Category Archives: soil

Fall Gardening in the Grand Valley

Fall in the Grand Valley:  leaves turning, rabbit brush blooming, a few chilly nights. Apples have replaced peaches at farm stands. The Mesa has had its first dusting of snow.  Color Sunday has come and gone, and it’s time to prepare your gardens for winter and a strong start for next spring. Here’s your to do list for these last few warm days:

Your lawn. A healthy lawn is more resistant to disease and insects. Prepare it for winter survival, and a strong start next spring with Winterizer from Fertilome.


Your veggie garden and other annual plants. Once frost has toasted your annuals, it’s time to pull them up. If you’ve had issues with disease or insects in those plants, bag them for the trash. Otherwise, they’re good to compost. Pulling dead plants out lessens the areas problem bugs have to overwinter. This is especially important for your squash plants—pulling and disposing of the dead plant material is the first step toward fewer squash bugs next season.

When veggie beds are cleaned of dead plant material, now is a great time to lay down a layer of compost and turn it in, or plant a cover crop, like winter rye. Veggies are heavy feeders, transferring soil nutrients to those peppers and tomatoes you’ve been enjoying. Amending your soil helps return nutrients to the soil as well as improving soil texture and water retention.

If you have ceramic glazed pottery, it’s a good idea to remove the soil, or move pot and soil to a place where they will not get wet. Wet soil freezes and thaws during the winter and can crack the glaze of your pretty pots.


Many annual plants, such as marigolds, make seeds that can be collected when dry. Collect these, removing leaves and stems, and store them in labeled Ziploc bags in your fridge to plant next spring after frost danger has passed.

You can also save seed from heirloom tomatoes. There is a bit of a process to follow for success, but totally do-able. This video explains the process clearly.

Potted tropical plants, like hibiscus, jasmine, and geraniums can be brought inside for the winter. Before frost, check them for insects, and treat them with a systemic insecticide to be safe. When inside, place them in a bright sunny room, and water as needed, fertilizing once a month.

Dahlias, gladiolus and other tender, summer-flowering bulbs must be lifted out of the ground. Brush off excess soil and store in a cool, dark, dry place until next spring. Replant them when frost danger has passed.

Perennials. Unless you have perennials you keep in your garden to provide seeds, shelter for winter birds, or those you like for structure or interest in the winter garden, now is a good time to trim them back and prune out dead stems.

Fall planting. Fall’s cooler weather makes it a great time to plant! Trees, shrubs and roses are often found at sale prices. Be sure to amend the soil as you plant and use a root stimulator to encourage strong root growth prior to winter. It’s also a great time to plant perennials, pansies and spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Pansies often reseed themselves and sometimes will even survive the winter to provide color next spring. Salad greens and root crops can survive a light frost and extend your garden season, especially inside a cold frame.


Weeds. Continue your weeding vigilance until they are well and truly dead. Weeds, unlike desirable plants, can tolerate a pretty hard frost. Weeding done now makes next spring’s weeding a bit easier. You might also consider putting down a preemergent and watering it in to smother weed seeds laying in wait in the soil.


Leaves. Rake up leaves and compost or dispose of them, or use a mulching mower to chop them into tiny pieces. Leaving them on the lawn invites fungus and insects. This is the same reason to not use them to mulch your perennials. Leaves have a tendency to layer and pack down, holding in moisture that can rot a perennial.

Rain barrels. Now that Colorado allows for their use, keep in mind that they can split when they freeze. Empty them, clean them of any residual algae or mud, and store them for the winter.

Garden tools. Clean tools and apply a light layer of oil to prevent rust. Store them where you can find them easily next spring!


Chemicals. Even organic gardeners have some sort of fertilizer and bug killer around. Most chemicals are good season to season if stored properly. Liquids must be prevented from freezing—freezing draws water out of the solution and will not properly go back into the solution when thawed, making your chemical ineffective. Dry or granular chemicals should be protected from moisture. Plastic bins work great for this. Be sure to leave all chemicals in their original containers.


