Perfect Petunias

Supertunia Bordeaux
Supertunia Bordeaux with Sweet Potato Vine

I love petunias! Some might even call me an addict. While there are those who think they are too pedestrian, the truth is they are one of the best choices for sunny Colorado gardens. Petunias are versatile. They can be used in hanging baskets, planters, borders and in mass plantings. They thrive in the summer sun and heat. They tolerate a little frost in early spring and fall, making them ideal for mountain gardens, too. With regular fertilization, they will bloom non-stop until a fall freeze. They’re also water-wise plants, preferring their soil dry moderately well between water applications.  An infinite choice of colors exist for our planting pleasure.  No other annual packs as much bang for the buck.

Wave Petunias
This pot was about 40″ tall and 40″ in diameter. As you can see, the Wave petunias have nearly covered it.

If you haven’t caught the Wave yet, you’ve been missing out. The original Wave petunias reach 6” tall and create a 36” carpet of blooms that hugs the ground. Easy Wave petunias are mounding plants, reaching 12” tall and spreading to about 30”. Shock Waves have petite blooms, grow to 10” tall and spread up to 30” in diameter. Tidal Wave petunias give new meaning to the word “voluptuous.” When planted every 12”, they create a hedge of flowers that can reach up to 48” tall. These are ideal for large pots and planters like wine barrels.

My favorite series of petunias is Sanguna. The colors are uniquely vivid and their flowers are large. Their spreading habit makes them great candidates for use in border plantings, and also allows them to be used as trailing plants from hanging baskets and planters. They are resilient to wind, rain and most anything else Mother Nature dishes out. There are new colors in the series this year. Be sure to look for Sanguna Radiant Blue, Sanguna Radiant Rose and Sanguna Picotte Punch. One of the more unique colors is Sanguna Atomic Blue, with its iridescent, nearly neon blue blooms.

Petunia Sanguna Atomic Blue
Petunia Sanguna Atomic Blue

The oversized, 3″ grandiflora blooms of Hort Couture’s Panache series of petunias should be on everyone’s list of plants to grow. There are some incredible colors. Venetian Red is one of the most stunning red trailing petunias.   And we can’t forget Panache Hell’s Bells.  Spectacular orange blooms really set this one apart.   If you’re a Bronco’s fan, it’s a must-have plant to go with your favorite blue salvia.

Panache Tickled Pink Petunias
Panache Tickled Pink Petunias

There are some special petunias that have been hybridized with calibrachoa. These “SuperCal” petunias combine the best traits of both plants. They are vigorous trailing plants with 2” blooms. They aren’t sticky and they shed their own dead flowers. That’s right. No more sticky fingers from dead-heading.

All petunias are not created equal. There are hundreds from which to choose. Knowing the traits of a few varieties can be helpful when trying to select the right petunia for your purpose. Most petunias can be classified as trailing, mounding or spreading. If you consider what you desire as the end result for your planting, you’ll have no trouble finding your perfect petunia.

The Beautiful Leaf

This time of year we are all so enamored by flowers that it’s easy to overlook the value of colorful foliage in the garden.   Colored leaves come in many hues, from shades of purple-reds to bright chartreuse greens to shades of orange.  I’m not talking about fall color, here.  These colorful leaves can be enjoyed all summer in their bright hues.  Colorful foliage makes container gardens stand out from the crowd.  In perennial beds, colorful leaves can provide beauty when plants are between bloom cycles.  Colorful trees and shrubs stand out against the customary hues of green, becoming focal points of the garden.

Under the Sea Coleus "Bonefish" is a striking plant with bright chartreuse, serrated edges that add both texture and color.
Under the Sea Coleus “Bonefish” is a striking plant with bright chartreuse, serrated edges that add both texture and color.

Under the Sea Coleus, from Hort Couture Plants,  is a favorite for container gardens.  They come in several color combinations and sizes from tall to small.  Each is unique in the world of coleus.  All perform well in sun to part sun, in our Colorado climate.  Small leaved varieties sail through the heat of summer.  Large leaved cultivars, like “King Crab”  will benefit from some shade in the afternoon.

Most people don’t think about trees being colorful unless it’s fall.  There are, however, quite a few that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Best grown in a semi shaded area, protected from arid winter winds.
Japanese Maple “Shiraz”. Best grown in a semi shaded area, protected from arid winter winds.
Royal Red Norway Maple
Royal Red Norway Maples have large,richly colored, dark burgundy/mahogany leaves. These trees can reach 35′-40′ tall, providing ample shade. They tolerate pollution well, making them a great choice where there is high traffic.
Tricolor Beech have a decidedly pyramid shape while young.  Like many of us, they round out a bit with age.  They reach 25'-35' tall.  They will do best in an eastern or north eastern exposure, in a partial sun area.
Tricolor Beech have a decidedly pyramid shape while young. Like many of us, they round out a bit with age. They reach 25′-35′ tall. They will do best in an eastern or north eastern exposure, in a partial sun area.

