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“How Do I Make My Garden Look Good in the Winter?”

“How Do I Make My Garden Look Good in the Winter?”

You may be in the heart of winter, but that doesn’t mean your garden has to look boring!

Chances are, when you’re out walking your dog or you’re getting your 10,000 steps in, you’ve noticed a neighbor’s home that catches your eye.

You know the one.

It’s the house or apartment complex where you can’t help but stop and look. Their landscaping looks soooo good in the winter.

Heck, even your dog wants to stop and take a look. (Or, at least take a lil’ sniff.)
Maiden grass is one of the showiest winter grasses to make your winter garden look good

If you want a pretty winter garden too….

One of the easiest ways to make your garden look good in the winter is to plant ornamental grasses.

Ornamental grasses add a “wow” factor to winter gardens.

Their feathery plumes or seed heads will glow in the winter light. When the wind blows, you’ll get a wonderful flowing motion and a whispering sound. And they can add structure and height to your garden.

In garden lingo, this is known as creating “winter interest.”

Even though it’s winter, you still have plants that look pretty.
Add winter interest and beauty to your garden with feather reed grass and maiden grass

Best of all, ornamental grasses are easy to grow.

Here are just a few reasons to love them:

  • Ornamental grasses tend to be low maintenance. You may cut them back once a year, but that’s about it. You don’t have to fuss over them.
  • Grasses tend to bounce back well from our tough weather: gusty winds, hail, surprise snowstorms… (Gotta love western gardening!)
  • They tend to grow well in our poor western soils, so you have less work.
  • Many grasses are “deer resistant,” so you shouldn’t have to worry about your grasses disappearing thanks to your neighborhood Bambi.
  • Some grasses don’t need much water, which is awesome if you live in a semi-arid climate like Colorado or Utah. Tip: Some grasses DO need regular watering, though, so don’t assume your grass is “drought tolerant.” Do a little research first or ask when you buy it.

You also have lots of interesting grasses to choose from!
Hardy pampas grass and maiden grass can make a winter garden look better

While you don’t plant grasses in the winter, our coldest months are a great time to take photos of grasses you like.

When you’re out walking your dog or dashing to the grocery store, pull out your phone and snap a pic if you see grasses you think are pretty in the winter.

Create a folder on your phone called “Garden Inspiration.”

Add your pics to that folder.

(If you have a million photos on your phone like me, this makes it easy to find your photos when you head to the garden center.)

It’s 100% okay if you don’t know what the grasses are!

In my next article, I share photos of 5 popular western grasses and what they look like in the winter.

Hopefully, this will make it easier to figure out which ones you like.

Plus, you can take your photos with you when you buy flowers in the spring. The employees at local, independently-owned garden centers are usually happy to help you identify plants.

One more tip to make your garden look good in the winter…

I used to cut down the ornamental grasses in my garden in the fall.

I wanted my winter garden to look tidy.

But I’ve come to appreciate how pretty plants can look when they’re left standing over the winter. Often times, this can help them survive the winter better too. And it can create a little habitat for wildlife, like migrating birds.

So, if you already have ornamental grasses and you’ve been cutting them down in the fall, no worries!

But next year, try leaving your grasses standing through the winter.

If you have a grass that needs to be trimmed back, prune it in the spring when you start seeing new growth coming up.

It’s an easy way to make your winter garden look prettier!

Related tips that may interest you:

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5 Popular Ornamental Grasses for a Prettier Winter Garden

5 Popular Ornamental Grasses for a Prettier Winter Garden

Put your hand up if want a pretty winter garden!

In my last tip, we chatted about how ornamental grasses can make your winter garden look good. Ornamental grasses add “winter interest,” and they’re easy to grow. (Yesss!)

But how are you supposed to know which grasses to pick?

They look similar, right?

In today’s tip, I want to give you a peek at 5 popular ornamental grasses — and what they look like in winter gardens.

That way, you can start figuring out which ones you like.

Please note, if the conditions are right, some grasses will spread their seeds like a fairy godmother tossing pixie dust. So, there are parts of the country where some of these grasses may be considered invasive. When you buy grasses, ask the store whether they’re allowed where you live.

Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

In my opinion, maiden grass is one of the showiest winter grasses.
Maiden grass is a showy ornamental grass in winter

Maiden grasses often have soft, feathery plumes.

In the winter, their plumes look like fluffy feathers spilling out of a pillow.

They glow in the winter sun.

Some varieties of maiden grass can grow up to 5 to 6 feet tall and nearly as wide, so plan accordingly when you’re deciding where to plant this grass.

You may be happiest with maiden grass if you have a have a wider space to fill in your landscape.
Close-up of maiden grass plumes in winter

Maiden grass likes regular watering.

Same size… less water: If you’re thinking, “Ooooh, I like this size of this ornamental grass, but I want a grass that doesn’t need as much water,” check out giant sacaton instead. It’s about the same size as maiden grass, but it thrives with very little moisture.