When the snow flies, you can sit back and enjoy, knowing your garden has been safely tucked in for the winter. Anticipate the next season by keeping track of what worked and didn’t this year and making plans for next season. Seed catalogs and a new gardening season will be here before you know it! Your friends at MGG will be here to help, starting in mid-March!

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Filed under amendments, General gardening, pests, soil

Create a Magical Birdbath Fairy Garden

Birdbaths just don’t last forever.  I inherited a very beautiful, and very heavy birdbath from friends a few years ago.  It had a teeny-tiny crack, which resulted in a teeny-tiny slow leak, but no biggie.  Once I had it wrangled into a location near a happy snow berry shrub, I knew it was there to stay.  Until this spring.  When I filled it with water and all the water just ran out the bottom.  The snow berry cheered–“extra water for me!”  I frowned and started thinking of how to save it.  Find a sealer?  Patch it with concrete?  Then while cruising Pinterest, the solution happened.  This birdbath, now with drainage, wanted to be a fairy garden.  Indeed, it’s never been more lovely.


To get started, I piled some gravel in the bottom to assist in drainage, and then filled the bowl with good quality potting soil.  (I’m a huge fan of Happy Frog products, so I used Happy Frog Potting Soil.)



Then off to Mt. Garfield Greenhouse to collect plants.  I walked the aisles and tried to think like a fairy might.  Which flowers would fairies enjoy?  I ended up with a selection that included some penstemon, vinca, vinca vine, alyssum, scavola, and a pretty petunia.  I also collected a few other annual flowers for filling in.  I hate to not have enough and not be able to finish my projects.  I’m an immediate gratification sort of gardener.  20150502_114822

I got my pretty selections home, collected my fairies and fairy stuff from the house where they’d been over-wintering in my houseplants, and set up camp by the birdbath.  I have accumulated a nice collection of fairy stuff over the years.  This year adding a couple of fairies and my new favorite fairy accessory–the fairy hatch!  A tree trunk that opens up to reveal glittery spiral stairs!  Squeeee!


I set the larger fairy structures in place and then arranged plants around them (still in their pots) to see what would fit and give me the magical little garden I was hoping for.  I left a space in the middle, thinking some sort of path should be there.  When I got the look I was after, I potted the plants in the bowl, filling in with my back-up plants to really fill it out.


Then I placed the fairies and smaller accessories, and built a little garden path from pink shale borrowed from the rock expanses of my yard.  (I live in an area with very poor soil, so most of my “yard” is rocked.)  Some of the smaller accessories are purchased, but some are scavenged and “found” objects.  Add to your fairy garden by looking for shiny things that a fairy might find and bring home, pretty rocks, or maybe shells.  Use your imagination in their placement, creating their purpose.  A teepee stack of mulch chips could be a firepit.  A large shell filled with water could be a pond.


I think my birdbath fairy garden turned out quite nicely.




It was immediately visited by a hummingbird and a bumblebee.  A garden spider had taken up residence by the afternoon.


The fairies are happy.

For more inspiration cruise our Fairy Gardens and Miniature Gardens board on Pinterest, and the Fairy Garden page on our website.

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Filed under fairy gardening, General gardening, soil

Gardening with Ollas

I, like most gardeners, like to try new things in my garden.  This year Mt. Garfield Greenhouse carried a new product that represented old-school technology–the Olla (pronounced oy-ya)–from Dripping Springs Ollas.  Ollas have been used by native cultures for decades as a way to farm crops in dry areas.  The idea is to bury an unglazed terra cotta vessel, fill it with water, and let that water move through the vessel into the soil to water plants around it.

I don’t have irrigation water, so I must use domestic water in order to garden.  My husband set up a mini-soaker hose system in our raised beds, operated on a timer to water the garden 3 days a week, once in the early morning, and again in the late evening.  The system works great to conserve water, and is enough for great plant growth and productivity.  However, in the scorching summer heat, the soil doesn’t stay as evenly moist as tomatoes would like, resulting in blossom end rot on the fruit.  This year, I wanted to see if ollas could help with maintaining soil moisture through the hot season.  So, at the start of the season, I purchased four ollas for the two 8×4 raised beds I planned for tomatoes this year–two ollas per bed.