If landscapes had a sense of fashion, then dark leaved plants would be the “little black dress”.    They are always in style and every garden should have at least one in the wardrobe.   Japanese maples provide interesting structural form and many have colorful leaves that will turn a shady area into a mystical garden.

Heuchera Blackberry Ice is a staff favorite.  The dark berry colored leaves dress up shady borders. Try using them in shady container gardens too.
Heuchera Blackberry Ice is a staff favorite. The dark berry colored leaves dress up shady borders. Try using them in shady container gardens too.

Heuchera is the coleus of perennials.  Every year, more new cultivars are introduced.  Most are relatively compact, making it easy to add them to existing garden beds or container gardens.

Heuchera Amber Lady shows off it's luscious leaves.  Grow them in shady gardens.
Heuchera Amber Lady shows off it’s luscious leaves. Grow them in shady gardens.

Barberry are among the most versatile, sun-loving shrubs for Colorado.  They come in multiple sizes and shapes.  Most have colorful leaves, ranging from bright red/orange to lemony greens.  Tiny or tall, there’s so many shapes and sizes, it’s difficult to choose.   Their thorns make them less suitable for areas where people may brush against them.  That said, those thorn make them a great choice as a deterrent when planted around a home’s foundation, under windows.  Their berries provide food for birds and their density provides shelter.

Barberry Orange Rocket is a columnar shrub, ideal for creating a hedge in a narrow space.  They can also be used as a centerpiece in container gardens.  Just be sure to plant it in the ground in fall.
Barberry Orange Rocket is a columnar shrub, ideal for creating a hedge in a narrow space. They can also be used as a centerpiece in container gardens. Just be sure to plant it in the ground in fall.
Barberry comes in many colors and sizes.  They dress up sunny garden areas and can be used in borders, as hedges or as accent shrubs.  Few shrubs are as versatile.
Barberry comes in many colors and sizes. They dress up sunny garden areas and can be used in borders, as hedges or as accent shrubs. Few shrubs are as versatile.

Evergreens, in both tree and shrub forms, are hardy additions to Colorado gardens.  They thrive in full sun and manage to look fabulous despite our arid late summer conditions.  They take wild temperature swings in stride, making them ideal in a climate with more than 40 freeze/thaw cycles each year.

Juniper "Sea of Gold" is a dramatic shrub that provides garden color year round.
Juniper “Sea of Gold” is a dramatic shrub that provides garden color year round.

Say the word “juniper” and some people  cringe, thinking of prickly shrubs filled with spider webs.  Today’s junipers come in many textures and sizes.  Some are great for use as low growing shrubs.  Others, like the one pictured, are drama queens, with soft needles and dense branching.

There’s more than one way to enjoy a colorful garden.  So try some colorful leaves in your garden and see how dramatically they change the look of your landscape.

 

Itoh Peonies

Peonies are one of the most adored spring flowers.  There are some recent hybrids that are truly spectacular.  Itoh peonies are named for hybridizer Toichi Itoh.  They are hybrids between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies, a.k.a intersectional hybrids.itoh peony keiko

The best traits of both parent plants come together to give these plants incredible garden performance.  Strong stems are capable of supporting their sizable blooms.  No more nodding flowers that can’t be enjoyed in their full glory.  The strong stems also mean they make fabulous cut flowers.  Itoh peonies have increased vigor, durability, and long life in the garden.  In addition to all those improvements, Itoh peonies produce primary and secondary buds, which means many more flowers, up to 50 on mature plants.

itoh peony mikasa

Like their herbaceous parent, they die back to the ground in winter and often have a light fragrance.   Like all peonies, they should be mulched well in the fall to stabilize the ground temperature during the winter freeze/thaw cycles.

While we’re on the topic of peonies, let’s dispel a common myth.  Peonies do not need ants in order to bloom.  Ants are often seen on peony blooms simply because they are attracted to their sweet nectar secreted by peonies as they bud.  The ants don’t harm the flowers.  They are just after the carbohydrates in the nectar.  If you are concerned about ants on your peonies when you are ready to display them indoors as cut flowers, dip the blooms in water to help rinse away potential hitchhikers.

Hanging Baskets Basics

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16″ hanging basket of lilac petunias, calibrachoa, trailing verbena, and yellow bidens

Hanging baskets can be a quick and easy way to add color and style to a patio or porch, but it’s important to select the right plants for the spot you have chosen. A basket of petunias is never going to be happy in a shady nook, and tuberous begonias will crisp up in the afternoon sun. When choosing plants, you also want to consider how easy it will be to water. If watering the basket is going to be a challenge, you can help compensate by choosing plants that can take dry conditions, or choose larger pots or self-watering pots and soil amendments that will help you maintain moisture around the root zone.

Available sunlight is the starting point for all plant selection, so it’s important to determine the number of hours your plants will receive in the location you plan to plant. Do you have a northern exposure or heavy shade from a tree? It doesn’t matter if “it’s really very bright!”—you will have poor performance from sun lovers like petunias. Our visual perception of light isn’t necessarily an accurate measurement of available light to the plant.

