Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Valentine's Day - Say it with Flowers and Plants

Garden Friend - I thought you might like to read my recent garden article that ran in The Denver Post about celebrating Valentine's Day.

Link to The Denver Post article, click HERE. The full article is below.

The origins of Valentine’s Day and the messages behind gifts of bouquets

You can’t go wrong sending roses for Valentine’s Day, but other cut flowers, even plants, score meaningful points, too

Yellow roses -- which once represented greed and jealousy -- now offer good health, joy and friendship. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Yellow roses — which once represented greed and jealousy — now offer good health, joy and friendship. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Combine luck, legend, romance, gift-giving, flowers and the beginning of the bird mating season and you have Valentine’s Day covered.

Giving a loved one yellow tulips indicate there is sunshine in your smile. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Giving a loved one yellow tulips indicate there is sunshine in your smile. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Each February, writers and bloggers delight in offering facts and myths about the day’s origins and traditions. Many stories trace it back to ancient Turkey and Rome, with religious origins and some folk legends tossed in.

  • In the third century AD, a Catholic bishop named Valentine defied a ban on marriage by Roman Emperor Claudius II and continued performing ceremonies in secret. Evidently, the emperor felt that single men made better soldiers. When Claudius found out about Valentine’s defiance, he had the bishop put to death (probably by one of the single guys). Valentine was declared a saint by the church sometime later.
  • The ancient Romans observed Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival held Feb. 13-15 and dedicated to the Roman god of Agriculture, Faunus. After a full day of animal sacrifices, women placed their names in an urn and had their names drawn by the bachelors. Either the couples ended up in marriage or tried their luck again the following February. In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I banned Lupercalia for its un-Christian-like practices, and renamed Feb. 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
  • Who can forget the commencement of the bird-mating season in mid-February, first written about by four English authors? The most famous, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote “Parliament of the Fowls” in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Charles IV, in 1382. “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day, when every fowl comes there his mate to take … .”
  • Perhaps the oldest known surviving Valentine’s Day poem was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the battle of Agincourt between the English and the French. (“I’m already wearied by love, my very sweet Valentine.”) You can see and read in person his affectionate poem in the British Library in London. Today, there are over 145 million Valentine’s Day cards exchanged each year worldwide. E-Valentines are gaining in popularity.  (Sorry, they’re just not the same as handwritten cards in my book.)

Flowers and plants

Cut flowers, roses and all the various types of bouquets and plants surely are the true measure of one’s feelings toward another, aren’t they? In the early 1700s, Charles II of Sweden introduced floriography — the language of flowers — into European culture where entire sentiments, practically whole conversations, could take place based on the type of flowers that were exchanged. Floriography dictionaries written in the 1800s included symbolic meaning assigned to flower colors, scents and medicinal qualities.

As a gift, orchids communicate delicate beauty, charm and love. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
As a gift, orchids communicate delicate beauty, charm and love. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Imagine using flowers instead of emojis to represent almost any kind of sentiment you’d like to convey. The red rose takes top billing as the symbol of beauty and love. Pink roses are a close second, signifying appreciation, gratitude and happiness. White roses are associated with marriage, new beginnings and purity. Orange roses are for passion, fascination and enthusiasm, while yellow roses — which once represented greed and jealousy — now offer good health, joy and friendship.

You can’t go wrong sending roses for Valentine’s Day, but other cut flowers, even plants, score meaningful points, too. Primroses say “I can’t live without you,” while orchids communicate delicate beauty, charm and love. Forget-me-nots are synonymous with, well you know. Blue hyacinths suggest constancy of love, while yellow tulips indicate there is sunshine in your smile.

Giving someone basil, the main ingredient in pesto, can mean hatred. (No worries, in other circles basil means well wishes.) (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Giving someone basil, the main ingredient in pesto, can mean hatred. (No worries, in other circles basil means well wishes.) (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Flowers and plants can evoke negativity, too. Give someone a lavender plant to say you don’t trust them or you’re devoted to them (your choice). Willows indicate sadness, while a narcissus means you’re selfish or your love is unrequited. Be careful with what you bring to a potluck: Basil, the main ingredient in pesto, can mean hatred. (No worries, in other circles basil means well wishes.)

If you’re concerned about sending the wrong message, Forrest Gump might suggest a box of chocolates.

