Planting a Perennials Garden

It’s every gardener’s dream: a beautiful landscape that’s big on color & texture and low on maintenance. Perennial gardens fit the bill beautifully! Filled with plants that return faithfully year after year, perennials are an easy way to grow a long-lived landscape that will bloom throughout the entire growing season. One afternoon spent planting a well-designed perennial bed will give you years of colorful, low-maintenance enjoyment. Let’s get growing!

Start
with a Plan

Smart gardeners always begin with a well-thought-out plan. It’s easier to erase a mistake on paper than it will be later on in the garden with a shovel. Begin by measuring your area, then sketch in permanent structures like fences or porches. Next, take note of how many hours of sun your new perennial bed will receive in various seasons. That way, when it’s time to choose your plants, you can begin with a palette of plants that will naturally thrive in the conditions where they’ll be planted.

Continue by roughly drawing in your desired plant choices. You’ll want to plan your perennial beds with a variety of differing heights, textures, and bloom times. This helps ensure there will be color in your garden from early spring right through to late autumn. You might even consider adding some evergreens and ornamental grasses for winter interest. Use our handy Plant Finder Tool to help you research and choose.

Pay Attention to Plant Height

Choose tall, dramatic plants for the background, medium-sized plants to provide mass in the center section, and shorter plants for the front. When planning your plant locations, be sure to draw in plants at their final, mature size. This will ensure your plants will have plenty of room when they reach full size and avoid overcrowding in years to come. Overcrowding reduces the ability of air to circulate, which can lead to disease and pest problems.

Get Ready to Plant

Before you plant, the single most important thing you can do to get your dream garden off to a strong start is to give your plants good healthy soil to grow in! You’ll want to add plenty of organic material to the native soil. The organic materials will help loosen heavy clay soils and add bulk to sandy soils, allowing them to retain moisture better. Layer 2″ of compost, peat, or composted manure onto the planting area. Blend this with existing soil to a depth of 4-6 inches. This works out to about four cubic yards of organic amendments per 1,000 square feet of native soil. Once your soil is prepared, you’re ready to plant.

Now for the fun part — stop by Echter’s, choose your plants, and bring them home! Spring is a wonderful time to get started on a perennial garden. Planting in the cooler temperatures helps those new perennials get off to a healthy start before the heat of summer comes on. Once you have your plants in place, give your garden a finished look by adding a layer of mulch. It will help control weeds while also acting to conserve water.

That’s it! With just a little elbow grease, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the beauty of your very own perennial garden. These long-lived plants will keep pumping out beautiful flowers year after year.

Stop in and see us! We have hundreds of different types of perennial plants for every landscaping fantasy, and our knowledgeable experts can help make your garden dreams a reality!

Putting the Garden to Bed

In October, when the temperatures finally begin to cool, it’s a welcome sign that soon both gardens and gardeners will be able to settle in for a well-earned winter’s rest.

Those cozy evenings by the fireside will be here before we know it, but this month, there’s still plenty to be done to get the garden ready for its dormant period, and also to prepare for next year’s busy growing season!

BEGIN BY CLEANING UP THE BEDS
Start the winterizing process with a good cleanup! A proper cleanup this fall will improve overall plant health for the following year. Begin by removing any weeds. They’re sending their energy into their roots just like all the other plants at this time of year. You’ll want to get them out, so they don’t spread seed or dig deeper roots over the winter.

You’ll also want to clean up dropped fruit under fruit trees. Fruits and vegetables left out all winter will only rot, attract animals, and set seed. Remove all vegetable plants that are finished producing for the season. Dispose of plants which had insects or disease. You don’t want to put those in the compost pile. The same goes for weeds. Pull out all dead plant material. This helps keep your garden healthy through the winter and helps protect against pests.

CUTTING BACK & PRUNING
Many perennials and ornamental grasses add seasonal interest to the garden with attractive seed heads and plumes. Choose what you would like to remain intact and tidy up others by cutting tall stems back to the base foliage.

Cutting old and diseased foliage in the fall can help perennials jump right into new growth come spring. However, do not prune early-flowering shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, certain varieties of hydrangea, or rhododendron. These have already set next spring’s flower buds. Pruning now would remove next spring’s blooms! Spring bloomers like these can get a haircut right after they finish flowering next year.