Full sun is 6+ hours of direct sun that will shine on the foliage of your plants, each day. These are going to generally be southern, western, or south-western sides of the house, and not tucked back under an awning. If it’s a spot you want to avoid in the middle of the afternoon, odds are good that it’s the perfect spot for a basket of upright geraniums or calibrachoa.

Easy plants for sunny baskets include petunias, scaevola, calibrachoa, trailing portulaca, lantana, trailing verbena, and bidens. A blend of petunias, verbena, and bidens will provide a mix of both colors and textures with long-blooming flower power. An easy care combo for full sun could include a salmon geranium, 3 ‘Bombay Blue’ scaevolas, and 3 light-yellow calibrachoas.

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Mimulus, best for shade or filtered light areas

Part-Sun is less than 6 hours of sun per day, which typically amounts to morning sun only. These are usually eastern exposures or an area that would have all day sun, if it weren’t for that gorgeous maple planted two owners ago. An area with dappled shade for the full day can be counted as part-sun for planting purposes.

Easy plants for morning sun include New Guinea impatiens, torenia, many begonias, ivy geraniums, and bacopa. Bacopa can sometimes stop blooming at the peak heat of the summer, but the foliage remains as a lovely cascade and will bloom again once the temperatures cool a bit in late summer and fall. Pansies can also be included in this group, but like bacopa (and most of us!), high temperatures induce a resting phase. A quick and lovely part-sun combo might include a few yellow or salmon ‘Mocca Mix’ begonias, a few ‘Gold n Pearls’ bacopa, and a 4-pack of deep blue torenia.

Full Shade is quite literally no direct sun in a day. Common shade zones are under a porch or patio awning, under dense tree shade, or in the shade of buildings.

A basket of shade-loving plants could include pansies, compact or trailing coleus, bacopa, begonias, fuchsia, and traditional impatiens. For a quick combo, try 3 Illumination begonias and 3 white bacopas.

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Calibrachoa, great for sunny hot spaces and easy to grow

With all basket plantings, it is important to monitor the growth of your plants so that you don’t end up with one vigorous plant taking over the entire pot (I’m looking at you, trailing petunias!). Mild, selective pinching and pruning throughout the summer will encourage new growth from the top of the basket and help keep your baskets looking full and fresh.

A word about feeding your plants – Yes! We’re asking our annuals to entertain us with beautiful blooms all summer long, through any sort of weather or challenge that comes their way. They can’t do that without regular fertilization. Try Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster for the majority of your flowering plants, outdoors and indoors. Petunias prefer a special diet, so try Jack’s Classic Petunia Feed. Follow the instructions on any fertilizer you select.

Enjoy!

When Can I Plant?

Here comes the sun!  With it and the warm day temperatures of spring comes one of the most frequent questions we hear.  “Can I plant this now?”  The answer depends on the plant and particularly, on the nighttime temperatures.  Our early spring days are often beautiful and daytime temperatures may reach well into the 70’s.  It’s the night temperatures that really tell us when it’s safe to plant.  Our last frost date is generally considered to occur around May 20th.  While some years the date arrives earlier, there are occasional years when it occurs as late as June 1.  We’re eager gardeners and antsy to get plants in the ground, but if we aren’t mindful of the night temperatures, we can do more harm than good.

Before I get carried away talking about plants, I should mention the value of hardening off your plants before you plant.   What is hardening off?   It’s a process that acclimates plants prior to transplanting in order to reduce the risk of transplant shock.  The process takes a few days, but it’s worth the investment of time, particularly in early spring or late summer heat.  Day one, place the plants in a shaded area outside and move them indoors or into a garage that night.  Day two, place the plants in partial sun for the day and move into the garage or indoors at night.  Day three, place the plant in a sunny spot for the day and move to a protected outdoor location, like against the house or under a porch, for the night.  Day four, move into the sun for the day and leave them in the exposed location for the night.   Day five, plant.  In late summer, when the temperatures are well over 80°F, I often use the same process, but shortened to 3 days.  This helps prevent sun and wind burn to the young plants.  Hardening off plants increases successful transplanting.

Now back to what we can plant and when we can plant it.

Hands down, the most common plants asked about are tomatoes and peppers.  Tomatoes and peppers, two of the longest season garden vegetables, prefer night temperatures to be above 50°F for about a week before they are planted.  The ground needs to be consistently warm for them to do well.   If we plant too early, and the night temperatures are still cold, plants set less fruit and are often more susceptible to problems like blossom end rot later in the season.

There are helpful tools like Season Starters that can be used to warm the ground earlier than traditional planting would allow.

They should be set up for 7-10 days to warm the soil, before they are planted with your seedlings.  Once planted, the plant protectors act as insulators against cold temperatures, much like a mini greenhouse.  Generally, Season Starters can give you a jump start by several weeks.  Set them up about April 15 and you can plant inside them a week later.   

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We hope this Frost Hardiness list will help gardeners know when it is safe to set out their plants. The actual dates vary, of course, with each area, but the principle is the same. Perennials that are not hardy in Colorado are listed as annuals. The hardiness of perennials is based on coming out of a protected climate.

