Monday, May 29, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Time to Plant Tomatoes

This is a re-post of last year's ('17) tomato planting primer - still works.  It looks like the nights are staying above fifty so no reason not to plant unless you need to head back to the garden center and buy more plants because of hail damage. Thank goodness it is early in the season, so there's still plenty of time for warm season vegetables to grow and mature. If your lettuce or broccoli got hammered, try again with garden center purchased transplants.

One day yes, next day no, one week - maybe, next week - no way. The seesaw decision making continues for Front Range gardeners. When will it be time to plant tomatoes?? "Is it still too cold, is the soil dry enough, when's the next snow storm, my toe hurts!

Technically we haven't had continuous nights in the fifties, so if you held off planting warm season vegetables, you made a good call. If you're using cold frames or keeping them toasty at night and hail free then you're coasting and waiting for flower set, nice job.

I'm old school, I want to put tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the ground on a sixty-five degree partly cloudy day with steady nights above fifty-five. Will that scenario be possible in the spring of 2017? Certainly not today, it's umbrella and polar fleece weather. But we're getting close, my official planting target is in a few days, it's looking consistently warmer according to my weather app.

In yesterday's (May 26) Grow Section of the Denver Post I "punched" about warm season planting so I've included the tomato planting bullets below, along with photos to illustrate the how tos. You can follow the same procedure for leggy peppers and eggplant. Eggplant usually doesn't get too leggy in garden centers mostly because I find they sell out early.

Here's the link - if you wish to view the entire column on the Denver Post website - Warm Season Planting

Hardening Off
  • Soil preparation and site selection are just as important as choosing healthy plants from the garden center. Make sure the soil is amended, drains well and receives the right amount of sun (read the plant tag). Avoid planting too close or on top of tree roots.
  • Try to rotate vegetable plantings each year in the garden.
  • Make sure all indoor grown transplants have been acclimated (hardened off) to the outdoors by slowly (over a few days) being exposed from shade to full sun and windy conditions.
    Sterilize Containers and Cages (not shown)
  • For vegetables-sterilize all planting cages, supports and containers with a one to ten bleach/water solution or disinfectant spray to remove possible carry over fungus or disease from previous years. Rinse well after cleaning.
  • Remove any blossoms or fruits on vegetable plants so they focus on root growth once in the ground.
  • Vegetable transplants, mainly tomatoes and peppers can get leggy (tall gaps between leaves) from growing too long in the garden center or under lights at home. Once outside, a leggy plant can easily fall over and get whipped around in the wind. 
  • Compensate for leggyness by planting deeply in the ground, in a container or trench plant if unable to dig a deep hole.
  • Start - dig a deep planting hole at least twice as wide as the container. Mix some all purpose dry or pellet fertilizer with the soil at the bottom of the hole. Check the package for the correct amount of fertilizer per plant. 
    Pepper in Deep Hole
  • Place the plant while still in the container in the hole to be sure the hold is deep enough for the height of the plant. 
Cut Lower Side Branch/Leaves
  • Once it is the correct depth, carefully cut off the side shoots and leaves of the entire plant to the main stem - leaving the top set of leaves.  Wherever side growth is removed, roots will develop in the planting hole - which makes the plant much stronger.
  • Next carefully remove the plant from the container, even from peat-based containers - these containers will not easily break down in our soils like they do in other parts of the country.
  • Plastic container grown tomatoes can easily be tapped out of the container before planting. Water a day or a few hours before transplanting so the root ball stays together and is easier to place and plant.
  • Carefully set the plant in the bottom of the dug hole.
  • Place a stake or stick next to the root ball for plant support as it grows. Adding it later may damage plant roots.
  • Gently fill in the soil around the plant, water when half the hole is filled with soil. Finish adding more soil to fill in the hole and water again. There should be just a set or two of top leaves showing. This seems drastic, but it works.
  • If planting in a container use the same procedure. Smaller patio or determinate tomatoes may not be leggy so deep planting is optional.
  • Trench planting a tomato on its side works well if a deep hole cannot be dug in the garden space. Dig a long trench the length of the plant; mix fertilizer with soil in the trench. Remove side shoots and leaves and carefully lay along the trench, with remaining top leaves at the end. Cover soil over the length of the plant so the soil is even with the rest of the area. There should not be a mound, if so, the trench isn't deep enough. Place the stake next to the foliage.
  • Trench (should have watered the rootball earlier)
    Check out this Denver Post video for a visual - Planting Leggy Tomatoes
  • After planting, place a large cage over indeterminate tomatoes (ones that produce fruit until frost and get very tall). Small, determinate or container tomatoes often don't need staking. 
  • Mulch the plant with chemical-free grass clippings or weed-free straw. 

Trench is covered, stake goes next to top foliage

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pollinator Spotlight

Pollinators have been working in our our gardens since early spring. They come in all shapes and color patterns and there's too many to describe each and every one of them in a sentence or two. As we enter in to the summer season keep an eye out for these marvelous hard workers - they truly keep our planet alive. Keep adding more and more plants they seek and depend on. Sort of like the if you build it, they will come scenario. Watching them is free entertainment, check them out in your own backyard.  

