FCN Blog

Healthy Soil is the Foundation of a Vibrant Landscape

By Jesse Eastman, Owner of Fort Collins Nursery

 While there are many steps to creating the perfect landscape or garden, none is more essential than caring for your soil. Many people add an all-in-one fertilizer every spring, applying once and moving on. This is certainly easy, but can actually build up nutrients to levels that are toxic to many plants.

Before adding anything, it’s a good idea to know what’s already in your soil. Basic at-home test kits available at your local garden center can tell you your soil pH, which is a start, but to really know what your soil needs (or doesn’t need), I recommend a Colorado State University soil testing lab kit. The kit is free and available at most garden centers, and for a small fee (usually $40-$50), CSU will run a complete diagnostic for the exact breakdown of your soil’s nutrients and deficiencies.

A complete report is issued, detailing pH, salts, lime, texture, organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals. They also recommend specific steps to take to balance soil. This information can help you determine exactly what steps are needed to cultivate the right conditions for your landscape or garden. For additional help interpreting your soil report, visit your local nursery – they can help you determine which products to apply to achieve the soil you aim to develop.

Of course, what you add depends largely on what plants you want to grow. If you’re working on your vegetable garden, a rich loamy soil with a good balance of nutrients, neutral to acidic soil, and good drainage may be your goal. On the other hand, if you’re installing a xeriscape with hardy native plants, you’ll want to emulate the native soil, which throughout the Front Range tends to be alkaline, low in organic matter, and often with a high clay content. Remember, not all plants want lush rich soil!

One of the more common things we see in reports brought in by customers is an excess of nitrogen, especially in established landscapes. This is largely due to high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers being applied for years without consideration for what nutrients still remain from previous applications. Yards with poor drainage and heavy soil are the most likely to develop this issue. In instances like these, the landscape can actually benefit more from easing off the fertilizer than from adding more. Excessive nutrients can be toxic on their own, and can also inhibit a plant’s’ ability to uptake other critical nutrients, causing rapid decline.

Ultimately, healthy soil is the key to a strong landscape or garden. More often than not, our customers who struggle keeping plants alive have neglected the soil. They may be doing everything else right – water, pruning, light, mulch, etc, but without good soil, all those other things don’t matter much. You don’t build a house without ensuring a stable foundation. You can’t make a good meal with rotten ingredients. So why try to grow your plants in poor soil?

Maximum Yield: How to make the most of a $100 garden budget

I’m going to share a secret with you, one that is well known in the green industry, but not often talked about publicly: You don’t save money by growing your own veggies. Sure, there are exceptions – you can save your seed year after year, collect manure from a friendly farmer, diligently compost every scrap of food waste, collect rain in a barrel, and camp out in the garden to fend off wily pests and invaders. But let’s face the facts, those of us who will willingly give up the many other aspects of our busy lives are few and far between.

So if not for savings, then why? By and large, we do it because we enjoy the crisp snap of a carrot that was pulled from the soil only moments ago. We find something strangely meditative about pulling weeds. We appreciate the convenience of having fresh herbs growing right outside the kitchen. We are enlivened by the connection it gives us with the earth. We love gaining access to obscure varieties of heirloom lettuce that will never grace the produce department of your local grocer. We care about controlling the inputs that ultimately end up in our families’ meals.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all very noble pursuits, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop worrying about the nickels and dimes we spend on the food we grow. Here are my “insider’s tips” on how to stretch your money for maximum yield. We’ll work with a $50 budget.

What to grow from seed

Use seeds for crops which require you to plant lots of plants for a good continued harvest: radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, etc. Also use seeds for plants that should be directly sown into the garden. This group includes squash, melons, cucumbers, beans, peas, corn, and any root crop (a crop where the root is the harvest like carrots or onions – transplanting disturbs the roots, which has a magnified effect in root crops). Basically, the idea here is to leave no seeds wasted. Bear in mind that seeds that are started early indoors often require additional materials – grow lights, seedling heat mats, humidity domes, seed starting soil mix, the list goes on.

