Has the fever hit you too? Lately have you looked at soil and seen hundreds of blooms? Is your family in danger of losing yet more grass to flower beds? The Dutch myth of kabouters—elves in gardens, parks and forests who tease, tempt and trick — has resurfaced in my thoughts; they return earlier each spring.
Perennials are long-lived and create a flower bed’s overall impression. Soil, design, location, exposure and moisture requirements are most important. It’s difficult to amend soil (improve content, drainage or moisture-retention) once plants are in place. So if the kabouters are tempting you, too, here’s something to do now that will ensure best possible conditions for your perennials.
Check your soil for uniform texture. Roll some slightly moistened soil between thumb and forefinger. If it forms a firm ball, feels smooth and sticky, it has too much clay. If it won’t form a ball and feels somewhat grainy then it’s better, but if it’s very coarse it could be too sandy. For information about amending soil, order Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet #7.222: Soil—the key to successful gardening.
When deciding the shape of the bed, consider the style of your house so they complement each other. A straight-edged border can be formal, but it can appear severe if it doesn’t match the house style. If you have adequate space, such a border should be deep enough for graduated plant heights -- often with shrubs or small trees at the rear. Cottage-style borders have an informal appearance, often with curving or indistinct lines and random or haphazard-appearing plantings.
Watch how the sun hits the site during the day. Choose perennials suited to the site; don’t be tempted in hopes that one “will do all right.” There are many herbaceous perennials suited for Front Range conditions; order Fact Sheet #7.405: Herbaceous perennials, and #7.402: Garden perennials--planting and care.
Consider site and plant water requirements. Are they compatible? Which direction does the site face? Is it in the open where our drying winds can affect it? Is it alongside a wall or fence where the moisture may be retained, or reflected sunlight will bake the plants? Do you have a sprinkler system that will need reconfiguration? Or will it be convenient for you to hand-water the area until the plants are established? Employ xeriscaping concepts, locating plants with similar moisture requirements together to conserve water. (See Fact Sheets #7.228: Xeriscaping - creative landscaping, #7.230: Xeriscaping - groundcover plants, and #7.231: Xeriscaping - garden flowers.) If you have changes in elevation consider whether a retaining wall should be incorporated. (See Fact Sheet #7.225: Landscaping for energy conservation.)
Once you’ve done the “groundwork,” you’re ready to plant and wait for it all to flourish. At least this is a way to be outside, with hands in the earth, appeasing the kabouters until the blooms appear.
Call the Larimer County Office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension at (970) 498-6000 to request fact sheets or check out our website at www.larimer.org/extension
Q: I planted an asparagus patch from roots this year. Can I expect to harvest spears this summer? How will I know when to cut them?
A: Allow asparagus plants a year to get established. Plan on harvesting next year. Pick asparagus when stems reach eight inches tall with tips still tightly compressed. Bend the stem until it snaps rather than using a knife that can damage immature shoots.
Q: The bark of my elm tree is black. What could be the problem?
A: Patches of black on the bark of many elms is caused by a fungus known as sooty mold. This fungus grows on honeydew produced by an insect known as the European elm scale. The elm scale infests twigs and branches of elms where it feeds on plant juices. The honeydew produced by elm scale and other aphids and scales is a sweet, sticky material that provides a media for sooty molds. Sooty mold on bark surface is not damaging to trees but if it should appear on foliage, it can interfere with photosynthesis and weaken the tree. Feeding by elm scale can cause death of small twigs and branches but it rarely kills large trees. Unfortunately, the branch killing caused by the elm scale looks exactly like the early stages of Dutch elm disease, a very serious tree killing disease of elms.
Q: Is it risky to plant trees and sod at the same time?
A: Yes, because newly laid sod must be so heavily irrigated, the potential for drowning your tree is very high. It is better to plant your trees as soon as possible after the sod has been established, but before the heat wave of high summer.
Gardening in Colorado is always a challenge and no two years are ever the same. Our high winds, low humidity, clay soils and greatly fluctuating temperatures (30 degrees one day - 70 the next) can make growing trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables very difficult. Use the resources at the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office, local nurseries and garden shops to help you select plants that will succeed with our soil and climatic conditions.
Early crops of spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard can be protected from insects with lightweight, floating row covers made of spun polyester. They allow sunlight and water to penetrate but keep out insects. They also provide a few degrees of cold protection.
Fertilize established perennials when you see new leaves appear. Use a balanced fertilizer like 5-10-5 that is not too high in nitrogen (N). It is also a good time to divide perennials that are getting too large. Aster, chrysanthemums, daylilies, Shasta daisies and yarrow can be split. Enrich your soil with compost, cut away any roots that appear dead or decaying and replant what you need. Give the remaining plants to your friends and neighbors!
The best thing that you can do for your lawn in spring is to core-aerate. Opening up the soil will control thatch accumulation and relieve soil compaction. Leave the plugs on the lawn to decompose or rake them up and add them to your compost pile. After aeration you can plant grass seed to improve the quality of the turf.
The authors have received training through Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.
Fact Sheets are available at the Larimer County Extension Office, 1525 Blue Spruce Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado, telephone (970) 498-6000, or contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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