Archive for April, 2010

Valiant grapes, a hybrid that does well on the Front Range.

Planning to put in a few vines to sweeten your table or make into wine?  Growing grapes isn’t difficult to do, but to get bushels of succulent fruit, the secret is in planning. 

When growing grapes, the first season should be devoted to two things: getting strong root systems and setting up your trellis system.

Choose your planting location carefully, because grapes like it dry, but not too dry.  Put in a drip line that delivers water slowly, encouraging deep rooting.  If planting in sandy soil, more frequent water may be needed. 

Avoid planting grapes in the lawn.  Though they like it dry, they’ll also take all the water you give them; the result is vines that grow so rapidly they take over the neighborhood, snatching at anything that isn’t quick enough to move out of the way.  This is perfect if you have a rusty, old Buick to hide, but smothering to nearby plants. 

Plan ahead for supporting the vines and think long-term – pretty lattices and lightweight twine isn’t enough to hold a plant that can live 100 years or more.  Take it from me, these plants get heavy when they’re in fruit; one good wind and they tear from the wall, collapsing in a tangled heap of vine and crushed fruit.  Putting it back up is nigh-on impossible without a machete, a crane, and a spotter to ensure you come back alive.    

I’ve tried three types of trellising, and one thing I’m sure of is that grape arbors over seating areas are a recipe for disaster.  As grapes ripen, many vines shed the fruit, which falls on the furniture below.  Offer a seat to Aunt Bessie and she could end up with clusters under her keester if you’re not careful to clean up the fruit.

Instead of the arbor, go for the vineyard look with a heavy duty cable and turnbuckle system.  Cable and turnbuckle systems use 10 or 13 gauge galvanized wire or 1/8 inch wire rope fastened to posts.  The wire is fixed at one end and attached to a turnbuckle at the other, to take up slack as the wires are stretched over time.  Run two lengths of wire, 12 feet or longer, on sturdy posts, putting three feet between the upper and lower lines.  The lower line should be 18 inches from the ground.

Once your irrigation and trellising is installed, new grapes don’t need much attention the first year.  In following years the training begins to keep them well behaved in the garden.  For now, let the grapes ramble a bit, and lift stray vines away from places they shouldn’t be grabbing. 

Aurore grapes, so sweet the wasps won't leave them alone.

Here are some tips for those who want to get the most from their vines:

– Fertilize once in spring with a 10-10-10 solution.  First year grapes don’t need to be fed at all.

– Protect fruit from animals by netting the entire plant.  Stake the netting to the ground at each end and cinch together along the underside of the vines. 

– Remove weeds from around the roots.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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A rainy day in Colorado is a rare thing, at least, rare enough that I revel in them whenever they happen.  This week we’ve had a few storms blow through, soaking the ground and coaxing the worms up out of their burrows. 

The sight of the worms inching along sidewalks is a welcome one, and strolling into my office I swerved my feet around them to keep from trampling them.  But then one caught my eye; it didn’t look like the rest.  It was gray instead of russet, the belly flattened out like a plate.  It wasn’t hard to tell the front from the back, since it sported a pair of tentacles. 

It was a slug.  A big, slimy garden slug, and it wasn’t alone.  Glancing around, I spotted at least a dozen more of these beasts, oozing their way across the concrete.  As an entomologist confronted with such a creature, I uttered a technical term we like to use: “Eeewww.” 

Having voiced my fear, I went inside the office and ignored the gathering horror outside.  Slugs disappear if you pretend they aren’t out there.

But more rainsqualls came through last night and today I discovered that, like gastropodal puppies, the slugs had followed me home.  Gliding across the driveway, sliming the sidewalk, the slugs were everywhere I looked while frenetic Alfred Hitchcock music pounded through my head.

Clearly they aren’t limited to the vegetable garden, which is the only location I’ve battled the beasts.  They’re overrunning the perennials and beaching themselves on the bulbs, oozing around the front yard and scaling the back fence.  The only place I didn’t find them was on the bindweed choking the lawn, which makes sense because invading monsters rarely cozy up to one another.

