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Green Thumb Guidance - Spring into the Bulb Game

by Cory Dudley

 

It's hard to believe we are in the last weeks of summer here in Colorado and I know our gardens (and people) are tired and ready for the cooler days.  However, hang on to some of that energy to plan and plant for next spring!  Fall is the best time to plant your bulbs for that pop of color in the spring!  Visit your local nursery for a variety of different bulbs you can use in your yard - my favorite is The Flower Bin or order online from High Country Gardens.  For now, here are a few bulb planting tips.

 


 

Selection

There are some many different types of bulbs, from giant crocus to Dutch tulips, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes - so choose your favorites!  Pay attention to the bulb when you selecting the ones for your yard.  Bulbs should be big, plump and health with little brown spots that show damage and mold.  You definitely get what you pay for when it comes to bulbs so it’s best to individually pick out bulbs rather than large pre-selected bags.  Remember to get a lot of them!  It’s best to plant 50+ of one kind all together to make a visual statement.  Try not to get to many varieties it will look polka dotted and not thought out.

Some of my favorite varieties include: Tricolor Crocus Wild Crocus, Cheerfulness Double Daffodil, Purple Sensation Allium and Double Late Tulip.

 


 

Location

 

Choose an area that is sunny to plant your bulbs.  It’s important to remember that even in early spring there can be sun under a deciduous tree that has not gained it’s leaves yet and could be an ideal spot for planting.  Avoid planting in areas right near driveways where you might be shoveling your snow.  Plant in masses or drifts to have the most impact.  Most bulbs have smaller flowers so plant plenty of them together to add that pop of color in your yard.  Add them to areas where you see the most - near your front door, walkways or your rock garden.

 

 

 

How

Plant bulbs in September or October so they have a chance to establish before the ground freezes.  Plant your bulbs in loose, well drained soil that has been amended with an organic soil and add phosphorus at a rate of ½ lb per 100 sf of 0-46-0 fertilizer to help establish rooting.  Pay attention to the specific directions based on the bulb type you selected for planting but in general, plant 3-4x the bulb height with pointy side up.  You can either individually plant each bulb in a hole, or dig out a drift area that you can plant 50+ bulbs at the same time.  Make sure to water in your bulbs after covering with soil and you can cover with 3” of wood mulch for winter protection.  Remember to mark the areas where you planted your spring blooming bulbs to not disrupt them when planting other plants.

After you have had your bulbs for 2 years, sometimes the blooms do not produce the same and results in a smaller flowers.  This is when you can divide and transplant to other areas in your yard.

Keep ahead of the planting game and add bulbs this fall to add that bright pop of color in the spring.  I guarantee that after a cold grey winter, these flowers will truly brighten your yard and make your property stand out.

 

 

Kristen Whitehead, owner of Helios Landscape Design, writes featured blog posts for our monthly newsletter on everything plant-related! She's happy to guide you in your next garden design effort.

 

 

Kristen Whitehead, owner of Helios Landscape Design, writes featured blog posts for our monthly newsletter on everything plant-related! She's happy to guide you in your next garden design effort.

Green Thumb Guidance - 7 Steps to Xeriscape Gardening

by Cory Dudley

 

Xeriscape (pronounced zera-scape) is a coined term from the Denver Water Department, Colorado State University and Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado used to describe landscaping with water conservation as the main objective.  Xeriscape is a term from the origin “xeros” meaning dry.  Water conservation in the western states has been very important in recent years.  It is thought that 50% of all household water is used for irrigation of turf and plant areas.  Unfortunately, many people think ZEROscaping and rip out all of their sod and replace with a sea of rock.  This is NOT xeric and will create a hotter environment and damage your plants. 

With careful planning, implementation and maintenance you can have a stunning low water landscape!

 

 

  1. Plan - Before you do any landscape improvements you want to first think of a plan.  Take an inventory of the existing site: where are there the greatest exposures to sun?  Are there any slopes?  What are the existing plants and materials?  You can come up with a plan to place certain plants to reduce the amount of water needed in your yard.  You don’t have to rip out your entire landscape, just be mindful of what you can keep and add to improve your site.

