Sunrose – A Great Groundcover That Will Brighten Any Garden

Helianthemum nummularium, aka Sunrose or Rockrose, is a semi-woody perennial sub-shrub or ground cover. Sunroses are originally native to the Mediterranean region, but have been in horticultural production for quite some time, with many cultivars available on the market. They are distantly related to daphnes, hibiscus, hollyhocks and okra, among other plants. As the latin genus name suggests (Helianthemum translates to “sun flower”), these plants grow well in sunny, dry locations, but we’ve also had good results with using them in partial shade.

Luckily for us gardeners here in Colorado, this plant also prefers alkaline soil. This low-growing perennial provides a delightful floral display starting in late May. The profuse blooms hover over a thick mass of low branches that carry small, oval shaped leaves. The flower color is available in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink and white. Perfect for a rock garden, sprawling over the edge of a wall, or in a hot and sunny border area. The silver leaved varieties are semi-evergreen in winter.

Helianthemum Orange - Orange Sunrose


Scientific Name:  Helianthemum nummularium

Plant Type:  Perennial Groundcover

Mature Height:  8″-12″

Mature Spread:  18”-24″

Cold Hardiness Zone:  USDA zones 5 – 9 (up to 6,000 ft). In colder climates, Sunroses may overwinter more successfully with a mulch covering. Silver leaved varieties overwinter better than green leaved ones.

Water Requirement:  Drought tolerant once established. Silver leaved varieties are more drought tolerant and establish sooner than green leaved varieties.  Seem to be able to take poor soils very well, and we’ve had good luck is slightly wetter soil as well- very adaptable.

Exposure:  Full sun to part shade.  We’ve actually had good luck using these plants under trees where there was quite a bit of shade, but full sun will produce the most flowers.

Soil:  Sunroses prefer dry, alkaline, rocky or sandy, well-drained loam.

Flower Color & Bloom Time:  Various colors are available: white, yellow, orange, red and pink.  Blooms May to June.

Winter Interest:  Evergreen foliage.

Disadvantages:  Roots rot easily in poorly drained soil. Plants don’t do well in prolonged wet soil during winter.

Availability and Sizes:  This plant seems to be regularly available at retail nurseries around the front range.  It is typically sold in 1 gallon or 4″ pots.

Best Features:  The many beautiful flowers that cover this plant when in bloom. The evergreen foliage is also charming when the plant is done blooming.

Maintenance Tip:  Prune off old, woody growth in spring. After flowering, the plants may be cut back to encourage new growth. Don’t prune after summer; plants must be allowed time to harden off prior to winter. Plants may be divided in spring (prior to flowering) every 4-5 years.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Photo of the Day – Silver Cholla in Bloom

Cylindropuntia Echinocarpa

This is a photo of Cylinddroppuntia echinocarpa ‘Silver Form’, in bloom in Arvada, Colorado.  It’s a beautiful plant that glows with silver spines throughout the year. While no man nor animal would want to brush against it, the bees love frolicking within the sweet nectar-filled blooms.

According to, this plant’s native range includes the arid deserts of East California, west Arizona, southeast Utah and south Nevada.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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10 Trees that are Better for Colorado

Tree Diversity Conference

Attendees in the lobby of the Denver Botanic Gardens where the Tree Diversity Conference was held.

This past Spring, tree enthusiasts from around the region gathered at the Denver Botanic Gardens to listen and learn from various presenters on the theme of Tree Diversity for Colorado. It seems recent crises such as the discovery of Emerald Ash Borer infestation in Boulder has revealed the urgency for members of the Green Industry to seek out more hardy and appropriate tree species for our region. There are other reasons to seek out trees better adapted to our climate. As climate scientists continue to inform us, it is likely that Colorado’s climate will get warmer and drier, providing even more challenging growing conditions for trees. Also, biotic mixing will continue to increase as more people move goods and materials far and wide across the globe. That is the most probable scenario of how EAB was found in Boulder: it was brought there in a wooden crate shipped from Asia. What far-flung exotic pest will next appear in our area?

This year’s conference was the second occurrence of such a gathering in Denver. Several new tree species were presented to the audience, along with some old stand-bys, with a discussion of each tree’s merits.

Although there were several genera that are represented in the group of trees, the two genera with the most candidates are Maples and Oaks. The other genus with multiple species that should get wider consideration for planting in our area is Ulmus (elms). While most elms have been looked over because of Dutch Elm Disease and also the invasive nature of Siberian Elm (Ulmus pulmila), there are a few cultivars that we should consider planting in Denver.

Here are ten trees that were discussed at the conference (out of many others) that you might consider planting in Colorado and the surrounding region:

Acer grandidentatum ‘Manzano’ – Manzano Bigtooth Maple   Ht: 20-30’ Wd: 20-30’

Large shrub or small tree with rounded form. The Manzano is a more tree like form of bigtooth maple. Once established, the bigtooth maples are drought tolerant.

Acer miyabei ‘Morton’ – State Street Maple   Ht: 50’ Wd: 35’

Rough corky bark and leaf shape are similar to Hedge Maple, but its stronger growth rate and ascending branch habit result in a larger mature size. Excellent drought and cold tolerance. Very adaptable.

Acer saccharum ‘Collins Caddo’ – Collins Caddo Sugar Maple   Ht: 45’ Wd: 40’

This maple provides red fall color, but unlike a red maple like Autumn Blaze (Acer x freemanii), the sugar maples are more adapted to the alkaline soils of Colorado’s Front Range urban corridor.

Acer tataricum ‘JFS-KW2’ – Rugged Charm Maple   Ht: 28’ Wd: 15’

Compact oval form. More upright than the popular Hot Wings Tatarian maple.

Quercus macrocarpa ’Bullet Proof’ – Bullet Proof Bur Oak   Ht: 50-80’ Wd: 50-80’

This large oak sports a massive trunk, deeply furrowed, that supports corky ridged twigs on spreading branches that makes for a broad and rounded canopy. This variety is more resistant to the galls that can affect other Bur Oaks.