What to grow from a starter plant

Most home gardens do not allow space for 20 tomato plants, meaning that pile of tiny seeds inside the seed packet will produce far more plants than you need. On top of that, many plants are difficult to start from seed, and even when successful, home-started plants aren’t as sturdy as those grown in commercial greenhouses. For starters, I’ll pay a premium for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, as well as brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts).

What to buy at the farmer’s market

As I mentioned above, space is often a premium. Some crops take a massive amount of room to grow, and I’m not willing to sacrifice the real estate in my garden for the sake of one crop. In my case, that’s corn. I’ll happily pay a farmer for some good ears of corn, because to successfully grow it at home require a minimum of 16-20 square feet of space. I can harvest an awful lot of carrots and tomatoes from that same amount of garden bed. The same can be argued for aggressive plants like zucchini, pumpkins, and other squash. It all comes down to what a certain crop is worth to you, and what space you can commit to each plant.

My $100 garden

We need to make a few assumptions up front, as everyone’s garden is a little different. Let’s assume I’ve already got four 4’x4’ raised beds with soil from last year’s garden. Here’s my shopping list:

And here’s what my planned layout would be:

Schematic made with Seed Savers Exchange Garden Planner. Visit Seed Savers Exchange to try it out.

It’s fairly basic, no big surprises. We are going to assume I’ve done a soil test and determined I need to add some organic matter (Sheep, Peat, & Compost) and my soil is a little nutrient-poor (Happy Frog All Purpose fertilizer). I tried to combine plants that will work well together: potatoes can happily grow underground while beans and peas climb upwards on trellises. The bed with lettuce, kale, and spinach will appreciate cooler temperatures, so a shadier section of the garden is ideal for this bed. Tomatoes are very hungry plants, so I can fertilize the tomato bed a little heavier than I would any of the other crops without causing any nutrient stress. I always include flowers in my veggie garden. Not only is it easy on the eyes, but it attracts pollinators, who will also visit my veggies like tomatoes and peppers, increasing my yield.

As you can see, it’s possible to pack your space on a budget. The amount you spend will depend on your tastes and space. Plus, there are always additional auxiliary costs – pest control, irrigation, paying the neighbor to water while you’re on vacation – but the benefits are huge. Exercise, fresh air, a safe space for kids to learn about nature, and of course, some tasty produce!

Reasons to Invest in Your Landscape

Find out how we can turn your home landscape into a beautiful investment!

First Crocus Contest

Get your crocus in focus and you could win Fort Collins Nursery gift cards!

It’s already February, which means crocus, those colorful little harbingers of spring will soon be peeking up through the frozen soil. We want to see the first crocus of 2017, so if your crocus is first, share your photo on social media and earn a chance to win!

Here’s how to enter

  • Your photo must show your crocus emerged from the soil and showing some color. The flower does not need to be open, but the bud must be developed enough that its color is apparent. 
  • You must include some sort of time stamp in the photo. Ideally, a copy of that day’s newspaper (just like in the movies!), but you can also use a partner’s phone in the photo showing a news article from that day. If all else fails, write the date on a piece of paper and include it in the photo.
  • You must share the photo on social media
    • On Facebook: Share a photo of your crocus to our Facebook page and tag it #crocusfocus2017. Be sure to make your share public so we can see it – if it’s not public, it can’t win.
    • On Instagram: Tag us (@fortcollinsnursery) and use the hashtag #crocusfocus2017
  • The very first picture shared that meets the requirements above will win a $100.00 gift card to Fort Collins Nursery. 
  • All other valid entries received from February 7, 2017, through February 28th, 2017, will be entered in a drawing for one of four $25.00 gift cards to Fort Collins Nursery. 

All entrants shall retain ownership rights for their submissions. Fort Collins Nursery reserves the right to use any works submitted for promotional or advertising purposes free of charge. Fort Collins Nursery may not sell or redistribute submitted works for any purpose other than the promotion or advertising of Fort Collins Nursery.

Choosing a Houseplant: Tips for Success

Schefflera

By Jesse Eastman

Whether for an office, a classroom, or your home, houseplants provide an essential connection to the natural world in what can otherwise be a fairly sterile environment. A little bit of green not only softens a room, but can increase humidity, clean air, and can even improve memory, concentration, and sleep.

