Deb Babcock: Native plants deserve a place in garden

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

Tips for success

Permits for transplants are available from the USDA Forest Service Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears District Office at 925 Weiss Drive.

Before you head to the woods, however, keep these tips for best success in mind.

■ Trees should be transplanted as soon as the ground thaws before bud break or in the fall after they lose their leaves. That means you’ll need to go to the highest elevations since most trees at 7,000 and 8,000 feet already have leafed out.

■ When you dig up a plant, try to obtain as much of the root system as possible, and leave enough dirt with the plant to keep the roots from drying out. In fact, cover the root ball with burlap or plastic for the trip home, packing a little snow or water on the roots.

■ Consider having your planting holes already dug before venturing out to find transplants so they can be planted in your garden as soon as possible.

■ Keep the area around the transplant free from weeds and place a layer of mulch to help retain water.

Transplants may be removed from anywhere on the Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District except wilderness areas. But you must be at least 100 feet from any road, waterway, trail, heavily recreated area (i.e. Fish Creek Falls) or developed recreation area (i.e. campgrounds, picnic grounds). Make certain you are on National Forest Land before you dig. Cover your tracks, fill in the hole and pack it firmly.

— If we pay attention to the type of plants that naturally grow here in our high mountain environment, we have a better chance for success in our home gardens.

As you walk in the woods and meadows of the Steamboat Springs area, note the plants you see and where they seem to be growing best. The most prolific aspen groves tend to be found on north- and east-facing properties. Sedums and thyme thrive on hostile south-facing environments. Trillium likes shade. Paintbrush (Castilleja) generally needs a host plant nearby since it is a semiparasitic plant, drawing some of its water and nutrients from the roots of a host plant, usually sagebrush. Penstemons proliferate in the driest, rockiest soil found here. The range of plants that can grow in Steamboat gardens is tremendously varied in flower color, plant size, foliage, texture, aroma, etc.

If a plant can grow in the nearby forest with no TLC, then it’s a safe bet that it will thrive in your garden, as long as you plant it in the proper spot and don’t smother it with too much love (i.e. water, fertilizer). 

Lucky for us, several local nurseries are starting to carry plants native to the Steamboat area. When looking for a native plant to fill a particular spot in your garden, be sure to choose one that prefers the type of environment in which you plan to place it.

Or, you might consider transplanting from the forest. A permit for your own use is $10, with a minimum purchase of two permits and maximum purchase of five permits. You may use the permit to dig up conifers (pine, fir or spruce) as tall as 6 feet, or aspens as tall as 10 feet. Note: the smaller the tree, the better chance you’ll have of getting enough roots to ensure a successful transplant.

Your permit also may be used to dig up woody shrubs or as many asthree flowering perennials per permit. There are some rules about where to dig provided on the information sheet that comes with your permit.

Hope springs eternal for gardeners who keep trying different plants year after year, only to have them succumb to our harsh environment. Plants that are native to the Yampa Valley have a proven hardiness and deserve a chance in your garden. Plus, they are truly beautiful. Give them a try.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. With questions, call 879-0825.

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