Honey bees on garlic chive blooms, late summer
Jefferson County Master Gardeners have been running a series on their blog entitled Pollinator of the Week. Their blog is linked on my site, but if you have missed the series or wish to get caught up, check out the links below. Thank you Donna Duffy, Jeffco Colorado Master Gardener extraordinaire for writing about these important bees, other pollinators and helpful articles on how to care for them. Be sure to continue following the series by subscribing to their blog.

Save our Pollinators Day at Jefferson County Fairgrounds June 24, 2017

Pollinator of the Week - Monarch Butterflies (by Carolyn Reardon)

Pollinator of the Week - Flower Flies 

Pollinator of the Week - Squash Bees

Pollinator of the Week - Leaf Cutting Bees

Pollinator of the Week - Rufous Hummingbird

Pollinator of the Week - The Colorado State Insect (aka the Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly)

Pollinator of the Week - Hawk Sphinx Moth

Pollinator of the Week - Halictid Bees (aka Sweat Bees)

Providing Water for Pollinators 

Build a Bee Colony

Colorado's Native Bees 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Garden Shopping in Colorado - Birdsall & Co.

One of the many perks of living in a large metro area is the outstanding choices of shopping, dining and entertainment. My amusement thrill ride days at Elitch Gardens are probably behind me, but I'll never tire of trying a newly opened coffee bar or visiting locally owned garden centers and gift shops. This is the first, in what I hope to become more blogs written about the reasons to check out and shop the good finds from local Front Range garden centers.

Birdsall & Co. located on south Broadway has been a decades-long destination garden shop for every level of gardener. If you want quality and fair prices, this is the place to go. Garden pruners, always a must have for many jobs in the garden are a personal choice and work best when they fit your hand. Find your forever pair (or two) from either Felco or Burgon & Ball at Birdsall & Co. I'm still using my garden spade and pruners purchased there over a decade ago!

As you wander their new store in its new location in Englewood you'll discover more cool and useful garden items than you ever imagined. This is not a box store full of shelves of chemical sprays and dusty rows of hoses.

You'll find quality teak furniture, birdbaths, statuary, real and artificial botanical greenery and art pieces that add pop and interest to containers or simply displayed as a front porch greeting or tucked in the perennial border. 

Air plants and succulents with accessorizing beautiful glassware or pottery are the rage and so easy to care for. The folks at Birdsall & Co. will help you choose and give you all the growing tips you need. They teach classes too!
Zinc Fountain

Speaking of great service. A few years ago we purchased a small water fountain the spring before the former owner of Birdsall and Co. sold the store to Annie and Scott Huston. John helped us tremendously with the installation procedures and until last summer it worked like a charm. When we turned it on, realized that there was a leak somewhere so we called the store. Their son Owen came out and quickly diagnosed the issue as a cracked water pipe. With the help of his sister Morgan and a couple of strong guys, was able to thread a new hose so we're back to the pleasant babbling sound and perks from our water fountain.

Rest assured when purchasing any fountain or water feature from Birdsall & Co., they can troubleshoot over the phone or send out Owen or another qualified professional. BTW their water features are out of this world amazing and a great addition for any size landscape. They carry cast stone and fiber cement fountains, plus glazed and the new to the market - tranquil zinc fountains imported from Hungary.

Their extensive selection of colors, sizes and unique shaped containers will keep you busy in a fun way. Do you choose the bright, yet calming contemporary teal green or popular bright blue glazed pot or go more traditional with a cast stone urn or iron container for a weathered, antique look? Take your time, and feel rest assured that any container you purchase will last many seasons.

73-gallon Pop Up Rain Barrel
Annie recently showed me her selection of rain barrels, which are now encouraged and legal to use in Colorado. One easy pop up barrel that can be stored over the winter holds 73-gallons of rain water and is just over one hundred dollars, a great deal!

I could go on and on with the list of garden treasures being sold at Birdsall & Co. Scroll through the photos below, better yet, stop in and say hello - browse and allow plenty of time to dream, plan and enhance your garden setting.

Rain Chains
Bird Houses
Succulents in Urn

Birdsall & Co.
2870 S. Broadway
Englewood, CO  80113
303 722-2535
Hours - M-S 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Sunday noon to 4:00 pm 
Design Services - Columbine Design, Inc.
Cut Flowers and Potted Plants - In Bloom 
Wholesale Pricing and Services for Trade Professionals - Inquire


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Third Time - NO Charm

We're close to the end of May and we're still getting snow and cold weather...this is no third time weather event that is in any way charming. It's more like..."really, we have to worry about more landscape carnage, haven't we had enough already!!" 

Covering is about the best thing you can do as shown in my photos below. It looks like a weather gone south make-do camping set up, but what else is one to do? We had the pvc pipes, rebar stakes, screen fabric, plastic sheeting, row covers and various tables, chairs and tomato cages...time to get creative!