AMEND THE SOIL — Autumn is a great time to amend your soil by working in organic matter. The addition of compost now will improve the soil next spring. Rototilling, or turning the soil over, will reduce insect and disease problems next year. Be sure to do this while the soil is dry.

ADD MULCH — Renewing all mulches in the autumn will yield several benefits. It helps maintain a consistent soil temperature, retains moisture, and prevents exposure of roots — which is a common cause of winter damage. Apply mulch around perennial plants — especially those that have been recently planted — as well as around trees and shrubs.

PREPARE FOR THOSE EARLY FROSTS — Keep an eye on those weather apps for nighttime temps dipping to or below freezing, and keep the frost blankets handy. A little protection for the first frost or two ensures your plants will continue to thrive in the warm autumn days that invariably follow a frost. If you run out of frost blankets, be sure to cover with a similar breathable material. Plastic is not recommended for frost protection because condensation beneath the plastic may lead to ice formation, which can damage the foliage.

TO HARVEST, OR NOT TO HARVEST — THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Though you may be able to extend the season by using floating row covers and frost blankets for the first autumn frost or two, generally it’s time to pull the warm-season veggie plants and put any harvests on the table for dinner. Here is a brief list of what to protect and when to call it a season:

Beans will not tolerate frost. Harvest and put them on the dinner menu.

Corn is frost sensitive and also should be harvested rather than covered.

Harvest all unprotected tomatoes and peppers. Unripened tomatoes can be placed in a paper bag or between sheets of newspaper to continue ripening indoors. Be sure to check on them often throughout their ripening process.

Cucumbers and summer squash should be harvested and thoroughly wiped dry before storing. Thin-skinned cucumbers do not store well and those should be eaten within a few days.

WHAT NOT TO
HARVEST … YET
Not all crops need to be hurriedly harvested before an autumn frost. Some cool-season vegetables are actually improved by the cold!

– Root crops like carrots and beets can remain in the ground until there’s a danger of the soil freezing. The soil acts as their protection from frost.
Celery and late cabbage can be harvested after you notice the frost has slowed their growth.
– Don’t harvest winter squash or pumpkins yet! Wait until their vines are frost-killed and their skins are hard to the thumbnail.
Kale and collards can be left in the garden until long after the first fall frost. Continue to harvest as needed until the foliage finally succumbs to the cold weather.
Potatoes should be harvested after the vines die down, so the potato skin has a chance to mature. This makes them less susceptible to bruises, cuts, and moisture loss during storage.
Lettuces and salad greens can be covered with frost cloth.
Onions should be harvested only after the frost has stopped their growth.

For a deeper dive into methods of storing vegetables for the winter, the Colorado State University Extension provides this handy fact sheet.

TO RAKE, OR NOT TO RAKE? Rake! Although some fallen leaves can be mulched back into the soil with your lawn mower, most turf grasses will not tolerate a thick mat of leaves over the winter. Soggy mats of leaves on turf can lead to disease problems. You can add dry leaves to the compost pile, or shred & dig directly into your vegetable beds to improve the soil over the winter.

Aerate your lawn to loosen compacted soil, and apply Green Thumb Winterizer in mid-October. Your lawn will be nice and green in the spring. For the final mowing of the season, leave your grass at a height of 2½”.

Bindweed, dandelion, and other perennial weeds will be moving food reserves down to their roots now. This is a great time to use Weed Free Zone to kill these invasive weeds, roots and all.

Before you drain your sprinkler system for the year, give your lawn a good watering. Continue to hand water as long as temperatures remain above freezing.

Put a trip to Echter’s on your autumn to-do list! We’ll help you tackle putting your garden to bed. Then you can feel free to settle back and enjoy the season knowing that your garden is well-prepared for a long winter’s nap!

Garden Smart with Xeric & Native Plants

Colorado gardeners are portrayed with a wide range of descriptive terms: enthusiastic, resilient, tenacious, optimistic and persistent come to mind. We learn by experience, and all of us — novice or veteran gardener, have enjoyed success and have also been disappointed with failure. What we all share is our sense of place and region, with all of its gardening advantages and challenges. Our sunny skies and dry climate provide the perfect palette for plants native to the region as well as those from other areas of the world that thrive in similar conditions.