Quercus muehlenbergii – Chinkapin Oak   Ht: 40’ Wd: 40’

A durable and adaptable oak with narrow lustrous glossy dark green leaves and an open, irregular, rounded habit. Prefers well drained soil.

Quercus robur x alba ‘JFS-KW1QX’ – Streetspire Oak   Ht: 45’ Wd: 14’

Dark green leaves of this narrowly columnar tree are mildew resistant. Turning red in autumn, they fall to reveal stiffly upright branches. Similar to Crimson Spire, but does not hold brown foliage through the winter

Ulmus davidiana – David Elm   Ht: 40’ Wd: 30’

Medium sized tree, with vase shape. Resistant to Dutch elm disease.

Ulmus propinqua ‘JFS-Bieberich’ – Emerald Sunshine Elm   Ht: 35’ Wd: 25’

Grown from seed collected in China, this sturdy, upright-growing elm was selected for superior performance on the hot, arid, windswept plains of western Oklahoma. Handsome, deeply corrugated leaves emerge coppery-bronze and mature to glossy green.

Ulmus japonica x wilsoniana ‘Morton’ – Accolade Elm   Ht: 70’ Wd: 60’

Arching limbs and a graceful vase shape (similar to the American elm) characterize this hybrid elm selected and tested at Morton Arboretum. Glossy, dark green foliage changes to yellow in the fall and is resistant to elm leaf beetle feeding.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Colorado Tree View

From time to time, we here at Outdoor Design Group like to hand over the reins of this blog to a guest writer. This allows us to peer over the fence into the realm of another business, and bring our readers new views on topics related to our field of work.

This week, T.J. Wood from Plan-It Geo (a company that Outdoor Design Group has collaborated with in the past on various projects) gives us a description of an application they developed for the Colorado State Forest Service. This online tool helps Colorado communities assess their public street and park trees locally to provide a statewide picture of tree diversity and health.


At Plan-It Geo, we specialize in “Trees and Technology.” A tree inventory combines both of these elements seamlessly by management of this important natural resource with use of mobile devices and technology in the field. The Colorado State Forest Service contracted Plan-It Geo to develop a web-based application that communities, campuses, and HOA’s can upload their tree inventories and view important state-wide tree data summaries. To access all of our web and mobile GIS software applications, click here.

A screen shot from CO-Tree View

A screen shot from CO-Tree View

Colorado Tree View:

Project Profile: Colorado Tree View

Project Title: Colorado Tree View – Statewide Inventory and Ash management Application

Client: Colorado State Forest Service

Timeframe: February 2015 – Present

Description: Tree inventories provide critical information for cities, neighborhood associations, and other entities to proactively manage their urban and community forestry resource. This project provided a tool to help diversify the planning and planting of tree species. It also provided a first-time statewide view of the structure of Colorado’s urban forests. The tool is a starting point for a long-term strategy and provides substantial new technical support to communities.

Outcomes: A statewide web-based application was created for Colorado. This application has the built-in ability to “crosswalk” a wide variety of inventory data into the application. The main fields collected are species, dbh (diameter breast height), condition, and location of each tree. The application has a hierarchy of log ins based on city and user approvals with different functionality at each level. A customized dashboard was created for the state to view important number and population statistics on each community or organizational inventory.

A screen shot from CO-Tree View

A screen shot from CO-Tree View

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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What Not to Do – Placing Fence Posts Within a Lawn Area

While visiting a project site last week I noticed a mistake in landscape design that I had to share:

fence post damage from weed wacker

In our landscape plans we always prefer to place fencing out of lawn areas and within landscape beds, or at least in a strip of rock.  In the photos above, these nice 6″x6″ posts are being slowly whittled away by trimmers, commonly known as “weed wackers”.

This is a condo project that was only built about 10 years ago.  I don’t blame the maintenance crews, I blame a poor landscape design.

If anything, the maintenance crews are probably cursing the landscape architect- because they have to trim around about 80 of these posts every week.

Since lawn was designed around the fence (rather than placing the fence in a strip of rock), it also gets over-sprayed by the lawn irrigation, which not only wastes water, but will quickly deteriorate a wood fence.  That’s probably why it looks like it recently had to be re-stained.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Should Aspen Trees be Planted in Denver?

Who doesn’t love seeing the golden glow of aspen leaves (Populus tremuloides) dancing in the breeze on a mountain hillside? Many gardeners living at Colorado’s lower elevations have been smitten by the quaking leaves of aspen trees and tried to bring some of that mountain magic into their own yard. But doing so reveals lessons in plant ecology, and reminds us that not every plant we want to have in our home landscapes can easily grow there.

Aspens are a “succession” tree, moving into areas where other trees and shrubs were removed by logging, fire, erosion, insects or disease. As a succession species, they are not long lived. Their presence helps lead the way to other longer living trees.

In addition, aspens are highly susceptible to insect damages and diseases. Aspens that were collected in the wild are even more prone to damage and disease, as their root system is either injured or is incomplete during collection. Nursery grown aspens are generally healthier than collected ones, but still will likely succumb to problems and a shortened life.

Aspen at Arvada Residence2

A diseased aspen tree.

Most arborists and horticulturists advise against planting Aspens along the Colorado’s Front Range. The growing conditions of the Front Range are different than those areas where Aspen thrive naturally. Aspens like to grow in gravelly, moist but well-drained soil with a lower pH (more acidic) that can typically be found at higher elevations. Along Colorado’s Front Range, our soils are typically heavy clay soils that don’t drain well and have a higher pH (more alkaline). Summer weather along the Front Range is hotter and drier than in the mountains, another factor going against the health of Aspens planted east of the high country.

If you really must have the quaking leaves of aspen in your yard, only plant them if you can place them in the north or east sides of your home (due to the afternoon heat of south and west exposures) and only if it is a nursery grown tree. Keep them away from objects that might radiate too much heat to the trees such as paving. Amend the soil with organic matter in an attempt to increase the acidity of the soil, and then mulch the newly planted tree well. You might also consider adding gravel or perlite to the soil before you plant to improve drainage, and reduce the problem of heavy clay soil.

