To say pollination is an important process would be an understatement. A large number of the Earth’s edible plants create their fruit and seeds with the help of pollinators moving pollen from plant to plant. And we humans, along with the rest of the world’s animals, depend on this essential food cycle for our survival.
Pollinators (such as native bees, bumblebees, honey bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds) need flowers for pollen and nectar. And the flowers need them, to help accomplish the pollination process that sets the seeds and fruits so the plants can propagate themselves. A healthy pollinator population means the area of the Earth on which they live is also healthy. Pollinators are the pulse of the planet.
As gardeners, we are involved in the pollination process even if we don’t think about it. And that’s because we love planting flowers! So when we plant an abundant garden or landscape and care for these plants in an organic environment, it provides for us humans too. This helps to complete the web of life.
To plan and plant a nectar garden for pollinators, we need to provide three basic elements:
- Shelter – buildings and gardens provide places where insects and hummingbirds can live
- Water – a source of water is essential.
- Food Source – the plants that feed themselves and their young.
- Herbs – provide an excellent source of leaves for caterpillars. Always plant extra so there is enough for you and the caterpillars. And don’t forget Milkweed (Asclepias) for Monarch caterpillars.
- Flowering perennials, shrubs and trees – provide nectar-rich flowers for adult moths and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
I am an enthusiastic hummingbird gardener, so I’m always planting flowering plants to attract them.
Some of my favorite hummingbird plants in this category include:
- - Beardtongue (Penstemon) – a large diverse group of wildflowers especially for western gardens
- - Beebalm (Mondarda) – dazzling flowers in shades of pink and red
- - Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) – beautiful flowers and aromatic oils in flowers and foliage
- - Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) – wonderful orange flowers
- - Sage (Salvia) – this includes our many native species and hybrids
- - Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) - especially in the Mid-West and Eastern US
Some of my favorite plants for butterflies, moths and all kinds of bees, I recommend:
- Ornamental Onions (Allium) – bees!!! Fall-planted bulbs are some of the best for bees.
- - Beebalm (Monarda) – butterflies
- - Yarrow (Achillea) – butterflies
- - Lavender (Lavandula) – bees and butterflies
- - Oregano (Origanum) – bees and butterflies
- - Catmints (Nepeta) – bees and butterflies
- - European Sage (Salvia) – Salvia nemerosa and superb varieties
- - Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) – especially attractive to bumblebees
- - Evening Primrose (Oenothera) - especially attractive to hawkmoth
Fall is upon us with the Autumn Solstice less than two weeks away. By establishing your native plants in the fall, they will be larger and bloom more robustly during next year’s growing season than the same plant planted next spring. For gardeners in USDA zones 7 through 11 where the summers are hot and the winters mild, fall planting is the best time to plant. In these areas, the number of days between spring and the searing heat of summer is far too short for plants to establish deep roots before the heat settles in.
Before we discuss native plants, I think it is important that we understand the term so you and I are in sync with what we are talking about. I define a native plant as:
- a species native to North America (from Panama north to Alaska and Canada)
- a native plant hybrid (when pollen travels from one species to another and seed is set, the seedlings are hybrids between two different species. This is a native hybrid.)
There are some pretty passionate native plant purists that will argue that North America is too large a region to define a “native plant” for their garden. They insist that we only use plants with a local proximity. But many native plants are widely distributed and don’t consider political boundaries when establishing themselves in habitat. And these same folks don’t consider hybrids to be native either. But this exposes a shallow understanding of what a species is and ignorance of the fact that many native plants will hybridize with each other when their ranges overlap. And this happens often and with no input from a human. It’s part of the evolutionary process, after all.
Many gardens don’t have enough fall flowers, and that’s a big shame. There are many perennials that color the late season garden beyond the boring Big Box standards such as flowering cabbage and kale, garden mums and pansies. Must we Americans be so homogenous such that gardens across our huge, diverse geography all look the same?
Make your fall garden different with some of my favorite late summer/fall blooming native perennials.