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis)

Feather reed grass is another grass that glows in a winter garden.
Feather reed grass is a popular ornamental grass that looks good in the winter

There is one type of feather reed grass — known as ‘Karl Foerster’ (pictured above) — that is VERY popular. You’ll see it in landscaping around homes, as well as around shopping centers. It’s more drought-tolerant than other types of feather reed grass.

Do you recognize this grass from your neighbors’ landscapes?

Feather reed grass grows in an upright direction (like a column), making it a good grass for a smaller garden or a garden with limited space.

It’s also very pretty against a darker background like a stained fence.
Karl Foerster feather reed grass looks pretty against dark backgrounds in the winter

Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

These ornamental grasses have horizontal seed heads that look like eyelashes.
Blue grama grass is a pretty winter grass in Colorado gardens

Aren’t they so cool?

They hold up very well to winter snowstorms.

Blue Grama is the state grass of Colorado, and it’s drought tolerant. It happily grows in areas that get just 10 to 15 inches of annual rainfall.

That’s not very much!

So, these ornamental grasses could be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a dry, sunny spot in your landscape that doesn’t get much moisture
    (like a hot, western-facing or southern-facing section of your yard)
  • You’re planning a low-water garden (aka, a “waterwise” garden)
  • You’re known to forget to water (no judgment!)

Water this grass well the first season. This helps it get established in your garden.

After that, it shouldn’t require much attention from you.

Pro tip: If your garden gets regular moisture or has a wetter area, blue grama grass may not be the right ornamental grass for you. My understanding is moisture can turn it into a happy seed spreader.
Blue grama grass is a drought tolerant grass with seedheads that look like eyelashes

Hardy Pampas Grass (Erianthus ravennae)

Hardy pampas grass is a big guy!

It can grow 10-12 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide.

To show you how tall it can grow, I asked my pawtner-in-crime to join me in the photo below. She wasn’t as excited about the photo opp as I was.
Hardy pampas grass towers in winter gardens, adding height and winter interest

Pampas grass is an interesting grass to consider if you have:

  • A big yard that could use a focal point
  • A deep garden that could use some height in the back
  • An area of your yard where you want to draw your eyes away from something (like an electrical pole)

If you like the look of this ornamental grass but it’s too big for your garden, there are smaller versions of pampas grass too.

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)

Switch grass may not be the showiest grass for a winter garden.

However, it’s one of my favorite grasses in the summer and fall, so I can’t resist including it on this list.
Switch grass in the winter, creating interest in a western garden

Some types of switch grass prefer more water than others.

If you’d like a more drought-resistant type, look for the switch grass known as ‘Shenandoah.’ In the fall, its leaf blades turn burgundy.

It gets delicate, pink seed heads in the fall. They lose their color in the winter, but they still have a lovely airiness to them.
Closeup of switch grass seeds with snow in the background

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3 Plants That Struggle in Western Winters (What NOT to Plant in Your Colorado Landscape)

3 Plants That Struggle in Western Winters
(What NOT to Plant in Your Colorado Landscape)

No one wants to end up with extra garden chores and sad-looking plants

But that’s what can happen if you accidentally pick plants that are known to struggle in Colorado landscapes — particularly during winter.

So, in this tip, you’ll get the scoop on 3 popular plants to AVOID planting in Colorado and similar western states. These plants can be high maintenance here. (Do you remember the TV show, “What Not to Wear?” Think of this article as: “What Not to Plant.”)

These 3 plants are very popular in other parts of the country, but they don’t like our winters. They tend to struggle in our:

  • Dry climate
  • Drying winter winds
  • Intense winter sun
  • Big temperature swings (from above freezing, to below freezing like a kindergarten seesaw)

You’ll probably see these plants at your garden center, so use this article to be a smarter shopper. Let’s dig in!

Boxwoods

Boxwoods are decorative shrubs.

They grow well in regions of the country with milder winters. It’s hard to open a garden magazine without seeing a lush, eastern garden that’s lined with boxwoods.
Boxwoods are examples of what not to plant in Colorado because they struggle in our winters.

Boxwoods are evergreen.

When they’re planted in a place where they’re happy, they typically stay green through the entire winter. I like to think of evergreen plants as staying “forever green.”

It also means they don’t go dormant (into hibernation mode), so it’s important to keep them regularly watered through the winter.

Want to learn more about winter watering? Colorado Springs Utilities and Colorado State University both have excellent tips.

Unfortunately, in western states like Colorado and Utah, boxwoods can be temperamental

During the winter, boxwood leaves have a tendency to dry out — often turning brown or orange.
Boxwoods that get afternoon sun are more vulnerable to winter burn, like these west facing boxwood shrubs.

You also may see translucent yellow leaves (like the leaves below in the upper left).
Western-facing boxwoods turning a brown color from winter burn.

You may hear this called “winter burn,” and it isn’t a pretty look.

When you see boxwoods at the garden center, they’re going to look lush, green and super cute. But save yourself the headaches and skip them!

“But I have my heart set on boxwoods!” In this case, head to a locally-owned garden center. Ask whether they carry “varieties” of boxwoods that have a better track record in states like Colorado and Utah.