Even if you can adhere to the aforementioned criteria while planting your aspen, it’s not likely your tree will achieve the brilliant gold of the aspens at higher elevations due to differences in soil chemistry, soil texture, soil moisture, day and night temperatures, and sunlight discrepancies at the different elevations. In addition you should be on the lookout for several different diseases and insects that more readily afflict aspens planted out of their native range.

Furthermore, if you want to remove aspen trees that are established in your yard, you may get many suckers (the stems that sprout up from aspen roots) coming up in your yard for many months after you removed the main trunk.

So in my opinion, no, aspen trees should not be planted in the Denver area, because it is not likely they will do well. But if you are aware of the many shortcomings of aspens planted outside of their native range, feel free to give them a try.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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5 Cool Patio Ideas

No matter what season it is, patios are an essential part of any outdoor setup. Design a great one for a sunny day with the kids, or for relaxing with friends by a fire pit. Here are 5 beautiful patios to draw inspiration from.


Cool Patio 1

Via Houzz

Laid out in beautiful brick and stone work, this patio really has it all. It’s the perfect place for to hold that Labor Day barbecue or celebrate your favorite team’s latest victory. The layout of the grill, oven, and counter tops make this a streamline system for cooking food for the masses. Plus in the winter, you can cozy up in front of the fire to warm up between playing in the snow.



Cool Patio 2

Via Houzz

Bring on the romance with beautiful trailing vines which give an open air effect while still providing shade and privacy. The fireplace becomes the central point with the seating curling around it, making it a cozy and intimate setting. Mix up the textures by bringing in some wicker furniture.



Cool Patio 3

Via Houzz

For the dog days of summer, a ceiling fan comes in handy in this cool patio. It’s the perfect place to sip lemonade or as the bar off to the side implies, margaritas. With both a dining and a lounge side, this patio functions as a great outdoor dining room as well as a cool place to hang out in front of the TV in those ultra plush chairs. The stone next to the wood gives it a stylish contemporary look while keeping it classic.



Cool Patio 4

Via Houzz

With the smooth lines that make up the core of mid-century style, this patio is stunningly awesome. The wood panel housing for the grill is genius, not only does it provide a shield for your grill from the elements, but it also provides shade while you stand over it to slow cook your pork chops to perfection. Another really great touch is the lattice designs on the on the ceiling which adds a sense of artistry with the rest of the furnishings being solids.



Cool Patio 5

Via Houzz

Think of this not only as a patio, but also as an extension to your kitchen. This is the perfect space to host a cookout. Serve up your favorite recipe from behind a bar with no concerns about people getting in the way. Enjoy some great lighting that bounces beautifully off the polished marble floor. There’s the plus of having a fireplace for people to gather around to roast marshmallows or TVs to catch the game, all while having the ability to cook without being shut away in the kitchen.


This is a guest post by Tim Smith of For more inspiration on designs for your backyard, check out


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Project Highlights From 2014

As 2014 nears a close, we’ve created a quick collage highlighting a few of the projects we’ve worked on over the year:

2014 Project Highlights Collage


This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Outdoor Design Group Celebrates 10 Years in Business!

 Outdoor Design Group 10th Anniversary Graphic

Ten years ago this month, I decided to venture out “on my own” to form Outdoor Design Group, Inc. working out of my house in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver  – It was the best move I’ve ever made.

A decade later, I couldn’t be prouder of all that this business has achieved.  From small residential gardens, to large commercial projects and housing developments, our list of completed projects is impressive by any measure.  We have also stayed true to the values that I started with:  hard work, honesty, integrity and outstanding customer service.

We’ve designed projects that have been built in the real world, not just imagined on paper but touched by hands and crafted through stone, earth, water, and living plants.  Along the way we’ve bettered the environment by creating sustainable landscapes that conserve water and resources.  And we have added value for our clients and have created quality places in our neighborhoods and communities.

But the best part of the last 10 years has been the lasting relationships that have been built- especially those with our customers.  There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone create their dream landscape or helping to fulfill their life’s ambitions through our part in their project.

I would like to thank my wife, Amanda for sticking by my side from the beginning when I came up with the crazy idea to start a business.  Without your encouragement and support we never would have survived those early years!  Last but not least, over the last several years as our team has grown I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most dedicated employees, consultants, and contractors one could ever ask for.  Our work could not be completed without your hard work and dedication –  Thank you very much!


This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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The 4 Most Dangerous Trees for Colorado?

As gardeners in Colorado may well know, our climate and altitude make for challenging growing conditions. This doesn’t mean we are completely immune from invasive exotic plants making an unwelcome home here. We do not have the burden that gardeners in wetter and warmer states may have at stopping the spread of invasive plants, but there are a few species you should be aware of so you can help stop these unwanted guests from gaining a foothold in our landscapes.

Why be concerned about invasive plants? They crowd out native plants, propagate uncontrollably, and may reduce forage for wildlife. Some may have a negative impact on your garden plants. And research suggests that some invasive species may pose dangers to humans through the increased risk of flooding due to damaged waterways, or increased fire danger.

The two worst invasive woody plants for Colorado and the surrounding region are the Russian Olive and the Tamarisk. Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), is native to western and central Asia. It was introduced into North America in the latter part of the 1800’s. It is not related to true olive plants (Olea europaea) but its fruit is edible but not very palatable for human consumption. It out competes native plants because its seeds are irresistible to birds which spread the seeds far and wide. The seeds have a low mortality rate, germinate readily in poor soil (it can fix its own nitrogen in its roots), reach maturity quickly and thus outcompete native plants. In Colorado, they often begin setting a foothold in riparian areas, and then spread from there.

Russian Olives invading a wetland in New Mexico.

Russian Olives invading a wetland in New Mexico.

Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima), which is more of a shrub than a tree, similarly starts its spread in the riparian areas of the Colorado and other southwestern states. It has been such a successful invader of wet areas, that it has overtaken huge sections of the rivers of the southwest. However, it is not as tolerant of cold temperatures as is Russian Olive, which restricts its spread to the warmer, lower elevations of the southwest. Tamarisk is tolerant of many soil types, and thrives in full sun. One of the concerns about Tamarisk’s effect on native landscapes is how they out compete native vegetation, altering the nutrient cycles of riparian areas. They also consume large amounts of water, and secrete large amounts of salt, both items further slowing the success of nearby native plants. A massive amount of resources and manpower are being directed at the fight to stop the spread of this plant through the wildlands of the desert southwest.

…the Siberian Elm is “one of, if not the, world’s worst trees…a poor ornamental that does not deserve to be planted anywhere”.


Closer to Denver and the urban areas of Colorado’s front range, there are two trees that are common pests. These are the Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), and the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Both of these trees release a profuse amount of seeds, and these seeds are very adept at sprouting in disturbed areas. They proliferate along transportation corridors and abandoned lots. Both trees prefer full sun, but Ailanthus can tolerate some shade allowing it to invade some mature native forests.

Young Ailanthus altissima

Young Ailanthus altissima

Although not directly related, Ailanthus trees (a.k.a. Tree of Heaven) are often mistaken as sumacs. In springtime they produce many flowers that have a foul odor which some say is similar to cat urine. It rapidly out competes other tree species, releasing an allelopathic chemical which inhibits the growth of other plants. Some researchers have extracted this chemical from Ailanthus trees, successfully using it as an herbicide. Not only is this tree toxic to other plants, there have been anecdotal reports of it being slightly toxic to humans and livestock. Ailanthus trees can grow quite rapidly, leading to weak, unstable branches.

Siberian Elms also have structural problems, with many weak or dead branches that can break off in heavy wind. Siberian elms have a short dormancy period which leads to early flowering in spring, and late leaf drop in fall. In Colorado that means they can become dangerously loaded with wet snow in our common heavy spring snowstorms, or the occasional fall snowstorm, leading to heavy branches falling on roofs and vehicles. In addition to the dangers of breaking limbs, the trees do not have a very favorable appearance, with an awkward branching pattern. One doesn’t need to search too long before you find many Siberian elm seedlings sprouting up in unwanted spots in the urban landscape. The sprouts show up in shrub beds where they are difficult to remove by hand and hard to spray with herbicides without damaging neighboring desired plant materials. Siberian elms are susceptible to damage from elm leaf beetles which leave the leaves looking skeletonized, but it doesn’t seem to kill the trees.  Notable horticulturalist Michael Dirr says the Siberian Elm is “one of, if not the, world’s worst trees…a poor ornamental that does not deserve to be planted anywhere”.

To be fair, I should mention that some people look favorably upon these four tree species, and say that in Colorado’s high desert climate (that is naturally and predominantly tree-less east of the Rocky Mountains), an invasive tree is better than no tree, especially in urban areas. I would beg to differ, noting that these trees are too difficult to control and remove, to the detriment of native flora and fauna. Please become aware of these invasive trees and be considerate about whether you want to allow these in your landscape.


This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Photo of the Day – Natural Pond with new Boulder Edge

natural pond with improved boulder edge

Over the summer we helped this client create a new stone edge to their natural pond.  It is difficult to tell in this photo, but there are two layers of boulders helping to navigate a 24″ drop-off to the water.  In the foreground is a lush new lawn for entertaining and games.  Look for more photos of this project soon on our Facebook and Google Plus pages!

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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‘Green’-Up Your Holiday Décor with LEDs


If you’ve not purchased holiday lights in several years, you are in for some surprises next time you head out shopping for new holiday lighting. Recent advances have produced a wave of new and innovative LED lighting that is far more energy efficient than holiday lighting your father or grandfather installed in years past. Many of the new LED holiday light strings are 7 to 8 times more efficient than traditional incandescent light strings. This translates to additional benefits aside from lowered electricity bills: more strings can be safely strung together end-to-end (which may mean a simplified layout of your light display) and there is a lowered fire hazard as the strings do not get as hot as many of the incandescent holiday light bulbs.

One down side to these new types of holiday lights is their higher up-front cost. But if you calculate in the lower operating costs, LED lights are likely to cost you less money in the long run. And as more LED holiday lights are being manufactured, prices have been dropping.

One criticism of LED lights has been the tendency of light from LED bulbs to appear harsh and “cold”. Manufacturers have responded to this issue and are now producing LED holiday lighting that appears “warmer”, like the incandescent lights they are intended to replace.

So this year, consider adding some ‘green’ lights to your holiday decor by choosing energy efficient LED holiday lights.

Here’s a list of pros and cons for LED Holiday lighting:


Lower energy use / operating cost

Lower heat output (Less fire hazard)

Longer life

More strings can be connected safely (Fewer outlets or extension cords needed)



Higher purchase cost than incandescent.

Color & “temperature” of light output difference as compared to incandescent


This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Osteospermum Variety Provides a Welcome Avalanche

Osteospermum-Avalanche White Sun Daisy 3

Osteospermum ‘Avalanche’ flowers

Looking for a low-growing, flowering perennial that will impress your friends and neighbors when they visit your garden? Look no further than the vigorous mat-forming daisy, ‘Avalanche’ White Sun Daisy. This cultivar, named to the Plant Select program in 2011, is related to other sun daisies, whose genus is originally native to South Africa. A shimmering riot of white, daisy-like composite flowers are produced above a mat of oblong, nearly succulent dark evergreen leaves. This variety of sun daisy is more disease resistant, blooms more heavily, and is more cold hardy than other Osteospermum cultivars. The numerous blooms close at night, showing off their metallic undersides of the petals.

Consider reserving a spot for this ‘Avalanche’ in your xeriscape or in the front of your sunny perennial planting beds.

