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What's bugging you? June 13, 2018

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This chlorotic Autumn Blaze maple tree is unsuitable to our area.

Plant Health Care (PHC) is a more preventative, holistic, and intelligent approach to managing our landscapes and garden plants. I covered the basics of PHC in my last column and continue this discussion today.

Before we even plant our gardens we should think about sun and winter exposure, type of plants we want and potential problems that might be associated with our plant choices. I live in deer country so I either choose plants they don't like, tolerate their feeding damage or cage my vulnerable plants.

Before I planted my gardens I tested for salt levels to avoid problems down the road. I also incorporated an organic soil amendment to increase pore space so that my plant's roots would not suffocate every time I watered. You can use a spading fork or rent a rototiller depending upon the size of the job. I used both.

I tried to plant early blooming plants away from a southern exposure near my house so that they (commonly bulbs) would not emerge too early and be susceptible to a late freeze.

My yard has lots of xeric perennials and shrubs. This sure beats "xeriscaping," where instead of plants, gravel alone is used as a landscape element. Ugh! Many of my plants get watered at a frequency of every 45 to 90 days. About half of my plants need water every three to four weeks. My buffalo grass? How about watering every 30-45 days and mowing three times a year. Sure beats watering 2-3 times a week and mowing every 5-7 days that blue grass requires. I do give up early spring greening up and a lawn that starts going dormant in September but I'll trade that for free time to focus on other more pleasant gardening things.

I mulch all my plantings either with an organic mulch such as shredded cedar or with a trail mix gravel, depending upon whether a particular plant likes persistent moist conditions (aspens, Potentilla, or Caryopteris) or drier conditions (Agastache). Mulching allows for an extended watering schedule.

In selecting plants, choose those that are well adapted to our area's conditions. There is no sense starting off on the wrong foot. Some maple trees do well in our alkaline soils, many do not. Iron chlorosis and subsequent yellow leaves is the most immediate result. Plant a diverse collection of plants. A monoculture of a very few plants sets you up for a fall when a disease or other adverse environmental condition specific to those plant species wipes you out. Not all plants are susceptible to the same disease or insect pest.

Lastly, never let your plants become stressed. This sets them up to fail. Stressed trees attract borers that will finish off your trees. But don't blame these borers for the cause of your tree's decline, they are attracted to stressed trees. Often stress does not manifest itself right away. A good case in point is the winter kill we are experiencing this year because of the lack of winter water due to the nearly absent snow. Those trees that died already were stressed and you didn't even know it.

Next time I'll discuss PHC solutions for common problems and delve deeper into the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach.

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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Surface Creek
Jim Leser, What's Bugging You
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