Of course, a dead houseplant won’t do much good, so the challenge becomes selecting the right plant so that you and your plant thrive. When selecting a plant, there are two general approaches. The first approach assumes you have a fixed set of conditions, and you need a plant that is suitable for those conditions. The second approach assumes you have fallen in love with a certain plant and need to adapt your environment to please the plant. Either way, factors such as light, temperature, humidity, plant and room size, and maintenance requirements are all necessary considerations. Read through the discussion of these factors below, take some notes on your home or office, and then come visit fully prepared to adopt a plant into a loving and healthy habitat!

Snake Plant


Light

The first question any good salesperson asks when helping select a houseplant is what the light is like in your home. There are many factors that affect the available light, including how near to a window the plant will sit, how many windows are in the room, what direction they face, if the eaves of the house have a deep overhang, if there are trees that block incoming light, etc. While some plants can tolerate a broad range of light conditions, others have highly specific needs. In many cases, plants can survive in less than optimal light conditions, but may look haggard and perform poorly as a result.

One important distinction is direct vs. indirect light. Direct light can burn many plants that otherwise tolerate high light situations. High light locations are spots where you can comfortably read by the natural light throughout the day. Intense light is great for plants like citrus and cactus, but can cause leaf scorch and rapid drying in many other houseplants. Moderate light locations would allow you to read by natural light depending on the time of day and how strong your eyes are. African Violets and Begonia do well in moderate light. Low light locations are generally so dim you’d always need an artificial light to read by. This is an ideal situation for Zee Zee Palm and ferns, but can cause light-loving plants to get leggy and may also result in overly wet soil, leading to a host of pest and disease problems. Fortunately, some of these problems can be offset an artificial light.

Temperature

Most houseplants hail from tropical and subtropical regions around the globe. For this reason, they tend to dislike drafty areas, especially in winter when exterior doors can allow blasts of frigid air into an otherwise well-heated home. Even plants too close to a window pane can suffer the consequence of cold winter air. On the other hand, the intensity of heat flowing from a heat vent or fireplace may be too much to bear for many plants accustomed to the stable temperatures of their native habitats. Likewise, summer heat beaming through a glass window can act like a death ray on many tender tropical – you’ve got to consider all four seasons and how they affect your indoor environment.

Humidity

Here in Colorado, we have the mixed blessing of exceptionally low humidity. It’s a wonderful place to be if you don’t like frizzy hair, but your houseplants would likely prefer to be somewhere a little damper. Add the drying effect of centrally heated/cooled houses, and you’ve got a tricky situation for some of the more tropical houseplant varieties. Plants that tolerate our dry air particularly well include Snake Plant, Chinese Evergreen, and Dracaena. If you’ve got your heart set on a moisture-loving option like a fern or an orchid, it’s time to break out the bag of tricks and elevate your humidity. If you’re not willing to install a whole house humidifier, humidity trays are a great way to create a pocket of humid air around individual plants. Grouping plants together can also serve to elevate ambient humidity, as plants release moisture into the air as a part of the photosynthesis process. Use caution though, as plants touching one another may transfer pests and disease, and if too many plants are clustered too tightly, airflow can become restricted, elevating the pest and disease risk. Periodically misting plants can help too, but the effect does not last for long.  

Succulents

Size & Growth Habit

You probably know someone who bought an adorable puppy only to watch it grow into a slobbering hairy behemoth that didn’t really fit into their one bedroom apartment. The same can happen with plants (minus the shedding and drooling). That’s why it’s important to learn about mature size when selecting a new houseplant. Even though a baby Schefflera Amate is cute right now, given ideal conditions it can reach 40’ tall (but can be kept a manageable size with pruning). A Snake Plant, though, will never get more than 3’-4’ tall, not matter how much you talk to it and encourage it.

Also important is growth habit. If you’re the type of person who tends to overwater, choose a thirsty plant like Schefflera or Anthurium. Love to prune? Again, Schefflera is a good option, as are many bonsai plants. On the other hand, if you tend to neglect plants (pro tip: we all forget to water our plants sometimes), opt for something that prefers to be left alone like a Cast Iron Plant or many varieties of succulent. Also consider whether your plant has an upright or trailing growth habit. Trailing plants like Lipstick Plant or Wandering Jew are great for hanging baskets and high shelves, while upright plants such as Parlor Palm make strong statements in large floor-sitting pots.

