfall, hail, gale-force winds… the list goes on and on. No wonder so many people give up and plant rocks!

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Committing Tree-icide: Water & Mulch

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(Don’t miss last month’s post about proper tree planting!)

Once we have the new tree in the ground, we want to do our best to help it not only survive but thrive. Knowing how dry our climate is, it’s natural to focus on providing enough water for the tree to become established.

A newly planted tree needs to be watered where its roots are. Those roots will be close to the trunk, which is why the landscapers set up their drip emitters to irrigate that area.

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Not Exactly Xeric: Plants for Wet Spots

Colorado gardening is all about saving water. Classes offer advice on how to group plants in your landscape according to their need for supplemental irrigation. Garden centers highlight species that tolerate drought. This year, Colorado Springs has placed restrictions on how we water our yards, and how often we are allowed to do so. We’re forever being told how to use less water in our gardens.

But there’s one part of our backyard that defies all the prevailing wisdom. It’s wet. It’s soggy. In the spring and during wetter summers, an entire hillside of rainfall drains through this spot. And if there’s no rain and we have to water our lawn? No matter how careful we are to avoid runoff, this one area still stays wet. Continue reading “Not Exactly Xeric: Plants for Wet Spots”

Committing Tree-icide: Planting

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It’s spring. Perennials are emerging from underground. Spring bulbs are in bloom. The buds on are bare branches are bursting into leaves. Except for those that aren’t. A look around indicates that a lot of my neighborhood trees didn’t survive the winter.

Trees are not cheap. There is a significant cost when it comes to purchasing and planting a tree, especially one large enough to satisfy the HOA. It’s easy to blame their subsequent demise on Colorado’s notoriously capricious weather. Easy, but you’d be wrong. By far, the primary reason our new neighborhood’s trees don’t survive is improper planting.

It’s not the weather that’s killing the trees. It’s us.

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Gardening Mania

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The calendar may claim that spring arrives in March, but those of us with high altitude gardens know that it really only begins after Mother’s Day. Even now, there is still a danger of a late frost, but at this point, we truly don’t care. We want to garden, and we want to garden now!

This is the dangerous season. We have so much pent-up enthusiasm just waiting to burst free that when the weather appears to be warm and settled (hah!), we can no longer control ourselves. Just look at the loaded shopping carts lined up (six feet apart) at the garden center check-out. I’m admit it, I’m as guilty as the next gardener—which is why I’ve learned to hand my wallet to my husband before entering a nursery.

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A Public Garden to Visit Now

This is National Public Gardens Week. I was all primed to write about all the public gardens we can visit, but as you know, many (most?) are inaccessible. For example, there are currently ten thousand tulips are blooming at Denver’s Botanic Garden, and no one can go see them. It breaks my heart.

I was feeling a bit despondent—I desperately crave flowers by this time of year—when I considered that not all public gardens are surrounded by walls. I typically drive to Denver because spring comes earlier at  5,280 feet than it does here in Colorado Springs (with our 6,000 – 7,000+ foot elevation). But we have gardens right here in town that I can visit any time.

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