 Denver, CO - MARCH 15: Denver Post garden contributor Betty Cahill demonstrates how to properly divide and move plants for this week's DPTV gardening tutorial.  Plants are divided or moved because they are overgrown, overcrowded, lack vigor or are in the wrong place. Spring is the best time to move summer and fall blooming plants. (Photo by Lindsay Pierce/The Denver Post)

Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain Region. Visit her site at gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com for even more gardening tips.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Home Composting made Easy!

Garden Friend - I thought you might like to read my recent garden article that ran in The Denver Post on home composting.

Link to The Denver Post article, click HERE. The full article is below. 

 

Creating your own Colorado compost pile is easy — and saves money

There are stats that show composting reduces yard waste going to landfills by anywhere between 50 and 75 percent

Jim Borland's pile of compost reaped last year was quite large for a backyard operation. (Provided by Jim Borland)
Jim Borland’s pile of compost reaped last year was quite large for a backyard operation. (Provided by Jim Borland)

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

When I cogitate on the methods and outcome of home composting, I often think of the title of the classic compost book, “Let it Rot” by Stu Campbell. The book was first published in 1975 (the same year the movie “Jaws” was released).

There are many compost books and online sources that cover how and what to compost. Compost is made up of the carbon-rich “browns” and nitrogen-rich “greens” that combine and turn into the ultimate finished soil stage — often called “black gold” by gardeners.

I compost for one reason: It doesn’t make sense not to compost. After all, nature set a pretty good example by creating soil over the eons by decomposing all sorts of plant and animal matter. Plus, it is very convenient and satisfying to toss easily accessible stuff from around the landscape into a pile or souped-up compost system, things such as mowed grass clippings, garden trimmings, leaves and indoor food scraps that otherwise just stink up the house.

Jim Borland's composting setup in West Denver is very large, so his net soil haul is as much as 4.16 cubic yards. (Provided by Jim Borland)
Jim Borland’s composting setup in West Denver is very large, so his net soil haul is as much as 4.16 cubic yards. (Provided by Jim Borland)

There are stats that show composting reduces yard waste going to landfills by anywhere between 50 and 75 percent. I like that, too.

The end goal of composting is to incorporate the soil you made into areas of your garden and landscape that need some help with soil quality, fertility  and plant health — the essential gardening hat trick.

Anyone can join in the compost fun. It’s almost free and only takes as much time to manage as you’d like to put in. Some people turn the pile regularly, which helps it break down quicker. Others make a compost pile and walk away. The saying that “compost happens” simply means that, just like in nature, organic matter left on its own will eventually break down to become soil with or without our help.

Jim Borland is a Denver area native plant expert and co-host of the weekly call-in radio program, “The Garden Wise Show,” on 95.3-FM/810-AM, which has been on-air for 29 years. He has been composting since he was a youth growing up in Pennsylvania. He enjoyed raking leaves into large piles. In no time, “the leaves turned into soil that his dad used in the vegetable garden and where his mother loved to grow sedums, monarda and carnations in between rocks she thoughtfully placed around the yard.”

At their West Denver home, Jim and his wife, Dorothy, built a very large two-bin compost system that has stood the test of time. They used stacked railroad ties, which were commonly used years ago. Today, rot-resistant wood, cement blocks, wire fencing, barrels, three-bin systems, dug holes and piles are commonly used.

In one bin, the Borlands collect compostable material, tossing spent plant matter from their landscape and all food scraps (except ham bones). Jim doesn’t follow the rules stipulating that fat and dairy can’t go into the pile. “Critters may come and go but aren’t a bother.” Mice steer clear with the help of their ever-on-duty cat.
Creating a small compost pile is fun and easy, and cost-saving. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Creating a small compost pile is fun and easy, and cost-saving. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

They fill bin No. 2 with the materials from bin one and make layers as material is added. Water is applied between layers until the pile reaches 6 feet or so. Jim turns the contents of bin two “as often as his body will allow.”

Decomposition will generate heat, so the compost will naturally rise in temperature. Jim uses a compost thermometer so he knows the pile is working well and cooking at 140 degrees. The pile continues to compost even in the winter, as observed by the steam cloud when it is turned. In time, the pile condenses, losing about a third of its original size. Once it is finished composting in six to nine months, Jim screens the soil to remove any remaining larger bits and uses it all through the vegetable garden and as part of his own special soil blend in seed starting and potting plants.