No matter your needs, a little bit of planning will go a long way in terms of the success of your future photosynthesizing friend. Once you’ve done your homework, come see us. We promise we’ll be impressed at how prepared you are!

We’re hiring for spring!

If you love plants, enjoy helping people, and want to work on a team of friendly, fun, and motivated peers, Fort Collins Nursery has a great opportunity for you! We are a full service retail garden center. We pride ourselves in our energetic and helpful staff and provide paid training to ensure our employees can help customers succeed in all aspects of plant selection and care.  

We are now accepting applications for our 2017 season. We offer a wide array of seasonal employment opportunities, including:

  • Retail Sales
  • Cashier
  • Plant Production
  • Delivery and Planting Crew

For a listing of current job openings, click here

Are You an Obsessed Gardener?

Originally Published on June 28, 2011

Take this test to see if you may be developing a bit of an obsession.

Normal Gardener Obsessed Gardener
You know the Latin names of your plants. You use them in conversations…with the plants!
You know the pH of your soil. ALL your friends know the pH of your soil!
You are proud of your baby carrots. You carry pictures of them in your wallet/purse!
You love to grow and cook your own vegetables. Cook? Who has time to cook?
You have dirt under your fingernails. What fingernails?
You spend more money on plants than clothes. What clothes?
You have a charge account at Fort Collins Nursery. You now qualify for wholesale.
You know the virtues of hand-weeding. You use a headlamp to do it after dark!
You invest in fine quality gardening tools. You keep spare tools in your car for gardening emergencies!
You crush Colorado Potato Beetles with your bare fingertips. You love the sound it makes when you do.
You would never kill a ladybug. You bring them inside for the winter.
You have a compost heap. You take it’s temperature every day.
You won’t leave town when your tulips are blooming. … or your daffodils, lilacs, wisteria, roses, clematis, lilies …
You can name all the annuals in public flower beds. You automatically deadhead the flowers.
You have grown plants in funky containers. You grown plants in anything that hold soil!
You sadly replaced hail-damaged plants. You saved them all with a bucket over your head!

If you took this test at all, chances are you are a “normal” gardener, and what are you doing on the computer, anyway? There are weeds to pull!

Those with the obsession already know it! Come feed your need at Fort Collins Nursery.

 

Holiday Specials

Check out these great Holiday Specials running through January 15th (While Supplies Last):

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From the Archives: A season for dreaming (TREEtalk Winter 1999)

EvergreenSnowBy Kathy Reid

When you live on a corner lot, you get to shovel lots of snow. The other day, as I scooped my way around the corner and down the north walk, I realized that even in the dead of winter I am tending my garden. As I work, I am carefully directing the shovels full of snow to some of my favorite garden plants. You could call it “snow mulching”, I guess. Certain evergreen plants will survive the long winter better if they are buried in a protective snow mound. So, as I scrape along, I purposefully pile a little extra around my handsome hellebore that will sport its strange greenish-white flowers while neighboring red tulips bloom next spring. Another scoop is directed at the Sarcoxie Euonymus that climbs the fence. I shovel on past a gangly Viburnum and make a mental note that it needs a little pruning. Push more snow, scoop it up. There was a bare spot in the planting here. I stop and consider what new, exciting plant I will add next spring.

I reach the end of the walk. The shoveling is finally done. I take one lap around the pond, just a frozen sheet now except for the small hole where the waterfall tumbles in. I study the tracks left in the snow by visiting birds and squirrels. A Tanyosho Pine stands guard above the waterfall while a huge Ponderosa Pine towers overhead, both looking very dramatic with the white icing-like snow spread over their dark green needles. These beautiful evergreens add such life and interest to our winter landscapes. A large, snowy mound at the pond’s edge catches my attention. It is a seedling aster that tempted me with hundreds of pink flowers in the fall, but it grew much too large in its chosen spot. I make another note that it needs to be removed in spring and replaced with something more manageable, perhaps a new variety of Penstemon for my collection.