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Very Hardy Plants–Plant Out up to 7 weeks before last frost.
(April 1 in Denver, April 10 in Golden & Parker)

PansyAnnuals
Alyssum, Anchusa, Centaurea, Dracaena, Dusty Miller, Larkspur, Nigella, Pansy, Snapdragon, Sweet Pea

Perennial Starts
Achillea, Aegopodium, Ajuga, Aurinia, Arabis, Armeria, Aubretia, Basket of Gold, Bishop’s Weed, Carnation, Creeping Phlox, Gayfeather, Hardy Hibiscus, Lavender Cotton, Liatris, Lobelia, Primrose, Primula, Rock Cress, Purple Rock Cress, Red Hot Poker, Santolina, Sedum, Thyme, Torch Lily, Tritoma, Viola, Yarrow

Vegetable Plants
Asparagus, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Peas, Potato, Radish, Strawberry

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Hardy Plants–Plant up to 5 weeks before last frost.
(April 20 in Denver, April 30 in Golden & Parker)

Annuals
African Daisy, Arctotis, Baby Blue Eyes, Calendula, Carnation, Dianthus, Diascia, Flowering Kale, Lobelia, Osteospermum, Phlox, Twinspur, Vinca Vine

Perennial Starts
Alstromeria, Anemone, Baby’ Breath, Bachelor Buttons, Bellis, Campanula, Candytuft, Centaurea, Cerastium, Columbine, Coral Bells, Coreopsis, Daylily, Dianthus, Digitalis, Doronicum, English Daisy, Erysimum, Festuca, Feverfew, Flax, Forget-Me-Not, Foxglove, Galium, Garden Mums, Gloriosa Daisy, Gypsophila, Helianthemum, Hemerocallis, Heuchera, Hollyhocks, Hosta, Iberis, Lavender, Lenten Rose, Lupine, Lunaria, Lysimachia, Maltese Cross, Matricaria, Mexican Feather Grass, Missouri Primrose, Money Plant, Myosotis, Oenothera, Painted Daisy, Penstemon, Tall Phlox, Pincushion Flower, Poppy, Pyrethrum, Roses, Rudbeckia, Scabiosa, Shasta Daisy, Snow-in Summer, Statice, Sweet William, Sweet Woodruff, Veronica, Violet

Vegetable Plants
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Pak Choi, Perennial Herbs, Radicchio, Rhubarb, Spinach

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Half-Hardy Plants–Plant out up to 3 weeks before last
frost date.
(May 1 in Denver, May 10 in Golden & Parker)

Annuals
Anagallis, Angelonia, Angel’s Trumpets, Bacopa, Bells of Ireland, Blue Lace Flower, Calibrachoa, California Poppy, Campanula, Clover, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Creeping Zinnia, Datura, Dichondra, Didiscus, Fountain Grass, Gaillardia, Gazania, Gerbera, Gloriosa Daisy, Gomphrena, Lotus Vine, Ornamental Grasses, Petunia, Pennisetum, Phlox, Purple Bell Vine, Regal Geranium, Ruby Grass, Rudbeckia, Sanvitalia, Scarlet Pimpernel, Stocks, Strawflowers, Steirodiscus, Sutera, Sweet Peas, Sweet Sultan, Transvaal Daisy, Trifolium, Verbena, Xerianthemum

Perennial Starts
Artemesia, Hardy Asters, Astilbe, Balloon Flower, Bee Balm, Bleeding Heart, Delphinium, Echinacea, Euphorbia, Felicia Daisy, Geum, Gladiolus, Hibiscus, Hypericum, Monarda, Peony, Platycodon, Purple Coneflower, Roses, Salvia, Sagina, Saxifraga, Verbena

Vegetable Plants
Artichoke, Celery, Leek

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Tender Plants–Plant outside after almost all danger of
frost has passed.
(May 20 in Denver, May 30 in Golden & Parker)

Annuals
Abutilon, Achimenes, African Daisy, Ageratum, Argyranthemum, Alternanthera, Alternaria,amaranthus, Asparagus Fern, Asters, Axilflower, Balsam, Banana, Begonia, Bidens, Black Eyed Susan, Bloodleaf, Blue Throatwort, Bougainvillea, Bower Vine, Brachycome, Browallia, Brunfelsia, Caladium, Calla Lily, Calliopsis, Canna, Cardinal Flower, Catharanthus, Celosia, Chrysanthemum, Chrysocephalum, Cigar Plant, Cleome, Coleus, Copperleaf, Crassula, Crossandra, Cuphea, Dahlberg Daisy, Dahlia, Dallas Fern, Dipladenia, Elephant Ears, Evolvulus, Fanflower, Fiber Optic Grass, Flowering Maple, Flowering Tobacco, Fountain Grass, Four O’ Clock, Fuchsia, Geranium, Gloriosa Lily, Firebush, Guara, Hamelia, Heliotrope, Hibiscus, Impatiens, Iresene, Jasmine, Lantana, Livingstone Daisy, Lisianthus, Lithospermum, Marguerite Daisy, Marigold, Mecardonia, Melampodium, Millet, Mimulus, Monkey Flower, Moon Vine, Morning Glory, Napa Valley Fern, Nasturtium, Nemesia, Nicotiana, Nierembergia, Nolana, Oleander, Oxalis, Painted Tongue, Pampas Grass, Pentas, Perilla, Periwinkle, Plectranthus, Polka Dot Plant, Polygonum, Portulaca, Salpiglossis, Salvia, Sanvitalia, Scarlet Runner Bean, Scaevola, Scutellaria, Schizanthus, Skullcap, Statice, Stoneseed, Streptocarpella, Sunflower, Swan River Daisy, Sweet Potato Vine, Thunbergia, Tithonia, Torenia, Trachelium, Trailing Portulaca, Tropical Hibiscus, Tropical Water Plants, Zinnia

