In the Gardens

With Jeff Rump, Staff Horticulturist

How do you deal with the challenges posed by wildlife at Chautauqua?

Photo Credits: Cliff Grassmick

Wildlife does pose a challenge for us here on our Chautauqua campus as it does for most gardeners. Rabbits and deer are our main issue. For the most part we try to leave them alone and be tolerant of some of the browsing. We try and improve our odds by selecting plants that have shown to be a little less appealing. That being said, when deer, rabbits or voles are hungry they will take an interest in almost any plant. We have had some success with intermingling a few plants they find desirable with a few undesirables (think Tulips intermingled with Daffodils). Very occasionally we will install temporary fencing or netting. It can also be quite effective to simply shoo them on their way. They will likely make their way back, but we believe it might make them just a little uncomfortable and they could choose to dine elsewhere.

What should a gardener be most focused on at this time of year?

Number one would be to clean up your garden, perennial borders, landscaping beds and lawns of this past winter’s detritus. This is very important especially with your perennials: remove any leaf detritus and remaining growth from last year to make room for the emerging new growth, now well on its way in many cases.

Be patient with yourself. You have plenty of time.

One caveat here is that most of our gardens are now quite moist. Be sure to allow your gardens, perennial borders, landscaping beds and lawns time to dry. There are few tasks more harmful to a garden than working with wet soils. This includes lawns too. Keep this in mind throughout the year any time we have received natural moisture or even if it was provided by you or your irrigation system. Allow some drying time before you venture out onto your various soils.

How do you deal with Spring snow?

“It’s generally best to let mother nature do her thing.”

I’ve found the best thing you can do is leave it alone, especially if the forecast predicts that it will melt quickly.  Most trees and shrubs can tolerate a lot more than we believe and clearing snow can sometimes do more damage to tree and shrub branches than the snow.  If the snow does seem very heavy and wet and likely to break branches, you can use a broom. Be certain to come from below a branch and push up. Pulling down can spell trouble for the plant and yourself should a branch reach its breaking point. It is always best to avoid shovels.  In a quick storm like the one we’ve just had, snow acts as a good insulator and helps protects the buds from a deep freeze like the one we have experienced the last couple of nights. On the Western Slope they will sometimes turn on their overhead irrigation systems to create a thin layer of ice to help protect the buds from freezing temperatures. Flowers and perennials will generally be okay with snow because it will offer them some protection from the vagaries of nature.  As with most things weather-related, it is generally best to let mother nature do her thing.

What’s happening in April at Chautauqua?

“Like most gardeners, it’s a highlight for me seeing the bulbs we planted back in the fall, bloom.”

The daffodils are blooming and some of the tulips are too.  We still have the last of the crocuses, snowdrops and dwarf irises, which were among the first to bloom.  Last fall we planted a variety of species tulips. These are wild tulips and generally smaller and it’s exciting to see them now coming up for the first time. Our hope is that they may also be more resistant to critters. I am not the only one who plants bulbs here, so I always love seeing them pop up in unexpected places.

What are your top tips for home gardeners?

Develop a relationship with a supplier or local garden center you trust and be prepared to try something new at their suggestion.  I have learned so much about gardening from taking recommendations from others or trying an alternative when my first choice wasn’t available.

A good example is Platinum Sage – Salvia Daghestanica. I had been planning to order another variety of sage but it was not available, and our nursery person suggested Platinum Sage. It was a good recommendation as it exhibits nice foliage, purple to blue flowers and is quite xeric. (Drought tolerant.)

Jeff’s Plant of the month

Platinum Sage – Salvia Daghestanica.