  In a panic, I reached for the heavy artillery – beer and pans to pour it in.  Crooning a “come and get it,” at the creatures I dispensed this liquid like a bartender on St. Patrick’s day, moving from customer to slimy customer with a smile pasted on my face.

With luck they’ll belly up to the beer, where they’ll plunge headlong into the fermented beverage and drown my sorrows.  I’ll know how successful I am tonight when I get home to check the pans.

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The cloud of dust on the horizon tomorrow isn’t from an Icelandic volcano.  And the army that makes it isn’t dressed in cammo.  They don’t need to; when you get coated in mud and plant parts from a garden installation, camouflage comes to you.  

 If you happen to see convoys with trees, mulch, stone or soil roll by, remain calm.  The big activity taking place along the Front Range is a labor of love by the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, in a one-day build of three gardens to help those in need.  In Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs, 80 ALCC members are donating their time and skills as part of the Professional Landcare Network’s National Day of Service.  

2009 ALCC Day of Service volunteers


In Fort Collins, 40 ALCC members will build A Garden of Hope at the Food Bank for Larimer County, 1301 Blue Spruce Drive.  Designing, excavating, building, and planting in one day, the garden includes eight raised timber beds with drip irrigation for vegetables, a pergola and seating area, and a perennial garden of Colorado native shrubs, trees, and flowers. 

 All the food grown at the Food Bank will be utilized in Kids Cafe meals and distributed in the Food Share pantry to clients and in Food Link to the Food Bank’s 70 member agencies. 

  To the south, 15 ALCC members are redesigning and renovating landscape of the non-profit Mission Medical Clinic in Colorado Springs, 2125 E. LaSalle St.  Mission Medical Clinic provides health services to low-income adult residents of El Paso and Teller counties without health insurance.  

And in Denver, 25 members are volunteering to redesign and renovate play areas at KidStreet, a rehabilitation center operated by Children’s Hospital, 3615 Martin Luther King Blvd.  KidStreet provides nursing and rehabilitative services to infants and young children, six weeks to four years of age, with complex medical needs.  Playing and interacting with other children is an important part of their day, so to keep them safe and accommodate their medical needs, the design will utilize materials that minimize dust, such as cobblestone in place of bark mulch, or plants that don’t attract bees (to minimize exposure to bee stings). 

These projects are part of 355 community service projects happening on April 22 when the landscape industry nationwide comes together to serve local communities. The 2010 National Day of Service is the second annual event sponsored by PLANET—Professional Landcare Network and its state partners, including ALCC.    

The ALCC volunteers will provide free labor and will install irrigation, rock, mulch, timber beds, plants, fencing, and a pergola. Behind the scenes, garden materials will be provided for free by local industry suppliers. 

So if you see a hard-working Green Industry member tomorrow, take a moment and thank them for their help.

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When you think of the hallmark of spring, does your blood boil with the desire to wipe it off the face of the lawn?  For too many people seeing the first, cheerful blossoms of the dandelion the answer is “yes.”

Rethink your rage by learning more about this lowly lawn weed at the Dandelion Festival, Saturday, April 24, at the Bandshell on the corner of Broadway and Canyon in Boulder.  “It’s a yellow day, a way to enjoy spring,” says co-organizer Deb Sanders, “we want to help people walk the eco-talk and support businesses that use green practices.” 

Through food, music, and seminars, the festival aims to make Boulder a dandelion-friendly city by focusing on its benefits and deliciousness.  Vendors offer everything from recipes to eco-friendly gardening advice on controlling weeds by natural selection.

“We focus on sustainable lawn care,” Sanders said, noting that organizers aren’t out to get rid of lawns, just help people understand how to manage them organically.  “Lawns are lovely, they’re good at pulling carbon from the atmosphere and nice for kids and pets to play on.  So let’s have healthy ones.”

