I am by no means a gardening expert and am never sure how answer the question of “are you a gardener?”, but I do love growing beautiful things! This morning I walked around our house and took a bunch of photos of what we have growing (good and bad!) and I’m throwing it all out there in this stream-of-consciousness-style post. I’d love to hear what’s growing well for you, too, if you make it to the bottom and want to leave a comment!
This is a culinary sage that I planted four-ish years ago from one of those very small plants that you can buy at the grocery store in spring. It’s now huge and while I don’t really use sage for cooking that much, I’ve grown to love this as a landscape plant.
Grasshoppers do seem eat it a bit, but not too badly, and when they do eat it the leaves don’t seem to shrivel up and look quite as horrible as some other plants.
This variety has never flowered for me, so I’m not sure what it is as everything I’m trying to link to mentions it flowering. I don’t recall exactly what it looks like in the winter, but I do remember that it looks nice for a good part of the off-season. I’ve never watered it specifically once it was established.
This is a variety of the veronica/speedwell groundcover. It blooms with tiny purple flowers in spring and I love it, but a bunch of mine died this winter and only a small part has come back so I’m a little hesitant to plant it again. I’d love to get some large patches of it like you can see here and I have lots of places that groundcover would be nice, so I’ll probably try it again at some point. It’s just so frustrating when it takes a few years to get something established and then it dies off!
(You can see the blooming veronica in the picture at the top of this post, draping over the rocks on the top left.)
I read about Dog Tuff Grass in some of my landscaping books and decided to try it out this year in an area behind our house that has horrible soil and that we’re not sure how to landscape. It’s basically a variety of Bermuda grass that is supposed to be super drought tolerant.
It was shipped in 1-inch square plugs and you’re supposed to plant them about a foot apart. It spreads by runners, so the idea is that it fills itself in over time. It took a couple of weeks, but we are starting to see those tufts get bigger and they’re definitely sending out runners, so I have high hopes that this will be a solution for that area. There’s no way we are going to bring in good soil for that big of an area, and even tilling the existing soil to loosen it up would be problematic because there were a lot of pine trees in that area that we removed for fire mitigation so there are roots everywhere. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
Oh, one thing that’s somewhat of a drawback to Dog Tuff Grass is that it’s a cool-season grass, so it’s only green from about May to September. I’m fine with that for this area, but I’m not planning to make it the grass of choice in the actual backyard.
In our actual backyard, we planted dwarf fescue grass seed in a decent-sized area three or four years ago, and I really like it. (It is pure fescue, not a blend.) It stays green a long time, grows slowly so it doesn’t need a lot of mowing, and does pretty good without a ton of water.
(In my experience, Home Depot carries pure dwarf fescue seed, but not Lowe’s. Here’s a link, though the bags I buy look slightly different.)
In that photo above, the bare spots that you see were just tilled and seeded with fescue – those are areas that either never got filled in well when we first planted, and that big section is an area that we’d not planted with fescue yet. I’ll spare you the long explanation as to why!
We don’t have a sprinkler system, so we water with a small sprinkler and then spot-water with a hose any areas that the sprinkler missed. I have no idea how often we water it, so I can’t tell you that, unfortunately! When it was really hot this summer, before the monsoon rains started, I slacked off on watering and it got brown, but then started watering it again and it recovered quickly.
I also had this grass aerated in mid-July – the wrong time of year, I know, but we’ve never had it aerated before and Jeremy and I disagree about how bad the soil underneath is. ;) I finally just decided that I was going to do what I thought it needed (and of course, the lawn is magically improved – just kidding – sort of).
So I had it aerated and then spread Happy Frog Soil Conditioner on top of it and overseeded. That happened right before monsoon rains so of course it looks fantastic now but it’s hard to say if that was a benefit of the treatments or just because of a lot of rain. I’m inclined to say that it all helped! Next spring I will definitely have it aerated again, in early spring.
I also use Richlawn’s Pro-Rich fertilizer on our fescue grass and I think it definitely helps keep it green. It’s primarily made of dehydrated poultry waste so it smells when you put it on, but I’d rather have that than some sort of chemical rubbing into my kids’ bare feet.
Oh! And I don’t know if this is a benefit from the Pro-Rich fertilizer or the type of grass, but we have very few weeds in this grass. In places where the grass isn’t thick, we get some dandelions and other weeds but where the grass is healthy, we rarely see a weed.