Jim says that “failing at home composting has to do with the size of the pile; anything smaller than three feet wide in any direction won’t make compost. People can get discouraged and just not compost anymore if they aren’t getting results.”

Home composting basics

A compost system, bin, container, etc., should be at least 3 feet wide by 3 feet long by 3 feet high or larger. For safety, it is best to fence the area if digging a hole. Keep it simple: Remember all that is needed is time, browns, greens, water and air. Place it where it will get some sun for warming, has drainage, and is easily accessible for tossing in materials.

An out-of-the-way hole in the ground can create a small compost pile for a vegetable garden. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
An out-of-the-way hole in the ground can create a small compost pile for a vegetable garden. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Planning your own compost framing system can be an excellent, inexpensive DIY project during the off-season. Sketch it out and be ready to put it together in early spring or sooner.

Browns include dry leaves; coffee filters; dried or dead (disease-free) foliage; non-shiny egg cartons; woody branches and twigs less than 1/4 inch in diameter; chopped, weed-free straw; and toilet and paper towel rolls. Small amounts of sawdust and pine needles are OK. Shredded newspaper and cardboard (not shiny) can be added or placed in recycle bins.

Greens include chemical-free grass clippings (or leave on the lawn when mowing); kitchen scraps like eggshells; vegetable greens; fruit peels and cores (OK with seeds); coffee grounds; human or pet hair; small amounts of manure from herbivore-eating animals only (chickens, cow, sheep and rabbits); fresh and spent cut foliage from plants and vegetation; and weeds (if seeds are removed).

Avoid: Plants that are treated with pesticides/herbicides; resinous cuttings from junipers, spruce and pine; wood ashes; bones; meat; dairy or fat (unless you follow Jim and can deal with possible critter visits). Use high-tannin leaves (oak, cottonwood) in small amounts. No dog or cat feces or cat litter. Avoid dryer lint and produce stickers.

Mix: Layer or mix the materials until it is at least 3 feet high or more. Ideally, you want equal amounts of “brown” and “green” but don’t sweat the exact proportions. Water as you mix to moisten all the materials. Keep the pile as wet as a wrung-out sponge and turn often. It will compress quickly. You can add more materials for a short time, then stop and let it finish composting. Kitchen scraps can be added to the middle of the pile since they break down quickly.

Tips: Materials cut, chipped or chopped into smaller pieces compost better than large, chunky items. Jim uses a chipper/shredder machine for his compost. Layers of the same type can compress and get matted or become a solid, soggy mass. Try to prevent this by initially mixing up different materials. It can smell if it is too wet or if it has too many “greens,” so if that happens add some “browns.” If using a hole or above-ground pile, cover with a tarp to avoid drying out. If the pile does not heat up, it might be too dry. Turn it and add water to layers as you go. Keep animals away by burying any food scraps.

The finished product of a small compost pile is enough to spread on a raised bed that was planted with garlic. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
The finished product of a small compost pile is enough to spread on a raised bed that was planted with garlic. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Time frame

If turned regularly and kept moist, finished compost can be ready in two to four months or so during the summer. If left mostly unattended, it might take a year or longer. The temperature in piles can range between 120 and 150 degrees. Composting slows down in cooler weather.

The resulting soil amount can be about half the size you started with. A few visible bits or pieces are OK; you can toss them back into the next pile. The newbie soil will smell earthy and wonderful, and be crumbly and dark brown in color.

Then you can step back and be proud that you’ve successfully made your own high-quality soil. Use it anywhere for soil preparation and actively growing plants. (Share with others if you ever have leftovers.)

Resources

Composting Yard Waste

Denver Urban Gardens

City of Denver Composting

 Denver, CO - MARCH 15: Denver Post garden contributor Betty Cahill demonstrates how to properly divide and move plants for this week's DPTV gardening tutorial.  Plants are divided or moved because they are overgrown, overcrowded, lack vigor or are in the wrong place. Spring is the best time to move summer and fall blooming plants. (Photo by Lindsay Pierce/The Denver Post) 

Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain Region. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for even more gardening tips.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Water Landscapes Now - it's DRY out there!

Garden Friend - I thought you might like to read my recent garden article that ran in The Denver Post on watering landscapes during winter dry spells

Link to The Denver Post article, click HERE. The full article is below.