Osteospermum-Avalanche White Sun Daisy

Osteospermum ‘Avalanche’


Scientific Name:  Osteospermum ‘Avalanche’

Plant Type:  Perennial Groundcover

Mature Height:  8″-12″

Mature Spread:  24″-42″

Cold Hardiness Zone:  USDA zones 4 – 9 (up to 8,000 ft)

Water Requirement:  Low  to medium water needs. Seems to do equally well in dry conditions or with supplemental irrigation.

Exposure:  Full Sun to light shade.  I have experimented with it in my garden in afternoon shade, and it seems to do quite well.

Soil:  Adaptable.  I have planted it in some pretty heavy, poor clay soil and it seems to thrive there unlike many other Xeric perennials.

Flower Color & Bloom Time:  Flowers are white with yellow-green centers, exhibiting a unique metallic tinge on the undersides of the petals.  Blooms appear in early to mid-summer and continue in fall through the first frost.  Sometimes flowering will slow down in late summer or in really hot, dry weather.

Winter Interest:  Minimal.

Disadvantages:  I have not found any to date. Some literature mentions that Osteospermum plants are susceptible to fungal pathogens.

Availability and Sizes:  This plant seems to be regularly available at retail nurseries around the front range.  It is typically sold in 1 gallon or 4″  pots.

Best Features:  The flowers are beautiful, but to me what really sets this plant apart is the mass of dark green foliage. In the right conditions it develops a wide mat of dark green foliage that acts a groundcover, spreading up to 42″ wide.

Maintenance Tip:  While drought tolerant, Avalanche White Sun Daisy will produce the best flowers and mat of foliage if it is watered once or twice per week during dry periods.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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20 More Great Xeriscape Plants for Colorado

I wanted to revisit Matt’s post on the 20 Best Xeriscape Plants for Colorado, and add to his list of great low-water plants for Colorado landscapes.  As with Matt’s initial posting, this list of plants also offers a great variety of color, texture and form for your water-wise garden. Consider adopting some of these amazing plants into your landscape, and tell all your friends about the benefits and beauty of drought tolerant plants.


  • Chocolate FlowerBerlandiera lyrata  An intoxicating chocolate scent emanates from the yellow blooms of this low water southwestern wildflower from summer into fall.
  • Whirling butterflies – Gaura lindheimeri  Whirling Butterflies truly lives up to its name.  Growing 2-3’ tall by 18-24” wide, this perennial has a significant bloom time, sporting multiple flower stalks that whirl numerous small white flowers in the late summer breezes.
  • Creeping VeronicaVeronica spp.  A spring blooming favorite, creeping veronicas are somewhat adaptable to light and moisture conditions. The deep green foliage is often evergreen in winter and makes a nice backdrop to the abundant light blue to purple flowers that arrive in April.

Creeping Veronica


  • Sweet WoodruffGallium odoratum  No dry shade garden should be without this fabulous groundcover. If you have a dry shady spot under a tree, this is the plant for you. It is said that sweet woodruff is one of the few plants that will flourish under the shady canopy of evergreen trees. Small bright green leaves become decorated with tiny white flowers in late spring.
  • Orange Carpet Hummingbird FlowerEpilobium canum garrettii  If hummingbirds pass through your area consider this California native. It provides a stunning orange floral display in late summer that hummingbirds love, and is ideal to let cascade down a rock wall.
  • BlanketflowerGaillardia aristata Related to sunflowers, this is another North American native that is a great addition to the low-water garden. It blooms from June to September with  flower petals that transition from yellow to orange to red. Many cultivars available.  Easy to start from seed.
  • Silvery HorehoundMarrubium rotundifolium  This native of Turkey is a great xeriscape ground cover. It grows 2-4” high and 2-3’ wide.  Soft white hairs on the round leaf margins add an effulgent look to the plant.
  • Hens and ChicksSempervivum spp.  This familiar garden succulent from Europe is a hardy performer that will grow just about anywhere. Great for the small spots between other low perennials or rock gardens in full sun.  Another nice benefit is how easy it is to transplant the offshoots they provide. Several types are available, with some covered in charming white hairs.

Variety of Sempervivum, a.k.a. Hens and Chicks


  • SunroseHelianthemum This hardy low-growing perennial provides a delightful floral display starting in June. The profuse blooms hover over a thick mass of low branches that carry small, oval shaped leaves. The flower color is available in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink and white. Perfect for a rock garden or a hot and sunny border area.
Helianthemum Orange - Orange Sunrose

Orange Sunrose



  • Blonde AmbitionBouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’  This is a wonderful medium sized grass, 30-36” high and 30-36” wide. It provides multiple seasons of interest, showcasing the classic blue grama grass curled seed heads well into winter.
Blonde Ambition Grass

‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue Grama Grass


  • ‘Undaunted’ Ruby MuhlyMuhlenbergia reverchonii  A 2014 Plant Select introduction.  Discovered by Lauren and Scott Ogden, it hails from Oklahoma and Texas. The inflorescence (aka flower cluster) is composed of clouds of tiny pinkish flowers, creating a pink glow with back lighting.


  • Currant – Ribes spp.  Currants are medium sized shrubs that grow well in sun, and some species also grow well in filtered shade. This is a notable fact, as many shrubs that do well in part shade require more water than the currants do. Some species provide edible fruit, and some have fragrant flowers. The most notable fragrant currant is Crandall Clove Currant, whose flowers do indeed smell like cloves.
  • Dwarf Russian AlmondPrunus tenella  Native to Eurasia, this flowering shrub is said to be hardy to zone 2!!!  Abundant with pink flowers in the spring, one disadvantage of this shrub is the aggressive suckering habit which may make it hard to control, but this also makes it an attractive cover for wildlife. Size is 3-5’ x 3-5’.
  • Dwarf Pinyon PinePinus edulis  This slow growing selection of pinyon pine was introduced by Plant Select in 2014. Grows 20-30” height by 20-30” width in 10 years.
  • Mohican ViburnumViburnum lantana ‘Mohican’  Another great low water shrub that does well in either full or part sun, this viburnum grows 6’ by 6’.  White flowers in spring precede orange to red fruits that darken to black in fall.
  • Mountain MahoganyCercocarpus spp.  This western native is indispensable if you’re planning on creating a large native style landscape. Some species are semi-evergreen and one species Cercocarpus montanus the leaves turn a nice russet color in fall. Seeds provide a charming fuzzy appearance that looks great when backlit.
  • PeashrubCaragana spp.  A tough shrub from Siberia and China, the peas shrub is, just as the name indicates, related to peas. It produces edible (but not palatable) pods and edible yellow flowers that interest to salads. There are several different species and cultivars to choose from, which range in size from medium to large.