My plan starting yesterday (Wednesday) was to use perforated shade cloth over hoops and structures to allow moisture to the plants and to keep our favorite perennials and shrubs from getting too schmushed. Later today I'll add thick floating row covers for warmth over other plantings, we're supposed to get down below freezing tonight and Friday night. Earlier I covered the leafy greens with row cover then plastic on top. It's wise not to put plastic directly over foliage, which only transfers damaging cold. Don't hesitate to use plastic garbage cans or large tubs as long as the plants aren't touching the plastic.  
For my final act of landscape protection before calling it a day - I'll cross my fingers, do a stop the snow dance and pray (not necessarily in that order). 

The photo to the right looks technical, but it's just a very large perforated shade cloth over three tall tomato cages, plus some old wire fencing lower right to protect the side of the shrub. There are three Mini Man™viburnums under there, I love these shrubs and just want them to stay nice and bushy and happy!

I'm proud of myself for thinking of this contraption - it's a square metal outdoor table plus two side chairs over lemon balm, oregano and other herbs. 

The tunnels over this area failed Wednesday night so I had to think fast. They got smashed from overnight rain, but I'm optimistic they will pull through. If not, I'll prune any broken stems or a deeper prune, they'll grow back quickly in a matter of days to a couple of weeks. Either way, all the storm stressed plants will receive some half strength fertilizer in a few days.

The tunnel set up below is iffy for holding up through another snowy night. Snow adds weight which may collapse the whole thing. I'll stretch the shade cloth late tonight and hope for the best. Bottom right is a layer of floating row cover over some new perennials I couldn't resist planting a week ago. I'll probably add some plastic over the row cover for extra warmth and protection tonight. 

When it's all said and done, our plants are going to do and react accordingly after extreme weather events. Call your tree professional for limb damage removal and pruning. Clean up spent foliage and toss in the compost pile. Get back to the garden center for replacement plants but wait until after Memorial Day to plant, even then have a bucket or table on hand!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Springtime in the Rockies

It's mid-May, and without a doubt the last two weeks of weather extremes has left "a wake" in its path. To re-cap - the last weekend in April was surprisingly correctly predicted (they're usually wrong) to be cold, snowy and possibly destructive to trees and new plantings. It started snowing on Friday the 28th around noon. It was a steady snow at our home in central Denver, but did not stick to the grass or sidewalks, which is typical for CO snow late in the season. Gardeners generally rejoice with April snow because the moisture is so appreciated and needed, especially after our mild dry and warm winter season (we only used the snow blower once). But why so cold? No answer, it just was.

Friday evening we noticed how weighted and floppy one of the early leafed out maple tree was becoming so we paused the movie a few times and broomed off the snow. I didn't set the alarm to shake all the trees during the night, I just told myself que sera sera (sing it Doris) and dreamt they'd be fine. Saturday morning was not fun to wake up to - cold, wet snow was covering every shrub, grass blade and ant pile. The teeny tiny emerging leaves on locust trees on our block looked burnt, dead burnt. So did our red bud trees which just finished a glorious season of neon pink spring bloom.

I didn't reach for a tissue, just went straight to work assessing the damage and gently brushing snow off the conifers and snow trodden plants in the landscape. After a quick text to get in my tree pruner's queue we made minestrone soup and then waited for the sun to return. Birds soon flocked to the birdbath looking for a fresh, not frozen drink of water.

Our landscape fared pretty well, no severe damage or breakage, just some dead branch tips on the Seven-Son Flower and some splayed and broken branches here and there on some shrubs. My number one concern was and is for the two-week old newly planted Kentucky Coffee tree, Gymnocladus dioicus 'Espresso.' It was in the same leafing time frame as honey locusts. We know that trees have stored spare buds when these kind of events happen, so no worries about mature trees pushing new leaf growth, but my hope is that 'Espresso' will shrug off the cold damage and also emerge with happy new leaves in its new home on the Cahill boulevard. Ten days later it seems like it is still thinking about putting out new leaves, I'll keep you posted.
Stem hail damage on Manzanita, photo by Dorothy B.

On May 8, certain areas of metro Denver and surrounding cities received anywhere from pea-sized, no harm wimpy hail or rain, to golf ball sized destructive, rip off every leaf down to branch damage hail. 

The aftermath called for a case of tissue. I can practically hear my garden friends crying from north Denver. Reports, photos and personal stories are still being reported. Golden and areas in west Denver and Lakewood seemed to get hit the hardest. Insurance companies are working 24/7 and roofers are signing up clients quicker than bindweed coiling up chain link fence. 

Our landscape dodged the golf ball sized bullets. It rained very hard with small hail that bounced around for several minutes, but no great harm or foul.

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature
May 8, 2017 hail in Arvada, photo by Dave I.
Dorothy's herb knot garden (couple miles west of me) was shattered and sad.

Photo by Dorothy B.

So now what...the same rules apply after every hail event. Carefully prune off damaged foliage from perennials and shrubs. Wait. Call in a professional arborist to prune damaged limbs on mature trees. Wait. Lightly fertilize perennials in a week or two to give them a nutrient boost. Wait and replant as necessary, it's still very early in the season. 

Read more hail advice from these reputable resources - 

Caring for Storm Damaged Trees

Denver Post - How to Fix your Hail Damaged Garden in Colorado 

Oh Hail, What to do Now - Roses

Planttalk Hail Damage