You may have more luck if you plant boxwoods in sheltered places in your yard that face east, northeast or north.

And just know they’re likely going to need more work and water to keep them looking good.

Manhattan Euonymus
(pronounced: yoo-on-uh-muhs)

These plants are like super-sized boxwoods. When they’re green, they look good.
Manhattan euonymus can get winter burn, making them plants to avoid in Colorado.

But this is another shrub that can struggle in Colorado winters

You may be wondering, “Okay, so what does winter damage look like on a Manhattan euonymus?”

The leaves on your Manhattan euonymus will turn yellow. The may become brittle and dried out. The leaves will start dropping off.

As the dead leaves slowly fall off, it’s like bad New Year’s Eve confetti. You may find yourself raking up these leaves for months … and months … and months.

(I’m speaking from personal experience here. I used to have Manhattan euonymus in my yard.)

With good watering, you should get buds for new leaves when temperatures warm up, but it takes time.

When these shrubs get winter burn, they don’t look good for much of the year.
Manhattan Euonymous with winter damage known as winter burn or sun scald

If you want shrubs that stay consistently green through our yo-yo temperature swings during winter, this isn’t it. 🙂

Add Manhattan euonymus to your “What NOT to plant in Colorado and similar western states” list.

Arborvitaes
(pronounced: arbor-vie-tees)

Arborvitaes are trees and shrubs that are often used as hedges.
Arborvitaes struggle in our dry western winters and hard freezes.

They’re a popular landscape plant in humid regions of the country.

They grow quickly, and they’re evergreen. Again, this means typically stay green over the winter. They don’t go dormant.

But arborvitaes are another plant to avoid in Colorado landscapes

Arborvitaes like a lot of moisture, so they may struggle if you aren’t great about winter watering.

Not to mention, our drying winter winds and our harsh freezes can be brutal for them. You may see them turn brown — almost like a rust color.
Close up of arborvitae with winter burn

Some years, your arborvitaes may do fine and make it through the winter without an issue.

Other years?

Not so much.
Row of brown arborvitae trees with winter burn

If you want to save yourself some headaches (and avoid the expense of replacing dead plants), skip arborvitaes in your Colorado landscape.

So, does this mean you CAN’T plant any of these shrubs and trees?

Friends, the beauty of gardening is you can try planting (almost) anything.

You may be able to find a protected location in your yard where these plants are less vulnerable to winter damage.

But if you’re planning your landscape in Colorado, Utah or a similar western state, growing plants that are better adapted to our winters will take less effort!

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What to Do With Outdoor Pots in the Winter, So They Look Good for Many Seasons

What to Do With Outdoor Pots in the Winter, So They Look Good for Many Seasons

The seasons are changing. It’s time to figure out what to do with your outdoor pots in the winter.

(Good thinking!)

Before you start getting winter snow and freezing temps, it helps to:

1) Empty the dead flowers and dirt (or “soil” in garden lingo) from your outdoor pots.

2) Move your empty pots someplace dry. Ideally, you’d store them someplace that stays above freezing (like an attached garage). If that isn’t possible, you could put them on a covered porch or in a shed.

If your pots are too heavy to move…

3) Turn them upside down OR cover and wrap them with a thick plastic tarp to help keep the moisture out.

Why does it help to protect your outdoor pots?

If you leave the soil in your containers and moisture gets in the soil, the soil can freeze and expand, damaging your pots.

Even resin (plastic) pots can get “freeze damage” and crack open.

I learned this the hard way when one of my resin flowerpots cracked down the side, like a man splitting his pants. Oops.

Some flowerpot surfaces can hold moisture too, like glazed ceramic and terracotta pots.

Here are examples of winter freeze damage on several of my neighbors’ flowerpots.  Example of winter freeze damage on a glazed ceramic outdoor potExample of winter freeze damage on outdoor pots.

Do you have to do anything with your outdoor pots in the winter?

It’s a matter of your risk tolerance for your pots.

I used to leave my pots outside all winter with everything still in them. But after having several pots get ruined, I’m all for protecting my pots during the winter.

With that said, I have friends who don’t do anything with their outdoor pots in the winter. They’ve NEVER had issues with their pots breaking. And they have glazed ceramic pots that should be vulnerable.

It all depends on how much you want to risk it.

If you have pretty outdoor pots that you don’t want to lose, it’s a good idea to protect them from freezing winter conditions.

Related tips that may interest you:

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“Should I Water My Garden in the Fall in States Like Colorado? What About Winter?”

“Should I Water My Garden in the Fall in States Like Colorado? What About Winter?”

Imagine that you’re getting ready to run a marathon.

Lace up, baby!

You’ve been training all summer, but in the week leading up to the big race, you get busy. You don’t have time to drink much water or watch what you’re eating.

You’re going to be starting your 26-mile race dehydrated.

It’s already a tough race. Now you may be making it harder for yourself to reach the end!

Winter is a marathon for our plants in the intermountain west.

It’s an endurance test, and it can take its toll on our landscapes.

Typically, most of us don’t get a lot of precipitation during winter.

We get drying winds that pull the moisture out of plants.