How to pay attention to your Colorado grasses and trees in the dry winter months

Water when temperatures are above freezing during the middle part of the day so there is time for the moisture to soak in before sunset. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Water when temperatures are above freezing during the middle part of the day so there is time for the moisture to soak in before sunset. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

PUBLISHED:

Dry January may be good for your health, but a dry January climate is not healthy for your landscape.

Your trees may need human intervention.

It may seem like an inch or two of snow here and there is adequate natural moisture for our landscape plants. We may conclude that it will snow more soon, so there is no need to be concerned about our plants. It’s winter, after all, and aren’t plants dormant and not actively growing, so they don’t need any help from us?

The short answer is that plants need our assistance in the winter just like they need watering in the heat of summer. Plants need water because they continue to use it during the winter, but in less amounts. If they are well hydrated, they not only survive tough, low water months, but also they head into spring and summer stronger and healthier.

The only way to know if your landscape soil is moist is to physically check the soil.

Find your longest screwdriver and poke it down into the ground through the mulch, the grass and especially on sunny south-, west- or southwest-facing areas. If the screwdriver doesn't go down easily, then the ground, the soil, is dry. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Find your longest screwdriver and poke it down into the ground through the mulch, the grass and especially on sunny south-, west- or southwest-facing areas. If the screwdriver doesn’t go down easily, then the ground, the soil, is dry. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Find your longest screwdriver and poke it down into the ground through the mulch, the grass and especially on sunny south-, west- or southwest-facing areas. Check anywhere the soil isn’t frozen. If the screwdriver doesn’t go down easily, then the ground, the soil, is dry. If you need to use more effort to get it down, then the area is extremely parched. Your plants and plant roots need attention, very soon.

Ongoing and prolonged dry plant roots can lead to root damage, death or reduced plant vigor. Above-ground foliage damage may not show up right away, but down the road the stress from lack of water in the soil will be apparent.

This month, pull out those hoses, sprinkler heads, soaker hoses or a deep-root soil needle and get busy giving your landscape a big, long, deep drink.

Priority watering starts with the most expensive and not easily replaced plants in any landscape: trees (both deciduous and evergreen). Follow that by paying attention to shrubs, perennials and then grass turf. Plants and bulbs that were newly installed last spring, summer or fall are also important to water first.

Water when temperatures are above freezing during the middle part of the day so there is time for the moisture to soak in before sunset. Avoid windy days. Set up your hose and sprinkler to water all around the drip line (outer branch tips) of trees or close to the trunk if the tree is new or young.

Make it easier by setting a timer and moving the sprinkler every 15 or 20 minutes. Circle back and repeat the same procedure (soak and cycle) if the area is severely dry.

Soak and cycle helps the water soak downward, avoiding water waste and run-off.

When using a deep-root soil needle, plan on spending a good hour or more per large tree. Less time may be needed for smaller and newly planted trees and shrubs. Insert the soil needle down no more than 8 to 10 inches (that’s where most of the roots are located) and let it run for five or so minutes in each spot. You’ll know when the spot is saturated as the water will bubble up and not soak in well. Move it every 5 feet around the tree.

Set up your hose and sprinkler to water all around the drip line (outer branch tips) of trees or close to the trunk if the tree is new or young. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Set up your hose and sprinkler to water all around the drip line (outer branch tips) of trees or close to the trunk if the tree is new or young. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

A soaker hose works well, too. Extend it around the tree drip line (or closer for new trees). Make sure the water pressure is low so it soaks downward and not up and into the air. Leave it in place until your screwdriver goes down easily (check after each rotation.) Soaker hoses aren’t as easy to place around the tree when the hose is cold; you may need to use some landscape pins to keep it in place.

Tips

  • If it turns much colder after watering our landscapes, don’t worry: Frozen water in the soil will not harm plant roots.
  • Lawns can be affected by lack of winter moisture too, especially on south- and west-facing locations.
  • Disconnect all hoses after use, drain and keep them handy for the next time.
  • Check your landscape soil often for dryness, and aim for no relapses until your sprinkler system is turned on in the spring.

For more information, check out this article on fall and winter watering at colostate.edu.

