Archive for the ‘High Mountain Gardening’ Category

Irvine, California

Pink Coneflower



Durango, Colorado


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Fall is here, there’s no denying it, and to tell the truth we are loving it. There’s a certain sense of relief and a feeling that we can FINALLY catch up on all the things that were running just ahead of us in the garden all summer.

It’s time to catch up and clean up (click here for our fall cleanup tips). It’s also time to make adjustments to your watering schedules.

Durango Area

Those of you who garden in this region know that fall and winter watering can be very tricky. It all depends on how dry it is. When there is less atmospheric moisture you’ll need to water enough replace what the plants transpire. Unlike SoCal where the local water utility provides good guidelines for seasonal watering, Durango seems to either not have the information available or to have it buried so deeply in their website that it is not findable.

So we went to the Colorado State University Extension site for info. Here’s a link to Watering Basics  that you may already know — water early in the day, don’t over water, etc., but watering in fall and winter in this semi-arid climate can be a challenge so here are some quick facts to help your plants make it through the next few months:

  • Water trees, shrubs, lawns, and perennials during prolonged dry fall and winter periods to prevent root damage.
  • Water only when the air and soil temperature are above 40 degrees F with no snow cover.
  • Established large trees have a root spread equal to or greater than the height of the tree. Apply water to the most critical part of the root zone within the dripline.
  • Newly planted trees and shrubs will required more water than established ones. Water deeply and slowly.
There’s a lot more great information so click here to read the very thorough Fall and Winter Watering Basics from the Extension.

Coastal Southern California

At this point in the season plants are transpiring less water and so their needs are not as great as they were a few weeks ago. This is true even if it’s hot in the daytime because the days are shorter, nighttime temps are a lot cooler, and many plants are entering a dormant phase. Plant water needs drop by almost 30% in September so cut back your watering accordingly.

The one exception to this rule is when the Santa Ana winds are blowing. When that happens the air is extremely dry and you should give your plants supplemental water. This is especially true for container plants that may need to be watered twice a day when the hot winds are blowing. (Hint: misting them mid-afternoon will cool them down and help them make it through the most brutal Santa Ana conditions.)

The Irvine Ranch Water District does a really nice job of helping home gardeners figure out how to adjust their irrigation schedule and cycles. Click here for handy chart with suggested weekly watering schedules. You may have to make adjustments for your landscape, but this is a very good starting point.

And while we’re at it here are some good general tips for conserving water in either region and for preventing runoff — which in SoCal ends up in our ocean carrying all manner of nasty pollutants with it.

  • Water only when necessary – saves 1,100 gallons per irrigation cycle.
  • Water in the early morning, before 8 a.m., to reduce evaporation and interference from the wind – saves 25 gallons per day.
  • Check sprinkler system for leaks, overspray and broken sprinkler heads – saves 500 gallons per month.
  • Turn off hoses run when not in use and use a water-saving hose nozzle instead – saves up to 7,500 gallons per year.
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks – saves 150 gallons each time.
  • Install a “smart” sprinkler controller – saves 40 gallons per irrigation cycle.
  • Place organic mulch throughout garden to reduce evaporation, even soil temperatures and inhibit weed growth – save hundreds of gallons per year.
  • Replace thirsty plants with California Friendly drought-resistant varieties – saves hundreds of gallons each year per plant.
BTW: Local university extensions are always great resources for any kind of gardening and farming questions you might have. And don’t be shy, if you can’t find it on the website, call them. They are happy to help.

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Why are we startled? Really!? Fall comes every year at the same time, yet we always seem to be caught off guard when those first cool mornings hit. For most it means the end of the growing season and a welcome respite from our garden chores. But not so fast buckaroo! There’s still the Fall Cleanup to do.

There are actually two sets of chores in the garden now. One is cleaning up your garden, which we will look at today. The other is tool cleanup and storage which will be our post next week.

#1 Take stock.

Go out into your garden with your garden journal (You are keeping one, right?) making note of what worked and what didn’t. If a plant didn’t thrive, was bug infested, or disease ridden, it just might be time to “shovel prune” the thing to make a space for something that’s more suited to your climate/micro climate. You’ll have all winter to ask around and see what worked for your neighbors, or to talk to the folks at your local nursery about more suitable plants.