In states like Colorado, we can get wild temperature swings above and below freezing — like animated 7-year-olds riding up and down on a seesaw.

Our plants in southern and western exposures can get warm afternoon sunshine… and then the temps drop at night.

As the ground freezes and thaws, it creates cracks in the soil. Little Grand Canyons. This can push our plants’ roots up. Now our plants’ roots are more vulnerable to getting cold and drying out.

And winter can go on, and on, and on…

You can help your plants pace themselves through this winter marathon.

No quitting by mile 5!

If you’re wondering, “Should I water my garden in the fall and winter?”, yes, it can be a good idea for the majority of plants.

If you’ve had a dry fall, hook up a hose and give your plant babies a deep watering.

That way, you’re making sure your plants are starting winter well-hydrated. This keeps their roots healthier.Is it a good idea to water your garden in the fall? If it's been dry, yes. Help your perennials, shrubs and trees start winter well hydrated.

During a dry autumn and winter months…

Water 1-2 times per month if:

  • It’s been windy. Or:
  • You’ve gotten less than 1″ of moisture from rain or snow.

Just as a point of reference, 1″ of rainfall usually works out to to about 12-13″ of snow.

So, a dusting of snow — or even a couple of inches — doesn’t add a lot of water for your plants!

Water in the middle of the day when it’s warm. Make sure temperatures are above 40 degrees.

Winter watering is different than summer watering. In the summer, it’s best to water in the early morning or late afternoon. Not so in the fall and winter! For the latter, mid-day watering is ideal, so foliage can dry before nightfall and the water can soak into the ground.

What plants should you water in your garden?

Water trees, shrubs and perennials (the flowers that come back every year).

New plants tend to be more vulnerable to winter stress.

If you’re pressed for time, focus your watering efforts on your:

  • Trees and shrubs, especially those you planted in the last few years AND those that keep their leaves or needles over winter
  • Any perennials you planted in the fall
  • Any perennial gardens that face south, west or are exposed to wind

There are exceptions on what to water.

Because Mama Nature makes her own rules, y’all!

Xeric plants (those that need VERY little water) that have been growing in your garden for a season or two likely don’t need supplemental water.

In many parts of Colorado, we had a beautiful, but very dry fall in 2021.

In the Front Range of Colorado, we live in a “rain shadow” of the mountains.

This means weather systems lose their moisture on the windward sides and tops of mountains, casting a shadow of dryness on the other side.

Our Western Slope of Colorado can get a rain shadow effect from Utah.

And other parts of the intermountain west can experience this effect too.

So, if you haven’t gotten much moisture or it’s been windy in your garden this fall, pull out the hose to water.

If you’d like specific watering tips…

The Colorado State University Extension has more details on fall and winter watering, including details on how to water your trees.

And for related topics, check out:

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11 of the Best Gifts for Flower Lovers 2022 (That Western Gardeners Will Loooove)

11 of the Best Gifts for Flower Lovers 2022 (That Western Gardeners Will Loooove)

Looking for fun gift ideas for flower lovers in the West?

You’ll find 11 of the best gift ideas for flower lovers for 2022 below.

And if you’re looking for gardening gift ideas for yourself… well, then, share this article with friends or leave it out on the kitchen counter where your honey can’t miss it.

(Wink, wink!)

None of the links below are affiliate links. I’m simply sharing them because sharing is caring, y’all.

Botanic Garden Tickets or Memberships

Share the experience of exploring beautiful gardens

For a creative gift for flower gardeners, take a friend to a local botanic garden or get a membership.
If your idea of the best garden gift is an experience (rather than stuff), may I suggest a membership to a local botanical garden?

Taking time to explore beautiful gardens is a fun and relaxing way to discover flowers that grow well in our semi-arid climate.

Not to mention, being outside in nature has shown to lower stress.

Yes, please!

Want to keep it simple? A one-day ticket is a good gift idea for a flower lover too. You could meet up to stroll through the gardens and then head out for drinks or dinner.

Here’s how to find botanic gardens near you >>

Paperwhite Bulbs (Narcissus)

Brighten up winter with these beauties

Paperwhite bulbs make good gifts for flower lovers and flower gardeners, especially in the winter.

Photo courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Brighten up a looooong winter with the gift of paperwhite bulbs.

These flowers are easy to grow inside during the winter.

Yep, indoor winter flowers!

Check out the Longfield Gardens website to:

Pretty, Metal Plant Markers

Keep track of plants in an attractive way

Metal plant markers are creative gifts for flower gardeners.   Love this copper plant market -- a fun gift idea for gardeners!Plant markers come in handy for remembering plant names and for remembering whether flowers are planted. Add the to your gift list!

Photos courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company / gardeners.com

Plant markers come in handy for all kinds of reasons — from remembering the names of flowers, to keeping track of where you planted your spring bulbs (like tulips and daffodils).

X marks the spot!

But the plastic plant tags you get when you buy your flowers can break easily, get buried or blow away. Plus, they aren’t that pretty.

