Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our Beautiful Natives

Most Utahns don’t realize what a beautiful state they reside in. On many occasions I have witnessed our native flora dismissed with a wave of an arm and a mumbled comment about weeds. I didn’t always realize it either, but with a closer look I have found a plethora of interesting and even beautiful plants that are native to the Beehive State. The best part is, they’re adapted to our climate, making them more resilient to pests and easier to care for. Here are five of my favorite garden-worthy Utah natives (click on the plant names for more information):

Firecracker Penstemon

Sulfur Flower Buckwheat

Dorr Sage

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Native to southern Utah, this tall shrub/small tree is more closely related to catalpas than willows. Hardy to a zone 6 or 7, the desert willow will die back in Utah winters. The ones growing in our garden will usually lose one to two feet of branches and occasionally more during northern Utah’s harsher winters. However, the roots remain vigorous and respond quickly once the heat returns in spring.

Long branches are covered with slender green leaves. Pink orchid-like blooms steal the show in late-spring and early summer, sometimes flowering fitfully into the summer. The flowers give way to long, green seed pods that turn brown as they die. Desert willows can survive off of natural precipitation, but will also tolerate a little bit of irrigation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Garden Event Update

There’s still plenty of time to get some gardening done. Come and find out how at our free waterwise landscaping classes and events.

Go Native!
Saturday, September 3, 2011
9:00 a.m.
Steven Paulsen, Conservation Seeding & Restoration, Inc
Utah-native plants require less water and maintenance and are adapted to our environment. Learn how to use their beauty in your landscape.

Watering Drop by Drop: Drip Irrigation Basics
Saturday, September 3, 2011
10:30 a.m.
Gig Bunnell, Sprinkler World
Drip irrigation saves water but can be confusing to design and install. Learn about different drip system products and which will work best for you as well as easy installation techniques for sure-fire success.

Learn with “Joy in the Garden”
Thursday, September 8, 2011
6:00 p.m.
Joy Bossi, Garden Consultant and host of KNRS “Joy in the Garden”
Radio host and garden consultant Joy Bossi will tour the Conservation Garden Park, providing many excellent landscaping insights and ideas. Come with your questions and walking shoes.

Utah Green Blue Festival
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Blue is the new Green. How much water is used to make a pair of jeans, a set of dishes, or a new car? Join us for a day full of informational classes, experts and vendors experienced in conserving energy, water and other natural resources, and learn what you can do to reduce your impact on the environment.

For more information, and to register, visit

Monday, August 22, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Desert Four O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

One of my favorite Utah natives, the desert four o’clock is a giant of a plant, often reaching up to 5-6 feet in diameter. It grows in a large spreading clump with almost heart-shaped leaves and large pink, trumpet-shaped flowers that open up in the afternoon as cooler temperatures prevail. Many morning visitors to our garden discount it before seeing its hundreds of flowers in bloom, much to their loss. Hawk moths, which are out when the flowers are blooming, are a common sight near any desert four o’clock plant. It is a steady reseeder and any stray seedlings should be controlled, unless you want it to spread.
It is the ultimate low maintenance plant; its large, fleshy roots are its secret to success. The roots store ample moisture which helps it to survive off of natural precipitation. Once the first frosts of summer have killed the top of the plant, simply grab the stems and pull, which will separate them from their still-living roots. Dispose of the stems and leaves and repeat again next year.

Daffodils are an excellent companion plant. The desert four o’clock will bide its time in the spring until the weather warms up, giving the daffodils time to bloom and flourish before the four o’clock covers up their yellowing leaves.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Frogs, Crickets and Mites

Thanks to the efforts of a devoted grandmother, my son became the caretaker of six tiny frogs. They were country frogs, born and raised along the wide-open swampy bottoms of the Bear River and relocated to a tiny plastic cage in the city. My son, as is common for boys, has a soft spot for slimy creatures and he enjoyed seeing them squirm and flop in their mini-habitat complete with rocks, lettuce leaf and murky water.
But the city lacks the variety of insect refreshment found in the hungry amphibians’ native swampland. So we visited the local pet shop where we purchased live crickets, overpriced at $3.50 for twenty-four. We soon found that getting the crickets and the frogs together was difficult as they both have an annoying tendency to hop in different directions as soon as lids come off cages. I’m fairly certain that we got twenty-three crickets in frog bellies; the twenty-fourth is still on the lam, last seen in the vicinity of our living room.