Tomato

 

Vegetable Plants
Annual Herbs, Cantaloupe, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Okra, Peanut, Bell & Chile Peppers, Pumpkin, Squash, Sweet Potato, Tomato, Watermelon

FROST HARDY PERENNIALS, ANNUALS AND VEGETABLES
To obtain maximum frost hardiness, HARDEN PLANTS OFF gradually by exposing them to sun, wind, and cold, but above freezing temperatures for a few days.

Very Hardy (After April 1st)

Flowers: Achilles (Yarrow)
Aegopodium Bellis Iberis (Candytuft) Roses,Bare Root
Ajuga Carnation, Grenadin Iris Santolina
Alyssum Cerastium (Snow in Summer) Liatris Sedum
Arabis (Rock Cress) Columbine Lobelia, Cardinalis Thyme
Armeria Creeping Phlox Myosotis Tritoma (Red Hot Poker)
Aubrietia Euphorbia Penstemon Viola
Hibiscus (Purple) Euonymus Primula (Primrose)

Vegetables: Asparagus Chives Rhubarb Strawberries

Hardy (After April 15th)

Flowers: Alstromeria Helianthemum Scabiosa
Anemone Hemerocallis Shasta Daisy
Campanula Hollyhocks Statice
Centaurea (Bachelor’s Button) Hosta Sweet William
Coral Bells Lavender Veronica
Coreopsis Lupines Violet
Daylily Lunaria (Money Plant)
Delphinium Lysimachia
Dianthus Lythrum
Doronicus Maltese Cross
Festuca Myosotis (Forget-Me-Not)
Flax Oenothera
Foxglove Phlox, Tall
Galium Poppy
Garden Mums Pyrethrum (Painted Daisy)
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath) Rudbeckia (Gloriosa Daisy)

These dates are approximate for the Denver area. Safe dates vary from year to year, suburb to suburb, and even from one location in the garden to another. Covering plants on unusually cold nights will help protect them. On extremely cold nights it may be necessary to dig plants up and bring them inside.

Seed Starting Basics

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and said oh my 4 dollars for 4 sprigs of basil. Well there is an easy way to get what you want and help you save a bit of cash, as well. Not only will starting your vegetables, herbs, and flowers from seed help the pocket book, it is a wonderful thing for the whole family to watch a plant grow from a tiny seed, and there is nothing more rewarding than harvesting a crop that you grew.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first thing to do is determine where you plan to plant your garden outdoors. Most vegetables require full day sun to mature properly. There are only a few that will grow in partial sun, mostly leafy greens. Knowing your available light will determine what you can successfully grow. It’s also a good idea to have a basic soil test done to determine the big three nutrients available in your soil – Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. The information will let you know what amendments may be needed.

Read the seed packet. There should be a description of plant characteristics, giving you an idea of what to expect. Look for information about the preferred season to grow, seed sowing depth, days to germination, and days from transplant until harvest. There should also be information about preferred light and whether or not the seed will do best if started indoors or directly sown into the outdoor garden bed. Often there is information about the disease resistance of the variety, too. In the case of tomatoes, there should be a notation of the plant being determinate or indeterminate. Some seed companies provide additional information inside the packet. If you prefer to use organic seed, look for the USDA organic symbol on the front of the packet. You won’t find GMO seeds at Echter’s. In fact, GMO is primarily used on commercial farms and is rarely seen in the garden center or home garden.

Why is the information on the packet important? All of that information allows you to select the right varieties to grow in your climate and those that suite your both your needs and taste buds.

Is the plant warm season or cool season?
This will help you decide when to plant said crop for instance things like spinach, kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, are all cool season crops. Meaning you can start those 4-6 weeks before the average last frost. Whereas things like peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, need to be started after the last frost. I know it can be confusing but on most seed packets you will have that information of cool season or warm season right on the front.

What is days to emerge?
This is how many days it will take that seed to as we say crack or germinate. It is when you will see the first sign of life the first little showing of green.

How many days until harvest?
This means how many days it will take from the time you plant in the ground or container, till you will be able to harvest said crop, or see blooms on flowers.
Should I start my seeds indoors our outside?
Most seed packets will recommend whether to start inside or outside. For instance it is a good idea to start your tomatoes and peppers inside since Colorado has such a short growing season. Whereas things like corn, leafy salad greens and root crops like carrots prefer to be directly sown into the ground.

