First Flowers

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It’s barely past the spring equinox, but I already have flowers blooming in my yard—in spite of living at 7,100 feet in Colorado. Our average last frost date is months away, snow is predicted for tonight, and I have yet to see a bee (or other pollinator) this spring, but that doesn’t stop these stalwart beauties. Continue reading “First Flowers”

Birding in Winter

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I have a tendency to be a fair-weather birder. Give me warm, sunny days, balmy breezes, and sparkling blue ponds and lakes. Trees are full of leaves, bugs, and birds. With all the summer migrants in town, trip lists run long. Singing males are easier to spot, and the rituals of mating and raising young, offering additional opportunities for the wildlife photographer.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate winter birding. Temperatures dip below freezing and it may snow. Roads can be treacherous, providing unwanted excitement just getting to the birding destination. Many birds have heeded to call to migrate, and those left behind tend to be drab, matching the winter landscape. And then there’s the silence. I hear no songs, not even much chirping. Yes, there are birds out there, but where?

And yet…

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Ephedra in the Garden

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It’s only November, but when it comes to gardening in a cold weather climate, it may as well be winter. From the first sudden freeze, now months ago, the leaves have been brown. For those of us who have gardened in more mild conditions, we crave green, especially evergreen shrubs, but the choices are severely limited. There are the ubiquitous junipers and other dwarf conifers. Yuccas. Firethorn (Pyracantha). Perhaps some Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia) if you have a sheltered spot so the leaves can avoid desiccation. Even my supposedly evergreen Cotoneaster is brown. But there’s one often-overlooked shrub that stays green all winter—even if it doesn’t exactly have noticeable leaves.

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Fall in the Veggie Garden

'Monte Gusto' Beans_2018-09-19 08.48.58I’m still picking lots of veggies—tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, squash, beans, chard, and herbs such as basil and parsley. Yet, fall starts in a few days and nights are already dipping into the 40s. That first frost can’t be far behind.

Here in Colorado, it’s now too late to plant most fall crops, as the short days and cold nights won’t let them mature before it snows. You can plant stiff-neck (hardy) garlic, however. Space the individual cloves about six inches apart and bury them about three-times their height. Spread a layer of mulch over the bed and relax. That’s one crop you won’t have to bother with later. Continue reading “Fall in the Veggie Garden”

Don’t Salt the Soil!

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We all know that it’s a bad idea to pour salt on the ground in our gardens. After all, that’s what invading armies did—they salted the ground, effectively sterilizing it and therefore starving the population. Even the ubiquitous recipe for “Homemade All-Natural Weed Killer”—you know, the one with salt, vinegar, and Dawn detergent (and since when is Dawn “all natural”?)—warn against using the concoction where you want other plants to grow. Salt in the soil is bad news for gardeners.

Yes, you wouldn’t intentionally spread rock salt on your dirt, but that’s only one way to end up with soil too salty to support plants. There are other, more insidious ways to salt your soil. Continue reading “Don’t Salt the Soil!”

Red, White, and Blue Berries

What kind of fruit comes in red, white, and blue? Berries, of course!

Blueberries are a huge treat. Our daughter in western Washington grows them by the bucketful, although our granddaughters have a habit of grazing on them in the backyard, so they don’t always make it into the kitchen.

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May Snow

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A foot of snow. That’s what fell on my garden last week. Twelve inches of heavy, wet, icy snow covered our lawn, bent the branches on our trees, and broke the tender new shoots on my perennials. Yes, I had already planted annuals, but I put them in pots on our deck, which I hauled into the warm house when I saw the forecast. I managed to cover my lettuce and chard, which were already in the ground, but they’re reasonably hardy and did just fine, although they may still decide that they’ve endured a winter and it’s time to bloom, producing a flower stalk instead of the leaves I want. All things considered, however, we did well. Many of our friends and neighbors lost entire trees. I can’t complain.

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Buying Boxed Perennials

The calendar says it’s spring, and who is a gardener to disagree? Walk down the aisle of any Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Walmart, and you’ll find a colorful display of boxed bare root perennials, ready to pop into your warm spring soil. Cannas, lilies, bleeding heart, and clematis. Peonies, six dormant plants. Gladiolus and hostas. Caladium, phlox, and kniphofia. The photos on the packaging are so enticing to our flower-starved souls (especially after experiencing our recent  “bomb cyclone,” a blizzard of apocalyptic proportions, which dumped 4-foot drifts in our yard)!

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Colorful Houseplants

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Looking for a last minute gift for a gardening friend? How about a houseplant? At this time of year, when the world outside is dormant, I depend on my houseplants to feed my need for color. And while I appreciate healthy, green leaves, we certainly don’t have to stop there.

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Ups and Downs

One drawback of living at 7,100 feet is that spring drags its feet. I see the blue sky outside and assume warm sunshine to go with it. Yet, I step one foot out the door and my teeth start to chatter—as much because of the icy winds as the frigid temperatures. We may have two or more months of snow yet to endure, but I’m ready for spring. There’s only one solution.

Go down.

I can’t afford a plane ticket to Cancún, or even a road trip to San Diego, but I can drive to a (relatively) lower elevation. While the eastern states’ climate zones are determined by latitude, ours are determined by altitude. It’s amazing how much impact a couple thousand feet can have on the arrival of spring. Continue reading “Ups and Downs”