Denver, CO - MARCH 15: Denver Post garden contributor Betty Cahill demonstrates how to properly divide and move plants for this week's DPTV gardening tutorial.  Plants are divided or moved because they are overgrown, overcrowded, lack vigor or are in the wrong place. Spring is the best time to move summer and fall blooming plants. (Photo by Lindsay Pierce/The Denver Post)

 

Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain Region. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for even more gardening tips.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Grow Microgreens & Lettuce Indoors this Winter

Garden Friend - I thought you might like to read my recent garden article that ran in The Denver Post on growing micro-greens and lettuce indoors.

Link to The Denver Post article, click HERE. The full article is below.

Grow food indoors this winter, with micro-greens

When the steps are broken down, it is much simpler than you think

Technically, growing micro-greens and lettuce under indoor grow lights is ideal, but if saving on expenses try growing them near a sunny window (not too close to chill the seeds). (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Technically, growing micro-greens and lettuce under indoor grow lights is ideal, but if saving on expenses try growing them near a sunny window (not too close to chill the seeds). (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Growing food indoors during the winter might sound like a large project, both in time and expense. But when the steps are broken down, it is much simpler than you think. The most difficult part is deciding what varieties to grow and the tastes that best suit your palette.

Fill half to three-quarters of the plastic tray or aluminum pan with moistened, sterile seed starter or a very lightweight potting soil (not outside garden soil from the ground). (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Fill half to three-quarters of the plastic tray or aluminum pan with moistened, sterile seed starter or a very lightweight potting soil (not outside garden soil from the ground). (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Let’s focus on lettuce and micro-greens for this easy primer.

Why, what, how and where

Neon flash for any person who believes their plant-growing skills are lacking or non-existent: Growing lettuce and micro-greens at home will prove that you’re not only capable and successful but it also could launch a whole new you, giving you a true green thumb.

Home-grown lettuce is almost as different from store-bought in taste as home-grown tomatoes are. Try seeding and growing lettuce at home, not just for the delicious taste and texture, but also for the convenience of adding a side salad to any meal. Plus, it is always a nice touch to have lettuce to complete a sandwich when you’re having soup on a cold winter night while perusing a new garden catalog.

Giving credit where due, commercial and small growers have come a long way in improving lettuce varieties and taste; even the packaging has gotten better if you’ve tried it from a box. Container lettuce is worth buying a time or two, just to hold on to and re-use the package to grow lettuce and micro greens at home.

Micro-greens are the first tiny green seedlings of plants that are usually seeded outside in the spring and harvested when fully grown. They include lettuce, broccoli, basil, sunflowers, peas and seed mixes of cress, chard, mustard and many more. The taste of these little micro greens is beyond delicious, and fresh. In the blink of an eye — OK, perhaps mere days  — they are ready for eating after seeding.

Toss micro-greens on soup, pasta, sandwiches, eggs, vegetables and main dishes. Using them on your morning oatmeal might be a stretch, but they are genuine antioxidant nutrient boosters for eating and juicing.

Purchase specific micro-green labeled seeds from garden centers, online or use leftover seeds from your cache. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Purchase specific micro-green labeled seeds from garden centers, online or use leftover seeds from your cache. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Purchase specific micro-green labeled seeds from garden centers, online or use leftover seeds from your cache. One caution: Parsnip seeds used for micro-greens are poisonous, so only seed parsnips outside in the spring and grow until these root vegetables are fully mature.

Just like micro-greens, use what lettuce seeds are on hand or shop for any mix or type you like best among the categories: butterhead, looseleaf, crisphead and romaine.

Seeding

Clean and rinse an empty plastic lettuce container (or any low container). Poke some holes in the bottom for drainage.

For a larger mass of micro-greens and lettuce, try growing them in recyclable large aluminum pans sold at grocery and discount stores. Those pans are less expensive than specific seed-starting trays in most cases. Use a screwdriver or nail to poke holes in the bottom. Bonus, they are often sold with their own plastic cover, which works great as a dome over the tray until the seeds are up and moved under grow lights or near a sunny window.

Fill half to three-quarters of the plastic tray or aluminum pan with moistened, sterile seed starter or a very lightweight potting soil (not outside garden soil from the ground).

Heavily sprinkle micro-green seeds or leftover seeds over the soil. Use a separate tray for lettuce seeds since they will take longer to mature.
Add a very light layer of soil over the seeds.

Water the seeded area well, using a sprinkler-type head instead of a regular pour-type nozzle which can move the seeds and soil around too much. Keep the seed bed moist.