Sponsored by the Citizens for Pesticide Reform, a branch of the Rocky Mountain Center for Peace and Justice, the dandelion festival is education in a fun, festive way, says Betty Ball, co-administrator for the Center. “We’re trying to have an impact on lessening the amount of pesticides used.  People think it’s a sign of healthy lawn to be dandelion-free, but pesticides aren’t safe.”

Once word spread that a festival was in the works, huge interest from the community surfaced, with people requesting space to share their expertise in celebrating plants most people loathe.

“The idea that dandelions are enemies and we should spray them harms the planet,” says Keynote speaker Brigitte Mars, herbalist and author of the Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, “they feed insects, animals, and people.”  Mars will be speaking on the value of wild, edible, and medicinal weeds.

“The whole idea is to rethink the American lawn, which uses water we don’t have.  There’s a rumor that dandelions kill lawns, which stems from grass dying off from a lack of water, and only dandelions survive.  People think that they killed the lawn, but they didn’t.  They just don’t need lots of water or fertilizer to survive,” Mars said.

Sanders understands many hate this charming lawn invader.  “Many people dislike them, so if you really want that war, do hand combat.  There are really great tools that are therapeutic to jab into the ground, pull and grab that weed up.”  Hot, boiling water poured into sidewalk cracks stems the encroachment of the weed, she said, as well as concoctions made from soaps. 

To learn tips like these and recipes that spell dandelion doom, the festival offers short classes on how to keep your yard pesticide-free.  But the big focus is on how to use it as part of your culinary garden, which at my house, is one way to ensure that a plant won’t grow – the minute I want it to, it gets fussy.

Dishing up dandelions, festival sponsors and Boulder Farmer’s Market vendors will feature quiche, pupusas, dandelion blossom fritters, cookies, and soda made with dandelion and burdock root.  Acoustic music by Kimmerjae Johnson, Harper Phillips and Choosing June is scheduled throughout the day,

The bottom line is that “this is just a really great day,” says Ball, “dandelions are beautiful, fun.  Kids like to make chains to wear as crowns.”  So pick some for yourself and a friend, braid them into a crown and head on down to the Dandelion Festival.

If you go: 

What:  Dandelion Festival

When:  Saturday, April 24, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where:  The Bandshell, Broadway and Canyon, Boulder.

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Having a planting plan can really crimp your style, especially if you’re a plant person with a shopping problem.  Though being organized enough to know what you need to go out and get is soothing, there’s little room for disguising the purchases you made on a spur of the moment.

Which is what I’m going to have to figure out how to do now that I’ve seen the new Plant Select plants for 2010.  Old friends and new have made this year’s list of hardy plants that thrive in the Rocky Mountain west.

Developed by the Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado State University, and members of GreenCo (the green industries of Colorado), Plant Select has been testing and offering gorgeous selections from across the globe that are suited for our harsh sun and dry conditions.  Each year several new introductions earn the moniker of this prestigious plant program, with the 2010 offerings arriving in local gardens centers.

If you’re shopping for something to set your garden apart, check out these plants:

Snow Mesa buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii), is a tough little plant that would do well under the tender care I dish out to the garden – neglect.  Growing 18 to 20 inches tall and wide, the plant tag suggests putting it in lean soil, unenriched by compost or fertilizers.  Keep this xeric plant dry and you’ll be rewarded with blooms from August to November.  As the snowy white flowers age through fall, they turn russet, punctuating the garden with delighterful color.  Zones 4 – 9.

Hockey fans wanting a bit of fun in summer should pop in Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), a hummingbird magnet sure to give your backyard all the action of the NHL.   Whizzing along at top speeds and bouncing off each other in their haste to get to the blooms, hummingbirds find this native of Texas and Mexico an irresistible draw.

