Sunday, May 20, 2018

Got Wet Garden Soil?

If you're happy about the recent rain storms then clap your garden gloved hands! Apologies to areas that got hit with hail, unfortunately that's often a common denominator in Colorado spring and summer thunderstorms. The white pebbles missed us in central Denver, but we're not out of the woods for next time - that goes for all of us. 

In case you're wondering about planting after the rain, check your soil first. It's important to wait until soils dry out to give your new plants the ideal conditions for their new home in your garden. Here's another one of my Denver Post videos from spring of 2015 about this very subject.

Click HERE if embed video doesn't open.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Unleash your Container Creativity

One of my very favorite garden to dos is shopping and creating container plantings for the patio, side of the house, front entry and the bathroom - if only Glen would give me the green light to place one there..."no potting soil in the potty!"

Immediately After Planting in May (for the video)
The video below is the quickest way to show you how to assemble your plants and place them in your favorite container. I did several Denver Post TV videos a few spring seasons ago and this year I'm posting them to my Facebook page and this blog site (left side). They are easy to view now that they're on YouTube. One of my favorite ones isn't posted for some reason - the one I did on composting with Judy Elliott

I have a difficult time watching myself, but maybe you'll be okay viewing my mug and perhaps pick up a tip or two. You experienced gardeners already know how to do great containers!!

Happy Planting!!


Click HERE if the video doesn't open

Late October - 5 Months Later

Thursday, May 3, 2018

"They Just Do"

How often have you said the three words of this blog title to your children, grandchildren or any young person when they've asked "why." We've all been there and asked "why" about a million times between the ages of two and five. I take that back, I think I only asked nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand times. I was a perfect child, just ask one of my siblings. They'd laugh and quickly walk away without answering, no need to go there, we all get along today - for the most part.  

A quick online search by one survey says the most frequently asked "why" questions by kids include - "Why is the moon out sometimes during the day?" "Why is the sky blue?" "How do airplanes stay up in the air?" And my favorite, which I'm still asking. "Will we ever discover aliens?"

I'm not going to answer these questions in this short blog. But I will avoid using the go to parental answer - "they just do" or "just because" and attempt to answer a garden question that is a curious "why" to me and maybe you.  

Prairie Fire Crab Apple
Here goes - "why do some trees (and shrubs) bloom before leafing out?" 

In my twenty plus year in the gardening world of learning and teaching I must have missed the class about blooms before leaves. Either that or everyone knows the answer and now I look pretty silly writing about this obvious phenomenon.

I'm going to assume you don't know the answer or at least want to know a little more information.

In full transparency I had to look this up and confirm my explanation. An online search wasn't instantaneous with the answer so I reached out to a couple of smart garden friends, one a very reputable horticulturist and urban forester, the other friend knows lots about lots of things in the gardening world. 

They both confirmed what I guessed. Their responses -"they just do," kidding...

Plants flower before leafing out to give them an advantage to the attentive pollinator audience who are moving between these plant species. After being pollinated plants have the time they need to grow their fruit to maturity, set seed and get those seeds dispersed by birds, mammals or the other ways nature does its dispersal thang every fall.

Flowers on plants that develop after leaves emerge generally produce shorter maturing fruits. Tomatoes are a good example. Some plants require a longer growing season to develop their fruit - drupes like walnut, pecans and almonds.

My take away from flowers first is not so much the why, although the reasons just reinforce how nature has it all worked out. For me it's the wow. We see these trees/shrubs in their glorious pink, purple, yellow and white spectacle of blooms far and wide - dotting landscapes and parkways proclaiming the obvious. They are the ultimate welcome emblems for another spring and summer growing season to weary, wintered out souls. 

Blooming Tree in Washington Park

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Garden Topic Number One

Sure, there are many other garden topics to discuss in this small corner of the garden blogosphere. A very timely subject could be the anticipation, the preoccupation, the high hopes and sometimes the drama of shopping for ornamental plants the day before Mother's Day. Check out Plant Shopping Love.

6-12-2015 - a repeat in 2018?
Once again it's time to focus on the one area of gardening we all share - the weather. Some fret, some worry, others just take it all in stride as another spring season in the wild Colorado Rocky Mountain West. Italians seem to worry less and why wouldn't they - they live in Italy! They'd simple say 'va bene.' I'm some where in that mix - probably leaning more toward the gardener who fusses. Those who know me well and are reading this know I stress over many things, number one being what to fix for dinner, number two is how soon the Yellowstone Caldera will erupt. 

