Get Ready for the Colorado Native Plant Conference!

cropped-summer-scale_filter-1A partnership of Colorado non-profits are organizing the first Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference, March 12, 2016, in Loveland, CO. “With the increased interest in providing habitat for pollinators, and using less irrigation in our landscapes, we feel the time is right to offer a full-day of seminars on using native plants in the landscape,” says Susan Crick Smith of Front Range Wild Ones. “The Conference will inspire and educate homeowners and landscapers to use more Colorado native plants in their water-wise gardens.”

Noted Colorado author and plant biologist, Susan Tweit, will start the conference with the inspiring story of how her efforts in restoring a blighted industrial property in Salida, CO, grew into a movement. Her talk, “The Ditch and the Meadow: How Native Plants and Gardeners Revived a Neighborhood and Changed the Culture of a Town” will include photos of the park and trail system that grew out of her efforts.

Most of the day will include sessions on how to use native plants in the landscape. Homeowners, landscape professionals and designers are encouraged to attend to gain insights on design, rainwater harvesting, plant selection, and creating habitats for pollinators and wildlife. Attendees will have a choice of three seminars from the following list:

  • Designing with Natives: Karla Dakin of K. Dakin Design, Louisville
  • Construction of Native Landscapes: Alison Peck of Matrix Gardens, Boulder
  • Creating and Maximizing Micro-Climates in Your Native Garden: Jim Tolstrup of High Plains Environmental Center, Loveland
  • Edible and Medicinal Native Plants: Karen Vail and Mary O’Brien of Steamboat Springs and Hayden
  • Native Plants for Every Situation: Irene Shonle of Gilpin County CSU Extension Program
  • Habitat Gardens: Susan Crick Smith of Front Range Wild Ones, Denver

The Conference will end with five Virtual Garden Tours from homeowners and landscape designers who retrofitted traditionally landscaped yards with native plants. Themes include a foothills rock garden, no-lawn yard, prairie garden, rain-powered landscape and a habitat garden. “If you’ve ever wondered what a suburban landscape with native plants would look like, these virtual garden tours will surely provide inspiration and ideas for your own yard,” Smith says.

Registration is $90 and includes lunch, refreshments, and access to vendors and non-profit organizations who can provide additional information. Students, with valid student identification, can register for $45. Please visit to learn more and to register.

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Collect Seed From Your Garden!

Green milkweed seed pod

Green milkweed pods are not ready for seed harvest. Wait until the pods start to turn brown and split open.

The Seed Swap is Sept. 19th! Start harvesting seed now!

What’s going to seed in your garden? I’m seeing plenty of seed harvesting opportunities. Saving seed to propagate your own plants is a rewarding way to expand your native plant garden and share your favorites with friends at the Seed Swap next month.

As you stroll through your garden, make a habit of  noticing what’s setting seed. If you find yourself reaching for the pruners to lop off an “ugly” seed head, stop! Let the seed mature, harvest some and leave the rest for the birds and other seed-eating creatures. In my garden, most of the grasses are ripening now, as are the penstemons, paintbrush, and purple prairie clover.

Seed is ripe when it is hard, and brown or black. If you open a seed head or pod and find a small green seed that is soft and squishy, wait a week and check again. It’s important for the seed to be completely dry at harvest or mold can grow during storage. With some plants, if you miss seed maturation by a few days, you’ll find the seed has already dispersed.

The easiest way to harvest seed is to simply snip the flower stalks with seed heads, bundle them loosely and stuff them head first into a paper bag. Tie the bag around the stalks (don’t forget to strip the leaves off first) and hang the bag upside down in a dark, cool room. As the pods and seed heads dry, the seeds will burst out and fall into the bag. A gentle shake can speed the process.

Purple Prarie Clover

Purple Prairie Clover is already shedding its seed.

You can read additional seed gathering and cleaning tips from the California Native Plant Society.

Once you have your seed separated from the chaff, it’s time for seed inspection. You may want a magnifying glass for small seed. Discard seed with insect larvae and seed that appears smaller and less plump, as it is probably not viable. Store the seed in paper envelopes labeled with the species name and year harvested. Ideally, you should store your envelopes in the refrigerator but I usually just find a cold dark corner of the basement where they happily snooze until I’m tired of winter and ready to dig in the dirt.

For information on how to prepare your seed for the Seed Swap, see Chapter Events.

—Linda M. Hellow, Front Range Wild Ones Secretary

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Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference

Saturday, March 12, 2016

at The Ranch Events Complex, McKee Building
(5280 Arena Circle, Loveland, CO  80538)

More details to follow!