Tray location and vare

For small batches, which is always recommended on the first try, purchase a grow lightbulb sold at garden centers and hardware stores and position it toward the seed trays. Use a timer for turning on and off; 16 hours on and eight hours off works well. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
For small batches, which is always recommended on the first try, purchase a grow lightbulb sold at garden centers and hardware stores and position it toward the seed trays. Use a timer for turning on and off; 16 hours on and eight hours off works well. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Place the tray with the plastic cover near a sunny window or under grow lights that are 12 or so inches above the trays. Technically, growing micro-greens and lettuce under indoor grow lights is ideal, but if saving on expenses try growing them near a sunny window (not too close to chill the seeds). For small batches, which is always recommended on the first try, purchase a grow lightbulb sold at garden centers and hardware stores and position it toward the seed trays. Use a timer for turning on and off; 16 hours on and eight hours off works well.

Use a heated seed mat if you wish; it will hasten seed emergence.

Once the seeds are up (usually in two to 6 days; read the seed packet for days of emergence), promptly remove the plastic cover and place it near a very sunny window or under grow lights.

Water when the soil looks slightly dry, usually every day; they can dry out quickly, so keep an eye on them. Lack of water is sure death.

In about seven to 10 days, the fresh little micro-bursts of micro-greens should be ready for harvest. Lettuce will need a few more weeks to grow.

To harvest, cut a handful of micro-greens right above the soil line; they won’t need rinsing unless some soil is holding on. Continue harvesting the micro-greens until they are all cut.

Harvest the lettuce by cutting the leaves but leaving an inch of growth at the base of the plant which will grow back quickly and provide more lettuce to harvest. This is the same cut-and-come-again procedure often used when growing lettuce outside.

When the plants are spent, just flip over the tray of soil in the same container and do another batch of seeding. Continue this method for a time or two or use fresh potting soil. If indoor gnats become a problem, toss the soil, clean the containers and start over with fresh potting soil.

 Denver, CO - MARCH 15: Denver Post garden contributor Betty Cahill demonstrates how to properly divide and move plants for this week's DPTV gardening tutorial.  Plants are divided or moved because they are overgrown, overcrowded, lack vigor or are in the wrong place. Spring is the best time to move summer and fall blooming plants. (Photo by Lindsay Pierce/The Denver Post) | Special to The Denver Post

Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain Region. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for even more gardening tips.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

2024 New Garden Resolutions

Garden Friend - I thought you might like to read my recent garden article that ran in The Denver Post on caring New Year garden resolutions.

Link to The Denver Post article, click HERE. The full article is below.

Don’t start your indoor tomato seeds too early, and other Colorado garden resolutions for the new year

Add some lively interest to your indoor plant palette, and more goals for 2024

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) with solid green leaves is a commonly grown houseplant with pretty heart-shaped leaves and trailing growth habit. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) with solid green leaves is a commonly grown houseplant with pretty heart-shaped leaves and trailing growth habit. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

New Year’s resolutions are seldom kept, at least in the long term — not that a person shouldn’t give it a go.

Instead of working on self-improvement, then, how about making some garden resolutions?

My No. 1 intention for the New Year is to try super hard not to start my indoor tomato seeds too early, you know, like in February. When I do that, they tend to look more like stretched-out, spindly green sticks with gaps of lonely sparse leaves. This growth pattern is appropriately called “leggy tomatoes.” I call it sad for the plant and silly for me to jump the gun. Wait until April … wait until April … wait until April.

Dracaena deremensis Lemon Lime, with its sword-shaped, wide leaves and distinctive greenish-yellow, cream and lime stripes. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Dracaena deremensis Lemon Lime, with its sword-shaped, wide leaves and distinctive greenish-yellow, cream and lime stripes. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Here are some other New Year’s garden goals, must-dos or don’t-dos. They’ll get you started on thinking about landscape enhancements and a new garden beginning.

Maybe my list will encourage you in the New Year.

Indoor houseplants need more color (not ones that refuse to die and won’t dull me to death).

Although good choices, we know that ZZ plant (Zamiolculcus zamiifolia), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) check the boxes of being hardy and mostly fuss-free. Isn’t it time to add some lively interest to our indoor plant palette? How about some glam plants that say “come and sit closer and admire my good looks”?