  • Bigtooth MapleAcer grandidentatum  Native to the inter-mountain West, and closely related to the sugar maple. Often growing as multi-stem, it likes full sun to partial shade and low to medium water. The samaras, or winged seeds turn rose color in late summer, and the fall foliage ranges from yellow to red. Grows 20-30’ high by 20-30’ wide.
  • Desert WillowChilopsis linearis  Another typically multi-stem small tree, it is hardy to zone 7 (0 to 5 deg F), but usually survives Denver winters, dying back to the ground each winter, and quickly sprouting new growth each summer. If given a sheltered spot, it may not die back to the ground. Distinctive pink to burgundy flowers with yellow throats. Drought tolerant, with watering being deep and infrequent. Grows 6-30’ high by 6-30’.

Desert Willow


  • Hawthorn  – Crataegus spp.   These flowering trees are cousins of roses, and bloom in spring with clusters of white flowers that produce long lasting red fruits that offer winter interest. Several species and cultivars have thorns on the branches. Grows 15-25’ high by 15-25’ wide, depending on species and cultivar.



The Criteria for this List:
– This list is for the Front Range of Colorado.  We are somewhere in the middle of zone 4 to 5 on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

– I have only included plants that are very easy to care for, and have excluded plants that require a lot of water since that is a key component of Xeriscape.  The “best” plants, in my opinion, are those that are well adapted to the local climate and do not require much additional water and maintenance.  Of course there are occasions where the use of higher water-use plants is desirable, such as in drainage areas, however I have left them off of this particular list.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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Is Your Tree Next to Die? How Emerald Ash Borer Will Affect Our Urban Landscape, and What You Should Do About It


Green Ash tree killed by Emerald Ash Borer

2013 brought tragic news to urban tree enthusiasts in Colorado. In September 2013 the emerald ash borer was found in Boulder County. This find means that thousands of trees along Colorado’s Front Range could be decimated by this pest. And as Colorado State University Professor of Entomology Whitney Cranshaw tells us, the spread of the emerald ash borer (EAB) is dependent upon human activity. It is likely that EAB came to the United States via humans transporting contaminated wood crates from Asia, and it probably reached Colorado through contaminated firewood.


The emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis, is a beetle native to Asia. It is small, about the size of a grain of rice. Being a non-native insect in North America, it has no predators to keep its population in check. And unlike the Ash trees in Asia, our native Ash trees don’t possess the natural insecticides that control EAB. Adult borers eat leaves of Ash trees, then mate and lay eggs in crevices in the bark. The eggs hatch, releasing larvae which burrow beneath the bark, which disrupts the trees nutrient and water supplying layers. The tree becomes riddled with tunnels the larvae leave behind. The larvae then hatch in spring, burrowing their way to the surface, where they repeat the cycle of feeding on the leaves, breeding and laying eggs of new generation. They kill the canopy of the tree, limb by limb, with the entire tree dead in 3-5 years.


Adult EAB on a penny.

Colorado’s department of Agriculture estimates that there are 1.45 million ash trees in just the Denver Metro area alone.  The costs to spray so many trees will quickly mount.

Tree and insect experts agree that there is no point in spraying your Ash tree unless the tree is currently infested. “Since most EAB treatments provide control for one year or, at most, two years following application there is no benefit in treating a tree prior to when EAB is present”, Cranshaw writes in a recent report from Colorado State University.

In other words there is no treatment that will stop the EAB from attacking your Ash tree. Spraying before the tree is infested only wastes money and needlessly adds dangerous chemicals to the environment. In fact, many entomologists warn that even spraying an infested tree may have lethal impacts on beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, and won’t completely rid your tree of EAB, and would probably only buy you a few extra years of life of an infested Ash tree.

If we take a serious look at the situation, spraying at all is mostly a futile and dangerous endeavor. Spraying gives tree care companies extra income but endangers the life of beneficial insects, could possibly have harmful effects on people and is very unlikely to ultimately save your Ash tree. As CSU’s Cranshaw has said, he expects in 5-10 years all Ash trees in the Metro Denver area to be infested by EAB.  Furthermore, Cranshaw writes: “Once established at a location emerald ash borer can be expected to survive in the area as long as any ash trees remain. Therefore some management of emerald ash borer will be required for as long as one wishes to maintain the tree”. It is our opinion that a better strategy to dealing with EAB is planning for the eventual replacement of your Ash tree, rather than treating your ash tree with toxic chemicals, year after year.

What can we do to slow the spread of EAB to the rest of Colorado?

1.)    Do not transport any ash wood in or out of your area.

2.)    Do not plant more Ash trees in Colorado.

If you have an Ash tree, you really should consider planting a replacement tree now. If you are unsure about what type of tree would be a good alternative to Ash, contact your local nursery, arborist, or contact us and we can help you with that decision.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.



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How to Tell if You Have Tall Fescue or Crabgrass in Your Lawn

Recently I had a client express frustration about his inability to kill the crabgrass weeds in his lawn.

It turns out that what he had was tall fescue rather than crabgrass.  Tall fescue is a spreading cool season grass that often appears in lawns.  It has a courser texture than bluegrass, and will sometimes “green up” in the spring earlier than the rest of the lawn.

How to Remove Tall Fescue

crabgrass vs. tall fescue closeup

Crabgrass (left) has smooth leaves that often have small hairs. Fescue (right) has ridges on the leaves.

So here’s the thing about trying to remove it:  Selective weed killers that target weeds such as crabgrass will not kill tall fescue.