- Santa Fe Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliana ‘Santa Fe’)
- ‘Perfect Pink’ Phlox (Phlox nana ‘Perfect Pink’)
- ‘Shimmer’ Evening Primrose (Oenothera fremontii ‘Shimmer’)
- araschino Bush Sage (Salvia hybrid)- best for fall planting in zones 6 and warmer
- Furman’s Red’ Texas Bush Sage (Salvia greggii)- best to plant in zones 6 and warmer
- Prairie Sage (Salvia azurea Santa Fe Co., NM collection)
- Beebalm (Monarda species and cultivars)
- ‘Dark Violet’ hybrid Skullcap (Scutellaria ‘Dark Violet’)
- ‘Snow Flurry’ Aster (Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’)
- ‘Dream of Beauty’ Aster (Aster oblongifolius ‘Dream of Beauty’)
- ‘Wichita Mountains’ Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
- Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet)
- ‘Ava’ Hummingbird Mint (Agastache hybrid)
Shrubs and Vines
- Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera sempervirens cultivars)
- Yellow Twig Rabbit Brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus ‘Yellow Twig”)
- New Mexico Privet (Forestiera neomexicana)
Instinctively, when we see a beautiful flower, we lean over to sniff it hoping for a sweet scent. The natural perfume of plants is an attribute we gardeners are always searching for. There are two types of scents to be found in plants;
- Fragrant flowers and plant are ones that release a scent into the air
- Aromatic plants release their scented oils when brushed, bent or crushed
Flowers that release scent often do so to attract pollinators. Many nocturnal blooming plants have strongly scented flowers that attract moths and other night flying insects. A flower’s color is of no use to pollinators in the dark of night.
Aromatic plants are those that have volatile oils in their leaves and stems. When brushed against or their foliage is bent or crushed, the scents are released. These types of plants are often cultivated for their essential oils. Culinary herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary and lavender are aromatic plants long associated with mankind. These and other aromatic plants use their aromatic oils as a defense against browsing animals, like deer and rabbits. Since plants are rooted in place and can’t run away for protection, they have enlisted the help of chemicals to provide them with some defense. These plants are a great choice for areas where deer and rabbits are a problem.
I’ve long had a great fondness for fragrant and aromatic plants. Salvia (Sage), Agastache (Hummingbird Mint), Lavandula (Lavender), Berlandiera (Chocolate Flower), Garden Phlox (Phlox), Pansies (Viola) and many others are planted in my gardens to enjoy their scents.
Here are my lists of favorites:
Fragrant flowers – Cholcolate Flower (Berlandiera), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculatat varieties), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), Daffodils, Iris (Iris pallida Variegata), Fendler’s Barberry (Mahonia), Hyacinths and Tulips.
Aromatic plants – Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Sage (Salvia), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Lavender (Lavandula), Ornamental Onions (Allium), Beebalm (Monarda), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Sage (Artemisia), Germander (Teucrium), Thyme (Thymus), Yarrow (Achillea), Hyssop (Hyssopus)
Text and photos by David Salman
All too often, I see customers load up with lots of plants and very few soil building products. Granted this is a dated analogy by today’s pricing, but the truth of the saying is still relevant: “Don’t plant a $5 tree in a $1 hole.” And whether it’s a tree, shrub, perennial or spring-flowering bulb, insuring a healthy soil in your new transplant’s root zone is key to long term success.
What is so often forgotten is that the soil is an underground ecosystem that supports the plants that grow in it. It is a symbiotic relationship between plant and soil that is as old as time. So we want to use soil building ingredients that feed all the microorganisms and earthworms that make the soil alive and healthy. I keep it simple because over-amending the soil can be just as detrimental to your plants as not doing anything at all.
The first and most important thing to do is forget about using peat moss. We’ve been taught from way back that a bale of peat moss is a gardener’s best friend. Wrong! Peat moss is an essential ingredient in soil-less potting mixes, but it has no value when it comes to nourishing the soil.
Instead I use a Yum Yum Mix soil food and a top quality compost as the foundation of my soil preparation.
- For xeric (waterwise) plants that prefer growing in a “lean” or infertile soil, I dig in a handful of Yum Yum Mix (or Yum Yum Mix Winterizer if it’s fall) into a nice wide planting hole. I will supplement that with a few tablespoons of Planters II trace mineral fertilizer. This provides an essential boast of trace minerals that many native plants crave and helps to activate the soil’s microorganisms.