Gardener’s Supply Company has come up with a good solution: metal, weatherproof plant markers that are attractive, as well as functional.

Made of galvanized steel, these plant markers are 10″ long, so they’re easy to stick into the soil and they’ll last a long time. You can choose either a copper label tag or a zinc-coated label tag.

Give copper plant markers or steel plant markers as a gift to your favorite flower lover!

Flower Photography Classes

Inspire an artistic soul

Flower photography classes are a unique gift for flower lovers. A fun gardening gift is flower photography classes for someone who loves flowers.
One thing I’ve noticed about flower lovers is many of us enjoy taking photos of our plant babies.

If your favorite flower gardener would like to get better at taking artistic photos of flowers, there are online classes that can help.

Here are two of my faves:

  • Creative Live has a variety of online training courses to help people channel their creativity. They offer a self-paced course called The Art of Flower Photography. It’s designed to help students improve their skills with “macro” flower photography (close-up photos of flowers). Tip: This course often goes on big-time sale!
  • Click Photo School offers an interactive experience in their course: The Art of Macro Photography. In this 4-week, guided online course, students receive weekly instruction, can submit flower photos for feedback and can ask questions. Tip: Sign up for “full participation” to get the most from this experience.

Both of these classes would be a good gift idea for flower lovers who have basic knowledge of how to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

(These classes probably aren’t the right fit for someone who primarily takes photos with a phone. But worth noting: Creative Live and Click Photo School also offer beginner classes on how to get started with photography.)

Gift Cards to Local, Independent Garden Centers

Give the joy of flower gardening

You could give a flower lover a gift card to a local garden center.
To be clear, I’m NOT talking about a gift card you pull off the rack for a home improvement store.

Nope, nope, nope! Step away from the gift card kiosk. 🙂

I’m talking about heading to a local, independent garden center — a store that specializes in plants and flowers — and getting a gift card. Think of these stores like book shops for people who love to read.

The flower lover in your life can use that gift money to buy flowers, pretty flowerpots, garden art, special garden tools…

Sooooo many ways to spend that money, so little time!

To find an independent garden center near you, simply search for: local garden center in [your city or area] or plant nursery in [your city or area].

Flower Seeds

Grow beautiful flowers from a pretty packet of seeds

Flower seeds make good hostess gifts or stocking stuffers for gardeners who love flowers.Zinnias are heat-tolerant and easy to grow from seed, making them a good gift idea.

Seed packet illustration courtesy of Botanical Interests

How much joy can come from a little packet of seeds?

A LOT.

Seeds make fun hostess gifts and stocking stuffers for flower lovers.

If you’re new to choosing flower seeds, I suggest zinnias.

Unlike many seeds, zinnias can be grown right from the ground, so they’re easier to grow.

Zinnias are native to Mexico. This means they’re heat tolerant, which is awesome for our hot summers in Colorado, Utah and similar western states. These flowers offer vibrant color for one summer, but typically won’t return. Best of all, zinnias make beautiful “cut flower” arrangements. You can cut them, put them in vases and watch as even more blooms fill in!

In the photos below, you’ll see the “Cut and Come Again” zinnias I grew from seeds last summer and my last bouquet of the season. (There are a couple of cosmos flowers tucked in the bouquet too.)
Zinnias in a garden and in a bouquet -- cut flowers bring so much joy!

I get my seeds from Botanical Interests.

They’re a seed company based in Colorado. Each of their seed packets comes with gorgeous illustrations and helpful instructions. Their seed packets are little works of art — so they make good flower gardener gifts!

Botanical Interests sells seeds to gardeners across the country. So, if you want to buy flower seeds, just make sure you’re choosing flowers that are a good fit for where you live. (They have great customer service and are happy to help.)

Shop zinnia seeds here >>

Plant Books for Western Gardeners

Discover flowers that thrive in our semi-arid climate

For an unusual gift for a gardener in Colorado and the West, give a book on drought-tolerant plants.
In my opinion, one of the trickier things about gardening in the semi-arid West is figuring out which flowers, shrubs and trees grow well here.

Many plants from other parts of the country don’t like our growing conditions — or they’re gas-guzzlers for water.

One of my favorite books for discovering beautiful, drought-tolerant plants is called: “Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens.”

This book is ideal for gardeners of all levels — from new gardeners to avid gardeners. It contains helpful photos and lots of inspiration.

Sometimes, you can find this book at local, independent garden centers. Or:

Shop for the book online here >>

Floral Snips

Keep flowers looking pretty and tidy

Floral snips are good gift idea for new flower gardeners, including beginner gardeners
Floral snips are like scissors for plants. They’re a good gift for flower gardeners, especially new gardeners.

Floral snips make it easy to trim off dead blooms, so new flower buds can grow in.

Best of all, you can be really precise in your cuts, so you don’t accidentally remove more of the flowers than you intended.

I keep a pair of floral snips near my back door in the summer. That way, I can grab them when I walk outside and quickly tidy up my flowerpots and garden beds. Snip, snip, snip!

You can find floral snips at your local garden center and on Amazon.