Now that you can identify what and when to plant there is no stopping you! You will have a few other needs to get started. You’ll need seed trays and seed starting mix or Jiffy pots. It’s also helpful to have some plant labels so you can note the date the seed was sown and the variety. A heat mat is helpful, particularly if your home temperature is on the cools side. It will heat the soil evenly, providing optimal conditions for seed germination. Humidity domes can help keep the necessary moisture around the seed to aid in germination. If the light on your windowsill is inadequate, try adding indoor grow lights. Most are energy efficient and you’ll use them for years to come. If you are starting indoors it will be important to have additional pots on hand, usually 3”-4” diameter. Once seedlings have established, they will need to be potted up until it is time to transplant outside.

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It’s a good idea to keep the empty seed packets for a couple of reasons. The first is that it can be a few months before your plants reach maturity. In that time, it’s easy to forget details that may be handy to know as harvest time approaches. The second is that you may find out you love that variety and having the seed packet will help you remember what to buy the following season.

It is important to remember that gardening involves some trial and error, and there is no fool proof method. Mother Nature has her own ideas sometimes. It never hurts to try new things. If you are successful you will not only reap the benefits of tasty veggies, aromatic herbs, and beautiful flowers, but the confidence that, yes, you can grow something from a seed.

Valentine’s Day

For some, Valentine’s Day is a day is greeted with enthusiasm. For others, angst might be a better description. For the latter, take a deep breath. We’ve been helping people choose that perfect gift for 55 years. In that time, we’ve picked up a few tips that may help rid the day of anxiety and replace it with anticipation.

Valentine’s day is an opportunity to tell our sweethearts and loved ones just how much they are loved. Gifts and cards are merely tokens of our affection for one another. Chances are, your sweetie would be thrilled just to have your undivided attention for awhile. After all, the best part about Valentine’s Day is the also the simplest, sharing your love.

First things, first. The easiest way to enjoy the day is to plan ahead. Most of the anxiety occurs when we procrastinate. Make a list of those you wish to celebrate on Valentine’s Day. My list includes parents, sisters, brother, children and some family members I don’t often get to visit, and my sweetheart, too.

Second, decide how you are going to honor these people on this special day. For my siblings, parents and out of town family members, I like to make a point of calling and actually talking with them. No texts. No e-mails. No tweets or online messages. A real conversation, about what’s happening in their lives is as much a gift to me as it is thoughtful to them.

Gifts for your sweetheart should be thoughtful, with care to what you know they will enjoy. For instance, giving flowers and plants is traditional. A little thought about favorite flowers or colors makes it extra special. My mother, for instance, prefers plants over cut flowers because she can enjoy them for a long period of time. Her favorite color is blue, so a blue pot or blue bow tailors the gift to her tastes. Have fun with your gift giving. Perhaps a cactus planter with a note that says “I’m stuck on you” would make your sweetheart smile.  With that in mind, here are a few ideas.

front: cyclamen, fragrant fairy primrose, kalanchoe, purple shamrock, narcissus, shamrock              rear: campanula, cineraria, tulips, Stargazer lily
Assorted succulents
Boxed mugs, insert a Starbuck’s gift card and/ or a gift card for her favorite shoe store.
Light up the night for the light of your life. (yes, I know it’s corny) These glass butterfly night lights come in several colors.
Floral cuff bracelets, each flower represents a birthday month and is engraved on the back.
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Encourage a little relaxation with specially designed, aromatherapy bath salts. Add a few candles and a note that you’ll take care of the kids.

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree has been the centerpiece of the home through the holidays for several hundred years.  What began in Germany in the 1500’s has evolved into a time honored tradition that has spread across the globe.   Today,  there are many choices available to suit most anyone’s decor and style.   Typically, these choices are centered on three types of trees;  permanent trees, fresh cut trees and living trees.  Each has it’s benefits, so how do you choose?  Here’s some of the basic information to making the most of your holiday tree.

decorated permanent tree

Permanent trees require little maintenance and can be enjoyed for years.  Most are hinged, making assembly a  simple matter of sliding each section’s center post into the next, then fluffing out the branches.  The fluffing is the key to making your tree look full and lush look.  In most cases, permanent trees are pre-lit.   Traditional bulbs come in both clear and assorted colors.  They have a softer look than the newer LED lights.  LED lights are energy efficient and long lasting, but are significantly brighter than their traditional counterparts.   In both types, the lights will remain lit as long as the circuit isn’t broken.  That means if one light goes out, the rest will still remain lit, unless you remove the bulb from the strand.   Permanent trees can be found in an array of colors from black to red, to purple.  However, most of us will choose the life-like green trees.  The construction quality of permanent trees is the key to their durability and determines the years of enjoyment the tree will provide.    Many newer styles incorporate injection molded branches which mimic living trees with greater accuracy.   It’s a good idea to have a bulb tester handy as your tree ages.   Most of them will last 10 years or longer, which means you may need to replace a bulb or two over its lifetime.