I could see the writing on the wall. This was clearly not a sustainable living situation and the frogs would have to be set free. After watching the frogs starve for three days, which in amphibians means they look pretty much the same only you feel more guilt, I convinced my son to take action. With tears staining his cheeks, he let the little hoppers go. Later, we had a discussion about the circle of life, about how those frogs may not survive the great outdoors, but that was their part to play – the eater of insects that might be eaten by something larger down the line.

That circle of life is constantly unfolding in every garden and landscape, whether in the city or the country. Insects and other animals must eat or be eaten. So how does this apply to us? At the risk of sounding like some big tree-hugging nut (my apologies to any tree-hugging nuts reading this), there is a tendency to assume that every bug is the enemy and every enemy must be destroyed. In reality, overlooking a few holes in leaves and letting a few bugs slip through our garden defenses will allow the cycle to continue.

Occasionally the circle of life gets out of kilter and we see a true outbreak of insect pests that demand control. Sometimes chemicals may be the best or only option, but consider first the benefits of insecticidal soaps, oils and even a stiff jet of water which may be equally effective, less expensive and won’t disrupt the cycle.
Taken by: Gilles San Martin

As an example of this concept, let’s examine the lowly spider-mite (Tetranychus urticae), a tiny arachnid that loves hot, dry weather, especially when it has a fat, green leaf to suck juice from. It can cause serious damage or even death to its poor, drought weakened victims. A knee-jerk use of a miticide could control the spider mites for one year, only to see them return in greater numbers the next. A closer examination reveals that the injudicious use of a miticide kills the spider mite’s biggest predator, other mites. A better option is to spray the victimized plant with a cool jet of water, robbing the spider mites of their preferred habitat and leaving no residual effect, allowing the circle of life to continue next year.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)

Butterfly bush is found commonly throughout most of the world and has become a popular plant in cultivation. Long clusters of flowers come in white, purple, blue, yellow and magenta, which bloom throughout the summer. A fast grower, the butterfly bush can grow three to four feet in one season and reach 8 to 10 feet in height, but can be maintained at a shorter height with an aggressive approach to pruning. They may also be trimmed to a single stem creating a very small tree.

As the name implies, butterflies are attracted to its flowers as a source of nectar. Its narrow, dark-green leaves are pale green underneath and grow on exfoliating bark. In wetter climates with fertile natural soils, the butterfly bush can become invasive and escape into the wild. In Utah, however, it stays put and survives with minimal amounts of irrigation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Garden Event Update

Confused about what to do with your park strip? Are you interested in planting natives? We have the classes for you. Visit us on August 20th for a Saturday morning of learning. The classes are FREE and open to anyone. Register online at

Easy Designs for Problematic Park Strips
Saturday, August 20, 2011
9:00 a.m.
Kathlyn Collins, the Gardening Coach
Narrow, hot and dry, park strips can be difficult areas to landscape. Learn how to design park strips that take less water and look beautiful.

The Best Native Plants for Utah
Saturday, August 20, 2011
10:30 a.m.
Faye Rutishauser, New Horizons Nursery
Utah is full of plants that are beautiful, adapted to the climate and grow naturally. Find out the Utah-native plants that work best for you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)

Fruit of the prunus genus are among my favorite and the apricot tops the list for usefulness. There is no end to their uses such as in fruit leather, jams, dried and as a fresh snack. Apricots are also very beautiful ornamental trees and their small pinkish-white flowers are among the first to bloom. The drawback to using them ornamentally is that the fruit can make a mess when they fall, especially if they are not harvested on time.
It is difficult to tell exactly where the apricot originated and Armenia is as good a guess as any. Regardless, apricots prefer colder climates and don’t mind a little drought, although any fruit producing tree should get adequate amounts if large crops of fruit are expected.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

Hibiscuses are most commonly associated with climates like Hawaii, but Utah’s dry, arid climate wouldn’t seem a likely spot for this tropical flower. However, the Rose-of-Sharon is related to the hibiscus and has a very similar flower, just smaller than its tropical cousins but still about three to four inches in diameter. Its flowers bloom throughout the summer making it an excellent summer blooming shrub.
The Rose-of-Sharon will reach 8 to 10 feet in height and grows medium-green, somewhat maple-shaped leaves. It is very tolerant of drought and Utah’s alkaline soils. Not a large water user, this shrub works well along fence lines and as a backdrop to flower beds.