Will we make up for a dry winter with lots of moisture in May or June? Or will we switch from spring to a hot summer in five minutes and remain there until September 9 when a freak snow event happens so quickly that three and a half months of tlc on grannie's heirloom tomato plants ends in frozen mush? I don't need to paint you a picture of that possibility, it's happened too often.

What are the weather models predicting for the next three months? NOAA has been mostly on target with their three-month maps. Here they are for May, June and July - both temperature and precipitation outlooks. Both photos are from their website - Thanks NOAA, please try to bring us better news next time. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Compost Community

When I think of composting (usually while I'm adding materials to our pile) I often think of the title of the classic compost book - "Let it Rot," by Stu Campbell - first printed in 1975. This was the same year the movie Jaws was released, which became the established summer block buster model for all future, heavily advertised and mostly over rated movies. I'll also admit that when I channel surf and see Jaws on it's hard not to watch for a few minutes. My favorite scene is when Brody's young son mimics him at the dinner table. 

Let it Rot (such a great title) is close at hand on a nearby bookshelf in my office. It covers the soup to nuts from browns to greens - code for types of plant materials used in the pile. Browns are the carbon materials used which should be 2/3s in volume to the greens or nitrogen materials, which make up the remaining 1/3.

I compost for one reason - it doesn't make sense not to compost. Gardeners and anyone with a patch of grass or leaves from trees can join in the compost fun. It's free and only takes as much time as emptying the weekly garbage. The stats say it reduces yard waste anywhere between 50 and 75 percent, I like that too.

We don't have the right space to dig a compost hole or put in a 3-slot bin system. So we have the green, low fee-based bin from the City of Denver and an old bio-stack from Smith and Hawken, which still remains my favorite plastic variety. I wish someone would reintroduce this model. 

Our small indoor compost container holds food scraps (coffee grounds, eggshells, etc.) that end up in the outside green compost bin. A friend of mine does indoor vermicomposting and I keep thinking about starting one too, looks easier than caring for gold fish.

My Mom's Alley Compost Hole - Emptied
Here's the breakdown of building your pile - it should be at least 3'x3'x3'. Keep it simple, all that is needed is time, browns, greens, water and air. Place it where it will get some sun and easily accessible for tossing in materials. Fence the area if digging a hole. 

Browns: newspaper and cardboard (not shiny), toilet and paper towel rolls, coffee filters, dried or dead (disease-free) foliage, dry leaves, non-shiny egg cartons, woody branches and twigs less than 1/4" in diameter, mowed straw.

Greens: chemical-free grass clippings (or leave on the lawn when mowing), vegetable fruit peels and cores (okay with seeds), and all non-meat food scraps, coffee grounds, human or pet hair, manure from herbivore eating animals only (chickens, cow, sheep and rabbits), fresh cut foliage from plants or vegetation.

Avoid: plants treated with pesticides/herbicides, resinous cuttings from junipers, spruce, pine, bones, meat, dairy or fat of any kind. Only use high tannin leaves (oak, cottonwood) in small amounts.

Mix: layer or mix the materials until it is at least three feet high. 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 (smaller than 3' high), so if adding more materials, only do this for so long, then stop and let it finish composting. Kitchen scraps can be added to the middle of the pile since they break down quickly.

If left mostly unattended, once built it will eventually break down (months - year or more). Remember..."compost happens," another great phrase.

Tips: if it smells it might be too wet or have too many greens (nitrogen), add some browns. If the pile isn't working/composting add water, turn, toss in a handful of soil. Keep animals away by burying any food scraps. If using a hole or above ground pile, be sure to cover with a plastic tarp to avoid drying out. Materials cut or chopped in to smaller pieces compost better than large chunky items.

Time Frame: if turned regularly and kept wrung out moist it will be between two-three months during warm months. It slows way down fall to winter. Temperatures between 120-130 are ideal, over 160 may kill beneficial microbes.

All Done: you've successfully made the best compost known to man. Think homemade quality of an apple pie versus store bought. The soil should be dark brown, no visible bits or pieces and about half the size you started with. Use it to top dress actively growing plants, or sell handfuls for $100 each... kidding. But you can share with people you really like!

Compost Classes - Denver Urban Gardens partnering with City of Denver 

Boulder County - Compost Workshops 

City of Denver Mulch Giveaway and Compost Sale May 5, 2018