 Arching, evergreen sword-like leaves are topped by towering spikes of brilliant rose-pink flowers.  Plant this in a drier location of your garden where the birds have room to fly; once it’s established it needs and occasional deep watering to keep it thriving.  Zones 5 – 10.

 If you need a plant that stops passersby, look for Red Feathers (Echium amoenum), a petite, four-inch tall plant that knows how to put on a show.  Lifting rust-red flower spires on 14-inch stalks, Red Feathers will bloom over and over if deadheaded after the first spring display.  Zones 3 – 9.

Tow-toned Prairie Lode Sundrops (Calylophus serrulatus ’Prairie Lode’) is a prairie native that lights up drier parts of the garden.  Unfurling from orange buds, the yellow flowers cloak the plant throughout the summer, providing a steady show of color from May through September.  Perfect for sun or part shade, Prairie Lode prefers lean soil and drier conditions.  Zones 3 – 9.

Garden spaces crying out for groundcover are the ideal spot for Partridge Feather (Tanacetum densum ssp. Amani), a silver creeper that slowly but surely will cover a two-foot area.  Soft leaves make petting this plant hard to resist; put it in the hottest sun-filled spot in the yard.  Zones 4 – 9.

These plants and more can be found at local retailers. 

This post was previously published in the Boulder Camera, Longmont Times-Call, and Loveland Reporter-Herald.

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 April is such a thorny month.  Just as we’re getting through our taxes it’s time to prune the roses.  Between the two, I’ll take the rose; if something’s going to stick it to me I’d rather it be a plant, instead of the tax man.

When you need a break from the write-offs and deductions, head out to the garden.  Cutting back the large, thorn-filled excess of last year is the perfect way to de-stress from filling out those forms.

 Winter takes its toll on roses in our area, and because we don’t cap them as they do in eastern areas, the canes die back, leaving us to clip off the dead parts in the spring.  Timing of pruning is crucial to success, because every snip stimulates new growth, leaving it vulnerable to killing frosts.  Waiting until two weeks before the last average hard frost helps cheat the weather.

 The tools you need are few:  hand pruners, loppers for the big canes, heavy gloves, and for really thorny roses, a first aid kit with a tourniquet.  Pruning varies with different rose types, but plan on cutting back hybrid teas and grandifloras every year. 

Once you’ve gathered your tools, approach your rose, looking it over for dead or diseased canes first.  Remove these, then focus on shape.  When pruning roses, always make your cut at a 30 to 45-degree angle, clipping it one-quarter-inch above a live bud.

 Most canes will have a blush of green where there’s live wood; prune the cane back one-half-inch into the green.  Don’t be alarmed if there are only a few inches of green on the canes, this is normal in years when winter is harsh.

Be aware that some older canes or roses with bronze stems may look brown instead of green.  Clip these from the top down, cutting off a smaller portion of the cane each time you snip to check the interior of signs of life (a white center and green inner bark).

Your goal is to prune back the canes to shape the plant, making sure that the center is open to allow light and air to your rose.  Where possible, make your pruning cut above an outward facing bud, so the plant grows out, not in on itself.

 Miniatures, floribundas, and polyanthas are hardier plants that don’t always suffer damage from winter kill.  Check them yearly, pruning off dead and damaged wood, then shape them if needed.

 Climbing roses are more of a challenge; they are often left to grow without training, and canes intertwine.  Shaping them is usually not necessary, but as canes get older they may become unproductive or die.  Alert your family that you’ll be attempting to remove these large canes that are enmeshed with the rest of the plant; they’ll have the bandages ready after your work is done.

Once this task is complete, you can return to bonding with the IRS.  Just tell your friends you got all of those scratches from the tax man.

This post previously appreared in the Longmont Ledger.

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Sad news on the gardening front, folks:  last Friday, April 2, the Geo. W. Park Seed Company, Inc., and the Jackson & Perkins Company voluntarily filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of South Carolina.