The only way to remove the tall fescue is to treat it with a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup.  This type of weed killer will also kill the lawn that is directly around it.  Which means you will need to spot-seed that area, or if you have a lot of fescue you may need to remove the entire lawn and start over with seed or sod.

Should You Remove it at All?

In my lawn, I have clumps of tall fescue but I don’t like to use many chemicals on my lawn.  I just leave the clumps in place- they are hardly noticeable once the lawn greens up.

Tall Fescue in Lawn

Tall fescue emerging in a bluegrass lawn that is still dormant in early spring.

Fescues are actually pretty highly recommended as lawn grasses-  according to the Colorado State University Extension Office a fescue lawn can require up to 50% less water than a bluegrass lawn.  In fact, one of the popular sod blends we often specify for the front range is a “90/10 Fescue Bluegrass” blend.  That is, 90% fescue and 10% bluegrass.

So before deciding to use a bunch of chemicals on the fescue in your lawn, or doing a major lawn renovation – consider leaving it in place.  The fescue can be hardly visible at all from a distance, and may end up saving you money in the long term on watering.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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20+ Great Plants to Attract Butterflies and Bees in Colorado

You may have heard recent dire reports about the health of bees and butterflies. Whether it’s the declining number of the amazing Monarch Butterfly or the constant reports of “colony collapse disorder” in beehives, these reports are alarming. One of the best and easiest things you can do to help these crucial creatures survive and thrive is to plant the perennials, shrubs and trees in your landscape that will give bees and butterflies the food they depend on. Help these pollinators while creating an inviting outdoor space for yourself. Or, if you are pondering the possibility of updating your landscaping in the near future, let Outdoor Design Group design a bee and butterfly friendly garden for you.

Below are listed several different perennials, shrubs and trees that provide food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. While I’ve listed several pollinator friendly plants here, there are still many more to choose from. Consult the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, or your local university extension agent for more suggestions of pollinator friendly plants that will grow well in your area.

Perennials for Butterflies and Bees

Asclepias species.  Commonly referred to as the Milkweeds due to their milky sap, there are many species in the Asclepias genus that are utilized by butterflies and bees. Many biologists believe that the decline in the Monarch butterfly population is directly correlated to the increasing use of herbicides used to kill Milkweeds in North America, because Monarch butterflies depend on Milkweeds as food for their larvae. There are many Asclepias species that grow in North America, but two that do well in Colorado are Asclepias tuberosa (showy milkweed) and Asclepias speciosa (butterfly weed).  Ht. and Wd. varies depending on species and cultivar, generally 15-60” Ht. x 12-18” Wd.

Butterfly and Sedum Todds Yard

The Mint Family (Lamiaceae).  Many familiar and popular garden plants from the so-called Mint Family are favored by bees. Some of these are culinary sage, Russian sage, mint, basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, lavender, lamb’s ear, hyssop, lemon balm, and bee balm.  Ht. and Wd. varies depending on species and cultivar.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.  This tall stone crop flowers in mid to late summer (see photo above), making it a good late-season nectar source for pollinators when many other plants have stopped flowering. 18-24” Ht. x 12-18” Wd.

Datura wrightii  Although Sacred Datura may not always be a perennial in all parts of Colorado, depending on the severity of the winter, bees love it’s flowers which emit an amazing scent, so even if it is frost tender and may need to be regrown from seed in colder areas, it is worth it. The bees will thank you. 18-24” Ht. x 6-8’ Wd.

Shrubs for Butterflies and Bees

Buddleia alternifolia ‘Argentea’,  Silver Fountain Butterfly Bush.  This butterfly bush blooms earlier than the other species and cultivars of Buddleia. This large shrub does well in most soils and sites but doesn’t like its roots to stay wet.  12-15’ Ht. x 10-12’ Wd.

Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Blue Mist’Blue Mist Spirea is also in the Mint Family, and is not a true spirea, but has flowers that resemble those of the spirea. It is a hybrid of C. incana x C. mongolica that was created in the 1930’s in England by Arthur Simmonds. There are several cultivars of Caryopteris x clandonensis that are good choices for Colorado and which bees and butterflies (see photo below) love.  3-4’ Ht. x 2-3’ Wd.

Caryopteris flower and butterfly

Mahonia. This genus has several members whose flowers will delight your winged friends. Mahonia aquifolium is a familiar shrub known as Oregon Grape Holly. It is evergreen, easy to grow and produces edible (but not tasty) berries from the yellow flowers that bees appreciate.  4-6’ Ht. x 4-6’ Wd.

Prunus bessyi,  Sand Cherry  4-6’ Ht. x 4-6’ Wd.

Philadelphus lewisii,  Cheyenne Mock Orange  5-7’ Ht. x 4-6’ Wd.

Rhus aromatica ssp. Trilobata,  Three leaf sumac  3-6’ Ht. x 3-6’ Wd.

Rosa woodsii,  Wood’s Rose  3-6’ Ht. x 3-6’ Wd.

Trees for Butterflies and Bees

Tilia cordata, Little Leaf Linden.  Linden trees perfume the air in springtime and offer up small yellow flowers (see photo below) for pollinators. I’ve heard that in Eastern Europe, a type of beer is flavored with the linden flowers.  30-50’ Ht. x 25-35’ Wd. (depends on cultivar).

Tilia cordata flower

Apple / Crabapples. The Malus genus offers many species and cultivars that are attractive to bees. In fact, if there were no bees, you probably would not get any fruit from your apple trees. Ht. and Wd. varies depending on cultivar.

Prunus armeniaca ‘Moongold’,  Moongold Apricot.  15-25’ Ht. x 15-25’ Wd.

Prunus nigra ‘Princess Kay’, Princess Kay Plum  15-20’ Ht. x 10-15’ Wd.

Catalpa speciosa,  Western Catalpa  40-60’ Ht. x 30-50’ Wd.

Cercis Canadensis,  Eastern Redbud  20-30’ Ht. x 20-30’ Wd.