Last year, we planted a whole bunch of trees and I was very excited to see that most of them came back! We planted three Montmorency (sour) cherry trees for beauty, fruit, and privacy and they are doing well in their second year at our house, though I wish I could keep the deer from nibbling on them. I’m also not sure how or when to prune them so I’d love to hear your tips if you have them! One in particular is puzzling to me, as it has three branches that seem to be the “main” one so I don’t know if I should just leave it or try to get it to develop one main trunk.
We use this Tree I.V. bucket watering system for the cherry trees and it works great. You just fill up the buckets and let the water soak in through the “I.V.” that goes into the ground about a foot. The one drawback is that you do have buckets sitting around, but the system seems to work really well and it makes it very easy to water in the winter as you can just fill up the buckets and then be done, rather than have to remember to turn off the hose.
(The area behind this tree is where we’re seeing if the Dog Tuff grass will grow. The little tufts on the left middle side of that photo are our little baby grass tufts! The other grass is just pasture grass that doesn’t look too bad in the photo, but is really thin and patchy due to the rock-hard soil.)
We also planted a bunch of aspens lining our driveway. I know aspens are the most finicky tree out there, but we decided to take the chance. We’re planning to let the suckers grow and create their own little grove so that hopefully the grove can follow its natural life cycle of new trees coming up as the older ones die off. Once the mulch that we put here has started to decay, we’ll throw in some native grass and wildflower mix and let it all grow wild so that the aspen seedlings aren’t damaged by mowing.
I’m holding my head in shame here, because we staked all of our aspens when we planted them this year and didn’t realize that some of them had been staked too tightly and the straps were cutting into the trunk. Oops. They’ve all been released from their prisons now and we just had to re-stake a few that were still floppy.
We did lose a few aspens over the winter (and one suddenly this summer), but I think I’m going to wait until next spring to cut down the ones that appear to have died because various of them seem like they could only be, you know, half-dead.
We also planted some sections of Gambel oak (most of us call it scrub oak) for – can you believe this – privacy. Yes, go ahead and laugh that these twigs are giving any semblance of privacy – we laugh, too! It’s part of our long-term plan to have our house fully hidden from the road by the time we have grandchildren.
For both the oaks and the aspen, Jeremy set up a drip line system that we connect a hose to. We have been watering them about once a week for 5+ hours so hopefully that meets the definition of deep watering!
Yarrow is one of those plants that I didn’t really think I liked until I realized just how low-maintenance it is and how long the blooms last! I have several of these moonshine yarrow plants and they have been bright yellow for probably at least a month and have just now started to fade slightly. I’m a big fan!
I actually really love the red varieties like paprika yarrow, but discovered that the red seems to fade pretty quickly and I’m not a fan of how it looks once the fading starts, so I have neglected the couple of red yarrow plants I have.
Catmint is one of those plants that I’m not sure if I love or hate, but it is so hardy that I’ve decided I have to love it for now. The photo above is over this plant’s second bloom for the year. It was blooming in April – nothing in Black Forest blooms that early! – and after the blooms faded I trimmed it back to keep it neat-looking and encourage it to bloom again. This second blooming isn’t quite as full or bright, but I’ll take it.
Ironically, when we lived in Stetson Hills, we had catmint in the backyard and ended up taking it out because it attracted so many bees and we had such a small backyard that it wasn’t fun to have all of those bees so close to the kids, who were toddlers then.
We’ve been working on covering up this ugly cinderblock retaining wall for years now, and this year it feels like we’re finally getting close to our goal of mostly not seeing it. We planted several iceberg climbing roses last year and I was shocked at how fast they took off! They started as a very normal-sized rosebush and grew super fast. The above photo was taken this year, but they got about that big the same year we planted them. I did have to treat them for aphids this year and have fertilized them several times, but other than doing that and pruning dead flowers, they’ve been super easy to care for.
Oh, and these rosebushes seemed to leaf out quite early, too – I’m thinking it’s because they are south-facing and also because that concrete wall and the rocks help keep them warm.
On top of that wall is a Virginia creeper vine, and it’s true that in the first two years it creeps and in the third year it leaps! This is their third year and this has been the first time that I’ve actually had to trim some vines back. We planted them to go over and down the wall before we had the plant to plant rosebushes to go up, and now I think I might take the creeper out at some point and get something to drape over the wall that doesn’t take the whole thing over. For now, Jeremy is very happy to be seeing so much green on that wall so I will just keep it for now.