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Plan Example2.JPG

 

  1. Soil - Colorado tends to have very heavy clay soil that is not a suitable medium for plant growth.  Typically, the clay soil is so dense that water will easily runoff and the plants will not be able to use it.  Add organic matter to improve the nutrient and water holding capacity.  When you are adding a new turf area, take the time to till and amend the soil using good organic matter before you plant - your plants will thank you for this and you will be able to use less water.  Keep water on your site by creating gentle swales with the soil.  This will add interest to you yard while reducing runoff. 

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  1. Turf -  The traditional kentucky bluegrass lawn is the biggest water waster and most time consuming when it comes to maintenance.  Avoid planting narrow strips of grass, islands of grass and lawns against your home - these shapes are hard to water efficiently.  If it’s important for you to have a space to kick the ball around, just be mindful of how much grass you need and the size and shape to reduce the amount of water needed.  There are many low water grasses out there as an alternative to the traditional: CSU Extension: Ornamental Grasses – 7.232  

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  1. Water - A properly installed irrigation system can dramatically reduce in your water bill.  Use your landscape plan to mark out where the sprinkler system should go based on your plant’s water needs.  For trees, shrubs and perennials, it’s best to have a drip line so the plant gets the proper amount of irrigation directly to the root ball with less evaporation. Make sure your turf areas have the correct amount spray and are not overlapping onto sidewalks and hard surfaces - this will lead to a huge amount of water waste.  Water timers, water sensors and rain gauges are just a few examples of technology used with your irrigation system that can help efficiently water your yard.  Hire a professional irrigation designer to modify your current system or install a new one to efficiently water your landscape.

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  1. Plants - Proper plant selection and placement is key to a successful yard.  Use low water plants for our Colorado climate that have been carefully selected for their ability to flourish in your yard with limited amounts of water.  Check out Plant Select to discover beautiful plants that will thrive in your yard.

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  1. Mulch - Properly mulched yards can improved the soil, reduce the weeds and reduce water useage.  Adding organic material to improve the soil and adding a 3”-4” layer of wood chips looks beautiful but will also break down and improve the nutrient content of the soil.  Adding wood mulch around your trees and shrubs will cool the surrounding areas and help reduce evaporation when you water your plants.  If weeds are a major concern in your yard, add weed barrier fabric and a layer of mulch on top.  Decorative rock can also be used in high wind areas but can increase the surrounding temperature.

  1. Maintenance - Maintenance is required to keep your xeriscape garden happy and healthy.  Pruning and weeding will be needed in garden beds to maintain the health of your plants. When mowing your lawn, grass clippings can be mulched in your grass to add back nutrients.  It is important to water your new xeric plants until they get established - usually about 1-2 years.  Use organic maintenance methods to improve the soil, keep beneficial insects and reduce runoff waste in your area.

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It’s important to conserve our precious resource here along the Colorado Front Range but it’s also important to have a beautiful landscape that you love and can enjoy.  These steps will help you cut your water bill and help improve the environment around you. Check out your favorite local nursery for material and plant ideas and for more inspiration the Denver Botanic Gardens and Plant Select.

 

 

 

Kristen Whitehead, owner of Helios Landscape Design, writes featured blog posts for our monthly newsletter on everything plant-related! She's happy to guide you in your next garden design effort.

 

 

 

Green Thumb Guidance - Building Soil Compost 101

by Cory Dudley

 


 

Compost is the black gold for our landscapes. Compost is a simple way to add nutrients to your soil and fuel for plant growth. This black gold is the breakdown of organic matter into an end product of rich, humus, material that can be used in your yard. Compost is a great way to reduce waste in the landfill, reuse your organic materials and build your soil.

Broken down organic material adds nutrients back to the soil much like a fertilizer you would purchase - except this is something you created! Soil with added compost retains moisture, adds oxygen and breaks up the tough soil we have here in Colorado.

According to EPA, “Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead”. Homeowners have a lot of excess organic matter including: kitchen scraps, leaf piles and plant debris. Instead of adding this into your trash bin, (which won’t break down in the landfill) this can be recycled in your backyard and turned into a valuable source of life and nutrients for your plants. If done right, the compost bin won’t smell bad or take a lot of work.