Crataegus ambigua,  Russian Hawthorne  15-25’ Ht. x 20’ Wd.


This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Interesting Yuccas Along Denver Roadsides

Yucca rostrata tree yucca
Driving around Denver, your eye may be occasionally caught by an uncommon shrub or tree.  One spot where this has occurred for me is along a highway off ramp at I-70 and Harlan Street in Wheatridge Colorado, a suburb of Denver. This off ramp is south-facing, making an ideal microclimate for a group of  tall Yuccas. I’m not certain, but they are possibly Yucca thompsoniana or Yucca rostrata, two Yucca species that are known for their ability to grow taller than some other yucca species and still tolerate the winter temperatures of Denver. These yuccas are a pleasant surprise, providing a unique plantscape rarely duplicated along the mostly drab, weed infested highways of Colorado’s front range.

Another great roadside surprise Yucca that we admire is in a front yard along Monaco Boulevard in east Denver.  Thriving on a the corner of a busy thoroughfare, this lovely plant proves once again that Yuccas are a great choice for gardeners in Colorado’s lower elevation areas.

Yucca on Monaco Blvd.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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Save Money on Landscaping: Starting Seeds Indoors for Spring

Seed Start 6If you are a “plant person” you’re probably aware of the option of growing your own plants from seed indoors. If you’ve never tried it before, it is definitely worth the experience. Not only is it a great way to save money over buying your plants at a nursery, it is also fascinating to watch the plants sprout and mature under your care. As an added bonus if you’re interested in uncommon plant varieties, this is a way to get your hands on those hard-to-find plants from native flowers to heirloom crop plants.


When you start your seeds indoors is dependent on when you want to plant your seedlings outdoors. And that is obviously dependent on what plant hardiness zone you live in, and the hardiness of the seeds you will start. Here in the urban Front Range of Colorado, some gardeners refer to the middle of March as a good average time to start many vegetable seeds indoors. Our last day of frost is usually in the first week of May. That roughly translates to about 6-8 weeks of indoor growth for your seeds before you can safely plant them outside. Search the internet to determine your local plant hardiness zone, and read the seed packet to determine how long germination takes for your seeds. Plant species vary in the time needed before they can be transplanted outside.


Like many DIY projects, you can invest as much time and money or as little as you’d like on starting seeds indoors. Some people utilize complicated equipment, such as special shelves and lights, and miniature green houses to start seeds. Others keep it simple and start their seeds in soil filled Dixie cups on the windowsill.

I believe one essential ingredient for seed starting success is a sterile seed-starting mix. This is a “soil-less potting soil” mix that offers a texture that is just right for seeds to germinate. Using any other type of soil for indoor seed germination may lead to the seedlings succumbing to a fungal rot. You can buy pre-made mixes or make your own.

Many people use seed starting trays which are readily available at garden centers and home improvement stores.  These come with many options like a wicking mat to keep the seed mix properly moist, or a heating pad to maintain ideal temperature. I’ve gone the less expensive route and used left-over food containers with clear lids (like salad mix boxes). Inside these boxes I place small store-bought peat pots filled with seed start mix. If you reuse a food container or seeding tray, wash it with soap and hot water, and rinse in a dilute chlorine/water solution to sterilize them.


Fill your trays or pots about ¾ full with lightly moistened seed mix medium. Place the seeds on the medium and then cover with more seed mix medium to a depth of roughly three times the thickness of the seed (Or the recommended depth as stated on the seed packets). Some seeds require sunlight to germinate, and so should not be covered at all. Also included on the seed packets is information about when to best sow the seed.

Whether you use a seed tray or a leftover food box, it’s important to utilize a clear lid or plastic wrap to cover the seeds before they germinate. This provides a moist environment which promotes germination, yet allows light to reach the soil surface. However once the seedlings reach 2 inches tall, you’ll want to uncover the seedlings so they are not too wet and so more light can reach the seedlings. If it is too wet, the seedlings may rot.

Ideal temperature for the germination of most seeds is 72 during the day, and 65 at night. Protect the germinating seeds from cold drafts. But seedlings don’t need to be kept as warm as germinating seeds. Move them off any heating mats, and away from any heat sources.

To avoid the seedlings getting too leggy and elongated, it is recommended that you place them in a sunny spot and/or suspend fluorescent lights 3 inches above the tray. Raise the light as the seedlings grow. If no supplemental natural light is available, adding an incandescent light bulb can help produce better growth in the seedlings.

Once seedlings have developed four “true” leaves (and not just the cotyledons or embryonic “first leaves”) you can fertilize with ¼ strength water-soluble fertilizer. If they are in small pots or the “cells” typical of the seed starting trays, you can transplant them to their own larger pots to give them more room to grow before they are planted outside. Be aware that some vegetable and annual seedlings don’t transplant well and should go directly from the original seed-start containers into the garden.

If you planted too many seeds per individual pot or tray cell, your seedlings may be crowded and you should consider thinning out excess seedlings to avoid competition for soil nutrients and water. Do this by carefully snipping unwanted and week seedlings with scissors. It is best to prune out the extra seedlings before they reach 2 inches tall.

If your seedlings are looking spindly or elongated, petting them gently with your hand once or twice daily will help to stimulate more stocky growth. This artificially simulates the wind the seedlings would encounter if they were growing outdoors. You can also set up a small gentle fan to continuously blow on the seedlings. This is done in many commercial greenhouses. If you utilize a fan, be sure to not allow the soil surrounding the seedlings to dry out too much.

Around two weeks before planting your new plants in the garden, harden them off by moving them outdoors on warm days to a shaded porch, and then back inside during the evening.

One thing to keep in mind is that some types of plants are inherently easier to start from seed. You will notice this as you look at the seed types available for sale in garden centers. However, don’t be limited by this selection. Consider collecting, saving and swapping seeds with friends and neighbors.  And don’t forget to keep track of which seeds did well, and which ones produced desired results so you can repeat your success next year.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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Happy Holidays from Outdoor Design Group!

Happy Holidays from Outdoor Design Group


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