I also planted peonies and lavender in front of the rosebushes this spring. As soon as I planted them, I knew that I’d put them too close together, so I’ll probably have to do some rearranging in a few years.
I am done growing basil. The leaves never get big, they’re tough and chewy, the grasshoppers eat it, and hail destroys it. I will be buying those $5 pots of basil at Sprouts from now on.
On the right side of that photo you can see some oregano, which I don’t use a ton but it grows just fine, looks nice, and it’s a perennial. I also have rosemary (have to replant that every year) and thyme. If I had to replant the thyme every year I’d been done with it since, while I like thyme, it’s such a pain to stem and chop up, but it grows well so I’ll leave it.
Everyone in Colorado Springs has salvia, but I guess it’s for good reason, as it’s so hardy and the blooms last a long time. This is the top row of a little rock wall garden, and it has been the bane of my existence as nothing will stay alive in it except the native grass. I can’t figure out what the deal is, but this is the third year I’ve had to replant most of the perennials in this area. Maybe the third time will be the charm!
(The photo at the top of this post is a different angle of the same area, taken last spring or summer, but it looks totally different because the yellow coreopsis didn’t come back, and neither did two of the three hyssop plants. I also had alyssum planted there last year to fill in the gaps until the perennial flowers got bigger and the groundcovers spread. Looking back at that photo, I really liked how it looked last year and I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t plant alyssum this year and I miss the bright yellow of the coreopsis! Though, I did plant more snow-in-summer and native grasses to fill in on a permanent basis rather than having to re-plant alyssum every year.)
On the salvia note, my salvia (not the ones I planted this year, but plants that have been established for several years) has had horrible foliage this year and I can’t figure out why. I did fertilize them with this flower fertilizer once in the spring (affiliate link), and at first I thought maybe it was the fertilizer granules burning the leaves, but it’s continued having the issue throughout the growing season so I’m guessing it’s bugs? I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts!
This stuff is the bane of my existence. It’s cheeseweed and it has a super long taproot that you basically have to dig about six inches down to get out. It apparently self-sows readily. We have it everywhere and I am on a mission to get rid of it once and for all. We’ve only found one weed killer that will actually kill it (I don’t remember which one it is, but if you need to know, tell me and I’ll look it up!).
We hired our 13-year-old son to be our “groundskeeper” for the summer so he’s been staying on top of it better than we ever have before, but there are still a ton of seeds lying dormant in the soil so whenever it rains, new plants sprout up. One of these days, it will be gone!
Ah, shrubs. Three years ago, we planted a bunch of shrubs along the top of that cinderblock wall I referred to earlier, with the hope that they would fill in to form a hedge. Well, all of them are still alive (we did have to replace one), but they just will not get bigger. Part of the issue is that deer nibble on certain ones from time to time, and then a couple of them are particularly susceptible to hail damage and I feel like they are just about to take off for the summer when they get shredded by hail and put all of their energy into recovering from that.
The two exceptions to that are the cranberry cotoneaster shrubs, which have spread nicely and also look nice all year long, and a low-growing sumac (I think it’s this one). The sumac, which is pictured above, has really taken off this year and I can’t wait to see what it looks like in the fall.
Well, all of my nice plants are in the back of the house, ironically. We have done zero landscaping in the front because, at some point, we have to completely redo the deck and porch which means we don’t really want nice landscaping in the way as we tear out a deck and a ton of concrete.
We planted some grass in the front a couple of years ago and it was ok but never great, and this year I just let it go so now it looks even worse. Sigh.
I’m going to leave you with a pretty picture instead of that one:
I don’t remember which variety of hyssop this is, but I’m loving it! It’s in its second year, I think, and is probably too big for this spot, but I don’t care right now. Flowers make me happy!
One more! This is my bleeding heart that bloomed this spring (mid-May). The blooms didn’t last very long, and the foliage dies back in the summer, but I just loved having something blooming in spring!
Landscaping in Colorado Springs’ high and dry climate is definitely a challenge, but it’s been a fun one! I feel like I’ve made a ton of progress in learning about what grows well, how to prepare soil for planting, and pairing plants, but I have so much more to learn. Until then, I’ll probably keep throwing plants in the ground, realizing that they need more or less sun/water or don’t look good with the other plants they’re with, and then live and learn and do better next time.