Bring your camera along and take a few photos to have when you’re looking at garden catalogues in the dead of winter. Not only will it cheer you up, but you’ll have a better idea of what new plants to order and where they should go.

#2 Final harvests.

Keep an eye on the weather reports. Harvest the last of your veggies just before that first frost hits. Or, put up some hoops and floating row covers to protect your crops for the early light frosts extending your growing season by a few weeks. Mary Beth did this in June, but you can still install them as a weekend project if you hurry.

#3 Clean, clean, clean.

Remove dead and dying plant material from your garden beds to prevent diseases from overwintering. Be especially vigilant in your rose beds — leave not even one fungus-infected leaf behind! Here’s a link to a great video on the Annie’s Annuals (amazingly great source for plants) website that shows how Annie “tears up” the garden in November to get it ready for spring. (Thanks for Dirt Du Jour for posting this.)

#4 Dig up dahlia tubers.

Yes, we know you hate this chore, but do it! You’ll be patting yourself on the back when these beauties are in full bloom next year. Click here for MB’s great “how to.” In coastal California you don’t have to dig up dahlias. You can just cut them back to the ground in November.

#5 Plant spring-flowering bulbs and wildflower seeds.

In Southern California this is the perfect time for putting in some spring-flowering bulbs. Click here for a list of bulbs that will do well in our warmer temps and for some good sources. You might want to consider filling in some early spring blank spots with native wildflowers. Planting time for wildflower seeds is mid-November through mid-March, but get your seeds now. Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano has nine mixes formulated specifically for California gardens using only native plant seeds.

#6 Cool Season Crops for Southern California.

Here in So Cal we really don’t get much of a break from gardening, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your energy level any given day. Regardless, fresh, homegrown veggies on your dinner table make it all worthwhile. You can grow arugula, beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, mache, escarole, favas, green onion, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mesclun, mustard, parsnips, radicchio, radish, snap peas, spinach and turnips.

Seeds should have gone in mid-September and you can probably get away with planting most of them if you do it right away, otherwise buy some starts and you’ll be right on schedule.

Ok. That’s enough for now. Next week we’ll talk tools.

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Mary Beth: This was my project last weekend for my raised vegetable beds.

I got this idea from the Sunset web site and it worked amazingly well. Ray and I modified the design a bit based on how I made the beds which are on a slope and are very irregularly shaped. When I made them I used rocks for the sides of the beds instead of lumber, but it actually turned out to be a perfect way to protect my crops.

Ray used 2 foot pieces of rebar for the stakes. We hammered the bars into the ground along the long sides of the tomato and squash beds and slipped the PVC pipe on each opposite pair creating a half hoop. Then I covered the hoops with plastic.

The plants seem to be responding well. I think the plastic covers over the squash and tomatoes are keeping them warm at night when our mountain temps get down to the low 50’s. Cool nights will slow them down, but by using hoops to retain the warmth it should extend the season so I can have veggies well into October and maybe even November.

I also put hoops on my cool-weather plant beds, but I covered these with netting to protect those crops from the birds.

This is one of those “Why did I take so long to do this?!”  projects.

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Even though Mary Beth and I are Master Gardeners with many years experience we are often vexed by gardening questions we can’t answer or situations where we’ve tried everything we know and problems are still not resolved. Other times we’re pretty sure we know what we’re talking about, but we want to be damn sure we are giving the most accurate information to our clients and readers.

So where do we go when we need answers? We have a few tried and true suggestions. Certainly the following list is not comprehensive, but we think you will find them to be very reliable sources of information that will provide answers to most of your questions.

University cooperative extensions are a source for the most up-to-date, researched-based information on plants, plant diseases and treatments, and insects — good and bad. The scientists at the extensions also track new plant diseases and  invasive insect species. (BTW, here in California where university budgets are being slashed, the extensions are taking a huge hit which impacts, if not cripples, their ability to track and stop invasive species and new plant diseases. If things continue this way, there will soon come a day when all we can do is watch while some of our food crops and ornamentals are decimated by insects or diseases that no one has the funds or know-how to stop. This is what smaller government will get you. Scary and depressing.)