What are Xeric plants? Xeric is a term that applies to plants that grow well with minimal irrigation once they are established. They are eagerly sought by the gardener who is looking for plants that demand less water and adapt to the soils of the region. The xeriscape gardening concept uses seven basic design and planting fundamentals.

Why Choose Native & Xeric Plants for Your Home Landscape?
There are plenty of good reasons to fill your garden with water-wise native plants. It makes sense to use plants that are naturally adapted to Colorado’s unique climate, soils, and environment. When they’re correctly sited, native species require less water & fertilizer, and they’re more pest & disease resistant.

By choosing native plants, you’ll be working with nature, instead of trying to work with plants that aren’t suited to our local conditions. Another great reason to choose native plants is to restore habitat and biodiversity in our rapidly-growing urban areas. Gardens with native plants provide food, shelter, and other important resources for our wildlife — including our native pollinators!

Where Can You Find Xerics & Natives?
It’s not hard to find xeric or native plants for your garden! Many plants that are native to our region are also xeric. These water-wise plants include favorites such as Blue Flax, Blanket Flower, Penstemon, Apache Plume, Kinnikinnick, Boulder Raspberry, Hackberry, Hawthorn and Serviceberry. The true natives — such as the Desert Four O’clock and Purple Poppy Mallow — also play very well with immigrants from abroad including Russian Sage, Ice Plant, Torch Lily and many more. These are just a few of the many interesting choices that will happily settle in and make themselves right at home in your garden.

At Echter’s, we carry a wide variety of drought-resistant and xeric plants that are especially suited for Colorado’s dry climate. Our knowledgeable staff will help you choose just the right plants for your landscape.

You’ll find that xeric and native plants are resilient, tenacious and persistent. They will inspire enthusiasm and optimism in your gardening adventures. So celebrate your sense of place, and welcome native and xeric plants to your garden where they will feel right at home!

Beat the Heat in the Summer Garden!

We’ve experienced some very warm weather this last week, and it looks like there is going to be more of it next week!  Some of your plants may be showing signs of heat stress. Leaves may wilt. Vegetables like lettuce and spinach may bolt (flower prematurely) or in the case of plants you want to blossom, like peppers or watermelon, they may drop blossoms, reducing yield. Here are a few tips to help your garden withstand the hottest part of the summer.

Watch Your Plants
Plants will often tell you when they are needing water. Lawns will turn a bluish green and show footprints that don’t rebound. Bean leaves will turn a darker green and begin to wilt. Most plants will perform better if you don’t allow them to wilt before watering, so check your garden every day and observe their needs.

Water When Necessary
It’s true that you need to water more often during hot weather, but first check the soil. The surface may look dry even though there is plenty of moisture in the root zone. Over-watering can be just as harmful as under-watering, so don’t over do it. Slow, deep watering will ensure that water soaks down to the roots. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work well.  If using a hose that has been laying in the sun, be sure to let it run for a minute or two, until cool water comes out.

Mulch to Keep
Things Cool!
A couple of inches of organic mulch like compost, grass clippings, or bark mulch will help reduce moisture loss as well as cool the soil temperature. A side benefit is that it prevents most weeds from germinating, too!

Shade
Cover cool-weather veggies like lettuce and spinach with shade cloth. It won’t totally prevent bolting, but it might delay it a bit.  Also, raise your lawn mower blade up so that you have 3 inches of grass left standing after you mow.  This will provide shade for the roots of your lawn keeping them cool and much happier (which means a greener lawn).

Don’t Spray Chemicals
During Heat
Avoid spraying garden chemicals when temperatures are above 85 degrees. Weed killers can volatilize (evaporate and become air borne) and drift onto desirable plants. Insecticides can burn leaves of plants when temps are above 85. Spray early in the morning when temps are cooler and the air is still, or wait.

Summer is just getting started! With a little extra attention and a little extra know-how, your garden can come through this summer’s heat waves with flying colors, and keep right on blooming!