It’s the time of year when we’re itching to begin planting for the season and preparing for this year’s growth. But hold onto those shears! We know that regeneration is occurring in our soil, with microbes and overwintering insects. Delaying Spring cleanup for another few weeks will ensure a healthy, vibrant ecosystem that best supports your plants. Here are tips for you to best help this process take place, while still having an aesthetically pleasing garden.
Bees and Pollinators
Give yourself a break by putting away your lawn mower for the month of May with the additional benefit of feeding our early bees!
Lawns are generally a sterile environment for pollinators, but we can turn them into a temporary food source to give bees a leg up in the crucial spring season. By allowing plants typically identified as “weeds” (think dandelions, violets, clover) to flower they can provide food and fuel for our early pollinators that are emerging from hibernation. In turn, these bees go on to pollinate our fruit trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.
Bring fauna into your yard, and let others know you’re in solidarity with our other-than-human neighbors!.
It’s nesting season, and we can do a lot to support our feathered friends. Consider a birdhouse, and garden signs to express your care.
Monarch butterflies previously considered Threatened, have now been classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s most comprehensive scientific authority on the status of species. Two major driving factors are habitat loss (and thus, food loss), and climate change.
“The numbers of Western monarchs, which live west of the Rocky Mountains, plummeted by an estimated 99.9 percent between the 1980s and 2021. While they rebounded somewhat this year, they remain in great peril. Eastern monarchs, who make up most of the population in North America, dropped by 84 percent from 1996 to 2014. The new designation of endangered covers both populations.” (New York Times.)
Mason Bee populations plummeted throughout Boulder County due to harsh spring weather, so it’s especially important to coddle them this winter! Mason bees normally nest in holes in tree trunks, which offer stable temperature, moisture, and protection from predators. To provide extra assistance, bring your Mason and other native bee tubes/cocoons into a sheltered place with ambient (outdoor) temperatures, but with less fluctuation, like a garage or refrigerator. Cocooned bees are now adult and safe to handle in their cocoons. If you used liners or reeds, take them out of the guard tubes and shelters and store them in the fridge. Ideally, unwrap the liners/reeds and just overwinter the mason bee cocoons. Place them in a Humidi-bee chamber (in stock), and keep the lower pad moist.
It’s official – Mason bees are flying! Make sure you have new, clean nesting materials for them and for the other bee species that follow throughout the summer. If you have overwintered cocoons, get them out now. You can use one of our release tubes (pictured left) that allow the bees to emerge but not to renest in the same old dirty straws.
Mason bees only fly from about mid-March to early June. If you don’t have plants blooming then, such as fruit trees or Mahonia, you won’t be able to support mason bees. Don’t worry though because there are many other cavity nesting species that are happy for a clean safe place to nest.
Our BEE BARN has a great selection of Bee Equipment for Honeybees and Native Bees!
BUZZZZ ON BY TO CHECK IT OUT!
The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.
If you were lucky enough to get any mason bees nesting this spring, you’ll want to coddle them through the winter. Their populations are down throughout Boulder County because of the weather, and Tom Theobald, our usual supplier, isn’t even sure whether he’ll have any for sale next spring.
Mason and other native bees should be brought into a sheltered place with ambient (outdoor) temperatures, but with less fluctuation. These bees would normally nest in holes in tree trunks, which offer more stability in terms of temperature, moisture and, of course, protection from predators. Mason bees are already adults now and are safe to handle in their cocoons. If you used liners or reeds, take them out of the guard tubes and shelters and store them in the fridge. Ideally, unwrap the liners/reeds and just overwinter the mason bee cocoons. Place them in a Humidi-bee chamber and keep the lower pad moist.
You can do the same with leaf cutter bees but handle them very carefully as they aren’t yet mature. Our supplier, Crown Bees, will be livestreaming a cocoon harvesting demo on Saturday. We also have large organza bags for storing blocks or shelters to protect from parasitoid wasps.
Now is a good time to stock up on supplies for the spring, replacing single use tubes and liners to provide clean sheets and immediate vacancy in your spring mason bee hotel! Many folks have been asking about releasing bees in the spring. We now have a special tube designed for exactly that which should make the process easier and clearer.
