Author Topic: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)  (Read 599 times)

La Bibliotecaria Feroz

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Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« on: September 26, 2019, 01:35:36 PM »
Hi, internet people.

I have a tiny urban yard that is currently grass bordered by rocks. I hate rocks. In the back there is a covered patio, a tiny grass strip, and then a weird dirt slope thing that is fenced on both sides. Some parts of the grass grow really well and others always look super dry. I even have trouble getting CLOVER to grow there.

My goals include growing some food, getting rid of the rocks, and being more environmentally friendly (eg, supporting pollinators) BUT not making my life too difficult, because I work full-time and have kids. I already know that some of those grass areas need to be replaced with mulch. Why do I have about an eighteen-inch-wide grass strip behind the garage?

Anyway, I have never gardened before (with the exception of some knockout roses I planted in south Georgia ten years ago) and also have no experience landscaping. I want to start small with scalable changes. Does anyone have any favorite resources for, like, "the complete newbie's guide to their first garden" or something?

Sun Hat

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2019, 06:57:53 PM »
Hi Bibliotecaria!

When I want to look up specific plants to learn their water and sun requirements, I like almanac.com.
Unfortunately the books that I used to plan my garden wouldn't work for you, as our climates are too different. However, some plants grow in a really wide range.

One I can recommend is oregano, as it likes a sunny spot in poor, dry soil. It smells delightful, the bees love the flowers, and it's a hardy perennial. It is highly invasive though, so to contain the roots, it's useful to plant it in a pot that you then plant in the ground.

Another perennial that I grow that will suit your hot, dry summers are coneflowers (aka echinacea). The bees love them and they don't need much water once established. There are several varieties that offer different colours and heights.

As a more general landscaping option, thyme works as a lovely groundcover. It also doesn't need watering once established, the bees love the tiny flowers, and when you walk on it, it releases just the loveliest scent. It's not ideal for really high-traffic areas, but mine always stood up to wear.

Use your presumably excellent research skills to look for books with the keywords "xeriscaping", "high-altutude gardening" or any gardening books written by locals.

Before you start reading, have a poke at your soil. If you squish a handful of soil, it should form a loose ball, then crumble. If it holds no shape, then it has too much sand; and if it forms a solid lump, then it has too much clay. Clay helps retain water, and sand makes drainage easier. Often, adding organic matter will help soil that is at either extreme loosen up and retain moisture.

Good luck!

Cranky

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2019, 01:27:01 PM »
There should be some sort of gardening extension program in you county - they are really experts on what works well in your area.

These days, if I lived in Denver, Id look at xeriscaping, but I personally like rocks.

Indio

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2019, 01:50:12 PM »
I'd a soil test before I grew anything that was edible and it might also explain why you have a barren area. Re the garage grass strip is it to help with roof drainage? I'd plant a creeping pachasandra in that spot. Doesn't need a lot of sun and it takes a lot to kill it.

Goldielocks

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2019, 05:37:22 PM »
I recommend starting a monthly gardening talk at your library, as a public group activity, and organizing speakers.   Maybe reach out to existing gardening clubs that already organize lectures to try to move them into your space?

It is how I learned in Calgary, AB, where NOTHING WOULD GROW. *  Damn east side of the rockies and high altitude!  So much spring freeze / thaw with tip kill, and strong winds and chinooks  and UV and dry parched soil and, and., and.....

*my opinion at first... coming from experience gardening on the prairies and on the west coast.  everything I planted did not thrive there until I learned what to do with the soil and what plants to choose from the garden club.

** Cotoneasters... Lilacs... wild roses... barberry... crabapples... etc.   those are hardy plants, that the first settlers to the region planted, that grow without too much babying. 

horsepoor

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2019, 05:28:23 PM »
I'm in Boise and established a native/xeriscape to get rid of most of the grass in our front yard about 5 years ago.  I love it because I rarely have to worry about watering in the summer.  For your smaller space, some plants I would recommend would be:

Greek yarrow - well-behaved ground cover that is only about 6" tall when it blooms, and makes an attractive blue-gray mat when not in bloom.

Rocky mountain penstemon.  Smaller plant with nice purple flower spikes.  Popular with bumblebees.

Spreading buckwheat - this will get about 12" high and 3' across.  It has small bright yellow flowers and blooms late summer.  I have a cultivar, but have seen it growing wild in norther Colorado.

Purple sage - smaller shrub with nice purple flowers.  It stays under about 2' wide and tall.