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Fresh cut Christmas trees are the preferred tree for most people.  Their fragrance fills our homes and delights the senses.  There are quite a few types of fresh cut trees available.  We stick to those we feel perform best in our dry winter climate.   Fraser Fir, Noble Firs, Nordman and Douglas Fir are some of the most popular choices.  Frasers and Nobles hold their needles longer and have sturdy branches to hold larger ornaments.  For a little something different, try a Princess Pine.

The average humidity in Colorado homes is 30% or less.  That means the needles don’t retain their moisture well.  There are a few things we can do to help.   First, give your tree a fresh cut, removing two inches from the bottom.  then place the tree in a stand that holds adequate water.  The larger the water reservoir, the less likely your tree is to run out of water and dry out.  You can also apply products that reduce the transpiration rate of the needles.  These are sprays like Wilt Stop and should be applied outdoors or in a garage before bringing the tree indoors to its final destination.  Once your tree has a fresh cut, is in place and water fills the reservoir, allow your tree to stand for a day or so to insure it is taking up water before decorating.    This is important because no one wants to remove the decorations because the tree needs another cut or isn’t taking up water.   Keep water in the reservoir at all times.  Once it runs dry, the tree may stop taking up water.  Products like Keeps It Green can aid in the preservation of your tree through the season.   Please read instructions on anything you plan to add to the water, particularly if you have young children or pets who may attempt to drink water from the stand.  If you are unable to prevent them from gaining access to the stand, stick to using plain water.

Decorate your tree with lights appropriate for indoor use.  Older outdoor lights are too hot and can easily result in fire.  Leave your lights on only when there is someone present to monitor them.   Remember to follow instructions.  Most light strands will tell you not to link more than 3 strands, end to end.   Safety first.

The average 6 foot tree takes about 6 years to grow.  Christmas trees are grown as sustainable crops,  meaning farmers replant their tree fields for future holiday’s use.  If you don’t like the idea of cutting down a farmed tree, then perhaps a living Christmas tree is the choice for you.

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Living Christmas trees are beautiful and can become a wonderful tradition that promotes giving back to nature.   They do have some special needs in order to preserve them.   Live trees aren’t meant to live in our indoor temperatures for an extended time.  Keeping them indoors interrupts their winter dormancy.  In order to preserve their dormant period, they shouldn’t be indoors for more than 10 days.  They can be kept potted, outdoors in a protected area until the ground can be worked for planting, following their use indoors.

When trees are potted, they are no longer part of nature’s care.  It’s up to you to look after them until they can be planted and become an established part of the landscape. This means you’ll need to water them when their soil dries about half the depth of the pot.  Don’t fertilize them.  Fertlizer stimulates growth that would be damaged in the next freeze.  Larger potted trees are a bit easier to maintain, simply because the size of their pots provides greater soil volume to protect the roots from freezing.  Raised above ground, there is a risk of the root system being damaged from greater exposure.  It’s helpful to water them just before a freeze, as this acts as insulation to roots.  Well hydrated plants are less susceptible to dehydration from winter winds and arid cold spells.   Pots can be wrapped in bubble wrap to provide a barrier to the cold, as well.  Remember to water them and keep them out of dry winter winds.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Poinsettias

 

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Peterstar Marble Poinsettia with tightly budded flowers framed by the colorful bracts of foliage.

Millions of poinsettias are purchased each year during the Christmas season by people who enjoy the color and warmth they provide to their home.  Healthy plants will last throughout the holiday season.  How do you choose the perfect poinsettia?  Poinsettia plants should be stocky with dark green foliage, well-formed richly colored bracts (modified leaves) and very few open flowers (golden-yellow clusters located at the center of the bracts.) Proper selection will help to insure a long lasting plant that you will enjoy throughout the holiday season.

 

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Sturdy branches filled with deep green leaves indicate a healthy plant.

 

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Healthy poinsettias have lush leaves and bright colors.

 

There are few tricks to get your poinsettia home safely.  If temperatures are below 50° F, the plant must be sleeved to protect the plant as it leaves the warmth of the garden center.  Avoid exposing poinsettias to cold temperatures.   A chilled plant will begin to drop leaves very quickly.   Once inside,   remove the protective wrapping.  It is often easier to carefully slit the side of the sleeve to remove it.  Because poinsettia bracts are a little sticky and can adhere to plant sleeves, pulling them down will result in branches breaking.   Don’t leave them wrapped for more than the time it takes to get your plant home.   Leaving them covered can result in blackening, curling and overall plant distress.  If you plan to give the plant as a gift at a later time, ask for a second plant sleeve to use when you transport it to its final destination.

Contrary to popular belief, the Poinsettia is not likely to harm your pets or your children.  Research at Ohio State University, working with The Society of American Florists, has proven that no toxicity was evident at experimental levels that would well exceed the amounts likely to be ingested in the home environment.   Were a person to consume a great many leaves, the result would likely be mild stomach upset.  The white sap can cause skin irritation which can be remedied by washing with soap and water.