Variegated leaves on houseplants make a statement. Look for plants that have assorted marbling, and colorations of green, cream, pink and burgundy to red leaves. Plants with spotted leaves are impressive and fun, too. Cconsider unique leaf colors like neon green, head turners in any room.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) with solid green leaves is a commonly grown houseplant with pretty heart-shaped leaves and trailing growth habit. Pothos are fast growers and super easy to propagate from cuttings, so share or start new plants of your own. Take pothos up a notch by trying one of the many striped or patterned cultivars such as Marble Queen, with white/cream variegation.

Drakaina (Greek, for “female dragon”) are durable and easy plants to grow indoors. Their palm-like appearance will let you dream of warmer climates, so enhance your digs with one or more dracaenas to chase away the winter blues. One of my favorites is Dracaena deremensis Lemon Lime, with its sword-shaped, wide leaves and distinctive greenish-yellow, cream and lime stripes.

Visit with your knowledgeable independent garden center staff about specific care for indoor plants since moisture and fertilizer requirements can vary. Variegated plants may need brighter indoor light conditions to keep the colors strong and vibrant.

There are scores of houseplants to choose from at your favorite store. Recharge your plant passion during the long winter weeks while spending time perusing the warm indoor plant aisles.

Admit and correct plant failures.

Plant Select Manzanita Panchito (Arctostaphylos
Plant Select Manzanita Panchito (Arctostaphylos “Panchito”) is an outstanding xeric, evergreen Colorado native shrub.

It’s never easy to dig out a dead plant or realize that the expense, location and time spent on some plants just never worked and never will. Over the years, I have had a hard time realizing and then acting on my plant errors. No more. I have finally learned not to sweat the mistakes that my plants and I have made.

Over a decade ago, I planted three viburnum Nannybury (V. lentago) shrubs in a small space that quickly outgrew the area in size and sucker growth. I let too many years go by before I decided they needed to go, using the old “shovel pruning” technique that eminent Denver master rosarian Joan Franson coined many years ago. (Shovel prune means to dig out the plant for a do-over.)

A strong high school neighbor was hired to axe out the root balls while I spent the next several days pulling Nannyberry roots that had multiplied like rabbits underground.

Despite these specific Viburnums being effective screening shrubs and very fast growers (not to mention having excellent flowering and fruiting), they were in the wrong place in our landscape. I replaced the Nannyberries with a much better choice for this area: Plant Select Manzanita Panchito (Arctostaphylos “Panchito”), an outstanding xeric, evergreen Colorado native shrub.

Please, just say “no” to landscape fabric in most cases.

Simply said, make your garden life easier in the long run by not using landscape fabric in planting beds.

Weed fabric acts more like a weed grabber. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)
Weed fabric acts more like a weed grabber. (Betty Cahill, Special to The Denver Post)

Garden soil and dirt eventually blow in over the mulch, then weed seeds blow in and find any spot to put down roots, through the mulch and the landscape fabric. I found this out the hard way several seasons ago. I saw how landscape fabric left the soil in a shrub border that I was redoing where the fabric had been in place for less than five years. The soil was dense, gray and lifeless, while the root-compacted plants were mostly on life support.

I painstakingly removed the landscape fabric, amended the soil and then completed the planting project. It was almost as if I heard the plants sigh and say “thank you” for unsmothering them after the fabric was lifted.

Weeds will grow no matter what preventative technique is used in a landscape, so you might as well lean in and accept the fact. However, it is much easier to pull or dig out weeds from a well-mulched bed without landscape fabric. Weed fabric acts more like a weed grabber.

Finally, if you’ve ever tried to cut a new planting hole through landscape fabric, then you are aware of how difficult this can be. One can argue that once plants are in place, you’ll walk away and never make changes. Never say never!

Resources:

House Plants Colorado State University PlantTalk 

Plant Select® Panchito Manzanita

The Myth of Landscape Fabric

Denver, CO - MARCH 15: Denver Post garden contributor Betty Cahill demonstrates how to properly divide and move plants for this week's DPTV gardening tutorial.  Plants are divided or moved because they are overgrown, overcrowded, lack vigor or are in the wrong place. Spring is the best time to move summer and fall blooming plants. (Photo by Lindsay Pierce/The Denver Post)

Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in the Rocky Mountain Region. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for even more gardening tips.