This conference is presented by a partnership of:

  • Wild Ones – Front Range Chapter
  • Butterfly Pavilion
  • Colorado Native Plant Society
  • Colorado State University Extension
  • Denver Botanic Gardens
  • Front Range Sustainable Landscaping Coalition
  • High Plains Environmental Center
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Native Plants That Have Winter Interest

Bouteloua gracilis

The eye-lash-like seed heads of Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) gracefully hold their form in the snow.

With the recent snow, I’ve been admiring my suburban prairie anew. The white fluffy stuff provides a new background from which to appreciate nature. The tan grass stems and seed heads come to the foreground instead of just forming a monotone background. The large rabbitbrush seed heads hold little puffs of snow. It looks Dr. Seuss-ish! The subtle red colors of various stems are more pronounced against the snow and the sage looks almost blue.

Ericameria nauseosa

Ericameria nauseosa (rabbit brush) loaded with “snowballs.”

Artemisia frigida (Fringed Sage)

The grey of Artemisia frigida (fringed sage) turns more blue against the snow.

Every fall I’m tempted to mow and clean up the beds. I think this urge to clean things up is some sort of mothering instinct that migrates from the house to the yard. But removing all the plant material really does not serve nature. I find that if I leave everything just as nature leaves it, I have much more to look at during the winter. Plus, the birds and other wildlife feed on the seeds and find shelter among the stems and fallen leaves.

Enjoy the photos below and keep in mind that any of these plants can be a specimen in a more formal garden bed where they will maintain their shape through the winter, while providing necessary ecological functions.

Happy New Year!

Solidago canadensis (Goldenrod)

Solidago canadensis’ (goldenrod) reddish stems provide stable vertical interest even with mounds of snow on the seed heads.

Liatris punctata (Dotted Gayfeather)

Liatris punctata (dotted gayfeather) provides a striking form with its linear leaves.

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Gardens Full of Blooms!

Janet (right) explains how this part of her yard was once a weedy lawn and is now alive with blooms that attract numerous birds.

Janet (right) explains how this part of her yard was once a weedy lawn and is now alive with blooms that attract numerous birds.

On August 20th, Wild Ones members and visitors enjoyed a tour of three yards in the Columbine neighborhood in Littleton. Janet Hopkins told us how she got her start gardening when she decided it was time to remove some lawn that was struggling on her corner lot. She likes to try new things and had a lovely mix of shade and full sun plants, some native and most xeric. She even adds a few tomatoes and squash among her perennials.

Kerry explains how rainwater from the gutters provide ample water for her rain garden.

Kerry explains how rainwater from the gutters provide ample water for her rain garden.

Kerry Schaper’s cul-de-sac home has a sweeping backyard ringed with pine trees. She also has a vegetable garden alongside a path bordered by groundcovers and perennials. Annuals fill pots dotted throughout her front yard and along her patio in the backyard. When Kerry gets bored, she takes out lawn and puts in a new garden. She has even added a native buffalo grass area with perennials mixed in for a meadow look. Always one to think about water use, Kerry has harnessed her gutter water to feed a “rain garden” where high water plants can thrive.

Jane's garden features many low-water natives for a colorful border. In the background is the native garden she created for the park.

Jane’s garden features many low-water natives for a colorful border. In the background is the native garden she created for the park.

Jane Savage is also water conscious and has replaced all the lawn in her front yard with low-water groundcovers, perennials and shrubs. Her backyard features a small lawn area seeded with a low-water fescue ,and a perennial garden along the fence and patio. Jane’s home boarders a public park so she has been working on growing some native shrubs for screening. Jane, always ready for a gardening challenge, volunteered her expertise to help the neighborhood build a garden in the park last summer. This garden receives no irrigation so Jane chose some hardy natives that are thriving.

Our last yard tour is this Saturday in Boulder. We’ll be visiting Dave Sutherland’s home and also swapping seed. Please join us for our 2nd Annual Seed Swap.


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Wild Ones Visits a Suburban Prairie

A pleasing mix of native prairie grasses and forbs dominate Rick's backyard.

A pleasing mix of native prairie grasses and forbs dominate Rick’s backyard.

Lakewood resident Rick Brune hosted a tour of his backyard short-grass prairie on Wednesday evening, August 13th. Despite the drizzle, 10 people enjoyed a walk through the prairie where the Liatris punctata, Ratibida columnifera, Asclepias pumila, Polanisia dodecandra, Cleome serrulata and many other natives of the plains were blooming. Rick’s backyard is about one-third of an acre and although he has access to ditch water, he does not use it to water the prairie.

