Winter Water Solution: Heated Birdbaths

House Finch_LaVeta-CO_LAH_2316_filteredI’m gazing out my frosted window at the birds in our backyard. In the four hours since sunrise, the thermometer has only climbed from 13 to 15 degrees. Tiny snowflakes waft down onto the deck and bird feeders. The predawn fog has frozen onto every twig and blade of grass, turning the landscape into a fairyland of hoar frost.

The birds—House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos, a few pigeon—are devouring my black-oil sunflower seeds as fast as their little beaks can crack the shells. A flicker has staked out the suet feeder. (I miss the nuthatches and chickadees from our old house, surrounded by pines.) But as popular as the feeders are, the birds are also flocking to my heated birdbath.

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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

Storm moving in_XG_20090826_LAH_9762.nef

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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Getting to the Root of the Matter

Phalenopsis orchid roots_DBG_LAH_6672We all know what roots are—they’re the part of the plant that’s usually underground. If we have a mental image, it’s probably a mass of wiggly, white strings poking their way through the soil. We should pay more attention to roots. After all, they’re an essential part of a plant (as well as the only part remaining after some hail storms!). Knowing a little about how roots work will make us more successful gardeners.

Before I get any further, I should point out that I’ll be talking about your average, every day root. Life is an amazing phenomena, so diverse that there are always exceptions. So let’s skip the orchids (left) and other epiphytes, and the mangroves and other plants with roots growing in water, and focus on our garden flowers, shrubs, and trees.

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Gardening Advice: Clearing Up a Few Misconceptions

Raised bed along walkway @DBG 2008jun26 LAH 106In my recent web-browsing, I’ve come across some garden advice that made me stop, blink, and yell loudly at my screen, “No, you idiot, that’s not true!” Since I didn’t want to be the only one yelling at my computer screen, I thought I’d share some of this sage advice with you, along with what I think about it. Besides, we’re all idiots until we learn better!

Don’t throw your eggshells away. They are great for the garden in so many ways! And they’re a cheap way to make diatomaceous earth. (Bugs don’t like it)

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