Saturday, March 26, 2016

No Garden Plot, No Problem!

Not able to garden on your own terra firma?  A community garden is the place for you.  Not only will you get your own garden plot, but you’ll meet other super nice and helpful gardeners. It's a great place to collectively get your hands dirty!

Internet photo from
Most community garden organizations provide garden leader volunteers to help with sign ups, maintenance guidelines, workshops and more. Prices and procedures for yearly plot rentals vary (under/to over $35) and there may be wait lists so sign up now.
Many gardens have handicap accessible planting beds. Other gardens support local food banks or Plant a Row for the Hungry. Check to see if they offer assistance to develop community gardens in your area or garden programs for children.
Below are some organizations along the Front Range and contact information for additional information and locations.  Regrets if I left out your favorite community garden.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How to prepare for spring planting (even though there's snow outside)

March 19, 2016 Denver Post Punch List -

It's March in Colorado when snow and cold weather can blow in anytime. Rather than be tempted to plant outdoors, focus on indoor seed starting, and cool-season vegetable planting if conditions are right... continue reading.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spring Magnolia Show

I'm glad winter returned with a couple inches of snow, the landscape was drying out and I was tired of dragging hoses around to water the trees. And wouldn't you know the quick storm came just two days before the first day of spring officially arrives. We're used to weather swings in March and April but we'll be back to sixty degree days next week (the hoses are within reach). As Charles Dickens said "spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade."

During the past week's warm weather I was able to snap some photos of the magnolia tree flowers in Washington Park, view them further down. These early bloomers were spectacular and every time I passed by them there were other gawkers admiring them too. Maybe we should start a walker-gawker club in the park.

'Saucer' Magnolia, photo from
Magnolias grow well along the Front Range. They flower before leafing out so are easy to spot. They need to be sited properly with wind protection - north or east-facing is best. Avoid south or west sites where they will embrace the warmth and most likely flower earlier than early (which makes for a very short showy season if they flower).
A nice sized magnolia shrub form to consider is 'Saucer' Magnolia, M. x soulangeana with large, saucer-shaped flowers with white insides and pinkish-purple suede-like outsides. 'Saucer' can grow to a large size clump 20' x 20' and has attractive dark green foliage.  

Others to consider along the Front Range - Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' which can be a small tree or large shrub 10-15' x 10-15' with white, large, single, star-like fragrant flowers. 

'Galaxy' Magnolia, photo from
Magnolia 'Galaxy,' bred at the National Arboretum in Washington D. C. is a hardy tree with outstanding hot pink candy-scented blooms in late spring (much later than other magnolias).  Sized more upright at 30' x 15' it is well-branched and can adapt to tougher soil conditions, but still give it protection from strong winds. 
Newer to our area is Magnolia 'Butterflies,' with delicate lemon-yellow flowers that appear to float or perch on the graceful branches like butterflies.  Place it in a protected area for show stopping early spring enjoyment.

'Butterflies' Magnolia, photo from

Photos from my walk at Washington Park the week of March 14th - most likely Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill.'

What a difference a snow storm makes, taken three days later :-(


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gardening 2016

As we begin the new gardening season I want to thank you for reading my humble blogs and scribbles.  Believe it or not, writing helps me focus not only on the important garden tasks at hand, but to stop and literally smell the roses along the way.  My hope is that it helps you too and is a pleasant read.  Gardening is really grand, no other way to say it.  

You probably know that I also write the Garden Punch List column for the Denver Post.  It runs the first Saturday of each month in the less busy season (October to March).  Starting April 2nd, you'll find Punch List weekly in the Saturday Life & Culture section.  I'm very thankful to Suzanne Brown of the Denver Post for keeping the column going. And a special shout out to Susan Clotfelter who asked me to write Punch List (and also named it) back in the spring of 2012. Susan is no longer with the Denver Post, but still writing, teaching and gardening in the area. 

Last season we did a series of videos to reinforce the weekly chores, and they will be running again this year.  Many thanks to Lindsay Pierce for being so patient and skillful in the editing room on all the videos!  And I'm very appreciative of Molly Hughes for overseeing the videos and offering many helpful tips along the way. It really is a team effort!

Even though I post via link my weekly Punch Lists on the left hand side of this blog, beginning now with the March 5th column (last week) I'll also let you know the column is available to read in a blog posting.  All you need to do is click on the link. If you want to view earlier Punch Lists or timely videos, just view the links to the left.

So we begin another outdoor gardening season. Will this dry weather pattern continue?  Will it snow over Mother's Day, delaying yet another year of kicking off the unofficial planting season?  Your guess is a good as mine, but I can tell you that we'll ride it out together and enjoy it no matter how bumpy it may get. 