Native grasses.  I love the "Blonde Ambition" cultivar of blue grama that High Country Gardens sells.  It will add interest and a place for bugs to hide out over winter, then you just cut the dead part away in the spring and it regrows.

Sulphur buckhweat - super drought-tolerant small "cushion" type plant with yellow flowers.  The flowers and stalks get straw-like after blooming, so they continue to look interesting after the bloom is over.

As far as something for the pollinators, I've been letting fennel go to seed and they go nuts for it.  I have a lot of honey bees on it, as well as native bees/wasps throughout the summer.  Other plants in the umbelliferae family are popular with pollinators too (dill, cilantro, parsley, etc.).  It's important to have a range of flower sizes because of the range in sizes of pollinators.  Of course it's a good idea to plant some milkweed as well.  Check the Xerces society webpage to find the right species for your area.

chaskavitch

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2019, 07:12:03 AM »
Check out the CSU extension website.  They have a TON of stuff about xeriscaping in Colorado, as well as plant recommendations with info on height and color groups.

https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/xeriscaping-creative-landscaping-7-228/

This "Plant this not that" pamphlet has some nice examples of groupings of native and xeric plants that are great for the foothills regions.

https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/native/FrontRange.pdf

I'm working on a plan for the front yard of our new house just north of Fort Collins, so I've been using these a lot lately :)  Good luck!

Aegishjalmur

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2019, 10:33:37 AM »
I had a house in Denver for over a decade and we had turned our entire front yard into a Xeroscaped garden(Yes, Xeroscaped does not have to be just rocks!)(I watered maybe two or three times a year MAX if I hadn't planted new plants). So, a couple things:

Denver soil can be very hard packed sun baked clay. When we first started we ripped all the sod off and put it to compost in the back. We then laid weed cloth and put down a 6+ inch layer of mulch in some areas and a 6+ inch deep layer of pea gravel(we had 5 tons delivered via dumptruck and then moved using a wheelbarrow and buckets) down to make a path.

The advantage of this is tat the mulch and pea gravel allow better drainage during rain storms, and then keep the soil damp for longer periods after to allow the plants to absorb it over a few days versus it all evaporating quickly as soon as the storms move on. The mulch will break down over time and acts like a slow drip fertilizer. Each year, go out in the spring with a hand trowel and break up the compost and add a few bags more.

When you are planting, have a bag on manure or bucket of compost on hand and dig a much deeper and wider hole than you need to. Heavily amend the soil as you go. If you are ambitious, you can put a layer down under the weed cloth.

A word of warming: When we first started I had a piece of rebar and a 5 lb sledge that I used to chip out holes as the soil was so hard in spots. You will want a good, sturdy shovel, and handpick at the very minimum. Cheap thin metal tools are a waste-you will break them(ask me how I know).

Get a compost pile going. I got one that was 2 ft by 2ft by 4 ft high. It was made of snap together plastic with air holes for ventilation and was black to attract the heat. Grass clippings leaves and veggie waste from cooking are great. Do you drink coffee? If not, Starbucks or other coffee shops will sometimes give you their used grounds if you ask. Coffee grounds are very good for compost. They will also help cut the smell(We had none even in 90+ weather).

If you are going to have a compost container in the house to hold the trimmings before you bring them outside, I recommend getting a solid glass jar: It will rust out and corrode metal. Once this was full I would dump it in the compost, then rinse out the jar and dump the water in as well to keep it moist.

The good news is that as you amend the soil and dig holes, it will get easier as this allows the water to get in and break down the harder sections.

For a plant source I recommend Paulino Garden Centers(It's off of I-25 a little north of Denver) They have sections of plants that are specifically bred for high altitude/low water environments. That and it's just fun to wander and stare at the plants. This is also where we got the gravel from. They will deliver.

Roots&Wings

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2019, 07:23:17 AM »
Sounds like a fun project! For your ugly grass patches, this video (or other "no dig" ones) might be helpful for easily converting the areas into garden beds for food or pollinator flowers: Convert Your Lawn by Sheet Mulching. Building healthy soil is probably the most important thing with a garden.

horsepoor

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2019, 07:32:52 AM »
I had a house in Denver for over a decade and we had turned our entire front yard into a Xeroscaped garden(Yes, Xeroscaped does not have to be just rocks!)(I watered maybe two or three times a year MAX if I hadn't planted new plants).

