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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Watering Trees

dead tree_COS_PLH_3The tree had clearly expired. What leaves remained had turned a sickly yellow-brown, and hung limply on the branches—in mid-August! Yet, when our neighbors planted it last year it had been perfectly healthy. Something was obviously wrong, and I had a hunch I knew what. (I’ve often said that master gardeners kill just as many plants, we just know why they died.)

Surreptitiously moving the cobblestone mulch aside (and wondering if the homeowner was watching through the closed curtains), I looked at the drip irrigation set-up. There was only one emitter, and it was directing water right to the base of the trunk. No wonder the tree was dead! (That and the fact that it was planted too deeply; there’s no sign of the root flare.)

close-up tree irrigation wrong_COS_PLH_1

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Saving Rainwater

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The storm pounded our garden, flattening flowers and washing away gravel. Even with the damage, I was grateful for the water—we spent over $100 last month just irrigating our xeric landscaping. Water is expensive, but rain is free. If only there was some way to save the downpour flooding our garden. But wait—there is! We could install a rain barrel!

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Getting Established

Catmint established_COS-CO_LAH_1542You’ve read the instructions; I’ve used them frequently here in my posts. “Drought resistant once established.” Sounds good—we’re always trying to save water—but how should you water these plants to start with? And what does “established” mean?

There are a lot of misconceptions about xeric plants. Our landscaper (who was much better at dealing with hardscapes than with living plants) thought that our xeric shrubs and trees needed to be sopping wet for the first few years, until they were “established.” Dead, more likely. (I’m already having to replace some fernbushes that were growing in muck, and we lost the top half of our oak tree in the first few months.)

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My Garden Miracle

hens_home after fire_LAH_4008-1Our forced evacuation dragged on and on. Glued to the news, we prayed for the firefighters, for those losing homes, for protection for our own home. So far, the closest the flames had come was about three blocks. Thank you God!

On Thursday we called the Humane Society to ask if there was any way to rescue my chickens. I realized they were lower priority than horses, dogs, and other pets and livestock, but maybe if someone was in the area anyway? I was sure they had used up their food and water by now.

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Don’t Shock Your Plants

shocked bean plantAfter waiting your turn for the shower, you finally get your chance. You turn on the water, adjust the temperature, and step under the warm spray… which suddenly turns freezing cold as the hot water heater runs out of water. Yikes!

We don’t enjoy a sudden dousing of icy water. Neither do our plants. They may not look startled (how does a bean plant look startled?), but the cold water abruptly chills the soil and slows their growth. Since our growing season here in Colorado is often too short to begin wth, pouring cold water on our plants is to be avoided.

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Wilted

I know July is summertime, but this is ridiculous. We live in Colorado at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Yet day after day the temperature climbs into the 90s (tomorrow’s forecast is for 97°). I always though we’re too high to be this hot!

bok-choy-bolting-home-2003jun30-lahAs I sit here in front of a fan, lemonade in hand, I can see my garden out the window. Of course the lettuce is bolting (as I mentioned last week). The cilantro is in full bloom, with delicate white flowers that attract a variety of beneficial insects. The bok choy is blooming too. Its bright yellow flowers of four petals arranged in the shape of a cross declare that it’s a crucifer, or mustard family member.

In this heat, keeping things watered is essential. Last week we had hours of rain. This week all that mud is baking into pottery. Mulches help, and the soil is still damp where a thick layer of straw shades it from the hot sun.

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Grow Veggies, Save Water

community-gardens-bearcreek-lah-003According to a recent report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, “Extreme drought conditions exist from Colorado Springs and Pueblo to the San Luis Valley and over most of the plains to the southeast of the big metro areas.”

If you live here, this isn’t exactly news. The fields are turning brown months early, wildflowers are small and sparse, and even the most aggressive weeds are wilting.

Living in the low-rainfall west, we’re used to gardening with minimal water. Xeriscaping is a household word, and basic principles of low-water gardening are widely available. (I’ve written several posts on it too—just type “xeriscape” into the search bar.)

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Winter Watering

_xg_20100316_lah_9826nefThe sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, the predicted high is well above freezing, and it’s been like that for months. Sounds like perfect weather—but not if you’re a plant. As I look out my window at my dormant garden, I can hear the plants crying for water. Everything is so dry! Desiccating winds have drained the last vestiges of moisture from exposed leaves and branches, and even the so-called evergreens are shriveled.

While the Midwest and Northeast get plenty of snow cover, and the Northwest gets rain all winter, Colorado gets neither. When the weather continues dry and windy, there needs to be enough water in the soil for our plants to replace what is lost to evaporation.

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