UC IPM — University fo California’s Integrated Pest Management website has pretty much everything you want to know about insects, pests, and diseases in the home garden. IPM is the practice of using the least toxic methods first. We, of course, recommend that you never go past the organic line.

Colorado State University Extension — visit PlantTalk for everything garden-related in Colorado (in English and Spanish).

Other state universities have extensions too if you’re looking for information specific to your area.

Sunset’s Western Garden book is one of the first places we look for information on individual plants and their cultural requirements. Sunset Magazine’s website is also a great place for plant information as well as landscaping and design ideas, garden projects, and more.

Garden Design Magazine and website —  we used to find this a little out of our league (well, more than a little) with all its high-end furniture and design ideas, but they revamped it a few months ago and it’s much more down to earth with a lot of great garden design ideas, outdoor entertaining, and information on new plants and products.

Organic Gardening Magazine and website — we love this magazine. We read cover to cover as soon as we get it.

Dave Wilson Nursery — this website is loaded with great information about Backyard Orchard Culture. Check out Fruit Tube, DWN’s You Tube videos with demos on planting, pruning and caring for fruit trees.

And if you can’t find the answer in any of these places, send us an email (barbara@beesandchicks.com) with your gardening question and we’ll be happy to help you.

Happy gardening!

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I wrote this list for the colder Western regions, but Barbara pointed out that it works equally well for March gardens in Southern California.

In the Rocky Mountains there’s a good chance you still have snow on the ground, or if the snow has melted you are dealing with frozen ground that turns muddy for a few hours during the day and then freezes again. But it’s time to start getting ready for spring and here to help you get going is the beginning of a garden to do list.


Get your soil tested once it’s workable. I’m going to do this again this year. I haven’t tested my soil since 2002, so it’s time for another one. The lab will do a complete study of your soil and it’s all very interesting. It will give you a good start in your garden by taking away the guess-work about what your soil needs to produce healthy plants that will be able to ward off diseases and pests.

Make a list of garden goals. For example; I want more vegetables this year! I’m going to expand the vegetable garden and add vegetables I didn’t have last year. I love this potato bin. Also, I’m going to enclose my vegetable area with hoops and chicken wire to keep out deer and other critters and later on I can drape row cover cloth on them to extend the season. I have a few more goals, but the veggie garden is my priority this year.

Buy and start seeds. I noticed all the garden sections in the box stores are filled with garden supplies for seed starting. A sure sign of spring if anyone around here had doubts that it was ever going to come. Check out our Resources page for a list of seed suppliers.

Start your garden journals and actually use them through the season! Don’t forget to add photos to help you spot and remember problem areas, or if you just want to remind yourself in the winter that there actually is a beautiful garden underneath all that snow.

Make a commitment to go organic this year. I mean really all the way. Find alternative, safe ways to combat diseases and pesky bugs. Gather up all your pesticides and herbicides and find a safe way to dispose of all those nasty chemicals. They are harmful to you, your pets, children, and the environment. Call your local extension office for information about where to dispose of them.

Clean, sharpen and organize tools. I’m pretty bad about putting my tools away for the winter and I still have to gather up all my hand tools that were left scattered about in the fall. Actually, some will have to be searched for after the snow melts. I saw a handle of one the other day sticking out of the snow. Oops!

Prune deciduous shrubs. Make note of the spring blooming and wait until after they bloom to prune.

Care for trees. Those that have winter damage should be attended to, but leave the big branches to a professional.

Cut back perennials and grasses and finish clean up in garden beds.

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Note: This week’s tips are aimed at our home communities of central Orange County, CA and Durango, CO, though if you are in another location you might glean some ideas about where to look in your own area.

The UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners have a great hotline (714-708-1646 or hotline@uccemg.com) that’s available to OC residents to ask any kind of gardening, horticulture or pest-related questions. Once the question is phoned or emailed in, our Master Gardeners consult with each other, research the literature, and make sure that any answers they give are based on University of California research, so it’s all very correct and scientific — as opposed to that great tip that your grandma gave you that may or may not be good for your garden.