Local Flower Bouquet Subscriptions

Brighten a home with fresh and unusual bouquets

For a unique gift for flower lovers, give an unusual bouquet from a local flower farmerA unique flower bouquet is a fun idea for a mom or wife who gardensA creative flower bouquet with allium and anenomes

Photos courtesy of Piper’s Lane

If you’re looking for creative or unusual gift ideas for flower lovers, give a subscription to a local flower service.

(Imagine having a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers on your kitchen table each week during the summer. Ahhhhh!)

These aren’t your same-old, same-old bouquets from the grocery store. I’m talking about fresh and unique bouquets from a local flower farmer. These flowers:

  • Smell wonderful because they’re freshly picked from the garden
  • Contain unusual flowers you just can’t find in store bouquets
  • Have been grown close to you rather than flown in from South America, which is where many of the store bouquets come from

If you live in the south Denver area, definitely check out Piper’s Lane. The founder, Kristen, has an urban farm and offers a local, flower bouquet subscription service.

Kristen’s beautiful bouquets are made up of unique and seasonal flowers that are grown from seed without chemicals. You can choose from several types of subscriptions (which Kristen calls “shares”) in the spring, summer and/or autumn. You pay in advance. Then, you simply pick up your flower bouquets on your designated weeks.

Live someplace else?

To find local flower farmers near you and explore their unique services, check out the Floret flower farmer network.

Decorative Garden Art

Add a pop of color to flowerpots and garden beds

An unusual gift idea for beginner gardeners: decorative garden art like these rustic metal flowersClose-up look at decorative garden art -- these rustic metal flowers make good gift ideas

Photos courtesy of Iron Bird Salvage

Gotta love a little garden bling!

These rustic, metal flowers from Iron Bird Salvage look super-cute tucked in flowerpots or planted in the garden. I have several bunches in my shade garden. They add a pretty pop of color, and friends always ask about them.

These flowers may look painted, but they’re actually made out of recycled materials, like old wheelbarrows, toolboxes, wagons and more. Each flower is the color of the reclaimed metal item it’s being made from. You can buy as many flowers as you like, and you get to choose your colors.

The flowers are cut by hand, so they’re all unique. And because they’re made from reclaimed metal, they have imperfections. That’s part of the rustic charm.

They make fun gifts for flower lovers!

Shop for these decorative metal flowers here >>

Cute Shirts for Flower Lovers

Show the world you’re a plant mom (or plant dad)

Plant mom shirt for women who garden -- a great gift for your wife, mom or friendGive a plant dad shirt to a man who gardensThis cute tshirt is a fun gift idea for beginner gardeners and plant moms

Photos courtesy of Ollie+Penny

I like a cute t-shirt… and when the shirt has a clever movie reference too?

Well, they had me at hello.

If you’re trying to read the last shirt on a mobile device, it says: “Just a girl. Standing in front of her plants. Asking them not to die.”

(Any other “Notting Hill” fans out there?)

This shirt is cheeky — a fun gift idea for new gardeners.

Shop these cute shirts from Ollie+Penny here:

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Is It Better to Empty Your Flowerpots in the Spring or Fall?

Is It Better to Empty Your Flowerpots in the Spring or Fall?

I used to leave everything in my flowerpots until spring. The whole shebang. Dead flowers, old potting soil, all of it.

And for a few years, everything was fine.

But then, I started to notice problems when I planted my flowers in the spring. Some of my newly-planted flowers looked “chlorotic.” They turned yellow and withered. And some of my flowerpots were cracking.

Now I’m on Team Fall.

There is no right or wrong approach here, so if you prefer to wait until spring, it’s okay!

But here are 5 reasons to consider emptying your flowerpots in the fall.

#1: Fall is a good time to get rid of your old potting soil.

In the fall, I’ve found there are more ways to get rid of old potting soil, like local leaf and composting drop-offs. Not every one of them takes old potting soil, but some of them do.

It’s one less thing to worry about later.
Flowers that are dead are placed in a brown, paper compost bag

#2: You take insects out of the equation.

Many insects will overwinter and/or lay their eggs in soil.

And your container of potting soil is a great place to call home.

Emptying your flowerpots in the fall takes insects out of the equation, so you don’t have issues next year.

#3: You can protect your flowerpots from breaking over the winter.

Some flowerpots are vulnerable to cracking and breaking over the winter—like clay, ceramic and resin pots.

Here are examples of winter freeze damage on several neighbors’ flowerpots. Do you see how parts of the flowerpots have cracked and fallen off?
Example of winter freeze damage on a glazed ceramic outdoor pot
Winter freeze damage on flowerpots--this can happen when you wait until spring to clean out your pots.

Some pots can absorb moisture directly into their surfaces. When that moisture freezes, it can crack or damage your pots.

I suspect this is what happened in the photos above.

In other cases, moisture can get into the old potting soil that’s in your pots. When the soil freezes, it can expand and break your pots—including your resin (plastic) pots.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

And we get A LOT of freeze/thaws in the West!