- For plants with moderate water needs, I combine the Yum Yum Mix with compost (usually 1 part Yum Yum Mix to 3 parts compost) and work it into a nice wide planting hole. The Planters II should be included as well.
And I strongly recommend the use of a mycorrhizal root inoculant (Plant Success Mycorrhiza Root Inoculant) sprinkled into the hole at planting time or watered into the soil if the plants have been in the ground and you forgot to add it when they were planted.
The use of mycorrhizal root inoculants is especially important when planting into soils;
- Disturbed and compacted by construction
- Damaged by long term use of chemical fertilizers and chemicals (such as when planting into old lawn areas where weed-n-feed fertilizers, fungicides and insecticides have been used).
In both cases the soil’s microbial population has been killed off and the soil’s natural tilth that supports good water percolation and water holding capacity has been destroyed. The best way to restore soil health and its ability to grow healthy plants is to use a combination of natural and organic ingredients along with the root inoculants.
Text and photos by David Salman
The spring flowering bulb planting season is just around the corner. I always order my bulbs in August or September and wait to plant until the first couple of frosts in the fall. In USDA zone 6 Santa Fe, this usually in late October. I always remind folks that when you see the bulbs blooming in spring, it’s too late to get them planted. You have to plant in the fall to get color in the spring.
But what I like best about bulbs is the ease of their care. Few other groups of plants provide so much with so little effort. I always say I’m planting myself a “spring surprise.” Invariably, you forget what and where you planted your bulbs, so all through the spring, it‘s a continuous source of pleasure and delight to see all the bright colors and cheery combinations you’ve created. Spring flowering bulbs are outstanding companion plants to mix into your perennial flower beds. The bulbs provide the early season color and go dormant as the perennials are growing upwards and coming into bloom.
High Country Gardens specializes in perennials spring flowering bulbs. It seems we all are more time constrained than ever, so it makes sense to plant bulbs that come back year after year, more numerous and beautiful. Who has time to replant annual (bedding Tulips) every fall? For this reason, one of my favorite spring bulb groups would be the wildflower tulips. These smaller growers will amaze you with their huge flowers in many extravagant colors. They are strong naturalizers (increase in numbers during each growing season by propagating more bulbs) and are an essential source of early season nectar and pollen for hungry honey and native bees.
My favorites include ‘Shogun’, bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, ‘Red Hunter’, ‘Little Princess’ and ‘Little Beauty’. Plant these into blue blooming groundcovers like Veronica liwanensis (Turkish Speedwell) and Veronica pectinata (Wooly Speedwell) to create a blooming carpet decorated with the tulips that push up through them. Easy and colorful!!
Text by David Salman
I traveled to Denver this past week to check the plants being grown for the High Country Gardens’ fall catalog. And as part of my trip, I was able to visit several of my favorite garden venues in Denver. I spent a morning at Denver Botanic Gardens and a few hours one afternoon at Kendrick Lake Park in Lakewood (a Denver suburb). But that wasn’t enough, as I also spent several hours viewing the newly designed and planted gardens around the visitor’s center at Denver Botanic’s Chatfield growing grounds in Littleton (another Denver suburb). Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden put their expertise to the test at Chatfield. And this, the second year of growth for the plantings, shows that their efforts are a huge success.
All the gardens were a joy, with many colorful plants and combinations in full color. But what I like most about late summer gardens are the ornamental grasses. And these grasses really bring out the best in a garden providing contrast, grace and movement to complement their companion perennials. Sorghastrum (Indian Grass), Sporabolus wrightii (Giant Sacaton Grass), Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie Dropseed), Sporobolus airoides (Alkali Sacaton) and Bouteloua gracilis Blonde Ambition (Blue Grama Grass) were all looking their best. And in another month, the gardens will reignite by the numerous varieties of early fall blooming Miscanthus (Chinese Maiden Hair Grass).