Here's the intro to the March 5th Denver Post Punch List, plus the direct link.

The Denver Post Home and Garden 

"It's time to check the landscape and perform early season chores, including cleaning garden beds and checking trees."

March 5, 2016 Denver Post Punch List 




Thank you for all your support! 


Friday, March 4, 2016

Early Bed Prep

It's early March in Denver and outside the temperature feels warm enough to plant cool-season vegetable crops. It's shorts weather! The soil isn't too wet, so are you planting yet?  

You can plant the hardiest vegetables*, but you'll need to be ready for the return of cold and snow by lowering the lid on your cold frame or using a covered tunnel system for seed/plant protection and warmth.  I'm choosing to wait a few more weeks, mainly because I just turned over two raised beds that were growing a fall-planted cover crop, while the other beds are heavily mulched and filled with fall-planted garlic, so there's no room at the inn. But it won't be long. 

Your seeds are purchased or growing inside under lights, what kind of outdoor bed preparation should you be doing?  It's a short list that you can easily do this weekend while temperatures are still mild.  
  • First, lather on the sunscreen and put on comfortable clothes plus a hat. 
  • Gather your tools (hopefully put away last fall in clean and sharp condition, if not, work on the tools first).  Click here for tool tips - Garden Tools Care with Al Rollinger, Denver Post Video
  • Tools - shovel, trowel and scissors or pruners, box or garbage can for tossing weeds, spent foliage, leaves and roof shingle wrappers found everywhere from being blown into the yard.
  • Any remaining vegetable and annual ornamental foliage from last year needs to be removed.  All diseased stuff goes in the garbage, all other materials go to the compost pile or bin. This job can take you five minutes or less if you cleaned up last fall or more time depending on the area and how quickly you work. I work faster in the spring for some reason - I think if I work at a brisk pace spring will arrive sooner for earlier tomato planting.  Care to take the over or under bet on when tomatoes go in this spring?  I'll take the under - only because the last two seasons were rainy in April, May and June, so this third year should be smooth sailing, that's pure gardener optimism! 
  • Elsewhere in the landscape it's the perfect time to cut back last season's spent perennial foliage.  You'll see green growth at the base on some plants so careful not to cut into that new growth. And finish up pruning overgrown shrubs or small trees. Refer to my recent winter pruning blog for more information. 
  • Don't touch your rose plants, wait until late April or into May for the first prune of the year.  ANY pruning done now will stimulate growth which may be frosted or frozen in the next cold snap. 
  • Once your planting beds are cleaned out consider collecting soil for a soil test.  Now is the absolutely best time to do a test. It will be a quick turn around time to get back the results so you can make adjustments per the recommendations.  But most important - it is wise not to dump more organic matter or fertilizer on your beds if you don't know if it is needed or not.  It is possible to have too much OM in soil so plant growth may be compromised.  Same for too much N (nitrogen) - P (phosphorous) - K (potassium) fertilizers. The only way to find out what levels or amounts you currently have is to run a soil test.  It's as easy as using a non-metal, clean trowel or scoop to gather some soil, fill out a form and mail it to Fort Collins.  Links on soil test gathering and interpreting the results- 
  • It's optional to turn over the soil in planting beds once all the spent foliage is removed and smoothed out before planting.  Some gardeners till the area to break up clods or hard soils.  I do neither since my beds have been smothered in leaves all winter (tucked in) to keep the soil from cracking and blowing away. I will leave the leaf mulch in place until planting time. 
  • Clean out foliage from outdoor containers. Inspect for any cracks, especially on glazed or clay pots.  It's a good practice to bring indoors or cover porous containers each fall to prevent the freeze/thaw cycle which can damage them. 
  • Now it's up to you whether to wait for the soil test results before planting or direct seed some spinach or hit the shower after a great day in the garden. 
* The hardiest cool-season vegetables to plant in spring before the final frost (2-4 weeks or more if using cold frames or tunnels). They will grow with daytime temperatures as low as 40 degrees and frosts, but not uncovered in consistent cold, freezing temperatures.

Broccoli transplants (store bought)
Hardy Cool-Season: Broccoli**, cabbage**, onions, kohlrabi, peas, radish, arugula, lettuce, spinach and turnips

**Recommend using 4-week old transplants, not direct-seeded because by the time they are growing well, warm to hot temperatures may set in and cause the plant to bolt (set seed). It's much better to direct seed broccoli and cabbage mid-summer for a fall crop, same for cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (which are also considered cool-season, but are semi-hardy, so plant a couple weeks after hardy vegetables.)