When you empty your flowerpots in the fall, you remove the potential of old potting soil freezing, expanding and breaking your pots. Plus, you can move your flowerpots (that aren’t too heavy) to a garage or a covered porch, so they’re protected from moisture. That way, they last longer.

#4: You can remove the salt build-up on your pots while it’s still relatively fresh.

Cleaning your flowerpots is like cleaning up after a dinner party.

Most of us don’t ENJOY scrubbing the lasagna dish or the mashed potato pan, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to get the residue off while it’s still fresh.

The same is true with your flowerpots.
Brush the insides of your flower pots with a soft brush

We have hard water in many parts of the West, including Colorado. It can leave deposits of different types of salts (calcium, magnesium and iron) on the inside of your flowerpots.

The build-up looks like a white, crusty material. It’s similar to the crusty material that can appear on kitchen and bathroom faucets.

And some types of synthetic fertilizers are based in salts. These salts can build up inside your pots too.

Do you see the salt build-up in the below? The woman who had these pots had never cleaned them before. She was struggling to keep her flowers alive. (Her flowerpots also didn’t have holes. The lack of drainage didn’t help!)
This flowerpot had never been cleaned, and it had a lot of white, crusty build-up from salt residue.

At some point, all this salt build-up in your pots and soil can affect your flowers, especially after a few years. It can become toxic to your plants.

Not to mention, salt attracts H2O molecules. It can pull water out of your plant’s roots.

I’ve found that this salt residue is easier to remove in the fall when it’s still fresh. It can become more of a chore to remove after time has passed, especially if you don’t do it every year.

#5: You have one less thing to do in the spring!

I know, I know, this means you have one MORE thing to do in the fall. 🙂

But hey, it can be nice to get it done. That way, you can focus on cleaning up your garden in the spring or doing more of the fun flowerpot stuff, like planting.

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What Is a Plant Hardiness Zone? (And How to Find YOUR Zone)

What Is a Plant Hardiness Zone? (And How to Find YOUR Zone)

When you buy a flower plant…

You may notice a strange phrase on the plant tag that says: “Hardiness zones” or “Zones.”

If you’re wondering, “What is a plant hardiness zone? What does that mean?”, you’re in the right place.
This plant tag says USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9.

At its most basic, a plant hardiness zone tells you whether a plant is likely to survive the winter temperatures in your area.

It’s a helpful concept to understand because it can play a role in whether your plants will come back or not.

I like to think of a hardiness zone like a jean size

Think, for a moment, about your favorite pair of jeans.
It helps to think of a plant hardiness zone like a jean size.

When you put them on, they fit you like a glove. They feel good. They make you look good. They make your butt look good.

YOU. LOVE. THEM.

Sure, you could wear a size or two bigger, but they just wouldn’t feel right.

And yes, it’s possible you may be able to s-q-u-e-e-z-e into jeans one size smaller — with the help of some serious Spanx or extra reps at the gym. But your jeans REALLY wouldn’t feel right. You wouldn’t last very long in them.

Nope, there’s a sweet spot.

Your favorite jeans are the right size for you.

Your garden is like your beloved pair of denims: It has a sweet spot too

It’s “size” is known as its hardiness zone.

And that zone number tells you which plants should be the right fit for surviving winter and returning in your garden next year.

You can try planting flowers that don’t fit your garden’s plant hardiness zone, but they’re less likely to return.

Luckily, you don’t have to become a meteorologist to figure out your zone

Feeling confused like this man? You don't have to become a meteorologist to understand hardiness zones

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a simple way to help you choose plants for your garden.

It’s called the “USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.”

Basically, they’ve assigned a zone to where you live. Your zone is based on the coldest temperatures that are expected in your area.

As long as you choose plants that match your zone, your plants should be strong enough to survive winter temperatures in your area.

The opportune word here is “should.” Hardiness zones are based on the expected coldest temperatures in your area. However, Mama Nature has been known to push the boundaries of coldest temps — like the arctic blast that swept much of the U.S. in February 2021. Plus, there are other factors that can come into play on whether your plants survive winter in the West. The key takeaway? While plant hardiness zones are helpful, they aren’t perfect.

Let’s look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for United States

You may notice that the coastlines (in oranges and yellows) tend to have warmer winters than the upper-central portion of the United States (in greens, blues and purples).

That’s because the oceans help moderate winter temperatures.

In the Rocky Mountain region of the country, we have a WIDE range of plant hardiness zones. It depends on where you live.
Alpine flowers in the Rocky Mountains can withstand colder winter temperatures. They have lower plant hardiness zones.

You can find your plant hardiness zone on the USDA website

Okay, you’ve looked up your zone number…

Now what the heck are you supposed to do with it?

When you go to buy flowers, look for the zones on the plant tags (tucked in the containers).

If you want your plants to come back next year, pick flowers that match YOUR zone number.

For example, let’s say you live in Zone 5

You see this red fountain grass (below) at the store, and you’d love to plant it in your garden. The plant tag says it’s “annual except in zones 9-11.”
Example of plant hardiness zones on a plant tag

This plant tag is telling you that this grass will likely only survive winter temperatures in Zones 9-11.