We all thought the Liatris punctata and Artemisia frigida made a striking combination.

We all thought the Liatris punctata and Artemisia frigida made a striking combination.

Rick says he began seeding his yard with native grasses and forbs in sections, starting in 1985. He still likes to add new plants here and there and recently spent way too much time and effort eliminating Thermopsis rhombifolia, which had become too aggressive. Never one to just sit an admire his work, Rick is now creating a Midwestern tall-grass prairie in the lowest part of his yard. He says he doesn’t think he’ll need to add supplemental water to this section either, once it’s established.

Rick is a fount of information on how to establish a prairie ecosystem. In fact, he authored articles on how to create a prairie garden for the Colorado Native Plant Society. You can purchase “The Prairie Garden, A step-by-step guide to creating a short-grass prairie garden” from the CoNPS bookstore for $6 plus shipping and tax.

The drizzle didn't stop us from enjoying Rick's (far right) tour.

The drizzle didn’t stop us from enjoying Rick’s (far right) tour.

We have four more yards to visit this summer. Three yards are featured in a tour in Littleton on Saturday, August 23rd, and then we’ll visit another yard in Boulder for our annual Seed Swap. Please see the events page for details.

Note: Rick actively collects seed from his yard and sells it to native plant seed companies. But he was kind enough to donate some seed for our seed swap, too!

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What’s that Bug on My Rabbitbrush!

Rabbitbrush BeetleIt’s a black grubby thing that, when the light is just so, is metallic green. This is the third year I’ve watched this annoying pest chomp most of the green leaves from the bush. This normally tough shrub is dying a slow death. This year I pruned so much dead wood that the shrub is now half the size it once was.

The bug is Trirhabda nitidicollis, or Rabbitbrush beetle. Rubber rabbitbrush, or Ericameria nauseosa (formerly Chrysothamnus nauseosus), is the host plant for this yellow and black striped beetle. It is the beetle’s larvae that is giving me fits. The adult beetle doesn’t do much damage. Apparently the adult lays its eggs in the soil under a rabbitbrush, where they overwinter. Spring rains lure the larvae out to search for food.


After three years of being munched, my shrub is looking a little haggard.

The grubs usually appear the first part of June in my yard. I was diligent with my controls last year and was expecting a smaller assault. But, alas, the crawly worms are marching up the stems in the usual concentration. So, I’m employing all of my annihilation strategies:

Forceful blast of water from the hose. This is my favorite early morning attack as it’s quick and easy to knock the little buggers off before work. Naturally, I hope the blast will knock them silly so they won’t find their way up the shrub again. Objectively, I’m certain this tactic does little more than delay the assault.

Pick and Pluck: After work, I arm myself with an empty yogurt container. I pick, pluck, flick, and knock them off and into the cup. It takes about an hour to rid the shrub of the crawling masses. It’s tempting to think I’ve won. But I know the shrub will be covered in black spots again in about an hour.

Rabbitbrush and Western wheat grass

Is the Western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii) taller this year or is the shrub smaller?

Last year, I filled the container with soapy water to kill the larvae. But this year, I have a devious plan. This year, you see, my chickens will get a nice little treat. I am really excited to see the hens enjoy the dirty little bugs. I toss the lot of them into the pen with glee. The girls eye the squirming mass suspiciously and flee into the coop. What! They didn’t even try one. I walk away in disgust.

Bring in the birds!: If my fickle birds won’t eat them, maybe the wild population will enjoy the bugs. Birds need bugs to feed their young and lucky for me I’ve noticed a new nest in the backyard. So, I just need to lure the birds to this part of my real estate. I rig up a bird bath next to the rabbitbrush.

But I wonder: Why haven’t the birds found this feast in the two previous years?

I do a little snooping online. Let’s look at the Latin name again: Ericameria nauseosa. I should have been wise to this a lot sooner. “Nauseosa” is a great clue that something about this plant is unpalatable. It turns out that rabbitbrush leaves have terpenoids that cause nausea if ingested. Grazing animals avoid rabbitbrush, except in the winter when the levels of terpenoids are reduced. Somehow the rabbitbrush beetle evolved with the ability to tolerate this chemical.

No doubt the larvae, after consuming so many leaves, also contain high levels of terpenoids that would make a bird or other predator ill. Hence, the wild birds and my hens have no interest in helping me save my shrub. Bugwood Wiki lists only a few predators for the rabbitbrush beetle larvae: several stink bug species and the five-spotted lady bug.

I guess I need to apologize to my chickens for calling them “stupid” and, well, “chicken.”

Anyone got any stink bugs? I’ll trade you for a rabbitbrush beetle!

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