What a storm we had last week! With the windy conditions and record-setting low temps, everyone’s gardens looks very different this week and may need some attention. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to review our blog about garden cleanup. The good news is that soil temperatures have cooled down to the optimal soil temperature for bulb planting, ~50 degrees. And, our current mild daytime temps and above-freezing nighttime temps are ideal for planting perennials, and still good for planting roses, shrubs and trees. Inoculating with mycorrhizae and attention to fall and winter watering are the keys to success.
Starting with bulb planting: Recommended planting depths are to the bottom of the planting hole where the base of the bulb rests. Planting depth can vary depending on how light or heavy your soil is – plant deeper in light soils, shallower in heavier soils. (If you’re in doubt, a general rule is that planting depth is 3 times the height of the bulb.)
You don’t have to dig a single hole for each bulb! You can dig a large hole, say 8-14″ wide by 16-24″ long, to accommodate a large grouping, or swath of bulbs. This is a great way to save time, to create a more naturalized look, and to combine two or three types of bulbs in one grouping.
Single Early, Triumph, Darwin Hybrid, and Multi-flowering tulips should be planted 8″ deep to perform as perennials, and fertilized each year just after bloom. Be sure to allow the leaves and stems to wither naturally before cutting them down.
You may want to sprinkle bone meal in the bottom of the hole so that it can touch the bulb roots. We love Root Rally, which is a blend of bone meal and Endo/Ecto mycorrhizae spores and plant nutrients, providing mycorrhizae life support for all plants. (See more on mycorrhizae, below.) Refill the hole and water well.
Planting perennials, roses, shrubs and trees: The fall is a great time to plant perennials, roses and shrubs as they can focus solely on root growth instead of trying to reproduce. After gently removing its pot, gently swish the root ball in a bucket of unchlorinated water with water-soluble mycorrhizae (let the water sit overnight to release chlorine and add the mycorrhizae later). Mycorrhizae is a beneficial fungi that attaches to roots, allowing them to better absorb water and nutrients. This results in faster plant and root growth, and better transplanting success. If you only have granular mycorrhizae on-hand, sprinkle it on the roots as you are planting. Read more about mycorrhizae in Mikl’s article, “Mycorrhizae: The Hidden Marriage of Plants and Fungi”.
By gently swishing the root ball in water, the root mass will loose its pot-shape and individual roots will be lengthened. This allows the ends of the roots to be planted deeper, helping to ensure long-term drought hardiness.
After late-season planting, be sure to (hand) water deeply and frequently, at least twice a month for woody plants, throughout the winter.
For specific info on rose planting, see Eve’s rose planting instructions.
Finally, a quick additional word on garden clean-up. Some of our Southwestern plants should not yet be cut-back. Wait until April to do so, which will give them additional time to gather and store nutrients, and keep the crowns of the plants from getting too cold. These plants include, but aren’t limited to, Agastache, Salvia (S. lemmonii ‘Desert Rose’, S. reptans, S. x microphyllus ‘Royal Ruby’, S. greggii ‘Furman’s Red’, S. darcyi), Zauschneria (Hummingbird Trumpet), Scrophularia macrantha (Red Birds in a Tree), Scutellaria suffrutescens (Cherry Skullcap), Gaura lindheimeri.
It’s the time of year to ready our gardens for the upcoming fallow winter season and prepare for next year’s growth. We do this knowing that regeneration will be occurring in our soil, with the microbes and with overwintering insects. Here are tips for you to best help this process take place, while still having an aesthetically pleasing garden.
Autumn has declared itself on the Front Range, and many gardeners are itching to bring a close to the gardening year by tidying up. But wait! There are some important issues to consider here before bringing out the rakes, blowers, clippers and shears.
Now is a great time to take a long look at your gardens and make notes on successes, disappointments, gaps, and changes that you’d like to make. Assess the ecosystem you have created, and think about how you can make it even more supportive of our precious wildlife, beneficial insects, pollinators and soil life.
A certain amount of garden clean-up is very important for reducing diseases and pests that are difficult to control. If you haven’t already done so, do remove diseased plants from your vegetable garden. You should have been removing and treating diseased foliage from roses or shrubs with fungal diseases like mildew, blackspot or rust before now, but if their disease-carrying foliage is falling now, keep them picked up and dispose of them responsibly.