This past week a question came in about where to find soil, amendments, etc. in Orange County. In Southern California it’s time to think about beefing up the soil so we’ll have a successful growing season and the rest of the county isn’t that far behind. So here are some ideas about where you’ll find what you need to get your garden ready for planting.

This first set of suggestions was complied by OC Master Gardener and workshop presenter extraordinaire, Kay Havens. Kay is a terrific presenter and she’ll be speaking at the one of the spring workshops at the Great Park Food and Farm Lab on March 19th. Don’t miss it!. (The complete schedule is over to the right.)

During talks Kay encourages gardeners to…

Ask pros at “better nurseries” in their area which products will produce the end result you desire. A potted tomato needs an entirely different product than a reseeded lawn. A list of “better nurseries” in Orange County would begin with; Green Thumb, Plant Depot, Rogers Gardens, Armstrong Garden Centers, and Village Nurseries.These “one stop” shops stock plants, bagged soil materials, and tools. For many gardeners knowledgeable assistance and a variety of healthy plant materials is worth paying a little more for. Big boxes such as Lowe’s and Home Depot are economical alternatives.

There are some specialty businesses. Orange County Farm Supply is the most quixotic — geared towards the more advanced gardener who knows what they need. If you need something special, like Citrus Leaf Miner pheromone traps, it is often a good idea to call before going to be sure it is in stock. Their stock is geared towards gardeners and small orchards. They have specialty tools and a very wide range of bagged goods, including bagged pumice. They do stock plants, but the inventory is ever-changing. If you want a 40# bag of Cottonseed meal, an avocado picker, or Texas tomato cage this is the place for you. They give everyone a discount — not just MG’s. Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) will stock some of the same things.

“Bulk” amendments are most cost effective with a pickup truck load costing less than $30 at some locations. Most bulk distributors such as Tierra Verde Industries (TVI) and Aguinaga sell a range of soil amendments. The problem is you do need a pick up truck and some way to cover and secure the load for the drive home. You’ll also need wheelbarrows and shovels to move the materials when you get there, and a big clean up after. Materials are priced and loaded by the tractor scoop ONLY, and that is how it is. No, they don’t have a smaller pricing structure. They don’t want homeowners taking up space in their yard shoveling into buckets.

Most homeowners will find it easier to use bagged goods… so it is worth knowing that some of the local “Big Box” Scotts products use local TVI goods. Serrano Creek Amendments is another place to know about. It sells only composted horse manure, which is available bagged.

For those of you in Durango Mary Beth says:

Native Roots Garden Center and Durango Nursery and Supplies are the two nurseries I visit the most in Durango. Between the two you will find everything you need to get you started off on the right foot this season. They both have friendly knowledgeable staff who can answer all your gardening questions and they have a huge selection of perennials, trees and shrubs that will survive in this tough climate.

Native Roots has some great gardening hand tools (Cape Cod weeders!) and seeds. They both carry several different kinds of mulch; shredded cedar, pine bark, spruce bark, chipped aspen, and recycled pallets (oak) in both bags and bulk. They have samples for you to look at at the checkout desks. Both nurseries carry the Soil Menders line. Yum Yum Mix and Back To Earth are two products I use every year in my gardens to improve the soil.

In Bayfield, I love to visit Bayfield Gardens. It has a wonderful lush indoor nursery that has a large selection of perennials, annuals, vegetables, and beautiful hanging baskets and containers packed with great color combinations. They also carry bagged soil amendments and fertilizers.

The “Big Box” stores and hardware stores in town and in Bayfield carry bagged soil, mulch  and a variety of plants. Home Depot has a large variety of tools, hoses and pond kits.

If you’re looking for soil to be delivered to your gardens, Soiled Rotten Topsoil (love the name!) will deliver. I hear they have custom mixes to suit your gardening and landscaping needs.

If it’s beautiful colorful pots of all shapes and sizes you want, go to Dietz Market. It’s always a fun place to visit. In the spring it’s overflowing with colorful, unique home and garden accessories that will pick you up out of the winter doldrums.

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