Sorry, pet peeve.  It is Xeriscape.  As in xeric.  As in, requiring a small amount of moisture.  People hear "zero" and think it means a barren, ugly wasteland, which is so far from the truth.  I wish there was a more descriptive term to use so the layperson wouldn't misinterpret (I'm a vegetation ecologist).
« Last Edit: September 30, 2019, 07:34:23 AM by horsepoor »

La Bibliotecaria Feroz

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #10 on: October 01, 2019, 01:38:13 PM »
Y'all, I have tried to answer here like three times, but the forum keeps going down while I'm typing. Fingers crossed.

I'd a soil test before I grew anything that was edible and it might also explain why you have a barren area. Re the garage grass strip is it to help with roof drainage? I'd plant a creeping pachasandra in that spot. Doesn't need a lot of sun and it takes a lot to kill it.

I will do a soil test but the barren area is in the same half of the yard as the lush area, so I think maybe it just doesn't get enough water? The sprinkler doesn't reach it very well, it gets more sun, and I am lazy about hand-watering it.

I was just going to throw some mulch behind the garage but pachasandra is a cool idea! I don't know that draining is a huge concern here in Denver but the downspouts do go that way.

I recommend starting a monthly gardening talk at your library, as a public group activity, and organizing speakers.   Maybe reach out to existing gardening clubs that already organize lectures to try to move them into your space?

It is how I learned in Calgary, AB, where NOTHING WOULD GROW. *  Damn east side of the rockies and high altitude!  So much spring freeze / thaw with tip kill, and strong winds and chinooks  and UV and dry parched soil and, and., and.....

*my opinion at first... coming from experience gardening on the prairies and on the west coast.  everything I planted did not thrive there until I learned what to do with the soil and what plants to choose from the garden club.

** Cotoneasters... Lilacs... wild roses... barberry... crabapples... etc.   those are hardy plants, that the first settlers to the region planted, that grow without too much babying. 

We just don't have a lot of homeowners in this area--I have no reason to think that there is an interest in gardening talks. Sigh. But I do have a coworker who is a master gardener who will be a great source of information for me!

@Aegishjalmur - I will probably just buy compost. Is that terrible? I would be paying twice because I pay about $10/month for municipal compost, but that does not entitle me to any free compost. I can buy it at Ace Hardware. The nice thing about the municipal is you can put in meat scraps, weeds, and other stuff that is really hard to compost at home. The service came with a special odor-fighting plastic compost pail for the kitchen.

Thanks for the warning about soil hardness! I will make sure to be emotionally prepared! Do you put down both compost and mulch every year?

I had a house in Denver for over a decade and we had turned our entire front yard into a Xeroscaped garden(Yes, Xeroscaped does not have to be just rocks!)(I watered maybe two or three times a year MAX if I hadn't planted new plants).

Sorry, pet peeve.  It is Xeriscape.  As in xeric.  As in, requiring a small amount of moisture.  People hear "zero" and think it means a barren, ugly wasteland, which is so far from the truth.  I wish there was a more descriptive term to use so the layperson wouldn't misinterpret (I'm a vegetation ecologist).

Ha ha, I definitely thought it was "zeroscape" the first time I heard it. The book Xeriscape Colorado (way too advanced for me present needs) had a joke about how "zeroscape" is, like, a yard of rocks, which you definitely see and she had pictures of!

I do want to keep a moderate turf area for my kids to, like, shoot each other with water guns on. I have been planting the bare patches (the yard was sodded before we move in, and it took only in these weird square areas) with a mixture of grass and clover seeds for the nitrogen benefits while keeping a durable surface for play.

Basically what I want to do is take, like, one area of rock beds at a time and convert it to a place where something grows. I am never going to be able to do my whole yard at once. We work full-time and have kids! I need to go in sections! Figuring out what to do first and how to start is the hard part! Thanks for all the good ideas so far, everyone!

jeninco

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Re: Getting started with gardening/landscaping (Denver)
« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2019, 01:58:04 PM »
I think there's a "natives plants" section at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and the staff there are delighted to ask questions. Plus, everything has labels -- if you see something you like, you can take a picture of it, and its information label, and either ask about it or look it up later.

Stuff that's fun to plant in an ENCLOSED area (like, if that strip is surrounded by concrete:
Vinca
Mint (yum!)
Oregano, as mentioned before,
Some tall grasses

If the downspout releases in that spot, you have more options because you're directing water there.
Roses actually do pretty well around here, and they don't need (or, in some cases, even want) to be in full sun.

I think your plan to work in sections is wise! But maybe figure out where vegetables will go (a sunny place that you can conveniently get water to) ahead of time.