But don’t be so quick to scalp those perennials and annuals! Many of them provide natural food and shelter sources that wildlife and beneficial insects depend on for winter survival. You may not have noticed, but so many beneficial insects and butterfly larvae spend the winter in the (often hollow) dead stems. If you throw them out, you’ll lose most of the beneficials that would otherwise keep the balance next year. Always keep an eye out for egg cases attached to stalks when you prune or clean up. There’s often an aesthetic side-benefit – many seed-heads look fabulous either crowned with snow or silhouetted against the snow-covered ground.
Some perennials die back to below ground (peonies, false indigo, gas plant, golden banner, balloon flower, desert four o’clock, gayfeather, leadwort/plumbago, etc.) leaving no basal growth and leaving a completely blank space. To make sure you don’t forget where they are and accidentally dig them up or step on them, leave dry stems until the new growth begins to appear in spring.
Unless you have an ‘ornamental’ grass that self-sows aggressively, leave grasses and their seedheads standing. If they are ‘cool-season’ grasses, you’ll want to leave them until about mid-February, then cut them to 3” above the ground so they can begin making unimpeded new growth as soon as the soil thaws. Dormant ‘warm-season’ grasses can remain attractive until warm weather comes and don’t need to be cut down until April.
Leaving dry stalks standing in the winter also helps preserve soil structure. Snow collects between the stalks and provides protection from freezing temperatures by insulation for the crowns of the plants, especially important for marginally hardy plants. Captured snow keeps soil temperature more consistent, protecting from extreme temperature fluctuations, and helps prevent the alternate freezing and thawing that can disrupt mycorrhizal networks (and uproot plants, especially new and small ones).
Leave the leaves! The larvae of many butterflies overwinter in the blanket of autumn leaves, as well as other beneficials. The leaves also provide cover for frogs, toads and spiders. Songbirds eat more than just seeds; they search in the leaf litter for insect eggs and caterpillars. As leaves naturally break down over time, they feed the soil microbes that make nutrients available to plants. Worried about harboring snail and slugs? Before those leaves begin to fall, spread a non-toxic slug bait like Sluggo in areas of concern. You may want to remove leaves and twigs from patios, decks, walkways and lawns, and that’s fine – especially if you can spread them under shrubs or pile them in a corner where they’ll remain undisturbed through the winter. And very large, flat leaves from trees like Catalpa, Basswood (Tilia americana), Norway Maple, Sycamore/London Planetree) should be cleared from beds or they can form a slick solid mat that smothers the crowns of smaller plants.
Xeriscape? Are you kidding? With all the rain we’ve been getting, isn’t the drought over?
As I understand our current water situation, water restrictions are still in effect for the Denver area, Colorado Springs has had a very dry spring until July and is under water restrictions, the Western Slope has been dry, New Mexico has been dry until July; and Montana and South Dakota are having severe droughts. What this means is that the wonderful moist season we are enjoying in the Denver area depends on ephemeral conditions we cannot count on. In addition, much of our water comes from the Western Slope where weather patterns can be quite different from our own, so even if our gardens are getting watered, it doesn’t mean our reservoirs will be full. We live in a semi-arid environment and water conservation and xeriscaping will be increasingly important as our population grows, especially if global warming increases our temperatures.
Food safety is one of the most critical issues of our time. What we eat is directly related to our health, and health care has a direct impact on our personal and national economies. Major chemical companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Dupont have introduced 86,000 synthetic chemicals into our environment, food, drugs, cosmetics etc and most of them have never been tested for toxic effects on human health and the environment. Since the mid 1990s, some of these same companies have been filling our grocery stores and feed stores with genetically engineered food products which may be causing serious health problems but are being approved by our government without safety testing.
Overview: The Good News: 100,000 insect species; only 200 pests. We do not need neonics or any toxic pesticide to grow plants well. The solution is human attention, biodiversity, nutrient-dense soils, application of nontoxic management, and tolerance.
The Bad News: Most people and most nurseries don’t know the good news. They believe the chemical companies that we need to fear and attack insects and fungi as enemies.
More Good News: The concern of ordinary citizens who call nurseries and businesses and ask them if they are using systemic neonic poisons in their plants, is having a powerful effect. These companies now know we care and will buy plants that are neonic-free if we can. This could get them to change.