Because you are in Zone 5, this plant will look great in your garden for one summer, but it should NOT come back next year. It isn’t winter hardy where you live.

Let’s look at another example

You like the look of the plant below called Red Birds in a Tree. (By the way, this is one of my favorite plants in my garden. My neighbors always ask about it, and the hummingbirds LOVE it!)

The plant tag for this flower says, “Zones 3-9.” Do you see the zones below?
This plant tag shows USDA plant hardiness zones 3-9.

In our example, your garden is in Zone 5, so this plant SHOULD return next year. It should come back in any of the Zones 3-9.

Use your zone to be a smarter plant shopper

When you buy plants that you want to return every year:

  • Don’t assume that the plants at the store are right for where you live.
  • Check the plant tags to make sure their plant hardiness zones match yours.
  • If you’re buying plants online, look for each plant’s hardiness zone in the online description of the plant.

If you pick a plant that doesn’t match your zone, you may find yourself a replacing dead plant next year!

While your plant hardiness zone is helpful, it’s only ONE part of choosing the right flowers for your western garden

Remember that your plant hardiness zone is like your jean size.

When you’re buying jeans, the size is important, yes.

But you probably care about other things too — like the the length, fit and color.

If you’re 5’3′, tall jeans are going to create unnecessary work for you.

And we do not want unnecessary work!
Size is one factor in choosing jeans, just like plant hardiness zones are only one factor in choosing plants

In your western garden, you also want to know:

  • How much water your plants need (can they tolerate semi-arid conditions and drought?)
  • How well your plants can handle intense sunlight (at elevation, we’re closer to the sun, so our sunlight is tougher on plants)
  • Your plants’ tolerance to things like hail and wind
  • What kind of soil the plants like
  • And more

Here’s an example of what can happen if you only think about your plant hardiness zone.

Again, let’s say you live in Zone 5.

If you ONLY consider your plant hardiness zone when choosing flowers, you may find yourself planting the same flowers that thrive in humid, rainy, coastal Maine.
Maine has the same plant hardiness zone as the Front Range of Colorado, so consider more factors than just zones when choosing plants!

Not the best idea for your semi-arid garden in Colorado or Utah, right?

It’s helpful to choose flower plants that fit your zone, but know that your zone is only one part of finding the best flowers for your western garden.

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What Plant Hardiness Zone Is Colorado?

What Plant Hardiness Zone Is Colorado?

Colorado has 5 plant hardiness zones: 7, 6, 5, 4 and 3.

If you’re new to plant hardiness zones, they tell you whether your flower plants are likely to survive the coldest winter temperatures that are expected in your area and come back next year.

(For the full scoop on hardiness zones, check out: What is a plant hardiness zone? And why they matter)

So, what plant hardiness zone is your Colorado garden? It depends on where you live, as you can see in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for Colorado below. (Scroll down this page for specifics.)

Areas with warmer winters have higher zone numbers and are in green. Areas with colder winters have lower zone numbers and are in purple and pink.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for Colorado

Let’s look at plant hardiness zones in Colorado in broad strokes:

  • If you live in the hottest parts of Colorado — like the southwest corner and parts of the Grand Junction area — you’re likely in plant hardiness zone 7. Surrounding areas are in zone 6. 
  • The majority of the Front Range is in zone 5.
  • But if you live in the heart of an urban corridor — like certain parts of Colorado Springs, Denver, Aurora and Boulder — you may be in zone 6a. Buildings and concrete can heat things up. Parts of Pueblo are in zone 6 too.
  • At higher elevations, like up in the mountains, your plants often need to be able to withstand colder winter temperatures. (For every 1000 feet you go up in elevation in Colorado, temperatures drop about 3 to 4 degrees.) Your garden will likely have a lower plant hardiness zone number. The majority of mountain towns are in zone 4. A few are in zone 3 and a few are in zone 5.

There are exceptions to the “it gets colder as you go higher” guideline.

For example, if you live on a valley floor in Colorado, your garden can be up to 10-degrees COLDER than your neighbors on nearby hillsides or mountainsides.

Cold air slides down the slopes and settles on valley floors at night.

Another exception…

If you live on a north-facing slope, your garden may be a lot cooler and damper than the dry, heat-gathering gardens on south- and western-facing slopes.

So, what’s the takeaway? Your local topography plays a role.

The zone you’ll get from the USDA may not accurately reflect what’s going on in your individual garden in Colorado.

You may want to adjust down a zone (for colder conditions) or up a zone (for warmer conditions).

Just keep this in mind as you get your Colorado hardiness zone below!

To get the Colorado plant hardiness zone for your garden:

Hey, do you know the 7 ways that gardening in Colorado is different than other regions of the country?

Cover of 7 ways that gardening in Colorado is dramatically different than other regions of the countryWith our towering Rocky Mountains and our semi-arid plains, we have conditions that are tough on plants…

And tough on gardeners too!

Discover the 7 ways that our growing conditions in Colorado are dramatically different than other regions of the country, so you can plan ahead for your western garden and flowerpots. (Skip the expensive trial and error!)

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