But I have to say that Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass stole the show at all of the gardens with its attention getting, see through veil of horizontal blonde seed heads dancing in the breeze. This grass truly is completely different from all the other ornamental grasses by virtue of its unique chartreuse flowers that ripen to Nordic blonde seed heads.And the light color of the flowers and seed heads are superb at bringing attention to itself and all the plants around it. Like many of the larger grasses, Blonde Ambition takes two growing seasons to reach mature size, so I always recommend that it be fall planted to give a jump on reaching maturity.
You can see from the photos of the Denver area gardens, Blonde Ambition’s versatility in the gardens and landscapes, used as a specimen or better massed in groups of three or more plants.
Text and photos by David Salman
Planting Color in Late Summer and Early Fall
Many folks think of spring as the peak color season in their gardens. It’s often easy to “front load” the garden with spring flowering plants because that’s the time of the year when gardeners are visiting their local garden centers in search of plants. And of course, we all tend to buy what’s in color on the benches. But as the growing season stretches into summer, many gardens become very green with few flowers in sight. And that’s a shame because you late summer and early fall garden can as much or more colorful as the spring garden, only taller.
I always advise my fellow gardeners to get out into their gardens in late July and August to have a thoughtful look around. Take a note pad and write down your observations about where you could use more color. And what colors would look best. Consider our pollinators. The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that feast in spring, need to feed through the fall months in preparation for winter. Our gardens can make a huge difference.
Many spring flowering perennials and perennial bulbs tend to be short and medium sized plants. But the summer and early fall blooming perennials have had many months of growth before their flowers appear. Hence the tall grandeur of late season blooming perennials. Many out of town visitors are stunned to see my New Mexico gardens in September. They had no idea that there are so many wonderful flowering perennials that wait until the end of the growing season to bloom. And as an added bonus, most of these perennials are nectar sources for hummingbirds, so my gardens are full of these tiny, sparkling birds.
Some of my favorite flowers for late season color include:
Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea)- favorite nectar source for bumblebees and butterflies.
Re-blooming English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – nectar for bees and fragrance for people. These include ‘Buena Vista’, ‘Sharon Roberts’ and ‘Pastor’s Pride’)
Golden Rod (Solidago) – fantastic for butterflies and bees. These include ‘Fireworks’, ‘Golden Fleece’ and ‘Peter Pan’.
Salvia (Sage) – there are some many and all of them feed the hummingbirds. My favorites include ‘Furmans Red’, Salvia reptans, ‘Ultra Violet’ and Salvia pachyphylla (for Western gardens only).
Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) – fantastic hummingbird flowers. ‘Blue Fortune’ (best for Midwest and East Coast), ‘Ava’, ‘Rosita’, ‘Desert Solstice’ and Agastache rupestris.
Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) – spectacular orange flowers, rich with nectar that hummingbirds feast on. Zauschneria arizonica and ‘Orange Carpet’.
Russian Sage (Perovskia) – gorgeous smoky blue flowers. A favorite of honeybees and bumblebees.
Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus) – Towers of flowers in late summer and early fall. ‘Santa Fe’, ‘Dakota Sunshine’
Cold Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma) – gorgeous blue flowers and burgundy fall foliage!!
Ornamental grasses (Calamogrostis, Sporobolus, Muhlenbergia, Bouteloua) - all wonderful for fall and winter interest with their ornamental seed heads. Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ is one of the most unusual and spectacular.
Text and photos by David Salman
Tags: fall blooming perennials
One excellent alternative to having a water thirsty lawn is to convert your turf to a low water native turf grass. Or start with a native grass lawn when a new property needs a new lawn. One of the best all around native grasses for lawn use would be Buffalo Grass Buchloe dactyloides (pronounced >Boo CLO ee< > dac tee Lloyd ees<). This rugged native grass is widespread over much of the drier sections of the Great Plains and has been bred by agronomists in the past as a pasture grass. Until recently, Buffalo grass had only been available as pasture grass varieties which is grown from seed. And Buffalo grass seed is notoriously difficult to germinate evenly when sown for a new lawn.
But grass breeders at the University of Nebraska developed a dwarf, tight growing selection of Buffalo grass named of ‘Legacy’. ‘Legacy’ lawns are a quantum leap in quality when compared to the old seed grown varieties that grow to 8 inches in height un-mowed, and contain both male and female plants. (The male plants have hard, tough-on-the-feet flower heads.)