I buried them up to their necks about a foot and a half in from the ends and centered from the sides, filled them with water and replaced their lids.

plant up to neck

Tomatoes and marigolds were planted around them.

plant around it

2 in a 4x8 garden

The hardest part about using ollas, was that my plants got so huge it was hard to find the ollas to fill them!  At the end of the season, I pulled the plants and uncovered the ollas.


Check out the roots growing around the neck of this olla–all the ollas had roots growing to them like this–the plants LOVED having this water source!

roots at top

Here’s a look at the roots surrounding the bottom of the olla.

roots at bottom

Roots had actually become attached to the ollas, and stayed on them after I pulled them out.

clinging roots

I let the ollas sun-dry on my deck for a few days, and I’m storing them in the garage for the winter to prevent freezing and cracking.

drying out

The result?  Blossom end rot almost non-existant!  Hurray!  I’m buying more ollas for the rest of my garden beds next spring.  Ollas help me keep soil moist and plants happy even on the hottest days.  I had a great tomato crop this year, with minimal loss due to blossom end rot–the only rot happened when the ollas dried out when I was out of town for a couple weeks.  Because my gardens are on a watering system, I filled the ollas every other week or so.  If you plan to use ollas as your only watering source–something that really works–you’ll need to fill them more often.  Soil composition and drainage as well as soil and air temperature will affect how often you’ll need to fill them.  Ollas can also be used in large container gardens!

See Mt. Garfield Greenhouse for ollas for YOUR gardens next spring!


Filed under drought, General gardening, soil, tomatoes, water-wise landscaping

Heidi Mae’s Garden: Getting Started

If you’re new to gardening, it can be helpful to have a gardening buddy to help you know what to do, and what to expect.  Even if you’re a gardener from way back, it’s fun to compare notes about what works and what doesn’t.  So, here I am!  Your online gardening friend, Heidi Mae. (Mae isn’t part of my given name, but one given to me by one of the greenhouse owners, and it just stuck.)  I’m one of “the girls” who work up front at the cash registers at Mt Garfield Greenhouse.

happy and tired


I’ll share what’s happening in my garden in a sort of step-by-step way with pictures of what I’m doing this year.  My garden changes a bit from year to year, as I like to try new varieties of veggies and I like to rotate crops in my raised beds.

ready to amend

I live in the Whitewater area.  The soil here is NOT garden-friendly, so my fabulous husband constructed these beds, we lined them with plastic to keep the alkali from leaching up, and we filled them with 3-way mix from Mt Garfield Greenhouse.  Some of the beds are made from 6×6 lumber, some are plastic build-it-yourself kits from  The wooden ones work the best–you’ll notice in some of the pictures that the plastic ones bow out–I don’t like that.  I also have an assortment of containers that expand my plantable space.

I garden organically, using companion plants to help with bug eradication, as well as hand picking some of the beasties and squishing them–eeewwwww.  More on that in a later post.  The pictures and happenings in this post took place April 25, 2013.  I keep a garden log to keep track of where I plant what and when I can expect to see germination.  I also record what varieties worked and which ones I should skip next year.  I start some veggies from seed and some from plants.



Every year, I amend my soil.  3-way is a fabulous garden soil, but veggies rob nutrients from it each growing season that need to be replaced.  In the past I used a combo of Soil Pepe, Mesa Magic, and Earthworm Castings; the last few years I’ve been using Happy Frog Soil Conditioner.  I like that it’s organic and I like the boost it gives my plants.  I distribute it out among the beds and containers–a bit of  process because those bails of Happy Frog are heavy!  🙂

conditioner divided

Then I spade the amendment in (troweled in in the containers), and smooth the surfaces with a rake.  Then they’re ready to plant!