How to care for your Poinsettia

• TEMPERATURE: A cool room (65-70F during the day and 60-65F at night) is ideal. Avoid hot or cold drafts or excess heat from appliances, fireplaces, radiators or ventilating ducts.

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Glace, the brightest of the white poinsettias

• LIGHT: Very bright, indirect light is essential for proper growth and color retention.

• WATER: Plants should be checked daily and watered thoroughly whenever the soil feels dry to touch or the pot becomes light. If the plant is wrapped in foil, slit the bottom to avoid water accumulating at the bottom of the pot.  If it is in a basket, be sure to discard any drainage that collects.  Poinsettias hate to have their pots standing in water and they aren’t very forgiving about it.

• FERTILIZER: Plants should be fertilized with a well-balanced all purpose fertilizer like Peter’s 20-20-20 until the poinsettia is in full color. Once in full color, reduce fertilizing to ½ strength once every 3-4 times that you water.

 

Reflowering Your Poinsettia

If you have a gardener’s green thumb, you may want to try your hand at reflowering your poinsettia next year. If you follow these directions very carefully, it is possible to have your poinsettia in flower by Christmas.  The following describes the cycle of poinsettia color.

• December: Full bloom. Water as needed.

• Late March to Early April: Color fades. Keep near a sunny window. Cut stems back to about 8”. Water as needed and fertilize with a well-balanced, all purpose fertilizer like Peter’s All-Purpose Plant Food. Around May you should see new growth.

• June 1st:  Re-pot if necessary in a well-drained potting mix.  You can put your plant outside if you would like as long as the night temperatures are consistently above 55 F and it is protected from the hot sun.

• July-August:  Pruning may be required to keep your plant compact and bushy.  Do not prune after September 1st.

• Starting October 1st:  Provide complete and continuous darkness for 12-14 hours night combined with 6-8 hours of bright light a day. During the night, stray light of any kind, streetlights or household lamps, may delay or halt the re-flowering process.

• Remember: The key to success is to follow the strict light-dark requirements very carefully.

• Once your poinsettia is in full color, stop fertilizing until it loses its color and the cycle starts again in March.

Poinsettia Facts

The assigned botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, meaning “the most beautiful Euphorbia”. The United States’ first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett, sent several plants back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina in 1825. The common name, poinsettia, comes from his last name.

 

Fall Containers, Not Just for Pansies Anymore

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Fall automatically brings to mind changing colors and inspires us to change out our tender summer annuals for new shades. Traditional pansies and mums are a classic seasonal adornment to bridge the gap from summer to winter, but have you tried combining them with other late-season color? Try some of these ideas and you’ll have containers you’ll love through to Thanksgiving. Most of these are perennials, so they can be pulled out and planted in the ground when you are ready to change out for holiday decorations.

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Ornamental Kale/Cabbage- most commonly found as large rosettes in shades of green, icy blue-green, purple, pink, or red, kales are long-lasting and easy to maintain. Annual.

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Sedum- covers a wide range of colors, textures, and heights. Some varieties are only a few inches tall, while others such as Autumn Joy can reach 2 feet. Mixing varieties in the same container can produce an amazing results—a tall, billowing sedum in the back of a pot can be nicely balanced by ‘Dragons Blood’ spilling off the front in shades of red (or ‘Angelina’ for yellow). Many varieties have quarter-size fleshy leaves that shift in tone from cool blues to fall tones.
Euphorbias- flower vividly in the spring and have red/orange/yellow leaves as fall sets in. Foliage texture can be rigidly upright to wispy and delicate. Some have a full & fluffy look, while others are more airy.
Heucheras/ Coral Bells – Available in a wide range of fall colors from deep, rich purples to caramel. Green varieties blend to reds and purples as the season progresses and add a sophisticated flair.
Rudbeckia- Plants (and flowers!) can be mammoth or miniscule depending on variety. ‘Toto’ reaches a pint-sized 1’ in height and bronzed ‘Autumn Colors’ will reach 2+’. Also in the tall group are ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Prairie Sun’. ‘Goldsturm’ has smaller flowers but a ton of them.

 

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Ornamental Grasses- Easy fillers that come in a range of tones. Provide structure and overall form for the combination.

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Now that you have some ideas, how to put them together? Generally speaking, container plantings look best when you follow the adage “Thriller, Spiller, Filler”. Sedums can be any of those, depending on the varieties you select. Euphorbias are likely to be fillers or thrillers. Rudbeckias make a great thriller, and heucheras are lovely fillers. Adding back in the mums and pansies, a large patio pot might contain:

1 Autumn Joy Sedum
1 Grass, Zebra (yellow and green)
2 Heucheras- one purple, one red or caramel
1 6pk pansies, any colors , 2 Mums, any color
1 Kale

For a smaller container, try:
1 kale
1 mum
2 small sedums

Chrysanthemum

Remember to pull out and plant perennials in the ground if you would like to have them come back next spring- plants are less likely to overwinter successfully in containers.

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