by Linda Posson
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener
Is your garden begging for a taste of Provence? Does that sunny southeast corner cry out for a dollop of color or a dash of perfume? If so, consider refreshing your space with a bed or border of fragrant Mediterranean herbs. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano grow wild on the sun-drenched hills above the Mediterranean Sea in Southern France. Between June and September the bouquet from these aromatic natives pervades the air. Lavender fields pepper the landscape with brilliant patches of deep purple and thousands of thyme and rosemary bushes line country footpaths. With a little care and planning, this Provencal feast of the senses can be recreated in your garden.
Our Colorado climate is ideal for growing Mediterranean herbs. Their requirements are simple --abundant sun, good drainage, and light watering. If your soil is heavy with clay be sure to amend it well with compost or other organic matter before planting to improve drainage. The herbs of Provence, especially rosemary and lavender, don't like wet feet.
Another way to improve drainage is by using raised beds that are at least eight inches deep. Mediterranean herbs do well in our alkaline soil and need little or no fertilization. A little top dressing with compost in the spring and late summer will keep them healthy. Mulching with pea gravel keeps the weeds at bay and fulfills the plants' desires for a dry, stony setting. During the winter, protect the hardy perennials--lavender, thyme, and sage--with a canopy of organic mulch around the crowns of the plants. Rosemary and oregano won't tolerate the low temperatures along the Front Range and must be brought inside.
Lavender is the showstopper in the Mediterranean herb garden. Let it flaunt it's color and fragrance along a walkway or in a grouping of several plants. Many varieties of Lavandula augustifolia, including "Hidcote" and "Munstead" are hardy in Fort Collins and can be used for cooking. Lavandin or Lavandula x intermedia, another lovely species in the garden, contains four to seven times more essential oil and is too strong for culinary use but works well in sachets. Lavender suffers from extreme cold temperatures so be sure to cut it back by about one-third in early spring.
Thyme is lavender's short sidekick and makes a nice statement along the edge of the garden or in a rockery. Although there are 400 species of thyme, Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), is seen most frequently in the herb garden. Lemon thyme offers a lovely fragrance and variegated color but is not as hardy.
The finicky member of the group is rosemary (Rosmarinus officialis). Choose a sunny sheltered spot in the garden, water lightly and frequently, and bring the plants inside before the last frost date. Plant in containers with a high quality potting soil that allows even drainage. Rosemary loves to be pampered with frequent light pruning and occasional trips outside on warm winter days. Round out your selection of herbs with Salvia officinalis (sage) and Origanum onites, the milder Greek variety of oregano.
With a little care and nurturing the Mediterranean herbs will delight your senses throughout the growing season. Gather them for drying early in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Hang the stems in bunches in a well-ventilated room out of direct sunlight and be sure they are completely dry before storing. Be creative with your herbal blends and surprise your family and friends with a gift of Provence from your Mediterranean herb garden.
For more information see Fact Sheet #9.335 Growing, Preserving and Using Herbs. Also call Planttalk Colorado at 888-666-3063 and request recording 1015 Lavender, 1063 Thyme, and 1003 Planning and Plants for an Herb Garden.
Q: What is the best grass to plant in my yard?
A: The answer to this question depends upon many factors. There is no "best" grass for our Front Range lawns. Before selecting the grass for your homesite you will want to determine what the important issues are in your lawn. Some questions to ask before deciding which grass is best for you: will the grass be planted simply for decoration or will there be activities (kids playing, dogs running etc.) going on frequently? Will the grass be well maintained or do I want minimal maintenance? Am I willing to water a lot or do I want to keep watering to a minimum? Is the lawn area shady or sunny or both? Do I want to seed the lawn myself or have a landscape company install it? Does my site have a history of insect or disease problems? Am I willing to use pesticides or not? Once you've answered the above questions, you will want to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of common turf grasses for our area such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and buffalo grass-- and then decide which one best suit your particular needs.
Q: Two of my lilac bushes have very tiny pale yellow bugs crawling over the bark. What might they be and how should I treat them?
A: At this time of the year you might be dealing with the crawler stage of oystershell scale, a common insect pest of certain trees and shrubs, including lilacs. The adult female, who looks like a tiny oyster shell and overwinters in the bark, is often mistaken for the underlying bark and can go unnoticed. These adult females lay eggs that hatch into the tiny crawlers in late May or early June. The crawlers are mobile only a short time after hatching. Once they find a suitable location on the trunk, usually in the shade, they insert their mouthparts into the tree and begin feeding by sucking out plant sap--eventually weakening the branch or whole tree if the infestation is heavy. They remain attached to the bark for the duration of their life cycle and develop a waxy scale that protects them from most insecticides. The trick is to apply a "crawler spray" or insecticidal soap or oil spray as soon as you see the tiny bugs moving on the tree and before they develop their protective shell. Be sure to read the label and follow the directions when applying any chemical.
Start perennial seeds such as bleeding heart, penstemon, delphinium and coreopsis for transplanting into the garden in late summer. They will bloom next spring and summer.
Climbing roses are perfect for growing on the beautiful arches and trellises that are available these days. Climbing hybrid tea roses and climbing grandifloras are not recommended for most areas in Colorado because of our cold, dry winters. Instead, look for “large-flowered climbers” that bloom on this year’s growth and also have repeat bloom. Some named varieties include America, Blaze, Don Juan and Galway Bay.
Flea beetles are seen this time of year eating small shot holes in the leaves of many different garden plants including lettuce, beet leaves, spinach, broccoli and cabbage. The adult beetles are small and shiny with large rear legs that allow them to jump “like a flea.” Small seedlings can be killed or stunted. In larger plants the injury is usually not “life threatening” but aesthetic. Use floating row covers or other screening to keep the beetles away from the young plants.
You will get larger fruit if you thin the tree fruit when it reaches 1/2” – 3/4”. Space apples about 6” apart, peaches 4” to 6” apart and apricots and plums 2” to 3” apart.
The authors have received training through Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.
Gardening and Insect Fact Sheets are available on-line by clicking HERE.
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