spade in conditioner

beds are ready

I planted my potatoes on the outside edge of one of the beds, a different one than they were in last year.  The outside edge because they’ll be growing for the whole season and they’re kinda out of my way there.  I dug a trench as deep as the garden and spaced the potatoes in it.  I’m lazy and leave them whole.  You can cut potato sets so that each section has an “eye” to create more potato plants.  If you chose to do that, be sure to let the cut edges dry overnight before planting so the raw edge won’t rot.  Anyway, then I just cover them up, pat the soil on top of them and mark the row.  Later, I’ll plant green beans next to them.  Beans and potatoes are companion plants–the potatoes keep bean beetles off the beans while the beans keep potato beetles off the potatoes.

planting potatoes

marking rows

I also planted snap peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, cabbage, and beets directly into the garden.  These are considered cool season crops, pretty much unaffected by late spring frosts.  Each veggie was seeded/planted, marked and watered in.


watering in

I have rhubarb, planted years ago, in a half wine barrel.  I scratch in a bit of amendment and time-release fertilizer each year, but otherwise leave it alone.


I lost a lot of strawberries over the winter, but those that had rooted in the gravel outside the garden as runners survived!  I dug those up and placed them in the container where the others had been, scratched in some soil conditioner and fertilizer and watered them in.


Amending and planting just this much took the better part of my day.  I was sore (sooo out of gardening shape!), tired and happy.  There’s just something wonderfully satisfying about starting a new garden each year.  I can hardly wait for a fresh salad or a radish sandwich–an old Iowa favorite from my childhood.  🙂   The next post from Heidi Mae’s garden will be about the veggies I started in my unheated greenhouse.


Filed under amendments, General gardening, soil, Uncategorized

Healthy Soil is Your Plants’ Best Friend

Plants are the rock stars of any greenhouse or garden center.  They’re lush.  They’re colorful.  They hold the promise of food, beauty and shade for your family.  Under the pretty flowers and strong, healthy foliage, inside the pot, is a soil specially constructed to help that that rock star plant shine.  Most of us don’t have garden soil anywhere near that perfect combination of organic and inorganic components, along with being beautifully textured to support optimum plant growth.  What’s a gardener to do to help their new little plant babies thrive?  Spend the money on soil amendments.

The soils in the Grand Valley developed from Mancos Shale, which can be very productive with yearly additions of organic matter.  While our soils are often not lacking in nutrients, with the exception of nitrogen, they are often on the salty side, with a high (alkaline) pH.  Correcting for organic matter and nitrogen is relatively easy using soil amendments.  If your soil is especially salty, avoid using manures or other fertilizers that may add to the salt content.

Organic matter “helps sandy soil by retaining water that would otherwise wash away and it corrects clay soil by making it looser, so that air, water and roots can penetrate. In all soils, it encourages beneficial microbial activity and it provides some nutritional benefits. Humus is natures way of feeding the circle of life.” (  Amendments for improving the organic content of your soil include Soil Pepe, Mesa Magic Compost, and Happy Frog Soil Conditioner.




To determine if your soil is lacking in nutrients, you can take a sample to the CSU Extension office or a private lab for analysis.  There are also home testing kits available for testing pH.  When you have test results, you can select and apply nutrient amendments.

Plants can deplete soils of nutrients, therefore if you have gardened for a while in a certain area, you will need to replenish those nutrients.  When planting, apply a fertilizer containing nitrogen for healthy green leaves, phosphorous for root growth and flowers, and potassium for overall plant health.  There are many, many options available to choose between.  Keep in mind that while inorganic fertilizers are often more cost-effective, it may take longer for the plant to access them and may increase the salt levels in your soil.  Organic choices can be more costly, but are often more effectively taken up by your plants.  You will also find different choices in application–influencing how and how often you need to apply the product.  Whichever choice you make, your plants will benefit.

While you’re waiting for the Valley to be out of frost danger, take some time to amend your soils.  Whatever you’re planting will be much more likely to survive and thrive with the additional time and expense.  Your friends at Mt Garfield Greenhouse are happy to help you make your choices of amendments and fertilizers.


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Filed under amendments, General gardening, soil