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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A Bucket of (water) Savings

Storm moving in_XG_20090826_LAH_9761Where’s the rain? Colorado, like much of the nation, is experiencing a severe drought. Last year brought us only half our average precipitation, and the preceding years haven’t been much better. Even the April storms we’ve had won’t eliminate the need for the water rationing that started April 1 here in Colorado Springs. Looking ahead to summer, we might be feeling a down. Who likes a brown lawn?

We garden for pleasure, to make our yards look attractive, or to provide fresh, healthy food that supplements what we buy at the grocery store. Farmers and ranchers, on the other hand, raise food for their livelihood—and so we’ll have something to buy at when we go shopping. A lack of water can be catastrophic, not only for their bank accounts, but for all of us who depend on their products.

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Feeding Hummers

broad-tailed-hummingbird_redrocksranch-hwy115-co_lah_3795Right on schedule, I hear the shrill whistle of a Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s wings. I’m writing this on May 1, and I just had my first tiny visitor of the season—on the exact same date as last year. I’d hung the feeder a few days ago, just in case, but not one bird stopped by until today. Amazing.

I’ve had a feeder outside my kitchen window every summer for about eight years now. One year, May 1 brought a heavy snowfall, with temperatures in the 20s and the wind whistling about the eaves. Surely the birds were snuggled somewhere safe and warm, I thought. Maybe most birds were, but at least one Broad-tail braved the storm to get to my feeder. If the hummingbirds are that eager (desperate?) to have a sugar water snack, the least I can do is offer what they expect.

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What Birds Want for Christmas

Dark-eyed Junco_LaVetaCO_20100320_LAH_0126Santa is making his list—what do birds want for Christmas? There are all sorts of recipes and projects that are meant for wild birds, but so often they’re actually meant to keep us birdwatchers entertained. No one asked the birds for their opinion.

If you really want to please the birds, how about…

A special treat to eat
One year I received a pine cone, cleverly rolled in suet and peanut butter, then in millet. The greasy mixture held (most of) the seed in place. It was adorned with a ribbon for hanging outside as a treat for the birds.

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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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Helping Birds Through the Winter

mountain-chickadee_blkforestco_20100324_lah_1150The tiny bird fluffs its feathers against the cold, while the north wind whips sleet into the pine branches surrounding its perch. With all water sources frozen, it has to use precious body warmth to melt the snow it eats. Last year’s crop of seeds is buried under a layer of white. Wild birds are amazingly hardy creatures, but even the sturdiest Mountain Chickadee (above) finds conditions like these a challenge.

There are a number of ways we can make our yards more hospitable to wintering birds. They need food, water, and shelter to survive. With increased urbanization, all three of these are becoming more scarce, so our efforts may make the difference in whether or not a bird survives until spring.

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Cottonwood Creek’s Xeriscape Garden

cottonwoodxg_lah_2470Successful gardening in Colorado means choosing plants well suited for our arid climate. Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) maintains two demonstration gardens, featuring beautiful perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees that are adapted to limited irrigation. Many people are aware of the large garden at the CSU headquarters on Mesa Road, overlooking Garden of the Gods. I wrote about it in April. But very few people are aware that there’s a second, smaller garden in front of the Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center at 3920  Dublin Blvd., just west of Rangewood Drive.

iris_cottonwoodxg_lah_2504While much more limited in scope, this garden provides plenty of inspiration for a homeowner seeking to conserve water and still enjoy a beautiful landscape. When I visited in mid-June, a large swath of Stella ’d Oro daylilies were in full bloom, their bright golden yellow accented by the soft lavender of the surrounding Walker’s Low Catmint. The colors were repeated in lovely deep blue irises, purple Jerusalem Sage, and pastel yellow Moonshine Yarrows and Pineleaf Penstemon.

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Xeriscaping: Just Enough Lawn

What would happen if you turned on the tap and no water came out? We are accustomed to having water on demand, but here in the west, the truth is that we are slowly running out. As communities grow, increased demand on both surface water and aquifers will eventually lead to rationing and other restrictions. In some places, that has already happened.

Since landscapes consume far more water than household use, your yard is the best place to conserve.

Lawns are the thirstiest part of most landscapes, so let’s start there. Frequently, homeowners plant turf because they don’t know what else to do, or because they’ve always done it that way. A wall-to-wall carpet of grass might work in Virginia, but is it appropriate in Colorado?

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