As compared to seed grown pasture type Buffalo grass, ‘Legacy’ is:
- An all female clone that is planted from plugs (rooted grass sprigs) solving the problem of patchy Buffalo grass lawns grown from seed.
- Grown as plugs planted on 12 inch by 12 inch centers. And it will fill in completely (in the warm months of summer) in about 3 months
- Pollen-free (no male plants) and has been bred to mature to an unmowed height of only 4 inches and can be mowed as little as once a month to keep it tidy. This saves time and money.
- Very water wise needing only 2 to 3 inches of inches of water per month to keep it green and lush saving homeowners between 40 and 75% of the water required for thirsty Kentucky Bluegrass depending on your soil type and average daytime temperatures.
‘Legacy’ will grow in any soil type, but it is most water wise when grown in clay or clay-loam soils. It does best in regions that get 30 inches of precipitation of less. ‘Prestige’,another University of Nebraska variety plug grown variety was breed for higher rainfall, more humid areas of the US including the Southeast.
Summer is ideal time for planting ‘Legacy’ and ‘Prestige’ because Buffalo grass grows fastest in the heat of summer and spreads rapidly to form a thick, deeply rooted green carpet of lawn. Pictured here is a beautiful ‘Legacy’ lawn that I spied on a recent trip to Boise, ID.
The Four Corners region of the Southwestern US (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico) is suffering yet another in an long string of regional droughts that have occurred in this area across the millennia. Here in my Santa Fe gardens and around town, I’m taking front seat to the effects of this multiyear drought on the city’s xeriscapes. Previous to yesterday’s cloud burst, the rain gauge in my front portal had recorded about 2 ½” of precipitation since the start of 2013. It’s been really, really dry.
But as global warming has pumped so much more energy into the Earth’s weather systems, the weather events we are now experiencing are often more extreme. Thus, when we got our first real rain of this year it was a monster; 2 ½” of rain fell in about 25 minutes across portions of Santa Fe bringing with it a lot of hail. I hate hail……. Hail and mosquitoes; twin plagues of the planet. But all you can do is clean up.
And here is how to revive your hail damaged perennials. These are a very resilient group of plants that have the potential to bounce back quickly with a little first aid. The key is to cut them back to where you find some undamaged foliage and clean-up all the leaves and debris left behind after the hail has shredded the foliage and stems. Clean-up is essential as it prevents disease from attacking the crowns of the plant, the result of moisture and rotting leaves lying over and around the bases of their stems.
Then a couple of days later, after the plants have healed a bit, I like to provide some energy to help revive them. I spray an organic foliar fertilizer over the remaining foliage. My favorite is Soil Mender™ Foliar Plus. I pull out a ready-to- use bottle that attaches to the end of your hose which makes it easy to apply these essential nutrients. I do this a couple of times, a couple of weeks apart. And while I’m out in the garden I spray any foliage left on my trees and shrubs too. In about a month or so the perennials will have recovered and come back to good health. And many of them will re-bloom to brighten your garden a little later in the growing season.
Text and photos by David Salman
Gardens have so much to offer and they enrich our lives in so many ways. Here is a garden I designed and planted as a donation to the Placitas Community Library several years ago. This wonderful library was the result of efforts by the little community of Placitas (in the foothills just north of Albuquerque, New Mexico) to provide a community center and a place for the school kids to come read and study. The good folks there raised all the money and oversaw the entire process to create this wonderful addition to their town. And of course, a group of Placitas area Master Gardeners were right in the thick of things helping to landscape the exterior of the building. They contacted me and asked if I would design and plant the flower bed on behalf of High Country Gardens at the front of the building. I was happy to do so and here are photos of my efforts at the library.
If you know of a worthwhile charity or non-profit in your community that would benefit from a beautiful, water-wise garden check out our HCG Good Cause Garden Giveaway Contest and I will design and donate the plants and soil amendments to make it a reality. All the winning organization will need to do is gather the labor to get the garden installed according to the plans that I provide.
Text and photos by David Salman