The Breakdown Microbes are working hard to chomp down that organic material. The heat generated from the compost pile allows these hardworking microbes to thrive. It’s important to have the right carbon (brown) to nitrogen (green) ratio in your compost bin. Try to add roughly ⅔ brown material to ⅓ green material.

Brown materials (carbon) include:

- Dried leaves

- Hay

- Wood shavings

- Straw

- Shredded paper

- Woody twigs <¼” in diameter

- Hair or dryer lint

- Coffee grounds and filters

- Tea bags

 

Green materials (nitrogen) include:

- Fresh plant trimmings

- Fruit and vegetable scraps

- Eggshells

- Fish or blood meal

 

Avoid:

- Meat

- Dairy

- Dog or cat feces

- Wood Ashes

- Weeds

- Large fruit stones

 

 

Requirements

Like most living things, the microbes in your compost pile require appropriate temperature, moisture and nutrients.

- Create a pile or bin about 3’x3’. Piles smaller in size will not insulate the hard working microbe population enough to raise the temperature to 130-150 degrees necessary to kill seeds. There are many ways to create a compost bin: wood pallets, wire mesh, plastic pre-made bins, etc.

- A good compost pile should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Keep the pile hydrated and cover if needed to retain moisture. Select a location in your yard for your compost pile that is partially shady to help with moisture retention.

- Add the “green” and “brown” in layers no more than 6” thick. Think of it as a compost lasagna (yum!). Keep adding this material to maintain the right carbon to nitrogen ratio.

If you want to speed up the breakdown of materials in your compost pile, turn the materials occasionally with a fork to supply oxygen to the pile. Your compost is ready to use in your yard once the materials have broken down into a dark, rich, organic material. It should smell nice and earthy. Your plants will love you when you add this black gold to your landscape.

 

 

For more information on backyard composting, I recommend Gaia's Garden, A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway and CSU Extension, Composting Yard Waste Fact Sheet.

If you don’t have space for your own compost bin I’ve got news! Longmont has gone “Loco for Composting”! This spring, Longmont has introduced curbside composting for your convenience to dispose of all your yard and kitchen waste. This is a new addition to cutting down waste in our communities and the landfills by creating compost we can get back and use in our own yards. City curbside collects anything in a basic compost pile but also collects things you generally wouldn’t compost yourself: meat, dairy products, pizza boxes, compostable plastics and larger yard debri. Check out LOCO for Composting to sign up and for more information.

 

 

Kristen Whitehead, owner of Helios Landscape Design, writes featured blog posts for our monthly newsletter on everything plant-related! She's happy to guide you in your next garden design effort. 

 

Green Thumb Guidance - Working with Winter

by Cory Dudley

 

We have only about 5 weeks until the vernal equinox - SPRING!  

I know everyone is getting excited about the warm days, vibrant flowers and vegetable gardens but now is a good time to take a look at what’s working in your yard during the winter and plan out what to install during the warmer months.  Does your yard look brown, dull and windblown?  It doesn’t have to during the winter.  Now is the time to see where you might want to add some evergreen texture, maybe some boulders or even a bird bath.  I think your landscape should always compliment how beautiful your home is no matter what time of year. 

Here are a few ideas for ways to add interesting elements in your garden for year round:

 

Evergreen Texture

 

It’s all in the name.  If you were to go outside now, what colors would you see?  Adding a simple creeping juniper like Prince of Wales Juniper (only 4” tall - don’t worry) or anchor the corner of your home something fun like a Weeping White Spruce.  Try adding a Hoopsii Spruce on the North West corner of your lot.  This tree will not only add wind protection but it has a beautiful blue color like a traditional Colorado Blue Spruce without the overgrown size.

 

Wildlife

Bring life to your yard by planting native species for shelter and food for birds and other critters.  Trees such as Rocky Mountain Juniper, mountain ash, pinyon pines and plums provide food and cover.  Chokecherries, snowberries, sumacs and serviceberries are examples of native shrubs that also provide the necessities for birds.  A mix of deciduous and evergreen plants provide great habitat.  If you also have the opportunity to provide water, you will most certainly attract many more critters for your landscape.