My hands and toes are numbing so I head into the warm, cozy house and put on some water for tea. Echinacea tea is my choice these days. What a plant! Also known as purple coneflower, it is one of my favorite summer perennials, blooming for weeks and weeks behind the pond. And in the dead of winter, it makes a tasty tea that helps fight off those nasty winter colds.

My cup of tea in hand, my final destination for the afternoon is a soft, comfy chair near a big window. Outside the birds are feasting on hawthorn berries from the small tree at the corner of the house and sunflower seeds from my strategically placed bird feeder. The small wooden table next to my chair is piled high with magazines and catalogs, each and every one plant-related: Horticulture, Fine Gardening, The Colorado Gardener, and seed catalogs too numerous to mention.

Yes, this is the life of a Colorado gardener in winter. I revel in the contrast of our seasons. Winter is a break from the weeding watering. It is a time to enjoy the special beauty of a frosty landscape but most of all; it is a time to dream. While the plants of my garden sleep, I immerse myself in the pages and pages of colorful gardens at my fingertips. I feast upon the new plant offerings for the coming spring. And I dream, and I scheme, and I plan for next spring’s endeavors in my own little piece of the world.

When Winter Comes, Garden Smaller

By Jesse Eastman
Succulent_Hanging_NLAs plants begin the methodical process of shutting down for winter, color drains away from our world and we are left in a somewhat stark environment. If you’re anything like me, you still need a horticultural fix, and there’s only so much a houseplant can do to scratch that itch. The best cure I’ve found for the winter blues is miniature gardening. Whether succulent dishes, terrariums, bonsai, or fairy gardens, creating a miniature world is an incredible way to immerse yourself in a bit of green escapism and free yourself – however briefly – from the brown and gray outlook November brings.

Succulent Gardens

SucculentPlanter_NLEasily the most low-maintenance approach to miniature gardening is the succulent dish. Succulents are low-water, pest-resistant, and enjoy moderate to bright light. Designing a container with their wildly unique shapes, textures, and colors is more akin to playing with children’s building blocks than gardening. Nearly anything can be used as a container for succulents, as long as you consider the importance of drainage for these drought-loving plants (using cactus and succulent soil can help prevent wet feet). I’ve seen delightful succulent gardens in everything from beautiful ceramic dishes and sea shells to plastic dinosaurs and antique milk cans.

Terrariums

Terrarium_NLTerrariums are an elegant way to grow tender plants. In the exceptionally dry winter air we enjoy here in the Rocky Mountain region, a glass container can help maintain a humid environment around all sorts of moisture-loving plants, including but not limited to: bromeliads, air plants, orchids, ferns, and carnivorous plants. From your basic fish tank to a decorative blown glass bubble to an intricate glass octahedron, there are a multitude of options available depending on your personal style and the size of plants you want to grow. The proper layering of growing media, including soil, activated charcoal, gravel, and moss, ensures your plants will be happy in their self-contained bio-dome with minimal care.

Bonsai

Bonsai_NLTraditional bonsai is an ancient Japanese art form that uses trees to create miniaturized landscapes. By consistently manipulating dwarf varieties of certain trees and shrubs while accentuating their natural growth habits, we aim to capture the strength and permanence of nature in a more controlled environment. Bonsai are often viewed as a meditative or contemplative experience, both for the grower, who must patiently wait for the plant to grow into its potential, and for the viewer, who can imagine enjoy the beauty of majesty of each unique piece as they would view a classic painting or sculpture.

Fairy Gardening

FairyGarden_Bike_NLBy far the most interactive of the various veins of miniature gardening, fairy gardening is a whimsical and fun activity for kids of all ages. Generally open air (as opposed to terrariums), these miniature gardens are filled with accessories such as walkways made from chips of broken pots, tiny little benches and tables, and even diminutive domiciles where one can imagine a fairy taking up residence. If bonsai is an exercise in patience, fairy gardens are a celebration of impermanence, as you find new fun arrangements to suit the needs of your fairies, remove overgrown plants, and introduce new accessories to their vibrant little world.