Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nepeta by Sharon Faircloth

Behold the “almost perfect” Nepeta, a member of the Lamiaceae family!   A bushy perennial, its common name is Catmint.  It is well suited to our mountain environment for a variety of reasons.  It’s not only ornamental; it has a pleasant fragrance and is easy to grow.

It blooms delicate long lasting blue flowers in late spring and then again in late summer so it’s almost continuously in bloom.  It has very pretty bluish gray leaves that remind me a bit of lavender, which I find much more challenging to grow.

Once established, it is quite drought tolerant when planted in full sun or partial shade.  It’s not particularly picky about the soil as long as it has good drainage.

The wild life we like to encourage in our gardens like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are all attracted to the plant.  Even better -- deer and elk have no interest.  Catmint and yarrow are literally the only plants that elk have never touched in my yard. 

So, what’s the downside of the “almost perfect” Catmint?  As it gets bigger, it has a tendency to lie down.  You can be quite ruthless in cutting it back and it will rebound surprisingly quickly and bloom again.  It can also become invasive in small areas.

 As mountain gardeners, we are always experimenting.  We find exotic plants we love, that we wish would love us back and it often results in utter disappointment.  Here’s the plant that you can pretty much ignore and it will thrive in your neglect! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wind pollination by Irene Shonle, CSU Extension Agent/Director in Gilpin County

Because plants are rooted in the ground, they use one of two major strategies to get their pollen from one plant to another to produce the next generation.
One is through the means of animals– think bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and even bats.  In exchange for nectar or pollen, the animal visits one plant and then another, physically transferring the pollen.
Bumblebee with pollen sacs, photo Tony Wills, Wikipedia

Some plants, however, skip the middleman, and literally throw caution to the wind.  They release their pollen, “hoping” that some will land on another plant of the same species.  Because these wind-pollinated plants depend on something that is as unpredictable as wind, they are forced to release clouds and clouds of pollen, rather than the much smaller amounts produced by insect-pollinated plants.
That is why everything is now coated with a green-yellow film.   The pollen grains get into noses and throats and eyes, and can be very irritating.  And, interestingly, I just heard from a friend’s allergist that people are rarely actually allergic to pine pollen  – the pollen grains are too big to really cause much of a reaction.  However, there are lots of other plants flowering right now that can cause an allergic reaction, and that combined with the irritant of the pine pollen is enough to make for some true suffering for the unfortunate.  Luckily, the season doesn’t last too long, and we can all hope for a nice rain to drop it out of the air.

Pine Pollen Storm, Irene Shonle
Even though pine pollen may not be the major cause for sneezing and hayfever, other wind pollinated plants more than make up for it.  Ragweed is the major culprit, other wind-pollinated problem children are  sagebrush, redroot pigweed, lamb’s quarters, Russian thistle (tumbleweed), and English plantain. Some species of grasses and other wind-pollinated trees also produce highly allergenic pollen ( I personally am allergic to smooth brome).