 

 

What else

Take a look at your hardscape. How can this be improved and complement your home?  A stone pathway versus a broken concrete path can definitely make a difference in how your guests feel when they approach your home.  Add hardscape elements that match the stone or brick on you house.  This could be a paver wall, stone steppers or even some interesting landscape boulders that can make a dramatic change and will be especially noticeable in the winter and only be enhanced in the summer by the growth.

 

 

Colorado is known for having over 300 days a year of sunshine and if you’re like me, I want to be outside as much as possible.  Now is the time to notice these different elements in your yard and plan to love your yard all year round....

 

 

Kristen Whitehead, owner of Helios Landscape Design, writes featured blog posts for our monthly newsletter on everything plant-related! She's happy to guide you in your next garden design effort.

 

 

 

Kristen Whitehead, owner of Helios Landscape Design, shares with us 10 things we can all be doing to prepare our landscapes for the winter months... Take advantage of this unusually late snow-season and get to the garden while you can!

 

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With all of these 70 degree days that we have had recently, it makes it hard to believe we will be sitting down for Thanksgiving Dinner in a couple of weeks.  If you have not already been preparing your garden for winter and planning for next growing season, there is still time - probably while wearing your shorts!  Here are 10 things to think about when preparing your landscape for Winter....

 

Debris Cleanup

After the first hard frost, you will notice the foliage start to die off.  There are two ways of taking care of your perennials before winter.  One approach is to trim back all of your perennials and remove dead material as long as you layer at least 3 inches of mulch around the plants.  The other approach is to allow the dying leaves and stems to break down through the Winter and remove them in the Spring.

 

 

Winter Water

Some Colorado Winter’s can be especially dry with little snowfall in January and February.  It is important to keep your plants hydrated.  Prepare to provide trees and shrubs water below their dripline one or two times during a dry spell.

 

Irrigation

Remember to blow out your sprinkler system if you have not already and make sure to unscrew your hoses from the taps.  It is easy enough to bring the garden hose back out in the winter to water, as long as the temperature is above freezing.

 

 

Tree Wrap

Recently planted deciduous trees (1-3 years planted) need to be wrapped in crepe type tree wrap.  Tree wrap is designed to protect the thin bark from sunscald that can cause the trunk to crack.  Be sure to remove in April to avoid girdling of the bark. Tree wrap can be purchased at any local gardening shop.

 

Prepare soil

Adding good organic compost material to your garden beds will do wonders for your landscape’s next growing season.  Mixing this compost with your existing soil will provide the nutrients for your plants next year.  Be sure to add 3-4” of wood mulch on top of that compost to help keep in moisture and block out sunlight for pesky weeds.

 

 

Lawn

Fall is the right time to core aerate.  Aerating allows the oxygen to get to the lawn’s compacted roots.  You can also fertilize to improve lawn growth next season, however, carefully read the labels before applying.  Early to mid Fall is a great time to overseed your lawn with drought tolerant grass seed.  It is a little late now, so plan for overseeding next Spring.

 

Plant & Transplant

Fall and Winter are one of the best times to plant trees and shrubs.  At this time, the plants are dormant and have all of their energy focused on root growth.  Planting at this time will give the new or transplanted plant a better start for the spring.

 

 

Wildlife

The winter is a tough time for our outdoor critters.  Provide a bird feeder or heated bird bath to maintain the animals in your backyard.  Dead stalks, leaves and seedheads provide food and shelter.  Plants such as sunflowers, black-eyed susans and marigolds can be a food source for our backyard wildlife.

 

 

Winter Interest

Plant flowers such as pansies or ornamental kale in your garden to add a pop of color.  If you have any ornamental grasses, wait to cut those back in the Spring when you start to see the new growth.  Letting the taller grasses blow in the wind gives your garden Winter interest.

 

Plan

Begin planning the changes you would like to see in your landscape before the Spring comes.  Now is a good time to reflect on which plants and spaces you loved and did not love.  How would you like to be able to use your yard better?  Planning out your yard now gives you the time in the Spring and Summer to be able to enjoy your efforts.

 

 

For more information, check out CSU’s extension website http://extension.colostate.edu in the Yard & Garden tab.  Also, contact Kristen Whitehead at helioslandscapes@gmail.com

 

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