 The 142-year old Park Seed Company offers ornamental and edible seeds and plants, while the 138-year-old Jackson & Perkins is a global name in roses.  Park Seed Wholesale, also listed in the filing, has been providing retailers and growers with products since 1870. 

According to their press release, “The horticulture industry is challenging and highly seasonal in the best of times. As the general economic situation declined starting in 2008, demand for luxury, non-essential purchases dropped sharply. All of our brands experienced significant decreases in sales for core products, including roses, perennials, and garden-inspired gifts.

“This created cash-flow issues that worsened with each passing season. Despite deep cost-cutting and numerous attempts to execute supplier payment programs on our own, we simply could not meet our short- and long-term operating cash requirements. Seeking court protection and restructuring is clearly our best option for returning to a position where we can focus on delighting our customers and resuming sound relationships with our supply chain partners.”

The companies contend that through the process they will be able to keep gardens blooming.  Customers should not be affected by the filing, so if you’ve been mulling purchases you should still plan on ordering. Their garden centers, call centers, and websites are open.

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 Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

If you’re distracted around friends or unable to focus at work, you’re probably a gardener.  The new varieties and excitement of the coming season make us poor company at this time of year, and my advice to your friends and employers is:  you’ll just have to wait it out. 

 We’re dreaming of blooms and butterflies instead of paying attention in meetings, creating planting plans instead of reports, and we keep getting startled by people snapping fingers and asking “Hey, are you listening?” 

 The answer is no.  We’re wishing the meeting would end, so we can get back to important things like searching for special varieties and getting our seeds started on schedule. 

The warm weather does nothing but distract us, and everywhere we look, we see advertising or articles that fuel our obsession.  Browse a seed catalog and you’ll find a cornucopia of vegetables promising to make your table the talk of the summer.  Visit a store – even for groceries – and you’re staring at displays seducing you to buy seedlings and soil amendments.

Take a peek a few new vegetables driving me crazy this season, and you’ll understand why obsession is growing:    

Caraflex cabbage, a mini in the garden, perfect for slaws or smaller appetites.  But the best part is that these tiny cabbages grow like a teardrop, so shape and flavor make eating them fun.

– ‘Spanish Padron,’ are hard-to-find, one-bite little peppers, that make throwing a Spanish-style Tapas party easy.  This vigorous little bush produces an abundance of spicy peppers you can toss in salads or skewer for kabobs.

–  ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers are both sweet and savory. The fruit are petite bell peppers about 2-inches by 3-inches with 3 or 4 lobes. Early to mature, harvests start for green peppers 60 days after transplanting into your garden. If left on the plant, fruit will change color from green to scarlet and finish a beautiful red. ‘Cajun Belle’ plants are high yielders, growing vigorously and with excellent fruit set. Try these compact plants in containers; they only get two-feet tall and wide.

–  ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrots, are a unique purple on the outside and orange on the inside. It has characteristics of both Nantes and Imperator type carrots, growing 6 to 7 inch long roots. But these carrots aren’t all show – nutrition fans will love their high antioxidants and vitamins.

–  Golden Sweet Pea is a must-have for me.  A vining pea, the edible pods are lemon yellow.  Adding to their sweet flavor is the bonus of beauty:  the vines sport two-toned purple flowers that, along with the yellow pods, will be a stunner in the garden.

–  ‘Hansel’ eggplant, an All-America Selection widely available at local retailers, lives up to its promise of big yields of finger-sized fruit.  If your summer gets away from you and you forget to pick the young eggplant, don’t worry – the secret to this plant is in its tender sweetness, which remains even if the fruit gets bigger.

For smaller spaces crying out for containers, Renee’s Gardens has Sweetie Baby Romaine lettuce, a compact, delicious lettuce that’s perfect for patios.  Put your container in a dapple shade area; though this lettuce is slow to bolt, our sun could still be too intense.

Increase your garden this year, and you’ll be delighted to join the ranks of the rest of us:  distracted, obsessed, and unable to focus.  On anything other than gardening, that is.

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